Homilies - March 2015

Select a homily to read:
Second Sunday of Lent: March 1, 2015 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Third Sunday of Lent: March 8, 2015 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill
Fourth Sunday of Lent: March 15, 2015 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill
St. Joseph's Day: March 19, 2015 by Fr. Joseph
The Passing of St. Benedict: March 23, 2015 by Abbot James Wiseman
Fifth Sunday of Lent: March 23, 2015 by Fr. Philip Simo
The Annunciation of the Lord: March 26, 2015 by Fr. Michael Hall
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord: March 30, 2015 by Abbot James Wiseman

Second Sunday of Lent

Today's reading of the near-sacrifice of Isaac is certainly one of the more dramatic narratives in the OT. Like a good narrative, it leaves a lot for us to imagine and to question. A modern might ask: was Abraham right to go through with the deed, even though he thought it was God's command? If he were charged with murder, would his defense be accepted? These are questions we are not supposed to ask. We might better ask what thoughts, what feelings were in Abraham's mind. Here again the author leaves us to our own devices, though the compilers of our lectionary left out a crucial hint that the biblical author supplied. Why do our readings leave out passages contained in the Scriptures? I suppose it's because the compilers think we can't sit still that long. One liturgist of my acquaintance, when the Church first adopted a third reading for Sundays (from the OT, in addition to the epistle and gospel), expressed the opinion that it was “pastorally a disaster, people won't sit still for it.” I think it was because he didn't much like the OT. He was fond of quoting an EBC Abbot as saying, "The OT is the most over-rated book ever written."

The passage omitted in our lectionary has this as Abraham and Isaac are walking up the mountain: "As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. 'Father!' he said. He replied, 'Here I am,' hineni, in Hebrew. This phrase expresses not so much presence as ready obedience. It come three times in this passage. At the beginning God calls "Abraham" the response is hineni. The third time is when the angel called to him, "Abraham! Abraham!" the response is hineni. Here, after addressing his father, Isaac goes on,"Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?' 'My son, "God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering." Then the two walked on together. How pregnant this silence that followed! We can only imagine Abraham's thoughts. Does the narrator gives any insight into Isaac's thoughts? Does Isaac have any inkling of what is to come? Why is his father so quiet, so mysterious? The narrator leaves us to guess, but Jewish tradition is not so reticent, it has an answer. The event is very important in Jewish piety and spirituality. It is called the “Aqeda,” the binding of Isaac. According to this tradition, Isaac knew all along what was planned and was willing for it to be. But he feared that at the last moment he might weaken and resist, and so he asked Abraham to bind him so that this couldn't happen. Another tradition Jewish tradition, less pious, says that from that moment on, Isaac never turned his back to his father.

These are questions the narrator does not answer, but certain things are clear. We know that the story has two important points: one is the sublime faith and obedience of Abraham. The second is the repetition of God's promises: at the end, after speaking through the angel of Abraham's numerous progeny, He goes on to say, "in your descendants all the nations will find blessing, because you obeyed my command."

And this reminds us of the third important theme, for us Christans, especially for Lent: Abraham's offering of his son is a type of God the Father's giving up His Only Begotten Son for our salvation. Unlike Abraham, whose son was spared, God's offering of His Son goes to its consummation. What God does not demand from Abraham, He requires of Himself. And there are other differences. Throughout the action, Isaac is passive, uncomprehending. Jesus, however, is fully aware and cooperates through His obedience. The Epistle to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 40 as Jesus response:

Sacrifice and offering you do not want;
but ears open to obedience you gave me....
so I said, "Here I am; (Not hineni)
your commands for me are written in the scroll.
To do your will is my delight.

In the OT type, God never intended the death of Isaac, but the Father of Jesus gave His firstborn for our redemption. Truly, through Him “all the nations of the earth will find blessing.”

Does the gospel of the Transfiguration, coming so strangely early Lent, relate to this at all? Yes, because it already calls to mind the theme of Jesus= death and resurrection, which come at the climax of Lent. The Transfiguration comes six days after Peter had confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, at which time Jesus foretold His death and resurrection. The three disciples with Jesus for the Transfiguration are the same three He chose to be with Him for His agony in the garden. This glimpse into Christ's inner glory heartens them for Jesus= agony, and us for the weeks of Lent ahead of us.

In the second reading St. Paul suggests a climax in all this, a climactic point in his great epistle to the Romans. Up to this point Paul has carefully developed the theme of God's love, which through the resurrection of His Son and the gift of the Spirit, assures our salvation. Here, in today's reading, he can sum it up in a couple of rhetorical questions: "If God is for us, who can be against us?" The first reading, so poignant and meaningful in itself, helps to put the next question into context. Paul's question is almost a triumphant exclamation: "Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?” The first reading, which so poignantly depicts the anguish of Abraham, reminds us what it means for a father "not to spare his own son but to hand him over."

Seldom, if ever, will we be called upon to render the sort of obedience that Abraham did, or the greater obedience of Jesus. But if we would be true followers of Jesus and true children of the Father, we must make our own that spirit of ready obedience, with that response hineni, "Here I am." To cultivate this is to cultivate the true spirit of Lent, to direct ourselves toward participating in the joy of Easter that Jesus won for us as the reward of His obedience.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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Third Sunday of Lent

If you have been to Lourdes in southern France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in 1848, you know what the Domain is. As you walk through the town toward the shrines you pass shop after shop selling rosaries, holy pictures, statues and all kinds of religious articles. But once you enter the Domain they are left behind. The Domain is a acres of area where pilgrims can visit the grotto, take the baths, go with the processions of the sick to adoration and pray the rosary by torchlight. It is clearly a sanctuary, a holy ground, respected by all.

Jesus expected the temple in Jerusalem to be a similar sacred space, a place for prayer and reverence for the place where God dwells. When he found people selling oxen, sheep and doves and money changers in the temple AREAS, zeal for his Father’s house consumed him and he drove them out. He knew that those animals and doves were needed for the ritual sacrifices prescribed by the Law of Moses, but the bartering had wedged its way onto holy ground surrounding the Holy of Holies.

It is his Father’s house as he also said when he only 12 years old and was found there by his parents. Sadly now he had to prophesy it would one day be destroyed, with not a stone left upon a stone. It was in fact destroyed by the Romans about 40 years after his death and never rebuilt. When the priests and elders asked Jesus what authority he had to drive out these sellers and money exchangers, he responded with the cryptic, even preposterous statement, Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” These same words were inainly used against him at his trial before the Sanhedrin, along with the charge of disrespecting the Law of Moses.

If all our churches and shrines came down from one cause or another, we would still have what Jesus announced to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. “The hour will come when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. …An hour is coming and is already here when authentic worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” That does not mean we go off by ourselves to commune with nature and make up a religion for ourselves.

St. Peter tells us, “You are living stones, built as an edifice of spirit, into a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ,” who is the capstone and corner stone. We have to be connected with him and others to make that edifice. To worship in spirit and in truth means that we live in obedience to God’s will in union with Jesus, who is the Truth, and that our motives and actions are inspired and aided by the Holy Spirit whom he and the Father have poured into our hearts. Then we become part of that chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation God claims for his own.

We know that all building constructed for religious purposes will someday be abandoned, fall down or knocked down. But while we have our shrines, churches and cathedrals, they are the places where we come together to praise God and petition him for blessings and mercy. We grow into being that one people of God above all when, as now, we prepare to unite ourselves with Jesus at the altar. He eternally offers the Father his perfect sacrifice of obedience unto death that our sins might be forgiven and we might share in his endless life. So, to the Father who sought us, the Son who bought us, the Spirit who taught us, let us rightly offer praise, honor, thanksgiving and our obedience now and forever. AMEN

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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Fourth Sunday of Lent

  • March 15, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Christopher

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Here we are at week four, midway on our Lenten journey to Jerusalem with Jesus. His apostles knew, and Jesus knew too, there were death threats from some of the Jewish leaders if he went there. Jesus insisted on going anyway, and finally Thomas said to the others, “Let us go along to die with him.” They went, but they did not die with him. They ran away confronted with the brutality of crucifixion, and not able to comprehend and believe in the resurrection Jesus had foretold.

We have no excuse to run away from the cross because we know the sequel. Jesus endured that terrible death and rose from the dead in order to pay the full price for our sins and restore us to peace with a loving God. As we heard in St. John’s gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life. God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” There is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s enemies, turning them into one’s friends by the demonstration of such selfless love. Why would anyone go after false gods when Jesus has revealed to us God the Father’s love for us?

We were reminded in the first reading about Israel being seduced by the idols of the nations around them. They scoffed at the messengers God sent them, and did not keep the commandments, causing God to become very angry. God is jealous for the chosen people with whom he has made a covenant. To bring them to their senses, he lets them be punished for their sins, but again and again he holds back from their complete destruction and gives them a new chance to return to him with all their heart.

When we look at our own lives with our alternating sinning and repenting, we might see in ourselves a microcosm of Israel’s history. People come to confession and sadly admit that they have to confess the same sins again and again. That plight can lead either to despairing of God’s mercy or presumption of it by making no effort to use the spiritual weapons of warfare we have been given to change.

Pope Francis has just recently announced an extraordinary Jubilee Year focusing on mercy, starting December 8th. Some people were already criticizing the Pope for emphasizing mercy over morals, complaining that he is not firm enough about holding up the moral teachings of the church. He has good precedents. Pope Francis points us to a God who is like the father of the prodigal son. He watched every day for his son to come home, ran to meet him when he saw him coming, and held a party for his coming home alive. Peter once asked Jesus how many times he should forgive sinners. Jesus answered not just seven times, but seventy times seven times. In other words, don’t count. We just heard in the second reading Paul telling the Ephesians, “God is rich in mercy. Because of his great love for us, he brought us to life with Christ Jesus when we were dead in our sins.”

It was out of compassion that God sent the prophets and finally his own Son to warn us of the punishments that come from not keeping the commandments. Yet fear of punishment is not enough to stop us from sinning. It is God’s unconditional, enduring love that pierces our hard hearts leading us to repentance and conversion. We are truly given new life when we surrender to the power of Jesus’ sacrifice restoring us to peace with God, peace within ourselves and union with the whole body of Christ, the church. Then we can begin to keep the commandments as a way of a loving response to God’s love.

We pray in the psalms, Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his love, and his mercy, endure forever. If his love and mercy endures forever, then there is no reason to despair. There is no sin that the blood shed on the cross by the Son of God cannot forgive, except the refusal to accept the gift of his having made satisfaction for us all. Jesus let himself be lifted up on the cross to draw all to himself. When we unite ourselves with his most acceptable sacrifice here on the altar, he lifts us up to and draws us closer to sharing in his life of glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, the one God who is worthy of our praise, honor, thanksgiving, and obedience now and forever. AMEN.

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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St. Joseph's Day

  • March 19, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Joseph

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I was really in trouble this time, the evening of March 18th, and I was clueless as to what to say in my homily today. Reluctant as I was, I called on St. Joseph for help. He replied promptly but was not in a helpful mood. "You've been doing this enough years that you should be able to do it by yourself." "I said, please have a heart. I'm recovering from spinal surgery, I'm troubled with almost constant itching, and I'm just getting over the flu." He=s really a very compassionate person, so he relented. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll let you in on something only I experienced on Christmas night. This is the first time this story has been told"

He went on to explain: "The Infant Jesus was lying safely in the manger, the ass and the ox sleeping quietly. It had been a long and difficult day, especially for Mary, and she had quickly fallen asleep. I crept out to take one last look at the wonder Infant before retiring, when I beheld a figure come out of the shadows." He went to the manger and with an air of quiet propriety, took the Divine Infant in his arms. I recognized him as the prophet Isaiah. He said to me, 'This, at last, is the Baby I spoke of when, seven hundred years ago, I said, 'Behold, the young women shall be with child and shall call his name Immanuel, because 'Truly, God is now here with us. He will be all I said he would be: wonder counselor, Father forever, Prince of Peace. He shall sit upon the throne of David. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding. He shall judge the poor with justice, he shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth. Like a shepherd he shall feed his flock, carrying them in his bosom. God's Spirit shall rest upon him and he shall bring forth justice to the nations. A bruised reed he shall not break, a dimly burning wick he will not quench. The Lord shall make Him a light to the nations, and his salvation shall reach to the ends of the earth.'

This was all very beautiful and all very true, and I think he could have gone on much longer, but now from the shadows emerged another figure, much more aggressive and looking a little impatient. He started out (addressing Isaiah), 'Well, I foretold the whole promise business three hundred before you did. What would all your fine words about the 'throne of David' mean without my prophecy? Remember, Israel did not rank with Egypt, the Hittites, or Assyria ever; it was just a postage stamp on the face of the earth; David, in the eyes of the great ones of the earth was a nobody. I had the faith to tell David, in the name of the Lord, ‘your house andyour kingdom are firm forever before me.' And of this Little One you are holding, I proclaimed, 'I will raise up your offspring after you ... I will establish his kingdom. ... I will establish his royal throne forever. I will be a Father to Him, and He shall be a Son to me.' I recognized now that it was Nathan the prophet who was speaking. He went on, 'if it had not been for me, you could not have spoken all those fine words we have just had from you. And now I understand how truly I spoke, beyond my understanding, for this one truly is the Son of God, though in a sense far beyond any I intended.'

The reverence of the moment was shattered as a new figure emerged from the shadows, and he clearly had no desire to preserve the reverence of the moment. He was rough looking, dusty as though on the road much, rough also when he spoke: 'Well, now that these Johnnies-come-lately have put in their claim for glory by foretelling this new born King, my claim comes before either of them. I was on the scene before Israel entered their land. I am Balaam, the Seer that Balak, king of Moab, called to curse Israel, but God made me to bless them, instead. Of this Child I said, 'I see him, though not now; I observe him, though not near: A star shall advance from Jacob, and a scepter shall rise from Israel. Israel will act boldly, and Jacob will rule his foes.' An awkward silence followed: although Balaam seems to have done all that God required of him, he ended up with a bad reputation in Scripture, as all present knew.

The tension was dispelled by yet another figure from the shadows, a figure both majestic and jovial. It was Father Abraham. He looked on all present with amused affection. 'I really don't approve of one-upmanship in spiritual matters, but in all honesty, I need to intervene. With whom can all these promises begin except with me? Before there was an Israel, much less any thought of a "house of David," God said to me, 'I will make of you a great nation. ... In your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing.' This Blessed Child here before us is the culmination of that great promise. As St. Paul will one day point out, 'The promises were made to Abraham and his descendant. It does not say, 'And to descendants,' as referring to many, but as referring to one, 'and to your descendant,' and that one is Christ the Lord.' Thus testifies both the OT and the NT."

But there was still one to be heard from. From the shadows there emerged one last figure. It was a woman wonderfully beautiful and gracious. All present instinctively recognized her as Mother Eve; she look at all with love, and with goodly humor. All reacted with the reverence she deserved. She said, 'You are all my dear children and you all have a claim of sorts to be at the beginning of the promise. But I am afraid I had the promise before any of you. It's true, it is a little difficult to interpret those words God spoke to the Serpent: 'I will place enmity between you and the woman, between her offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.' It sounds like a forecast of perpetual, endless strife, and so it has been. But God didn't intend it to be endless. The 'offspring' did turn out to be just One in whom all would fulfilled, just as Paul said--this Child we all see, is the One to crush the Serpent's head, though at great cost to Himself."

I looked at St. Joseph, knowing there could be no other claimants after Eve. I said, 'This is all very nice and does add up to a homily; it is edifying and instructive. But this is for your solemnity, this was to be a homily in your honor.' He said, "How could anything please a father, even a foster-father more than to hear all these wonderful words spoken of his Son and all He will do? Nothing could make me happier than to hear my Son extolled as Savior of the world, the One to crush the Serpent's head, to reconcile all to the Father." And here my vision ended.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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The Passing of St. Benedict

  • March 23, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Abbot James

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Abbot James Wiseman
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Fifth Sunday of Lent

  • March 23, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Philip

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Fr. Philip Simo
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The Annunciation of the Lord

  • March 26, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Michael

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Fr. Michael Hall
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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

There is a sense in which today’s feast was for some years undergoing what might be called an identity crisis. When I and many of you were children, this day was simply called Palm Sunday. Then, in 1955, its name was changed to Second Sunday of the Passion or Palm Sunday, and finally (at least up to now!) it is officially Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. One can easily understand the difficulty, for the opening ritual with its procession is quite different in tone from the Mass itself. The Commemoration of the Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem recalls something joyful and festive, with crowds waving palm branches in acclamation or strewing those branches and even their cloaks on the road on which Jesus was passing by as they shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” But as the Mass begins, the tone becomes somber: our Opening Prayer refers to Christ’s submission to the cross and his patient sufferings, the first reading foreshadows his passion with its reference to a mysterious Suffering Servant who does not shield his face from buffets and spitting, the reading from Philippians recalls Christ Jesus’ obedience to the point of death, and the Passion according to Mark recounts not only our Lord’s terrible physical suffering but his anguished cry of abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Some commentators try to tone this down by suggesting that those words about abandonment simply show that Jesus was beginning to pray the 22nd psalm, which ends on a note of triumph and exultation: “I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you. The generations to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have wrought.” Yes, the psalm does end on that note, but I think it very misguided to suggest that this is what the evangelist is hinting at, for after that verse Mark has Jesus almost at once uttering one further loud cry and then breathing his last. Surely Mark is showing us the full extent to which Jesus shared our humanity, plumbing the depths not only of physical pain but of mental and emotional suffering as well. Blessed Martin of León, a twelfth-century priest from whom we monks had a reading at Morning Prayer earlier today, surely got it right when he wrote: “So utterly did Christ efface himself for our salvation that during his passion it even seemed as if God had deserted him, so that he was impelled to cry out from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”

Now is there any lesson for us in this radical change from one crowd shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David” and another crowd, only a few days later, mockingly taunting: “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.” One possible lesson could be taken from the older custom of having the congregation carry palms not only during the opening procession but also during the reading of the Passion, for a liturgical historian has pointed out that in this way the congregation is led recall that many of the same people who greeted Christ with shouts of joy on Palm Sunday would call for his death on Good Friday—a powerful reminder of our own weakness and sinfulness that causes us at times to reject Christ. Such reminder might be salutary, but I find that historian’s point unconvincing, for we have absolutely no way of knowing if any of those who greeted Jesus so joyfully on his entrance into Jerusalem were also among those calling for his crucifixion just a few days later. We will surely be on more solid ground if we simply recognize that the linkage of Palm Sunday with Good Friday—just a few days apart from each other—illustrates in the starkest manner possible the radically different stances one may take to Jesus, whether during his lifetime or in our own day.

In Mark’s Gospel, which we have been hearing and will continue to hear on most Sundays throughout this year, the opposition to Jesus starts building already at the very beginning of the second chapter, where his telling the paralytic that his sins are forgiven elicits the charge from some of the scribes that he was blaspheming, the very same charge that the high priest made in the reading we just heart: “What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy.” In our own time, the charges are generally of a somewhat different sort: not that Jesus himself was guilty of claiming to be divine but that his followers have been misguided in making that claim. Without much difficulty, one can find comments in magazine articles or on television and other visual media that mock Christian belief. This means that we, just like the first disciples and also like all Christians who will follow us down the ages, are faced with the very same question that Jesus asked at Caesarea Philippi: “But who do you say that I am?” And when we answer as did St. Peter, “You are the Messiah,” that is, the Christ, the anointed one of God, we must also humbly acknowledge that we do not and cannot fully comprehend just what that means. Perhaps the closest we can come is to recall what St. John tells us in his first letter, that God is love, and that we see in the life and teaching of Jesus that love personified: not a love that is sentimental or wishy-washy, lacking in character or strength, but one that not only consoles those who are sorrowing but also confronts those who are self-righteous or greedy or hypocritical, just as God confronted all the evil-doers of ancient Israel through the words of prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Micah.

For us, even as for the first Christians in Judea and Galilee, it comes down to beholding in Jesus someone like God in human form, which is what lies behind the lyric cry of the early Church: “We have seen his glory,… full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). As we continue this morning’s celebration of the Eucharist, let us not forget that there are many, very many of our fellow Christians in other parts of the world facing severe persecution and death for this faith, some of them, including young boys, even undergoing crucifixion just like their Master. May they be strengthened to hold firm to their faith, and may we, in far less difficult circumstances, live more and more in such a way that our very lives will give witness to what the Roman centurion said as Jesus breathed his last: “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

Abbot James Wiseman
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