Homilies - January 2010

Select a homily to read:
Fourth Sunday of the Year: January 31, 2010 by Fr. James
Third Sunday of the Year: January 24, 2010 by Fr. Christopher
Second Sunday of the Year: January 17, 2010 by Fr. Hilary
The Baptism of the Lord: January 10, 2010 by Fr. John

Fourth Sunday of the Year

  • January 31, 2010
  • by Fr. James
  • Jer. 1:4-5, 17-19
  • 1 Cor. 12:31-13:13
  • Luke 4:21-20


If you were listening carefully last Sunday and have a good memory, you will have noticed that today’s gospel reading begins with the very same verse that concluded the gospel we heard a week ago, namely, Jesus’ words: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And what was that scripture passage we heard a week ago? It was a short text from Isaiah about God’s anointing the prophet “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives,” and “to let the oppressed go free.” St. Luke is therefore telling us, in the most direct way possible, that this is what Jesus came to do, just as it was the message and mission of earlier prophets like Isaiah, Amos, and Micah.

What we heard in today’s gospel also encapsulates the response that Jesus and all the earlier prophets received, a response that was actually twofold. On the one hand, there was enthusiastic acclaim, very much in accord with what Luke wrote a few verses earlier about Jesus’ going around preaching in the synagogues of Galilee and being “praised by all” (Lk 4:15). In today’s gospel, we hear that the people in his hometown of Nazareth “spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Lk 4:22). But when they went on to ask one another, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” perhaps a different note was sounded. While their question might signify pleasant surprise at what could be called “the success of a hometown boy,” it could also reflect cynical indignation, as much as to say, “Who does he think he is, daring to claim that the words of the great prophet Isaiah are being fulfilled in himself?”

Regardless of how we interpret their question “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” an extremely hostile reaction is very clear in the subsequent verses, which go so far as to show Jesus’ hearers ready to cast him headlong off the edge of a cliff. Most commentators have concluded that this final part of today’s passage was originally separate, a so-called “rejection story” that Luke joined to the foregoing account of Jesus’ hearers reacting so positively to the words he spoke in their synagogue. Even if this conflation might strike some hearers as artificial and abrupt, it was actually a stroke of genius for St. Luke to bring these two accounts together in this way, for a prophet like Jesus will in fact normally provoke two very different reactions: joyful acceptance on the part of some, but angry or even murderous rejection on the part of others. One of the very best modern commentators on this gospel has it exactly right when he says: “Luke has deliberately put this story at the beginning of the public ministry to encapsulate the entire ministry of Jesus and the reaction to it. The fulfillment-story stresses the success of his teaching under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but the rejection story symbolizes the opposition that his ministry will evoke among his own.”

One very important thing that today’s passage tells us, then, is that Jesus had to have been aware from very early on in his public ministry of the fate that awaited him. He applies to himself the proverb that “no prophet is accepted in his own native place,” and some time later, while in discussion with some scribes and Pharisees on his way up to Jerusalem, he says, “The wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles; some of them they will kill and persecute’ in order that this generation might be charged with the blood of all the prophets shed since the foundation of the world …” (Lk 11:49-50). Yes, to be a prophet, to speak in a serious way about proclaiming liberty to captives and letting the oppressed go free, is to put oneself in clear danger of being killed by people intent on preserving the status quo.

To illustrate what I mean with a much more recent example, consider the case of the murdered bishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, the thirtieth anniversary of whose death will be commemorated two months from now. To be sure, at the beginning of his ministry Romero was timid and unobtrusive, very unlike Jesus. As a young priest, he hardly ever quoted the statements that the Latin American bishops had promulgated at their conference in Medellin, Colombia, some years earlier, since Romero considered those documents too critical of a social status quo which he was quite content to see continue. But once he was named archbishop of San Salvador, the capital city of his country, and once he became more familiar with the brutal, indeed murderous, tactics of a military and political oligarchy who would tolerate only the most superficial changes, Romero himself changed. In a country where fewer than one percent of the population owned forty percent of the land and did everything possible to prevent peasants from organizing to improve their lot, Archbishop Romero began speaking boldly on behalf of the poor, though always advocating non-violent methods. In one of his homilies, broadcast across the country by radio, he went into the following details about what he had encountered in what he called “the world of the poor” and why he knew things had to change:

There I have met [agricultural] workers without land and without steady employment, without running water or electricity in their homes, without medical assistance when mothers give birth, and without schools for their children. There I have met factory workers who have no labor rights, and who get fired from their jobs if they demand such rights; human beings who are at the mercy of cold economic calculations. There I have met the mothers and the wives of those who have disappeared, or who are political prisoners. There I have met the shantytown dwellers, whose wretchedness defies imagination, suffering the permanent mockery of the mansions nearby.

Like Jesus, Oscar Romero knew that his words calling for change put his life in danger, above all when he commanded members of the Salvadoran military not to obey murderous orders of their government. In an interview he gave just two weeks before his assassination, he said: “As a shepherd, I am obliged by divine mandate to give my life for those I love—for all Salvadorans, even for those who may be going to kill me. If the threats are carried out, from this moment I offer my blood to God for the redemption and for the resurrection of El Salvador.” As you know, the threats were indeed carried out: he was shot to death while celebrating the Eucharist in a hospital chapel on March 24, 1980. For some years afterward, it seemed that his sacrifice would not contribute to the redemption and resurrection of which he spoke, for thousands more Salvadorans died in the fighting that raged throughout the country during a long civil war, including the rector of the Catholic university in San Salvador and five of his fellow Jesuits, murdered in their residence in November, 1989.

Subsequently, however, the situation changed quite dramatically. A truce has been in place for eighteen years, and just this month the president of the country, Mauricio Funes, issued a public apology for what he called “grave violations of human rights and abuse of power” by governmental and semi-official forces during the war. Two months previously President Funes awarded his country’s highest honor, the National Order of Jose Matias Delgado, posthumously to the six murdered Jesuits. As for Archbishop Romero, Pope John Paul II pronounced him to be a “Servant of God,” the first step on the way to eventual canonization, and Pope Benedict has called him “a man of peace and dialogue [whose] cause must go forward.” Whether or not Oscar Romero ever reaches the official status of sainthood, he is already recognized as such by millions of people in Latin America and around the world. His tomb in the cathedral of San Salvador is a pilgrimage site, a statue of him fills a prominent niche on the western I of Westminster Abbey in London, and a Protestant church in New York City is named “San Romero de América.”
In that same interview I quoted earlier, Archbishop Romero said, “I have often been threatened with death. I must tell you, as a Christian I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people. I say so without boasting, with the greatest humility.” We might add the words “and with the greatest confidence,” for here was a man who truly believed the words of the Lord to another prophet, Jeremiah, which we heard in today’s first reading:

Gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you.
Be not crushed on their account as though I would leave you crushed before them.
For this day I have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass …
They will fight against you but not prevail over you,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. (Jer 1:4-19, passim)

May we take those words to heart, and through our sharing in this morning’s Eucharist may something of that courage characterize our own words and deeds, even if we are not given the blessed opportunity to manifest it in the exemplary way of Jesus and Oscar Romero.

Fr. James Wiseman
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Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., The Gospel According to Luke (I-IX): Introduction, Translation, and Notes, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981), 529.
Archbishop Oscar Romero, “The Political Dimension of the Faith from the Perspective of the Option for the Poor,” in Liberation Theology A Documentary History, ed. Alfred T. Hellelly, S.J. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990), 295. I have changed the editorial “we” to the singular pronoun “I.”
Quoted by James Brockman, Romero: A Life (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1989), 248.
Cindy Wooden, “Magazine says Archbishop Romero was killed for actions of faith,” Catholic News Service, HYPERLINK “http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506300.htm” http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0506300.htm (accessed Jan. 26, 2010).
Brockman, 248.

Third Sunday of the Year

  • January 24, 2010
  • by Fr. Christopher
  • Neh. 8:2-6, 8-10
  • 1 Cor. 12:12-30
  • Luke 1:1-4, 14-21

In the readings today we have two scenes of people’s hearing read to them the scriptures, the inspired word of God. In the first reading from the book of Nehemiah the priest Ezra and the Levites say to the people after reading to them the Mosaic law:

“Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”.

All the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law that articulated the duties and privileges of their covenant relationship with their God, the God of the patriarchs, prophets and judges.

For any law to be valid it must be published, made known to those who are subject to it. The reading of the law in a public place before the Water Gate to all the men, women and children old enough to understand was a kind of religious ritual commanded by Moses. At the priest’s opening of the scroll, the people raised their hands and voiced their ‘amens’. They bowed their heads and they prostrated themselves. These are ritual gestures.

Why would the people be weeping at hearing the law explained to them? We weep for different reasons: for sadness surely at tragic events that touch us deeply. A man who was trapped with several of his business partners in a pile of rubble in Haiti for sixty hours said he could not help but cry when they pulled him out. We can weep for joy, or laugh till we cry. The desert fathers and mothers speak of a ‘gift of tears’ which can come with a painful sorrow for one’s sins mingled with the joy of knowing that the sufferings of Jesus purchased their forgiveness. Maybe that is why it is not infrequent that penitents – and confessors, too – weep during the sacrament of reconciliation. These exiles who had returned from Babylon were likely weeping because they had not been keeping the full extent of the Mosaic Law as they heard it read, explained, and interpreted in its fullness. The sanctions for not observing the law were severe for both individuals and the nation, expressions of God’s justice and God’s displeasure at covenant infidelity.

The scene described in today’s gospel was another instance of public reading of the sacred writings. Again a scroll was unrolled, people were attentive, all eyes were on Jesus. Not this time the whole law, only a short significant excerpt from the prophet Isaiah. The passage is written in the first person: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me.” In the context of the prophet’s writings these words most likely refer collectively to Zion, that is, the whole Jewish nation. However, Jesus claims it for himself personally.

Are we not engaged in a similar ritual right here and now? We sit and stand. We make gestures on our forehead, lips and over our heart. We voice our responses as the reading of the scriptures is announced to us. Hopefully we were listening. Why are we doing this? St. Luke tells us at the beginning his gospel: it is “for you to realize the certainty of the teachings you have received”.

Jesus chose his apostles to be eyewitnesses to what he did and taught, to preach his message of good news. We are the beneficiaries of that testimony of the apostolic eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and work, written down in the New Testament after his and their deaths.

The scriptures are like a field full of hidden treasures, discoverable by those who persevere in searching for them. Somewhere it is said that if you do not know the scriptures you do not know Jesus. The letter to the Hebrews states: “The word of God is the sword of the Spirit” for use in fighting our spiritual battles.

When youthful David says to Goliath: “You come against me with sword, spear and scimitar, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, “ we can claim and use that word in our own battles against the forces of darkness and evil in the world. Today we heard that assurance from Ezra and the Levites: “Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength.” We can claim that for ourselves when we are being tested by life’s vicissitudes. Try it. It is true. Think of the response of the three young men in the book of Daniel threatened with the flaming furnace if they did not worship the king’s idols.

“If the God whom we serve is able to save us from the blazing furnace and from your power, then he will. But even if he does not, …be assured we will not bow down to your god… the golden statue that you have set up.”

That has to be the purest expression of religious devotion to the one true God there is. Do what the three young men did in the fiery furnace; they called on all creation to praise God. In your testing you too may experience a cool, soothing breeze from the wings of the angels sent to protect you. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation from the second Vatican Council can teach us much about the power of knowing and using this gift of the Word of God in our daily struggles with evil in the world and in our own hearts.

But now we move from word to sacrament, to fulfill our covenant duty – and privilege – by offering the perfect sacrifice to God, our Father. We can do this as members of the living body of Christ that St. Paul spoke of, united by the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. To the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, revealed to us in the word of God and in the sacramental action at the altar let there be praise, honor, glory and thanksgiving now and forever. AMEN

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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Second Sunday of the Year

  • January 17, 2010
  • by Fr. Hilary

 

Dear friends,

May I invite you to offer this mass, as I shall, for those who have died as a result of the earthquake in Haiti, including Archbishop Miot, as well as all the injured and all who are striving to help and bring order in the midst of catastrophic conditions.

Being let to consider our own mortality, let us call to mind our sins and weaknesses.
Lord, you are gracious to all who turn to you, LHM;
Lord , you are the strength of all who trust in you, CHM.
Lord Jesus you live always to intercede for us. LHM.
May almighty God.

[GLORIA]

These “Sundays of the Year” are a relatively brief interval between the larger blocs of Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. This so-called ordinary time always begins with the remembrance of the Baptism of the Lord; the period varies in length, depending on the variable date of Easter. This year there are six such Sundays before Ash Wednesday, February 17. The Gospels this year, Year C, are mostly from the Gospel of St. Luke.

However, today’s gospel is from St. John.

Is our life of faith something like a treasure hidden in a field? Can we find in today’s readings a common theme? I must confess I found the selections of today’s readings something of a puzzle until I came upon the following explanation:

What was strong in the Advent/Christmas period was “newness.” The birth of Jesus began a new era. Today’s readings can all be seen as reflections on this newness, as symbols of the wedding of heaven and earth.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah brings God’s message to an enslaved people: “You shall be called by a new name. . . No more shall men call you “Forsaken” or your land “Desolate.” As a Bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”

God’s concern for his people—for all people, is heralded in a new way, in the story of the wedding feast at Cana. Cana must have been near Nazareth. The story of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple shows that Mary did not understand everything about her child Jesus. How could she totally comprehend the message of the angel at the annunciation? She knew something very important, but not everything. At Cana she was prescient enough to see that something was going wrong at the wedding feast. She tells Jesus, “They have no more wine.” Jesus at once replies with an apparent rebuke; “My hour has not yet come.” So the mother of Jesus simply but magnificently says to the steward, “Do whatever he tells you.” In the words of a commentator,

The new wine that Jesus provides symbolizes the intoxicating nature of the newness he brings . . Through Mary, God called Jesus into ministry, a ministry that would bring the fruits of the final fulfillment of the world,” a transformation that will be the ultimate creation of God.1 – The final kingdom of God, the wedding of heaven and earth.

There is something of newness in the second reading as well. A question that may appear crazy: Do we give the Holy Spirit time to work as we celebrate the mass?

In E. P. III “We ask you “Father, to make these gifts holy by the power of your Spirit, tha they may become the body and blood of your son.” But the Spirit is present and active in every moment of the mass. Think of the inspired word of God: the inspiration, the ‘breathing into’ continues in all the proclaimed words of the holy scriptures if we give time and attention enough to let this happen.

When he wrote to the Corinthians, St. Paul was well aware of the activity of the Holy Spirit. These citizens of Corinth are relatively new converts to the revolutionary way of Christian life. Aspects of this life may seem bizarre to us. He says, “to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given differently to individuals for the common good.” The gifts of the spirit: Wisdom in discourse, the power to express knowledge; then faith, the gift of healing, miraculous powers, Prophecy, discernment of spirits; the gift of tongues, the interpretation of tongues. Paul’s emphasis is that all these gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit, produced by the Holy Spirit, and should not be the source of pride or jealousy.

St. Paul does not call these gifts extraordinary, but they may seem so to most of us, including myself. Was there something special about the water in Corinth that made the Corinthians so transparent to the activity of the Holy Spirit? Whatever the answer, we are all called today to be more aware of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our worship and in every aspect of our lives. May the same Holy Sprit be with us as we continue this Eucharist.

Fr. Hilary Hayden
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The Baptism of the Lord

  • January 10, 2010
  • by Fr. John
  • Isaiah 42, 1-4, 6-7
  • Acts 10:34-38
  • Luke 3:5-16, 21-22

In today’s Gospel we have Luke’s account of Jesus being baptized by John, and God’s manifestation to him:

The skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in visible form like a dove. A voice from heaven was heard to say, ˜You are my beloved Son. On you my favor rests.”

Luke puts this manifestation not during the baptism itself but after Jesus had been baptized and was praying. It was a revelation to Jesus of his identity and perhaps a confirmation of what he had humanly grown to realize. It was one of the most important moments in the life of Jesus. And this identity entails a mission. On the third Sunday of the Year, we will have Luke’s account of Jesus going to Nazareth toward the beginning of his ministry, being invited in the Synagogue to read the Scripture, searching for a passage in Isaiah and reading:

The spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, Recovery of sight to the blind and
release to prisoners. To announce a year of favor from the Lord (Is 61:1-2)

After reading this, Jesus said to the assembled people, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke writes of Jesus as led by the Spirit, and his ministry was faithful to who he was revealed to be and what ministry that entailed.

That passage Jesus chose to read at Nazareth has much in common with our first reading today, because in this passage God speaks of his servant:

with whom I am well pleased, Upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations; . . . . a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.

There are signs in the ministry of Jesus that Jesus understood himself and his ministry in part through the image of that mysterious servant whom Second Isaiah wrote about in the mid 6th century B.C. That servant was an instrument by whom God was to bring his people from exile in Babylon back to Zion — a harbinger of a much greater restoration or salvation that Jesus was to bring his people if they would accept him and his leadership.

We know that the baptism Jesus instituted was different from John’s who baptized with water but predicted that the one who was to come after him would “baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.” Jesus’ baptism was central to the identity of the disciples of Jesus who constituted the primitive Church. Jesus came to gather all Israel into his kingdom, but since most of the Jews did not accept him, it was those who came to believe in him and consecrate themselves by baptism to him as their Messiah and Lord who constituted the New Israel and inherited the promises made to the Patriarchs and through the Prophets. They were given a share in Jesus’ filial relation to the Father, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and so a new identity that entailed a new relationship with one another as well as with God and a new mission to witness to Jesus by their lives and deeds, so that his gift could be shared with many others, Jews and Gentiles. This was a profound change in who they previously understood themselves to be. They were now different from those around them, and were recognized as different.

Initially, they did not understand this fully; it was only through time and changing circumstances that they grew in understanding the mystery of who they were and what Christ had given them. — We see this in the second reading. In the passage previous to this reading in Acts, Peter had a vision indicating that all foods were clean, but he had resisted it three times. Then, Gentiles sent by the Roman centurion Cornelius at the bidding of an angel came to Peter and asked him to go to his household. There, while Peter was proclaiming Jesus, the Spirit of the Lord fell upon Cornelius and his whole family, and Peter said that he began to see that “God shows no partiality. Rather, the man of any nation who fears God and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.” And Peter had all the household baptized, Gentiles though they were, with no condition that they embrace the Jewish law. Later he had to defend his action before leaders of the Church in Jerusalem.

By belief in Jesus and commitment to him by baptism we too have been give a new identity; we are different from others. This identity is a new and closer relationships to God through the one he sent to be mediator between human beings and himself, the gift of the Spirit ,a new bond with Christ’s other followers and a share in his mission,. We share in the filial relation Jesus had to the Father; we are offered his Spirit and his own mind (I Cor 2:16); and we are given a share in his mission to the larger world. We see this vividly in the saints who grew to realize this more deeply and live it more deeply, but we all have been given it and are called to cooperate with God who wishes his gifts to grow to maturity in us and bear much fruit. There is no greater dignity or possibility we have.

But unfortunately many Christians in our country do not value or live it. In a survey a couple of years ago, 2/3 of Christians of main line Churches identified themselves first as Americans and secondly as Christians, while 2/3 of Evangelicals identified themselves first as Christians and secondly as Americans. There has been in our country over the last few decades a massive over-assimilation by many Christians to values of the surrounding culture that are antithetical to being Christian. That is the world in which we live. It is a temptation to all of us to accept ourselves only as we can see and feel ourselves, not as those who share in Christ’s relation to the Father as faith tells us we have been given by baptism. But we are called to reflect Christ who is the light of the world, to be a lamp put in a high place and a city built on a hill. May God’s grace be fruitful in us this year. May our celebration of the baptism of Jesus and recall of our own baptism help us to search out ways to live this gift more consciously, gratefully, generously, and fully.

Fr. John Farrelly
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