Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST C – June 23, 2019

A reading from the Book of Genesis 14:18-20
A reading from the first Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11:23-26
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 9:11b-17

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday we are invited to ponder a Mystery to be transformed by it.  The feast used to be called by its Latin name: Corpus Christi.  The Body of Christ.  Grand processions happened on this day.  The Eucharistic Bread was placed in a monstrance.  The priest, clad in a gold-threaded cope, with a humeral veil around his shoulders so that his hands would not touch the vessel, in procession, carried the monstrance through the streets and byways of the parish.  A smoking thurible of incense preceded the Sacrament.  Three times along the way, the procession would stop.  The people gathered would be blessed as the monstrance moved in cruciform over them.  It was a moment for adoration of the objectified Eucharist.

In an evening many years ago I stood in the area before the grotto at Lourdes.  In the distance a procession began.  On the night air, I heard the sound of voices singing the hymn to Mary as the sick, in wheelchairs and on gurneys, assisted by aides, were brought to the  Grotto.  Before long these people, in varying degrees of illness, surrounded me.  I watched and tried to sing with them, but emotion caught in my throat.  It was obvious that the young attendants cared for their ill ones and felt privileged to minister to their every need.  They prayed that they might be present for one of the miracles that are reputed to happen in that holy place.

Then, at the end of the procession, came the priest carrying a monstrance and accompanied by his servers.  He moved among the sick, some of whom reached out to touch his cope as the priest passed by.  Finally, he arrived at the altar at the mouth of the grotto.  He lifted the monstrance and blessed the assembled.  In a moment it was over.  The priest departed.  The crowd began to disperse.  The radiant smiles that wreathed most of the faces of the sick as they were helped to return to the hospital were a clear indication to me that the miracle happened.  I don’t know if any physical miracles happened that night.  But there was no doubt about the miracle of consolation and peace.

Are processions and benedictions the most important part of the observance of the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ?  I doubt that.  For me, this feast gives us an opportunity to ponder the meaning of what we do when we gather around the Table to celebrate.  The Eucharist is a sacramental presence of Christ.  It is also the action of giving thanks to God as we renew Christ’s dying and rising until he comes again in glory.

Hear the first reading from the Book of Genesis.  Abram, later called Abraham, returns as a hero, having been a victor in battle.  Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem, comes out to meet Abram and brings bread and wine.  Melchizedek blesses Abram and praises God for the victory.  And Abram tithes to Melchizedek from all his wealth as a sign of his gratitude to God.

In those few verses from Genesis are contained the elements of what we do each time we gather to worship.  The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, the action of giving thanks to God.  We assemble around a Table on which have been placed those same simple elements that Melchizedek offered – bread and wine.  The basic elements of food and drink are signs of God’s bounty providing for our needs.  In that ancient meal God’s blessing on Abram was invoked.  They praised and blessed God for the victory.  In our gathering, we give thanks to God through the One who conquered everything that we fear.  Sin, suffering, and death will never hold sway again.  In our sharing in the Eucharist, we share in that victory.

Paul wrote the first Letter to the Corinthians before any of the Gospels, within thirty years of the Resurrection event.  Paul wrote to correct abuses around their worship that had arisen in the Corinthian community.  He did not want them to lose sight of the essentials.  He said that what he passed on to them was what he received personally from the Risen Christ.  The core actions of Eucharist, in imitation of what Jesus did on the night before he died, must be part of their celebrations.  Jesus took bread.  He gave thanks and broke the bread.  After identifying the bread as his body, he gave the bread to those gathered with him to eat.  Jesus took the cup of blessing, the cup of wine, identified the wine as his blood, and with it proclaimed the New Covenant of relationship with God, as he gave the cup to them to drink.  The Covenant is sealed.

We must not miss the last words of the ritual that Paul quoted: Do this in my memory.  To remember is to make present.  Whenever disciples gather around the Table and do this, the Lord is present in their midst.  The action proclaims Christ’s death, but not to depress.  Rather Paul reminds us that we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.  Eucharist is essentially a hope-filled action that reminds us that the battle may still have to be waged, but Christ is the victor.  We know how everything will work out.  Eucharistic people are people of hope.

The gospel proclamation for today does not take us into the upper room for the Last Supper.  Rather, we hear proclaimed one of the major incidents that is recounted in all four of the Gospels – the miraculous feeding of the multitude.  Notice the context.  Jesus proclaims the good news of the coming of the Kingdom.  He heals those needing to be cured.  The number of those gathered is huge.  We are meant to understand the great hunger for the Word that the crowd brings to the moment.  Evening is on its way.  The Twelve are keenly aware that this crowd is also hungry for food.  They bring their concern to Jesus who challenges them to meet the people’s needs.  They tell Jesus that there are over 5000 people present.  All the Twelve have are a few loaves and a couple of fish – a meager amount, to say the least.

In what follows there is an important lesson for each of us.  Have you ever felt overwhelmed in the face of some huge problem?  As you listen to the evening news and hear accounts of disasters and wars, when images of starving people and the world’s weary fill the screen, when you see those refugees at the boarders, and the street people living in hovels in our major cities, don’t you feel powerless to do anything to make the situation better?  Do you feel inadequate before the magnitude of the issues?  After all, all you have are a few loaves and a couple of fish.  Or so we are tempted to think.

Jesus tells the Apostles to get the people seated in groups of fifty.  5000 are a mob.  Groups of 50 can coalesce into small faith communities.

Scripture scholars give two interpretations of the multiplication.  All underscore the action words in the narrative.  Jesus takes the loaves and two fish, prays, blesses the food, breaks the loaves and the fish and gives them to the Apostles to put before the crowd.  One group of scholars say that there was a miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish, so much so that there was plenty for all to eat their fill and still for their to be twelve baskets of loaves and fish left over.  No one says that is not possible.  We do believe, after all, that with God all things are possible.  We heard that earlier in Luke’s Gospel.

The other scholars say that when Jesus put the meager gifts before them, placed all that the Apostles had at the people’s disposal, something just as miraculous happened.  Individuals brought forth their own stash of food and shared the little they had with each other.  Low and behold, there was more than enough for all.  The people in the crowd had been transformed by what Jesus had done.  A people, closed in on themselves, opened up to each other and in their sharing knew the bounty of God.  Did they recognize the unity that was theirs in the Lord?  Did they suddenly believe that together they could overcome this want?  Is that the miracle of the loaves and fish?

We come together as believers to celebrate Eucharist.  We come as we are with our gifts and shortcomings.  Our very selves become part of the offerings that are the bread and wine on the Table.  With the priest in persona Christi, we give thanks to God, pray the blessing, break the bread and distribute the wine, as all are invited to take and eat, and take and drink.  If the veil were lifted then and we could see the reality to which the sign points, we would recognize the transformation the Spirit empowers.  The Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood of Christ.  Those assembled at the table are the Body of Christ, the Church.  God’s reign comes through Christ.

Earlier, we talked about the processions and adoration that often are part of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  Those are fine as far as they go.  But something more is needed.  It would be sad if our participation in the Eucharist were ones of passivity and adoration.  If we fully, actively, and consciously participate in Eucharist, then we must recognize that each celebration concludes with the Assembly’s being sent to bring Eucharist to the world.  The Mass is ended.  Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another.  That is the great insight in the second interpretation of the feeding of the multitude: the people gathered and transformed, from their own resources, blessed and broken, share of themselves and so meet the needs of the hungry.

In every country in our world, people gather to celebrate Eucharist on the Lord’s Day.  From these celebrations go forth those who will bring Eucharist to those who are sick, infirm, homeless, and unable to be present for the celebration.  Others will go out, committed to working among the poor and the disenfranchised.  Some will be convinced of their need to march in demonstration with the oppressed.  Some will choose to enter into community with those discards of society that most people never notice.  Others will give from their resources to help bring recovery to those devastated by the ravages of wind and rain.  In the process, bonds are formed.  We realize that if all would do their part there would be more than enough for each person to eat and to drink and know the bounty of God’s love that comes to us through Jesus.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

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FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY – C – June 16, 2019

A reading from the Book of Proverbs 8:22-31
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 5:1-5
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 16:12-15

Dear Friends in Christ,

This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity.  Would you mind if we take a bit of a different journey through the Liturgy of the Word?  By that I mean that I would like to take us on a meditative journey into the Mystery we celebrate.  Who can understand the Trinity?  Should anyone try?  It is the nature of mystery to be partly grasped, even as the essence escapes comprehension.  The mystery of the Trinity – that is how God is revealed to us who believe in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.  Three persons in one unique nature – God.  Father.  Son.  Holy Spirit.  Creator.  Redeemer.  Sanctifier.  God.

Often as I pray, I sit before the Rublev Icon of the Trinity.  Three gloriously clad winged beings sit about a table, a bowl containing the slaughtered and roasted lamb before them.  As I ponder, as I invite you to do with me, I can get lost in the Icon even as it invites me to enter.  Gaze at the mystery and the wonder that is the Trinity .  Be filled with awe and be humbled as you realize you are invited to enter and complete the circle.  It is the nature of the icon to be a window into heaven and to draw the beholder to come in.

I cannot tell you how many time over how many years I have pondered this glorious work.  I have struggled to interpret the signs it contains.  As you ponder, you might experience the same emotions that I have in response to the layers of meaning, the depth of Mystery captured there.  Pray for the Spirit to guide you.  Consider in silence.  You will feel the Spirit encouraging you.  The Risen One tells us: Do not be afraid.  I go before you.  Come.  Follow me.

It is the Father who sits at the left, the heavenly blue fabric, worn by all three, is nearly covered by his ethereal robe of indescribable color.  Who can see God?  And he points to the Son, robed in blue, but in earth tones, too.  Divinity and humanity come together in the Son.  And the sash over his shoulder is the symbol of all authority that the Father has given to the Son.  Eyes fixed on the Father, the Son points to the Spirit, the One the Son promised to send, the One who makes known all that Jesus taught to beings incapable of comprehending without the Spirit’s said.

Drink in the imagery that emerges in the backdrop.  That craggy rock above the Spirit might represent the steep climb entailed in being with Jesus on The Way..  Is it the hill Jesus climbed with the burden of our sins in the cross on his back?  Is it the hill that all who are invited to follow Jesus must climb, and once the summit is reached, to die there with Jesus?  

Above the Three is the Oak of Mamre that stood near where Abraham saw the three angelic creatures in the text that was Rublev’s inspiration for this icon.  The tree towers over the table of sacrifice.  The tree provides shade in the heat of the day.  We can pause there and ponder life’s decisions, the faith decisions necessary if we are to walk with the Lord.  

It is also the tree to which the Son was nailed that transformed the instrument of death and defeat into the tree of life, our reason to hope.  The crag leads to the tree that stands between it and the house above the Father.  In my Father’s house there are many mansions.  Dying with Jesus on the tree is the means of access to the heavenly dwelling.

If your experience is like mine, it will not be long before you come to realize that it is not enough to sit and gaze at this masterpiece, and to remain apart from it.  If we pray before it, we must yield to the invitation to complete the circle at the table and enter the relationship, the community that is there.  As we begin to comprehend, we might weep.  It is all too wonderful.

Why does my mind leap to God’s words in Genesis at the very dawn of creation?  Let us make the earthling in our own image.  God breathes life into the clay of the earth.  That Creature that results cannot live alone and in isolation.  The Creature, and all those who share in that creature’s nature, must live in communion that reflects and is part of the Community that is God.  That community is spousal.  That community is intimate friendship in one who is the other half of my soul.  That community is Church with a membership wide and diverse that is the Body of Christ and that shares the life that is the Trinity.

The table in the icon shimmers white, as do the haloes around the heads of the Three.  Beyond gold, white is divine.  For us, the Table is the primary symbol of Christ, of the sacrifice, and is the place where we are invited to gather and share the meal that is Christ’s Body and Blood.

The Triune God loves unconditionally all made in God’s image and likeness.  So all are welcome here.  Take and eat.  Take and drink.  And when we do, the whole Church is present as God reigns.

Forgive me if I have rambled.  There is much more that comes to mind as I ponder this holy image.  I know that I will continue to pray with it and wonder at its power and mystery.  The same can be your experience.  We may fear it.  But even as we tremble, a hand will reach out and empower us to enter.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

THE FEAST OF PENTECOST – C – June 09, 2019

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles 2:1-11
A reading from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
or
A reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 8:8-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 20:19-23

My dear Friends in Christ,

There is a lot of what passes for religious art that repulses me.  Often a type of piety is depicted with which I cannot identify.  Saints are dower, epicene and effeminate.  Untouchable and ethereal, in no way are they part of the world I inhabit.  Insipid is a word that comes to mind.  I do not mean to be irreverent.  Forgive me if I seem to be disrespectful.  I am not an iconoclast.  I think that religious art ought to be so much more and should depict the struggle of those on The Way.  Their courageous character should emerge and inspire.  A wood-carved statue of Monica, Augustine’s mother, comes to mind, that I stood before and pondered.  The woman, head uncovered, staff in hand, faced into the wind that tugged at her hair and garments.  She stood undaunted.  Valiant comes to mind.  

Recently I visited a church to study the architecture and wandered from art piece to art piece and was less than pleased.  In the statues and other depictions, I wanted to encounter representations of people whose humanity I share.  Granted, the statues represent those already in glory.  But I want to be encouraged by them as they were in this world, to see their fragility, to see examples of those who came to understand with Paul that I can do all things in him who strengthens me.  And apart from Christ I can do nothing.  Christ is the only explanation for the success of those who walked in the trenches and engaged in the struggle.

What inspired these thoughts on this day of Pentecost is a stained-glass window I saw that was meant to depict this feast.  The words in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles came to my mind: And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were…and there appeared tongues of fire.  In the window, the placid group in perfectly pleated and flowing robes seemed all too tranquil, free of agitation and disturbance, unlike what would be the reaction of anyone caught in such a storm.  Should’t their clothes be ruffled by the wind?  Wouldn’t fright register on a face or two?  Shouldn’t at least one hold his/her hands to the ears against the noise?  I don’t know about you, but I can not imagine sitting calmly while fire descended and danced over me.

The moment described in Acts had never happened before.  The assembled did not know what all of this meant, or how they would be transformed.  They had gathered in the upper room where the Last Supper had transpired, gathered in fear behind locked doors fearing that the fate of Jesus would be theirs too.  They did not know what Jesus meant when he said, behold I make all things new.  Where is their terror as their world turns upside down and they come to realize that they will never be the same again?

I am reminded of the words of a theologian who remarked that she was surprised that safety belts were not distributed to people as they came into the church for Liturgy.  Don’t they have any idea what they could be in for?  Her question: What if it were to happen this time?  What if we, the assembled, were to see clearly what we believe happens when we baptize?  How could we calmly watch as one of our beloved descends into this pool of abundant water that is both womb and tomb?  Wouldn’t we tremble as the earth quakes and the heavens open and all creation pays heed to the Voice calling the one by name and declaring her/him to be My Beloved One?  That is what the Voice said over Jesus in the Jordan.

Wouldn’t we need seatbelts and life jackets if the Word washed over us and, broken open, entered our hearts and transformed us?  Wouldn’t we have to hang on for our dear lives if, as hands raised over the elements on the altar and over us, if, when the Spirit is invoked, like the bread and the wine, our very substance yielded to be transformed into Christ’s body and blood?  What about our having to be broken and distributed to be Christ’s loving presence in the world?  This action that is Eucharist demands all this of those who take and eat.

We celebrate Pentecost, the outpouring of the Spirit, the Birthday of the Church.  I wonder if we shouldn’t experience the pangs, the labor pains, as this new creation is brought forth.  I want our icons and our liturgical celebrations to confront us, shake us to the core and call us to that new life Christ’s dying and rising began, rather than lull us with romantic piety.  Who can identify with those who walked this Way before us if they are so stoic.  Our art and our rituals should make us realize the wonder of the call and the impossibility of responding without our yielding and being empowered by the Spirit.  Then we could stand in awe as possibilities dawned on us.  Imagine what would happen if, as did that gathering on the first Pentecost, we threw open the doors and, filled with Christ’s love and animated by the Spirit, we rushed into the public square and spoke heart to heart with those we met there.

Of course we might have to pour out our lives to convince them.  But isn’t that what this is all about?

One final challenge for the church on this Pentecost.  Listen to Pope Francis and his call for reform.  Strip away the clericalism, the trappings of royalty and power, come out of the manses and manors and be a poorer church serving the needs of the poor.  Atone for past abuses.  Lift up the little ones, the disenfranchised, the alienated and embrace them as sisters and brothers in the Lord.  Let the wind blow, the fire rain down and all things be born anew.

Sincerely,

Didymus