Homilies - February 2010

Select a homily to read:
Second Sunday of Lent: February 28, 2010 by Fr. Joseph
First Sunday of Lent: February 21, 2010 by Fr. Boniface
Fifth Sunday of the Year: February 7, 2010 by Fr. Peter

Second Sunday of Lent

  • February 28, 2010
  • by Fr. Joseph
  • Gen. 15:5-12, 17-18
  • Phil. 3:17–4:1
  • Luke 9:28b-36

God’s promise to Abraham is given and renewed many times, but the example in today’s first reading is remarkable for the sense of religious awe; this is seen especially in the reference a “trance, a deep terrifying darkness” enveloping Abraham–a religious experience which is well described by Rudolph Otto in his Idea of the Holy as the mysterium tremendum and fascinans–fearful and bewitching.

Perhaps it is because of this hint of religious experience that this reading was chosen to go with today’s gospel of the Transfiguration, which speaks of Peter being outside himself and “not knowing what he was saying.”

The transfiguration comes in chapter 9 of St. Luke, an important chapter which tells of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, the first prediction of the passion, and Jesus’ teaching on the necessity of bearing the cross. At the transfiguration we find Jesus discussing with Moses and Elijah His “Exodus,” to be accomplished in Jerusalem. Thus Jesus’ transfiguration relates both to what is present and what is to come: to what is present because it confirms the disciples’ faith in Him as Messiah, future because it strengthens their faith for the suffering and humiliation which He has predicted; but it also anticipates His resurrection to glory.

It further relates to what is to come because the reference to His “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” looks forward to His return to His Father. And the reason for this is that soon–in this same chapter 9, Luke says: “when the days for his being taken up [same terminology as for His ascension] were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” And from this point Luke’s gospel becomes a travel narrative, as Jesus draws closer to Jerusalem, where He will consummate His redemptive work with suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. Luke presents Him as the bearer of salvation, and once in Jerusalem, Luke keeps the action there: there are no resurrection appearances in Galilee as in the other gospels. Jesus, the bearer of salvation has brought it to Jerusalem, and from there it will go forth to all the earth. After His resurrection His apostles ask Him whether He is about to restore the kingdom to Israel; He tells them, rather, that once they have received the Holy Spirit they shall be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. These words are programmatic for all that is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. After Pentecost the action is in Jerusalem, where the Church is born and develops. After the martyrdom of Stephen we hear of the Word reaching Samaria. Peter baptizes the first Gentiles and soon there is a flourishing group in Antioch where the disciples were first called Christians. After the conversion of Paul the action moves with him as he travels to Asia Minor and then Greece, and then is taken as a prisoner to Rome, capital of the Roman Empire and, in that sense the ends of the earth.”

Those first apostles obviously could not themselves bring the word to “the ends of the earth”; the completion of the work devolves upon all the successors of the apostles, including us. Indeed, within a couple of generations the Word had been spread as far south as Africa and as far west as England. Since then it has been spread to lands not even known of in the days of Jesus–the New World, the Far East. Were we to attempt to pursue our call as apostles, we would be hard-put to find places where the Word had not already been proclaimed–perhaps some hunter-gatherer tribes in the heart of South America or in deepest Africa. So is there nothing left for us to do? If we look at the world around us, we KNOW that is not the case. From the so-called “great age of faith” our world seems to have deteriorated into secularism. My thesis is that there never was a “great age of faith.” There may have been a time when all Europe claimed to be Catholic–the rulers and all the population. But these rulers waged wars of aggression against one another; many bishops and even abbots were secular princes who spent more time riding to the hounds than watching over their flocks. When a time of upheaval came, no wonder things fell apart. In our days we have to speak about “the rechristianization of Europe.”

After Our Lord’s ascension two angels told the apostles “this Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way you have seen him going.” We wish someone there had had the presence of mind to ask, “WHEN?” The answer might have come back, “When you have completed your mission.” Has witness not been borne to Jesus, even to the ends of the earth? Well, “yes” and “no.” There have been witnesses aplenty, but apparently the witnessing has not been as effective as it might be. We read of people in foreign mission lands being put off by the fact that the Christian witness is divided–Catholics, Anglicans, and Baptists quarreling over the “true” religion and in competition for converts. And what happens in the foreign missions simply reflects what goes on at home. An important duty of Jehovah Witnesses is to “witness,” by which they mean going from door to door trying to convince good Catholics and Protestants that their religion is wrong and that they should become JWs.

True witnessing in these days includes trying to reach a greater understanding with our separated brothers and sisters so that we may bear a united witness. More importantly, however, it consists in trying to live a truly Catholic life that will mirror the highest ideals of Church’s teaching–which doesn’t mean reverting to the pre-Vatican II situation with Latin Masses, etc., but living according to the wisdom contained in “The Church in the Modern World” and according to ideals set before us in the gospels. If we do these things we will be observing Lent in a good way and preparing for an Easter that is joyous and truly looking forward to seeing Jesus “coming back as we saw Him going.”

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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First Sunday of Lent

  • February 21, 2010
  • by Fr. Boniface
  • Deut. 26:4-10
  • Romans 10:8-13
  • Luke 4:3-13

The Temptation of Christ

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” The desert which played such a vital role in Israel’s history was and is a place of danger, hardship, wild animals and death. It was the place where God was made manifest and perhaps because of this, it was also the place of confrontation with the evil one. In the desert, the Israelites were formed into a people and met God, but it was also the place where they were tested and failed. Living in the solitude of the desert there can be no compromise, no half way measures. The answer must be either “yes” or “no.” It is a place of combat with the elements, with the devil, with self, and with God. St. Benedict recognized this when writing of the hermits who “having lived in the monastery for a long time… are now trained to do battle with the devil… and with God’s help to grapple single handedly with the vices of body and mind” (RB1: 2-5).

Jesus came to destroy the kingdom of Satan and to liberate the human race from the bondage into which it entered by the primeval disobedience of Adam and Eve. Satan, recognizing that his rule had been challenged, now came to do battle with Christ. He does not use weapons of terror and violence but cunning and deceit. His aim: to detour Christ from the ministry, from the kind of Messiah Jesus was sent to be and to involve him in his own disobedience and bring him into his dominion. In the process, however, the identity of Jesus is clearly revealed: The Messiah who has come to do the will of God out of love for his Father and will even die for it.

Jesus is hungry and he is tempted by food: “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” “If” is a sneaky attack: “Prove you are the Son of God. Give me a sign. If you don’t give me the sign I ask for, then you aren’t the one you say you are.” It would be a miracle worked for Jesus’ own comfort. Yes, he would multiply bread, but not for himself. His miracles were works of compassion. This temptation would come again when the Scribes and Pharisees asked for a sign that would convince them, force them to believe in spite of the wonders he already worked in their midst. Jesus answers the devil with a short quotation from Scriptures: there is more at stake than simply feeding the body. The spirit needs to be nourished too.

In the next temptation Jesus is shown all the kingdoms of the world in a vision and was promised power and dominion over the whole world, if Jesus would but worship the devil. First of all, true to his reputation, the devil is a liar. Only the Father has the initiative to give power to whomever he wills. Jesus’ ministry will be characterized by power, but a power that has nothing to do with the illusory power of “the ruler of this world.” The kingdoms of the world were not handed over to the evil one, only in so far as human beings allowed him entry by attaining illusory power by strategies of accusation and division, hatred and murder. According to the devil’s logic, if Jesus wants to influence the human structure of the world, he must be in a position of power and commit himself to the devil’s strategy. Jesus, of course, is interested in saving all nations, but if he commits himself to the way of worldly power, he commits himself to the devil’s designs. Jesus replies quietly by reciting the opening lines of the Schema, the ancient creed of Israel, cutting to the heart of his commitment to God.

Jesus is committed to the Father’s strategy: the way of forgiveness and reconciliation, the way of service, not domination. The kingdom is to be gained not by temporal power but by conversion by the way of humility and self emptying, even as he himself; “Though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave” (Philippians 3:6). This strategy is in direct contradiction to the arrogance which attempted to lead Jesus into idolatry and make Jesus an ally of the Prince of Darkness.

The final temptation takes place in Jerusalem on the parapet of the temple. Mathew makes this the second temptation, but Luke’s gospel sees Jerusalem as the goal of Jesus’ ministry and saving activity. Everything begins in Luke’s Gospel with the announcement, in the temple, of John’s birth. In the temple Simeon and Anna recognize the Lord come to his house as the light of the nations. It is in the temple that the boy Jesus first manifested his amazing wisdom. These references to the temple are landmarks on the road to Jerusalem, where Jesus will suffer death and ascend to the Father. The third temptation is a foreshadowing of the ultimate confrontation with evil that will take place in Jerusalem. “If you are the Son of God, come down off that cross “ (Mt 17:40). Jesus will not yield to the voice of the tempter at that final hour even as he did not yield in the desert. Rather in an act of final and perfect trust, he will yield his spirit into the hands of his Father. This third temptation is to a spectacular show of power which would force us to believe rather than calling forth our assent to a relationship with God. Satan seeks to dominate, to oppress, but God seeks to draw with the bonds of love, to persuade. Again Jesus answers with a short scriptural quote showing his trust in God.

Then the tempter departed from him, as the Gospel says, for a time. He would try again and again to turn away Jesus from the mission on which he was sent. We have only to remember how the people tried to make Jesus king after he had miraculously fed them. We need only remember how Jesus called Peter a “Satan,” when Peter, with the best of motives, balked at the idea of a suffering Messiah, or how Satan entered the heart of Judas, one of Jesus’ intimates, on that fateful night of the Last Supper.

At the crucifixion the powers of hell jeered because they thought that at last they had won by getting rid of the Christ. And in the topsy turvey values of the Kingdom of God, the crucifixion was a rout. The powers of darkness just didn’t catch on. The path to victory did not lead through power, riches and pleasure but through service and love. The path to resurrection and ascension led through the cross.

The devil tried to seduce Jesus by placing before him ways that seemed to further his plans. But Jesus saw them for what they were – betrayals of who he was, what his mission was, and his relationship to his Father – and he rejected them. Christians also will find themselves confronted by temptations from without and within, often enough presented in terms of a good, for example our society’s attitude towards war, the means to financial gain, our attitude towards biochemical situations and marriage, to mention only a few. It may come in terms of escaping from the scandal of the cross and following our own will rather than that of God’s. We must avoid these traps by following our Master, whom the devil never succeeded in tricking him to deviate from his path.

Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, v. 2 Lent (Collegeville, Minn., The Liturgical Press, 1993) 59
John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Year C (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 2006) 55
Shea, p. 66
Days of the Lord, p 60.
Shea, p. 69
Days of the Lord, p. 62

Fifth Sunday of the Year

  • February 7, 2010
  • by Fr. Peter
  • Isaiah 6:1-2A, 3-8
  • 1 Cor.15:1-11
  • Luke 5:1-11

“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 3:11)

One could argue that today’s Gospel is at the beginning of Christ’s call for the universality of the Catholic Church, in that the multitude of different kinds of fish represents all peoples of the world to be captured by the inescapable net of Christ’s love. The Lord’s admonition to Peter: ”Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” will begin the initial struggle between Peter, Paul, and the other apostles. We all can recall the great battle to open the Church to non-Jewish brethren, and the controversy over circumcision. It would take the Church many years to come to grips with this quarrel. Before this disagreement Paul, who calls himself the least of the apostles, even persecuted the Church until he was struck down by the blinding light of the Lord. There have been many tensions throughout the history of the Church.

In the early Church, there also was the controversy of language between the Greek and Roman Church. Even in Rome, the earlier liturgies were all in Greek. The common, illiterate believers complained that they could not understand the Greek. We still have a remnant of this Greek liturgy today with our Kyrie eleison after the Roman Church adopted the vulgar Latin. Thus the universality controversy has continued down through the ages.

This past summer when I was attending alumni encounters around our country, I was struck by the universality of our Church. In Hawaii, at Fr. Damien’s mission church, the Mass was said in one of the Hawaiian dialects. At St. James Cathedral in Seattle, the afternoon Mass was to be in Korean. At the great Franciscan church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, the 9:00 a.m. Mass was in Vietnamese, the next Mass was in Spanish, and the noon Mass was to be in Tagalog.

When I was a child, my family lived on a lake in northern Wisconsin from Memorial Day until Labor Day, and maybe three or four times a summer I could convince my dad to drive my brother and me 18 miles to the nearest church for Mass. In those days, the Mass was in Latin; the priest read the lessons in Latin, then in Polish, and then in English. He proceeded to preach in Polish and then in English. I could not understand any of it, not even the English, but as a little boy, I loved just being in church for those two hours; the rest of the family did not. This past January 2nd, I was at a wedding for one of our alumni in Chicago at the Holy Trinity Polish church; the Mass was in Polish, though the marriage ritual was in English for the sake of the groom and myself. Apparently, Chicago has the largest Polish community outside ofWarsaw.

So some places seem to be better at adaptation to different cultures. Yet to this day, this universality of Christ’s call is questioned over and over again, especially by the more conservative members of our Church. Many people question, how can we be open to Moslems, to Arabs, to Asians, or how can we be open to the socially rejected and unwanted, the HIV victim, the homosexual, the drug addict (Fr. Damien’s lepers of today), or how can we be open to the Haitian, or other refugees of this world since we share almost nothing in common?

How often do our own ideas, our doubts, our negative attitudes cause us to miss the miracle of Christ’s call in our midst? In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands, “Put out into the deep water.” Only if we live life at this risk, can our nets become full of fish, fish seeking God’s inescapable love. And like Peter who says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” we have to purge ourselves of our sin and wickedness, our prejudices and our narrow-mindedness, so that we can be worthy both to haul in or to be hauled into the net of Christ’s love and salvation.

This leads us to the Church in Washington, DC, or more specifically to the Church as seen in this net called St. Anselm’s Abbey–our Oblates, our friends, our school, our past and present parents, all those who have been hauled in, as it were, by this net of Benedictine monasticism. As Fr. Anselm Strittmatter, longtime prior and novice master here, used to say about this place, “there are many strange animals in the Lord’s zoo.” Each of us has been called by the universality of Christ’s mission. We have been called to reform our lives, called to praise the Lord, called to a work of prayer, worship, and education that excludes no one.

The multiculturalisms of Washington must be found in this micro-cosmos of humanity at St. Anselm’s Abbey. Saint Benedict never excluded anyone. In Chapter 53 of the Rule, we find written: “any guest who happens to arrive at the monastery should be received just as we would receive Christ himself.” And again, “guests should always be treated with respect and deference.” And again, “the greatest care should be taken to give a warm reception to the poor and to pilgrims, because it is in them above all others that Christ is welcomed.” From Saint Benedict’s day, 1,500-years ago, even the monks themselves take rank not according to age or the position that they may have had in the world before they entered the monastery, but they take rank according to the hour and day they entered the cloister whether they be of noble birth or a slave.

This universality of the Church is summed up in one of Saint Anselm’s prayers written some 900 years ago: “St. Paul, what did you teach when you were passing through the world? God, and his apostles, and you most of all, invite all people to faith. How then should I not hope, if I believe this to be true? And with all mankind may I be worthy to be incorporated into Christ’s body, which is the Church, so that I may remain in Him and He in me. Then at the Resurrection, Christ will refashion the body of my humiliation according to the body of His glory, as He promised through His apostles.”

Fr. Peter Weigand
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