Homilies - May 2011

Select a homily to read:
Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 29, 2011 by Fr. Boniface
Second Sunday of Easter: May 1, 2011 by Fr. James

Sixth Sunday of Easter

  • May 29, 2011
  • by Fr. Boniface
  • Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
  • 1 Peter 3:15-18
  • John 14:15-21

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.”

A few years ago, a young man wrote: “I’m a very logical, scientific-minded person. I need proofs for everything. Yet something has happened to me here in college that I can’t explain rationally, scientifically, or even psychologically. I’ve become totally preoccupied with Jesus Christ, who I somehow feel is working within me. . . I can’t explain this feeling. It came about mainly these past few months, when I began reading about the early Christians. I was so amazed and in awe of these people that I found it impossible to question Jesus or doubt who he is—the Son of God. Call it crazy, psychotic, or whatever… I can’t explain it, nor does it go away.”1

Anthony Bloom, Archbishop in the Russian Orthodox Church and well known spiritual writer and the son of Russian émigrés living in France had become a non believer in his younger years A priest was scheduled to talk to a Russian youth group in Paris to which he belonged. During the talk, young Anthony Bloom became more and more repulsed by Christ and Christianity. Hurrying home, he found a book of the Gospels and began checking what the priest had said in his lecture. And so he started to read St. Mark’s Gospel. Before he reached the third chapter, he became suddenly aware that on the other side of his desk was a presence. The certainty that it was Christ standing there was so strong that it never left him. In an interview, he said: “Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the crucifixion [of Jesus] was true, and the centurion was right when he said “Truly this is the Son of God.” It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history.”2

Christ is with us, even as he promised. In his Farewell Discourse, Jesus told his grieving disciples that he was going away, referring to his passion and death, and the world would see him no more. If the Master forsakes them, what will they do, where will they go? They are rudderless without him. And will all those ancient prophesies that seemed to point to him and which gave them so much hope fall into nothingness?

But listen! Jesus goes on to tell his followers: “I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live.” His going away refers to his death, but his coming again to his resurrection and his indwelling and not the parousia, the Second Coming. “You will see me.” As so often in John, the word “to see” is taken in two senses: to see with one’s bodily eyes is a symbol for seeing with the eyes of faith. The “world” that has rejected Jesus and his revelation and who knows the sight of the senses only will not be able to see him, but his disciples who accept him and believe in him, they will see him. In all the resurrection stories, it is his own that love him and are loved by him who are visited by him and see him. The same is true of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promises to send to them and will make him present to them.

Not only will Jesus make himself present to his disciples but he will ask the Father to send another companion, a second advocate (Jesus is the first), a paraclete to be with them to continue his work. The Greek word paraklete and the verb parakaleo can be translated in this legal sense as an intercessor, but also as “exhort,” “comfort,” “entreat”, “counsel”, or “encourage.” St. Paul uses this verb to exhort people and also to comfort. The head of a huge philanthropic foundation told a group of pastors and theologians that he viewed his role as “encourager.” This interpretation fits the role of the Holy Spirit very well.4

The Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, Advocate, or Encourager, here sent by the Father and not by Jesus, has several tasks or ministries. The Holy Spirit dwells within the Christian, and continues Jesus’ teaching ministry. As the Spirit of truth. The Advocate ratifies the teaching of Jesus who is himself the truth, the revelation of God. The world (by that is meant not the created world, but the world given over to untruth, darkness and sin) does not recognize or see the Advocate, who comes as the prosecutor to convict the world. The Dead Sea Scrolls use the expression “Spirit of truth’ to describe a force opposed to the angel of darkness.5 It is the Paraclete who makes Christ present to us and helps Christians make their own witness.

“The Father will give you another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, whom the world…neither sees nor knows. But you know him, because he remains with you and will be in you… On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (John 14:15-17; 20). These words express the unity of Jesus, the Father, and the disciples. Through the Spirit Jesus’ followers will be connected to Jesus and through Jesus to the Father. Jesus will leave them, leave us, in one sense but remain with us in another way. His death is not loss; it brings about another form of presence. It is relational even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are in relationship with each other and share a common life. It is a unity that is unbreakable from which flows a life deeper than and overcomes the life of this world which in all its forms ends in death. Living out Jesus’ commandments, especially the mutual love that we bear one another shows that we, Jesus’ disciples are at one with him since he is the one who empowers us to love even as he loves. The more we act out of the love of Christ, the more deeply do we experience the love of the Father. Our union with Jesus brings us also into union and relationship with others6 and with all of creation.

This happiness is not for us alone. We are called by our baptism to continue the ministry of Christ, to share that happiness and glory with the entire world, with all of creation assisting in bringing about the kingdom of God. It is Christ present among us who achieves this. Jesus comes among us, standing even now at the door of our hearts, begging admission so that the full glory of God may enter in, and through us the glory of God, the indwelling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, may permeate all of creation.

Of this coming and its implications, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes in the person of Jesus: “I am not one of the resurrected, I am the resurrection itself. Whoever lives in me, whoever is taken up into me, is taken up in resurrection. I am the transformation. As bread and wine are transformed [into my body and blood], so the world is transformed into me. The grain of mustard is tiny, and yet its inner might does not rest until it overshadows all the world’s plants. Neither does my resurrection rest until the grave of the last soul has burst, and my powers have reached even to the furthest branch of creation.”7

Fr. Boniface von Nell
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1 Robert Rybiki in Mark Link, Challenge 2000 (Allen, Texas, Tabor Publishing, 1993). 332)
2 Archbishop Anthony Bloom, Beginning to Pray (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1970) xi, xii
3 Roland J. Faley. Footprints on the Mountain (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1993) 346
4 Barbara R. Rossing et al. New Proclamation, Year A, 2005: Easter Through Pentecost (Minn., Fortress
Press, 2005) 61
5 Roland J. Faley, 346
6 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Year A (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 2004) 187, 188
7 Hans Urs von Balthasar in Gail Ramshaw, Richer Fare for the Christian People (N.Y., Pueblo Publishing Co., 1990) 41

Second Sunday of Easter

  • May 1, 2011
  • by Fr. James

Some of you may have seen a recent, hard-hitting article by Fr. Thomas Reese about the many Catholics who have either become Protestants or left church life altogether in recent years. Fairly or not, Fr. Reese took our bishops to task for being overly concerned with such matters as the best translation for certain terms in the Nicene Creed and not focusing on what various surveys indicate is the main reason for the exodus, namely, that people who left say that their need for spiritual and especially biblical nourishment was not being met. I do not intend to either affirm or refute Fr. Reese’s critique, but I would like to begin this homily by pointing out that there has also been some movement in the other direction. I recently received an email from a woman who was literally “the girl next door” as I was growing up. She was received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil a year ago and, since that time, has found life in her parish to be exceptionally nourishing. At one point in her message she said, “I am especially enjoying the Easter season since becoming a Catholic. I have found so much more meaning in the church activities [than in my previous denomination].”

As I pondered our second reading, from the First Letter of Peter, I thought of that woman and of others who have been received into the Church at the Easter Vigil in recent years, many of them actually being baptized at that service. Some commentators have argued that most of this letter of Peter was originally a baptismal homily, and even those who do not go that far readily admit that there is much material from the baptismal rite incorporated into it, including such things as the reference to “new birth” in this morning’s first verse. What is even more striking in the seven verses we heard is this: Although the official doctrine about the “three theological virtues” of faith, hope, and love arose later, these three virtues are all prominent in our reading: the Christian’s “new birth” is called “birth to a living hope,” those who received this new birth are said to be “safeguarded through faith by the power of God,” and these newly baptized Christians are said to love the Lord Jesus even though they have not seen him. There could hardly be a more succinct summary of what is most basic to our life as Christians. As was said by the author of the book I chose for this year’s Lenten reading—something stipulated by St. Benedict’s Rule in his chapter on Lent—

For Christians, maturity means the ability to live by faith, hope, and love. Christians are not people who follow a set of rules. Christians are, first and foremost, people who believe in God, hope for everything from him, and want to love him with all their hearts and to love their neighbors. The commandments, prayer, the sacraments, and all the graces that come from God (including the loftiest mystical experiences) have just one purpose: to increase our faith, hope, and love.

In the rest of this homily, I will simply say a bit about each one of these three virtues. First of all, faith is especially needful when one is facing some major obstacle. There is much evidence that the original recipients of the First Letter of Peter were undergoing persecution, possibly local harassment rather than systematic repression by the Roman state. Whatever may have been the “various trials” that are referred to in this morning’s reading, we know from personal experience that we, too, have to undergo trials of one sort or another, as does everyone who ever lived. When the Church examines the life of anyone who has been proposed for beatification or canonization, one of the key questions is how that person dealt with adversity. There are various ways of dealing with it, and I expect that anything short of totally giving up in despair is enough to keep one on the way to salvation. However, our great models, the saints, offer an especially bracing way in their words and by their example. Here is what one fine spiritual writer has had to say about this:

We should not limit ourselves to accepting things grudgingly, but should truly consent to them—not endure them, but in a sense ‘choose’ them…. Choosing here means making a free act by which we not only resign ourselves but also welcome the situation. That isn’t easy, especially in the case of really painful trials, but it is the right approach, and we should follow [it] as much as possible in faith and hope. If we have enough faith in God to believe him capable of drawing good out of whatever befalls us, he will do so. “As you have believed, so let it be done to you,” [Jesus] says repeatedly in the Gospel.

This can be difficult indeed, and that is why faith in God’s ability to draw good out of absolutely anything that befalls us is so important. To the extent that we find ourselves lacking in this regard, we need to keep saying with that man in Mark’s Gospel, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

The second theological virtue, hope, is likewise needful at such times, and perhaps especially near the end of one’s life. Here’s a little story from the book we’ve been using here at the abbey as our reading at the beginning of Compline, but since this passage was indicated for a date when we said Compline privately, not even our monks have yet heard it. It seems that a very prominent, wealthy man lay dying, surrounded by some family members, business associates, expert doctors and an array of expensive medical equipment, but all the man could say was, “I’m leaving home! I’m leaving home! What will become of me?” Across town there was another man dying, not surrounded by wealth or the best doctors, but rather his family, a minister, and a visiting nurse in his sparsely furnished bedroom. He looked around and said with a gleam in his eye, “I’m going home! I’m going home!” That man clearly understood what St. Paul meant in his Letter to the Philippians, when he wrote that our true citizenship, our real homeland, is in heaven, just as today’s reading speaks of an “imperishable, unfading inheritance kept in heaven for you by the power of God.” Hardly anything distinguishes us more from unbelievers than this hope, traditionally symbolized by an anchor. May this anchor keep us steady and firm as we continue on what is, after all, a very short sojourn in this world.

And finally, a word about what St. Paul in First Corinthians calls the greatest of all three of these virtues, love. I expect we usually think of this in terms of love of our neighbor, but it is worth noting that what our reading from First Peter refers to is love of Christ. On the one hand, we ought to avoid any sort of saccharine sentimentality in speaking of such love, but on the other hand we can truly be inspired by the way various holy men and women down the centuries have expressed their ardent love of their savior. Indeed, this personal, loving relationship with Christ is at the very heart of our discipleship, as was often noted by Pope John Paul II, whom we may now call Blessed John Paul II in light of his beatification today in Rome. One of the great themes of his pontificate is what he regularly called “the new evangelization,” and of this he wrote in one of his encyclicals: “The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.”

We are offered such a meeting every time we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, and these celebrations are themselves a foretaste of that ultimate meeting with the Lord when we pass on from this life to the next. That this is a meeting that we can rightly look forward to was expressed very powerfully in something I was reading recently about a 15th-century nun who lay dying and who clearly had a deep love for Christ. At one point, the priest asked her how she could appear so full of joy and why she was apparently not afraid of dying, to which Sister Mechtild simply replied: “I know that I must die if I am to come to true life. Why should I be afraid? My beloved Savior is going to be my judge. I love him, and he would never fail to show me love in return. Therefore it cannot but be a gentle judgment when one is being judged by one’s beloved.” Whether or not we would use exactly this language ourselves, this kind of personal relationship with Christ Jesus is part of bedrock Christianity. May our reception of his sacramental body and blood at this Eucharist deepen our relationship with him, not only at Eastertide but throughout the year.

Fr. James Wiseman
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Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York: Scepter, 2007), 95.
Ibid., 44-45.