Homilies For Sunday Liturgies and Holy Days, June 2014
7th Sunday of Easter— June 1, 2014
Pray to live.
Purpose: The Ascension of our Divine Savior marks the destiny for all human flesh; glory with the Father and the blessed in heaven. The greatest gift of the Christian faith is the supernatural end to which the anchor of hope secures joy amidst the difficulties and sufferings of this life. We learn in this Sunday’s readings that Christian life consists of walking toward Jerusalem with the Apostolic band and our Lady, so that we shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living. This Sunday’s readings teach us: 1. The necessity of praying with the Church; 2. Prayer as the key to suffering; 3. The unicity of Jesus Christ; and, the necessity of proclaiming His Lordship.
As we look around us at a world falling into deeper and darker traps and snares, we can ask ourselves what Jesus has brought? Pope Benedict XVI asked this very question in the first volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth. His answer was stunning in its simplicity: God. Jesus has brought God. Perhaps this fails to convince us as modern western citizens enjoying the enthralling world of science, technology, and many other legitimate achievements of modernity. Even so, each of us—no matter the level of affluence achieved or comfort enjoyed—faces squarely the reality of our second reading: suffering. Suffering, trial and persecution are part and parcel of every human life, and they culminate in a darkness which seems absolute, the dark night of death.
What is St. Peter’s response to this perennial riddle? Rejoice! But wait, he says more: Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ! What an incredible claim … what an unimaginable paradox. No one enjoys suffering, and it has lead all too many to despair and hopelessness. For the Christian, it is so. Jesus, very God robed in our flesh, has suffered the bitter passion of our sinfulness, the mocking of humanity, before the banner of hope. He truly suffered and died; this we profess with full faith every Sunday at the Eucharistic liturgy in the Creed. The miraculous happens though, the Miracle which stuns the world, and still stands as the only “new thing under the sun”(Ecclesiastes 1:9), and the only perduring revolution of human history: a man returns from the dead. Who cannot but cry out and say with St. Peter, “Lord it is good that we are here!” It is, indeed, good to be here, namely, to be a member of this risen flesh through faith and baptism as Christians. We are witnesses to this life and joy. But there is more.
This risen flesh breaks open the confines of space and time, ascending into heaven. As Pope Benedict so beautifully spoke in his 2008 homily for the Mass of the Ascension: there is space in God for humanity. The flesh we bear shall be ours in eternity, and we shall see God in the flesh. The glory of the Father, shining through the humanity and wounds of Christ, will be the light of that city, and we will all bask in its glow. We are no longer permitted to be pessimists amid the vicissitudes and trials of life and history because we share in the risen and ascended flesh of Jesus Christ! Only because of this great Divine condescension in the Incarnation, and human divination, and elevation in the Ascension of our Lord, can we rejoice in our sufferings. Only in this way can we learn “to suffer as a Christian.” (I Peter 4:16)
How should we journey as Christians, as believers in the works Jesus accomplished? (John 17:10) The first obligation of the Christian is to pray. Not just any prayer though, but to pray in one accord with the Apostles, and their successors—the Bishops, Mary, and the disciples. St. Jose Maria Escriva would lament to his spiritual sons that their prayer wasn’t more liturgical (The Way, 86). He was not speaking of “liturgical” in the sense of vestments, incense, candles, etc…(as important as these all are), but liturgical because he wanted them united quite concretely with the Bishop, his priests, deacons ,and all the lay faithful, in common prayer. It is here, in this appeal of Acts 1, that we find the true need for the Sunday Eucharist, which St. Paul reminds us some absented with great fault (Hebrews 10:25-27). It is this prayer with the successors of the Apostles, Mary, the saints, and the disciples of every age, that equips and strengthens us to suffer like Christians, and find sure hope in a future that can never be denied, or taken from us. It is here that we imitate Jesus in the Gospel who raises his eyes in prayer to the Father (John 17:1) and so receive the courage to proclaim the good news that God is one, and there is no other. He alone is true and anything that promises salvation, or truth, apart from Him, is from the evil one. We are sent forth from this prayer, and the purifying fire of suffering, to proclaim the works of him, Jesus, whom the Father has sent as the only Lord. The Church’s “missionary option,” as Pope Francis reminds us, comes from this encounter with the risen and ascended Christ, who anchors our hope in a love that fills even the darkest moments of suffering, and even death itself, with his light. Praying with the Church we are able to unlock the mystery of sufferingh and so find joy in the eternal life offered by the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom he sent.
Pentecost Sunday— June 8, 2014
A New Creation
Purpose: The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the fulfillment of Jesus’ saving mission and work on earth. It is the crowning of humanity’s recreation in Christ, where our stoney hearts are refashioned with flesh by the outpouring of the Spirit. The “forgotten God,” the Holy Spirit, who fills all, and is poured out on all the disciples, is the greatest unifying presence in the Church’s life and mission, so much so that it is impossible for Christians to harbor jealousy, envy, or sadness at a brother’s or sister’s blessing because all gifts, charisms, ministries, and blessings flow from the one Spirit of whom we have all drunk. It is the Holy Spirit who: 1. Enlightens our hearts and opens our mouthes to speak; 2. Frees us to rejoice in our brothers and sisters; and, 3. Refashions our closed and fearful hearts by the power of Christ’s passion.
Christians stick together. In last week’s readings we heard that the apostles, Mary, and other disciples, were one in prayer. This week we hear again of all being “in one place together.” In both instances, it is the Holy Spirit who is constantly “breaking down the wall of separation,”and making the two one. Pentecost bestows the essential hermeneutic of Christian maturity: if we are uniting others in the truth through love, God is at work. If our words and actions are causing division because of a lack of charity and truth, the devil is at work.
We should always “strive to preserve the bond of unity in the Spirit.” It is the Holy Spirit which fills the house—an ancient symbol and sign of the Church (Lumen Gentium, 6)—with his presence so that all might proclaim the Gospel. The first miracle of the Christian faith is its universality. From the very beginning of the Church’s existence, we have been one, and so we find the reason for our most common name as Christians: “catholic“—which in Greek means “universal,” or “toward the whole” (kata-olos). The universality of the Church is the goal of God’s covenant plan in creation for one human family, finding its longed-for redemption, promised so long ago (Genesis 3:15). All heard the Gospel being proclaimed in their own voice: Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt, and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs. (Acts 2:8-13) Catholic Christians must constantly resist the temptation to make less of this beautiful tapestry of universality found in the many voices proclaiming the one Faith, in the same Spirit. This scene, from the pen of St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, gives us occasion to recommit ourselves to being sons and daughters of the Spirit, crying out Abba, Father. We recommit ourselves to prayer in the one Spirit, and so grow in the bonds of the Spirit. If one is having difficulty praying, they can always pray one of the most powerful prayers of the Christian Tradition, “Come Holy Spirit!” It is by the coming of this Holy Spirit, which proceeds from the Father and the Son, that we are able to say, “Jesus is Lord.” St. Paul teaches us that “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Put another way, if someone says and believes that “Jesus is Lord” then the Holy Spirit is active in that person’s life. God’s ways are so far above our ways, as the heavens are above the earth, and it is here in this generous and abundant gift of God that we learn spiritual friendship and support, to counteract every temptation of the devil toward spiritual jealousy and envy. Envy, according to St .Thomas Aquinas, is sadness at the good of our neighbor.
The tragedy of Christian envy is that it is the Holy Spirit who works any good in us and our neighbor; to be sad at the good of our neighbor, is to be sad before the reality of the Holy Spirit’s operation in the world. It is a deadly sin in the Christian Tradition because it wants to cap God’s work for the sake of my ego; may the Lord free us and heal us of envy! “As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ!” (I Cor 12:12). We no longer need lock the doors of our hearts, and trap ourselves in fear. Christ is in our midst, and he proves and shows us his love by showing us his wounds. He wants us to experience him as our peace through the sacrificial love which he poured out on the Cross. The Cross of Jesus is the source of forgiveness, healing, and peace. He wants us to kiss the Cross, and be protected by its strength, through the forgiveness of our sins, given by the Apostles and their successors, the Bishops. When was the last time we went to confession? “Don’t wait another day!” Pope Francis says. Go! The priest will be kind, but Jesus even more so! What do we fear? He has already died for our sins, now he only wants to free us. Is it a murder? Many murders? An abortion? Infidelity? Stealing? Hatred? Have no fear at all! All the sins of our entire life are but a drop in the ocean of God’s mercy; let us confess our sins, be free, experience the peace of Christ and know that we are loved. Come Holy Spirit!
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity— June 15, 2014
The Meaning of All Things
Purpose: The Holy Trinity is the Mystery of mysteries and the center of the Christian Faith. If God were not a Trinity then He could not be love. The true novelty and greatness of the Christian faith lies in the mystery of the God who is love as Trinity, and man who is created in the image of Trinitarian love. This Sunday’s readings teach us: 1. The Lordship of God ; 2. The reason for Christian morality; and, 3. The desire on God’s part that all come to the knowledge of his Son and be saved.
“The faith of all Christians rests on the Trinity” (St. Caesarius of Arles, Sermo 9). The Trinity is One. We do not believe in three Gods but one only God. We bless ourselves daily in the name, not in the names, “of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” The three divine persons are really distinct from one another, and not just different manifestations of oneness. We profess with the Athanasian Creed: “For just as we are compelled by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord, so are we forbidden by the Catholic faith to say, ‘There are three Gods, or three Lords.’”
Speaking or thinking about the Trinity should cause us some trepidation; the weakness of our mind wades into the waters of a mystery so deep, so vast, and so great, that we rightly feel inadequate. Priests often joke that we can’t preach on the Holy Trinity for five minutes without falling into a heresy… Nevertheless, we should never allow ourselves to fear before the grandeur of this mystery. Quite simply, the Trinity is just the Church’s name for God, and as we know, “God is love”(I John 4:8). When the Church teaches that the Trinity is the most fundamental and essential truth in the Church’s “hierarchy of truth” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 234), she is only saying that God is at the center of all things and of history, that love is the most essential reality. Because of the darkness of our minds and the weakness of our intellects, we would imagine God in a myriad of ways if not for the truth of the Trinity; we would imagine a God who is angry, or volitional, or distant, etc. Had Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, not revealed this mystery, we would have absolutely know means of knowing the only truth that ultimately sets us free: God is love. This should be the most exciting and riveting truth in Christianity, that more than any other truth, attracts and draws others to embrace the faith.
As the Gospel teaches us, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”(John 3:16). St. Paul was only repeating this Gospel truth when he wrote, “God desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Tim 2:4). It is because God is love that St. Paul can implore us to “mend our ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” St. Paul knows we are created in the image of God (imago Dei) as the book of Genesis teaches in its first chapter. The imago Dei is not any God though; not some angry, or volitional, or distant God, but the Trinitarian God, the God who is love. We are created in imago Trinitatis. St. Paul knows that we are quite literally created in the image of love. If this is so, what must it mean for our rapport with others? In the first place, it means conversion, “mending our ways,” so that we live according to our nature, which is love, and so find joy. St. Augustine teaches us the greatest means to knowing the Trinity when he says: “If you see love, you see the Trinity.” In all that we think, say, and do, let us submit ourselves to God’s Lordship anew, and adore him by lives lived in charity. Let us adore him as Moses did, in the first reading, and become true Christians who know that to submit to the Lordship of God in all things is to submit to the logic of Divine Love, which alone heals humanity and saves our souls.
“O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me forget myself entirely so to establish myself in you, unmovable and peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity. May nothing be able to trouble my peace, or make me leave you, O my unchanging God, but may each minute bring me more deeply into your mystery! Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling, and the place of your rest. May I never abandon you there, but may I be there, whole and entire, completely vigilant in my faith, entirely adoring, and wholly given over to your creative action” (Prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity).
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)— June 22, 2014
Food for the Journey to Eternal Life
Purpose: The desert of this life’s journey is filled with affliction, difficulties, and trials. The Hebrew people were guided through the vast and terrible desert with its saraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground, by a God of the promise, who “will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (I Cor 10:13). The Most Holy Eucharist gives us a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ; we share in the fruits of a sacrificial love which overcomes death, and which makes us sons and daughters in the Son. It is the Most Holy Eucharist which: 1. Gives us strength to live in fidelity to the new commandment of love; 2. Unites the Church in the bond of Charity; and, 3. Assures us of everlasting life.
Deserts are hot and dry, with no food or vegetation. Human beings are quite simply unable to live in such habitats without perishing from dehydration and starvation. The chosen family of God, Israel, journeyed both literally through the desert, but also gave us a metaphor for this life. The sin of our first parents triggered drastic consequences of division, murder, and scarcity. Sin transformed a world, characterized by the garden of Eden, into a world experienced as a desert. The rich and luscious garden in which God had placed Adam and Eve was replaced by a land “cursed … because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). We find ourselves in a world where hope seemingly has run dry, as humanity desperately searches for the bread that will satisfy its hunger for peace, rest, and brotherhood. This thirst of humanity is taken up by Jesus on the Cross when he cries out: “I thirst!” In that exclamation and prayer of the God-man, God has heard our prayer. God’s response to our spiritual thirst is the gift of the sweet river of his blood, given under the appearance of wine, and the strong sustenance of his broken body, given under the appearance of bread.
At the Last Supper, on the night when he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. He did this in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the centuries until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is eaten, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47).
The only response to transform the world from a desert back to a garden is to perpetuate the love of the Cross which means to receive and become the love of Jesus by receiving well the Holy Eucharist. Only by receiving the Eucharist are we able to keep the new commandment of the Christian dispensation: love one another, just as I have loved you. Only by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and keeping the command of love, is the Church able to stay united in the bond of peace. The Holy Eucharist is quite rightly the end goal of all ecumenical longing, and dialogue, and the true protagonist in its unfolding. It is only because the Eucharist is really Jesus Christ, and his love poured out on the cross, that we can understand the import and urgency of Jesus’ own words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Participation in the Cross of Jesus Christ is the necessary condition for enjoying the fruits of the Resurrection. That Jesus is not speaking figuratively is witnessed to by the fact that he allows disciples to leave his company, because “this is a hard teaching.” This is the true scandal of the Christian faith: the Cross of Christ, before us until the very end of time in the Eucharistic Lord, is the criterion of our love, the force of our unity, and the condition of our eternity. We can cry out with the early Christians, persecuted in their day by a brutal empire seeking to crush their holy longings: Sine Domenica non possumus! (Without Sunday, we cannot live!) May we all recommit ourselves to weekly and frequent reception of the most Holy Eucharist, so that we learn to love anew, build unity, and find eternal life.
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Mass during the Day— June 29, 2014
To Bear Witness to the Truth
Purpose: Jesus Christ came into this world to bear witness to the Truth. The Truth that God is love, and that he so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that all might be saved through faith and charity in his name. This week’s readings teach us: 1. The miraculous power of the Church’s intercession; 2. The martyrological character of Christian life; and, 3. The divine foundation of the Church on the confession of St. Peter.
The early Church’s most manifest characteristic was her suffering before the world in the form of martyrdom. The first reading recounts the martyrdom of the first bishop of Jerusalem, St. James. We hear that this act of Herod was pleasing to the Jews, and so Peter was imprisoned with the expectation of his own martyrdom (Acts 12:11). Why were these early Christians and, particularly, the Apostles, being martyred? Quite simply, they were confessors of the Truth. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Jesus asks the disciples. It is Peter who replies, not with human knowledge, but by the revelation of the Father: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”(Matthew 16:16). Martyrdom—from the Greek: μαρτυριον—literally translates as “witness” They were witnesses (martyrs) to the Truth before they were martyrs with their blood. Jesus boldly proclaims to Pilate: “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness (μαρτυρεω) to the truth”(John 18:37). Jesus was born ,and so came into the world, to be a martyr for the Truth; God is love. Christians, who are by their very own admission and name “other Christs,” continue to bear this reality to the world. A Christian who isn’t a daily witness (martyr) in his actions and words to the wonders of God’s love is, in fact, failing in his charge of discipleship. The defining characteristic of Christian discipleship and sonship is being a witness (martyr) to divine love. Only when we can say with St. Paul, “I am already being poured out like a libation” (2 Tim 4:6). can we really fulfill that for which we were baptized: self-sacrificing love as a participation in, and witness to, the love of Jesus Christ. All Christians are called daily to accept the gift of martyrdom: white or red. White for those who endure patiently the little deaths of suffering in fidelity to Christ to the end, without the privilege of being killed “for the sake of the name,”and red for those whom Jesus calls to hand over their bodies rather than betray the truth.
It is in martyrdom that the Church finds her only foundation. It is the martyrdom of Jesus Christ, from whose seeping side wound the mystery of Mother Church flows, and it is the blood of the martyrs throughout the centuries which sows the seed of God’s word throughout the world on the soft, blood-soaked ground, waiting to bear fruit for eternal life. Jesus founded only one Church, as he has only one body: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”(Matthew 16:18). That the Church is beaten by the waves and winds of the world, and ashamed at the sins of her members, is a truth we can never deny. Nevertheless, and even more importantly, our peace is that this little bark is Christ’s, and it can never be separated from his love. “The gates of hell will not prevail against it”(Matthew 16:18). Christ calls us to rejoice in our Catholic faith, and to be proud of this faith, not proud as those belonging to some sort of clique that we are lucky enough to take part in, but rather as a family whose brothers and sisters have, in the most noble and heroic manner, shed their blood in witness to God’s love, and truth, assuring us of God’s triumph over the world, the flesh, and the devil (I John 2:16). It is the band of martyrs shedding their blood in great numbers today, as in the past, that gives us hope. With great confidence, we place our lives in this prayer and communion of the Church, which liberated St. Peter.
We can trust in the Church’s prayer for all things. We must honestly ask ourselves: What prison have I locked myself into by my sins? Has an addiction or a betrayal put me, like Peter, in “double chains”(Acts 12:6), such that I feel hopelessness or despair? It is precisely in these moments, when we must trust all the more in the power of the Church’s prayer through the Sacraments—especially the Holy Eucharist and Penance—as well as in the intercession of the saints, and particularly, that of our Blessed Mother, whose heart was pierced by a sword (Luke 2:35). Let us trust with all our being in the great power of the Church’s martyrs to intercede for us, and the power of the Holy Eucharist and Penance to free us. Sts. Peter and Paul, pray for us!