Sunday, April 27, 2014

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter
April 27, 2014
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“… that all may grasp and understand in what font they have been washed, by whose Spirit they have been reborn, by whose Blood they have been redeemed” (Collect).

The Collect or opening prayer of the Mass links us to 4 things:  1st, to God’s mercy—today is celebrated as Divine Mercy Sunday; 2d, to Easter, with its reference to “the paschal feast”; 3d, to our Baptism, with its reference to the font, being washing, and the Spirit; 4th, to the Lord’s passion and death, with its reference to his blood and our redemption.

Christ’s blood, of course, is the concrete expression of God’s mercy for us sinners.  Thru that blood and thru our Baptism, God has touched us with grace and made us his own people.

We celebrate all this at Easter, this wonderful “recurring feast” that evidences the effectiveness of Christ’s blood:  for God raised him to eternal life after his crucifixion, and he will likewise raise us who believe in Christ and follow Christ.

Our prayer is that we “may grasp and rightly understand” our Baptism.  The prayer alludes especially to those who were baptized just a week ago in the solemnities of the Easter Vigil—thousands of new adult Catholics just in our country.  But Lent and Easter also call every Christian back to Christ and to the meaning of our Baptism.  They call us to renew our renunciation of sin and our commitment to Christ.

The prayer tries to bring this to our attention in 3 ways, reminding us of and praying for our understanding of the font, the Spirit, and the blood.
Baptism banner
Holy Name of Jesus Church, N.R.

1st, we allude to “the font in which [we] have been washed.”  That font of course is the baptismal font in which cleansing water was poured over us.  But, as you know, that was no ordinary bath or shower such as we’ve taken thousands of times since.  In that font our sin—or our sins, if we were adults at the time—were washed away, flooded away by Christ’s overwhelming grace.

That is the literal font in which we were washed.  There’s also a figurative font, viz., Christ’s Church.  No one can be washed clean of sin except in and by the Church.  No one can belong to Christ except in the Church—the Church to which Christ has committed his Word and his sacraments, thru which he bestows his Holy Spirit on his people.

2d, the prayer alludes to that Spirit, “by whose Spirit [we] have been reborn.”  The Spirit—the Holy Spirit—is the Spirit of the Father and the Son, sent by them for our sanctification.  We must be reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, Jesus says (John 3:5).  We come to life spiritually only thru the Holy Spirit, and that Spirit is bestowed upon us lavishly in the anointing with sacred chrism and in the pouring of the water of Baptism.  This is the Spirit who descended on Jesus at the Jordan River, marking him as God’s beloved Son.  This is the Spirit conferred on the apostles—and thru them, on the whole Church—by the Risen Jesus, as we heard in the gospel this morning, the Spirit given for the forgiveness of sins (John 20: 19-31).  In Baptism our sin is truly forgiven, totally erased, and like Jesus we’re designated as God’s beloved children.  In Jesus’ case, that designation pointed out who he already was.  In our case, it’s a radical transformation of our identity, from people in Satan’s clutches into Jesus’ brothers and sisters, God’s dear children.  Likewise, the Spirit of the Father and the Son is at work in the sacrament that renews our Baptism by forgiving the sins we commit later in life, i.e., the sacrament of Reconciliation (“confession”).

St. Mary's Church
Fredericksburg, Va.
3d, we allude in our prayer to the blood that has redeemed us.  This is Christ’s blood, shed totally for us in his passion:  in his agony in the Garden, in his being scourged and crowned with thorns, in his being pushed and dragged thru the streets of Jerusalem under the weight of his cross, and in his humiliating, painful death on that cross.  All that was an agony of love for you and me, sinners, that we might be purified by his sacrifice.  We reverently come to his body and blood in the Eucharist, to be renewed in our purification, to be more closely, more intensely united with our Redeemer.

Our prayer is that we may “grasp and understand” all this.  To grasp it means to lay hold of it, to make it our own.  It means to live by what we believe and understand:  to live with Christ our Redeemer, rejecting sin, practicing virtue, imitating the goodness of Jesus in our words and actions; like Jesus, God’s beloved Son, submitting ourselves entirely, heart and soul, to whatever the Father asks of us.  May the Lord help us do that!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Homily for the Easter Vigil

Homily for the
Easter Vigil
March 29, 1997
Gen 1: 26-31
Provincial House, New Rochelle

I have Easter “off,” so to speak—just concelebrating at home without any “outside” obligation. Here’s an old homily delivered here at home.

“God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’  God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.  God blessed them….  God looked at everything he had made and he found it very good” (Gen 1: 26-28, 31).

Adam & Eve in the Garden
by Lucas Cranach
On the 6th day God made creatures in his own image.  On the 6th day God found what he had created to be not only “good,” as on the 1st 5 days, but “very good.”

This exceeding goodness must be because God’s own authority, his order, his purposeful fruitfulness had become part of the created world, exercised by creatures—male and female humans—created in God’s own likeness:  full of life, holy, self-giving.  These human creatures were God’s viceroys, sharing in the divine dominion over the rest of creation.

That was God’s plan.  We know what happened next:

                        God’s plan made a hopeful beginning,
                        But man spoiled his chances by sinning.
                                    We trust that the story
                                    Will end in God’s glory,
                        But at present the other side’s winning.

The Exsultet—quoting St. Augustine, I think—calls our fall from grace a “happy fault”; not in itself, surely, but in the great consequence of our fall, namely, that God adapted his plan to give us new hope.  He made a new creation.  He restored the divine image and likeness in man, male and female.

That is what we celebrate tonight.

No longer are our chances spoiled.  No longer is the other side winning.

The Father of all things created a human body for his Only Son, with the cooperation of a human being, Mary of Nazareth.  Jesus Christ, the Only Son in his human body—and in all else that it means to be human—reversed the course of history, reversed man’s relationship with his Creator and our prospects for eternity.

Jesus Christ, son of God and son of Adam, by his obedience, by his passion and resurrection, has made all of us sons and daughters of Adam into a new creation.  He has restored the image of God, has once more made mankind the crown of God’s creation.

In the Easter collect, after the Gloria, we prayed that God “quicken the spirit of sonship” in his Church.  Quicken here is used in its old English meaning of “make alive,” “give a sudden renewal of life”; and indeed the prayer continues:  “Renew us in mind and body to give you wholehearted service.”

By our Baptism in the water that flowed from Christ’s pierced side, by our anointing with the holy chrism at Baptism and in Confirmation, we have been made new, made into the image of God’s Son, quickened like Adam when God 1st breathed life into him, quickened like the entombed body of Jesus himself, consecrated with Christ among all the created universe for service to God.

Christ is risen, and with him are we also.  Quoting Augustine now (for certain, this time):

Of ourselves we had no power to live, nor did he of himself have the power to die.  Accordingly, he effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing:  we gave him the power to die; he will give us the power to live.[1]

Whether or not Adam’s sin was a happy fault, this is surely a happy exchange, that we gave the Son of God a mortal body, and he offers us everlasting life.

The Father was very pleased with his beloved Son.  May he look on his new children and see in us his Son’s image.  May he find us once again “very good” and bless is.

                [1] Sermo Guelferbytanus 3.

Homily for Good Friday

Homily for Good Friday

April 18, 2014
Is 52: 13—53: 12
Provincial House, New Rochelle

“The Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all” (Is 53: 6).
Christ's passion, death, resurrection
A medieval rendition
The heaviest burden anyone is asked to carry in life is probably guilt.  I’m not talking about the “guilt trips” that others lay on us from time to time but the authentic guilt of our own misdeeds, ill-spoken words, or omissions.
Last week there was a great deal of attention paid to the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide.  Some of the attention noted the reconciliation achieved between some individual perpetrators and victims.  You may have seen the photo-essay in the NYT Magazine on April 6, titled “My Conscience Was Not Quiet,” which looked at 4 pairs of individuals photographed and interviewed within a larger project.  The common theme is one Hutu’s awareness of his criminal behavior, his conscience heavy with guilt, and his craving for peace and restoration to community; and one Tutsi’s granting him the pardon that enables them to live in peace again, and sometimes in friendship and mutual support.  The peace of soul of the perpetrator of the genocide depends upon his admission of guilt and the forgiveness extended by his victim—a victim of that perp’s specific murderous actions against that victim’s family.  At the same time, the victims attain a peace, set free from their own anger and bitterness.
When I read that photo-essay, I couldn’t help thinking of the Servant of the Lord.  We perps come to Jesus, the victim of our sins, and seek pardon.  We have done terrible things to him, but “he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses” (Is 53:12).
It’s true that none of us is guilty of genocide.  I dare say we haven’t committed any heinous crime.  But for sure we have our sins, and most of us aren’t in any hurry to make their public.  We feel our guilt and shame.
We’re familiar with St. Alphonsus’s version of the Stations, which speaks extensively of how Christ suffered for our personal sins—be they unkindness, ingratitude, impurity, lies, greed, or whatever else.
Jesus condemned to death
The Stations of the Cross enacted at Salesian school in Itajai, Brazil
I found this morning another reflection on our guilt and what it’s done to our Lord.  It’s a blog post by one of our SLMs, named Paula Rondon.  She titles her post, “He Was Crucified Under Paula Rondon”[1]; she identifies herself with Pilate, her character and typical behavior with his:  “He’s neither extraordinarily good nor despicably bad.  He’s right there in the middle like most of us.  He has the capacity in him for righteousness.”  But “he failed, as I would have failed, to see that the answer to his question …, ‘What is truth?’ was the Man staring right back at him.”  She goes on to speak of shirking responsibility, of “falling short all the time”—and of having Jesus as a substitute for the blame she deserves, “for God the Just is satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”
It seems to me that our shedding of our guilt and finding our pardon depends upon a process of claiming and disclaiming.
1st, like the Hutus of Rwanda and Paula, we have to claim our guilt, admit our sins—if not genocide, probably fratricide of a sort, offenses against our brothers and sisters:  our various forms of selfishness, laziness, unkindness, etc.  Not really we have to claim them, but I have to claim my own failures and not lose them in some generic we—it’s someone else’s fault, or we all do it.  Some of us, perhaps all of us, have done that today in Reconciliation, and we try to do it daily with an examen.
2d, having ID’d our faults, our moral failures, we disclaim them—by handing them over to Christ.  We do lay our guilt on him, and he does relieve it, lift it off us, make us whole, set us free, wash us clean.  Thanks be to God!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for
Holy Thursday
April 17, 2014
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

“O God, who have called us to participate in this most sacred Supper…” (Collect).

With this evening’s liturgy, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we’ve completed the Lenten season.  Now we enter the Sacred Triduum of the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection, the high holy days of our Christian faith.

Today’s Collect 1st brings out that we’re here to celebrate these mysteries because God has called us.  The initiative is his.  The gift of being here, of being among his chosen ones, is his.  How fortunate we are, how blessed we are, to be called to participate in the mysteries—“mysteries” meaning, 1st of all, the sacraments, the liturgical rites, and then also the truths of our faith.

God has called us tonite “to participate in this most sacred Supper.”  It’s the Last Supper, and we’re in the upper room with Jesus and the 12.  It’s no past event, no historical remembrance.  It’s a present reality.  At every Eucharist we participate in the Last Supper, in Calvary, and in an encounter with the Risen Lord; but especially so this evening.  We’re not re-enacting the Supper.  We’re at the Supper.
Jesus washing the apostles' feet
from the Bible of Tbilisi
Next, the Collect centers the Supper’s activity on Jesus, the “Only Begotten Son.”  1st, he’s “about to hand himself over to death.”  Usually we speak of Judas as the one who “handed him over,” and of course that’s true.  But the prayer as well as various gospel texts make it clear that Jesus is in command of the situation.  He surrenders himself to death, freely chooses what’s about to happen—because it’s the Father’s will, because Jesus is joined with his Father in willing our redemption.  He knows what’s about to happen and embraces it out of his love for his Father and his love for us.  “Greater love than this no one has, to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Then, the Collect notes, he “entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity.”  This sacrifice is given to the Church in the persons of the 12, whom Jesus commanded, “Do this in memory of me.”  It’s given as a trust, which bespeaks both confidence—Jesus is confident of the 12, however unworthy they’ve proven themselves up till this point, and indeed however unworthily they’ll act on this nite; and it bespeaks something to be handled with care and respect because it belongs to another as a kind of legacy—in this case, belonging to Jesus and to be cared for as his legacy to us.

The sacrifice is new in that it’s the offering of his own body and blood, supplanting the animal offerings, the grain offerings, and the wine offerings of the Jewish Temple, and inaugurating a new priesthood and a new covenant.  It’s “for all eternity” because this one sacrifice is offered continually by the One who offers it, viz., by Jesus.  He offers it forever, till the end of time while creation lasts, and without end in the temple of heaven.  We are participants in that sacrifice, with the 12, with every Catholic who has ever lived, with even the saints in heaven who continue to present Jesus and themselves to the Father as an offering of love and praise and atonement.

The Collect calls this eternally new sacrifice “the banquet of his love,” i.e., of Jesus’ love.  It expresses his love for his Father and his love for us, for it is his body given for us, his blood poured out for us, that we might be washed clean, be nourished, be given a share in his new and eternal life.  “Whoever eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (cf. John 6:53-54).  The sacrifice is also a sacred meal, with all that a banquet implies:  festivity, joy, a great occasion such as the giving of awards or a wedding.  And don’t we say at every Communion, “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” echoing (and editing) the words of the Book of Revelation, “Blessed are those called to the wedding feast of the Lamb” (19:9)?  At this banquet, don’t we anticipate an award:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Come and share your master’s joy” (Matt 25:21)?

All that tells us something of what we’re celebrating tonite.  Then the Collect gets to our humble prayer:  “Grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life.”  The fullness of charity, i.e., of love, is already here:  “Greater love than this,” etc.; and as we read in tonite’s gospel, “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1), which may also be rendered as “to the utmost” to “to the nth degree.”  The mystery is this fullness of charity and of life, and—a kind of double meaning—we pray to be drawn into this fullness, to share in it, to be empowered to practice such full charity toward God and neighbor, empowered to live this charity.  Altho we’re not going to carry out the rite of footwashing tonite, we need to recall its meaning, which is that we should love and serve one another—not by washing others’ feet literally but, more expansively, by caring for one another, seeing what others’ needs are and doing what we can to meet those needs:  physical, emotional, spiritual.  Such service day in and day out, for everyone in our lives, is more than most of us are capable of, given our human weaknesses.  And that’s why we need the spiritual power of “so great a mystery,” of God’s love and God’s life, to help us.

May God indeed help us to live as Christ has shown us here below, and to live with him “for all eternity” at the great “banquet of his love,” at the “wedding feast of the Lamb.”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for
Palm Sunday
April 12, 1987
Phil 2: 6-11
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

This weekend (April 12-13) I celebrated the Palm Sunday liturgy 1st with Boys Scouts and then at St. Vincent's Hospital, preaching both times without notes, briefly, on Matthew's version of the Passion.  Herewith an old homily on the epistle reading, which is the same every year.  If you're interested, you'll find the complete A-B-C cycle covered in homilies in the archive (2011-2013).

“Your attitude must be Christ’s” (Phil 2: 6).

In our times, it’s often hard to know how a Christian should act.  It seems to me that it’s harder now to act like a Christian than it has been for many hundreds of years—not because our fallen human nature has changed but because our culture has changed so drastically and is so much less supportive of Christian values.

But we have Christ’s example to imitate.  St. Paul instructs us to take on the same attitude as Christ.  An attitude is a state of mind and feeling that disposes us to act in a certain way.

What was Christ’s attitude?  He was humble and obedient.  “He emptied himself” (Phil 2:7), put aside the prerogatives and claims of his divine nature and joined us—not as a ruler, not as one of the rich and famous, not as one of the great “somebodies”—no, as a servant:  his Father’s servant, and our servant, ready to die if our human selfishness and malice should command him to, even to die a criminal’s death on a cross, stripped of clothes, friends, hope, and dignity.

But this attitude of humility and obedience, of service, of love of God and for us, produced the greatest turnaround in human history.  “God highly exalted him” and made him our Lord (Phil 2:9-11).  Humility, obedience, service:  these are the nature not only of Christian life in general, but of Christian authority in particular.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul portrays Christ as the 2d Adam (5:12-19).  The 1st Adam sinned when he tried to become like God and disobeyed God’s command (Gen 3).  Christ obeyed and in his human nature was raised to lordship over all creation “to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).

Christian authority is certainly a timely topic.  It seems that an awful lot of people are screaming for a share in it.  From the tone of their complaints, their demands, and their decrees, one might well ask whether it’s Christian authority they want, the authority of serving others in humility and obedience, or whether it’s power they’re after—either to keep it or to get hold of it, as the case may be.

But let’s come down to us.  Is Christian authority, the authority of humble service an issue for us?

Yes, it is.  In every household there’s authority.  Let it reflect that attitude which was Christ’s; let it be a self-emptying, a self-giving authority.

Some of you are employers, or managers, or teachers, or babysitters.  You wield authority.  What kind of authority is it?  Christian authority isn’t pansy authority, as Christ made clear on more than one occasion and as his moral demands on us still made clear.  But it is an authority of consideration for people and of personal integrity, for instance—practical ways of being humble, obedient servants in business, school, home; practical ways of putting God 1st in our lives, God’s children 2d, and ourselves 3d.

We’d have to look pretty far for a way of life that doesn’t have dozens of opportunities every week for us to imitate Christ’s attitude, to empty ourselves in order that God may fill us with his own glory, in order that God’s glory may be reflected through us.

God bless you.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Lent
April 6, 2014
John 11: 1-45
Wartburg Home, Mt. Vernon

In our 1st reading this evening, the prophet Ezekiel (37:12-14) conveys to Israel a message from the Lord God, viz., that he shall raise them up from the grave.  Like the prophet Second Isaiah, whom we heard on Wednesday, Ezekiel is speaking, and thru him God is speaking, to a nation in exile, a nation dead and buried as much as we might say today the Assyrians or the Aztecs are.  God will open the grave in Babylon and bring Israel back to life, back to their own land, and so revive their nationhood, their corporate identity as Israel—and as his people.

All that is a foreshadowing of a different kind of grave-opening and revival—of individual resurrection.  Many Jews had begun to believe in the resurrection of the saints on the last day—Martha testifies to this in her dialog with Jesus (John 11:24).

And Jesus opens the door to this last day, ushers in the final age of human history, ends the old era and its covenant and begins a new era and a new covenant.  Some of you are old enuf, I think, to have heard Winston Churchill late in 1942 declare that the successful Allied invasion of North Africa was not the beginning of the end of the war, but it was perhaps the end of the beginning.  When Jesus raises Lazarus from the tomb, he signals the end of one period of salvation history, the period of sin and darkness and death.  The glory of God is about to be revealed in Jesus’ own resurrection—that is the beginning of the end of Satan’s kingdom:  the end of the Dark Lord’s rule (if I may allude to the Harry Potter stories with a term that aptly describes our ancient foe).  The resurrection of Jesus is the end of death.  It’s the victory of God’s righteousness over our sins.  The resuscitation of Lazarus—which isn’t a true, permanent resurrection like Jesus’—foreshadows the personal, individual resurrection of all God’s beloved friends on the last day.

Jesus evidently loved Lazarus and his sisters.  St. John says so (11:5), and Jesus’ emotional upset and his tears also testify to that love (11:33-36).  He loves us no less than those 3 disciples.  At the Last Supper he will tell those gathered around him that they are his friends for whom he’s about to lay down his life (John 15:13-15).  As we gather at this table to celebrate his passion, death, and resurrection, and like the apostles to eat his Body and drink his Blood, he covenants with us as his friends, beloved, worth not only his tears but also his life.

The 2 key words in the gospel this evening are life and glory.  At the beginning of the Lazarus story, Jesus tells the apostles that his friend’s illness “is for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified thru it” (11:4).  St. Irenaeus’s most often quoted line may be, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”  God created us for life—this natural life, to be sure; but more surely, for eternal life.  When Jesus raises Lazarus and orders that he be “set free”—we understand that Jesus sets us free from more serious bonds than a shroud!—he points to God’s being glorified by the resurrection of the saints.

The Son of God will be glorified thru what happens to Lazarus because this last “sign” of Jesus—John’s word for the miracles that Jesus performs, starting at Cana—precipitates the final, deadly plot of the chief priests and elders against him.  They decide that he must die to save the nation (11:50):  how ironic is that?  On the cross Jesus will be revealed as king, savior, redeemer, and Son of God—the one whose lifeblood saves every nation, to the glory of God.

The gospel passage ends, “Many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what he had done began to believe in him” (11:45).  We haven’t seen what Jesus has done; we’ve only heard about it.  That carries its own blessing, as Jesus will tell Doubting Thomas after the resurrection (John 20:29).  We know that the belief of Thomas and of the rest of the Eleven who were witnesses to the crucifixion and resurrection did more than “begin.”  They lived out their belief and preached it, and many of them died for it—Thomas in far-off India.  We don’t know how many of Mary of Bethany’s Jewish friends went further than a “beginning” of belief, how many deepened that faith, lived it out, and perhaps suffered for it.  In that sense, the Lazarus story isn’t quite complete.

And in that sense, the story is addressed to you and me.  We’ve certainly begun to believe in Jesus as the Christ, as “the resurrection and the life” (11:25).  It remains for us to bring our belief to its fulfillment, to live it out until the last day.

God bless you all!