Homilies - July 2015

Select a homily to read:
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year: July 5, 2015 by Fr. Gabriel Myers
Feast of St. Benedict: July 11, 2015 by Fr. Michael Hall
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year: July 12, 2015 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Sixteenth Sunday of the Year: July 19, 2015 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year

When I read scripture or think about life, I feel like I’m in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I mean programs on the History Channel which deals with such problems as who built Stonehenge, where is Noah’s ark, whether King Arthur will return. Less interesting to me are cold case crimes, conspiracy theories, and UFO’s. If anyone even thinks of flying saucers any more.

Religion and mystery are closely connected. At the elementary level, religious mystery involves the miraculous: marian appraritions like those at Lourdes or Medugorje, healings through the intercession of Padre Pio, relics like the Shroud of Turin or bleeding statues. As we grow in faith, the miraculous becomes less important. But we all need a layer of life that is not routine and predictable. This shouldn’t be an escape into fantasy. We enter the real realm where God is, the realm in which God communicates through silence. That is the realm of prayer, which for Christians is rooted in the sacramental life. That is why we say, “in order to more worthily celebrate the sacred mysteries….” We don’t need to be perfect to experience the mystery, but we want to have the capacity to enter them--these vehicles taking us to beauty and wholeness and the presence of God. When mass ends, we take this experience with us and make use of it through the week.

Today’s readings contain two, maybe three, unsolved mysteries. The first is Paul’s thorn in the flesh which he melodramatically describes as “an angel of Satan.” This makes it seem as if God and Satan were equals fighting over the human soul. But God is always “bigger.” Yet God allows the thorn to remain in Paul, harassing him, even though he begs to have it taken away. This makes us wonder, what was the thorn? A physical defect like a squinty eye or a nervous tic? A stutter or a tendency to panic attacks, affecting Paul’s public speaking? An addiction or compulsive behavior relating to drink, or more likely, anger? Paul had a temper. Moderns think of some emotional illness or sexual irregularity. These are thorns that many of us have to endure. It is frustrating not to know; in heaven we will find out, but then it will probably be irrelevant.

Paul gains insight from his thorn, his satanic angel. He learns that God’s grace is sufficient for him, that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. These are truths we long to learn and assimilate. Not so grace becomes an excuse for our bad behavior. But that our problem will shrink in importance when we experience the depths of the love of God.

In the gospel there may be two unsolved mysteries. Some people will wonder about the brothers and sisters of Jesus. Do they contradict the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Mother? To me that doesn’t seem a big problem, or maybe I’m too lazy to put the answer into words. This is the unsolved mystery that interests me. “In Nazareth, Jesus could do no miracles there—parenthesis--except for laying hands on a few sick people--close parenthesis. He was amazed at their unbelief, their hardness of heart.” It is surprising that Jesus can’t do what he wants to do. It is surprising that he who knows everything is taken by surprise. It raises the strange question of whether human stubbornness is stronger than God. Is God not “bigger” than us?

The mystery deepens when we compare later versions of this story. Matthew shares some of our perplexities, our reservatitons. He says, “Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.” Did not do many, rather than could not do any. There is more deliberate choice on Jesus’ part. In this version Jesus is not surprised.

The most extended version of the story is given by Luke. He puts it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. There are no miracles or healings at all, just his words, which are miraculous enough to change lives. Jesus comes into the Nazareth synagogue, takes the book of Isaiah, and reads those poetic words, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to declare release to the captive, give sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and proclaim the Lord’s favor.” He rolls up the scroll and announces, “This scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Oh to have been there for that spine-tingling moment. Yet we really are, whenever the Word of God is proclaimed and explained. That is when we find, in and for ourselves, the fulfillment of God’s promises.

It is strange is that Jesus then deliberately taunts his audience, and provokes their hostility. He mercilessly exposes the skepticism underneath these people with whom he grew up, their stingy thinking, “who is this but the carpenter’s son?” Jesus says, “You will say, ‘physician, heal yourself’ [is Jesus ever more sarcastic?]; for no prophet is accepted in his own country.” To slam the message home, he refers to two non-Jewish miracles, puncturing their national pride. They are so enraged that they leap from their seats (this is the synagogue, they are sitting reverently like you are right now), wanting to throw him over the cliff! But Jesus, finally exercising some supernatural power, slips through the crowd, evading them, to safety.

It is an appealing story. All three versions of it suggest an element of cooperation and receptivity necessary on our part, in order for God to perform his transforming work. This is discouraging to those of us who have trouble believing anything, whose faith is captive to “weakness.” This brings us to what Paul learned about weakness.

Spiritual mysteries are not so much to be solved, as to be lived with, grown by, and even seen as blessings. The greatest unsolved mystery is the individual self that God gives; the greatest unsolved mystery is in the heart. In the heart also we find the key to the mystery of eternal life. It seems there are always thorns around the key. Yet the key unlocks the room where we find the people and things we love, and beyond that room is the God who is the source of them. This is explained, much better, by Teresa of Avila in “The Interior Castle.” In the heart we find God’s grace sufficient for us. It is a hard lesson to learn. But it is by enduring the thorns that we find God’s power is made perfect in weakness. We don’t so much solve the mystery as learn, with joy, to live with it.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
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Feast of St. Benedict

  • July 11, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Michael

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Fr. Michael Hall
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Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

  • July 12, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Joseph

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I'm often asked is who my favorite prophet. Including Amos (today’s first reading) there are 15 Old Testament prophets altogether. Amos is certainly one of my three favorites, along with Hosea and Isaiah. Hosea is wonderful for the way in which he speaks of the Lord's great love for Israel. "When Israel was a child I loved him, out of Egypt I called my son. ... I drew them with human cords, with bands of love. I fostered them like those who raise an infant to their cheeks." Isaiah is wonderful for his messianic oracles: "The young woman is pregnant and about to bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." And, "The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them." However, they, like the other prophets were also keen on social justice. Isaiah, after telling them that their sacrifices are unacceptable because of avarice, goes on:"cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow." Or again: "Woe to those who enact unjust statutes, who write oppressive decrees, Depriving the needy of judgment, robbing my people's poor of justice, Making widows their plunder, and orphans their prey!" Hosea, too, longs for justice. People like him because he speaks of love, but his word hesed, which we translate “love,” really refers to the good that is done to the weak, the poor, by the rich; understand this when he says, "For it is hesed that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

But Amos is exceptional for his single-minded concern for the poor and contempt for those who defraud them, for those who "trample the heads of the destitute into the dust of the earth and force the lowly out of the way," who enslave the poor for a measly debt. The Lord says, "Yes, I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins: Oppressing the just, accepting bribes, turning away the needy at the gate" (i.e., the place of judgment). For Amos, there is only one remedy: "Seek good and not evil, that you may live; ... Hate evil and love good, and let justice prevail at the gate; then it may be that the Lord will have pity.

What is the point of my going into all this at such length? The world has had 2,700 years to meditate on these great 8th century prophets, and what has changed? Amos sees the election Israel has received from the Lord as a reason for greater responsibility, as a reason for greater punishment. He refers to them as "A nation favored from the first." In a way, when we the see the abundant resources and other blessings bestowed on our country, we could also say we are "a nation favored from the first." But why did we have a stupendous financial breakdown in 2008? It can be summarized in one word: greed; greed which led to predatory lending. Subprime mortgages attracted people who couldn't afford them. Risky mortgages were pooled and sold off to investors. The lenders now had their money, so that when the housing market tanked, it was the investors who lost. When the purchasers defaulted, their houses were repossessed by banks. The bankers won both ways: they had the money and the houses. We group them under the term "the bankers," but they were individuals looking for profit no matter who was hurt, i.e., home purchasers and those who invested in bad mortgages, often losing their homes PLUS their life savings. We can hear Amos saying, "woe to those who make widows their plunder and orphans their prey." To others responsible for fraudulent investment schemes we can put names, such as Ponzi; most we cannot name. But whether named or not they need to tremble at the “woes” pronounced by the prophets.

If the words of the prophets seem to have had no effect, where can we place our hope? Today’s gospel tells us of Jesus sending out His apostles, and we know their message was, as was His, "The kingdom of God is at hand." It tells us that though human nature has not changed, God has sent us relief, even though it is of a different sort. It is not a message that will reimburse the widow of what she has been defrauded, but it can lead her (and us) to trust in riches far greater, riches that cannot be stolen. Paul tells us (today’s second reading), "In him we have redemption by his blood, in the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he has lavished upon us."

If you are so attached to earthly goods that these words of "the riches of his grace" bring you no consolation, I have no message for you. We learn that God has "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens," that "God chose us in Jesus before the foundation of the world." We need to do our thinking on a wholly different level. God sent His Son to suffer an unimaginably painful death and raised Him from the dead for the "forgiveness of our transgressions" and to promise us a glory "that eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the human heart what God has prepared for those who love him." That forgiveness and glory is open even for those who have been defrauding and evicting widows, but who are now repentant; there is one one hitch, however: you have to make restitution for all you have gained through fraud.

We are not here to give lessons in investment or even how to avoid being defrauded. We are here to call to mind those words of Jesus, "Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart."

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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Sixteenth Sunday of the Year

  • July 19, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Christopher

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Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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