Homilies - August 2013

Select a homily to read:
Eighteenth Sunday of the Year : August 4, 2013 by Fr. Christopher
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year (at the Caldwell Community of CUA): August 11, 2013 by Abbot James
Twenty-First Sunday of the Year: August 25, 2013 by Fr. Boniface

Eighteenth Sunday of the Year

  • August 4, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Christopher

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We recently finished a book in the refectory reading on the life of Abraham Lincoln, extolling his political genius in his administration of the country during his presidency and the civil war. Lincoln was not brought up as a church goer of organized religion. As a young man he set for himself the goal to achieve such a place of greatness in his lifetime that it would insure remembrance of him for generations to come. This and other statements he made are interpreted by some to indicate that he did not believe in an afterlife such as Christian faith understands it, even though he knew the Bible well. Some scholars say that later in life he did come closer to belief in a life with God after this one. In any event he accomplished the goal he set for himself, for his memory is revered still nearly150 years after his death and is likely to be remembered for centuries to come. There are others personages whose memory is imbedded in annals of history for a different kind of so-called greatness, by their ignoble lives, for the great harm and suffering they inflicted on many people. For common, ordinary folk, like most of us, unique personal remembrances of us may last for up to three or four generations. After that most are only a name on a birth certificate or on a tombstone. Does that make this brief life a vanity, just an empty show, full of futile effort with no lasting value, as we heard from the book of Ecclesiastes?

Whoever wrote that Old Testament book was very pessimistic about the meaning of human existence, if it has any meaning at all. No one can deny that the world as we experience it is full of contradictions and ambiguity, with its injustices, wars, genocides, its natural disasters, and its unequal distribution of goods and opportunities. Qoheleth bases some of his argument on the futility of a man laboring to accumulate wealth and property only to have it passed on to someone who does not appreciate it, preserve it and use it well, or to a fool who squanders it.

In the gospel when someone asks Jesus to intercede on his behalf in a family dispute over an inheritance, Jesus refused to get involved. We all know how sad and all too frequently it happens that heirs fight over the distribution of an inheritance, causing divisions in families that can remain unreconciled for a lifetime. Jesus took the occasion to teach all of us a life lesson: “Take care to guard against all greed… one’s life does not consist of possessions.” In the parable about the rich man and his super harvests Jesus echoes Qoheleth’s argument when he challenges the rich man’s plans for bigger barns and years of comfort: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you: and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?” But there is a major difference as we know. All of our restless searchings for happiness, for inner peace, for security are never satisfied here on earth. We long for something more than these transitory things can give. In generation after generation people’s lives are as different as that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich and the many poor. Both die. Death is the great equalizer. If that is the end of unique personal existence, what difference does it make? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Let the poor and oppressed scrap along as best they can.

Today’s gospel closed with Jesus’ words: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich i n w h a t m a t t e r s t o G o d”. Being rich in what matters to God is the difference. Belief that there is a God, the source of all life, and that we are made in his image and likeness and destined for an eternal life give us a purpose in life that sees beyond the curtain of death. What matters to God is exactly what St. Paul writes about to the Colossians. When our daily life is hidden with Christ in God, when we give up our earthly tendencies to immorality, evil desires and greed, we begin to live a life that looks forward to the promises of Jesus in the revelations of the Father’s plan for our salvation. That plan invites all of us to live this life free from its futility of seeking fulfillment, happiness, and security in earthly things. Instead we are invited to conform our ways to those of Jesus, the first born of all creation, the Beloved Son sent by God to be our Redeemer.

As Jesus urged in the Sermon on the Mount, “Stop worrying, then, over questions like, ‘What are we to eat, or what are we to drink, or what are we to wear?’ The unbelievers are always running after these things. You heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.”

Fortunately that rather bleak picture of our days on earth is not the whole story. For as we sang in the opening hymn:

“The kingdom of God is justice a n d joy,
for Jesus restores what sin would destroy.
God’s power and glory in Jesus we know,
and here and hereafter the kingdom shall grow.

St. Benedict urges us to keep death daily before our eyes. Then we will not be deceived by false securities of passing treasures. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, unite ourselves with him in this sacrament of remembrance of his passion, death, and resurrection, and in his promise to be with us always. Where our heart is, there is our treasure. The closing verse of the entrance hymn sums up neatly today’s message about life’s goal and our true inheritance:

“God’s kingdom is come, the gift and the goal,
in Jesus begun, in heaven made whole;
the heirs of the kIngdom shall answer his call,
and all things cry ‘Glory!’ to God all in all.

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year

  • August 11, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

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This homily was given for the Caldwell Community on the Catholic University campus.

In our reading from the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews we heard parts of what is certainly one of the most eloquent parts of the entire Bible, a lofty recounting of the faith of many of the great figures of the Old Testament. This morning’s verses centered on Abraham and Sarah, but earlier ones speak of the faith of Abel and Noah, and later ones of Moses, Rahab, David, Samuel, and others whom the author of the letter calls “a great cloud of witnesses.” It is especially fitting to reflect on this reading today, not simply because we are in what Pope Benedict declared a “Year of Faith” but also because it is the theme of Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, “the light of faith.” Pope Francis frankly and humbly admitted that the encyclical is the work of four hands—those of Benedict as well as his own, and it is relatively easy to spot parts that were originally from Benedict, such as the quotations from Friedrich Nietzsche, Fyodor Dostoevski, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The end result is, nevertheless, a nicely unified and well-integrated whole which I think every one of you would do well to read. All I want to do this morning is single out two passages that have considerable practical importance and relate them to some points made in a book that is said to have had a more profound impact on our intellectual and spiritual lives than any other work in our generation, Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, a book that remained on the New York Times best-seller list for an astounding ten years and has been translated into 23 languages.

The first passage from the encyclical goes as follows:

When Moses is speaking to God on Sinai, the people cannot bear the mystery of God’s hiddenness; they cannot endure the time of waiting to see his face [and so they begin worshipping an idol. But] faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession that sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light while respecting the mystery of a countenance that will unveil itself personally in its own good time. (no. 13)

In terms of Scott Peck’s famous book, those Israelites were not up to the challenge of “delayed gratification,” and yet this is one of the most important disciplines anyone could ever develop in order to lead a fruitful and productive life, and this is just as true of the strictly religious part of our lives as of any other part. As St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, in this life “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), and there is something definitely demanding about this. In fact, it is a kind of martyrdom, so much so that non-religious persons may consider it downright preposterous. It’s not that faith is utterly irrational, for we can indeed give a reasoned defense of our faith, but it could never possibly be as clear and self-evident as 2 + 2 = 4, and for this reason we may indeed be tempted, like the ancient Israelites, to set up one or another kind of idol in place of our dedication to an all-loving but nevertheless hidden God. May the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us—not just the Old Testament figures named in the Letter to the Hebrew but also the many holy men and women who have graced the Christian tradition for two millennia—inspire and strengthen us as we journey toward the kingdom where all of them already rejoice.

Somewhat related to what I have said already is another powerful passage from the new encyclical, this one from its final chapter. There, Pope Francis writes:

Faith is not a light that scatters all our darkness but a lamp that guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments that explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness that touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. (no. 57)

Here, too, I find a remarkable convergence with a passage from The Road Less Traveled. As you probably know, one of Scott Peck’s main concerns was the way children are raised, for if they do not have in early life an assurance of being genuinely loved and valued by their parents, it will be extremely difficult for them to arrive at a healthy sense of self-worth that could see them through the inevitable turmoil of later life. Just as Pope Francis writes of God’s being an “accompanying presence … that touches the very story of [our] suffering,” so too will a truly loving mother or father be such a presence. Dr. Peck writes:

In taking time to observe and to think about their children’s needs, loving parents will frequently agonize over the decisions to be made and will, in a very real sense, suffer along with their children. The children are not blind to this. They perceive it when their parents are willing to suffer with them, and although they may not respond with immediate gratitude, they will learn also to suffer. “If my parents are willing to suffer with me,” they will tell themselves, “then suffering must not be so bad, and I should be willing to suffer with myself.” This [Peck concludes] is the beginning of self-discipline.1

I don’t know how many of you may have children still living at home, where such accompaniment may be most readily attainable, but even apart from the world of parenting, we can all learn something from this part of the encyclical and the similar reflections of Scott Peck, for in one way or another all of us have multiple opportunities to accompany others in their suffering, even as we often need such accompaniment ourselves. The life of faith is never simply a matter of “me and God,” but rather of our being part of a wide, indeed a worldwide, community, all of whose members are in some degree called to be responsible for one another. This may be most obvious for those in the so-called helping professions, but there will be many opportunities for any of us to show our love for others by standing with them in their times of need, just as we monks at St. Anselm’s are going to be called to do in the coming days for a woman who is even now driving down from New York to grieve her brother, a homeless man who committed suicide on our property a few days ago. As Pope Francis writes in Lumen Fidei, “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love” (no. 26). May our fellowship this morning, our communion in the sacramental body and blood of Christ, nourish our own faith, deepen our love, and make firm the hope that one day we, too, will be part of that cloud of witnesses that goes all the way back to Moses, Abraham, and Abel.

Abbot James Wiseman
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1 M. Scott Peck, M.D., The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, 25th Anniversary Edition (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 23.

Twenty-First Sunday of the Year

  • August 11, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Boniface

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Enter Through the Narrow Gate

It is with urgency that Jesus traveled the length and breadth of the Holy Land proclaiming that “The kingdom is at hand.” It is with the same pressing insistence that that message reaches us today. Our destiny and that of the whole human race depends on how well we pay attention to it.

The teachings of the liturgy from the eighteenth through the twenty first Sunday form a unit. It is made all the more serious against the background of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. In the background we can hear his constant cry: “Change your lives, for the kingdom is at hand.”

These teachings remind the disciple of the uselessness of storing up material goods. We are reminded to choose our options according to the end goals of the Christian life (eighteenth Sunday). the ultimate return of the Lord (nineteenth Sunday), the total commitment to Christ that the gospel demands (twentieth Sunday). The call to salvation is addressed to all, but the door is narrow. Hurry, for the door will not remain open forever! (twenty- first Sunday).1

In following this teaching, we do no more than follow Jesus himself. It is the way he himself had to walk. Jesus, the Word made flesh, impoverished himself so that we might become rich and share in his divinity. His driving force, the fire that burned within him was to do the will of the Father, and he would not rest until it had been accomplished no matter what the cost. In undergoing the baptism of his passion, he would be raised up by the Father so that the whole world might be filled with the fire of his Spirit.2

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will go through his own narrow door. On the way someone asks him: “Lord, will only a few be saved?” It was a question debated among some Jews that in the age to come, all the people of Israel would be seated at the heavenly banquet. The prophetic tradition, however, was not as confident. Ethnic and religious bonds would not be enough. In the age to come different standards would be applied. Jesus belongs to the prophetic tradition.3

The question, I dare say, has occurred to us all especially if we have paid close attention to the demands of the gospel while conscious of our own weakness. It is a question we might ask ourselves in times of discouragement or in the hope of being reassured: “If not many are to be saved, what chance do I have?”;   “If in the end there is room for many, in fact most, why do I need to worry about earning a high place in the kingdom?”4

We can see from the gospel that it is the wrong question to ask, and Jesus will not answer it. Instead, the answer should be: “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 18:18). The way to the messianic banquet is by the narrow gate.

Two images come to my mind: The first is that of the city gate of Jesus’ time. Caravans loaded with the riches of the country side and foreign lands pass through it. Great crowds of people enter casually, as well as parades of soldiers. But there is another entrance alongside of the great portals. It is the narrow gate which admits only one person at a time and is strictly controlled. The second image is that which Jesus gives of himself. In speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, he states that “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pastures” (Jhn 10:9).

In either case, it is not a case of casually walking in off of the street. The gospel uses the word “strive” that is a struggle is involved, a struggle against ourselves and whatever would tear us away from God.  Jesus warns us against an over confident approach. We cannot take our salvation for granted. A serious effort is needed to attain eternal salvation.5

Our first reading from Isaiah invites all nations to the worship of the one God in Jerusalem. A sign will be given: the summons of the Gentiles together with the Jews of the Diaspora to temple worship. Some of the Gentiles will be sent to evangelize distant lands. Some will even serve in the temple ministry.

It is against this background of universal salvation, that Jesus tells his contemporaries that the first will be last and the last will be first. The rejection of Jesus by his coreligionists will bring about the fulfillment of this prophecy. The parable as told in Luke is, however, a warning to his gentile converts and to us down through the ages that vigilance and repentance is ongoing. Without that entrance through the narrow gate will be impossible.

The narrow gate will always include the cross even as it did for Christ. And that is why the Letter to the Hebrews takes up the theme of suffering.  At the end of the preceding passage to our excerpt, we are told to turn our eyes to Jesus who, having endured the sufferings and humiliation of the cross, entered into the glory of God (Heb 12: 1-4). The author of Hebrews sees suffering as discipline, even instruction by a loving Father, molding us in the image of Christ   It is not to confound us but to strengthen us and deepen our filial relationship, the gift of the Spirit. What we are always to keep in mind is that the very cross with which Jesus was rejected and condemned was turned into a sign of victory by his loving embrace of the will of God. And so suffering, by uniting us to the crucified Christ, becomes part of the door that will lead us into the kingdom.

The cross is one feature of the narrow door. But as narrow as the door is, we do not come through it alone. Another feature of its architecture is the spending of ourselves for others even as Christ spent himself for us. The Christian way means detachment from self, going the extra mile, and turning the other cheek. Each day calls us to new challenges as we live out our faith following in Christ’s footsteps:7 “Love one another as I loved you” (John 15:12).

There is another image of a door. We are all familiar with the painting of the thorn crowned Christ, lantern in hand knocking at the door of our hearts. Opening wide that door to let Christ in there to reign and to live in his friendship propels us through the narrow gate of the kingdom.

Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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1 Days of the Lord, v.6 Ordinary Time, Year C (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 1991) 182
2 Days of the Lord, p. 184
3 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers And Teachers, Year C (Collegeville, Min., Liturgical Press, 2006) 233 4 Days of the Lord, 178
4 Days of the Lord, 178
5 Desmond Knowles, Voicing a Thought on Sundays (Dublin, Columba Press, 1991) 352
6 Roland J. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1994) 564
7 Roland J. Faley, 565