Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – E – July 05, 2020

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah 9:9-10
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:9, 11-13
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 11:25-30

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

As I write to you, my heart is heavy with sadness.  Around the world, multitudes have died from COVID-19 and many more suffer in the pandemic.  We are haunted by the pictures of George Floyd, prone on the street, with a knee on the back of his neck and gasping that he cannot breathe.  Demonstrators march proclaiming that “Black Lives Matter” and call for an end to the killing of Black men by White policemen.  In a nation that proclaims “Liberty and justice for all,” racism, sexism, and elitism are becoming hallmarks of this society.  Millions of people are unemployed.  Long lines of cars wait for relief packages from St. Mary’s and St. Vincent de Paul food banks.  Wars continue to rage.  Children die of starvation.  Thousands of refugees seek shelter and freedom and want to live normal lives.  News cameras capture image after image of human suffering for us to ponder during the evening news.  The horror we see is beyond the powers of the human mind to comprehend unless we happen to be standing in the rubble and hear the cries of the suffering.

Zechariah stood in the midst of destruction and suffering in Jerusalem, once occupied by foreign rule, as he urged daughter Zion now delivered from captivity and exile, to rejoice heartily.  Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!  Remember, the prophet proclaims the message God wants the people to hear.  That message is always about finding hope and clinging to it in spite of everything seen to the contrary.  Daughter Jerusalem speaks to the intimacy Jerusalem has with God, a relationship that endures in spite of suffering and in spite of the fact that the promised restoration has not taken place.  The Temple remains destroyed.

It might be easier to comprehend the challenge to believe if we imagined Zechariah’s prophecy proclaimed in the midst of the horror of the Holocaust of the last century.  Where would be the reason to hope?  What would support faith in that setting?

In almost every age, true believers have believed in spite of all they experienced to the contrary.  Could that be why, as it was for Israel, that periods of suffering are also periods of strongest faith.  It may be why for Christians, our hope is in the cross.  Is there anything stronger than death?  Christ, raised by the Spirit, conquered death.  No wonder Paul always insisted that even to believe depends on God’s grace.  The Spirit lives in those who believe.  No one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit. 

Zechariah promises that God will be faithful.  Just as God led Israel out of the slavery of Egypt into the desert toward the Promised Land, so God will banish the chariots and the warrior’s bow from the land (Israel) as peace is proclaimed to the nations(Gentiles).  Of course peace will reign in Jerusalem because the dominion of the king God sends shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.  Just wait.  You will see.

Dare I say that if someone finds it easy to believe, chances are s/he has the wrong message?  Security and wealth can make those who live with such luxuries delusional, concluding that belief in Jesus results in temporal wealth that foreshadows eternal bliss.  Such “believers” might translate natural disasters and other misfortunes as signs of God’s judgment and displeasure.  That is what Job heard in the midst of his sufferings from those sages who commented on his torments.  Job’s response?  God was with him, sustaining him even in his darkest times.  Blessed be the name of the Lord. 

What social class of people do you suppose made up the number of those listening to Jesus in today’s gospel?  Who are the little ones?  They were widows and children, the poor and the desperate, the lowest strata of society.  You could put lepers among them, too.  And prostitutes.  Maybe tax collectors.  In short, anyone who stands shunned and on the brink of despair.  I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to little ones.  Do not take from Jesus’ words that God hates the wise and the learned, the wealthy and any others of the upper class.  But there may not be that strong sense of complete and utter dependence upon God among them.  It is easy to be distracted by wealth, especially in this age that idolizes youth, power, position and wealth.  Those distractions hide the truths revealed to the little ones.

As we go on, here is something to ponder.  Do you number yourself among those little ones?  This is the Living Word, remember.  Jesus preaches now to this audience, to you and to me.

To the Little Ones gathered to hear him, to drink in his every word, to trust him, Jesus reveals the wonder of relationship.  Jesus knows the Father as no one else does because of their unique relationship.  The word Father says it all.  In the great Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his hearers how to pray.  When you pray, say Our Father.  Those who believe in Jesus share the relationship that Jesus has with the Father.  Jesus is the source.  Be careful to note that  the relationship is not just between Jesus and me, the Father and me.  The relationship is mutual and shared by all who are so graced.  God is our Father.  Jesus is our brother.  United by the Spirit, we are sisters and brothers in the Lord.  We are one family in the community that is God; this community that we call The Body of Christ, the Church.

What is it that makes the burden light for all who labor and are burdened?  The relationship with Jesus.  Take my burden upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.  Jesus tells us that he shares the labor and the burden.  We are in this together.  Remember Paul’s words: I can do all things in (Christ) who strengthens me.  The relationship lightens the burden and eases the labor.  We rest in love, Jesus’ love for us; God’s love for us.  Grace gives us strength.

Such language can translate into lush romanticism if we are not careful.  As we ponder those words, we must ponder also the heroes in our faith.  Pope Francis urges us to wake up and take the call to discipleship seriously.  That response entails poverty.  That is why he speaks of a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  That is why he shuns the finery associated with his office; why he washes the feet of the poor; why he shares breakfast table fellowship with street people.

Thomas More must have remembered Jesus’ fidelity as he stretched his neck over the block and cleared his beard for the blade of the axe.  He told the executioner to spare the beard because it had no part in the treason.  Jeanne d’Arc kissed the crucifix as the flames enveloped her.  Stephen, the first martyr, looked heavenward and was blessed by the vision as the first stones pounded into him.  The Canon of Saints is replete with those who embraced the cross in the midst of desperate straits and died believing.

We may be soothed by the message, but we must not miss its force.  Jesus does say, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  In another place he will say, Take up your cross and follow me.  We only hear those words and take them heart to the extent that we number ourselves among and identify with little ones.  Think of Archbishop Oscar Romero, now saint, and Dorothy Day.  They challenged us to identify with and be among the poor.  Romero was martyred because of his proclamation of the dignity and worth of little ones.  Dorothy Day embraced poverty and identified with the poor and the disenfranchised.  Both of them are the epitome of what the church should be in our time.  If we hear this gospel this Sunday, it will not  be enough to remember icons.  We have to change our lives.

George Floyd is our brother.  The same is true of those desperate in the tornados’ and floods’ aftermath.  So are those trying to put their lives back together after earthquakes, fires, and floods.  So are those desperately trying to respond with aid and care packages and presence to the hungry and homeless; those seeking to welcome the refugees; they are examples of what it means in action if we take Jesus’ yoke upon us and learn from him.

See why there is one Bread and one Cup?  See why we gather around one Table?  There are no divisions and classes in the Body of Christ.  We are one in him.  That is why if we share in the meal we will never be the same again.  Nor will the work ever be finished until we see the Lord’s dominion stretch from sea to sea, and hear peace proclaimed to the nations.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – June 28, 2020

A reading from the second Book of Kings 4:8-11, 14-16a
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 6:3-4, 8-11
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 10:37-42

Dear Friends in Christ,

The Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday proclaims both the call to, and the rewards of discipleship.  In the Gospel, Jesus makes clear that the response to the call must be absolute and unconditional.  One of the blessings about being a disciple is the challenge to live in this tension between promise and fulfillment. 

Have you ever had the experience while a familiar passage of Scripture is proclaimed; you are stunned because the impact makes it seem you have never heard the passage before?  It is not so much that you are unfamiliar with the text as it is that you hear new implications, and those in a whole new context.  When that happens, the Holy Spirit enlightens you.

Jesus has been very clear with us.  There are hazards in responding to and carrying out discipleship.  Disciples must never forget that the Lord sustains – as we heard last Sunday – and is constant in loving even to the point of counting the hairs on your head.  This Sunday we are told that the lord wants primacy of place in the disciple’s heart, even as the disciple s are identified with Jesus.  Those who receive you receive me. 

We must hear those words and the images that emerge now as we experience the challenges of discipleship, standing in the wreckage and mire of these times.  We are wounded.  The hurled mud clings to the hems of our garments.  Fifty-five years ago come December, Vatican Council II closed.  Some will remember the hope and confidence felt in those days of renewal.  How boldly the Good News was proclaimed then.  Walls came tumbling down as East and West reunited and divisions among people seemed to be healing.  A new awareness of our oneness came into focus.  In the process there were terrible days of fire hoses and snarling dogs.  Nightsticks and billy clubs pummeled marchers and demonstrators.  Some were numbered among the disappeared, never to be seen again.  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.  Out of the ashes rose a phoenix of fraternal possibilities as we began to recognize and accept the dignity of each person, regardless of race, or creed, or gender, or sexual orientation.  Today we seem to be losing ground in many of those concerns.

In those post-Conciliar days in the church, the invitation to exercise Baptismal Priesthood helped many to respond to the call to ministry.  It was as if, in a moment, the People of God took to heart Paul’s reminder that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death…Consequently, you must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.  The people of God took to heart the declaration that if the many and diverse gifts given to God’s people were put into service, there would be the building up of something new, the Body of Christ.  Women and men, young and not so young, the able and the disabled, all were represented  among those who presented themselves and said, “With the help of the Spirit, we can do this.  We can respond to the call.”

Writing this, I feel discouraged, not by the suffering and isolation caused by COVID-19. That actually has elicited many compassionate responses from the faithful; but by the wreckage of these last few years of scandal in the church.  It is as if the lights have gone out.  The enthusiasm has waned.  Possibilities have succumbed to the cants of prophets of doom.

Pope Francis proclaims the absolutes in the vision of Vatican Council II.  The call to be a poorer church serving the needs of the poor is in reality the challenge to recognize each person’s dignity and worth, and to recognize Christ in the vulnerable ones.  This pope lives simply and shuns the bling of vestments and miters.  He challenges the other shepherds to do the same.  Not all want to hear this message.

Many have exited the pews and turned their backs to walk away.  Discouraged by scandal, they do not hear a proclamation of the promise of the Good news.  They know that some in positions of authority reject the teachings of Vatican Council II and Pope Francis’s call.  With concerted effort they seek to return the church to pre-Conciliar days.  The language of Liturgy has become stilted and archaic in an attempt to transliterate the Latin texts instead of translating texts into the people’s vernacular.  Rather than experiencing a call to full, active, and conscious participation in the Liturgy, divisions emerge and Mass is said for, rather than co-celebrated with the Assembly.  Some worship spaces have been remodeled to accommodate the Tridentine Liturgy with altars against the wall and tabernacles resting at the center of the altar.  The priest says Mass with his back to the people.  The communion railing that separates the ordinary people from the sanctuary where the ordained may enter, is being restored.

Chapels for the reservation of the Eucharist are falling out of use as tabernacles return to the main worship area.  Or, ignoring the canon directing that there be one place of reservation in the parish, some churches have both the tabernacle in the worship space and a reservation chapel for perpetual adoration lest Jesus be lonely in the tabernacle.  (Pardon my sarcasm.  Someone actually chastised me for making that a possibility through a Liturgical design I promoted.)

It isn\t that the people gather to celebrate Eucharist and experience the sacramental transforming presence of Christ in the Word, in the Assembly, and in the Bread and Wine.  They are told to come, not so much as a people, but as individuals to worship the Presence in the tabernacle.  Often it happens that the people do not receive from the Bread and Wine consecrated at the Eucharistic celebration they are part of, but from the reserved sacrament from the tabernacle.  So much for full, active, and conscious participation.  Access to the Cup is being curtailed in many places, too – even before the pandemic dangers made that a necessity.

Even if we are not able to assemble this Sunday, in these conflicted and divisive times we must listen to familiar texts and through the influence of the Holy Spirit, hear them as if for the first time.  Schooled in the church’s Social Gospel, I believe in the responsibility we have for each other, especially for the poor, the disabled, the aged, and the disenfranchised.  Some declare the poor are poor because they did not work as hard as the wealthy.  The wealthiest shouldn’t be taxed to help meet the needs of the poor.  We live in a land where the separation of church and state is established.  But for some time I had rejoiced in thinking that the church’s Social Gospel was having an impact on the conscience of the people at large.  Alas.  

As you reflect on the Liturgy of the Word this Sunday in the midst of an Assembly, or alone, or with your family, listen to the call to discipleship.  Consider the implications and demands the Lord voices and the place he wants in the disciple’s, that is, in your heart. 

Perhaps it is true in every age, but it seems especially true today that disciples swim against the tide of contrary values.  Being older is not valued today.  Only the young, the beautiful, the strong and the wealthy matter in this land of increasing disparity between those who have and those who do not.  Granted, some among the Evangelical Fundamentalists see wealth as a sign of God’s favor, and heaven as the predestination of the wealthy.  Poverty is the  punishment for sin.  That is not part of our Catholic tradition.  That is not the Gospel that Jesus announced.  If the forsaken and the desolate are to experience the Lord’s embrace and be lifted out of squalor, it will be through those who minister by that vision of restoration.

Jesus tells us that his disciples are called to take up the cross and follow him.  Those who do, even if they lose their lives in the process, will find life.  Disciples are identified with Jesus and whoever receives (a disciple) receives me and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.  That one is the Father.

Jesus calls us to something new.  We are not to sit and wait for the Lord to do something about the troubles we are in.  The Lord expects us to be Church, to be the Body of Christ, to be instruments of justice and  peace, change and renewal.  Our hearts must change.  Our responsibility is to live, vulnerable as we are, and offer our giftedness, limited though that might be, and trust that the Spirit will unleash powers to transform the world.

That is pretty heady, isn’t it?  We might be inclined to pray about this for a while longer, and then get back to the matter at a later date.  But does that sound like what Jesus is saying in the Gospel?  Think about it and if we are able to celebrate Eucharist this Sunday, let ourselves be transformed by what we take and eat, only to be sent to live it.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus 

THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – June 21, 2020

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah 20-1-13
A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 5:12-15
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Matthew 10:26-33

Dear Friends in Christ,

Jeremiah’s misery cannot be exaggerated as we hear him cry out to God for vengeance in today’s first reading.  His agony rises out of the experience of betrayal by those he considered to be his own people, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, brothers and sisters called as he was to be faithful to YHWH.  What turned his own against him and brought Jeremiah to the brink of disaster and despair as he sinks in the mud of the cistern where he has been cast?  His fidelity to the vocation of Prophet to which God called him.

Great Prophets like Jeremiah and John the Baptist are not seers, predictors of the future, as contemporary usage understands the term prophet.  The Prophet is anointed, has been given the charism to tell the people what God wants them to hear.  Their message is always the same.  “God loves you.  Please let YHWH be your god.  Please be YHWH’s people.  Do not go dancing off after strange gods.”  Often the Prophet becomes one who calls the people back to this relationship.  Their catchword is repent.  To repent means to return.

Sometimes the Prophet’s role is to let people see the implications of their infidelity.  Jeremiah saw the effects their corrupt way of life was having on Jerusalem.  He was not the first to see that Jerusalem’s strength corresponded to the degree of the people’s fidelity to God; to the degree they were faithful to the Law.  He was not the first to see that as they drifted away and took up with other gods, no longer living as God’s people, they not only became corrupted, but also weak.  Jeremiah spoke out against debauchery.  He condemned injustice for the poor.  He railed against idolatry.  That is what God wanted him to do.  That is what God wanted the people to hear.  Jeremiah’s purpose was not to belittle the people, but to call them back to justice and truth and to right relationship, reflective of the call they had received from God when God brought them out of slavery.

You will rejoice in the message, the truth that sets you free, if the message is one you want to hear.  Nothing rankles more than a message that is unpalatable, a truth you do not want to recognize as truth or to hear.  That is what Jeremiah found out.  That is how he wound up in the cistern, in mud up to his knees.  He is convinced he will die at the hands of those to whom he had prophesied.  Just earlier he cried out to God: You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me, and you prevailed.  

Notice now Jeremiah’s sudden awakening.  The Lord is with me, like a mighty   champion; my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph….Sing to the Lord, praise the Lord, for he has rescued the life of the poor from the power of the wicked!  God will rescue the poor and Jeremiah will be among them.

As the prophetic message washes over you during the Liturgy of the Word, do not hear it as a word for people long ago.  This is Living Word.  Hear and focus on all those people today who feel alone and abandoned, purposeless and oppressed, all those refugees yearning for peace and security.  Pope Francis is a Prophet.  He urges the church to minister to the poor.  He urges us to take care of this planet.  He calls us to be servants.  He walks in simplicity and reaches out to the little ones.  He urges a poorer church to announce God’s love for the poor and God’s desire for them and us to live as God’s family.

In the second reading, Paul reminds disciples of what they must never forget.  All who are disciples must remember that their call is gift, the result of God’s grace, the result of the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ overflowing for the many.  All who are disciples must remember that their call is to love those whom they serve, so that that love will convince those ministered to of God’s love.  Perhaps Paul is also saying that no one should go out in Jesus’ name until s/he is convinced about being a sinner, redeemed, but a sinner nonetheless.  Shouldn’t that keep us humble – and grateful?

Shouldn’t that dictate the attitude of the church in the modern world?  Anyone can paint the history of the church in lurid and sensational strokes.  Anyone can go to various periods of the church’s history and decry abuses of authority.  The Spanish Inquisition was not the only period for which St. John Paul II apologized during his papacy.  Pope Francis reminds us that the more the church distanced herself from the call of service and the Gospel’s call to simplicity in that service, the more  obvious became the abuses.  But never forget that in every age of corruption stood great saints prophesying, announcing what God wanted the church and all people to hear.  Repent and believe the Good News.  The Commandment is to Love.

St. Francis of Assisi prayed in the church of San Damiano.  He heard a voice coming from the crucifix: Francis, rebuild my church.  At first he thought the command to rebuild referred to the wreck of a chapel in which he prayed.  Then he came to realize that Christ challenged him to prophesy and call the whole church to reform.  His witness would be one of poverty and service.  It would have been difficult to distinguish the Papal Court Francis entered from that of any other temporal court of splendor.  The three-tiered crown the pope wore made sure of that.  And so did his throne.

The Church in the Modern World is the people of God, the Body of Christ.  The mission of the church is to heal, reconcile, and cry out for justice for the poor, and to announce that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  The church must feel the need to listen to the message as well as to proclaim it.  In other words, there must be evidence that those who proclaim are also recipients of the graceful promise of healing, reconciliation, and peace.  Heavy-handed authority has no place in that communion.  The faith of the church resides in the believers.  That was always the role of the great Councils of the Church, to ascertain what the Church believed by checking on the faith of the people.  Sometimes those beliefs challenged assumed official Church positions.  The Official Church needs to listen and not be threatened.

Years ago, a picture of the then Archbishop of Seattle, Archbishop Hunthausen appeared in a Seattle newspaper.  He was seen to be doing janitorial work in the apartment of a poor and mentally challenged little one of God.  That kind of attitude and service ought to be ordinary among the church’s hierarchy and among the faithful.  One of the pope’s titles is “the servant of the servants of God.”  Pope St. John XXIII exercised that attitude and was beloved for it.  His successor, the current Bishop of Rome, Francis, continues the practice.

We are a people called to gather at the Table of the Eucharist to give thanks in the renewal of the dying and rising of Jesus, and to be nourished by his body and blood.  But we must never forget that everything does not stop there.  What we hear and what we do must always translate into action.  We must reconcile and be reconciled.  We must serve and be served in a community that embraces all.  Remember, Jesus was condemned for practicing table fellowship with the off scouring of society, known sinners of various types among them.  We must exercise a fundamental option for the poor, even as we recognize our own poverty and utter dependence on the graciousness of our God and of Jesus Christ, the Lord.

One final note:  Some of the most eloquent prophets in the church’s history may not have used words at all.  The contrast between their attitude and actions with those of the world said it all.  May that clarion call be heard around the world today when the dignity and humanity of so many are being denied.  We have nothing to fear.  God loves us.  God counts even the hairs on our heads.  And after all, we are worth more than many sparrow – if our poverty attests to that.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus