Homilies - August 2012

Select a homily to read:
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year: August 12, 2012 by Fr. Peter
Close of Community Retreat: August 18, 2012 by Abbot James
Twentieth Sunday of the Year: August 19, 2012 by Fr. Christopher

Nineteenth Sunday of the Year

If we stop where today's first reading ended, "He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, in Horeb," we do not know what happens next.  However, if you read further, we find out that after walking forty day and nights, Elijah was hiding from, orperhaps searching for God in a cave on the top of Mount Hebron.  While there, many frightening natural events took place.  But God was not in the ferocious wind, not in the terrible earthquake, not in the all-consuming fire.  But after the fire there was a quiet whispering voice, and Elijah hid his face in his cloak forhe knew God was present.  The whispering voice commanded Elijah to go forth and do many things.  But after doing some of these tasks, anointing Hazael, king of Aram and Jehu, king of Israel, the consequenceswere not what were expected.  We witness a bloody mess with deadly conflicts, wars, and other impending disasters.  So what does this have to do with us?  Or, in Hamlet’s words: “What is Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?”  (Actually, Shakespeare borrowed these thoughts from Euripides, but that is another story.)

Well, we have all gotten up this morning; we ate and drank, and are strengthened by that food.  Some of ushave walked forty, fifty, or more years, day and night, until we reached the top of this sacred hill (ourbiblical Mount Hebron).  And like Elijah, we hide and wait in this cave, this chapel, perhaps this “School of the Lord’s service.”  During some of these journeys, we have lost grandparents and parents, we have lost classmates and friends, we have lost brothers and sisters, we have lost comrades in arms, and we too have seen wars and death close up.  This past summer, I watch the TV News on PBS and they showed in silencethe photos of the dead and mostly young soldiers, 21, 25, 27, 19; these are the martyrs of today, perhaps not for the cause of the Church, nonetheless martyrs for other causes.  

Overwhelmed by such tragic loss of youth, I was comforted by visiting some war memorials where I came across the words of the Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky:  "Less eager than willing, more dutiful than brave, brave when required, democracy's children, they gave their service far from home, and saw they came as victors, not conquerors, in freedom's name."  Yes, we have witnessed the best of times and the worst of time, and in that sense, we are the survivors of a great and tediously long sojourn.

Our reading from Ephesians tells us that even in our struggles, we have to put aside all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and all malice.  Instead, we should be "kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving oneanother as God has forgiven us in Christ."  We have the strength to do this because Christ handed Himself over to us as the sacrificial offering.  And so, we begin again.  And today's Gospel tell us that this Christ is "the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  If we eat of this food and drink of this blood, we can get up and walk forever in our journey to the Father with and through our Lord, Jesus Christ.  

Yes, we are to be encouraged by the solace offered us in today’s New Testament readings.  I have been in this cave, this “School of the Lord’s Service,” since 1964.  After these many years, I am just beginning to understand that the reading of Scripture must be a matter of deep prayer, study, and scholarship.  However, this higher scholarship cannot be learned from books alone because the presumption is that wisdom and the subtle mystery of creation require interpretation by a qualified teacher, require the learner to become a true seeker.  

As we get older, we learn that in the world, studying and living form an integrated whole, not just a collection of parts.  We are one with the Apostles, one with Saint Benedict, Saint Anselm, and the martyrs of the Church; we are one with those killed in violent crimes in our own country and throughout the world; we are one with the young and the dead martyrs of Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are one with the forgotteninnocent civilian casualties of war.  As our closing hymn reminds us, “God is Love: and He enfoldeth all theworld in one embrace.”

We can no longer think as individuals, but rather we must think as integral members of a global Church.  Rabbi Cooper, who wrote a book called God is a Verb, says that: "The flag does not wave in the wind; the wind does not wave the flag.  The flag and the wind are interwaving."  This is another way to say that individuals and the whole Church, from the beginning to the end of time, are not separate; everyone and everything is interconnected.  In our journeys, we no longer can compartmentalize our knowledge or our lives.

Now that I am 72, and I realize that three-fourths of my life, or more, is over and what remains is likely to be inhibited by impairments of some kind.  So, I have to stop, catch my breath, and refocus.  Obviously, I do not much like this slowing down.  What this means for me is that I had better hurry up and get started on doing the new things that the whispering voice of God wants me to do in my limited future.

Yes, there is an inescapable diminishment, a Cross, we all must experience, a Cross in health, in body, and in mind.  And so we must prepare ourselves for an end.  Or, as Euripides has Hecuba say in his play: “Wherefore I implore you, powers divine, avert this horror—what shall I do—where shall I end my life?” These are the very sentiments that Saint Anselm uses in his Prayer Concerning the Cross:  "O wonder, beyond price and beyond compare, how will you comfort and recompense me for my grief?  It cannot cease while I am a pilgrim, far from my Lord.  What shall I say? What shall I do?  Whither shall I go?  Where shall I seek him?  Where and when shall I find him?  Whom shall I ask?"

It may be easy enough to understand that God can be grasped in and through every life.  “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”  But can God also be found in and through every death?  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” the beginning and the end.  This is the mystery of a Christian death.  The mystic Jesuit philosopher, and anthropologist, Teilhard de Chardin, struggled for most of his life with the concepts of death and the ultimate unity, the interconnectiveness of all things in Christ.  

He says that all of us one day or another will come to realize, if we have not already done so, that the process of disorganization or diminishment has installed itself at the very heart of our lives.  Sometimes it is the very cells of the body that rebel or become diseased with leukemia or cancer; at other times the very elements of our personality seem to be in conflict with reality or have run amok, and we suffer from great mental anguish.  And then, we as a wife, as a husband, as soldier, as a son, as a daughter, as a monk, or as a patient in a nursing home, stand by impotently and watch collapse, rebellion, and inner tyranny; and at times, no friendly influence can really come to our aid.  

And if by chance we escape, to a lesser or greater extent, the critical forms of war and other human tragedies and escape these invasions of sickness, we cannot escape old age.  Little by little over the years, old age robs us of ourselves and pushes us on towards an end.  Yes, time postpones possession even of our bodies, time can tear us away from enjoyment, and finally, time condemns us all to death.  But Christ's obedience turns this all upside down, and through Christ, we are made whole again. “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the Last Day.”

And so, as we celebrate today’s liturgy on this 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are here once againtogether in our cave on Mount Tabor with Elijah, perhaps for a few more weeks or fleeting years, waiting and rejoicing.  Yes, there is time and there is eternity, and somewhere in between we find ourselves alone and waiting.  There is a beginning and there is an end, and somewhere in between we must make a decision to accept the whispering voice of God's will in our lives.  And with the power of the Eucharist, as we get older, this decision to accept God’s will becomes easier; when we were young so many other things used to get in the way.

Concluding Prayer of Saint Anselm at the end of the petitions:

“God of love, whose compassion never fails;  we bring before You the troubles and perils of peoples and nations, the sighing of prisoners and captives, the sorrows of the bereaved, the necessities of strangers, the helplessness of the weak and sick, the despondency of the weary, the stumbling of youth, the failing powers of the aged.  O Lord, draw near to each; for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son.   Amen.”

"Less eager than willing, more dutiful than brave, brave when required, democracy's children, they gave their service far from home, and saw they came as victors, not conquerors, in freedom's name."  - Pinsky


He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. (1 Kings 19:7-4)

Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:9)

And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. (Ephesians 4:30-5:2)

No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him on the last Day. (John 6:41-51)

Fr. Peter Weigand
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Close of Community Retreat

Of the many memorable things Fr. John said during our community retreat that ends this morning, I expect we all recall his mention of once attending a wedding in a church of another denomination and finding in that church only two stained glass windows: one of Christ the Good Shepherd and the other depicting the scene we just heard in today’s Gospel: Jesus welcoming the little children to come to him: “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19:14). Fr. John was absolutely right in saying that to focus only on such scenes—the mild and gentle Jesus, even the warm and fuzzy one—without any reference to the cross is one-sided and terribly misleading. Even so, we can and ought learn something important from the Jesus presented to us in this particular Gospel. But what is it?

I’m pretty sure that lots of commentators have speculated on just what it is about children that made them, in Jesus’ eyes, especially fit for the kingdom. There is probably no single correct answer. Some might emphasize the way in which children are generally aware of their inability to do many things for themselves: they often need to be carried because they aren’t yet strong enough to walk a long distance; they need to be read to before they acquire the ability to read themselves; they aren’t yet able to cook and so rely on others to prepare their meals. And this, Jesus may well be saying, is the way it is with all of us: we cannot enter the kingdom by our own power, so in a childlike way we have to recognize our need of God’s initiating and supporting grace.

Others might emphasize the generally trusting nature of children, something that is in fact often a cause of great worry to parents since they realize that their child may well trust someone who actually wishes the child harm, and so the little ones get the message: “Don’t talk to strangers. Beware of people you don’t know.” That is, of course, good advice, but the childlikeness praised in the Gospel may well be saying that just as children tend to be trusting, so we adults should confidently trust in God’s ever-present desire only for our good.

I would simply like to suggest another possible reason why Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven belongs to children and those who are in any way childlike. I suppose many or most of our mothers kept a baby book, in which she could recount various things about her child’s early years. I sometimes look at mine, and on the occasion of my first Christmas, when I was only ten months old, Mother wrote that she had never seen anyone so fascinated by a Christmas tree. I would go up to it and, as far as I could reach, touch each and every bulb or ornament with my thumb, showing great delight in each one of them. What that so well illustrates is that for a child almost everything seems brand new, a source of endless fascination and joy. I’m sure that by my second or third Christmas I didn’t show the very same degree of enthusiasm over the tree, and those of us who have lived through many Christmases may no longer pay much attention to the decorations at all. In a somewhat jaded way, we tend to manifest the attitude: “Been there, done that.”

If this is so, then perhaps much of what Jesus recognized in little children was their instinctive ability to see and rejoice in something that may not have registered nearly as strongly on the consciousness of adults: what was really new and distinctive in his very being. It is instructive to look through the Bible and see the very frequent emphasis on newness: the Lord saying through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31); through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will give them a new heart and put a new spirit within them” (Ezek. 11:19); or through Isaiah, “See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? In the desert I am making a way, in the wasteland, rivers” (Is. 43:19), all of this culminating in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, where God, seated on the heavenly throne, proclaims: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

There may be no easy way for us adults to overcome our very non-childlike tendency to ignore the newness that Jesus brought into the world and still brings into it each day, each hour, each minute. But if we take the time to ponder the Scriptures in a regular and faithful way, and if we also become more and more familiar with the lives of the saints and see how, in their own varying circumstances, they were able to live out the Gospel and proclaim the kingdom in ever-new ways by what they said and did, then perhaps we can regain something of that childlike delight in the freshness that ought always to pervade the life of any follower of the Lord Jesus.

Abbot James Wiseman
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Twentieth Sunday of the Year

  • August 19, 2012
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Christopher

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We are told Man does not live on bread alone. In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8, where this statement first appears in the O.T., Moses is reminding the Israelites at the end of their 40 years wandering in the wilderness: “Be careful to observe all the commandments I enjoin on you today…God has directed all your journeying in the desert, so as to test you by affliction and find out whether or not it was your intention to keep his commandments. He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna… in order to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Obviously the barrenness of the desert could not produce the food for their needs, so the manna had to come from a commanding, creative word of God: Let there be manna and it was.

Even though miraculous, it was still just physical morsels to sustain the body. ‘Living by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ does not stop there. True, in some one time instances Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed thousands. There is another kind of hunger to satisfy - a spiritual hunger that needs spiritual food. Made in God’s image we have the gift of intellect, of understanding, a faint reflection of God’s all-knowing and total comprehension of all that is. What alone can satisfy the insatiable appetite of our minds for knowledge is the TRUTH and in its deepest mode WISDOM.

Job in his unaccountable afflictions questioned the source of wisdom: “Whence can wisdom be obtained and where is the place of understanding? Solid gold cannot purchase it, nor can its price be paid in silver (29: 12-14.) God knows the way to it…. For he beholds the ends of the earth and sees all that is under the heavens.” As we are told over and over by the psalmists and the wisdom writers, the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, being awed by his majestic sovereignty, authority. It means submitting ourselves to God’s right to rule his creation and bring it to his intended end.

King Solomon prayed for it as a gift when he inherited the throne of his father David. “God of my fathers, Lord of mercy, you who have made all things by your word… with you is wisdom who knows your works and was present when you made the world…. Send her forth from your holy heavens and from your glorious throne dispatch her that she may be with me and work with me, that I may know what is your pleasure. Thus my deeds will be acceptable and I shall judge your people justly and be worthy of my father’s throne.”

The book of Proverbs personifies Wisdom, a divine attribute intimate with God even before the world began. (chapter 8) “The Lord begot me, the firstborn of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies…before the earth (came to be). When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep, when he sets for the sea its limits, then I was beside him as his craftsman. I was his delight day by day, playing on the surface of his earth, I found delight in the sons of men.”

As we heard in the first reading taken from that book, wisdom plays the role of a woman who has labored in the kitchen preparing a banquet and now goes to invite the simple and those lacking understanding to come enjoy the feast. “Forsake foolishness that you may live.” Wisdom or folly: their divergent paths and outcomes are the core of many proverbs and parables, such as Jesus’ about the foolish and wise bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom to come. Someone said that all sin is from ignorance or stupidity, another name for folly. Folly is building one’s house on sand. To put one’s confidence, security, and pursuit of happiness primarily in things that will and must pass away is playing the fool.

In the second reading from Ephesians, Paul urges his readers, “Do not act like fools, but like thoughtful men. Do not continue in ignorance but try to discern the will of the Lord.” Yet as you know at another time Paul urges us to be fools as far as this world is concerned. Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 1 fol.) “Has not God turned the wisdom of this world into folly? Since in God’s wisdom the world did not come to know him through (so-called) “wisdom”, it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the gospel. Yes, Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified a stumbling block to Jews, and an absurdity to gentiles, but to those who are called… (he is ) the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

We grow in that divine wisdom by accepting the revelations of the Father’s will for our salvation that are revealed in the incarnation of his beloved Son, Jesus of Nazareth. He is not only the source of our wisdom but the daily bread that satisfies our hungry hearts. What do I hunger for? What do you hunger for? I hunger for mercy, for forgiveness, for love, for peace, and for fullness of life. Wisdom has prepared this meal for all who will accept his invitation. In accepting this invitation and sharing in this sacrificial banquet, we can feast on the true bread from heaven. It is food for the exodus and pilgrimage toward life on high with God. It is a pledge, the first payment on the promise of eternal life with God in Jesus.

The banquet is prepared. Come and eat.

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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