Homilies - August 2014
Select a homily to read:
Eighteenth Sunday of the Year: August 3, 2014 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year: August 10, 2014 by Fr. Boniface Von Nell
Twentieth Sunday of the Year: August 17, 2014 by Fr. Gabriel Myers
Opening of the School Year: August 21, 2014 by Abbot James Wiseman
Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year: August 31, 2014 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
- August 3, 2014
- Year A
- by Fr. Joseph
Why does the Bible speak so much about food? Reminds me of the man who says to his son, “Come here, Son, I’ll tell about the facts of life.” To which he replies, “Dad, you’ve already told me about the facts of life 16 times.” To which the father, “Ah, yes! But they till fascinate me.” Food is fascinating, as attested by the popularity of TV programs on cooking. It may have started with Julia Childs, but now we have a “Food Network” and a “Cooking Channel.” I suspect that many of the viewers simply find it interesting; they never lit a flame under a skillet, and don’t plan to.
I’m not suggesting that the Bible speaks about food because of fascination. To begin with, food is not a luxury; it’s a necessity—much too important to be thought of in terms of mere fascination. And in the Bible the reference to food frequently involves something beyond mere nourishment. Think about it. The forbidden fruit, the Paschal Lamb, the Manna in the wilderness, the multiplication of the loaves, the Last Supper, the parables of the Wedding Banquet are only a few examples.
And so in today’s first reading, the gracious invitation from the Lord to come and eat without charge implies far more than food. The prophet is speaking to the Israelites exiled in the Babylonian captivity. He is promising them release, return. In today’s reading the grain, wine, and milk are symbolic of all the things God wants to give them. These terms are heaped up, along with others: “eat well”; “delight in rich fare.” This is beyond normal food which, it says, “fails to satisfy.” It is clear that God’s concern goes far beyond food: He can give us so much more, but it is a matter of fully understanding, fully accepting His invitation: “Come [he says]… heed me… come to me heedfully … listen.” So much more than food is involved: “listen, that you may have life.” To eat sustains life, but something beyond life of the body is meant here; when God promises life, it is so much more than bodily life. This is a call to a royal banquet and an invitation to enter into the joy of God’s new order: we see this in the promise to renew the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David. God’s promises to David and to his line are the source of our hope for a Messiah and all the good things that come with the new order he brings in.. All this is involved in the promise “to renew … the benefits assured to David.” The text therefore looks forward to the messianic order—all this is here presented as the invitation to a banquet.
All this, in turn, has relevance to the gospel story of the feeding of the 5,000+. This scene is reminiscent of Israel in the desert; Jesus’ hearers are in what is said to be a deserted place. The apostles, being practical, remind Jesus of the lateness of the hour, the distance from any eating places. Jesus teases them with the suggestion that THEY feed the crowds; they know they can’t but He knows He can. This is more like Israel being fed with manna in the desert than of messianic banquet. But it does have messianic overtones. Among some Jews there was the belief that in the last times the manna would again descend from heaven. In fact in John’s gospel, on the occasion of this same miracle, Jesus had to flee because the people wanted to seize Him and make Him king. The manna itself was considered somewhat miraculous. The psalm refers to it as “bread from heaven,” and as “the food of angels.”
And it is also an anticipation, a foreshadowing of the Eucharist. In John’s gospel it is here that Jesus presents his discourse on the Bread of Life, that is, His extended teaching on the Eucharist. He identifies the manna as a type of the Eucharist when He says, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” This is the Bread we partake of when we approach the altar. The OT referred to the manna in poetic terms as the “bread of angels,” but as applied to the Eucharist, it would be a wildly inaccurate characterization. We, as Christians, approach Holy Communion to receive it into our very beings—something no angel could ever do. We are already related to Jesus because we share His flesh and blood through Mary and the Incarnation in a way no angel does. Because we already share His human nature, we can also be sharers of His divine nature in a way no angel could.
With so close a union with Christ, we can perhaps understand better Paul’s conviction (second reading) that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. He enumerates a whole series of things, some of which could, perhaps do, befall us at times: for example, “anguish, distress”; some less likely but still possible: for example, “famine,” and let’s substitute “homelessness” for “nakedness”; some seem most unlikely, though they were the experience of many Christians in Paul’s day: for example, “persecution, the sword.” And Paul goes on to a second enumeration, including not only life and death but also angels and principalities (i.e., an order of angels) and “and any other creature.” So cemented are we to the “love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” that none of these things can pry us apart. This is because of the power of grace within us.
There is, alas, one thing that can accomplish this separation, and that is sin. How foolish we would be to allow sin to bring about what neither the sword nor angelic powers could accomplish. As we approach the altar today, we remember that Jesus feeds us not with ordinary bread, as He did the 5,000 of today’s gospel, but with the bread from heaven, His own Body and Blood. We must certainly be resolved that sin will not accomplish within us what no other power in heaven or on earth can do. And let us approach, as always, with hearts full of love and thanksgiving.
Fr. Joseph Jensen
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- August 10, 2014
- Year A
- by Fr. Boniface
After the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus escaped from the crowd to a solitary place to pray. The text says that he “made the disciples get into a boat.” That rather amuses me. I have a picture of rather reluctant disciples being herded into a boat like so many children. I can understand their reluctance. After all, they had just witnessed a big miracle in which they had a part. The disciples had been asked to look for food, and they had been asked to distribute the miraculous bread and fish as well as to gather up the abundant fragments. They now wanted to bask in that glory. But Jesus had business with his Father alone. Possibly he was gathering strength to be the Messiah the Father had anointed him to be, because soon enough the crowd would press him to be their king.
And now the disciples were alone on the sea at night. Even though the Jewish people of necessity made use of the sea, at best they were uncomfortable with it. For them the waters of chaos lurked in its depths. It could overtake them any time. It was also the habitat of monsters and evil spirits.
The time was between three and six A.M. It was a black night. The winds were sweeping the waves over the little boat hitting it hard and threatening to send it and its occupants to the bottom of the lake. Of course, they were frightened! And the Master on whom they relied was not with them this time.
There is an icon called “The Unsleeping Eye,” which depicts the child Jesus asleep. Incarnate as man, he lies asleep, but as God, he never slumbers or sleeps but keeps careful watch over us. And so it was this time. However, I can understand, given the terror the disciples were already experiencing, how someone walking towards them on the water, that symbol of evil, would frighten them still more. “It is a ghost!”
What else could they think? Jesus identifies himself; “It is I” a statement reminiscent of God’s revelation to Moses in Exodus 3: 14.
Early on, tradition saw in the boat “tossed by wind and waves, for the wind was against it,” an image of the church, struggling against the forces of evil. The darkness of night, Jesus’ absence, and the need to reach the other shore are details that well describe the situation of the Christian community and its need for faith.1 The church in which the apostles conduct their mission is a church beset by persecution, opposition, apostasy and scandals.2 It is the darkness of the fourth watch of the night.
In this turmoil it is the presence of Christ that saves. His lordship is made manifest in a number of ways: He walks on the water, he identifies himself in a way that reminds us of God’s revelation to Moses. Peter addresses him as “Lord” and pleads for salvation. The story ends with a full post-Easter affirmation of faith: “Truly, you are the Son of God.” The serenity of Jesus in contrast to the panic of the disciples is intended as a message of encouragement in difficult circumstances.3
“Take courage. It is I: do not be afraid.” Peter hears. He acknowledges Jesus as Lord, that is as someone with a special relationship to God, but asks for further confirmation. If it is not a ghost, if it is the presence of God in Jesus, he will share his powers with his disciples. He will show them how to deal with fear the way he deals with fear. But Peter cannot presume this. It has to be done the way of Jesus.4
Jesus must issue a command and Peter must obey. In obeying, Peter will enter into the mystery of Jesus and be able to Jesus on the water. Therefore, Peter does not ask to walk on the water. Rather he asks that Jesus command him to come to him on the water. It is a journey ever deeper into Christ; a journey that includes the overcoming of fear.5
Peter courageously obeys the command of Jesus. Initially, with eyes fixed on Jesus, he becomes a fearless walker of the waves. But then his attention shifts from Jesus to the winds. As the strength of the winds take hold of his mind, it also captures his emotions and he becomes frightened. His connection to Jesus falters, and he begins to sink. He cries out to the Lord who immediately stretches out his hand to save him.6
Jesus’ comment to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” helps Peter understand why he sank. Peter has faith. It took courage to enter into the mystery of Jesus, to try to live out of it. But he had not yet learned perseverance. His doubting came when he allowed what threatened him to capture his mind and heart. His inner focus on the reality of Jesus was replaced by an outer preoccupation with the wind. So he sank.7
The act of sinking shows Peter’s faith to be still immature, little. But knowing why he sank is a step towards greater faith and to learn from Jesus the way of fearlessness. But as always, Peter eventually learns from his mistakes. Both Peter’s failures and his ability to learn from them endears him to us. He is every Christian.
Once Jesus joins his disciples in the boat of the church, the forces of darkness lose their powers. The winds die, not the disciples. They are safe as long as Jesus is with them. At the end of the gospel, he will promise to be with them until the end of time. Their faith in what Jesus can do will be strong, and they will recognize the source of his power: “Truly, you are the Son of God.”8
Storms and stresses are part of daily life, but sometimes it seems as if darkness threatens to overwhelm church and society. We are constantly bombarded with news of wars and scandals. We are faced with personal crisis. But all this is a call to an ever deepening faith not in an official or institution but in the person of Christ, who reaches down in love to draw us out of the dark waters. In the midst of the strong winds that rage around us, one voice is stronger and sweeter than all the rest: “It is I: do not be afraid.” Like Peter, we must have the courage to walk towards Jesus and grow from our mistakes. Let the ears of our hearts open wide to hear those consoling words: “ It is I: do not be afraid.”
Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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1 Days of the Lord, v.4, Ordinary Time, Year A (Collegeville, Miinn., Liiturgical Press, 1992) 158
2 Roland J. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1994) 526
3 Roland J. Faley, 526
4 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 2004) 248
5 John Shea, 248
6 John Shea, 248
7 John Shea, 248
8 John Shea, 249
- August 17, 2014
- Year A
- by Fr. Gabriel
Neither Luke nor John include this story of the Canaanite woman in their gospels, and no wonder. It is such an unattractive and misleading story. It portrays Jesus as unwelcoming: he does not bother responding to the woman’s first anguished plea. He seems prejudiced and the player of mind-games; he is rude and insensitive. Any sincere follower of Jesus finds this uncharacteristic and repellent. The story does not show the Jesus we know or believe in.
Interpreters through the ages have viewed this story as an exhortation to persist in prayer, and trample down obstacles. We should be confident that God’s yes to us always lies underneath the appearances of no. These are helpful lessons. But they don’t remove every problem presented by the story. The patriotic narrowness of Jesus is only gradually and reluctantly left behind. Perhaps this shows us how even Jesus had to process new material which went against the grain of his pre-conditioning.
A more helpful aspect of the story is its portrayal of the woman as an outsider. We could learn how she constructively manages that hurtful situation. When we ourselves are the outsider, whether by color or some other “difference,” we experience feelings of isolation and resentment. We know that the opposing forces are wrong and undeserved. But it is hard to fight the insiders. If the struggle is ongoing, we can become bitter and reactive. We get stuck and let the other side win.
This is the wrong solution. Passivity in the face of humiliation or evil has sometimes been presented as a Christian virtue. Therese the Little Flower was said to smile when dirty dish water was thrown in her face. I myself find this story inauthentic, not true to the subversive and feisty qualities of her “little way.”
A more helpful source of practical wisdom for handling unfairness in your life is found in the Old Testament story of Joseph. (This story contains the beautiful line, “I am your brother Joseph,” so it can serve as incidental tribute to our diamond jubilarian, who resembles his namesake only in later parts of the story.) One of its minor points is that we sometimes unwittingly contribute to the injustice of our situation. Had Joseph not been an annoying goody-goody, a tell-tale twerp, his brothers would not have hated him or sold him into slavery. But their father’s poor parenting, his preferential treatment of Joseph, was really the culprit. Joseph did not choose this. He nevertheless had to overcome it.
I wish we had time to follow all the stages by which Joseph rebuilt his character, his gradual and slow process of self-healing. We would examine his acceptance of injustice, which got worse in Egypt when he was falsely accused and sent to prison. There he managed to “re-frame” his situation and use it creatively for his own advantage. He was able to turn outward, to help fellow-prisoners and ultimately Pharaoh, with his gift for dream-interpretation. He in fact saves the country in which he is an alien from economic disaster.
The climactic scene is reconciliation with his brothers. He could have taken revenge but chose not to. It must be admitted he indulged in some cat-and-mouse torture when he detained his brother Benjamin. This is more of a literary device to give suspense than a model for behavior. On the other hand, it might show that true forgiveness is not spineless or mealy-mouthed. To cave in too quickly is to trivialize the violation and delay the resolution. To really forgive an enemy is tricky business.
The Joseph story is a saga, unfolding over an extended period of time. Time is necessary to shift awareness. Joseph has time to construct an identity and find a mission; his brothers have time to develop regret for their brutality. Together, Joseph and his brothers represent the need to forgive and be forgiven. Many of us need to forgive ourselves, which goes deeper than superficially letting ourselves “off the hook.”
Joseph gives the moral of his story. “What you intended for evil against me, God has used for good, to save the lives of many people.” It is a subtle ending to a complicated story. It encourages us to find the spiritual meaning in our own lives. What feel like random, disconnected happenings may actually have a hidden pattern when evaluated in hindsight.
Returning to the Canaanite woman, we begin to see what an original character she is. I admire how her calling out annoys the overly conventional disciples, who want to send her away. Though a pagan, she prays to Jesus as Lord and Son of David; she has done her homework. Though distracted by her daughter’s torment, she is incredibly sharp in verbal fencing and comic timing. When Jesus says, “I can’t give the children’s food to dogs,” she gives as good as she gets: “yes, but even dogs get scraps from the children’s table.” I think she knows she has won even before Jesus answers. She has developed incredible resilience from caring for her mentally ill daughter. The tragedy has ennobled her character and elicited the healing.
What tag-line would the Canaanite woman give to her encounter with Jesus? I showed him? I beat him at his own game? I expanded his consciousness? All of these are true, yet I think she has a quieter view of her triumph. Did she feel emotionally tired from all the obstacles she had overcome? Did she still nurse the scar of her outsider status? Did she need to forgive Jesus for his deliberate unkindness? Yes, all of these.
They could be examined later. For now, there was taking her sweet and untormented daughter by the hand. There was the opportunity for a quiet evening walk through the village. They could exchange pleasantries with neighbors who no longer had to pity them. There was the sunset to watch. There were cool breezes on the face to feel. If this were a movie, the music would play. Music is what we hear when we return to paradise, and find we are no longer outsiders. Music is what we hear when we perceive that, even in the worst of it, God was right next to us all the time.
Fr. Gabriel Myers
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- August 21, 2014
- Year A
- by Abbot James
When you see red vestments at Mass, you normally assume that the Church is commemorating a martyr, the red symbolizing the blood that the martyr shed. However, today we have red vestments for a different reason. The prayers are those for a Mass of the Holy Spirit, and the color red symbolizes the fire of the Spirit’s love, that love of which St. Paul speaks in his letter to the Romans when he writes that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5). There is a foreshadowing of this great truth in our first reading, from the prophet Ezekiel, through whom the Lord says: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts” (Ezek 36:26). In the ancient Hebrew language, the word that we normally translate into English as “heart” refers not only—or even primarily—to the seat of our emotions but also to our intellect, our power of rational thought, and at times even to our entire personality. This means something remarkable: that when we pray for the grace or aid of the Holy Spirit, as we are doing at this Mass, we are not merely praying for a renewal of the way we feel but also of the way we think and, indeed, of our very being. We are asking to be totally transformed. And one of the key aspects of our faith is that the God-given power to effect such transformation is always offered to us. We have only to cooperate with that offer, to be willing to have our lives turned more and more in a Godward direction.
This is actually what our Gospel reading is all about as well, although its parable is harder to interpret. In fact, as written it almost sounds unfair. We hear of all of these people suddenly brought in from the highways and byways to partake of the blessings of the kingdom, which is here likened to a wedding feast, and then one poor guy is kicked out because he isn’t wearing a wedding garment. You might well be asking yourselves: Well, how could anyone suddenly brought into the banqueting hall from the streets even be expected to be wearing the right kind of clothing? A perfectly good question! The solution to this conundrum, as you might have guessed, is that what we have here are what were originally two separate parables, rather artificially brought together as one because they both concern a wedding banquet. The second of the two is really saying that it’s not enough just to be offered something wonderful by God, symbolized by the wedding feast, for we also have to be rightly disposed, symbolized by having on the right kind of clothing. After all, if you were invited to some special celebration, perhaps the wedding of an older brother or sister, you wouldn’t be welcome if you came dressed in a torn T-shirt and dirty jeans. That would be a total insult to the person who kindly and generously extended to you the invitation.
Against that background, let’s now get down to the more practical, nitty-gritty matter of how all of you students should be prepared for the school year just beginning. If that key word “heart” can refer not just to our feelings but also to our intellect and even to our entire person, then you should rightly relish and welcome the opportunity to grow in all sorts of ways during the coming year. Some of that will involve developing your body, your physical strength and coordination, through our school’s multifaceted program of intramural and interscholastic sports. Some of it will involve developing your social skills and simply having fun at such events as the school picnics and dances and outings of various sorts. (Indeed, some of you new students had a wonderful outing just last night at Nationals Park, where you saw one more nail-biting win by that remarkable team.) But most of all it will involve developing your mind through the various courses you will be taking. To do that well obviously requires dedication and discipline, but it is also something that you should positively want. As you surely know, in some parts of the world young men and women have little or no opportunity to have a good education—or any education at all. Some are put to work in the fields at an age younger than any of you. Even worse, as we know from the news in recent days and weeks, some are so caught up in war-torn regions that they are living in refugee camps or, worst of all, are being brutally murdered just because they aren’t of the so-called “correct” religion or ethnic group. How different are things here. It is truly a privilege for us on the faculty to be able to teach in a school like ours, just as it is a privilege for you students to learn from the remarkable range of courses available. I will briefly refer to some of the courses you can take—with apologies in advance to those of my fellow faculty whose disciplines I won’t have mentioned.
Earlier this year, the journal Scientific American published excerpts from a book titled Our Mathematical Universe, by Professor Max Tegmark of M.I.T. At one point, he explains what it was that led him to become a mathematical physicist. And even though only a small percentage of you might follow him into that particular field, all of us can surely relate in one way or another with these words of his: “When our human imagination first got off the ground and started deciphering the mysteries of space, it was done with mental power rather than rocket power. I find this quest for knowledge so inspiring that I decided to join it and become a physicist, and I’ve written this book because I want to share these empowering journeys of discovery, especially in this day and age when it’s so easy to feel powerless.”1 You yourselves can share those journeys of discovery through courses we offer not only in mathematics but also in earth science, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, and introduction to engineering.
Another whole world opens up with courses in the fine arts, languages, and literature. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature four years ago, once expressed in a very inspiring way what we gain from reading great novels, poems, and plays. In his words, literature “has been, and will continue to be, one of the common denominators of the human experience through which living creatures recognize themselves. As readers of Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante, or Tolstoy, we understand each other and feel ourselves members of the same species. We learn what we share as human beings,… Nothing better protects a human being against the stupidity of prejudice, racism, xenophobia, religious or political sectarianism, and exclusivist nationalism than literature…. [And perhaps] the greatest contribution of literature to human progress is to remind us (without intending to do so in the majority of cases) that the world is badly made; that those … who pretend the contrary are lying; and that the world could be better, more like the worlds that our imagination and our language are able to create…. Good reading leads to the formation of critical and independent citizens who will not be manipulated and who are endowed with a permanent spiritual mobility and a vibrant imagination.”2 To be able to read such works in their original language, whether it be Latin, French, Spanish, Arabic, or whatever, is a huge benefit that becomes available as you learn some of these languages in our school.
I should also say something about the field in which I teach, religion or theology. Sadly, sometimes one gets the impression that religion courses are mainly about a lot of do’s and don’ts, but in fact they allow you to ponder questions that really matter, issues such as those named in a famous document of the Second Vatican Council almost exactly fifty years ago. In the opening section of their Declaration of the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, the bishops at that council wrote the following: “People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir our hearts: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence comes suffering, and what purpose might it serve? What is the way to true happiness? What are death, judgment, retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery that encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?”i These are questions that all of us should be pondering.
As you may know, the very word “school” comes from a Greek and Latin term that connotes leisure, and in the best sense of the word, a school should be a place of leisure. This doesn’t at all mean doing nothing, but rather having the time and space to think about the things that really matter. Some of you may have seen a book review in last Sunday’s Washington Post, a review of a work by a prominent professor of English at a major Ivy League university who was lamenting the lack of that leisure at his and similar institutions, where he said many of the faculty are “so hyper-specialized that they never push students to grapple with big questions.” Instead, we might say, their students are channeled to learn “more and more about less and less.”
It’s not for me or any of us to say whether that professor’s diagnosis of his own institution is fair, but I trust it could not be said of us. Instead, we intend to offer what he described as the real heart of a genuine education. In his words, a good school offers you the opportunity “to stand outside the world for a few years … and contemplate things from a distance,” [and from that distance] “to start to answer for yourself that venerable pair of questions: what is the good life and how should I live it?”4 We faculty are here to assist and guide you in that search. At the beginning of this new school year, I wish all of you an exhilarating and indeed joyful journey with “a new heart” and “a new spirit.”
Abbot James Wiseman
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1 Max Tegmark, “Is the Universe Made of Math?” Scientific American (Jan. 10, 2014), online at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-the-universe-made-of-math-excerpt/ (accessed Aug. 21, 2014).
2 Mario Vargas Llosa, “Ergo Literature,” Georgetown Magazine (Summer 2001), 32 & 34.
3 Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, no. 1.
4 William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep, quoted by Carlos Iozada, Washington Post, August 17, 2014.
- August 31, 2014
- Year A
- by Fr. Joseph
It is interesting to note how different prophets react to their call to prophecy. Isaiah, alone among the prophets, volunteers. He hears the voice of the Lord consulting with his heavenly council: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah responds, “Here I am; send me!” Jeremiah, on the other hand, when the Lord tells him he was designated as a prophet while still in his mother’s womb, before he was born, replies, “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak. I am too young!” But the Lord accepts no excuses: “Say not, ‘I am too young!’ To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak.” Jeremiah was not a happy traveler; small wonder, because the message he carried would make him unpopular: “Woe to me, my mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention to all the land! I neither borrow nor lend, yet everyone curses me.” He was thrown in prison, put in the stocks, almost lynched because he warned of the downfall of the city and destruction of the Temple. He was hated and despised by the people.
Today’s first reading illustrates the mood Jeremiah had reached. Our lectionary has him complaining of being “duped,” but the revised NAB more accurately has “seduced,” the term used of the seduction of a virgin. “The word of the Lord has brought me derision.” He reached the point where he says, in effect, "Basta! No more! No more prophesying for me!" But then he realizes that he can no more give up his call to proclaim God's word than he can give up life. He describes it as a "fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones"--it had to burst out willy-nilly. He could not dissuade the people from a superstitious faith in the inviolability of the Temple. He failed to persuade them to give up a suicidal resistance to the Babylonians, and therefore Judah fell. The survivors dragged him along as they fled to Egypt. Jewish tradition has it that he was stoned to death as he continued to admonish them. Only very late in the OT is this judgment on him finally pronounced: “This is a man who loves his fellow Jews and fervently prays for the people and the holy city” (2 Macc 15:14). He appeared to be a failure as a prophet, but authors speak of his Golgotha because he was a type of Christ.
The gospel also tells us about a vocation, that of Jesus—and it also touches on ours. This gospel passage follows directly on that of last week. Peter had just declared his faith that Jesus is the Messiah and been praised and rewarded by Jesus. Perhaps that emboldened him to think he could advise Jesus. When Jesus said that He will have to suffer and die Peter’s reaction is, “This can’t be! This must not be! You are the Messiah, You are Israel’s king! Having revealed yourself to us, you must now reveal yourself to all the people, must receive the honor and glory that is your due.” Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Peter was foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken, e.g., that he would be led like a lamb to the slaughter.
At any rate, Jesus gave them plenty of instruction in what was to befall Him. Matthew has this prediction of His passion two more times, and Mark and Luke, likewise, have it three times. At one point Luke comments, “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Both Mark and Matthew quote Jesus as saying, “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many.” Today Jesus tells Peter off in no uncertain terms. Jesus calls him “Satan” and says, “You are an obstacle to me” In the desert Jesus had said, “Begone, Satan,” when Satan had suggested He perform marvelous works that would reveal Him as the Messiah, but without going the way of the cross, as was His Father’s will.
Jesus did not gladly embrace suffering. There was no one in Palestine who had not seen victims of crucifixion hanging by the side of the road; it was a horrible lingering way to die. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed at first, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Let this chalice pass me by.” What a heart-rending prayer for a loving, all-powerful Father to refuse! After more prayer, His word was, “My Father, if it is not possible that this chalice pass without my drinking it, your will be done.” Luke says, “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” Even John, who does not recount the agony in the garden, has Jesus say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…. I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” We all know the sequel. Jesus did drink the chalice His Father gave Him; the Son of Man gave His life for the redemption of the many. But there followed the glorious Easter morn and salvation was opened for us all.
But don’t go away: there is also something here about your vocation. After Jesus discusses His vocation, He adds: “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This is not a call to great mortification. Jesus and His disciples seem not to have fasted, as did the disciples of the Baptist and the Pharisees; He says He came eating and drinking and was subsequently accused of intemperance. No, this is something much graver. To take up the cross and follow Jesus is to go with Him to crucifixion. And we know we are called even to the sacrifice of life, if fidelity to our faith demands it. But St. Luke makes a small but significant change in Jesus' words on cross-bearing: "let him take up his cross DAILY and follow me." It is not a matter of dying but a manner of living. We follow Jesus in the way of the cross by living faithfully and accepting patiently those trials that come to us. And they do come to all of us. Sometimes big trials. By accepting them patiently we share in the cross of Christ. St. Benedict echoes this in his Rule with the words: "Never swerving from God's instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching ... until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom."
Fr. Joseph Jensen
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