Homilies

For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts

For Easter Season 2012

Costly Discipleship
Purpose: To enter deeply into this final week of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection by presenting Christ’s life, not as something of the distant past, but as an ongoing invitation to imitate him and to lay our lives down for all even today.

Palm Sunday—April 1, 2012
Readings: Is 50:4-7 ● Phil 2:6-11 ● Mk 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040112.cfm

To many men and women, Jesus Christ is unknown, or, at least, not very real or important. This means that so many in our world, on this Palm Sunday, are totally indifferent to the sacred events, which we recall in this week we call, “Holy.”  We might well ask ourselves: “could the same be true of Christians?”  The answer is simply “yes.”  Not that we believers deny Christ, or the crucial significance of what happened in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, but we can be a forgetful people. We could take it all for granted.  It is easy to say that we are disciples of the Lord, and, yet, not follow through with the consequences of this discipleship.

That is why, that once again on Palm Sunday, the Church invites us to reflect prayerfully on the profound meaning of it all.  However, we must not simply recall these events with our memory, as if glancing at history, since this might relegate them to the distant past.  We must enter fully with our hearts, reflecting on the cost of discipleship.

The scene of Our Lord, riding on a donkey; the joy of the crowd, waving their palms to welcome the king on his entry into Jerusalem; all must have moved the disciples to excitement.  They may have even felt a hint of pride, being the ones chosen directly by the Lord himself.  But they would soon face the fear and trauma of the crowds later roaring with anger: “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  They must have felt sadness and grief as their king was crowned with a crown of thorns, being led through the streets to the throne of the cross, to die an agonizing death.  And then they would face the ultimate challenge from Jesus by his words: “Whoever wishes to be a follower of mine must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  They soon would be faced with the cost of discipleship.

The Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonheoffer, who was executed by the Nazis, wrote a book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship.  In it, he wrote:

Costly grace is the sanctuary of God … It is, therefore, the living word, the Word of God, which he speaks as it pleases him. Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus. It comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ, and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

On two separate occasions, Peter received the call, “Follow me.” It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1.17; John 21.22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennesareth, when Peter left his nets, and his craft, and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Gennesareth, and once again the call is: “Follow me.” Between the two calls lay a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them, comes Peter’s confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God… This grace was certainly not self-bestowed. It was the grace of Christ himself, now prevailing upon the disciple to leave all, and follow him, now working in him that confession which to the world must sound like the ultimate blasphemy, now inviting Peter to the supreme fellowship of martyrdom for the Lord he had denied, and, thereby, forgiving him all his sins. In the life of Peter, grace and discipleship are inseparable. He had received the grace which costs.

Palm Sunday is a reminder of the cost of discipleship.  We know that the suffering and death of Jesus made the disciples afraid for their own lives.  They thought it was the end.  However, we know that they would later proclaim the Lord to the ends of the world, and die for their faith.  They, too, would share in the sufferings of their Master.  They would learn that the way of the disciple would be the way of the cross.

Today, we are faced with the same challenge that the disciples faced two thousand years ago: we must follow the Lord on His terms and not our own.  We must set aside all pride and earthly ambition.  We must be willing and ready to pay the cost of discipleship: by taking up the cross and following the path set before us by the Lord.  This may frighten us, and we may feel overwhelmed by such a challenge.  But, we always remember that we do not walk alone.  God will give us the same strength and courage that he gave his own Son and the disciples who followed him.  We must trust him: not by paying him lip service, but by committing everything to him.

As Jesus showed his love by dying on the cross, we must be living witnesses to this love daily, in good times and in bad.  Let us pray that as we enter into this week, we call “holy,” we will not be indifferent, or forgetful, of the price that Jesus paid to save us from our sins.  May we, too, be willing to pay the cost of discipleship!

 

 

Resurrexit, Sicut Dixit, Alleluia!
Purpose: To see how the joy of knowing Christ’s resurrection, and his defeat over all death, must overflow through our souls, thereby making us witnesses to Easter, and heralds of the ultimate good news!

Easter—April 8, 2012
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 ● Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6b-8 ●Jn 20:1-9 or Mk 16:1-7
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040812.cfm

Now let the heavens be joyful,
Let earth her song begin:
Let the round world keep triumph,
And all that is therein;
Invisible and visible,
Their notes let all things blend,
For Christ the Lord is risen
Our joy that hath no end.
(Saint John Damascene)

On the first day of the week, the women were up early in the morning making their way to the tomb. They carried spices, with the sole purpose of anointing Christ’s body in preparation for final burial.  They had a duty to perform, or, should we say, a simple act of kindness to render.  All they had left were precious memories; their world had fallen apart. They were painfully trying to come to terms with the loss of their Lord.  Nevertheless, his death had not quenched their love for him.  Due to the proximity of the Sabbath, there had been no time to do anything but take Jesus’ body down from the cross, hastily placing it in the tomb.

As they hurried along to pay their final respects, the one topic of conversation, that preoccupied them, was how they were going to roll back the huge stone blocking the entrance to the tomb.  On arrival at the spot, they were surprised to discover the stone rolled back, the tomb opened, and the body missing.  Instead, there was a young man, dressed in white, presumably an angel, telling them not to be afraid.  Then, came the shocking announcement: Jesus had risen! “He is not here,” the angel proclaimed Furthermore, this heavenly messenger commissioned them to announce the resurrection to Peter and the disciples, directing them to meet the Risen Lord in Galilee. Small wonder that these women, who came to grieve and to embalm his body, could not cope with the situation.  All they could do was to run away in tears and confusion, as they were frightened.

The Gospels are very clear on the Resurrection being at the heart of the matter, and the keystone of the Christian faith.  Jesus had risen from the dead as he had promised.  This is mystery beyond words.  We proclaim our faith because we know from the Scriptures that Christ is alive.  The early Church was under no illusion as to the importance of this central fact.  All that Christ had said about himself, before his death, had come to pass.  At the heart of our belief, is the promise of life instead of death, hope in place of despair, victory in place of defeat.  Without that belief, there would be no Church, no Christianity.  Love has won the day; the glory of God is revealed, in all of its splendor.

Easter is a remarkable day in human history.  It is a time of new life, a celebration of God’s love that brings light into darkness, hope into despair, and peace into our souls.  Like the women at the tomb, we are invited to joyfully proclaim that Jesus is risen from the dead. We are told to share this good news of the Resurrection with others.  The message of the Risen Christ, which is the source of the great happiness within all our hearts, has to be announced to the whole world.  Easter proclaims that nothing good shall perish; death does not have the last word; our lives will be changed.

Perhaps, we need to ask what difference, if any, the Resurrection means for us. We need to find out if knowing that our sins are forgiven, and living with the hope of eternal life, will inspire us to lead lives of holiness and loving service.  We don’t have to die in order to share in the Resurrection.  It takes place when we trust again after our trust is betrayed; love after being rejected; continue to hope when our dreams have been shattered; and, pick up the pieces when dealt a cruel blow.  Easter is an everyday, life-changing occurrence, taking place when lies give way to truth, when hatred surrenders to love, and indifference yields to compassion.

Cardinal Basil Hume once said: “The great gift of Easter is hope—Christian hope, which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in His goodness and love, which nothing can shake.” The message of Easter is that, just as Christ conquered all, so can we conquer all, provided we place all our trust in him.  Easter proclaims that our deepest human longings can be satisfied, for there is a purpose to our living. There is more to life than the wrappings and trappings of earthly existence.  We have a heavenly homeland, which shapes our thinking, and leads us through the blessings and crosses of life.  All we have to do is to open our hearts to the risen power of Jesus.

On that first Easter morning, the women did not find what they were looking for, the dead body of Jesus.  They found something more than they ever imagined: the Risen Christ.  Sometimes, the things we think we want the most are not granted to us: we are given something more.  This was the grace given at the first Easter, which is given to us today.  As we go from this Church into the world, let us join Mary, and her companions, by proclaiming that: “We have seen the Lord!”

Divine Mercy
Purpose: It took two saints from an oppressed Poland, hectored by two totalitarian regimes— Nazism to the West and Communism to the East—to point us to the Mother of all Divine Mercy.  While his scars remain, Christ teaches all that mercy, that forgiveness, and the subsequent straining, which brings all back into the Father’s fold.

Second Sunday of Easter, Sunday of the Divine Mercy—April 15, 2012
Readings: Acts 4:32-35 ● 1 Jn 5:1-6 ● Jn 20:19-31
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/041512.cfm

It has been over seven years since the death of our beloved Holy Father, Blessed John Paul the Great.  For twenty-seven years, he guided the Church through uncertain times. With vigor and zeal, he brought the Gospel to all of the continents of the world.  In order to understand this great pope, we must seek to understand the world in which he grew up.  Poland is a nation that has suffered considerably throughout the centuries.  Not once, but twice, it was obliterated from the map of Europe.  No sooner was the world recovering from the tragedies of the First World War, then it was beset by the carnage of the Second World War.  It was home to many of the concentration camps, the horrors of which must never be forgotten.  And, if all of this were not enough, Communism instilled itself at the very roots.

This is the world into which Blessed John Paul was born and reared.  They might try to overpower a nation, but never would they take their faith.  This faith carried people through most of terrible of times.  It was into this same world, that St. Faustina was born in 1905.  The experiences of our Holy Father were most surely the same experiences of this simple, Polish nun who lived such a very short life.  I think that it is also safe to assume that this was the very same motivation in their shared desire to serve the Lord in the heart of the Church.  Through the grace of God, they are united for all time, as Blessed John Paul declared Sister Faustina a saint of the Catholic Church.  In his own words at her canonization, he stated that:

By Divine Providence, the life of this humble daughter of Poland was completely linked with the history of the twentieth century, the century we have just left behind.  In fact, it was between the First and Second World Wars, that Christ entrusted His message to her.  Those who remember, who were witnesses and participants in the events of those years, and the horrible sufferings they caused for millions of people, know well how necessary was this message of mercy.

As we look at the world around us, we are living through some of the same realities that have gone before: war, terrorism, tragedies and famine.  The feeling of insecurity, both within and without, is very real.  And, yet, this is a time of mercy. The rays of God’s mercy are what give us hope.  Mercy is part of the very deposit of our faith.  The role of St. Faustina was simply to draw attention, in a very spectacular way, to the truth that God is the God of Mercy, and, that Jesus Christ is our merciful Savior.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus appears to the disciples in the room where they were in fear for their lives, and greeted them: “Peace be with you.”  Not only are they filled with fear, but they are filled with shame and guilt, for they recognize their sin in the presence of the Risen Lord.  Jesus does not take the opportunity to scold or condemn the disciples.  Rather, he greets them with peace.  This is the mercy of the Risen Jesus.  At the very moment that the Apostles are supremely conscious of their weakness, when they are filled with shame and guilt, this is the very same moment that the Risen Lord chooses to communicate, to these weak men, his power.  This is exactly what happens in the Sacrament of Confession; we come to the Lord with our sins; he shows us mercy.

Today, we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday.  Put simply, divine mercy is “God’s love for us in the face of our weaknesses; God’s love as it comes into impact with our sins; God’s love as it reaches down and touches our needs.”  Such a great gift requires three responses on our part.  First, a response of gratitude—that God reaches out, in his loving kindness, forgiving our sins in the Sacrament of Confession.  The second response must be trust.  We must trust God in everything.  Finally, our Lord reminds us that if we have received mercy, then we must show mercy.  If we have been forgiven, we must forgive. There is no other way—look at the Lord on the Cross; look at his pierced body; look at his wounded heart.

We are living in a world that so desperately needs the mercy of God.  The face of suffering that Blessed John Paul the Great and St. Faustina witnessed, is still seen today.  Countless images are daily reminders of this terrible reality.  But we are a people of hope!  The same faith that sustained countless numbers of our fellow human beings, throughout history, is the same faith that brings us together today.  In order for the world to know peace, individual hearts must be transformed by the mercy of God.   This is the message of this Feast of Divine Mercy; let us pray that Christ’s farewell gift of peace might become a reality.

Mercy Continues
Purpose: Perhaps, today we could preach on a saint or Christian hero who personified the joy of Easter, and the mercy of last Sunday, to show us how we, too, can live, if only we open ourselves to receive the divine life and this ever-present grace.

Third Sunday of Easter—April 22, 2012
Readings: Acts 3:13-15, 17-19 ● 1 Jn 2:1-5a ● Lk 24:35-48
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042212.cfm

History must never forget the lessons of the Second World War, particularly the Nazi Holocaust.  Millions of people lost their lives in one of the most brutal regimes that the world has ever known.  While we hear much about the Holocaust, and the dreaded concentration camps, we do not hear a lot about the resistance movement against Hitler and Nazism.  There were many brave figures, who tried to bring down a tyrannical regime, and build a new Germany that would champion the dignity and rights of every human person.  One such hero was Father Alfred Delp.  Father Delp is a name that many people may not easily recognize.  He was a German Jesuit, executed by the Nazis on February 2, 1945, for anti-Hitler activities.  As a member of the group called the “Kreisau Circle,” Delp and his companions set about writing a new German constitution founded on Christianity.  They saw that Nazism could not stand because it was a regime without God.  They looked forward to a new tomorrow.

Unfortunately, Father Delp never lived to see the day.  He was arrested, interrogated and tortured.  He was tried as an enemy of the state. His public trial was nothing but a farce to openly ridicule the Catholic Church, as well as his Jesuit community.  During the six months before his execution, he was shackled for most of the time in his prison cell. There, he wrote many deeply moving letters, meditations and prayers ,which were smuggled out of the prison to his family and friends.  His writings reveal a man who was profoundly changed by his suffering.  In his own words, he was an impatient and rash “brat” in his youth, who was transformed into a herald of hope and grace.

Fr. Delp must have felt like the disciples after the death of Jesus.  All of the hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow were dashed in an instant.  Once openly and boldly proclaiming the Messiah, the disciples had become frightened and depressed, locked behind closed doors.  They had heard the rumors that Jesus had risen from the dead, but it was just too good to be true.  But then, when all seemed to be lost, two of the disciples recounted what had happened to them on the road to Emmaus. They recalled how they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Then, the unimaginable happened: Once again, Jesus appeared in their very midst.  He assured them that he was not a ghost.  We can imagine the joy that they felt.  It was God’s plan that Jesus had to suffer and die.  However, death did not have the final say.  The Resurrection opened up new horizons.  Jesus reassured his disciples; then, he commissioned them to bear witness to what they had seen and heard.

We can say, over two thousand years later, that the disciples were successful in the mission that Christ entrusted to them.  The faith that they preached, and for which many of them died, continues to flourish.  It has been a source of strength and consolation for people, in every time and place, like Fr. Alfred Delp, who knew that his sufferings were a share in the sufferings of Christ. He was not alone.  He had his struggles.  In one letter he wrote: “I believe in God and in life.  And, whatever we pray for with faith, we’ll get.  Faith is the secret.  And I don’t believe that God will let me choke…But, I honestly can’t say anything better than that about my situation.  God has profoundly entrapped me, and challenged me, to keep my word from former times: with him alone, can one live and deal with one’s destiny.”1  I am sure that these words would resonate with the disillusioned and frightened disciples.  With his imminent death approaching, he wrote to another friend: “More than ever, my life is standing absolutely on God…I pray, and trust, and surrender myself, and rely on the Lord.”2  His final words sum up his faith in the Risen Lord: “For the glory of your name may we be mercifully set free.”3

The Easter Season is an opportunity for us to reflect on the great mystery of human suffering, in the context of the hope of the Resurrection.  Like the disciples and martyrs, such as Father Delp, we may feel overwhelmed by sorrow, and life may seem unbearable.  However, it is into these wounds that the Risen Christ reaches and transforms, reminding us that we are not alone.  “I am with you always” is his promise.  Not only are we called to believe this is in our own lives, but we are also called to proclaim it to others.  The Resurrection is the very foundation and cornerstone of our faith; we do not believe in vain.  The more we meditate on the mystery of Easter, the closer we come to the Risen Lord.

The Good Shepherd Chooses to Need You
Purpose: On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Church also celebrates the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. This is a reminder to us that the Lord Jesus has chosen to rely on followers and imitators of his filial oblation, so as to bring his own life and love to all times, and to all parts of the world he loved till the end.

Fourth Sunday of Easter and World Day of Prayer for Vocations —April 29, 2012
Readings: Acts 4:8-12 ● 1 Jn 3:1-2 ● Jn 10:11-18
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/042912.cfm

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved and cherished images in the Sacred Scriptures.  It has been a source of inspiration to artists and musicians. It has given encouragement and hope to those who have lost their way. It has given courage and perseverance to many who have devoted themselves to serving the Lord in the ordained ministry and consecrated life.  The Good Shepherd knows His sheep; He is willing to lay down His very life for their protection and safety.  Where there are sheep, there will always be a need for shepherds, who have the mind, and the heart, of Christ.

On this the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, we are invited to pray in a special way for vocations to the ordained ministry and consecrated life.  There has never been a greater need, in the history of the Church, for more laborers in the vineyard of the Lord.  Ever since assuming the papal office, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about the “dictatorship of relativism,” and rampant secularization, that is sweeping across today’s society.  Last October, he announced a Year of Faith in his Apostolic Letter, “Porta Fidei” (“The Door of Faith”).  In the letter, he stated that “the door of faith is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God, and offering entry into his Church … To enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.  It begins with baptism, through which we can address God as Father and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life.”  He went on to say that, from the very beginning of his Pontificate, he has “spoken of the need to rediscover the journey of faith, so as to shed ever clearer light on the joy, and renewed enthusiasm, of the encounter with Christ.”

This is especially important in today’s world.  How often is the faith being dismissed as irrelevant?  Not to mention the overt attempts to relegate faith to the private sphere!  The very faith, for which so many sacrificed their very lives, is being challenged both from within and without.  This is a concern, not only for the Pope, but also for each and every one of us.  What would we do without our faith?  Life would be void of any purpose or meaning.  Reading the signs of the times, the Holy Father is inviting each of us to delve ever deeper into the riches of our Faith.  In his own words, it is “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world.”

Vocations are born from faith, nurtured in the family, and encouraged within the Church.  God continues to call men and women to leave everything, and follow him.  While many in our world would have us think that there is a shortage of vocations, the opposite is true.  There is an abundance of vocations. God is calling. But the concern is: why aren’t people listening?  In his homily at a prayer vigil for youth at World Youth Day in Madrid, the Holy Father said:

Dear friends: May no adversity paralyze you. Be afraid neither of the world, nor of the future, nor of your weakness. The Lord has allowed you to live in this moment of history so that, by your faith, his name will continue to resound throughout the world. During this prayer vigil, I urge you to ask God to help you find your vocation in society and in the Church, and to persevere in that vocation with joy and fidelity. It is a good thing to open our hearts to Christ’s call, and to follow, with courage and generosity, the path he maps out for us. The Lord calls many people to marriage, in which a man and a woman, in becoming one flesh, find fulfillment in a profound life of communion. It is a prospect that is both bright and demanding. It is a project for true love, which is daily renewed and deepened by sharing joys and sorrows, one marked by complete self-giving. For this reason, to acknowledge the beauty and goodness of marriage is to realize that only a setting of fidelity and indissolubility, along with openness to God’s gift of life, is adequate to the grandeur and dignity of marital love.

Christ calls others to follow him more closely in the priesthood, or in consecrated life. It is hard to put into words the happiness you feel when you know that Jesus seeks you, trusts in you, and with his unmistakable voice, also says to you: “Follow me!” Dear young people, if you wish to discover and to live faithfully the form of life to which the Lord is calling each of you, you must remain in his love as his friends. And how do we preserve friendship except through frequent contact, conversation, being together in good times and bad? Saint Teresa of Jesus used to say that prayer is just such “friendly contact, often spending time alone with the one who we know loves us.” And so I now ask you to “abide” in the adoration of Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. I ask you to enter into conversation with him, to bring before him your questions and to listen to his voice.

As we reflect on the generosity of the Good Shepherd, we would do well to ask ourselves: “What am I doing to encourage vocations?”  Regardless of our age or state of life, we are called to pray earnestly to the Good Shepherd, that many more people will respond to the Lord’s call.  We need to enter into the silence of our hearts, so that we can be alone with God, and listen to his voice.  There is no better place to do this than before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament: the sacrament of total sacrifice and consecration.  Gazing on the Good Shepherd, we experience His boundless love and concern for His flock. We pray that this love will inspire more to lives of service for the salvation of souls.

  1. Mary Frances Coady, With Bound Hands: A Jesuit in Nazi Germany (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2003) 89.
  2. Ibid., 203.
  3. Ibid., 206.
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avatar About Fr. Paul Burke

Father Paul Burke, a native of Galway, Ireland, was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. A graduate of Mt. St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, he later earned a Licentiate of Canon Law (J.C.L.) degree from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Currently, he is dean of the faculty of theology at Holy Spirit College in Atlanta. He also serves as parochial vicar of Holy Spirit parish. He is presently working on a doctorate through the American College of the Immaculate Conception in Leuven, Belgium. His research interests are Catholic education in canon law, bioethics, and Catholic-Orthodox relations.

Comments

  1. Concerning the Palm Sunday homily, this opening sentence struck me in a very troubling way: “To many men and women, Jesus Christ is unknown, or, at least, not very real or important.” I remember the day when all of a sudden, Jesus Christ became crucially the most important Person in my life. I remember the purpose of catechesis given by John Paul II: “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Trinity.” (On Catechesis in Our Time #5) I remember the power of the Holy Scripture: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” (Catechism #133 – St. Jerome) I remember the words of St. Paul, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17)

    In the over-abundance of the treasures entrusted to this Church, how can such poverty exist? How can such distance continue, when He is so close – substantially present in the tabernacles of every sanctuary, present in His word, in the gathering of HIs people, in HIs holy ministers, …. He is so near! How can we be so distant?

    When will the New Evangelization begin?

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