Homilies for August 2017

The Transfiguration by Rubens

August 6, 2017—Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/080617.cfm
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Pt 1:16-19Mt 17:1-9

“It’s an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride.” “Twice the action, and twice the excitement, of the original.” “Monumental, mesmerizing and spellbinding.” “The action sequences will leave you breathless, gasping for more!” Summer is the season for action movies, and this year is no exception. The war is on for the “Planet of the Apes,” “Wonder Woman” tries to stop a world war, and “Spiderman” is coming home.

Lest the Church get left behind, she makes sure to share a blockbuster story with us as well. Actually, two stories—the dream of the prophet Daniel, and the Gospel story of the Transfiguration. Both are filled with as much action, adventure, and special effects as any big screen blockbuster.

The First Reading contains the least gory, and most hopeful part of the dream of the prophet Daniel. The section we hear today regards the victory of the Ancient One, and the one like the Son of Man. “Son of Man” is a title Jesus will take for himself, especially when he makes reference to his Second Coming. Daniel dreamed of four beasts (a lion with eagle’s wings, a bear, a leopard, and a beast with ten horns). They symbolized four kingdoms that would oppose the heavenly kingdom. Ultimately, the heavenly kingdom will win; the first three kingdoms lose their power, and the fourth is thrown into a great fire (that part about the great fire is left out of our reading so that the Church can keep her “G”-rating).

But the main feature, so to speak, is the Transfiguration. “Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” Mountains have an important role in salvation history. On Mount Sinai, God entrusted Moses with the Ten Commandments, and detailed the way the Israelites were to worship. In the life of our Lord, mountains are the scenes of temptation, great preaching, agony, and ultimately his death on the Cross. When a Gospel event takes place on a mountain, you know something is going to happen. So when it is said that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a “high mountain” you know something spectacular is going to occur.

“While he was praying, his face changed in appearance, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah . . .” Here, Christ’s Godly nature is revealed. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophets. Jesus is the new Moses, who will give his people a new commandment, and lead his people to the ultimate Promised Land.

We say that Jesus was “transfigured.” Not that he was” transformed.” Nothing changed, but everything was revealed. As his disciples, we are not transfigured, but transformed. We are not yet who we are called to be. We are people in need of transformation and conversion, to become who we were created to be.

Everything we do as a Church, every brick in this building, every class that is taught, every prayer that is prayed, every Mass that is offered is ordered towards one thing—our transformation. Jesus is the “beloved Son” of the Father. “In his Son, and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and, thus, heirs of his blessed life.” (CCC 1) Through baptism, we become “sons in the Son,” children of God, disciples of Jesus Christ. And we are to listen to him.

If there is one transformation that demands almost constant attention, it is the transformation of our eyesight. Not our physical eyesight, but our spiritual eyesight. “And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” Elijah and Moses had disappeared. They only see Jesus in his human appearance.

It is understood that Jesus shared this experience with Peter, James, and John to strengthen them for the future. Right after the transfiguration, Jesus gives Simon a new name, and a great mission, entrusting him with the “keys of the kingdom.” He foretells his own suffering and death, as well as revealing that his disciples also must take up their crosses if they are to follow him.

This is another gift of the Transfiguration—the gift of seeing our difficulties, not as failures, but as crosses. Without the eyes of faith, our losses and suffering can only be seen as failures, bad luck, or bad karma. With the eyes of faith, we find purpose and meaning in everything, including our losses and suffering. We recall this event for the same reason Jesus chose to reveal his true identity to Peter, James, and John. Because it offers us the hope and assurance we need to remain faithful, and remain in the Church until death.

The event of the Transfiguration is shared with us for the times in our lives when we are afraid—afraid of what lies in our future: for the times we are unsure; for the times we doubt God’s ability to work in our lives; and for the times when we wish to avoid the cross. The Gospel is not a cleverly devised myth. The message shared with us is reliable and true. (c.f. 2 Pt 1:16, 19)

Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is good that we are here to listen to the story of the Transfiguration—to share in an event that, for Peter, James and John, had to be more monumental, mesmerizing, and spellbinding than any summer blockbuster. To be given the assurance, consolation, and hope that through the acceptance of our crosses, we will find transformation here on earth, and on the other side of death.

_____________


August 13, 2017—Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/081317.cfm
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13Ps 85:9, 10, 11-12, 13-14Rom 9:1-5Mt 14:22-33

Earlier this year, I was in conversation with a religious sister, and I asked her about her vocation story. She related that she was dating a man she was very much in love with, and had never been happier in her life. As they approached engagement, she recognized that while she was incredibly happy, she also experienced a sense of unease. She realized that she had never seriously asked God what He wanted for her life. Yet, she took the overwhelming sense of joy that she felt to be an indication that going forward with marriage was God’s vocation for her.

As a very active Catholic, she had heard priests and religious tell their vocation stories and speak of the joy they experienced as a sign they were on the right path. Sisters would confirm that Religious Life was for them because of the joy they felt when they visited the communities they would, one day, join. Her experience was different. When considering the possibility of Religious Life, or a different vocation than the call of marriage, the experience was depressing, and far from joyful. She took the general sense of unease, and the lack of joy, as she imagined Religious Life as a sign that she did not have that vocation.

During this experience, she met up with a friend who was also a religious sister, and casually asked her: “Sister, don’t you know what it is you’ve been made for because you love doing it? Don’t you find what it is that you are meant to do because it brings you joy?” After a silent moment, she replied, “No. Not by what gives you joy, but by what gives you peace. Because if you have joy without peace, the joy will not last. But if you have peace, even if at first you have no joy, eventually joy will come from that peace.”

This distinction put everything in a different light for her, and it echoed her own struggle. She had tremendous joy, but it could not be sustained. Close to engagement, there was no underlying peace, and she became increasingly restless. While she would have a wonderful time with her soon-to-be fiancé, as soon as she left him, the joy would fade. She had fleeting joy but no peace.

With the sister’s comment in mind, she started to pray and reflect on leaving everything to enter a convent. Here, her experience was the opposite of what she experienced in dating. Reflecting on religious life, she was sad to the core, and felt no joy. But she experienced a deep, underlying peace. That distinction between peace and joy was crucial for the young woman who, to this day, has maintained that peace, and has also been given joy in the religious community she joined more than a decade ago.

Both the reading from 1st Kings, and the Gospel of Matthew, affirm the gift of peace in discerning God’s will, even when there is little external delight. Elijah was in a tough spot. After defeating and slaying the prophets of Baal, he had to flee for his life. Tired and praying for death, he was told by an angel to take a long journey to Mount Horeb. There, at a cave, he waited for the Lord to speak. It was not in the wind, earthquake, or fire that the Lord spoke, but only in a small whispering voice. There God gave him the mission to anoint kings, and appoint a prophet to take his place.

After many hours of being tossed about by the winds and the waves, the disciples see Jesus walking across the water. To calm them, he says: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Here, we see Peter torn between belief and unbelief. “Lord, IF it is you, (because I’m not sure) command me to come to you on the water.” Unbelief: And at the Lord’s command, he gets out of the boat and steps on the waves. Belief: Here, we also see Peter’s great faith, and even greater love. Abandoning the security of the boat, he steps over the side, and gives himself completely to whatever may happen. It is easy to imagine that while Peter felt no external joy walking across the water, with his eyes fixed on Jesus, he had great peace.

It is when Peter takes his eyes off Jesus that the troubles begin. He turns to the external realities that surround him. He begins to focus more on the wind, the waves, and most of all, on how ridiculous it is to actually be walking on water. Along with the lack of joy, in that moment of recognition, he also loses his faith, courage, and peace.

Saint Thomas Aquinas makes the helpful distinction between joy and delight. Delight is an experience of the senses (both internal and external). We delight in things we see, taste, touch, and hear. We delight in things we remember, or imagine for the future. But joy is of the intellect and will. We find joy in things like prayer and virtuous action.

This point is made clear in the example of new parents. When their child is crying at 3 AM, there is little delight of the senses. There is little delight in getting out of a warm bed, fixing a bottle, or changing a diaper. But there is great joy as they look upon the contented child’s face, and rock her back to sleep. Saint Mother Teresa shares a similar message in her well-known path that begins in silence, and ends in peace. “The fruit of silence is prayer. The fruit of prayer is faith. The fruit of faith is love. The fruit of love is service. The fruit of service is peace.”

One of the greatest tasks we have as a Church is to help young people discern their vocations, and have the courage to accept them. These readings offer us insights in this crucial work. Every vocation comes with its difficulties. Metaphorically speaking, there will be strong winds, earthquakes, fires, and stormy waters. That is because every vocation is a vocation to follow and imitate Jesus, and following and imitating Jesus always involves the Cross. The psalmist proclaims, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The call of the Lord is a quiet one, and a key to knowing his will is being able to discern the difference between external delights, and interior peace.

_________


August 15, 2017—Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary (Mass during the day)

Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082017.cfm
Rv 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10abPs 45:10, 11, 12, 16; 1 Cor 15:20-27Lk 1:39-56

The preface for today’s Mass reveals why this is celebrated as a Solemnity. “For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church’s coming to perfection and as a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people . . .” Mary is the beginning of the Church’s perfection. Mary is the image of the Church’s perfection. Her assumption into heaven is a sign of hope and comfort to those who are still on the way. Today’s holy Mass is a solemn celebration of hope and we ask the Lord that we may be brought to the glory of the Resurrection (Prayer after Communion). This is a celebration of the dogma that at the end of her life Mary was taken body and soul into heaven. The Assumption doesn’t mean we ASSUME Mary is in heaven. It means that at or after her death, Mary was assumed, that is, taken up body and soul into heaven. Jesus ascended into heaven. Mary was assumed into heaven. Jesus does something and Mary has something done for her. These terms confirm the divinity of Christ and the great gift given to Mary.

Monsignor Ronald Knox relates that even from his days as an Anglican that the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary made sense to him. In a homily on the Assumption he points out that we think that the separation of body and soul at the moment of death is the most natural and normal thing in the world. The body remains on earth and the soul goes to heaven once it is “purged and assoiled.” But he says that separation, “isn’t a natural thing at all; soul and body were made for one another, and the temporary divorce between them is something out of the way, something extraordinary, occasioned by the Fall.” (Pastoral and Occasional Sermons, 519) The Assumption of Mary points us to the final resurrection of the dead where body and soul will be reunited.

It is helpful to link the dogma of the Assumption of Mary with the dogma of her Immaculate Conception. Mary’s Immaculate Conception was declared a dogma by Pius IX in 1854 and was confirmed by heaven through the apparitions in Lourdes in 1858. The pope (and heaven) proclaimed this dogma at the apex of the “Enlightenment Project.” The Enlightenment was a centuries-long movement in which it was believed that as the world came to be known and understood rationally; human beings would find greater freedom. Relying on reason and science and holding belief in the autonomous, naturally good individual, mankind will be able to create a free, peaceful and just society.

It was a time in which man had hope that he could fix the woes of humanity by his own powers and ideas. The mid-nineteenth century saw the rise of Feuerbach, Marx, Darwin and Mill. Referring to these men and their thought, Fulton Sheen wrote, “If these philosophers were right and if man is naturally good and capable of deification through his own efforts, then it follows that everyone is immaculately conceived.” (The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God, 131) While it was not his only reason, Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to steer humanity away from the temptation of presumption.

Yet we know that, in part, these philosophies and ideas led to the rise of totalitarianism, world wars and the mass destruction of populations. The great hope that science could dominate nature was followed by horrific wars and environmental degradation. The belief that reason alone could make sense of the world was succeeded by a pervasive sense of meaninglessness. If presumption was the vice of modernity, despair is the vice of late/post modernity. So, in 1950, Pope Pius XII, in part, declared the dogma of the Assumption of Mary to steer humanity away from the temptation of despair.

These sacred liturgies in which we give honor to Mary also offer us an opportunity to learn how we can imitate her. Mary was both humble and magnanimous. Mary is the humble servant who is also the magnanimous woman that that all generations will call blessed. Like Mary, we root ourselves in humility and seek to be great of soul with God’s help.

The Assumption of Mary is in one way a singular gift of grace given to the Mother of God, the Ark of the New Covenant. Yet it is also a foreshadowing of the great gift of the Resurrection in which our bodies and souls will be reunited. The Assumption gives the wayfarers of this life the certainty of hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the body.

Our blessed Mother watches over us with a great love. She is the great advocate, praying for us when our prayers fail to be complete. Our lives are often vales of tears and we are called to endure suffering, loss and pain. At the same time, our Lord gives us many opportunities for joy. Mary is one of the reasons for that joy; she is our life, our sweetness and, as we recall today, our hope.

____________


August 20, 2017—Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082017.cfm
Is 56:1, 6-7Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Rom 11:13-15, 29-32Mt 15:21-28

This is the time, at least in the United States, when vacations are coming to an end, and people are starting preparations for a new academic year. While it is not possible for everyone to get away for an extended period of time, it is a great gift for those who can do so. The human person needs adequate rest, and holy leisure, for their physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Our Lord was no different. At this point in the Gospel, Jesus must have been beyond exhausted. He returned to Nazareth but could work no miracles because of the people’s lack of faith. His relative, John the Baptist, was put to death. He fed 5,000 men and their families, walked on water, got into debates with the scribes and Pharisees, following it all up by healing many people. One gets exhausted just by reading about it.

Jesus then goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon. It was a place he thought he would not be recognized, and not be bothered—neither by the hypercritical scribes and Pharisees, nor by the people who wanted him to work miracles. He was also looking for a place to pause and prepare his disciples before he began his final battle against evil. It was not meant to be. This is a reminder for all of us who have been claimed by Jesus Christ in Baptism that there is no place in the world where Christ is not needed. Nor is there a time in which we can take a vacation from our Christian faith.

We can also look to the Canaanite woman as an example. She is a woman of humility, cheerfulness, and above all, faith. My favorite description of humility comes from Saint Josemaria Escriva:

Humility means looking at ourselves as we really are, honestly and without excuses. And when we realize that we are hardly worth anything, we can then open ourselves to God’s greatness: it is there that our greatness lies.

A prideful person is convinced of his own self-sufficiency. The Canaanite woman knew that she didn’t have what was necessary to remove the demon from her daughter. Therefore, she had no problem begging for the mercy of God. Self-emptying humility allowed her to break through her pride. She uttered the prayer only a humble person could offer, “Lord, help me!”

The Canaanite woman is also an example of cheerfulness, even in the face of great adversity: “He said in reply ‘It isn’t right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’” Among the conversations that Jesus had, I have to believe that this was one of his favorites. The Lord’s final reply, as recorded by Saint Matthew, is: “O woman, great is your faith!” Yet, in my mental prayer, I also imagine a bit more. Looking at her with a raised eyebrow, a sly smile spreads across his face and he says, at least to himself: “Well played, my lady, well played!”

We know that “God loves a cheerful giver,” but we also need to learn that “God loves a cheerful beggar.” God is our Father who loves us more than we can imagine. We come to Him in hopeful confidence, offering our prayers of petition with a spirit of cheerfulness. I have nothing, He has everything, and He wants to give me what I need. How can I not be cheerful, even in the midst of the greatest responsibilities, trials, and challenges? The Canaanite woman reveals to us how one can remain cheerful amidst great turmoil and difficulties.

That cheerfulness is a by-product of her third characteristic—faith. Faith is an unmerited gift from God that, metaphorically speaking, gives us spiritual eyesight. A faithful person is able to look on the things of this world with supernatural eyesight. This woman had no right to claim the riches of the house of Israel, but she still requests it—not out of justice or fairness, but out of God’s mercy. Faith allowed her to see this.

When a child is baptized, his parents are asked, “What do you ask of God’s Church?” One possible response is, “Faith.” In baptism, we enter into the house of God, into a family that allows us to call God “our Father.” We do not receive the gift of faith and God’s sanctifying grace because we deserve it—out of justice or fairness—but rather out of God’s redeeming mercy. This woman was not of the house of Israel. She had no right to the portion given to the Chosen People. Yet, she still asks, and because she asks, a portion is granted to her out of God’s mercy.

Let us pray that we may be like the Canaanite woman, a woman of humility, cheerfulness and faith.

___________

August 27, 2017—Twenty First Sunday of Ordinary Time
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/082717.cfm
Is 22:19-23;  Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8Rom 11:33-36;
Mt 16:13-20

Many years ago, as the pastor of a large suburban parish, I was entrusted for a few, too-short weeks with a very expensive sports car. German engineered, this convertible had the potential to go from zero to sixty in a matter of a few seconds (don’t ask how I know that). The reason for this brief but enjoyable gift was that this car was to be raffled off at our annual parish festival. It was during the Sunday Mass announcements that I first shared the good news with the parish by holding up the keys and saying, “Peter may have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven, but he was never given the keys to a brand new Porsche!”

Today’s Gospel event is the central, although not the only, scriptural basis for the Church’s teaching on the primacy of Peter and the Petrine ministry. This is not just a gift for Saint Peter. It is a great gift for all those who are present today. Let’s look at this great gift and revelation.

“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It may go unnoticed but all his disciples assume that Jesus is referring to himself. He is asking what the crowds are saying about him. The answers are given. They think he is John the Baptist because he began his public proclamation with the call to repent. They thought he was Elijah because of the power of his word and the virtue of his teaching. They thought he was Jeremiah because he was honored by the Gentiles. These answers are not wrong as much as they are incomplete. Jesus is indeed someone who proclaims the prophetic message of redemption and salvation. But it is better to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophets and their prophecies. He is the one that the prophets were waiting for.

“Who do you say that I am?” The question Jesus proposes to the disciples is one of the most important questions ever asked. It may be the question each of us is asked when we come before the Lord for our particular judgement. “Who do YOU say that I am?” This question is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels, and in each instance, Peter answers for the twelve.

“You are the Christ.” Jesus is the anointed one. In the Old Testament prophets, priests and kings were anointed. All three of these offices were fulfilled in Jesus Christ; the prophet of the Good News, the priest who will offer himself in sacrifice on the Cross, and the king who will reign with wisdom. “You are . . . the Son of the Living God.” Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the fountain of life.

In his commentary on this Gospel, Thomas Aquinas says that this honor was bestowed upon Simon because he was the first one to confess that Jesus was the Son of God by nature, and not simply by adoption. Simon is blessed because this knowledge has been given to him, not by human reason, but by the Father. And being blest with this knowledge, Jesus gives Simon a new name and the gift of authority.

Simon, now called “Peter,” is a rock from the Rock. Upon the Rock of Christ, and the rock of Peter, the Church will be built. Christ is the sure foundation, but Peter will act as his vicar, and the apostles will also act as the foundation (“And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them, the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” Rev. 21:14). In founding the Church on Peter’s profession, Jesus gives us the certitude of faith. With his promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, the Barque of Peter, we also have the assurance of hope.

Peter is given the gift of authority, symbolized by the keys. The keys will be given to Peter as a ministry, not of human power, but of authority. Human power is taken and often abused. Authority is given and is to be offered in service. The keys will be forged in the passion and, therefore, they are a symbol, not of the power of condemnation but of service in the name of Divine Mercy.

Certitude of faith and assurance of hope in eternal life are two of the greatest gifts of being Catholic. We are with Peter because with him there is the Church. And when we are in the Church, we are in Christ. Without Jesus Christ, we would not possess unity, we would not know the truth, we would not have salvation. This is why the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven are better than the keys to anything on earth; not only for Saint Peter and his successors, but for all the members of the Church.

Fr. Steven Beseau About Fr. Steven Beseau

Fr. Steven P. Beseau was ordained in 1995 for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. He is currently Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at The Athenaeum of Ohio/Mt. St. Mary's Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Comments

  1. Fr. Beseau,

    May I offer a comment as one among many of the laity, sitting in the pew, listening to your homily for Aug. 27, 2017? I offer this with all due respect, hoping this one response might help some homilists in preparing future homilies. I would be groaning – groaning – through the first paragraph, mumbling to myself (not audibly), “Why, dear Father? Why would you begin a homily on the divine Truth of the Gospel, with a story that promotes, stirs and excites concupiscence – desires of the City of Man – among the members – doing the opposite of what the homily ought to do for the soul?” Will this story prepare the heart for the things of God? Or does it only point them away from God and toward the fleeting pleasures of this world?

    So I would be groaning within, and wishing that you had lost that “opening” paragraph that serves not to open but to close the very door that the rest of your homily tries to open: the door to His Kingdom, the door to eternal values, treasures and joys.

    I realize that many priests use opening stories, sometimes opening jokes, not infrequently completely irrelevant to, sometimes actually opposed to the Truth of the Holy Readings – merely as a “tease” to get attention, I suppose, though I don’t know the actual reasons. My humbly offered suggestion: vet every “intro” very, very carefully. If it does not advance the Word that Jesus died to give us, lose it. Time to ponder and learn from Holy Scripture is too brief as it is, in a “ten-minute homily” in the seven-day week of many Catholics. Please use the time well.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Peter says, “Lord, it is good that we are here.” It is good that we are here to listen to the story of the Transfiguration—to share in an event that, for Peter, James and John, had to be more monumental, mesmerizing, and spellbinding than any summer blockbuster. To be given the assurance, consolation, and hope that through the acceptance of our crosses, we will find transformation here on earth, and on the other side of death. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/07/homilies-for-august-2017/ […]

  2. […] One of the greatest tasks we have as a Church is to help young people discern their vocations, and have the courage to accept them. These readings offer us insights in this crucial work. Every vocation comes with its difficulties. Metaphorically speaking, there will be strong winds, earthquakes, fires, and stormy waters. That is because every vocation is a vocation to follow and imitate Jesus, and following and imitating Jesus always involves the Cross. The psalmist proclaims, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” The call of the Lord is a quiet one, and a key to knowing his will is being able to discern the difference between external delights, and interior peace. – Read the source: http://www.hprweb.com/2017/07/homilies-for-august-2017/ […]

All comments posted at Homiletic and Pastoral Review are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative and inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.

Speak Your Mind

*