Homilies - June 2015

Select a homily to read:
The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: June 7, 2015 by Fr. Michael Hall
Eleventh Sunday of the Year: June 14, 2015 by Fr. Gabriel Myers
Twelfth Sunday of the Year: June 21, 2015 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Twelfth Sunday of the Year: June 21, 2015 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill (at St. Matthew's Cathedral)
Thirteenth Sunday of the Year: June 28, 2015 by Abbot James Wiseman (at CUA)
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul: June 29, 2015 by Fr. Gabriel Myers

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

  • June 1, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Michael

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Fr. Michael Hall
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Eleventh Sunday of the Year

  • June 14, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Gabriel

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The second reading says: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil."  Could there be more unappealing, less uplifting words in today’s readings?  Could there be a passage less likely to be expounded on in homilies around the world this morning?  Yet the theme threads through all the readings.  In Ezekiel God brings down the high and raises what is low. Even if the arc of history bends toward justice, this won’t happen in our lifetimes.  Jesus tells the parable of the seed growing.  First the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  Then the crop is ready for the sickle of harvest.  An ancient perversion of this theme makes this a threat.  Authority figures through the ages have used it to keep those under them in line.  The sickle helps personify death as the grim reaper.  Can any of this material be used creatively, to make constructive sense in our age?

It relates to a nostalgic moment for me. I will share it despite its self-referential qualities.  It has a point but will take a while to get there. In June 2002 I was invited to preach at a special service in England (I was already there.)  It was the 125th anniversary of the Anglican diocese of St Albans.  A friend from the Anglican church in Bedford wangled the invitation for me.  Bedford is at the geographic center of England, and St Paul’s is at the center of the town. There has been a church there for a thousand years. It is an ordinary parish church, but to us it would look like a small cathedral.  Naturally I said yes, though it meant extra work during vacation. I cobbled together a message on St Alban, the first martyr in Britain, a Roman soldier who died for his Christian friend.

It was a bright morning; the sun poured through the windows; there was to be a parish picnic afterwards.  The music was fabulous.  At the end, we sang a St Alban song, to the music of the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Glory, glory, hallelujah, his truth is marching on.  The people beamed at me, their token American, as they belted it out.  It felt like the Super Bowl but I was a little embarrassed.  American Christians would cringe at such a degree of naked patriotism in church. 

My homily was unmemorable but this was insignificant.  The crystallizing moment was just before I began to speak.  My podium was a medieval pulpit, carved in stone, very high.  So during the Alleluia, I climbed the spiral stone stair.  I thought of the apostles going up the mount of transfiguration, or Moses ascending Mount Nebo.  At the top I had a wonderful view.  The sun streaming down, the people smiling up, the slight expectant pause.  It was a little bit of heaven, the beauty, the connection.

It was not any antique pulpit.  On March 10, 1758, almost 250 years before, the great itinerant evangelist John Wesley stood in it to preach a sermon.  It is estimated that in fifty years he rode 250,000 miles on horseback and gave 40,000 sermons; his brother Charles wrote 5,000 elegant hymns, some of which we sing today.  Overachievers.  But their sermons and songs warmed people’s hearts at a time when the institutional church seemed cold and dead.  Wesley’s approach compares to the Catholic discovery of the sacred heart, which we celebrated the other day.  Both emphasized the importance of feeling, over the cerebral, in the spiritual life.  Wesley’s audience was the poor and marginalized, to whom he donated all his preaching fees.  So I felt humble when I got to the top, standing where he stood.  This had to be the high point of my career. But my entertaining little reflection would not compare with the profound gravity of his sermon.

On that March morning he spoke on the text we heard in the second reading.  “We shall all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.”  I wonder what he said.  I daresay it was quite different from what he’d say today.  But today it would be something rather than nothing, and I don’t think it would be threatening.  It would invite people to love the Lord.

The best I can do is to connect judgment to the themes of connection and meaningfulness.  When I reached the summit of that pulpit I felt connected in all sorts of ways.  To God’s sunlight, to those expectant Britishers gazing up at me, to my homeland and its history by the Glory-Hallelujahs, to the grassy slope not far away where a Roman soldier named Alban was beheaded to protect his friend.  And to John Wesley in that Quaker hat and gloomy frock-coat.  With a saddle-sore behind and gentle face.  Maybe humming his brother’s hymn “Love divine, all loves excelling.”

The etymology of the word religion relates to binding or connecting. Re-ligare is the intensive of bind fast or join.  The words, “rely” and “ligament” also come from the Latin by this route. So if we connect to the past as well as the present, if we bind fast to people who are different from us as well as the congenial, if we join our earthly selves to the heavenly--we are “getting religion.”

The quality of meaningfulness is important in a world where so much is reduced and trivialized.  To put in meaning where it might be trampled down is our way of combatting punitive judgment.  It reminds us that what we do is important.  Yes, there is a lot in our lives that is routine and even mechanized.  So it is important to hold on to what enlarges and is precious. 

I often think of that tube of light described by those who come back after post-death experiences.  All the events of their lives flashed before them in an instant, but not in a hostile or accusing way.  Perhaps we can prepare ourselves in advance so that moment will be particularly meaningful and connective. I hope I have cultivated enough mindfulness that I will see good things in that “judgment movie” of my life.  I hope to see the faces of those I’ve loved, and to view the key-moments in which I felt most connected.  I hope to revisit moments when I was connected to John Wesley, the parishioners of St Paul’s Bedford, and to all of you.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
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Twelfth Sunday of the Year

  • June 21, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Joseph

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The evangelists don't always spell things out for us; they expect us to figure things out for ourselves and even to know something of the Scriptures, including the OT. That is good pedagogy. If we have to reason to come to a conclusion, we will understand it better and remember it longer than if someone just poured it into our brains. For example, sometimes the meaning of a parable is explained to us (e.g., the parable of the sower), but more often we are left to puzzle it out for ourselves. In fact, in Mark we read that "without parables he did not speak to them. But to his own disciples he explained them in private" (4:34). However, although Jesus explained all to them, they haven't passed the explanations on to us. Kind of mean, you think? Well, not really; I think they intended to leave them for us to figure out.

But there are also things other than the parables for us to figure out. For example, I am sure that anyone one of you, if I asked, could explain what is the two-fold meaning Jesus intends when He speaks of being lifted up...? As I'm sure you know, it is because in John, Jesus' suffering and death is already the first stage of His glorification. So for Him "to be lifted up" signifies both His being raised on the cross and His being raised up in glory.

The question asked in today's gospel, "Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?" is equally profound, and it relates to Jesus' very nature, difficult for the earlier Christians to grasp and express in words. To understand fully, we need to be aware of the meanings "the sea" has in the OT.

"The sea" in the OT, can have a whole range of meanings. Sometimes the sea is treated almost as a demonic power--the enemy that only God can overcome. That goes back to old pagan myths in which the raging sea, equated with the Chaos Monster, is the starting point for creation, something the creating deity had to overcome before he could create. This is reflected in a number of OT texts, especially the Psalms: for example, "You rule over the surging of the sea; you still the swelling of its waves. You have crushed Rahab with a mortal blow" (Ps 89:10-11); "you stirred up the sea by your might; you smashed the heads of the dragons in the waters" (Ps 74:13-14). For the OT authors this would be poetic license, because they knew no power could challenge the Lord. When it comes to the official, canonical account of creation in Genesis 1, however, the demonic character is sanitized into the impersonal Abyss, which offered no struggle, and which God transformed into the cosmos.

But aside from the demonic aspect, the sea could be an obstacle and a danger that, again, only God could overcome. We see this, for example, in the exodus account of Israel's deliverance from Egypt. At a crucial moment, as they were fleeing the Egyptian army, there was the sea barring their way. The psalmist describes it in poetic terms: "the waters saw you, O God; the waters saw you and shuddered; the very depths were troubled. . . . Through the sea was your way, and your path through the deep waters. . . . You led your people like a flock under the care of Moses and Aaron" (77:17-21). And, in general, the OT poets describe troubles and dangers as being threatened by deep waters; but in all this they look to God for help because He has mastered the power of the sea: "O Lord God of hosts, who is like you? . . . You rule over the surging of the sea; you still the swelling of its waves" (89:9-10). "More powerful than the roar of many waters, more powerful than the breakers of the sea--powerful on high is the Lord" (93:4).

These texts are helpful background for understanding today's gospel. Most especially, of many other texts which could be cited, is today's first reading from Job, which was chosen to go with that gospel: God says to Job, "who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth....? who said, Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled?"

One final OT quotation--one which today's gospel almost seems to be dramatizing. One of the psalms (Ps 107) presents various groups offering thanks to God for having been delivered from danger. One group are sailors who have escaped a storm at sea: as they were being tossed about by the waves, which "mounted up to heaven, sank to the depths; their hearts melted away in their plight. . . . (Then) they cried to the Lord in their distress (just as the disciples today); from their straits he rescued them. He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled" (Ps 107:26-29).

Today's gospel is a high point in Mark's teaching, but paradoxically, it is given only as a question in the mouths of the disciples: "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" For anyone familiar with the OT and the sort of texts we have been looking at, there can be only one answer. The early Christians were not yet ready to formulate what we call the mystery of the Incarnation, yet that teaching is given in this groping, wondering question. A statement such as "Jesus is God" would have seemed hard to grasp. Mark, the earliest of the gospels, can only place the mystery before us to contemplate, with that question, "Who is this?" Later, there will come the proclamation "Jesus is Lord," which can also be understood in the deepest sense, especially when St. Paul tells us that "God has given him the name [i.e., the divine name] above every other name." Or again, it comes to be understood that Jesus is "Son of God" in the sense that He is in every way equal to the Father. In John, the latest of the gospels, we have Thomas' confession, "My Lord and my God." But hardly anything can go beyond the implications of that question "Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?"

The mysteries God reveals are not intended to remain in the speculative order; they are presented to us so that we may know how to live. Already in today's second reading St. Paul, commenting on the death and resurrection of Christ, says that it was "so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him." We may ask, "How do we live for Him?" First of all, certainly by fidelity and obedience. But equally important is to live for others; He Himself indicated that we are to recognize Him in others, even that our ability to do this would be the basis for our final judgment: "whatever you did it for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me."

This is perhaps the hardest part of Christian life. I don't mean simply "to live for others," but to live for Jesus by living for others. It means looking at another human being, perhaps the down-and-outer, perhaps the one who mistreats us, and asking the question "Who is this?," and coming up with the right answer.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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Twelfth Sunday of the Year (at Cathedral of St. Matthew)

  • June 21, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Joseph

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In an age of air transport across oceans far fewer travelers experience storms at sea than in the times of our grandparents and those before them.  But you do not have to be on a transatlantic liner, naval destroyer, or cargo transport ship to know the fearsome threat of water when the wind stirs up the waves.  It can happen in a fishing boat on the Bay as it happened on the Sea of Galilee in today’s gospel.

If you have been in a storm in a boat or ship you can appreciate the poetic description of its effect in the responsorial psalm 107:  “God’s command raised up a storm wind which tossed its waves on high.  They mounted up to the heaven; they sank to the depths: their hearts melted away in their plight.  They cried to the Lord in their distress; from their straits he rescued them.  He hushed the storm to a gentle breeze, and the billows of the sea were stilled.”

Sister water covers the greater part of the earth’s surface and is essential for life that began in it.   When we bless water for baptism and for the renewal of our baptismal promises, we rehearse all the good qualities of it.  St. Francis sings of it in his canticle that is so beautifully illustrated on side altar here in the Cathedral.
“Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
 "Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water;
she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.”
We joyfully sing that with him though we also know its destructive powers and that some human activity has and is contaminating its purity.

As written in the Book of Genesis:  “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a might wind swept over the waters.”  As the story of creation continues, “God separates the waters into those on the earth and those in its dome, the sky.  Then God said let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin, so that the dry land may appear.  And so it happened.”

Psalm 104 written in praise of God the Creator describes it this way:  “You fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.  With the ocean, as with a garment, you covered it; above the mountains the waters stood.  At your rebuke they fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.  As the mountains rose, they went down the valleys to the place you had fixed for them.  You set a limit they may not pass, nor shall they cover the earth again.”

Psalm 29 praises God’s majesty and power revealed in storms:   “The voice of the Lord is over the waters, the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over the vast waters.”   These are all reminders that God is the maker and master of the forces of nature in creation as he reminded Job in our first reading.  If in the beginning all earth’s forces worked together in harmony and for the good of the whole, after man’s sin everything changed.  St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but by him who once subjected it, not without hope, because the world itself will be freed from the slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freed of the children of God.  Yes, we know that all creation groans, and is in agony even until now.”

We hear about that all too often in news of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, and tornadoes.  We also hear a lot about people in danger at sea these days.  Refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and from Burma risk their lives in hazardous water crossing in order to find a safer place to live.  For them storms are not the only hazard.  It is the unseaworthiness of the craft and the overcrowding that causes the loss of so many lives.  Whatever their religion, I am sure that they pray like Jesus disciples:  “Doesn’t it matter to you, my creator God, that we are going to drown?”  We rightly pray for all of them that the God of us all bring them safely to welcome shores.

These earthly journeys and the awesome forces of nature become metaphors for life’s journey.  Whether by land or by sea, on pilgrimage or voyage, we will encounter storms of infidelity, division, hate, rebellion, despair that cause us to cry out to Jesus:  Where are you?  You said you would be with us always.  He is here and not asleep.  He is here with us gathered as members of his mystical body.  He is here in the word that was proclaimed.  Above all he is here in the spotless victim, the Lamb of God, the most pleasing sacrifice we can offer our God, the gift of his only Son, our Savior in the consecrated bread and wine.  We can invite him to take command of the stormy life within and around us, to speak his calming word, and reassure each of us of the liberating power of his transforming love.  To him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be honor, praise, glory and thanksgiving now and forever.   A M E N

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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Thirteenth Sunday of the Year

Yesterday I was main celebrant and homilist at the abbey for the feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria, a man who was in some respects not altogether exemplary. Among other things, as archbishop he made some extremely harsh pronouncements against Jews and pagans that historians think contributed to rioting and even deaths in Alexandria, especially during the early years of his episcopacy. Nevertheless, there was also a lot of sound teaching in Cyril’s works, especially in the so-called “festal letters” that he had sent around each year at the beginning of Lent. These regularly included not only an eloquent account of God’s love for us as seen in all the events of salvation history but also a clear summons about how we are to respond to that love. For example, Cyril ended one of those letters with these words: “Let us then hold to love for one another, showing ourselves more intent upon hospitality, distinguishing ourselves in concern for the poor, remembering those who are in prison, as though [we were] in prison with them, and [also remembering] those who are ill-treated…. In a word, let us cherish every virtue…. Thus we shall inherit with the saints the kingdom of heaven with Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This morning I want to talk about one way in which we can show that love for others. Our first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, begins with the words that “God did not make death … but fashioned all things that they might have being. And the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them, nor any domain of the netherworld on earth” (Wis. 1:13-15). If we are to respond properly to these words, it means that we, too, should do whatever we can to promote life. It may be that we cannot literally bring back to life someone like the little girl in today’s Gospel, who got up at Jesus’ words Talitha koum: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” But there is a lot of spiritual death and hopelessness in our very city, some of it strikingly illustrated in an article that you may have seen in yesterday’s Washington Post about the use of synthetic drugs in an open-air drug market located just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building. If ever there was a proof that government alone cannot solve this sort of problem, this is it: synthetic drugs that are making people psychotic and sometimes violent being sold within a short walking distance of the very seat of American government.

The really striking thing about that article was the way it showed why people turn to such drugs in the first place. It’s all related to what the reporter called “the larger city scourges of unemployment, homelessness and violence,… where the hopelessness seems to lean right up against the walls of the Labor Department, where the users and dealers shelter in the building’s tunnel.” One man named Darnell Thompson was quoted as saying: “Everyone out here in this society, we’re looking for some way to escape.” He admitted he uses the synthetic drug K2 daily and said that in a sense it works by giving him a quick high. But he added: “But [it works] only for a second, because when my high is gone, I’m still here. Same situation.” He has even been through treatment programs, but he said the results are always the same: “I came out of the program and came right back here.” He has been able to stay off drugs for a month, but the rest was what he called “a foregone conclusion”: “You put me back into the society you took me out of. Now what do you want me to do?” The reporter also quoted a shelter guard who said that it’s not enough for the police simply to try to stop the selling and distribution of such drugs because, in his words, “They’re [selling] it because of lot of them need money. They’re trying to pay rent.”

There’s no doubt that reading articles like that can leave one depressed, but such pieces also present us with a welcome challenge to do something, even if whatever we can do is far from everything. It’s obvious that something like drug use is intimately connected with a whole skein of issues, surely including not only ones mentioned in the article, such as unemployment and homelessness, but also by the fact that many young people are growing up in homes where they may not even know who their father is and where their mother is so busy trying to earn enough money to support the family that she doesn’t have the time or energy to give proper supervision to her children. I’m so pleased that at our abbey school we have a high proportion of minority students who are able to receive enough financial aid to enable them to get the kind of education that is a key factor in escaping the imprisoning, even death-dealing environment in which they might otherwise be trapped. I’m also fairly sure I’ve heard that some of you do tutoring for persons who need help with one or another aspect of schooling, such as reading or math. If that is so, I encourage you to stick with it—and I encourage others to consider taking it up. If you simply help one person get out of a stifling, imprisoning environment, you have brought new life to that person even as, in a different way, Jesus brought new life to the little girl in the Gospel. May our reception of the life-giving sacrament of the Eucharist this morning help us to become bearers of new life in whatever ways are most in accord with our individual abilities and circumstances.

Abbot James Wiseman
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1Abigail Hauslohner, “Scourge of drugs thrives near the Capitol,” Washington Post, June 27, 2015. All subsequent quotations are from this article.


Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

Many wonderful stories, too many to consider on this special day. Most are contrasting stories. I will flash a few up on the screen, and hope that you want to take one away for future contemplation

Paul has an over-the-top conversion. An enemy to the young believers, he “breathes murderous threats.” Then he is struck blind and stunned to silence on the Damascus Road. The horse isn’t actually mentioned in the text but he came down with a hard bump.

Peter’s conversion is under-stated. Oh yes there’s a miraculous element in that catch of fish. But the gentle moment is in the words, “Lord, leave me; I am too sinful.” It is precious when we feel that. And precious when God doesn’t obey, doesn’t let us push him away.

Peter says to the lame man, “I have no money to give but what I have I do give you; in the name of Jesus rise up and walk.” This happens at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Or does the gate become beautiful because this healing happens there?

Paul isn’t so associated with miracles. But there is a peculiar one when a young man gets sleepy or bored during Paul’s preaching. Maybe you can identify with him right now! Paul is going on too long. It is not funny that the young man falls to his death from an upstairs window. Paul brings him back from the land of the dead. This represents what should happen to each of us: being wakened, becoming fully alive.

A similar story for Peter has to do with his release from prison by the angel in the dead of night. The angel uses the keys that are spiritually associated with Peter. At the place where the apostles are staying, young Rhoda, who answers his knock, screams “It is a ghost,” and slams the door in his face.

So many stories over which to reminisce. Including the final ones. Paul is beheaded near the Roman forum. The brilliance of his mind makes appropriate the ruthless cruelty of severing this mind from his body. Whatever I might think about Paul’s headstrong qualities—and he was difficult--I am sure he didn’t flinch.

By contrast, tradition tells us that Peter regressed once more to the spineless he exhibited by his denials after Jesus’ arrest. He runs away in a panic when his time comes near. He meets Jesus coming toward him carrying his cross. Peter says, “Quo vadis, Domine?” though I am sure he wasn’t speaking in Latin. “Where are you going, Lord?” “Into Rome to be crucified a second time,” Jesus answers. Peter is so ashamed he gathers up courage. He seizes the cross, marches back, begs to be crucified upside down. He feels unworthy to die upright in the manner that Jesus did.

The two never appear together. Unless you consider Paul’s writings which criticize Peter. Peter had to be pushed to admit Gentiles to full membership in the company of believers. His fortress mentality is suggested by his keys.

Yet we sing at morning office the beautiful antiphon, “Glorious are the apostles of Christ; they loved each other in this life; they were not divided in death.” It’s ironic: they loved each other at a distance and with some qualifications. But from the perspective of history, they are depicted in icons as holding one another in close embrace. This teaches us the underlying unity among Christians, and maybe even the underlying unity of humans, who are all God’s children. Perhaps from heaven Peter and Paul want to tell us to do things differently: to work toward and experience unity in this life, not wait until death to enjoy it.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
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