Homilies for June 2018

Feast of Corpus Christi Procession (France) Jules Breton, (Detail) (Blessing of the Wheat), 1857.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—June 3, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060318.cfm
EX 24:3-8; PS 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; HEB 9:11-15; MK 14:12-16, 22-26

I was very close to my grandparents, and when my grandmother died, three years after Grandpa had done so, it was very important for me to exercise great care in closing their house. I remember in particular, feeling the importance of seeing to the careful distribution of their personal affects. After hosting a day when my siblings and cousins could come to the house and take whatever items they wanted, and then inviting close friends to a similar process a few days later, I was still left with a small amount of items to disburse. My beloved grandmother was the daughter of Swedish immigrants of modest means, and even when circumstances became more comfortable for her in later life, she remained a woman of simple means herself. Rather than accumulating fine things, she treasured a simple collection of salt-and-pepper-shakers she had assembled throughout her life. Every vacation taken assumed a permanent place in Grandma’s memory through the salt-and-pepper-shaker set she had acquired on that trip. Many of the sets were actually little more than junk, and in fact, the collection was so simple that I had contributed to it several times myself as a youngster. A salt-and-pepper-set resembling two beer bottles that I had purchased with ten cents of my allowance on a school trip to the local brewery stood beside a Waterford crystal set Grandma had received as a silver wedding anniversary gift. It distressed me that no one in the family wanted this collection since it seemed to represent my grandmother in so many ways. One family friend offered to take one set, and one of my sisters was interested in the artistic display case in which the collection was kept, but no one wanted the whole collection, and I had no interest in keeping it myself. “But somebody should take it,” I reasoned. I asked myself “How can we simply dispose of something that was so prized by Grandma?”

Finally, a relative who was aware that this small task had become something of a roadblock for me, gently remarked, “You know, the love you and your grandparents shared for each other can never be extinguished, even after their house is sold, and their possessions, even including Grandma’s salt-and-pepper-shaker collection, are distributed. You’ll always have them with you, because they’re in your heart, not in any collections of objects, or any other stuff that was ever in their house. Besides, you have some real, living treasures from your grandparents. You inherited Grandpa’s readiness to help anyone in need, and Grandma’s spirit of hospitality. The rest of us in the family often remark that we can feel Grandma and Grandpa’s presence when you live out those attributes. When you carry out the values you learned from them, you’re really still in their company, and you can’t ever lose that.”

That was all I needed to hear! Later that day, I packed up Grandma’s salt-and-pepper-shaker collection and everything else that remained in that house, and delivered it to the St. Vincent de Paul Store. Period.

It’s not that articles of sentiment should not be treasured by us; sentiment has its place. But rather, there is a hierarchy of values in each of our lives, and we need to keep that hierarchy in proper perspective. What is truly most important? What things appeal to our emotions but lack depth? I had been helped to see that if I had already lost my grandparents and could carry on in life, I could certainly stand to lose their stuff, and still be able to carry on. Perhaps more importantly, even though separated by death, I could find a way to maintain a sense of their company, and to keep their spirits somehow alive and present, and even beneficial, by living out the deepest gifts they left me: the example of their virtuous behavior.

When Our Lord was nearing the end of His life on this earth, He was aware that his disciples would grieve over his absence, and would seek ways to continue to feel His presence. Mere objects, like our sacramentals today, could help in that endeavor, but they could never be sufficient. So Our Lord left us numerous particular ways that He would remain with us in this life in profound ways, not just as a memory, but as a living experience. How did He do this? First, He sent His Holy Spirit upon us at Pentecost Who continues to direct our lives. He also instituted the Church, His Body on earth, and as the Church, we keep Christ present by continuing his healing and charitable works, passing on His teachings, and drawing souls to Himself in the company of fellow believers. He instituted the sacraments through which we obtain grace. He left us His Living Word in the texts of sacred scripture which form us as His disciples. And he left us the Eucharist, by which His Real Presence is always in our midst, nourishing and reassuring us, forming our behavior and drawing us into an ever-deeper relationship with Him.

Pope Urban IV gave the Church the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1263, and for the eight and a half centuries since then, on this feast we focus on that last-mentioned gifted way in which Our Lord remains present to us: in the Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas was once asked why Our Lord left us the gift of the Eucharist. He replied that Our Lord did so because as His life on earth drew towards it conclusion, He desired to institute a way in which He would remain in the company of his disciples, to cultivate ever-deeper affection with them, and to remind them of His Sacred Passion, through which He had redeemed the world. The Eucharist is Christ’s plan for staying in our midst, cultivating our love for Him and remaining inspired by His saving Passion.

If we are to celebrate this feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord with integrity, then, it will mean that we renew our mindfulness that Our Lord, Who is everywhere, has a specially gifted local Presence in our midst, in the tabernacle in our parish churc,h and in every Catholic chapel everywhere. He is present there to receive us, to hear us, and simply to be with us. This is one of the greatest, most efficacious gifts He left us. A means by which we can grow in intimacy with the Lord surely occupies a very privileged place in our lives. As Vatican II taught, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of Christian life” (Lumen Gentium,11), most prominently at the Mass, of course, but also in Eucharistic Adoration. What can be more important?

Priests might ask themselves how prominently and conveniently they make the Blessed Sacrament available to the faithful under their care. We all might renew our awareness that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a most graced aspect of our Catholic heritage, and one that it behooves us never to neglect. The Lord waits for us in the Blessed Sacrament so that we can grow in friendship with Him and increase our awareness of His Saving Passion and its effects in our lives. The Blessed Sacrament is not a relic of the past, but rather, is the living Presence of Our Lord in our midst. How does adoration of the Blessed Sacrament fit in to your life right now? Is there room to increase your attentiveness to that Saving Eucharistic Presence?


Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time—June 10, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061018.cfm
GN 3:9-15; PS 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; 2 COR 4:13—5:1; MK 3:20-35

What seems like many months ago, a family of my acquaintance, folks of simple means, experienced the painful and prolonged dying process of one of their sons. Jimmy had been a favorite in the neighborhood, and throughout the extended family, and just as he was embracing young adulthood, he was stricken with pancreatic cancer, and doctors could offer no hope for Jimmy’s recovery. There was a season of sickness replete with good days and bad days for Jimmy, and one of his sisters kept friends appraised of his situation by frequently and regularly updating her Facebook page with information about Jimmy’s ordeal. And then he died.

Time has its own way of passing, sometimes unobtrusively, sometimes slowly, and at other times, quickly. Time can be unpredictable, and in a surprising way, one day Jimmy’s sister’s Facebook page contained the message: “Jimmy died one year ago today, please pray with us. Especially, please pray the Rosary with us today since that is our family prayer.” And accompanying that message was a picture of a Rosary floating in the sky, made out of blue balloons that apparently were filled with helium. The Facebook message went on to say that the family had gathered to pray the Rosary that morning, and then sent this balloon Rosary upwards, symbolically to be as near to Jimmy as possible. The message was poignant and was probably met with tears, here and there, among the readership that day.

Comments of support and sympathy began rolling in, as well as promises of prayer that day. Consoling sentiments were expressed. And then, of course, it happened. A single, crisp comment appeared reminding the other readers that wildlife is placed in jeopardy by releasing helium balloons into the atmosphere. Then numerous other ecologically-minded comments began to multiply, some of which were expressed harshly. One writer wrote “When will stupid people learn the harm they are doing with their childish ideas?” Another posted a photograph of a bird that had died because it had swallowed one such balloon. The photograph showed a revolting scene of a dead bird with the remains of the balloon issuing forth from its orifices. I cringed. The exchanges went on and on, and were desperately uncomfortable, until someone posted this comment: “I agree with those comments that explain the harm caused to our environment by releasing helium balloons into the sky. What has been said about that damage here is true, and that is a concern to me. But I deeply, deeply regret that that conversation appears on this particular string of comments. Perhaps the information posted is correct, but it is not kind. It does not belong here today. With apologies to Jimmy’s dear family.” Those words of compassion ended the melee of corrective comments. Words of compassion restored order to that particular virtual conversation.

In today’s gospel, we see a very similar scene. Chaos reigns. In the disorder of the unruly crowd, rough comments could be heard claiming that Jesus was out of his mind; others claimed that He was possessed by evil, or by Beelzebub himself. Rough comments and disorder multiplied themselves, and there was such chaos that the Lord and His company could not even eat. Even his mother and relatives found it difficult to attract His attention. And when alerted to their presence, he silenced the crowd, and calmed the chaos, by delivering the simple instruction, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

The chaos, the spiritual madness of the moment was resolved by Our Lord’s instructive words, just as twenty-one centuries later, charitable words ended the flow of hurtful words being directed to Jimmy’s grieving family. Love conquers all. “Amor vincit omnia,” as the classical Latin expression maintains.

Through His intervention in this scene, Our Lord not only introduces order into a viciously disorderly situation, but He shows us that we, too, share in this kind of power. The application of truth to a compromised situation, the introduction of mercy in the midst of anger, the solution of generosity in the chill of endless want, are all examples of how the application of the teachings of Jesus exercise authority over reckless spirits that roam about doing harm.

Ours is a world of conflict, and that conflict cannot always be resolved, at least not easily. Today, it has become common to identify my opponent as a hater, when in fact, my opponent simply holds a different point of view from mine. When we contribute to that toxic kind of language, we help to establish it all the more firmly. But when we follow Our Lord’s example and speak only the truth, we are doing our part to bring healing into our chaotic world, and establishing the Reign of the Just One. Speak as Jesus did, thereby helping us all to dwell in harmony. How would you sound in conversations if you were to take seriously the Lord’s example of diffusing incendiary conversations with compassionate gospel words of love? Amor vincit omnia.


Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time—June 17, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/061718.cfm
EZ 17:22-24; PS 92:2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 2 COR 5:6-10; MK 4:26-34

John cut himself shaving this morning, and in doing so, he got blood on the only clean shirt left in his closet. He lost time trying to come up with suitable alternative attire for the work day, and would now arrive late at his office. In his anxiety, he spoke harshly to his wife, who was therefore of an unpleasant disposition when she took the children to school. Their daughter, Marie, feeling the brunt of her mother’s unpleasant disposition, arrived at school unhappy, and in her unhappiness, spoke unkindly to Jeannie, a girl Marie was just getting to know, who had recently transferred from another school in another city. Jeannie, who was feeling vulnerable in her new city and school, had been beginning to feel somewhat at home in her new environment because Marie had reached out to her. Today, it seemed as if Marie wanted nothing to do with her. Jeannie, in her adolescent vulnerability, went home sad that day, feeling as alone in her new school as she had the first day there, before she had gotten acquainted with Marie. When Jeannie got home, her mother, who had not wanted to relocate her family to this new city at all, upon seeing her daughter’s unhappiness, renewed her annoyance with her husband, who had engineered their relocation. They argued and went to bed unreconciled. John had cut himself shaving that morning.

One of the harsh realities of life is that the harm we do to others bears consequences. One thing leads to another. This is why the Church teaches us that after our death, we face a particular judgment, at which we are admitted either to Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell, depending on the state of our soul, as well as a final judgment at the end of time, where all of us will learn what consequences resulted from our actions. The stark reality is that by the end of time, there will be accumulations of ill will that have their source in our own actions. Sadly, each of us will be responsible for a certain degree of woundedness in the world by the time we die. We are sinners and that means we do harm.

True as this is, there is, however, a happier side to the same story. Because we have been created in the image and likeness of God and are, therefore, basically good, and furthermore, because as members of the Church we try to be intentional about living according to the Gospel, and the precepts of the Church, and because we have the companionship of the saints, and the good people in our lives, and receive the Sacraments, we are also responsible for much good as well. It’s probably true to say that the degree to which we cultivate goodness in the world far outweighs the harm we have done, and that also is why we have a particular judgment, and a final judgment. Hopefully, the accumulation of good that exists in the world will be far greater than the accumulation of bad for which we are responsible.

In today’s gospel passage, Our Lord points to the mustard seed, the tiniest of seeds, and shows how in the right conditions it grows and develops into a large tree that becomes significant to the ecology of the place in which it grows. The tiny and insignificant becomes great and mighty.

This lesson teaches us that even without political office, important administrative roles, great wealth, or other marks of influence, our potential for virtuous living possesses the potential for great significance. Each act of obedience to gospel values for which we are responsible introduces another initiative for goodness in creation, and that goodness snowballs when it encounters others. Just as menacing acts lend increase to other menacing acts, so does goodness multiply goodness. It is the very nature of good to increase.

It is, of course, one thing to recognize that one should spend one’s life sowing goodness, and quite another thing to strategize for how that can be attempted. The Christian, however, is given a reliable pattern for constructing a pattern of doing good. It is found in the Eucharist, which the Church teaches is the source and summit of the Christian life. Our Lord did not only give us the Eucharist, but He called us to live a eucharistic life.

Our strategy for turning mustard seeds into strong trees, which is to say, our strategy for living lovingly and for cultivating goodness wherever we are, is to live eucharistically. Upon reading those passages in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles in which the institution of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper is described, we find that every single author shows Our Lord following the same pattern: with the bread as well as with the wine he took, blessed, broke and gave. Our Lord’s consistent pattern in giving us the Eucharist is that he took the bread and wine, gave thanks for it, divided it according to each one’s need, and distributed it to them. The eucharistic pattern is to take, bless, break, and give.

We find direction, then, is turning our mustard seed virtues into tall trees of goodness by doing the same thing: taking, blessing, breaking, and giving the gifts we possess. If I have economic wealth, I ask myself how I can take those resources, give thanks for them, plan to use them charitably, and then distribute them. What about your virtues? Are you merciful, generous, forgiving, patient, a peacemaker? Which is your greatest strength? How do you take that virtue, bless it, break, and give it to others? What is your particular weakness, requiring conversion? Are you argumentative, jealous, do you harbor grudges? The eucharistic mandate challenges you to identify the antidote to your habitual sin (i.e. to combat an argumentative nature, practice harmony; to counteract jealousy, practice generosity; the corrective for bearing grudges is quickness to forgive) and take that mandate, that harmony, generosity, spirit of forgiveness, take it, bless it, break it, and give it. In living the Eucharistic way of life vouchsafed to us by Our Lord, we diminish our potential for evil, and increase our capacity for goodness, so much so that as insignificant as we might think we are, the mustard seed of that insignificance can become a sheltering tree for goodness in the midst of others.


Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist-Mass during the Day— June 24, 2018
Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/062418-day-mass.cfm
IS 49:1-6; PS 139:1B-3, 13-14AB, 14C-15; ACTS 13:22-26; LK 1:57-66, 80

In my Dominican Order, we are fond of retelling the story of our sister, Catherine of Siena, the time Our Lord sent her on a mission to Avignon to persuade the pope to end his exile there, and return to Rome. Catherine obediently traveled to Avignon and attempted to gain an audience with the pope. As a layperson without clerical credentials, it turned out that she was unable to obtain that audience. Perplexed, she returned home to Siena where eventually the Lord manifested Himself to her once again. Upon seeing the Lord, Catherine exclaimed “Lord, why didn’t you provide me with all the tools I would need to accomplish the task you assigned me? Since I am a woman ranking among the laity, I could not gain access to the Holy Father, so I could not accomplish the purpose for which you sent me to him.” The Lord answered, “I distributed my gifts out variously among you, so that you all would have need of each other to accomplish your tasks.” Catherine had thought that she was do the Lord’s bidding by herself. Mistake.

When the Lord explained to Catherine that it had been His plan that she would fulfill her mission by collaborating with others, He was rehearsing a lesson He had revealed many times before. The Lord’s own earthly ministry was supported by a panoply of collaborators, beginning with His Most Holy and Immaculate Mother; Joseph, his foster-father; other family members; and eventually including the Twelve, Mary Magdalene, and other faithful followers, creating a group that culminated with Dismas, the Good Thief, to whom the Lord promised Paradise that very day. The Church has come to recognize these people associated with Our Lord and His mission during his lifetime on earth, as the first generation of saints, known as the “Family of Lord,” regardless of literal family connections. Ranking significantly among this first generation of saints is John the Baptist, the precursor of the Lord and His cousin.
The best explanation of John’s role in the Lord’s life is found in the prophesy his father, Zechariah, announced at John’s birth when he proclaimed “…and you, my child, shall be called the prophet of the most high, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God by which the daybreak from on high shall visit us, to shine on those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:76-79). Zechariah reveals that his son, John the Baptist, has been designated as the precursor of the Lord, to go ahead of Jesus to preach in such a way that hearers would be better prepared to receive the Lord’s message. In God’s design, John’s role in the Lord’s mission was significant.

Although John’s role is privileged, “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11), the collaboration of countless others, beginning with the Virgin Mother, figures prominently into the Lord’s life and mission. It is in the plan of Divine Providence that human actors are to figure prominently in God’s work. Others would follow John. The so-called Family of the Lord, that first generation of saints, would be followed by the second generation of saints, the martyrs of the Church. After the end of the classical era of the martyrs with Constantine’s promulgation of the Peace of the Church in 313, the Church eventually realized that a third generation of saints, those proclaimed by the Church, was in order. The recognition of this third generation of saints was inaugurated when St. Martin of Tours was proclaimed a saint. Witnesses to Christ—those recognized, as well as the nameless countless ones—have always been active in claiming the world for Christ.

John the Baptist and the other saints are not members of an exclusive club. Pope Paul VI wrote: “Those who have received the Good News, and who have been gathered by it into the community of salvation, can and must communicate and spread it” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 13.) All the baptized bear responsibility for participating in the Lord’s Mission, which is the life of the Church, in the world.

The Birth of John the Baptist reminds each one of us that our vocation places us in the line of those responsible for living in such a way that others recognize in them that Jesus is Lord, and is inviting all to follow Him. How does that invitation get communicated through your life?

Father Michael Monshau, O.P. About Father Michael Monshau, O.P.

Dominican Father Michael Monshau, formerly of the theology department at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome (the "Angelicum") is now professor of homiletics and liturgy and a formator at Christ the King Seminary, East Aurora, New York.