For Sunday Liturgies and Feasts
Homilies for February 2014
The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
Feast of the Presentation – February 2, 2014
Becoming a Light to the Nations
Purpose: The Feast of the Presentation is also traditionally when we celebrate the purification of Mary, so that she could re-enter the temple. It is also the evening when the Church celebrates, for the last time, the coming of the light into the world with Candlemas. At Candlemas we see in the imagery of the candles, the light of Christ, which we are all called to carry, and bring throughout the world, to scatter the darkness, and become a warming light to all humanity. Yet, to become a light to the nations, we must begin by purifying ourselves (as seen in the first reading), so that Christ’s light burns brightly within us, and can radiate through us to all whom we meet.
Readings: Malachi 3: 1-4; Psalm 24: 7, 8, 9, 10; Hebrews 2: 14-18; Luke 2: 22-40.
At Christmas and Epiphany, we celebrate the coming of the Son of God in the flesh, with his revelation to humanity. These great feasts recall the great gift of God to the world: His light, which is the light of eternal life that brings humanity warmth and clarity of meaning and purpose, through our union with Christ Jesus—the light. This great gift of light brings joy and happiness to us all, because it means that human life has dignity, value, direction, and purpose. We see in the act of gift-giving at Christmas the greater gift of God’s light that brings joy to us all. At Epiphany, or “Little Christmas,” we see the gifts of the Magi, which signify the purpose for which Christ was born, to become a sacred offering, die, and become the gift more valuable than the most precious gifts of this world. It is this reality, the gift of the presence of Christ Jesus in this world, that we have been celebrating since Christmas and, in a special way, we conclude that celebration today by receiving the light of Christ.
St. Teresa of Avila describes our interior spiritual life using the image of a mansion or castle. Each of us, as human beings, are complicated and complex persons with a biography full of experiences, good and bad, as well as our own thoughts on how to live our life, and the desires we have for our life. Our influences, thoughts, and desires all contribute to the way we live out our life, and how we allow Christ Jesus to be a part of our life. Jesus is the light that illumines the many rooms in the great mansion of our souls. He is the source of warmth, which gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, and clarity, which gives us direction, for our lives. Yet, all too often our biography—the events and people that have influenced our lives—our thoughts and our desires keep us from receiving the light of Christ.
The Prophet Malachi foretells the coming of the great refiner who will purify us so that we may be able to offer true sacrifice to the Lord. “Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD”. The usage here of “Judah” and “Jerusalem” by the prophet do not merely signify a sacrifice offered by a united nation of God’s chosen people, but a sacrifice offered by the “head”(Judah) and the “heart”(Jerusalem) in union with one another. Judah was the fourth son in the line of Joshua. The region of Judah is where David, the King, first ruled from the city of Bethlehem. The Kingdom of Judah could symbolically be seen to be the head of the body of the chosen people of God. Jerusalem is the heart of worship for the people of God. It is in Jerusalem that the temple exists, and it is at the temple that the people of God bring forth their sacrifices for union with their God. Jesus is of the tribe of Judah, the new King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who has come to Jerusalem to bring true peace and unity for humanity with God, through his sacrifice wrought on the Cross. This peace and unity brings peace to the heart and the mind, because it is through the peace of Christ that his light brings warmth to the heart, and clarity to the mind.
Today, on the feast of the Presentation, we celebrate receiving the light of Christ within our head and heart, so that peace and harmony can come to our lives. The reality is that in living in this world, the mansion that is our soul is full of rooms that contain darkness and dim light. When we act like Mary—who was in no real need for purification before entering the temple—we offer ourselves in obedience to God’s will and, in so doing, find that Christ’s light scatters that darkness, providing us the warmth and clarity that we desire. Obedience is the un-bloody sacrifice that we are all called to, every day of our lives. It is through obedience to the will of God that we find—although at times it may seem very challenging—that we grow in greater unity with God, bringing light and joy to our lives.
The more we live this purifying obedience to the will of God, and receive his refining and warming light in our lives, the more we become a light of Christ to the world. On this feast day, we witness Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus to the temple to receive the light of God in his life. But truly it is not to Jesus that the light is given, but Jesus is the light who is received. Mary and Joseph may be presenting Jesus to the temple, but it is really Jesus presenting himself to Mary, Joseph, Simeonh and Anna so that they may receive his light, and proclaim it to the nations.
It is our duty today to receive that same light of Christ in our lives in order to become great beacons radiating its warming and clarifying light to all people.
Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §2012-2016.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 9, 2014
A Light of Witness
Purpose: These readings speak to us about witness. The best apologetic to a person who has fallen away from the Catholic faith—or is not Catholic and, in either case, has questions about the Catholic faith—is not some brilliant theological discourse, but a life that gives good witness to the faith. If we live truly spirit-filled lives in Christ Jesus, we will evangelize more powerfully than if we use a thousand words. As St Francis of Assisi suggested: “Preach always, and use words only when necessary.”
Readings: Isaiah 58: 7-10; Psalm 112: 4-5, 6-7, 8-9; I Corinthians 2: 1-5; Matthew 5: 13-16.
We live in an age of secular and pluralistic societies. The proclamation of Christ Jesus is not primarily heard by the world through words, wise argumentation, or spiritual and theological writings. The world will first come to know Christ Jesus, today, through the outward signs of love that our faith urges us to manifest. It will see the love made manifest by us who are privileged to bear the name “Christian” and then it will ponder: “Why do they do such charitable works when it brings them no greater fame or fortune? Why do they serve when, at times, it even comes at the cost of their own personal wealth, health, and possibly even the loss of life?” They will ask these questions, and many more. If we are truly engaging in the active apostolate of good works—first having an abundance of faith, hope, and love within us interiorly—then, they will see that the answers to all their questions can be summed up with the single reply that we have Jesus, first and foremost, in our lives. The charity that we witness to is the beauty of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. Such beauty attracts.
How, though, do we develop this great love within us that urges us to charitable works? We must begin with the salt of faith. In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Apostles “salt” before he calls them “light.” This is intentional, because salt is a substance that must be received, eaten. Light is something that is radiated outward. While surely we are all called to receive the “light of Christ,” we are also called to radiate it out from ourselves as Jesus expresses in today’s Gospel, “Just so, your light must shine before others.” So that we might shine the light of Christ before others “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father,” we must first receive the “salt” of faith.
Salt has long been used in our sacred liturgy as a symbol of that which gives flavor to our faith. Salt is co-mingled with water to make holy water; it is also, in the extraordinary form, given to an infant at baptism to increase the desire for the faith as the first “food” of faith. The Sacrament of Baptism is the sacrament of faith, and the salt given in the rite helps us see that the faith will never lose its flavor, its attractiveness, if we accept it in our hearts. After the infant receives the salt, they receive the lit candle, the light of Christ. The faith received at baptism is not meant to be kept hidden, but to be lived and expressed through good works so that we might keep the light of Christ burning brightly within us. Only with faith firmly alive within us can our charitable acts truly give witness to Christ Jesus, the light, instead of reflect back on ourselves as would be contrary to true humility.
Filled with faith in Christ Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are capable of manifesting his great light in our charitable works. These works will call our secular and pluralistic society to come, to know, and to love Jesus Christ. The greatest act of dialogue with society that the Church can offer today is begun through acts of love.
Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1987-1989, §2044-2045.
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 16, 2014
Living Authentically in the Light of Christ
Purpose: Morality. Choice. Courage and Authenticity. Today’s Gospel provides us no ambiguity in regards to Jesus’ very clear mandate to obey the Ten Commandments. However, Jesus further challenges us with his spiritual interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which is a challenge beyond the letter of the law. There is moral accountability.
Readings: Sirach 15: 15-20; Psalm 119: 1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34; I Corinthians 2: 6-10; Matthew 5: 17-37.
Our default view of Jesus is not one who scolds and threatens us with Hell. In fact, such a default view of Jesus would be incredibly incorrect. Yet, we hear Jesus really challenge us in today’s readings. That is because we need to be reminded that to be Christian requires us to live authentically in the light of Christ Jesus.
Our wills will remain mutable until we see Christ face-to-face. At that time, receiving the glorious and direct vision of God, we cannot desire anything other than God. Yet, until that time, we live in what the Italians would call a “chiaroscuro,” or a life that experiences both the darkness and the light. In this life, we have to choose between the “good,” the light, and the “bad,” the darkness. Jesus is the light who both shows and teaches us how to live in the light.
Daily, we face moral decisions, some greater than others. As Christians—those who are called to walk in the way of the light—we must have courage so as to persevere in the way of light and life, and not choose the darkness of sin which leads to death. This is not always easy. However, if we exhibit courage to live for Christ, we then express, authentically, our Christian identity. This means that we offer a witness that builds-up and supports our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus to do the same. We are our brother’s keeper.
Clearly, Jesus is challenging us to live our lives as Christians authentically, with integrity. This requires us not only to avoid those gravely disordered actions—such as: sacrilege and blasphemy, or any other irreverence toward God; the failure to love and honor one’s family; murder; adultery; deceit and bearing false witness; and stealing—but we must avoid even to think or desire these evils. Jesus, who through the Holy Spirit, engraves the Law of God on our hearts and in our minds, requires us to not even think or desire such evil. For to do so, would be to choose to corrupt our heart and soul, allowing the devil access to us. As Christians, we are called to live in the light which allows no place for darkness. It is in living in this light that we authentically live in Jesus Christ.
Authentically living in the light of Christ means that we strive to unite our wills with the will of God so as to live in true freedom. This may seem contradictory since our culture has been engineered to believe that freedom is doing whatever one wants, and without having to bear responsibility, and, most especially, if it doesn’t cause anyone visible harm. This is the mentality of the cultural maxim, “no harm, no foul.” The reality is that our every action makes us accountable. Furthermore, true freedom is not defined as a “freedom from” something that we don’t want to do, but a “freedom for” something that we want to do. This “freedom for” must always be “for the good,” and not “for evil.” Hence, when we live our lives united with the will of God for us, we live this “freedom for the good” in all that we do, say, and think. Thus, we fulfill the Commandments, and find joy in our lives as living the Commandments of God. This actually provides us with true joy and happiness, versus that which either fades from glory, or ultimately leads to greater frustration and complications in our lives. Going against the will of God makes us more like slaves to our poor choices than freed human beings living in the light of Christ Jesus.
In authentically living in Christ’s light, he has our greatest and ultimate happiness and joy in mind for us, which is the fruit of eternal life with Christ Jesus in heaven. Attaining this goal, we will experience what St. Paul describes, in that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” The great wisdom of God is not hidden in some deep, dark, inaccessible cavern, protected by ancient secrets and snares. It is to be easily found in living in the light of Christ Jesus, a task that is easy, and a burden that is light. By living in Christ, we are truly wise.
Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §1731-1742, 2072, 2081-2082.
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 23, 2014
Living as a Light of Christ in Action and Inaction
Purpose: Be still, and abandon yourself to the ways of God. Perfection in the ways of God is about a balance between action and inaction. We are meant to act when it brings glory to God, and serves our neighbor. We are meant to be still when evil is being done, as we are never meant to add insult to injury. Rather, we are called to be instruments of peace; and, as an instrument of peace, at times, we must absorb injury so as not to be responsible for passing on evil.
Readings: Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; I Corinthians 3: 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48.
Our hearts tell us the positive, good, charitable works that God calls us to do, but do we listen to our hearts when they tell us to “be still”? Active participation in our being a light of Christ—a light through good works of great love to our brothers and sisters as evangelists and missionaries—requires us to know when to act, and when to be still.
s Bolero in the United States on Nov. 14, 1929, the audience responded with thunderous acclamation. But why? This piece is, from all the criticism it met, rather slow and repetitive. Listening to this work at its onset, may, indeed, make us want to jump up and start adding a new descant to the score, so as to make it more interesting. And, yet, it is acclaimed as a compositional masterpiece, considered to be Ravel’s most famous work, and largely the only work he is known for amongst “non-ballet” music lovers. The reality of Ravel’s Bolero is that it calls us to just sit and listen, to be still, and let us be acted upon by the music, instead of our being activated by it. Furthermore, in its quarter of an hour performance, it shows us that, if we are still, and allow ourselves to receive from it, it will not let us down, but lead us through a rather exciting journey, despite its slow, repetitive nature. The same is true with the ways of God.
God calls us to be a great light to the nations, but he also calls us to be great receivers of his purifying and illuminating light, which requires us to be still. The spiritual life teaches us how to abandon ourselves to the will of God. It is in abandonment that we then become a true light of Christ, because no matter what type of situation we face in our lives, we remain in Christ and are, therefore, capable of witnessing to the way of Christ. The difficult moments call us, at times, to action, and at other times, to inaction, stillness, and patience.
All too often, we may be reactionary, and too quick to act without first allowing a proper period of time for stillness. Yet, it is in our stillness that we give Jesus the time to, not only communicate to us what action, or inactions, we should employ, but also to allow him to engage in the space we give him through our stillness. Jesus, in his silent and mysterious way to provide for our needs, takes the space we give him to actively work on our behalf. We must learn from Ravel’s Bolero that if we act too early, and fail to allow God’s grace to unfold, we will actually ruin the far greater climax that he has in store for us. Likewise, we must learn to be more discerning as to when to act, and when to be still. The simple answer is that we are always called to action when it is to do the good, to love our God and neighbor. To act in this way takes virtue, but the greater virtue, at times, requires us to be still. When violence is perpetrated against us, or evil is tempting us, it takes greater virtue to be still than to act. In this way, we become an instrument of peace, a firm pillar that remains steadfast and immovable, in living our life in Christ.
Being an instrument of peace, at times requires action from us—such as speaking out against injustice or working for the betterment of the underprivileged. This is clearly taught by Jesus when he tells us:
Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
Yet, being an instrument of peace, more times than not, requires us to absorb the evil and hatred of others, and be still so as not to pass it on:
When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well… But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
This is not pacifism, but it is not aggressiveness either. It is a position that asserts our clear witness to Christ, who suffered on the cross for our sins. We, like Christ, pray for our persecutors, amidst our persecution and, in doing so, our prayers and sufferings become the catalyst for peace. We enter with the spirit of Christ into the evil, through our prayers, and bring God’s sanctifying love where it is least appreciated.
The Gospel clearly shows us both ways: that of action, and stillness. Love is always active. This activity of love is most commonly seen when we walk that extra mile; but, the activity of love also calls us to be still, actively resolving ourselves to be still so as not to let evil get the better of us through rash or reactionary actions. Being perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect is a challenge for us in abandoning ourselves to his will, while discerning his will for us in each situation of our life. In this way, we may be true lights of Christ, bringing peace to the world.
Suggestions for Further Reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church §2838-2845, 2302-2306