Homilies for February 2020

For Presentation of the Lord, February 9, February 16, and February 23.

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
– February 2, 2020

  Readings: Mal 3:1–4 • Ps 24:7–10 • Heb 2:14–18 • Lk 2:22–40 (or 2:22–32)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/020220.cfm

A Light for the Nations

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This feast is inspired by the Lucan account of Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus to the temple in order to fulfill their obligations under the law of Moses. However, the feast has received three different names over the centuries related to different aspects of the Gospel account.

In honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the feast was celebrated in many countries as the Feast of the Purification. Mary, an immaculate virgin and unstained by original sin, was not strictly bound to make an offering for her purification. Yet, in humility she complied with the ritual purification required of new mothers on the fortieth day after delivering a son. Also, St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph offered “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” the offering required of those too poor to purchase a lamb for sacrifice, reminding us of the poverty of the holy family.

In honor of the infant Jesus, the feast is officially called the Feast of the Presentation. Tradition has seen the presentation of Jesus in the temple as a fulfilment of the words of the prophet Malachi, “suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire” (Mal 3:1). The prayerful believers, Simeon and Anna, represent all the faithful Jewish people who longed to see the messiah and the redemption of Israel.

The specific requirement of the law of Moses was that a firstborn son, the “male that opened the womb,” be presented to a priest and ransomed by the payment of five shekels (Num 18:16). St. John Paul II, in his encyclical on the virtues of St. Joseph, remarked that, along with his responsibility to see to the circumcision and naming of the child, the ransoming of Jesus further affirmed Joseph’s legal guardianship.

St. John Paul II wrote:

The ransoming of the first-born is another obligation of the father, and it is fulfilled by Joseph. Represented in the first-born is the people of the covenant, ransomed from slavery in order to belong to God. Here too, Jesus — who is the true “price” of ransom — not only “fulfills” the Old Testament rite, but at the same time transcends it, since he is not a subject to be redeemed, but the very author of redemption. (Redemptoris Custos, 12)

Lastly, the feast is called Candlemas due to the liturgical custom of blessing and processing with candles proper to this day. That tradition grew out of the declaration by Simeon that the infant Jesus would be a “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” Thus, the feast became an occasion for celebration with candlelit processions to symbolize the light of Christ entering the temple.

The blessing and procession with candles on Candlemas, still included as an option in the Roman missal, has become less common with the advent of electricity. We now take for granted that we can fill our homes and churches with light at the flick of a switch. However, in the middle ages Candlemas was among the most splendid celebrations of the year. Those candles, crafted laboriously from yellow beeswax bleached white in the sun became symbols of resistance against the darkness of sin and death.

The thirteenth-century Dominican Friar Jacob Voragine, a contemporary of Thomas Aquinas, offered a beautiful reflection on the symbolism of candles in his homily for today’s celebration.

On this feast day we too make a procession, carrying in our hands a lighted candle, which signifies Jesus, and bearing it into the churches. In the candle there are three things — the wick, the wax, and the fire. These three signify three things about Christ: the wax is a sign of his body, which was born of the Virgin Mary without corruption of the flesh . . . ; the wick signifies his most pure soul, hidden in his body; the fire or the light stands for his divinity because our God is a consuming fire. (The Golden Legend, “On the Feast of the Purification of Mary”)

Thus, in the candles we use in liturgy, whether the altar candles, votive candles, processional candles, baptismal candles, or the pascal candle, we see a symbol of Christ himself. The use of candles can raise our thoughts to the mystery of God made flesh, the true light of salvation. Today, we pray that the light of Christ may shine through each of us. May the fire of the Holy Spirit enkindle our hearts and allow us to dispel the darkness of sin and sorrow from our lives.

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 9, 2020

  Readings: Is 58:7–10 • Ps 112:4–9 • 1 Cor 2:1–5 • Mt 5:13–16
  usccb.org/bible/readings/020920.cfm

Salt of the Earth

Food can be bland without a dash of salt, but with a saltshaker on practically every table, we tend to take salt for granted. However, in the ancient world, transporting salt from evaporating pools along the sea or excavating salt mines was difficult and expensive. Yet, across ages and cultures, humans have used mountains of salt to flavor meals and to preserve food from spoiling.

One of the worlds largest and most ancient salt mines is in Zipaquirá [Zeep-ah-key-RAH], Colombia, a short drive north from Bogotá. Indigenous peoples were already excavating that vast rock salt deposit centuries before the birth of Christ. But early in the 1900’s, the Catholic miners who toiled in the dark tunnels chiseled a rough cross and an altar from the solid rock salt. They transformed an excavated chamber into a small, candlelit chapel, where they prayed for safe return from their dangerous work each day. Now, after subsequent construction, those excavated salt mines over 650 feet underground have been transformed into Zipaquirá’s Cathedral of Salt where thousands gather for Mass each Sunday. Light dances across the salt walls and radiates a celestial glow through the translucent rock salt sculptures of saints and angels.

When Jesus tells his disciples in today’s Gospel that they are the “salt of the earth,” we can think of that cavernous cathedral in the salt mines. It is a church that exists because of the world’s desire for salt. Miners have extracted millions of tons of salt over the centuries from those deposits, and generations have used that salt for numerous ends. We as Christians are called to offer the world something it more deeply craves than salt. We offer the salt of faith drawn from the inexhaustible mine of divine grace.

Both salt and light are apt metaphors because both transform their surroundings. A minuscule dusting of salt flavors an entire dish; a small lamp makes a vast, inky cavern visible. But Christ warns his disciples not to let their salt lose its flavor. What does this mean? When can our salt lose its flavor?

First, as disciples of the Lord, we lose our flavor if we abandon the substance of our faith, if we neglect the teachings of the Church. What good is a Christian who does not believe in Christ’s teachings? What use is the Catholic who treats the deposit of faith like a flea-market, rummaging among the articles of faith and the commandments, picking a few and casting aside others? What use is the disciple who tosses aside belief Christ’s divinity, or the Blessed Virgin, or the saints; who neglects marriage, or the sanctity of life, or who no longer believes in the Sacraments? Such a person is like salt that has lost its flavor.

A fifth-century bishop put it bluntly:

Those who have been educated for the faith and in heavenly wisdom ought to remain faithful and steadfast and not “lose their taste.” If they forsake the faith and divine wisdom, they either plunge headlong into heresy or return to the folly of unbelievers . . . people of this sort, made tasteless by the devil’s treachery and having lost the grace of faith, are good for nothing. Though they once might have seasoned nonbelievers still foreign to the faith with the word of divine preaching, they instead showed themselves useless. (Chromatius, On Matthew, 18.4.1–2)

What a tragedy when the world turns to us, craving the saving salt of Christ, and we have nothing to offer!

Take care not to lose your flavor. If you leave leftovers in the fridge uncovered, they absorb the flavors of everything else nearby. A delicious cheesecake ends up tasting like onions. Gross! Take active steps to preserve your faith. Spend time with others who pray. Seek to read and watch content that nurtures your faith. Beware of passively absorbing the toxic odor of vice from the world that surrounds you.

Second, our salt loses flavor when we abandon our sense of apostolate, when we cease to share the Gospel in charity. As the Second Vatican Council taught:

The Church was founded for the purpose of spreading the kingdom of Christ throughout the earth for the glory of God the Father, to enable all men to share in His saving redemption, and that through them the whole world might enter into a relationship with Christ. . . . For the Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate . . . the member who fails to make his proper contribution to the development of the Church must be said to be useful neither to the Church nor to himself. (Apostolicam actuositatem, 2)

A Christian without a sense of apostolate is like a lamp concealed under a bushel basket. Do not be afraid to share the faith and let your light be seen! Venture out from beneath the basket of tepidness, fear, or embarrassment that holds you back! Spread the light of Christ by doing good. Flavor the world with the salt of your faith.

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 16, 2020

  Readings: Sir 15:15–20 • Ps 119:1–2, 4–5, 17–18, 33–34 • 1 Cor 2:6–10 • Mt 5:17–37 (or 5:20–22a, 27–28, 33–34a, 37)
  usccb.org/bible/readings/021620.cfm

Internalizing God’s commandments

Few things elicit a gasp from panicked parent like seeing a toddler, with hand outstretched, walking toward an open, hot oven door. A crucial part of parenting is teaching a child about household dangers by instilling the ideas of “don’t touch” and “hot.” Good parents reinforce those lessons early to protect their children from harm.

Today’s first reading, from the book of Sirach, emphasizes its lesson with similar imagery, “[God] has set before you fire and water, to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.” This is not a case of laissez-faire or absentee parenting; those instructed in the Lord’s commandments know the harm that comes from grasping fire. Nonetheless, though God “understands man’s every deed” and does not give anyone license to sin, he respects human freedom. Whatever a person chooses shall be given him. Those who reach for fire are sure to get burned.

From this passage, Sirach expresses firm belief in both personal freedom and responsibility for one’s actions. This is authentic freedom, freedom with consequences. Thus, the best choice is clear, trust in God and keep his commandments to stay on the path of salvation; do this and you shall live!

What does it mean to live? The promise of life offered to those who heed God’s commands is not simply earthly life. For that reason, St. Paul writes to the Corinthians of a wisdom “not of this age nor of the rulers of this age.” That wisdom is Christ Jesus, the son of God, sacrificed on the cross for the sins of all, and risen to glory. The eternal reward prepared for those who love God is “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard,” a sublime truth revealed to believers through the Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus continues his sermon on the mount. As Moses brought down the commandments of the law from atop mount Sinai, Jesus in his role as divine legislator promulgated the law of the new covenant from the hilltop. Christ is the authoritative interpreter of the Torah and the scriptures, and he declared that he came to fulfill rather than to abolish the law and the prophets. In some cases, he teaches his disciples that they must internalize the words of the law, in other cases, they must pursue a higher standard. Sometimes this means foregoing one’s right to retribution in order to practice charity.

Thus, the commandment not to kill is raised to the higher standard of avoiding anger and quarrelsome words with one’s brothers and sisters. A positive requirement is placed on believers to seek reconciliation before offering their gifts at the altar. The commandment against adultery becomes an occasion for Jesus to reinforce the indissolubility of marriage and to invite his disciples to internalize this command by avoiding lustful thoughts and gazes. Beyond avoiding lying in false testimony, Jesus exhorts all to speak in simplicity with truth and to avoid the bombast and sacrilege of swearing and profane oaths.

In sum, Christ’s disciples are to internalize the commandments in a way that goes beyond avoidance of mortal and grave sin. Growing in holiness requires us also to detest venial sins and to prudently avoid even the near occasions of sin.

Christ’s teaching indisputably contradicts the so-called wisdom of our age. Our faith and our Church is under constant pressure from those who reject one or another of the commandments. This is nothing new. The fifth-century Bishop Chromatius of Aquileia already expressed exasperation with the laxity of the Christians of his times when he preached, “While it is sinful to abolish the least of the commandments, all the more so the great and most important ones… Consequently, nothing in the divine commandments must be abolished, nothing altered. Everything must be preserved and taught faithfully and devotedly that the glory of the heavenly kingdom may not be lost.”

Do not fear to defend the faith! Jesus exhorts his disciples to be teachers. He says, “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Thank God for the countless teachers who keep the faith in our Catholic schools. Praise God for the countless volunteers and catechists who lead religious education programs, CCD, confirmation classes, and RCIA. Glory to God for parents who teach their children right from wrong and teach them to pray from the time they can walk. You who strive to live and teach Jesus’ commandments are truly among the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
– February 23, 2020

  Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18 • Ps 103:1–4, 8, 10, 12–13 • 1 Cor 3:16–23 • Mt 5:38–48
  usccb.org/bible/readings/022320.cfm

A Call to Radical Holiness

You probably have seen the office desk toy called “Newton’s Cradle.” The device consists of several steel balls suspended from a frame and hanging in a row. When a metal ball on the end is pulled back and released, it swings into the others and a ball on the opposite end swings up into the air. This is a clever physics demonstration of Newton’s third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In a perfect system with no other external forces to dissipate energy, those angry steel balls would go on punching each other back and forth for all eternity.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us that we should not govern our moral life with Newton’s third law. The attitude behind the Babylonian law of the talon: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, an equal retribution for an equal harm, is insufficient. In theory, this seems a good solution for promoting peace and justice. The knowledge that I will have a tooth knocked out as punishment should deter me from punching anyone else in the mouth. Unfortunately, the world is not always as simple and symmetrical as it seems in theory. Add anger, confusion, and limited knowledge into the mix, and situations cascade out of control. Humankind would run out of eyes and teeth before every grievance could be settled if the law of talon were followed to its conclusion.

God holds his people to a higher standard of conduct. In today’s reading from Leviticus we are told to “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” God is not punitive; he does not withdraw his love from mankind in response to a sinner’s attacks. He does not rejoice in the destruction of a sinner but longs for repentance.

However, the teaching in Leviticus is framed within the context of kinship and community. The Israelites are told to “not bear hatred for your brother or sister,” to “cherish no grudge against any of your people,” and to love your neighbor.

Many times, it is challenging to live these commands of forgiveness and love in family and community. We can harbor the deep grudges against those closest to us. All the arguments, insults, and injuries of the past can come back to our mind when we get together with family and friends. The dysfunctional family argument has become a pop cultural cliche of how thanksgiving and holiday dinners unfold.

Sometimes, resolving conflict and forgiving entails taking the risk of looking foolish, of seeming to have lost. St. Paul, in addressing the petty disputes and rivalries among the Christians of Corinth in the reading today, exhorted them that they are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in them. This is much like the first letter of St. Peter that describes the Church as a spiritual house built of living stones. (1 Pt 2:5). Unlike the pagan temples of Greece, where the people remained outside and a statue of a god was contained inside, the Holy Spirit dwells in the midst of Christians wherever they worship.

But even among that community of believers, pride, rivalries, and strife threatened to destroy their unity. St. Paul admonished them that the supposedly wise must become fools to become truly wise.

In the Gospel, as Jesus provides instructions that sound very foolish. When someone strikes you, turn your cheek. If someone goes to law over your tunic, give them your cloak, also. Go two miles when pressed for one.

However, these teachings on retaliation reveal wisdom on both an earthly and a spiritual level. First, by teaching us to pardon insults rather than reacting with violence, Jesus reveals the only remedy for breaking the spiral of unending violence that results from perpetually seeking retribution. Second, when we show love for our enemies, we are able imitate God’s love. This is the love manifest by Christ in his passion when he did not resist his captors, when he walked the extra mile to Calvary, when he forgave his enemies from the cross.

Are we willing to live the foolishness of Christ? Are we open to forgiving those who have injured us, making peace with family and friends, and even taking the extreme step to love our enemies? Hopefully, we do not consider anyone here in our parish community and enemy, though those nearest to us can sometimes ruffle our feathers. Today, when we exchange the sign of peace, forgive whoever is on your right and left if perhaps they have annoyed you in some way. Open your hearts also to begin to pardon whoever has harmed you more deeply, pray today for your enemies that they too may know the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness.

Fr. Randall Meissen, LC About Fr. Randall Meissen, LC

Fr. Randall Meissen, LC, was ordained a priest in 2014. He is currently a history PhD candidate at the University of Southern California and ministers at Ss. Felicitas and Perpetua Church in San Marino, CA.

Comments

  1. Avatar Randolph Guerrero says:

    Amen. 🙏

  2. Avatar Frank Mugga says:

    We are very grateful for the spiritual nourishment and guidance. God bless you

  3. Grateful for the spiritual nourishment and guidance. God bless you Father. If possible share on Resurrection of Jesus.

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