Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Homily for 2d Sunday of Easter

Homily for the
2d Sunday of Easter
April 26, 1987
John 20: 19-31
Acts 2: 42-47
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

This Sunday it was the deacons' turn to preach at Holy Cross in Champaign.  So here's a homily from the "other" Holy Cross, 30 years ago.

Jesus appears to the disciples on Easter nite.  We might note that he appears to the disciples, not just to the 11 apostles.

When he appears, he wishes them peace, commissions them, and bestows his Spirit upon them.  Jesus’ triumph over death means peace, mission, the presence of the Spirit—all of which involve forgiveness,

Forgiveness of sins brings us peace—peace with God and with our neighbor.  The disciples are commissioned to preach the message of peace and forgiveness.  They receive the Holy Spirit, who empowers them to carry out their mission.

Jesus began his ministry by announcing the need to repent (Mark 1:14-15); the disciples are being sent to continue his ministry.  Jesus was empowered by the Spirit to announce God’s grace (Luke 4:14,18-19), which is what now happens to the disciples.  Jesus told Nicodemus we must be reborn of water and the Spirit if we are to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5).  It is that kingdom of peace thru forgiveness that the disciples are to announce.

The presence of the Holy Spirit makes the individual disciples into the Church.  Peace is bestowed upon and thru the Church; forgiveness of sins is announced by and effected thru the Church.  For it is the Church that Christ has commissioned, just as the Father commissioned him.  It is to the Church that Christ gives the Holy Spirit.

The Church’s mission then is to bring peace to mankind—peace with God and peace between nations and individuals.  The Church’s mission is to bring peace by convincing us of sin in such a way that we will repent and the Church may breathe God’s spirit of forgiveness upon us, as Jesus did during his own earthly life.

Jesus Christ is for us the sacramental sign of God’s everlasting love for the human race:  a sign in flesh and blood, in word and action.  And now Jesus has made his disciples into the Church, a continuing sacramental sign of peace and forgiveness.  There is no way to salvation but thru Jesus Christ, in whatever mysterious way that may happen for individual men and women.  There is no way to Jesus Christ but thru the Church, to which he has given his Holy Spirit.

The Church, in turn, preaches peace and forgiveness by announcing the Word of God.  Revelation is a gift to us from God’s Holy Spirit thru the community of God’s people; the community was inspired to write the Sacred Scriptures and to receive certain writings as inspired while rejecting others.

The Church preached peace and forgiveness by interpreting God’s Word for a new age.  What do the Mosaic commandments or the Beatitudes mean today?  How does one discern God’s will today and so live in his peace?  The Holy Spirit continues to guide us thru the Church’s teachers.

The Church preaches peace and forgiveness by offering us the sacraments.  Baptism cleanses us of sin for the 1st time and incorporates us into the Church by water and the Holy Spirit.  As God’s children, we are privileged to come to his table, where Christ himself is our food and where he fills us with his peace and pardons our venial sins.  In Penance we are again reconciled to God by confessing our serious sins in sorrow and opening our hearts to the Spirit’s grace.  Here, in Penance, we come into intimate contact with Christ, who forgives and grants peace to us sinners.

Luke tells us that the early Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).  It’s abundantly clear from Luke’s writings that such a lifestyle is the work of the Holy Spirit in out midst.  The Holy Spirit bestows a rich life of peace and grace on the community of those who are saved by the forgiveness of their sins.

May the Holy Spirit be with us.

Homily for Wednesday, Octave of Easter

Homily for Wednesday
of the Octave of Easter                         
April 19, 2017
Luke 24: 13-35
Acts 3:1-10
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

In the gospel reading, Jesus walks alongside Cleopas and his friend—who is probably his wife, “Mary of Clopas,” who was at the cross (John 19:25), and together they invite him to “stay with us,” presumably at their home (Luke 24:29).  He walks with them in their despair, despondency, depression.  But they’re so focused on their own crushed hopes that they don’t recognize him—the wounded Jesus!  How could they not have observed his wounds?

So it is with us.  The Jesus who has been grievously wounded—not only physically but also emotionally or psychologically by betrayal and abandonment—walks with us as our companion.  Do we see him?  In the breaking of the bread (24:30-31), i.e., in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and the public prayer of the Church?  In his sacred Word, which he “broke open” to Cleopas and his companion as they walked (24:27)?  In the wounded people who walk thru our lives?  If we look for Jesus in these sources, prayerfully, we’ll find him.

Peter and John, in the 1st reading, didn’t have silver or gold to give the crippled man.  But they had the power of Jesus to share with him.  So do we—not for physical healing, but we have hope, joy, kindness to give to others, which usually is worth more than physical health.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Homily for Easter Sunday

Homily for Easter Sunday
April 16, 2017
Acts 10: 34, 37-43
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“Jesus of Nazareth commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10: 42).

You’ve all heard of the witness protection program.  I hope no one here knows it 1st-hand!  Its purpose, according to Wikipedia, is “to protect threatened witnesses before, during, and after a trial.”  Its participants are witnesses in criminal cases who don’t want to be known, seen, or heard publicly; who try to disappear and lead quiet, secret, safe lives far away from the people and places familiar with them.
Domine, Quo Vadis
by Annibale Carracci

There’s an old legend about St. Peter that you might call an attempt to go into witness protection.  Along the Appian Way on the outskirts of Rome there’s an old church called, informally, “the Church of Domine Quo Vadis.”  Those of a certain age might remember a 1951 movie called Quo Vadis, based on an older novel.  It was one of the typical biblically-themed films of the ’50s.  (The movie’s so old that an aspiring Hollywood actress named Sophia Loren got her 1st minor role in it playing a slave girl.)  According to the legend, when Nero’s persecution of Christians broke out in 67 AD, Peter headed out of town to escape.  And he met our Lord on the Appian Way, walking toward the city.  Peter asked him, “Domine, quo vadis?  Lord, where are you going?”  Jesus replied, “To Rome to be crucified again.”  It was a verbal slap in Peter’s face for abandoning the flock in time of danger, as he’d once before abandoned his Master by denying him out of fear.  So Peter turned back to Rome, was arrested, and was martyred by crucifixion in Nero’s gardens on the Vatican hill.  Meanwhile, Jesus left his footprints in one of the paving stones where he’d met Peter on the road, and that stone with its prints may still be seen today in the Quo Vadis Church.

Such is the legend.  But in today’s 1st reading, which quotes Peter’s preaching to the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household, he shows no such timidity about bearing witness to Jesus.  In fact, in those 7½ verses from the Acts of the Apostles, the words witness or testify are used 4 times.  Peter and the other disciples are “witnesses of all that Jesus did both in the country of the Jews [i.e., in Judea] and in Jerusalem” (10:39).  God raised Jesus from the dead, and he appeared “to the witnesses chosen by God” (10:41), his apostles.  In their preaching the apostles “testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead” (10:42).  “All the prophets [of the Hebrew Scriptures] bear witness that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name” (10:43).

Church of Domine Quo Vadis
In short, Peter and the apostles are witnesses to Jesus’ public ministry, to his passion and resurrection, to his God-given role as Messiah or Christ, and to his being the Redeemer who fulfills the OT prophecies.

Cornelius believes Peter’s preaching, and he and his household accept Baptism.

For their part, Peter and the other apostles had been very slow to understand Jesus’ preaching and to believe that he’d risen from the dead.  In the gospel reading today we heard of the consternation of the women and of St. Peter; only the Beloved Disciple connected the dots between Jesus’ preaching, his passion, and the empty tomb—only he “saw and believed” (John 20:8).  The others needed actually to see, to hear, and to touch the Risen Lord.

But then they became convinced believers, so convinced that they were no longer afraid to be known as his followers, to be his public witnesses, even to be persecuted, flogged, jailed, and put to death because they knew he’d risen from the dead, knew that he obtains for all of us the forgiveness of our sins and reconciliation with God, knew that he is the way to eternal life.  Instead of running away in fear, as they’d done when Jesus was arrested, instead of denying they’d ever known him, as Peter had done, they were more than willing to proclaim everywhere to everyone that they belonged to Jesus the living Son of God, and they were willing to die for him—which, according to ancient Christian tradition all of them did except St. John, who lived to a very old age and died in peace.

Theirs is the testimony that has been handed down to us thru the Creed, the liturgy, the Scriptures, and all the teachings of the Catholic Church—our faith that we’ll reaffirm momentarily when we renew our baptismal promises.

Our sacramental theology teaches that when we’re baptized each of us becomes an image of Jesus Christ and becomes with him a priest, a prophet, and a king.  In our roles as Christian prophets we bear public witness, like St. Peter, that Jesus of Nazareth is the one Savior of the human race, the Messiah given to us by God to redeem us from our sins.  Like St. Peter and the rest of the apostles, we let it be known that we belong to Jesus, that Jesus is alive, that we follow him in our beliefs and in our behavior.  We preach Jesus when we teach our children their prayers and their moral code; when we participate in public Christian worship; when we act with personal integrity, with faithfulness, with honesty; when we’re generous, patient, kind, and chaste; when we defend the human dignity of the unborn, the aged, the immigrant, the handicapped, persons who are different from us in sex, color, ethnicity, etc.; when our votes and other political actions are consistent with the teachings and practice of Jesus and Jesus’ Church.  Our entire lives must bear witness to Jesus:  to all that he did, all that he taught; that he is truly risen and alive; that he will pass judgment on our lives, forgiving the sins of those who believe in him and follow him; that he calls all of us to a generous share of his own heavenly glory in the house of the living God (cf. Col 3:4).
The alleged footprints of Christ preserved in the floor of the Quo Vadis church

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Homily for Good Friday

Homily for Good Friday

April 14, 2017
Heb. 4: 14-16; 5: 7-9
Is 52: 13—53: 1-12                                          
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“In the days when Christ was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (Heb 5: 7).

As familiar as we are with the story of the Lord’s passion, we know about his “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears.”  We remember his pleading 3 times in the Garden of Olives with “the one who was able to save him from death”:  “Father, take this cup away from me” (Matt 26:39, etc.).  We remember his anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34).
30 pieces of silver (source unknown)
Yet he was betrayed, arrested, tortured, tried unfairly, convicted falsely, and brutally executed among real criminals.

How, then, can we say, “He was heard because of his reverence”?  How can we say that God heard his prayers and supplications and saved him from death?

It sounds, rather, like the one who “bore our infirmities” and “endured our sufferings,” who was “pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins” (Is 53:4-5).  To use a cliché that’s apt, he was “hung out to dry,” literally hanged on the cross in the blistering Palestinian sun, enduring 3 to 6 hours of agony.  (St. Mark says Jesus was crucified about 9 a.m. (15:25), and Matthew and Luke tho not explicit are consistent with that; only John gives noon as the hour of his condemnation (19:14).  All agree it was about 3 p.m. when he died.)  Those hours of agony included pain shooting from his nailed wrists and feet, breath coming in desperate, painful gasps, throat parched, and onlookers throwing insults at him.
Christ Crowned with Thorns
Cathedral of St. Bavo, Ghent, Belgium (crypt church)
And yet—

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews also says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (4:15).

Aren’t millions of people mistreated as badly and unjustly as Jesus was?  Don’t millions of people suffer awful agonies and painful deaths they don’t deserve from sickness or disaster?  Don’t all these people cry to God and shed tears, begging to be saved?  Don’t we pray often for the persecuted, the exiled, the victims of war and disaster, and our sick loved ones?

“In the days when Christ was in the flesh,” he learned from his own awful experience “to sympathize with our weaknesses” and was “similarly tested in every way” as any human being has ever been tested.  Sympathize means “to suffer with.”  Jesus has identified himself with our human sufferings, weaknesses, and testing.  Our “great high priest who has passed thru the heavens” 1st passed thru 30-something years of life as a man, suffering and rejoicing, fearing and hoping, enjoying family and friendship, knowing rejection and betrayal, undergoing temptation but always resisting it, always practicing faithful obedience (the “reverence” that Hebrews speaks of)—unlike us, always “without sin.”

One magazine columnist writes about how suffering connects us with our fellow men and women:

It is through suffering that we are broken down and made to confront our own weakness and vulnerability.  This can be a transformative moment, in which we recognize at some deeper level that we are not the center of the universe.  It is a moment that either opens us up to a journey in which we move beyond ourselves to see a profound connection between our suffering and the suffering of others, or it marks the beginning of a desperate attempt to reclaim our centrality in the universe.[1]

So in order to sympathize with us, Jesus had to undergo what we undergo; had to establish “a profound connection between our suffering” and his own.  If he was tempted to make himself the center of the universe, he certainly passed that test, emptying himself completely, serving others completely, giving his own life completely (one layer of the meaning when Jesus utters, “It is finished” [John 19:30] and dies).  This complete offering that he made of himself to God and to all of humanity rendered him capable and deserving of being “made perfect,” Hebrews says (5:9).  Renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl holds that we all seek meaning in our lives, and “the more one forgets himself … the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself,”[2] i.e., becomes the person he (or she) was created to be.  As God Jesus was already perfect in his identity and every other sense, of course.  His moral perfection as a human being, lived in his complete self-giving, meant that he could be made a perfect and complete human being:  perfect in God’s image, like our 1st parents when they came from God’s hand. 
The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ
by Vasili Golinsky
Ironically, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, made perfect in resurrected flesh and seated at God’s right hand in the heavens, has indeed become the center of the universe, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all creation, the one who shall render justice to the living and the dead at the end of history.

So, no, his Father did not save Jesus from death in his human flesh.  He had to offer himself completely—no miraculous delivery from the cross.  Even had Jesus stepped down from the cross or been rescued by the angels (cf. Matt 26:53), wouldn’t he eventually have had to face death as a mortal man, just as Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus eventually had to die “for good,” with no one immediately to call them back?  Would a Jesus who “stayed a great unknown like his father carving wood” in Nazareth, as Judas proposes in Jesus Christ Superstar, and then died quietly in bed identify with us, sympathize with us, like Isaiah’s Suffering Servant—one of the Old Testament prophecies about the One who would save Israel,” take away the sins of many and win pardon for their offenses” (53:12) by offering himself like the Passover lamb (53:7) thru whom Israel was delivered from the angel of death; like the Atonement sacrifice upon which the guilt of us all was laid (53:6)

Because he was obedient to his Father in passing thru all this testing, in fact his Father did save him from death—not in the way Jesus himself may have been praying for in Gethsemane, and certainly not in the way we think someone would be saved from death.  Instead, God raised the mortal flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, the Virgin Mary’s son, to immortal life.  He was made a perfect human being; for God created men and women in his own image, intended for immortality.  “Being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Heb 5:9).  In the Collect at the beginning of this liturgy, we begged God the Father that we might be so sanctified by divine grace as to be ourselves transformed from “men of earth” into “images of the Man of heaven,” viz., the perfect, risen Jesus.
Jesus placed in the tomb (source unknown)
This risen Jesus, the God-man, has passed thru the heavens.  This is the language of the ancient world’s geography or cosmology (its primitive picture of the universe).  Jesus has gone from earth to the presence of God by passing thru the skies between us and God’s throne.  As a priest in heaven he intercedes for us, just as the Jewish high priest interceded at God’s throne in the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement every year.  But Jesus is our undying and everlasting intercessor, always interceding for us because always with the Father and always sympathetic and merciful to us, whose weaknesses he knows so well.  His priestly intercession for us, on Calvary and forever in heaven, makes him “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  So we entrust ourselves completely to him, as he has already given himself completely to us.

           [1] Bill McGarvey, “Help Your Brothers,” America, Sept. 26, 2016, p. 32.
           [2] Cited by McGarvey, loc. cit.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fr. Titus Zeman to Be Beatified

Fr. Titus Zeman, SDB, Slovak Martyr,
Will Be Beatified on September 30
by ANS

Venerable Fr. Titus Zeman, SDB, was killed in hatred of the faith at 54 years of age and will be beatified on September 30 in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Msgr. Angelo Becciu, substitute for general affairs of the Vatican Secretariat of State, communicated the decision to Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, postulator general for Saints’ Causes of the Salesian Family, on March 21.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, will represent Pope Francis at the celebration of the rite.

Fr. Zeman was born in Vajnory, Slovakia, on January 4, 1915, the son of peasant farmers who were also the sacristans of their parish church. He suffered various illnesses from early childhood. After a sudden recovery at the age of 10, he promised Mary to “be her son forever” and to become a Salesian priest.

He became a novice in 1931, made his perpetual profession in 1938, and was ordained in 1940. He remained steadfast against the Communist regime. In 1946 he was dismissed from the school where he taught because he defended the crucifix. He managed to escape the “Night of the Barbarians” and the deportation of religious (April 13-14, 1950). He then looked for ways to help Salesian seminarians reach the priesthood. He organized expeditions to pass them through the Iron Curtain to Turin, but on his third venture (April 1951) he was caught.

Fr. Zeman had to face about 13 years of wrongful imprisonment and torture, experiencing hardship in prison and labor camps. He was forced to endure long periods of isolation and to work with radioactive uranium without any protection. He was branded as a “man marked for elimination.” In 1964 he was given five years on parole but was constantly spied on and persecuted. He was forbidden to exercise the priestly ministry publicly. He died in his home town on January 8, 1969, after a triple heart attack, a martyr for vocations.

Already at the time of his death he was regarded as a martyr. In 1991, following the fall the Communist government, a review of his case declared him innocent.

The inquiry for Fr. Titus Zeman’s beatification and canonization started only in 2007. The diocesan inquiry was held in the archdiocese of Bratislava from February 26, 2010, to December 7, 2012. The Congregation for Saints’ Causes certified the results of the inquiry on June 28, 2013.

When the positio (summary of the Servant of God’s life and virtues and of his reputation for holiness) was prepared, the CCS’s theological consultors discussed, according to the usual procedure, whether his death was a true martyrdom. Their vote in April 2016 was positive.

On February 21 of this year, the cardinals and bishops who are members of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes rendered their own positive opinion concerning his martyrdom as an act of hatred of the Catholic faith on the part of the regime.

On February 27, in an audience granted to Cardinal Amato, Pope Francis authorized that Congregation to promulgate the decree confirming his martyrdom.

Fr. Zeman’s life and death bear witness to the vocational call of Jesus and a pastoral predilection for the young, especially for young Salesians, which were Fr. Zeman’s true passions. He once said, “Even if I lost my life, I would not consider it wasted, knowing that at least one of those I had helped had become a priest in my place.”

Fr. Jozef Izold, provincial of the Salesians in Slovakia, writes: “In collaboration with the archbishop of Bratislava, we have already started preparing for this extraordinary event. After 14 years we will have a new blessed in Slovakia, the first Slovak Salesian to be beatified. We joyfully invite all the faithful of the Slovak Church, the Salesian Family, and friends of the Salesians to set aside this date of September 30, 2017, in order to celebrate the beatification of Fr. Titus Zeman with us.”

Beatification is the intermediate step toward canonization, by which the Supreme Pontiff grants public ecclesiastical veneration to a Servant of God, limited to the places and manner established by law. The beatification ceremony will take place during a solemn Mass at which Cardinal Amato will read the apostolic letter of the Holy Father. After giving a spiritual portrait of the Servant of God, the Pope says solemnly that the Venerable Servant of God can be called “Blessed” and indicates the date of his feast, usually the dies natalis (the day of his birth into heaven, i.e., of his earthly death).

“The Church of God in Slovakia and the Salesian Family give thanks for this great gift of the beatification of the martyr Titus Zeman, and resolve to live with renewed fidelity the vocation we have received and to witness with courage even in times of trial and persecution,” commented Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni.

Homily for Holy Thursday

Homily for Holy Thursday
April 19, 1984
Ex 12: 1-14
John 13: 1-15
Don Bosco Tech, Paterson, N.J.

At Holy Cross in Champaign, our pastor, Fr. Dave Sajdak, presided and preached tonite.  Here’s the oldest Holy Thursday homily in my digital archive.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord” (Ex 12:14).

This day we keep a memorial day.  It’s the day on which the Lord eats his Passover lamb that recalls deliverance from the bondage of Egypt, the day which he becomes for us the Lamb of God who delivers us from the bondage of our sins.

It’s the day on which the Lord gives us his flesh and blood to be our food and instructs us to eat his body and drink his blood in remembrance of him.

It’s the day on which the Eternal High Priest offers himself as a pleasing sacrifice to his Father and establishes a priesthood among his disciples to re-present his sacrifice, as the Jewish people re-present the Passover mysteries, generation after generation.

It’s the day on which the Lord Jesus gives us a new commandment to serve one another as he has served us.
(by Simon Ushakov, 1685)
On Holy Thursday we remember and are, in a liturgical sense, present when Jesus institutes the Eucharist, the priesthood, and the new commandment of loving service.  In a real sense, our Lord on this day creates us as a Christian people.  He makes the Twelve his continuance in time and history; he makes us his Body; he creates the Church, which will take shape and take courage after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

In the Eucharist, the Lord gives us his very self, his transformed and glorified self.  This is the body that was beaten and crucified; this is the blood that was shed for us on Good Friday; this is the Lord who is even now at work in us who partake of him, forgiving our sins, planting the seed of immortality, and transforming us so that we may be like him.

All of us who celebrate the Eucharist, who join in offering to the Father this pleasing sacrifice and who eat the victim that has been offered—all of us are priests of the new covenant. All of us are commanded to do what Jesus has done, in memory of him.  All of us are commanded to worship the Father in humble obedience, to praise his goodness to us, to eat and drink of the Lord of life.  And so Christ this day makes each of his disciples a priest.

The Church that Jesus creates when he says, “Do this in memory of me,” the Church which nourishes on heavenly bread, particularizes the priestly office in certain individuals.  The Church chooses and ordains these ministerial priests to take the part of Christ in our common priestly sacrifice:  to take his part by re-enacting the sacred meal, by preaching the Good News of salvation, and by leading the community in loving service.  This, too, we remember today as we keep our feast to the Lord.

On this day, Jesus says to us, “I give you a new command, that you love one another” (John 13:34).  This love is not to be mere affection but real service:  “I have given you an example that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

So seriously do some Christian communities take the Lord’s command and example that they count foot-washing as a sacrament.  We Catholics come close to that on Holy Thursday, traditionally called  Maundy Thursday, from the Latin mandatum, “commandment,” the Lord’s new commandment of loving service.  If foot-washing isn’t a sacrament, it certainly is a sacramental, like palm branches or holy water.

If we take Christ seriously, it seems that every disciple is bound by the command of service to his brothers and sisters, for the Lord says, “You also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example…” (John 13:14-15).  Those ordained to leadership are to be the first to set the Christian example, as Christ says, “If I, then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also should do as I have done” (ibid.).  If the servile task of foot-washing is the example, then nothing is excluded from our loving service to one another.

“This day shall be for you a memorial day.”  Above all, we remember the love of him who, “having loved his own who were in the world, loved them to the end” (John 13:1).  He shows his abiding and limitless love on this day by giving us his body and blood to be our living, spiritual food as we journey with him; by consecrating us all as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim his glorious works” (1 Pet 2:9); by laying aside his own divine dignity, like his garments, and girding himself with our creaturely flesh, like the servant’s towel, and bathing us in the Father’s mercy.

May this memorial feast to the Lord be our deliverance from the plagues of sin and divisiveness.  May we serve the Lord and one another in joy.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for
Palm Sunday
April 9, 2017
Matt 21: 1-11
Phil 2: 6-11
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.                                       

“The master has need of them” (Matt 21: 3).
Christ Enters Jerusalem
Pietro Lorenzetti (fresco, Assisi)
It’s reported that St. John Vianney, the holy curé of Ars, France, once said, “If Samson could slay 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, imagine what the Lord can do with a complete ass”—referring to himself, famously inept as a student in the seminary, but the Lord’s instrument for forgiving sinners who for years and years in the mid-19th century flocked to him to confess, as many as 300 penitents a day coming to his out-of-the-way country parish, and he spent as much as 16 hours a day in the confessional for most of the last 30 years of his life!  (Some of you are old enuf to remember the old confessionals, which were very uncomfortable to sit in for 1 hours, let alone 16—and in the curé’s case, without heat in the winter or a/c in the summer.)

Assuredly, St. John Vianney was no ass, complete or incomplete, but a priest filled with the simple wisdom of our Lord.

But in the 1st gospel for today, that of the Lord’s triumphal entry of Jerusalem, he sends 2 of his disciples to fetch an ass and its colt with the message to their owner, “The master has need of them.”

Reflect on that for a moment:  Jesus needed a donkey to enter Jerusalem.  He had to ask some friend of his—we assume the ass’s owner was a friend—for a little help.  Just as the Son of God humbly descended from heaven, taking on our human flesh with all its weaknesses, its limitations, its sufferings, as St. Paul writes today (Phil 2:7), he chose also to be dependent on the help of other human beings.  He needed to borrow a donkey for this phase of his divine mission.

Look at yourself—not as a jackass but as an instrument of the Lord.  Mother Teresa called herself just a pen in God’s hand that he could write with.  Yes, the Lord Jesus has a plan for you, a use for you, whoever you are:  man, woman, child, parent, senior citizen, student, laborer, businessman, lawyer, craftsman, farmer, nurse, teacher, homemaker.  The master has need of you for some purpose of his, which might be something very simple like smiling on someone who’s feeling down, or something grander like teaching catechism or healing the sick, and which might vary from day to day.

There’s just one condition on the Lord’s ability to use you.  It’s not being a donkey but being like Jesus, who humbled himself and was obedient to what God asked of him, even when that led to suffering.  God can’t work with someone who’s proud, someone who’s so full of himself that he won’t listen to God (or anyone else).

Now you might ask why God would command that his Son should suffer, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).  I don’t think the Father willed that his Son should die; rather, the Son was loyal and obedient to God even tho that meant that evil people would do him in, in the most painful and humiliating way they could concoct.  Compare it to the obedience to God of a recent martyr, reported in a blog post 2 days ago[1]:

A Coptic Christian father of two who was on a “kill list” and tracked for days by Islamic State militants in Sinai refused to renounce his faith in Christ when given a chance to “save” himself before being executed, his wife said.

The British news outlet The Sunday Times [April 3] reports that the widow of 58-year-old Copt Bahgat Zakhar, one of eight Christians killed in the coastal town of Al Arish in just a three-week span in February, detailed the moment her husband met his fate.

Zakhar, who was a veterinary surgeon, was reportedly named on a jihadi “kill list” that was published online. As reported, jihadis have anonymously posted “kill lists” online that feature churches and prominent Christians across Egypt to target.[2]

Zakhar’s widow, Fawzia, said in her interview with the Times that an eyewitness explained that when the militants arrived, Zakhar tried to shake their hands. They quickly forced him onto a concrete terrace, forced him to his knees and demanded that he convert to Islam.

“Repent, infidel. Convert and save yourself,” the witness recalled one of the jihadis saying.

According to the witness, Zakhar simply shook his head in refusal. The militants then responded by fatally shooting him and leaving him dead on the floor.

I don’t think we can say that God willed the death of Bahgat Zakhar.  But we can say that Bahgat Zakhar was obedient even to the point of death; he was a martyr for Christ.  How God will use his life and death, we can’t say.  So much of life and death and the ways of salvation are hidden in mystery.  But we can be sure that God will exalt Bahgat Zakhar and bestow on him a glorious name in eternity.

And so will he exalt us if we are humble enuf, here in central Illinois, for him to use us for whatever purposes he has in mind.

Holy Cross, Champaign, decorated for Palm Sunday 2017

      [2] Aside: Yesterday 2 Christian churches were attacked in Egypt, and more than 20 Christians killed.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Homily for Saturday of the 5th Week of Lent

Homily for Saturday
5th Week of Lent
April 8, 2017
John 11: 45-56
Salesian Cooperators, Champaign

“Caiaphas … said to them, ‘… it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish’” (John 11: 49-50).

The House of Caiaphas
by Gustave Dore'
That quotation—obviously obtained by some surreptitious wiretapping—is the central point of today’s gospel.  St. John treats it as a prophecy spoken by God’s high priest.  However unworthy the man was—and Caiaphas was no saint, as we know not only from the Gospels but especially from the writings of the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus—nevertheless, John credits him as divinely appointed to prophesy because of his sacred office.

As an aside, you may remember that in John’s passion narrative, he informs us that “another disciple,” not named, “was known to the high priest” and followed Jesus after his arrest into “the courtyard of the high priest” and then got the doorkeeper to let Peter in, also (18:15-16).  So this unnamed disciple may be our mole within the meetings of the Sanhedrin.

So Caiaphas prophesies that one man will die instead of the entire Jewish nation.  Unspoken is the sacrifice of the paschal lamb as a substitute for the 1st-born of the Hebrews and the identification of Jesus as the Lamb of God—also a theme in John’s Gospel (see ch. 1).  “One man should die instead of the people.”

John interprets further:  Jesus will not die only for the whole nation of Israel but even for all “the dispersed children of God” (11:52), those dispersed by not being part of Israel by birth, i.e., the Gentiles, and those dispersed by the alienation of sin, whoever they are.  John speaks of the reunion of the whole human race under God’s fatherhood.

This union or unity is the theme running thru the liturgy.  The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the reunion of the 2 kingdoms of Israel and Judah into one nation (37:21-28) ruled by “my servant David” (37:24), “delivered from all their sins of apostasy, and cleansed” (37:23).  To refresh your memory, after the death of King Solomon (1 Kgs 11:43), the 9 northern tribes of Israel rebelled against Solomon’s son and formed a separate kingdom of Israel (1 Kgs 12).  Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to David’s dynasty in what was called the kingdom of Judah.  (The priestly tribe of Levi had no territory within either kingdom, and the Levites dwelt in both.)  The kingdom of Israel turned to idolatry and other sins and was conquered by Assyria in 721 BC, and the people dispersed into exile to disappear from history (unless you buy the Mormons’ story that they migrated to America and became the ancestors of the American Indians).  The kingdom of Judah alternated between faithfulness to the Lord, and idolatry and other sins until conquered by Babylon in 597 BC, when the king and some of the other leaders were taken as prisoners to Babylon, and Nebuchnezzar placed a puppet king (Jeremiah’s nemesis Zedekiah) on the throne.  But after a revolt, Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 and all the remaining civil and religious leaders were taken into exile in Babylon.  Ezekiel seems to have been among the captives in Babylon after 597 and prophesied to both his fellow exiles and the Jews back in Palestine.

Thus are the Israelites “among the nations” and in need of gathering back to their own land (Ezek 37:21).  You can see why he would speak of Israel’s national resurrection in his prophecy of the dry bones in the 1st part of ch. 37 (1-14), part of which was our 1st reading last Sunday, and of the nation’s reunification under the house of David in the 2d part of ch. 37, our 1st reading today.

God had another plan for fulfilling Ezekiel’s prophecy, however—another plan for cleansing the people of their apostasy, their unfaithfulness to the covenant.  The Son of David—Jesus of Nazareth—came for that cleansing, which was symbolized by his washing his apostles’ feet at the Last Supper (John 13:1-10) and by the water that gushed, with blood, from his pierced side (John 19:34).  The Son of David came to gather all the dispersed children of God into one new kingdom founded on a new “covenant of peace,” “an everlasting covenant” centered on the sanctuary (Ezek 37:26) that is, in fact, Jesus himself, as the Book of Revelation says:  “I saw no temple in the [heavenly Jerusalem], for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb” (21:22).  All peoples shall be redeemed and made one by the Lamb, who is also the Son of David.  All peoples of the earth shall recognize the Son of David as “their prince forever” (Ezek 37:25).

Our Collect this morning prayed along those lines.  We praise God for having “made all those reborn in Christ a chosen race and a royal priesthood.”  There’s a unity in this race and priesthood that doesn’t depend on any blood except Christ’s, nor on any national or ethnic or racial origin.

Then we make our prayer:  “Grant us the grace to will and to do what you command,” i.e., to be faithful to the new, everlasting covenant of peace that God established with humanity thru the blood of Christ.  What we will and what we do so often are not unified, as even St. Paul experienced:  “I do not do what I want but I do what I hate” (Rom 7:15).  So we pray that our actions may conform to a will that is united with God’s will.

The prayer goes on:  if we faithfully do God’s will and do what he commands, then the people whom God has called to eternal life—all “the dispersed children of God”—will “be one in the faith of their hearts and the homage of their deeds.”  There we have unity or union again:  our deeds being in union with our wills, or our living as we profess to believe; and our being in union with the Father, who has given us this marvelous rebirth in Christ and chosen us to be his own beloved people, his own beloved children.

May God give us the grace to respond to Christ’s love, the grace to “believe in him” like Mary and Martha (John 11:45) and to pay him the homage of our daily living.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Homily for Wednesday, 5th Week of Lent

Homily for Wednesday
of the 5th Week of Lent
April 5, 2017
John 8: 31-42
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.

“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8: 31-32).

You’ve probably heard the proverbial wisdom that a liar has to have an exceptional memory in order to keep his story, and all its details, straight as he tells and retells it.  He probably doesn’t think of it, but he has become a slave to his lie.

There are a lot of truths that we don’t think twice about, like the physical laws of the universe.  Gravity keeps us “grounded” in reality and out of the danger that we’d be in in a high place if we didn’t keep it in mind.  You know enuf to stay away from the edge.  That’s liberating, keeping us safe.  The truths of aerodynamics enable us to fly airplanes.  Many early experimenters crashed to earth with their bird-wings because they didn’t know the rules.  The Wright Brothers finally got it right.  That sets us free for faster (and generally safer) travel.  Patrick, aren’t you glad you could fly here rather than swim?  The truths of astrophysics enable us to explore and understand space; e.g., we’re free if we wish to go to southern Illinois for a grand solar eclipse this summer if we’re into that sort of thing.

But we don’t honor all forms of truth.  I read yesterday that the latest issue of TIME asks whether truth is dead.  There’s a cottage industry in our society of denying generally accepted facts:  a changing climate, what happened on 9/11 (there are some who maintain that it was a conspiracy of the federal government), what happened at Newtown (there are some who say the massacre never happened but is a story concocted by the anti-gun lobby), who killed JFK and why, where is Elvis hiding, etc.

Truth has been a stranger in the political world for a long time; you know the old one-liner:  how can you tell when a politician is lying? his lips are moving.  The media world has long had a dubious record with the truth.  We’ve become all too familiar with the world of “truthiness” and “alternative facts.”  Altho the Declaration of Independence—which is more foundational to our American nation than even the Constitution—bases its statements and intention on “self-evident truths,” such as our dependence on God, a God who rules nature, I wonder whether you could get the Declaration thru the Senate today without its being filibustered.

If the Declaration ran into trouble, I suspect it would be over nature’s God.  If God is the author and ruler of nature, there must be a natural law.  Natural law doesn’t refer to gravity or aerodynamics but to human nature and humans’ relationships with the universe, with each other, and with the Creator.  If we acknowledge that law, then we can’t create our own rules for nature, specifically for human nature and for the moral order of the universe. 

The self-evident truths of nature’s God include a moral code based on God, on human dignity and equality (“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal…”), the rights of conscience, the rights to life and liberty, the nature and purpose of sexuality, to start with.  Is it truly liberating to cut ourselves free of all that?  If each of us can decide what’s true and what’s false, do we become enslaved by our own opinions which are grounded not in the real world but in our minds, in our feelings?  What if you can back up your opinion with a billion-dollar bank account or with a gun or with an army?  Am I in danger of some form of enslavement, of subjection, to what you desire?  That’s where wars, the drug trade, human trafficking, etc., come from.  Not from truth, for sure.

Jesus calls himself the Truth (John 14:6), and he tells his disciples that if they remain in him they will know the truth and it will set them free.  Assuredly, if we were to remain in Jesus we’d respect the freedom, rights, dignity, and equality of everyone, and we’d all be liberated from various oppressions.

But Jesus is proclaiming more than an earthly liberation, as we know.  He speaks today of being freed from sin and returned to a relationship with our Father.  Moreover, he speaks in other parts of the Gospel of God’s broadening the covenant of love and salvation that already exists between himself and the Jewish people, of making the covenant universal.  This is the liberation of “the many” of whom he speaks in the words of consecration at the Last Supper and at Mass:  a new covenant for you and for many.  He’s offering liberation from sin on the basis of the truth that God loves everyone, not only the original chosen people, the children of Abraham.  He continues to love them, but not only them.
Jesus Calls Zacchaeus
by Neils Larsen Stevns
The Jewish leaders found that hard to swallow.  Don’t we all want to be special?  Don’t many of us want to be superior to others?  Well, yeah, too often we do.  There’s sin lurking at that door.  But being brothers and sisters with everyone, all children of God, sets us free—from jealousy, greed, ambition, and other sins.  Seeing everyone as a child of the one loving and forgiving God, and not as an enemy, a threat, someone different and hostile, that’s liberating. Knowing that God loves, forgives, redeems, and call us all to eternal life, that’s liberating.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
5th Sunday of Lent
April 5, 1987
Ps 130: 1-8
Ezek 37: 12-14
Holy Cross, Fairfield, Conn.

To my disappointment, I don’t get to preach this weekend, either—this time it’s the bishop’s fault!  The diocese is launching the annual appeal.  So, again, I offer a homily from the archives.

“My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchman wait for the dawn” (Ps 130: 6).

You’ve probably heard it said that we Christians are a pilgrim people, that we’re people “on the way.”  The reading from Ezekiel and the psalm remind us that we’re exiles far from our true home.

In the 1st reading the Lord, through the prophet Ezekiel, seems to be promising resurrection.  And that’s what the Church suggests to us by pairing this passage with the story of Lazarus.

But Ezekiel and the Lord are really talking about a people being brought back to life, pieced back together, re-inspirited, by a return from exile:  “You shall live, and I will place you in your own land.  I will bring you home into the land of Israel.  And you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezek 37:14,12-13)
Sculpture on exterior wall of the National
Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,
Washington, D.C., celebrating psalmody.

This is also the tenor of the responsorial psalm:  “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” (130:1), i.e., out of the depths of exile and of despair of ever seeing again one’s homeland and the Lord’s temple.  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (130:5), i.e., the exile trusts that God will hear his prayer and deliver him.  “He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities” (130:8), i.e., the exiled people will be ransomed by the Lord their champion; their past sins will be wiped away, and they will be brought home.

A parish mission is about coming home, about returning from exile.  It’s about longing for the Lord and seeking forgiveness.  A parish mission is one way in which the Lord takes all our bones and brings them together again and puts a new life into us as individuals and especially as a community of believers.

During a parish mission we’re reminded that, as Christians, we are in the world but not of it.  We’re pilgrims journeying through a land of exile, heading homeward to our Father’s house.  “As you well know,” St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “we have our citizenship in heaven” (3:20).

During a parish mission, our journey out of exile and back home is mapped out for us.  The Church is sort of an AAA, and she gives us a set of maps, i.e., the sacred Scriptures, the Word of God.  She gives us a compass to help us with our bearings, i.e., the teaching of the Church which comes to us through the apostles and their successors—the Pope and the bishops.  And finally, the Church gives us the sacraments, the pit stops on our trip where we get orientation, nourishment, and repairs.  All of these divine gifts—the sacraments, the teaching Church, and the Bible—enable us to master the possibilities on our journey.  All of them are offered to us during a parish mission in a special way that God has chosen for us for this moment in our lives.

So this week a new community life, a new spirit, will be offered to us individually and communally.  The Lord offers us redemption from our iniquities.  He comes to us who have been eagerly waiting for him more than watchmen waiting for the dawn.  The Lord Jesus comes to guide us in the way back to our Father’s home.  “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, says the Lord” (Ezek 37:14).