Homilies - October 2015

Select a homily to read:
Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year: October 4, 2015 by Fr. Joseph Jensen
Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year: October 11, 2015 by Fr. Christopher Wyvill
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year: October 25, 2015 by Fr. Philip Simo

Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year

Today's first reading on the creation of Eve is chosen to go with today's gospel, i.e., Jesus' words on divorce, but mostly we'll be speaking of what it says about the nature of woman.

We begin by noting God's concern: "It is not good for the man to be alone." The lectionary has God providing a “partner” for him. The older translation had "helper”; this was considered demeaning, but properly understood, nothing could be farther from the truth. The Hebrew word actually does mean "help" and most often it stands for a help that comes only from God. Almost every reference to “help” in the psalms uses the same word, but with reference to God. These include: the one we use for the opening of the Divine Office: “God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me” (Ps 70:2) "Our help is the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth" (124:8); "I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will come my help? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth" (124:8). I could go on, but it would make my homily too long..

In producing this “help,” God first creates the animals, but though they come from the earth, just as Adam, none of them are suitable. A very special creation is needed. Why make her from part of Adam's body? To show they are equal, of the same nature. Why from his rib? St. Bernardino has a beautiful commentary: "God did not make a woman out a bone of Adam's foot, so that he should tread her underground, nor out of a bone of his head, so that she should dominate him; but he made her out of his rib, which is close to his heart, to teach him to love her truly, as his companion."

So the first couple begin as equals, but history shows that that society developed into a patriarchal culture. In this culture a man might take additional wives and concubines. We think of Abraham and Sarah, but there was also Hagar. And of course Jacob had Leah and Sarah as wives, but also two concubines. This was a far cry from the original ideal of "the two becoming one flesh." Women were subject to their fathers or, if married, to their husbands. The punishment for idolatry was death, but a man committed adultery only if he infringed the rights of another man. A widow did not inherit property from her husband. If she were childless, she could be left destitute, a prey to the unscrupulous. A man could divorce a woman, but not the other way around. The grounds for divorce given in the OT, namely, "something indecent," were so vague that one school of rabbis allowed it for almost any reason, e.g., a burnt omelet. That is what prompts the question in today's gospel, "Can a man divorce his wife for ANY reason?" Jesus already makes things better by forbidding divorce.

We know that even today in Near Eastern countries, esp. where Sharia is imposed, women have to be veiled and covered from head to foot, cannot drive a car, are not allowed to be educated. I see this as fear of women gaining equal status. (Even in the States, we were slow to grant women's suffrage.)

The advent of Christianity helped improve this somewhat. Jesus allowed women a share in His ministry, at least in the sense that "the women from Galilee" traveled with Him and the apostles and helped pay their way. He never named them apostles, though that may have been because women could not easily travel alone, would not be accepted as preachers, rather than for any other reason. These women stayed with Him in His passion, while the apostles fled. After His resurrection He appeared first to Mary Magdalen and made her, in effect, an apostle to the apostles.

Paul has a lot to say about women. He starts out very well. In Galatians, the earliest of his "great" epistles, he says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for we are all one in Christ Jesus" (3:28). This suggests equality. Elsewhere Paul is not so kind. We are all familiar with, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church" (Eph 5:22-23). "Women should keep silent in the churches .... But if they want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. For it is improper for a woman to speak in the church" (1 Cor 14:34-35). “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. She must be quiet" (1 Tim 2:12).

Paul has problems when he tries to argue that a woman should not pray with head uncovered. He gives a whole series of reasons: "Any woman who prays ... with her head unveiled brings shame upon her head, for it is one and the same thing as if she had had her head shaved. For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off" (1 Cor 11:5-6). Why does that follows? "If a man wears his hair long it is a disgrace to him, whereas if a woman has long hair it is her glory" (1 Cor 11:14-15). Again, she should be veiled, he says, "because of the angels" (v. 10). Who knows what that means? Feeling he hasn=t made the case, he is reduced to: "Judge for yourselves: is it proper ...?" (v. 13). Lamely, he ends: "we do not have such a custom, nor do the churches of God" (v. 16)

That=s how it was in the early Church, at least Paul's church. How is it now? Let=s take a quick survey. Look around: how many women in veils do you see? In hats? With shaved heads? The lectionary no longer requires that we read about wives being subject to husbands. Women not only speak in church but also read the Scriptures, and for long they have been ministers of the Eucharist. The Church now allows girls to serve at the altar. Women take part in parish councils. Why is the Church reluctant to go further?

It is well known that the early Church had women deacons. A 1995 study of the Canon Law Society of America concluded: "Women have been ordained permanent deacons in the past, and it would be possible for the Church to do so again." This was in 1995, but in 20 years, nothing has been done. There is a reluctance to return to that practice, however useful it might be for the Church today. As for the priesthood, we are discouraged even from discussing that. Yet there are a dozen organizations throughout the world working for the ordination of women, and not a few bishops have called for it. In Ireland (of all places!) the Association of Catholic Priests stated that the Church must ordain women in order to survive. In 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission stated that the NT alone does not settle the matter once and for all. In 1979 a Task Force of the Catholic Biblical Association was less ambiguous; after a study covering many years, it stated: "The conclusion we draw, then, is that the NT evidence, while not decisive by itself, points toward the admission of women in priestly ministry." I may be wrong, but I seem to sense a widespread shift among Catholics on this question of women priests.

Recently Pope Francis said "That door is closed." But will that end the discussion? I know some will condemn me for even suggesting the Church might change its position on this, though it has never been infallibly settled. But if we are truly Catholic believers, we will remember that Jesus said to His apostles, "Behold I am with you even to the end of the world." If we remember that the Holy Spirit is the soul of the Church and guarantees it will not go astray, then we can look to the future with perfect confidence, whatever it brings.

By all means let us not be guilty of the lack of faith displayed in the hand-wringing article in the latest issue of the National Catholic Register, which offers a “guide for survival” for the upcoming synod on family life. It confesses a “sense of anxiety and powerlessness” about it. The author speaks of people relapsing into “clinical depression” because of news coming from the synod held two years ago. For this new one he speaks of pressure groups looking to change the divine law, and of “many priests and bishops betraying the faith.” “Survive” a synod? My God, where should we expect the faith to be safe, if not in a gathering of cardinals and bishops under the guidance of the Pope? Let us believe the Holy Spirit has been behind improving the lot of women in the Church; also in the way Pope Francis is leading us. And let us pray that the Holy Spirit will be active in our own lives, as He is in the Church, with true faith and an active love.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
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Twenty-Eighth Sunday of the Year

It was the 18th century biologist Carl Linnaeus who gave us human beings the binomial taxonomic name Homo sapiens. In so far as what we know today we are the only currently existing sub-species, Homo sapiens sapiens. Neanderthals and others are extinct. Sapiens comes from a Latin root meaning taste, savor. Sapientia from the same root is usually translated as wisdom, a word with Anglo-Saxon roots, and is understood as a deep understanding of created reality, especially the ways and motives of God and man.

In most civilized cultures, wisdom is highly praised, passed on from generation to generation, something to treasure. Seeing someone with shrewdness and insightful know-how, we may describe them as street-wise, money-wise, or health-wise. I think we can rightly call the saints God-wise. Wisdom is often associated with age, with gray hair. There are exceptions as St. Benedict teaches in chapter 3 of the Rule on summoning brothers for counsel. He wrote: “The reason why we have said all should be called for counsel is that the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” In Chapter 63 on Community Rank he makes it clear that age does not automatically determine rank. “Remember that Samuel and Daniel were still boys when they judged their elders.”

There are seven books of the Old Testament classified as Wisdom Literature, the main ones being the Psalms, Proverbs, the Books of Wisdom and Sirach. In them not a few times we read: “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is not servile fear, but open-mouthed awe and dutiful reverence for the majesty and sovereignty of the all holy Creator-God. From the book of Isaiah we are told the first of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is wisdom. When Solomon ascended to the throne of his father King David, the Lord God told him to ask for anything he wanted. As we heard in the first reading the king asked for wisdom. God was pleased that he did not ask for the destruction of his enemies and the like; so he gave him the gift of wisdom along with fame and riches that became proverbial. But the reality is that in his old age he became foolish. He began to offer sacrifices to the gods of his foreign wives.

It is the sad thing that we Homines sapiens sapiens are not always wise in dealing with the reality of our human situation, our mortality and accountability to our neighbor and our Maker in the world we find ourselves in. We heard Jesus telling his disciples, and any who will listen to him, that it is hard for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God. Why? Because love of riches can give a false sense of security and control over immediate needs and comforts, and nest egg for the future. How easily that castle of cards is blown away by market crashes, losses from natural disasters, wars, sicknesses and random accidents.

Human experience and handed-down knowledge can help make us human-wise. God’s revelation, especially its fullness through the works and teachings of Jesus help us to be God-wise. For we have a greater than Solomon here. We heard in the reading from the letter to the Hebrews: “the word of God [is] able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” Jesus is that Word of God incarnate and he knows of what we are made.

St. Paul has a lot to say about human so-called wisdom and divine folly. Writing to the Corinthians, he questions: “Where is the wise man to be found? … Where is the master of worldly argument? Has not God turned the wisdom of this world into folly? Since in God’s wisdom the world did not come to know him through “wisdom”, it pleased God to save those who believe through the absurdity of the preaching of the gospel. Yes, Jews demand signs and Greeks look for “wisdom,” but we preach Christ crucified – a stumbling block to Jews, and an absurdity to Gentiles; but to those who are called…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s folly is wiser than men, and his weakness more powerful than men.” (I Cor 1:20 ff)

Jesus’ teaching turns the world’s values upside down. Lose your life, if you want to get a real life. Don’t seek revenge; forgive your enemies. Take up your cross. Be my witnesses even to the point of shedding your blood. The one who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me. If you marry, do not divorce. Give up marriage with its companionship and possibilities of co-creating new life. Be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.

Just like the disciples who were amazed and challenged by his words, so are all of us. If earthly life requires all of these things contrary to our natural instincts in order to enter the narrow door to eternal life to the kingdom of God, then who can be saved? By mere human effort it is impossible. However, we are not left to our own devices. God has given us his Son as our Redeemer and our Savior. When he accomplished his mission on earth, he and the Father poured their Spirit into our hearts so that we are guided into all truth and even address the awesome, all-knowing, all-powerful God as “Abba, Father”, Our Father.

What is impossible for man is made possible by God gracious gifts and favor. Let us be deeply grateful, untiringly thankful for such present blessings and future promises. As we return to the altar, Jesus invites us to join him in rendering perfect praise and sacrifice to our loving God. Then by receiving him in communion we begin already to share in eternal life. Let me close with last Sunday’s post communion prayer which says precisely what we are doing in faith here and now.

Let us pray: “Grant us Almighty God that we may be refreshed and nourished by the sacrament which we… receive; so as to be transformed into what we consume.” Put on the mind of Christ, who with the Father and the Spirit, deserves our adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and obedience now and in the world to come. Amen

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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Thirtieth Sunday of the Year

  • October 25, 2015
  • Year B
  • by Fr. Philip

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Fr. Philip Simo
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