Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homily for 4th Sunday of Easter


Homily for the
4th Sunday of Easter
May 11, 2003
John 10: 11-18
Nativity, Brandon, Fla.
Most Holy Redeemer, Tampa

This weekend (April 27-29, 2012) I was away with Boy Scouts. So no written homily. Here’s one that I gave 9 years ago—the only one I have at the moment on the computer for this particular Sunday.     

“I will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 11-18).

The 4th Sunday of Easter is commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday, because the gospel portrays Jesus as the one who takes care of the sheep of God’s flock.  Today’s gospel also gives us a quick summary of the paschal mystery we’ve been celebrating since Holy Thursday:  “I will lay down my life for the sheep,” and “I have power…to take it up again” (10:18), and this death and resurrection fulfills the Father’s plan:  “This command I have received from my Father” (v. 18).

Jesus lays down his life for his sheep.  To protect us from harm, he’s willing to stand between us and danger, even to undergo death that we might live.  And so he did when he died on the cross to atone for our sins, to suffer in our place.  Every sinner is a rebel against God’s authority, a beneficiary who spurns the love and blessings of his Maker.  We deserve God’s wrath (cf. Eph 2:1-3).

But wrath isn’t what God wants to give us.  Rather, his plan is for us to live.  So he sent his Son to us and allowed him to suffer the full effects of our sins:  our hatred, our fears, our prejudices, our spite, our slander, our cruelty—sent him to be thoroughly immersed in the ordinary human condition that we know so well—to some extent from direct experience, as both victims and offenders, and to some extent from reading the newspaper.

Just dying, of course, wasn’t much for our protection from the wicked designs of “the devil, who goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” in St. Peter’s apt description (II, 5:8).  By the power of God, Jesus took up his own life again; he rose triumphant from the grave on the 3d day.  His triumph is ours too, because he has become one of us.  The shepherd who died for the sheep shares his life with them.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Lech Walesa and the Polish labor union gave us a wonderful word, solidarity; altho it’s been an English word since the middle of the 19th century, hardly anyone used it till the Poles showed up on the evening news.  Someone defined solidarity as the notion that “we’re all in this together.”  “Solidarity” describes our relationship with Jesus, who laid down his life for us and took it up again—dying as one of us, bringing us to immortal life with him after we, too, have walked with the Lord our shepherd thru “the valley of the shadow of death” (Ps 23:1,4).

By our Baptism we’ve been immersed in the death of Jesus—Jesus the Good Shepherd, who leads us beyond death, who protects us from everlasting death because he laid down his own life and took us along with him when he took up his own life again.

Jesus has the power to take up his life again, as he had the power to lay it down; he chose to lay it down.  He had the power because he’s God; he made the choice because he loves us and wants to share himself completely with us.  Death is something terrible but is no longer the final answer to our sinfulness.  Jesus the Good Shepherd has conquered both sin and death—and that’s our final answer.

This command—to come to our rescue—Jesus received from his Father.  To some extent we enter here the mystery of the Trinity, how the Son is God yet is distinct from the Father; and the mystery of the incarnation, how the Son is both God and man at the same time.  As God his will is perfectly one with the Father’s; as a human being he has to struggle to do what God’s wants, afraid of pain and death as much as the rest of us.  But he fully embraces his Father’s plan that we should have life.  Like a Special Forces soldier who will do whatever it takes to carry out his mission behind enemy lines, or an excellent athlete who will do whatever it takes within the rules to outplay his opponent, Jesus does whatever it takes to restore God’s plan that the human race should live forever as God’s children—even laying down his life for us in order to be faithful to truth, mercy, and God’s irrevocable, universal love.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bird-watching

Bird-watching
At the provincial house we see a lot of fauna, believe it or not. There was a deer on the baseball field one morning this week. It's not unusual to see raccoons, skunks, possums, and rabbits (at least until the red-tailed hawks swoop down)--not to mention countless squirrels both black and gray.  And the flying squirrels that I blogged about last September! (http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=25197311#editor/target=post;postID=5761912383848075522) And various forms of vermin.

Then there are the birds:  sparrows in super-abundance, starlings, occasional crows, robins, cardinals, the aforementioned hawks, on rare occasions pheasants, and more I'm sure.

Since we're on the water, we see sea gulls, ducks, egrets, swans, and of course that pestilence called the Canada goose.

For the last 3 weeks or so a pair of swans have entranced our community.  They've nested on the edge of Clifford's Island (the largest of the 5 islands that give the city park its name), directly across the inlet from our ball field.  From our back porch or the dining room we have a clear view of the large nest, usually with momma (presumably) sitting on it, and often poppa nearby, in or out of the water.  We may be waiting almost as expectantly for the great event as the parents!

This afternoon I walked down to the island and shot a few photos of momma on the nest and poppa in the water--he swam up pretty quickly when he saw me approaching, but I kept a good distance from the nest.  Here are few pix.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Homily for 3d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
3d Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2012
Luke 24: 35-48
NYLT, Putnam Valley, N.Y.

“The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35).

The 2 disciples referred to in that opening to this evening’s gospel story about a resurrection appearance of Jesus are the 2 disciples who were going from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus that same Sunday afternoon, lamenting how Jesus had been betrayed and crucified—and already aware that the women had found his tomb empty that morning. As they walked along, Jesus came up to them, but they didn’t recognize him. He played dumb about everything that had just happened in Jerusalem, and when they had filled him in, he filled them in about what all that really meant. St. Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures” (24:27). But they still didn’t recognize him until they got to Emmaus and invited him to join them for supper. “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight” (24:30-31). And they hurried back to Jerusalem, even tho it was already “nearly evening” (24:29), and came to the 11 apostles and other disciples gathered in the upper room.
Jesus on the way to Emmaus with 2 disciples: art from the Tempio di Don Bosco, Castelnuovo Don Bosco

That’s where our gospel tonite picks up. You have to know that preceding story to know what the 1st verse means. And it’s an important verse—also for us who are disciples of Jesus today. The key phrases are “on the way” and “in the breaking of the bread.”

“What had taken place on the way” was that these 2 disciples had met Jesus, spoken with Jesus, been accompanied on their journey by Jesus, even tho they didn’t know it at the time. Jesus was walking with them; he was sharing in their sorrow; he was offering them encouragement; he was helping them see the events of their lives in a new light.

This is true for us too. We’re often unaware of his presence, but Jesus is our traveling companion. He walks with us on our journey, our pilgrimage, from conception thru birth and growth till death. He is with us in our achievements and our failures, in our joys and our sorrows. He wants to talk with us about everything that we experience and help us see all that we experience in the light of eternal truths, in the light of a plan that God has for us, that will finally bring us to a happy eternity.

There are, moreover, people who help Jesus in that role of companion, people who accompany us on our way: our parents, our Scout leaders, priests (I hope!), teachers, and other mentors. They may guide us and offer us insights in purely secular terms, from when our parents potty-trained us to developing our leadership skills to selecting a college to attend. More important is the spiritual guidance they may offer us: teaching us to pray, showing us God’s love, helping us see in our experiences the hand of God leading us forward (sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently), discerning God’s vocational call for our future.
Mosaic of loaves and fish: Simon Peter's house at Capernaum

“That the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name” (Luke 24:46-47) became clear to the 2 disciples in hindsight, when Jesus “broke bread” with them. “Breaking bread” with someone means to have a meal with them. But it means much more when the 2 disciples say that they recognized Jesus “in the breaking of bread.” All 4 Gospels tell how Jesus multiplied loaves when he took them, blessed them, broke them, and gave them to the disciples to distribute. St. Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke tell us that at the Last Supper Jesus “took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to” the apostles (Mark 14:22). And St. Luke reports that at Emmaus, “while he was with [the 2 disciples] at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31). In short, “the breaking of bread” is a phrase loaded with mystery in the Christian sense of that term, loaded with sacramental overtones, loaded with the implications of God meeting us, God feeding us, God interacting with us, God giving us himself.

“The breaking of bread” is used thruout the Acts of the Apostles to mean the celebration of the Eucharist—the most fundamental sacramental meaning of the phrase. When we read that “the 2 disciples recounted…how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread,” we’re reading how we meet Jesus today: at the celebration of the Eucharist. This is the most intimate way that we encounter him, eating his flesh, drinking his blood, allowing him to become part of our bodies and souls; committing ourselves to be and to act as his living body in the Church and in the world. Participation in the Eucharist is necessary for a complete knowledge of Jesus as our Lord and Savior, as the One who died and rose for our salvation, the One who is our companion in life. He himself says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (John 6:54).

The weekly celebration of the Eucharist with our parish community is a total experience—not limited only to taking the Sacrament but much more, all that the revised liturgy often calls “these sacred mysteries.” The “breaking of bread” includes our community gathering, our listening to God’s Word, our faith profession, our praise of our heavenly Father for offering us his Son as our Savior, and it culminates in our sacramental union with the Lord Jesus.

There’s another meaning to “the breaking of bread” besides the sacramental one. God says in Deuteronomy, “Man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (8:3)—which Jesus quotes when the devil is tempting him to turn stones into bread to satisfy his hunger (Matt 4:4). Bread is a metaphor for the Word of God. In John 6, Jesus 1st refers to himself as “the bread of life that has come down from heaven” to give life to the world (6:33,35,41)—Jesus who is “the Word made flesh,” and “whoever believes [this Word] has eternal life” (6:47).
Deacons breaking Hosts at the communion rite of Mass

When we come to Mass or celebrate most of the sacraments, we are presented with readings from the Word of God. The Word is “broken open” for us, like bread being broken, and it’s offered to us to consume, to chew on, to take in. (That’s what the homily is supposed to help us do.) When Jesus met the disciples on the way to Emmaus, he explained the Scriptures to them so that they would understand him and what had happened to him and what all that meant for them. So it’s important for us to take up the Scriptures, especially the Gospels (but not only), and read them, reflect on them, let Jesus speak to us thru them, let him put light on our lives: what’s happened to us, how we’re treating people, what we’ve done right or wrong, what decisions we might have to make. What does God want of me at this moment in my life? Jesus is “made known to us in the breaking of bread,” in our opening ourselves to his holy Word. “Whoever keeps his word,” St. John said to us this evening, “the love of God is truly perfected in him” (1 John 2:5).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Provincial Announces Appointments for 2012-2013

Provincial Announces 
Appointments for 2012-2013

On April 19 Fr. Tom Dunne announced that Fr. Steve Ryan (at right) will become director of the Salesian community and apostolic work at Mary Help of Christians Center in Tampa. The effective date is Sept. 1.

The Tampa community includes the 3 SDBs who serve at Mary Help of Christians Parish and 6 helping at Garry & Mavis Smith Salesian Boys & Girls Club and/or the MHC retreat center, and 6 retired SDBs at St. Philip the Apostle Residence plus 2 SDBs who assist them.

Fr. Steve will succeed Fr. Dennis Donovan, who has completed two 3-year terms as director.

For the last 9 years Fr. Steve has been the province's "delegate for youth ministry" and a member of the provincial council. His oversaw YM projects thruout the province, including vocation "recruitment," and organized several new ones at province level--most notably the Gospel Roads program and pro-life rallies (Washington every January, in conjunction with the March for Life) and for high school students in the spring at Seton Hall University.
Fr. Steve (in red stole) with the group of young SDBs and other volunteers who accompanied him to El Salvador  for Gospel Roads III earlier this month.  The Gospel Roads programs for high school and older adolescents combine a retreat experience with service to the community in both the U.S. and overseas.

Fr. Tom also announced the re-appointment to new 3-year terms of Fr. Steve Dumais as director of the provincial residence community, Fr. George Hanna as director of the community in Washington (Nativity Church and Don Bosco Cristo Rey HS), and Fr. Richard Authier as director of the community in Montreal (Maria Ausiliatrice Church).

Earlier in 2012, on Feb. 29, Fr. Tom announced that Fr. Dumais and Bro. Tom Dion had been confirmed for new 3-year terms on the provincial council--Fr. Dumais continuing as vice provincial, and Bro. Dion switching from province treasurer to a "general" councilor. Fr. Donovan will replace him as treasurer. Also, Fr. Abe Feliciano, presently serving as YM at DB Cristo Rey HS, will become a councilor with YM oversight responsibility (replacing Fr. Ryan). Also stepping down from the council is Bro. Bernie Dube of the Toronto community.

All the appointments required the approval of the Rector Major; in addition, the RM's council must consent to the nominations of provincial councilors.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter

April 15, 2012
Collect
John 20: 19-31
Ursulines, Willow Drive, N.R.

“God of everlasting mercy, who … kindle the faith of the people you have made your own, increase the grace you have bestowed” (Collect).

The Collect brings together—“collects,” if you will—the theme of divine mercy that’s now attached to this 2d Sunday of Easter, and at the same time echoes themes from today’s gospel reading—a passage always read on this Sunday regardless of our A, B, and C cycles.

The Collect 1st names God as our source of “everlasting mercy.” That’s a theme running thru the OT, our responsorial psalm being just one example: “His mercy endures forever” (118:2-4). But that mercy has been personified for the people of the New Covenant—“the people you have made your own”—in Jesus Christ, “by whose blood they have been redeemed” and who lives now and forever as our intercessor at God’s throne (cf. Heb 7:25, 4:16).

God’s mercy is shown, God’s mercy comes to us, in his kindling our faith—that verb is suggestive of the Easter fire, which bursts out of the darkness to illumine and warm the nite, as faith bursts out of our sinfulness to illumine and warm our souls. Our faith doesn’t arise from within ourselves but comes to us as God’s gift. It’s a grace he bestows. By this faith, by the fire kindled in our hearts and minds to make us, too, the light of Christ, we are made into God’s people, a people enlightened by his mercy.
Photo by Rosalind Chan, "stolen" from The Deacon's Bench (thank you, Deacon Greg)
We pray that these graces—faith, forgiveness, incorporation with Christ—be increased. When our faith is deepened, when we become more intimately united with Christ, it’s divine mercy working again.
Our increase in faith may be like the apostles’, who were slow to believe that Jesus was risen—as we heard emphatically in yesterday’s gospel (Mark 16:9-15). But they received him with joy and, as we know, became courageous witnesses of the resurrection and of God’s mercy, conveyed by the forgiveness of sins. In how many ways are we slow to believe? to believe that God really loves us? that he has a unique plan for our lives, leading us toward a heavenly home? that Christ’s way of acting toward and speaking about other people is the way of holiness, the way of happiness, the way of wholeness, the way of community and societal well-being? Our faith has room for increase, for growth, that God’s grace bestowed on us may bear its intended fruit in holiness of life and in public witness to our Lord Jesus.

The Collect prays that the people whom God has made his own in Christ might “rightly understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose blood they have been redeemed.” The who is obviously Jesus: his blood, his Spirit. Both are highlighted in today’s gospel, in which he breathes his Spirit upon the apostles (John 20:22) and shows his wounds to Thomas (20:27).
Doubting Thomas, by Rembrandt
The font, I would say, is the Church. We are washed clean in Baptism, which the Church preaches and administers, exercising that very charge which Jesus gave to the apostles when he breathed his Spirit upon them for the forgiveness of sins. Linked to the font of the Church, we have access to forgiveness in Baptism and in whatever other forms this font of grace makes available to us, sacramental or otherwise. The Father bestows his grace on the people he makes his own in the Church, he gives birth to new children by water and the Spirit in the Church, he offers to us the saving blood of his Son in the Church’s Eucharist. Jesus Christ comes thru water and blood (1 John 5:6), thru Baptism and Eucharist—sacramental actions of the Spirit—to forgive us, to bond us to himself, to shape us into God’s holy people.
May we be among those whom Jesus blesses because, tho we have not seen his risen body nor touched his wounds, we believe (John 20:29). And thru this belief may we have life in his name (20:31)!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Homily for Easter Sunday

Homily for
Easter Sunday

April 8, 2012
Sequence
Ursulines, Willow Drive, New Rochelle

“Christians, to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises” (Sequence 1).

The Easter Sequence in the lectionary doesn't have verse numbers. It is divided into unnumbered stanzas, and for ease of reference I cite the stanzas as if they were numbered.

I dare say that you’ve never heard a homily based on the Sequence. In 34 years I've preached on it just once, according to all the homilies stored in my binders and on my computer.

This poetical and musical masterpiece, the Victimae Paschali Laudes, opens with a theme of gratitude: Christians, offer your thankful praises to the Paschal Victim! Then it enumerates the reasons for our gratitude: Christ reconciles us sinners with his Father (v. 2); the Prince of life reigns immortal (v. 3); Christ our hope is arisen, our new life obtaining (vv. 7-8).

Resurrection of Christ & the women at the empty tomb, by Fra Angelico
How Christ reconciles us isn’t spelled out but is implied. He is the Paschal Victim (v. 1), the Passover Lamb who has redeemed us (v. 2), like the lambs whose blood protected and saved the Hebrews on the nite of the 1st Passover, as we read in the liturgy of Holy Thursday. St. Paul makes this link when he writes, “Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor 5:7), which is echoed in the 1st Preface of Easter.
In biblical terms, redemption can mean buying back someone or something; for example, the 1st-born son must be redeemed by a sacrifice (Ex 13:2,12). It can also mean championing or defending the person or the rights of a member of one’s clan or of the underprivileged; for example, Boaz is Ruth’s redeemer; God is the redeemer of the widow, the orphan, and the alien in the land; and Abraham is the redeemer of his kinfolk after the 4 Canaanite kings make a raid and carry them off with their livestock (Gen 14).

In this latter sense, Christ has been our champion and defender, fighting back for us against Satan, against sin and sin’s mark on the human race, viz. death. “Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous” (v. 3). Christ alone is sinless (v. 2) and in a position to go up against Satan, and he is the stronger. He conquers, returning victorious from death: “The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal” (v. 3). He did so for us: “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining” (v. 8). We die, paying the price of our sins—“the wages of sin is death,” in Paul’s famous phrase (Rom 6:23). But death cannot keep down the sinless One, cannot bind him in the tomb (cf. Acts 2:24). Christ bursts those bonds, like Samson shedding the sturdy ropes Delilah had tied him with (Jgs 16:10-12). Christ’s burial shroud is left, useless, at the tomb (Seq 6; John 20:7).

Like all 4 gospels, the Sequence credits Mary Magdalene as the 1st witness that the tomb is empty and Jesus has risen (vv. 4-7). If we were to discount the preludes to Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels, the infancy narratives, this Mary would be the most prominent woman in the gospels. Not because Jesus cast 7 demons out of her and she was among the women who ministered to the needs of Jesus and the 12 out of their wealth (Luke 8:1-3)—the only biographical detail about her given to us in the gospels; and not because she stayed with Jesus on Calvary, as all 4 gospels inform us; but because she found the tomb empty, she saw the Risen Lord, she was commissioned to inform the apostles of the Good News, she was “the apostle to the apostles,” in the immortal wording of some medieval Christian writers. “Mary, declare what you saw wayfaring” (v. 4).

The Sequence doesn’t say that she saw Christ, but it makes plain that she believed the “bright angels attesting” that “Christ my hope is arisen” and will meet the apostles in Galilee (vv. 6-7). By contrast, as various gospel stories report, the apostles are slow to believe. John’s gospel, emphatically, describes Jesus’ appearance to Mary and her “announcing” that “to the disciples” (20:11-18). Mark’s gospel more matter-of-factly says that too (16:9-11). It’s interesting that the Sequence, however, doesn’t mention the apostles at all—maybe because they were such skeptics. Here Mary is the sole witness to us that “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.”

Finally the Sequence links a plea to its profession of faith: “Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!” (v. 8). In faith we acknowledge Christ’s victory over death, over sin, over the Lord of Darkness, and Christ’s eternal reign as Prince of life. That faith avails us, tho, only if he extends to us his mercy, his forgiveness, and deigns to raise us up with him. Christ is our hope, for our individual redemption isn’t complete quite yet. We need his mercy to touch us personally, as it did Mary Magdalene.

Full of hope, we thank God this morning and cry out in praise with the Sequence, “Amen. Alleluia” (v. 8). May this Easter hope stay with us every day. May our lives give thankful praise to the Paschal Victim every day. May we join Mary Magdalene in declaring what he has done for us, what we have seen with the eyes of our faith, and in passing on the Good News that Christ is risen, Christ has reconciled us to the Father, Christ leads us to immortal life.
Art from ANS

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Witnesses to a Radical, Gospel-informed Lifestyle

Witnesses to a Radical,
Gospel-informed Lifestyle
RM announces theme for GC27


A lightly edited version of what ANS published on April 4
Fr. Pascual Chavez, Rector Major, announced the topic for the next SDB general chapter on April 4 at the conclusion of a short plenary session of the general council. The Congregation’s 27th General Chapter will open in Turin on February 22, 2014 (before moving down to Rome), to consider how SDBs can be “Witnesses to a radical, gospel-informed lifestyle.”

The ninth successor of Don Bosco used a letter to introduce his confreres to GC27. He said, in part, “The chosen topic is concerned with witnessing to a radical, gospel-informed lifestyle, for which the motto ‘work and temperance’ is a practical formulation of Don Bosco’s plan of life, ‘Da mihi animas, cetera tolle.’ It is meant to help us to examine in depth our charismatic identity, so that we may be aware of our call to live Don Bosco’s apostolic plan with fidelity.”

The topic follows from that of GC26 (“Da mihi animas, cetera tolle”: Starting afresh from Don Bosco) and provides a good opportunity for further reflection on the Salesian vocation on the eve of the bicentennial of Don Bosco’s birth.

The RM proposes four particular areas for consideration:
1. living the Salesian consecrated vocation, which is a gift of God and a personal plan of life with the grace of unity and with joy;
2. having a strong spiritual experience, making Jesus’ way of living and acting one’s own – obedient, poor, and chaste – and becoming seekers of God;
3. building in our communities a fraternal way of life and action;
4. dedicating ourselves with generosity to the mission, walking beside the young in order to give hope to the world.

The fundamental objective of GC 27 is “to help every confrere and every community live Don Bosco’s apostolic plan with fidelity.” The fruits hoped for from GC27 are visibility, credibility, and vocational fruitfulness.

“Visibility is not mainly about looking after our image but is the beautiful witness of our vocation. If we were to bear witness with fidelity and joy to Don Bosco’s apostolic plan, that is to the Salesian consecrated vocation, then our life would become attractive, it would become fascinating, to the young especially, and therefore we would have a new vocational fruitfulness.”

GC27 will have other tasks also:
1. electing the Rector Major and general council for the period 2014-2020;
2. assessing requests made by GC25 and GC26;
3. rethinking the organization and structuring of the departments for the Salesian mission (youth ministry, missions, communications);
4. assessing the structure of the three regions in Europe;
5. assessing the role of the vicar of the Rector Major in relationship to the Salesian Family;
6. evaluating the structures for animation and central government of the Congregation.

Fr. Chavez named Fr. Francesco Cereda moderator of the general chapter, and he named six other members of the general council to the technical commission to assist him in the preparatory work.

Fr. Chavez concludes his letter by inviting every Salesian and community “to foster those attitudes and that climate which will give practical expression to ‘work and temperance,’” and to pray for the chapter’s success.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy ThursdayApril 5, 2011
John 13: 1-15
Ex 12: 1-8, 11-14
1 Cor 11: 23-26
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Home, N.R.

“Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father” (John 13: 1).
The Last Supper, depicted in the Tempio di Don Bosco at Becchi (Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Italy)
We begin the Easter Triduum tonite. The Triduum makes much of its being “the Passover of the Lord” (Ex 12:11), the Christian Passover inaugurating a “new covenant” (1 Cor 11:25), inaugurating a new relationship with the Lord for a new people of God.
Our celebration is rooted in our Jewish heritage—our heritage, which underlies our Christian faith, our liturgy, our history—as well as being rooted in what our Lord Jesus Christ said and did on his last nite among us.
Our celebration makes Christ’s Passover a present reality. The Christian mysteries are here with us, and we actively share in them. Once and eternal they are, and we live in the mysteries. We take part in the Lord’s Passover, this “hour when he passed from this world to the Father,” as our Jewish brothers and sisters also every year relive—not re-enact, but are part of—that very Passover recalled in our 1st reading this evening and in another reading at the Easter Vigil (Ex 14:15—15:1).

Our celebration looks forward to the completion of Passover when Christ shall return (cf. 1 Cor 11:26) and we shall join him in the Promised Land, having passed over from death to life, having passed from this world to the Father’s mansions (cf. John 14:2); when we shall feast at the “eternal banquet of his love” (Collect and Prayer after Communion) signified in this sacrament of his Body and Blood.

The 1st Passover involved the ritual slaying of lambs or kids and the painting of the Hebrews’ doorposts and lintels with the blood of those beasts. That nite the angel of death swept over Egypt and struck down the 1st-born of every family not marked protectively by the blood of the lambs or kids. The angel passed over Egypt in full, deadly force the way locusts pass over a wheat field and leave it barren: “On this same nite I will go thru Egypt, striking down every firstborn of the land…, executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Ex 12:12). At the same time, the angel passed over the Hebrews’ homes in the sense of skipping them: “Seeing the blood, I will pass over you” (12:13).
Death of the Firstborn, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedema (late 19th c.)
Then Pharaoh released the Hebrews from their slavery, and they escaped miraculously thru the parted waters of the Red Sea, which then crashed back upon and drowned their oppressors. The Hebrews passed over on dry land from slavery to freedom as the 1st stage of their journey toward the Promised Land: “You freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod thru the sea” (Exsultet, ed. 1985).
The Old Testament images the New, or in the traditional usage of the Fathers, the OT is a type of the New. Our new Passover Lamb is slain, and his blood paints the cross, the tree that supplants the fatal tree of Eden, and his blood also paints our lips in this Eucharistic sacrament, protecting us from the angel of death, promising us that we are redeemed and shall live.
The Blood of Christ paints the lips of believers...
A little known 2d-century Father of the Church, St. Melito of Sardis, writes in a homily used in today’s Liturgy of the Hours*:
He was led forth like a lamb; he was slaughtered like a sheep. He ransomed us from our servitude to the world, as he had ransomed Israel from the land of Egypt; he freed us from our slavery to the devil, as he had freed Israel from the hand of Pharaoh.
He is the One who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life, out of tyranny into an eternal kingdom; who made us a new priesthood, a people chosen to be his own forever. He is the Passover that is our salvation.

He is the mute lamb, the slain lamb…. He was seized from the flock, dragged off to be slaughtered, sacrificed in the evening, and buried at night. On the tree no bone of his was broken; in the earth his body knew no decay. He is the One who rose from the dead, and who raised men from the depths of the tomb.
Similarly, as the Vigil liturgy emphasizes, in Baptism we pass thru water, the waters divide (in a sense) as they’re poured over our heads or we are plunged into them, and that baptismal water drowns our sins, drowns our fearsome enemy the devil; it marks our passage from slavery to the freedom of God’s children, as Melito stressed.

Both Baptism and the Eucharist set us off on our journey toward the Promised Land, no earthly paradise but a heavenly one where our “teacher” and “master” (John 13:14) awaits us.

In this Eucharistic mystery we take part in Christ’s sacrifice. We “proclaim the death of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:26), and also his resurrection. We aren’t re-enacting Calvary or the empty tomb; they are eternally present to God, and we become sacramentally present with them, as today’s Jews are spared by the devastating angel and walk safely across the Red Sea with their ancestors in this “perpetual memorial feast” (Ex 12:14). Our Collect this evening reminds us that we are participating in the Lord’s Last Supper.

We join Christ our master also in his self-offering on the cross and are bathed in his life-giving blood, and we rise with him to a life that shall never end. The Prayer over the Offerings will note, “Whenever the memorial of this sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our redemption is accomplished.” Christ lives, and his sacrifice too lives on and on, accomplishing its purpose.

Christ is present and yet to come—that’s one of the themes of Christian liturgy. We “proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26), until he returns in all his glory and brings us fully into the Promised Land, leads us from this world to the Father, completing our Passover from darkness into light, from slavery to freedom, from death to life.

* Easter homily, Office of Readings for Holy Thursday, LOH 2:459.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for
Palm Sunday
April 1, 2012
Mark 15: 1-39
Christian Brothers, Iona College, N.R.

“When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God’” (Mark 15: 39).

I’d like to reflect with you on some of the minor characters in the story of Jesus’ passion that we just read: on Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, and the centurion; and some of the major characters: on Pontius Pilate and the chief priests and scribes.

Barabbas, in Mark’s telling, is one of “the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion” (15:7). Even tho all 4 gospels mention him, both the rebellion and this particular man are otherwise unknown to us. In fact, we don’t even have a personal name for him because “Barabbas” is a patronymic, i.e., an identification in terms of who his father is, like “Johnson.” Barabbas means “son of Abbas.” As you know, Abbas or Abba means “father.” This rebel, this murderer, is called “the father’s son.” It’s not hard for us to see this criminal, this sinner, as representing every child of God the Father. The Son of God goes to an undeserved death while another “son of the Father” goes free. Jesus dies, setting free one of God’s children. The Lamb of God is sacrificed to redeem all God’s children.

Simon of Cyrene surely didn’t expect to meet Jesus or to have anything to do with him. He’s named in the 3 Synoptic gospels in this role of helping Jesus carry the cross thru the streets to Golgotha. Only Mark identifies him further as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (15:21), who must have been Christians well known in Mark’s community. One theory about Mark’s gospel is that he wrote it in Rome; if that theory’s correct, it could identify this Rufus with the Rufus among the people whom St. Paul greets at the end of his Letter to the Romans (16:13). Be that as it may, Simon of Cyrene is unexpectedly “pressed into service” to carry Jesus’ cross. Aren’t our lives filled with unexpected crosses, crosses that we’re pressed to carry against our wills? If Simon of Cyrene’s sons indeed became well known disciples of Jesus, was this unique encounter with Jesus on Simon’s part the beginning of his own discipleship? Can our own burdensome crosses deepen our relationship with Jesus and make us better disciples?

Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross (Titian, 1547)

All the Synoptics mention the centurion and some form of a profession of faith from him; St. John doesn’t mention a centurion specifically, but only a detail of soldiers, one of whom gives the coup de grace with a lance. Christian legend—insufficiently substantiated to merit inclusion in the latest edition of Butler’s Lives of the Saints—identifies this soldier as a centurion named Longinus, who became a believer and a martyr; there’s a big statue of him in St. Peter’s Basilica. As far as we know from the gospels, the execution of Jesus is the 1st encounter of this soldier with Jesus. Whatever he sees and hears from Jesus and from the surrounding people and events profoundly affects him. Mark says simply, “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last….” No preaching; no miracles. Only the suffering of Jesus; Jesus’ patience; Jesus’ complete self-emptying, indicated by that last breath—somehow the centurion sees in all this testimony on Jesus’ part that he’s “the Son of God.” One observation is that thru what was done to Jesus, God’s identified with human suffering. God shows his love for humanity not in words or even in miracles but in his sharing our pain and our death. Another observation is that who we are in our suffering and pain, and in our dying, reveals who we really are, and it can be powerful testimony to the unbelievers of the world—the centurion was, presumably, a pagan—that God is real, and that we truly are his children. The martyrologies have many tales of the effect of such witness—which is what martyr means—on prison guards and bystanders. Catherine de Hueck Doherty says that we are icons of Christ, his visible representations. Our lives, day in and day out, in joy and in sorrow, eventually in our dying, are the most powerful preaching of the Gospel to the world, of letting the world know that Jesus truly is the Son of God.Statue of St. Longinus with his lance in St. Peter's Basilica,close to the high altar (Bernini, 1635)
Pontius Pilate’s role is so crucial to the entire story of our redemption that he is remembered forever in our profession of faith: Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea from ca. 25 to 35 A.D. He was supposed to represent Roman justice and keeper good order in this piece of the Empire. Perhaps he was a selfish and cruel man, as Josephus and Philo describe him. Perhaps he was a reasonably capable politician and administrator but was temperamentally unsuited to the responsibilities of this particular imperial outpost—an early embodiment of the Peter Principle. But, like Barabbas, he stands for each of us, in a sense. Whatever our responsibilities, whatever our temperament, we sometimes come up against difficult choices and pressures in the situations we find ourselves in and from the people around us. Like Pilate, we’re supposed to stand for something, to defend and enact justice, to be protectors and builders of peace, to have the courage to do what’s right. Like Pilate, we sometimes fail: we look for an easy out, try to please everyone, put ourselves, our careers, our comfort zones ahead of what we know we should say or do. Historically, we don’t know what became of Pontius Pilate after he was recalled to Rome in 35. We still have a chance to write the stories of our own responses to the challenges that life brings to us.
Ecce Homo (Antonio Ciseri, 1880)
The chief priests and the scribes have heard Jesus’ preaching. They’ve heard reports of his miracles, even of his raising the dead (cf. John 11:1—12:11), and perhaps some of them have witnessed some of his healings. Unlike the centurion, however, they aren’t open to the plain evidence before their eyes and ears. “He saved others,” they acknowledge (Mark 15:31), but Jesus’ saving acts carry no weight with them. They are, rather, weighed down by their own political, financial, religious, and familial agendas. If “the Christ, the King of Israel,” did indeed “come down now from the cross,” would they really “see and believe” (15:32)? We may be skeptical about that. How easy it is for our own ideas, our personal goals, our own wishes to influence how we see other people, how we see events, how we see reality. We may know people whose philosophy of life and/or politics is governed by the adage, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” Are we adept at reading the signs of the times, at finding God in all things (to use an Ignatian phrase), at looking for how God is speaking to us today thru the people around us, thru public and private happenings? If so, we’re more akin to the pagan centurion than to the pious priests and learned scribes; and we’ve got a chance of meeting Jesus in our crosses, like Simon; of making better choices than Pilate; of being saved as true children of the Father by the One who suffered crucifixion in our place.
What Christ Saw from the Cross--with priests and scribes at right
(James Tissot)