For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for October 2012
Christ Consolator by Carl Bloch
Purpose: God gave the human race the sacrament of matrimony, “as the one blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in the flood,” to teach us about love. It is the way he chose to remove Adam’s loneliness, and it is the way he chooses to treat his Church, espousing himself to her as the perfect bridegroom lays his life down for every hope-filled bride. As the readings today clarify, this is an indissoluble covenant, making one out of two. Today’s readings also speak of the children, the brothers and sisters, that arise from this union. Therefore, today is a unique opportunity to talk about the beauty of marriage and the blessings of marriage.
27th Sunday of Ordinary Time—October 7, 2012
Readings: Gn 2:18-24• Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6• Heb 2:9-11• Mk 10:2-1
Whether it’s the “Chick-Fil-A” controversy, the 50% divorce rate, or simple anecdotal evidence of everyday life, most people can see that marriage is far from being the solid foundation of society that it once was. Amid a torrent of confusion and ideology, today’s liturgy highlights marriage, with the Lord educating us on its true meaning and place in the loving plan of God.
Marriage in the Bible is one of the chief metaphors of God’s love for his people. It begins with the first couple, Adam and Eve, fulfilling the “image and likeness” of God as a communion of persons. It ends with the “wedding feast of the Lamb,” in Revelation, as the culmination of history. In between, we see examples everywhere, from prophets and psalmists, to apostles and evangelists. John the Baptist, and our Lord himself, refer to Jesus as the Bridegroom, come to claim his bride, the Church. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure bride to her one husband” (2 Cor 11.2).
So, we consistently see God’s high esteem for marriage, in the privileged place it has in revelation, as the main symbol for God’s covenant love for his people.
Today’s Gospel has the Pharisees testing Jesus with the question of divorce. The fact that these rigorous moralists were digging for exemptions, shows that the difficulties of marriage are nothing new. They ask: “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” Jesus directs them back to Moses. They acknowledge his reference to Moses, but only partially, saying: “Moses permitted divorce,” they reply. But, Jesus shows them that their biblical memory is not deep enough. “Moses said this because of your hardness of heart,” Jesus replies. “But from the beginning, God made them male and female…and the two shall become one flesh.”
Jesus refers them back to the original plan of God, which was that man and woman, through their mutual union and gift of self, share in the Trinitarian image of God as a communion of persons. They become “one flesh,” forming an indissoluble covenant.
The cynicism and jadedness of the Pharisees is seen in their eagerness to reduce things to the fallen world they see and experience. To use the fallen world as the starting point is not the right method. Jesus has authority, seeing with the eyes of God. Jesus knows that marriage was “from the beginning,” and has come to restore it. Yes, marriage is hard, and fallen humanity will always struggle with it. But with God, all things are possible. Jesus came to heal, to redeem, to restore creation to its original beauty, to make all things new… including marriage and family, sex and relationships. His grace has elevated marriage to a sacrament, and now to a “Mystery,” the efficacious sign of His union with the Church. Jesus refuses to let the fallen world be the starting point, He insists on challenging us to keep our ideals high, and our eyes on the full truth.
Jesus’ first miracle was at the wedding of Cana. A poor couple did not have enough wine for their wedding. This is always the case. No couple has enough wine for their wedding, enough strength or virtue for their own marriage. But thanks to Jesus, the tragedy is transformed into God’s sign and victory. Water becomes fine wine at his word. The same happens with marriages: stale water of strain and resentment can become the wine of romance and tenderness again, through the power of Jesus. He made marriage a sacrament because he wants this.
As a last note, it is worth pointing out that, immediately following this discussion of marriage and divorce, is the blessing of the children. Jesus knows, as anyone affected by divorce knows, the harm it does to children. It’s probably safe to say he grieves deeply over this outcome of divorce, wanting to prevent it.
The Gospel is the good news that all things are redeemable, including marriage. God’s plan is not only beautiful, but achievable through Jesus and his grace—not primarily through our own efforts, but in particular through the sacramental grace of marriage.
Only Christ’s Satiates Our Restless Spirit
Purpose: Wisdom is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. Today’s readings point to the wisdom in the fact that only through following Christ is our human restlessness satiated. This is what every saint knows: as important as doing good and avoiding evil may be, the law never brings true life. Our hearts are restless until they know—deeply and truly know—Jesus. This is what the rich young man comes to learn; this is what every sorrow, and every holy desire in our lives, teaches us, as well.
28th Sunday of Ordinary Time—October 12, 2012
Readings: Wis 7:7-11• Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17• Heb 4:12-13• Mk 10:17-30
Amid the many ideas of what it means to be human, dissatisfaction seems to be a common factor. Restlessness: we all want to be happy, and nothing ever quite seems enough. There is a longing which seems bottomless. The cry for something infinite and eternal haunts even the skeptic. Try as we might, none of our efforts ever seem to quite succeed.
For many, this may eventually lead to despair. There is a song by a well-known secular rock group with the line: “Don’t get any big ideas, they’re not gonna happen.” For the Christian, however, the problem is solved; the question is answered. The heart’s cry for the eternal is answered in Jesus, the Word made flesh, God’s answer to our deepest need.
The question of meaning and happiness is perhaps felt most acutely among the young. We see it in today’s Gospel. A man (Matthew’s account tells us he was wealthy and young) approaches Jesus and says, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Actually, it says that he “ran up” to Jesus. Apparently, this man was eager to get his moment with the Lord. In spite of his youth and wealth, he recognizes a lack, prompted by something exceptional in Jesus which caused his heart to well up with longing.
After insisting that to speak of “good” is to speak of “God,” Jesus directs the man to the commandments. Astonishingly, the man replies that he has kept all of them from his youth. This provokes a look of love from Jesus, who then says, “You are lacking in one thing. Go sell your things and give them to the poor; then, come follow me.”
It’s not surprising that the man’s youth and wealth were not enough to make him happy. Most religious people know this. The man acknowledges, after all, that he has yet to attain “eternal life,” which he asks Jesus to help him find. What is surprising is that the law, morality, a good life… these were not enough, either. They were a great start, which is why Jesus mentions them first, and looks lovingly on the man’s attainment of them. But, Jesus does not say, “Well done, you have kept the law. Congratulations! It’s enough that you are a good person. Go in peace.” No. Jesus insists the man is still lacking “one thing.” He lacks Jesus.
Here we have a tragic irony. The most moral man, perhaps, in all the gospels, misses out on what his heart was made for. In the end, the man goes away sad, unable to part with his possessions. He was a good man… but not a happy one. He was many good things; but he was not a Christian.
What follows is a sobering lesson from Jesus on the hazards of wealth and attachments.
I always wonder what happened to this man. Perhaps, he eventually came around. I hope so. This passage reminds us that Christianity is primarily about following the attraction of an encounter. The man was wise enough to recognize his attraction to Jesus. He recognized something exceptional enough that he was willing to submit his deepest questions about life’s meaning to Jesus. But, he did not have enough love in his heart to follow through on its deepest desires.
Jesus once told the Pharisees and scribes that “prostitutes and tax collectors are entering the Kingdom of God before you.” Perhaps, this was because, unlike the Pharisees, the sinners knew their needs. They knew their needs were too big, and their abilities too small, to ever hope to attain their own salvation. Their hearts recognized Jesus as their true home. So, they followed him, no matter the cost. They followed him as if their lives depended on it, which indeed they did. The young man from the gospel today was certainly no Pharisee. He was earnest and teachable, and had dialed into the needs of his heart. But in the end, he said “no” to Jesus. He missed the Kingdom.
Following Christ, not moral law, is what makes us Christian. Morality is a consequence of the relationship. It is secondary. And, it is a response to God who loves us first. Morality often becomes coherent only over time, and within the context of following Jesus. We certainly see this pattern in the life of the apostles as portrayed in the gospels.
Pope Benedict XVI has written: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon, and a decisive direction.” Let’s pray that we will have this encounter, often and intensely, following eagerly those people, and places, where his loving gaze is encountered. And, that we will leave behind what is not needed. In this way, we will avoid the sadness of the young man and, instead, taste the fullness of life, which the apostles and saints have known.
Collaborating with God in conforming ourselves to his will
Purpose: Jesus is human enough to know that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be first; yet, he is God enough to know that to be first means to love others selflessly. This is the great paradox of the Incarnation: a man who saves, and a God who serves. Becoming a saint is just that: a lifetime of saving service, giving oneself away in charity. That is why Jesus can’t simply, and arbitrarily, appoint heaven; we must always and everywhere collaborate with him in conforming ourselves to that very reality, even now.
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time—October 21
Readings: Is 53:10-11• Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22• Heb 4:14-16• Mk 10:35-4
A repeated theme in Pope Benedict’s writings is that of exodus: not so much from the political oppression of Pharaoh, but from the prison of our own ego.
Both as a cardinal, and then as a pope, Pope Benedict has pointed to Christ as the new Moses, who leads his disciples on this liberating journey. In “Introduction to Christianity,” he wrote decades ago that Christ’s whole mission, and existence, can be summed up in the word “for”: Christ is for the Father and for us. He comes, not to advance his own agenda, but the Father’s. He comes not to save himself, but others. Christ is the new man, the man for others, the man who came, not to be served, but to serve. Christ shows that the way towards true greatness lies in following his own love and service of others. In this way, the Pope says, Christ saves us from the prison of selfishness, showing us the way to a true future.
In today’s Gospel, which follows Jesus’ third and final prediction of his upcoming Passion, James and John (with astonishing obtuseness) ask Jesus to grant that they sit at his right and his left when he comes into his glory. Jesus shrewdly turns this into a question for them: “Can you drink my cup and share my baptism?” “Of course,” they say, unaware of the implications. “Very well, it shall be so. But…to sit at my right and my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the other disciples then become indignant, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them, once again, with all the infinite patience and gentleness that never ceases to astonish.
Jesus contrasts the leadership of the pagan, gentile world with that of his own Kingdom. Whereas they make sure their authority is known and felt, Christ’s Kingdom is characterized by the greatness of service. “Whoever wishes to be great among you, will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first will be the slave of all.” He then uses himself as the model: “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Tyrants and bullies are small hearted and insecure. They are driven by fear. Sensing his own inadequacy, the tyrant builds a fortress of protection around his fragile ego. In his ceaseless striving to be “better-than,” he engages in processes of social Darwinism to prove his worth to himself, and others, stomping down all who would stand in his way. Beneath it, all is the fear of being found out, the terror of being exposed for being the nobody he secretly fears himself to be. In short, tyrants are orphans. Lacking the true love of the Father, they must make their own way in the world, must create and prove their own worth, even at the expense of others.
Christians are different. Christ has won. Gone is the need for futile egotistical wheel-spinning. Christians are sons and daughters of the Father, not orphans. Their fear and insecurity is vanquished by Jesus, who proves their worth, and demonstrates their lovability, by dying on the cross for them, by giving his own life for their ransom. The fear of inadequacy gives way to boundless confidence. The Spirit is given to fill the vast void formerly occupied by the ravenous and grasping ego.
Having been filled with the love of Jesus and his Spirit, the Christian can go forth serving and loving others. The “old man” of the ego gives way to the “new man” of redeemed son or daughter. The meaning of life is no longer to strive, prove, excel, be “better-than.” The way to be first is to be second. Power is redeemed, becoming instead the greatness of true authority. Self-assertion gives way to self-emptying; domination gives way to service and love.
Christians will continue to struggle, for the exodus out of the ego. Its flawed logic can be a long journey, with many fits and starts. But the “promised land” of holiness, service, and love is always within view, within reach, thanks to Christ, who not only shows us the way but accompanies us there. Let’s pray for a renewal of zeal and enthusiasm for this exodus journey, for we need it. The world needs it. History needs it.
When the Lord of all life draws near, we are to take courage, stand in service
Purpose: Similar to last week, today’s readings focus on the new high pries,t Jesus Christ. Continuing his journey to Jerusalem today, he encounters Bartimaeus. We see that when the Lord of all life draws near, we are to take courage, stand in service, and state our deepest desires, so that the Lord can use our willingness to be healed, in order that we may see truly.
30th Sunday of Ordinary Time—October 28
Readings: Jer 31:7-9• Ps 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6• Heb 5:1-6• Mk 10:46-52
In today’s Gospel, we meet Bartimaeus—or rather, Bartimaeus meets Christ. Like so many others in the Gospel, he is healed by the encounter; he is enabled to see. His life is made better by Christ.
As with so many of the people whom Christ encounters, Bartimaeus is both pitiful and noble in his desperation. He’s pitiful because he’s so helpless, so trusting, so desperate. He continues crying out for Christ, unashamed of his utter poverty, even when people try silencing him.
But he’s also noble. He’s not afraid of his brokenness, of his weakness, of his humanity. He’s a man in touch with his real needs, not afraid to utter his cry, even in the sight of others. Unlike so many of us, he knows he is not self-sufficient. He is not ashamed of his heart. He wears no masks to try to impress people. He knows he can’t give himself sight. He knows his life is in need of a saving presence.
Bartimaeus was by the roadside begging. The beggar is the one who lacks, who needs, who depends. The beggar is not self-sufficient. The beggar is humble and open, and is not afraid of hope. The beggar fulfills in many ways the first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Fr Luigi Giussani once said: “The true protagonist of history is the beggar: Christ who begs for man’s heart, and man’s heart which begs for Christ.”
The text says that, when Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by, his hope was awakened. He cried out: “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” The “son of David” title is important. It means that Bartimaeus recognized, and acknowledged, Christ’s kingship. How did he even know? Perhaps he had heard the stories. Even though he couldn’t see, he recognized the exceptional presence of Jesus. He recognized that Jesus had true authority in the line of David, that is, the line filled with the promise of God.
“And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.”
Sometimes religion is reduced to something like bourgeois respectability—something for nice people, who are neat and clean and successful; people with good jobs, who make good money, and drive nice cars, and have good manners. Maybe some of the people in the crowd were like this. Maybe they felt threatened by Bartimaeus. Maybe they thought that, “Jesus is for nice people like us, who are religious and respectable—not for people like this shabby beggar.” Maybe they thought, men like this don’t belong to Jesus. “He’s ours,” they thought, “he belongs to people who have it together; people like us—not to nobodies.” Maybe they were embarrassed by the poor and shameless beggar Bartimaeus.
Thankfully, Jesus was not embarrassed by Bartimaeus. Jesus heard his cry for pity, and was moved. Jesus is not embarrassed of you and me. He’s not embarrassed by our secret anguish, our loneliness, our cries for pity, by our weakness and poverty, and our inability to get it all together. In fact, maybe it’s these traits which make us most attractive to Jesus.
“Call him,” said Jesus. Unable to resist the command of Jesus, they did as he said.
Then, there is a beautiful detail which is easily missed. It says that Bartimaeus “threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.”
For a poor beggar, the cloak was not just a garment. It was life. Nights grew cold in the desert. For a poor man, the cloak often meant warmth and sustenance after the sun went down, when the more fortunate were safely tucked in their warm beds. The throwing aside of his cloak was, for Bartimaeus, a gesture of radical trust. He was so sure of Jesus that he simply threw it aside.
He makes his way through the murmuring crowd, probably tripping and stumbling, and nervously finds himself, face to face, with Jesus, whom he could not even see. Jesus asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” In asking the question, Jesus allows Bartimaeus to become a protagonist. He doesn’t just throw him a bit of alms. Jesus doesn’t just snap his fingers and heal him. The Lord doesn’t condescend; he makes it into a personal encounter where Bartimaeus can actually speak for himself as a subject; where Bartimaeus has the chance to articulate his needs in a human way.
“Lord, that I may see!” One can almost hear the desperation and longing, the sigh, the years of anguish, and frustration, and rejection, in these words—the whole sad history of this man, all the opportunities for happiness lost to him in this Darwinian world.
“Go your way—your faith has saved you.” Immediately, he received his sight, and “followed him.” The fact that Bartimaeus didn’t leave after the miracle suggests that his heart was longing for something more than just his sight. He began following Jesus. His eyes found light, but his heart found a home.
Try to imagine what must have taken place between these two men in the moment just after Bartimaeus was given his sight. Imagine the gratitude and wonder of Bartimaeus, his new eyes gazing upon the face of Jesus, the first thing he ever saw. Bartimaeus saw someone looking at him in a way no one had ever looked at him before. Someone looking at him in a way he had been longing to be looked at his whole life—looking at him in a way he longed even to look at himself, and was never able to do.
Jesus was, for Bartimaeus, far more than a moral teacher, a king, wise rabbi, a founder of a new world religion, or even a miracle worker. He was the answer to the deepest cry of his heart.
Like Bartimaeus, our hearts beg for Jesus. As we stand along the roadside of life, tired and exhausted, blind and bored, longing for something new and beautiful to happen, let’s pray that he will appear to us. Let’s join our voices, and our hearts, with the beggar, Bartimaeus, and pray: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”