Homilies - November 2014

Select a homily to read:
All Saints: November 1, 2014 by Abbot James Wiseman
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed: November 2, 2014 by Fr. Michael Hall
Dedication of the Lateran Basilica: November 9, 2014 by Fr. Boniface Von Nell
Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year: November 16, 2014 by Fr. Gabriel Myers
Christ the King: November 23, 2014 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Thanksgiving: November 27, 2014 by Fr. Michael Hall
First Sunday of Advent: November 30, 2014 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill

All Saints Day

Of all the Beatitudes that we just heard, it is perhaps the fifth that strikes the theme we have been hearing about the most in recent times: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy,” for mercy has been the prominent message of Pope Francis ever since his election to the papacy. For example, almost exactly one year ago, in an address on the new evangelization, he said: “We need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to the people of our day. We also know that the crisis of modern man is not superficial but profound. That is why the new evangelization, while it calls us to swim against the tide and be converted from idols to the true God, cannot but use a language of mercy, which is expressed in gestures and attitudes even before words.”

It would be very misleading, however, to give the impression that this has somehow been the discovery only of our current pope. When the recently canonized John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, he stated that the Church will always oppose the errors of the age, but then went on to say: “Frequently [the Church] has condemned these [errors] with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”

Similarly, John Paul II, canonized on the same day as John XXIII, titled one of his very first encyclicals Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), whose subtitle was “The Endangered Human Being and the Power of Mercy.” Two decades later, the first person he canonized at the beginning of the third millennium was the Polish sister Faustina Kowalska, who had written of God’s mercy as the greatest and highest of the divine attributes, and when John Paul traveled to his native land for the last time in August of 2002, he again visited the suburb of Cracow where St. Faustina had once lived and there dedicated the entire world to divine mercy, declaring that the Sunday after Easter would henceforth be known as Divine Mercy Sunday.

And Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, at the opening of the conclave that would see him elected John Paul’s successor, said to the assembled cardinals: “Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person. To encounter Christ is to encounter the mercy of God…. We are charged with proclaiming ‘the Year of the Lord’s Mercy’ not only with words but also with our lives and with the effective signs of the sacraments.”

It would be easy to go on and on about the prominent place the beatitude about mercy has had in the teaching of recent popes, but it would probably be more helpful to see something about its practice in the life of the kind of person we commemorate on All Saints Day. This is someone who is not at all well-known and who will certainly never be canonized, if only because he was not a member of the Catholic Church. But when you hear something of the life and work of Rev. Abraham Luckhoff, a Dutch Reformed pastor who lived his entire life in South Africa, you will surely be ready to count him among all the saints.1 He ministered during the Boer War (1899-1902), which pitted the forces of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State against the British, largely over the issue of who would control some very lucrative gold mines. As the British gradually gained the upper hand, they resorted to a scorched-earth policy to deny supplies to the guerrilla forces and then embarked on a number of “drives” that had the intention of cornering the Boers but that in fact mainly produced large numbers of displaced Boer and African families, who were sent to concentration camps around South Africa. 

At that time, Luckhoff was a young chaplain, only in his mid-twenties, sent to minister to families in one of the most notorious of these camps. During his several months there, he kept a diary that he had never intended to be made public, but when it was some years later, it revealed a man who had made mercy absolutely central to his ministry. Although he had many ministerial responsibilities, such as preparing and attending church services, prayer meetings, church board meetings, Sunday school classes, and funerals, references to such activities in his diary are made mostly in passing. The bulk of the diary is about his visits to people in their tents and in hospital. From the very first day of his stay in that concentration camp, he gave himself spontaneously and thoroughly to the people interned there, above all the women and their children. He constantly took the initiative to visit and spend time with them, no matter to what denomination they belonged. At times, he expressed great joy at the way young people in particular sang with great fervor during prayer services that he led, but at other times he was altogether honest about the strain that the practice of mercy put on him. It was above all the deaths of the people he served and the removal of their bodies that haunted him. At one point in his diary he wrote: “Horrible whistle that! It signals the people from the morgue tent to come and remove the dead. It is Death’s shrill, harsh, jarring, triumphant shout! It shivers one through.” And a few days later he added: “The nights here are so awful, one yearns for the day; and then the fearfulness of being awakened repeatedly in the night by the tramp of those who carry away the dead to the morgue tents . . . It is so hard to pray, and so very wearying. And then, to comfort and cheer, when your own heart is lead within.”

One can only applaud the honesty with which that man wrote, and the fidelity with which he continued his mission of mercy until the war was over. Abraham Luckhoff is surely not only among those whom we honor on All Saints Day but also a man who can serve as a genuine model for our own lives. No one ever said that the practice of mercy will never take a toll on a person, but mercy is definitely one of the most important guideposts along the straight and narrow path that leads to the kingdom where all the saints now rejoice. May the power of this Eucharist and our reflection on the words of St. John XXII, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis and on the words and example of someone like the Rev. Abraham Luckhoff help us become more earnest and persevering bearers of the Lord’s mercy to those in any need who cross our own path.

Abbot James Wiseman
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1 The material about Abraham Luckhoff is taken from Pieter G.R. de Villiers, “A Spirituality of Mercy in a Time of War,” Religion & Theology 18 (2011): 147-72, online at http://web.a.ebscohost.com.proxycu.wrlc.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=bfd60de5-d699-4da4-bacc-30f89dc1813d%40sessionmgr4002&vid=20&hid=4214 (accessed 10-31-14).

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

  • November 2, 2014
  • Year A
  • by Fr. Michael

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A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.

Fr. Michael Hall
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Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today we celebrate the dedication of St. John Lateran, the pope’s cathedral. The observance of this feast ties the local church to the Church of Rome, the center of unity. On its façade are carved the words “Mother and Head of All the Churches.” To celebrate this feast reminds us of our origins.

The Church of Rome was founded by Saints Peter and Paul as well as other early missionaries. In turn, Rome, then the center of the world, sent out missionaries to lands where most of our ancestors lived. We received our faith not directly from Jerusalem where the faith originated, but from Rome, the mother church. To be in union with Rome means to be united with our origins, with the faith of those immigrants from the mid-east, Peter and Paul. Rome is the place where they eventually lived, died, and passed on the faith.1

Originally the site of the archbasilica was occupied by the palace of the Latarani. It was confiscated by the Roman government at the time of Nero, and eventually passed into the hands of Constantine. Constantine gave it to the church no later than 311, for we find a council against the Donatists held there in 313. About that time, the great hall of the palace was adapted to serve as a church. From then on, it was the center of Christian life in Rome; the residence of the popes, and the cathedral of the city.2

In many ways, the history of the basilica mirrors both the physical and spiritual history of the Church. It is an apt symbol of the intersection of the human and divine dimensions of the Church with its aspects of holiness, sinfulness and renewal. These tensions, already present in the primitive Church are and will be part of our history until the Lord comes again.

It was a magnificent church from the beginning. Its splendor drew the attention of the Vandals, who sacked it. St. Leo the Great restored it but in 896 it was almost totally destroyed by an earthquake. The basilica was rebuilt only to be destroyed by fire. Once more it was rebuilt only to be destroyed by fire again in 1360. When the popes returned from their long absence in Avignon, they found the churches of Rome in ruins and once more the basilica had to be restored. It was in the seventeenth century, the baroque period that the church attained its present form. And like the ecclesial church, this basilica also has its critics: One author writes: “It was not until the latter part of the seventeenth century that the church took its present appearance, in the tasteless restoration carried out by Innocent X… The ancient columns were now enclosed in huge pilasters, with gigantic statues in front. In consequence of this the church has lost the appearance of an ancient basilica, and is completely altered in character.” Transposed to the spiritual level, it sounds so much like the criticism leveled at the Church, the Body of Christ, ignoring the splendor and joy to be found within its walls.3

Yes, there is a dark side to its history; fires, Vandals, earthquakes, and neglect have almost leveled it, but it always rose up again by the grace of God. This may seem a long historical note, but for me, the history of the Lateran is allegory for the church and the part that each of us plays in it. In the thirteenth century Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw a disintegrating Lateran basilica being shored up by a beggar. Prepared by the dream, the pope recognized in St. Francis of Assisi and his followers a movement that would renew the church.

But just as the structure of the Lateran basilica is an allegory for the glories and defeats of the church on earth, it stands as symbol beyond that. It, as well as all the churches in which Christians gather around the Lord, points to a greater reality. In its component parts, paralleling St. Paul’s image and theology of the body, it instructs us how the many members of the Body of Christ are fitted together to form the whole, God’s building, whose foundation and head is Jesus Christ himself. As individual members in whom the Spirit of God dwells, by virtue of our Baptism, together we make up the Church and share alike in Christ’s mission. Dedicated to the service of God by our Baptism, even as a church building is dedicated and set aside for the service of God, our lives and actions should witness to the holiness of God and God’s love for us. And let’s not forget that in any church building, whether it’s the Lateran or a humble mission church, the greatest part is made up of very ordinary building blocks, the you, me, and all of us called to be part and support of the Church wherever Christ has placed us.

In the apse of the Lateran basilica are very ancient mosaics. In the top tier is a representation of Christ in glory accompanied by nine angels. Below that is a jeweled cross, surmounted by a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit. The cross stands on a hill from which the four rivers of the gospels flow, and from whose waters stags and sheep come to drink.4 Those waters are not just for us. We, like Christ, have a mission to fulfill. Having gathered in worship, having shared the Word and the body and blood of the Lord, we are to be channels for the waters that flow from Christ to the world.

Great parts of that mosaic probably date from the early days of the basilica. But it too had to be retouched and restored over the centuries. Just as St. John Lateran had to be restored throughout the centuries because of the ravages of time and vandals, so has the whole Church, and we as individuals and community within the Church need to be constantly reformed. We are a work in progress.5 We have not yet attained the fullness of that life in Christ for which we have been created. This feast recalls to mind the struggles, the martyrs and the grandeur of our history as the People of God. It encourages us on our journey as we fall and rise on our way to Christ.

Fr. Boniface Von Nell
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1 http://www.ascensioncatholic.net/lectionary/AllCycles/reflection/Lateran.html
1 http://www,newadvent.org/cathen/09014b.htm
1 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09014b.htm
1 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09014b.htm
1 http://www.ascensioncatholic.net/

Thirty-Third Sunday of the Year

In The Importance of Being Earnest Act II, the title character Ernest is reported as dead in Paris. He is an entirely imaginary character, made up by his brother Jack to obscure the sowing of wild oats. But the other characters don’t know this. So they try to console Jack. There is a clergyman on the scene whose pastoral style is incredibly bad. Absurdly named, Canon Chasuble, he this to say. “You would no doubt wish me to make some slight allusion to this tragedy next Sunday. [Jack presses his hand convulsively and Chasuble continues.] I can use my homily on the manna in the wilderness. My homily on the manna in the wilderness can be adapted to almost any occasion, joyful, or, as in the present case, distressing. I have given it at harvest celebrations, christenings, confirmations, on days of humiliation and days of festival. The last time I delivered it the Bishop was present. He was much struck by some of the analogies I drew.”

I hope you will forgive my frivolity and irreverence. Maybe “excuse” it, as I will try to show that “forgiveness” is a deeper experience. My point is not the manna in the wilderness, which is a brilliant homily topic. Rather, today I have a homily “adaptable to almost any occasion.” I call it my Forgiveness Homily. It crystallized for me in September. I used it (elsewhere) for Peter’s question “how many times must I forgive my brother?” Last month I used it for the great commandment to love your neighbor. Since the archbishop was going to be present later that day I was asked at the last minute reduce it by two minutes. This required lopping off a brilliant introduction, but it still worked—though Canon Chasuble would have not been pleased.

Today I use it yet again, in a slightly different form. My forgiveness homily is framed by the parable of the talents. This is an end-times parable. It warns that we will be judged by how we use what we have been given. Surely the most important thing we are given is the content of our hearts. Do we bury that content in the dirt of resentment and uncharity? Or do we spend it generously by pouring out mercy? When necessary, do we attempt the laborious and difficult task of forgiveness—which is at the heart of Christian faith? I have three personal stories about forgiveness. I hope you can connect with one of them. It has taken twenty years to collect this material. I am about to blow it all in five minutes.

I said something unkind about my sister-in-law.  I felt I was correct.  She was offended.  I didn’t care.  But I felt uncomfortable.  Three years later, I humbled myself enough to say, “I am sorry for what I said.”  She said, “That’s OK.”  I said, “It’s not OK.  But thank you for being big enough not to hold it against me.”  It was not right for her to dismiss it.  I had to acknowledge my offense, and not make excuses.  I am still not close to my sister-in-law, but I gained the chance to treat her as she deserves. I gained the chance to live as I deserve.

There was a friend who betrayed a confidence that embarrassed me.  He said he was doing so for my own good.  I thought this was baloney.  I told him how angry I was on several occasions. This was difficult; after doing the dirty deed he moved to another hemisphere. When he didn’t write back, my hostility increased.  Five years later I learned he had a serious illness and might not recover. I wanted him to suffer, but not this much. I wrote with concern, but also I wished he could admit his wrong.  I wished he hadn’t stopped writing.  When he wrote back, we spoke heart to heart, across the oceans.  I was no longer angry. He was glad too.

Both stories have happy endings. The third is imperfect, about a co-worker who wasn’t sorry.  There was bad chemistry between us from the moment we met, and I indulged my dislike.  When the opportunity came to put me in my place, she did so with glee and severity.  My thoughts I dare not tell. I developed a frigid compliance.  When a career change took her away, I felt like Forrest Gump at the Lincoln memorial: “it was the happiest day of my life.”  But she had gotten away with it.  Eventually a professional meeting required we meet.  I dreaded this. I was still in bondage.  When the time came, each of us behaved cordially.  That was all.  That was enough.  I was no longer bitter; it is history; I am free.

Each declaration of forgiveness took time, went through a process, could not be rushed or happen prematurely.  Truth is necessary.  I could not allow my sister-in-law to minimize my fault.  My friend’s illness was not divine retribution, but it helped me feel for him.  Forgiveness comes from the heart.  When the offender isn’t sorry, the injured party needs to reach some level of forgiveness to find freedom.

Moments of forgiveness are precious.  They manifest Christ’s love in our lives.  They require hard work and (for me) the support and encouragement of friends. The Lord’s prayer seems not quite accurate in saying, “forgive us as we forgive those….”  God does not withhold forgiveness until we do our duty. It’s more like “forgive us so that we may forgive.”  Not instant or easy, it is worth the effort. There we find peace. By taking the risk of spending the talents and wealth of our hearts, we gain so much more than we lose. Instead of losing the gold, our earthen or clay hearts become gold. By forgiving our neighbor we become fully human. By giving and receiving forgiveness we become—don’t you think, just a chink?—like God, divine.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
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Christ the King

One of my favorite hymns is "Crown him with many crowns," and it certainly is appropriate for today's solemnity, because it is exultant joyful praise and because Jesus is our King under many titles. If you, too, like it, , be sure to come to for Vespers tonight, when you can join our community in singing it. Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Redeemer, is indeed King of Kings: King as Eternal Word, King as co-Creator of our vast universe; He has redeemed us for Himself as his people through His blood; He is the Messiah of royal David's line, awaited for many generations. Pilate may have written the title on the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, king of the Jews," to mock and to irritate the Jewish leaders, but I suspect he recognized the truth of it. The crown of thorns and the title on the cross may have been thought mockery, but when God raised Jesus from the dead He vindicated the claim to messianic dignity and royalty. We who believe, recognize Jesus as King not only of the Jews but of all the universe.

I have no idea when the term "King of the universe" was coined, but it undoubtedly means much more to us now than it could have then. Now we know how the vast is this universe, containing billions of galaxies, each containing billion and billions of stars. Only relatively recently have we begun to discover planets other than Earth. Given the vastness of our universe, there are certainly millions of them, possibly billions. If that is true, statistically speaking, many would be in orbits a moderately distance from their sun (star), so that life could exist, and intelligent life evolve. The Vatican acknowledges the possibility of life outside ourEarth. All of these would be under Christ=s Kingship. We used to joke about the alien who says, "Take to your leader," now perhaps less jokingly, we inquire "Would you baptize an alien?" Would we expect them already to have received revelation of the Christian mysteries? Or would we send them to the nearest RCIA program? I hope the question never confronts me!

More seriously, this solemnity comes as the culmination of all history. The liturgical year is cyclical: as one year ends another begins, so that next Sunday will be 1st of Advent. But history is not cyclical; it moves toward its conclusion, and unrolls according to the plan of God. Psalm 33 says: "The Lord foils the plan of nations,/ frustrates the designs of peoples./ But the plan of the Lord stands forever,/ wise designs through all generations." Individual prophets grasped parts of the plan. Nathan promised an eternal dynasty to David. Isaiah and Jeremiah saw and foretold the rise and fall of mighty empires and proclaimed that through these events God's plan was being carried forward. God declares through Second Isaiah: "At the beginning I foretell the outcome;/in advance, things not yet done./ I say that my plan shall stand,/ I accomplish my every purpose." Clearly the life and work of Jesus is the center-piece of that plan, and so the author of Ephesians can say: "In all wisdom and insight, [God] has made known to us the mystery of his will .... in accord with his favor that he set forth in [Jesus], as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth."

Our readings for today are very apt for this solemnity: in the first, the transcendent Lord comes down among His scattered sheep... to be truly a King by being their shepherdBan image Jesus later applies to Himself. In St. Paul's reading from Corinthians Jesus is shown as King by overcoming all enemies, those whole final coming of God's kingdom. In the gospel Jesus is presented as King and judge of all; but emphasis is not on judgment and punishment of the wicked; it insists rather on the behavior that must prevail in His kingdom. All members must care for each other: feeding and clothing one another, caring for one another: in other words, showing love for one another. Those whowill not act so, have no place in His kingdom. We see this in the way Our Holy Faher Pope Francis would lead us.

Scripture has many different scenarios for the final consummation, the end of human history. One scenario describes a cataclysmic Armageddon, another a universal judgment, another a vision of all nations flowing to Mt. Zion to beat swords into plowshares, another a vision of a new heavens and a new earth. This last scenario, which involves a transformation of creation itself, relates to what St. Paul speaks of in Romans: "creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God." We may be tempted to point to the sad state of the world around us and say that no such plan is in evidence. But God's hand isn't always that evident. I think of Psalm 77, in which the psalmist looks at the evils of his day and concludes, "This is my grief, the right hand of the Lord has left us." But then he reflects upon days gone by, on the wonders God has worked for Israel in delivering them from slavery in Egypt in the events of the exodus; he recalls how God led them through the Red Sea, though (as he says) "your footsteps were unseen." We may continue to believe God leads us, even when "his footsteps are unseen."

None of the scenarios referred to are beyond the power of the God who brought all the mass and energy in our vast universe into existence in a fraction of a second; it is, rather, a question of what kind of scenario God desires and plans for us. And we can be sure that it is not the Armageddon beloved by the Fundamentalists. The last of the great OT messianic prophecies is that of Zechariah: "Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion,/ shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!/ See, your king shall come to you;/ a just savior is he,/ Meek, and riding on an ass,/ on a colt, the foal of an ass./ He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,/ and the horse from Jerusalem;/ The warrior's bow shall be banished,/ and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.

It is not for His power that God wishes to be known, but rather for goodness and love, mercy and forgiveness While Jesus is King of the vast universe, most of it is too hot or too cold to sustain life. It is in the human heart that He wishes to reign. He could gather all together for a fearful judgment but He would rather return to an earth that had willingly learned of Him, because He is meek and humble of heart, to an earth that had taken His yoke, because His yoke is sweet, and had taken His burden, because His burden is light. Should the whole world do this, His return would be received with joy by all, a world where all the swords had been beaten into plowshares.

We can hasten that day by choosing leaders who seek to accomplish ends through peaceful means, through international cooperation rather than going to war, leaders who would take the Messiah of Zechariah as their model, the Jesus who proclaims Himself "meek and humble of heart." And on the individual level we can promote Christ's rule and help bring His plan to completion by striving to live in peace with each other, crowning Him with many crowns in our hearts.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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  • November 27, 2014
  • Year A
  • by Fr. Michael

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A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.

Fr. Michael Hall
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First Sunday of Advent

  • November 30, 2014
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Christopher

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A transcript is not available for this homily. Please listen here.

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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