Friday, November 20, 2015

LIFE BEYOND DEATH


Homily for November 21st, 2015: Luke 20:27-40.

          Our lives are a journey. The journey begins at birth, most people would say, and ends at death. Christians know that the second part of that statement is false. Death is not the end of our journey. We journey on beyond death – to God. But what will our life beyond death be like?  Priests get this question often. Perhaps this answer will help.

Go back in imagination, if you can, to a week before you were born. You were in your mother’s womb. You recognized the sound of her voice. You were moving about, but could not see. You could not possibly imagine what lay ahead of you: emerging into an initially frightening world; learning to move more freely, first to crawl, then to walk; learning to talk, to write, to read; learning later, perhaps, to play a musical instrument, to draw, to speak and read a second language. You could not possibly have imagined any of this in advance. Life beyond death, is something like that – yet infinitely more wonderful.

St. Thomas Aquinas, one the Church’s greatest theologians, writes: “Eternal life is the perfect fulfillment of desire; inasmuch as each of the blessed will have more than he desired or hoped for. The reason for this is that in this life no one can fulfill his desires, nor can any creature satisfy a person’s craving; for God alone satisfies and infinitely surpasses our desire ... Eternal life consists in the joyful companionship of all the blessed, a companionship which is full of delight; since each one will possess all good things together with all the blessed, for they will all love one another as themselves, and, therefore, will rejoice in one another’s happiness as if it were their own, and consequently the joy and gladness of one will be as great as the joy of all.”

The English Benedictine, Cardinal Basil Hume, one of the great men of the Church in the late twentieth century wrote, shortly before his death of cancer on June 17th 1999: “We each have a story, or part of one at any rate, about which we have never been able to speak to  anyone. Fear of being misunderstood. Inability to understand. Ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or even shame, make it very difficult for many people. Our true story is not told, or, only half of it is. What a relief it will be to whisper freely and fully into the merciful and compassionate ear of God. That is what God has always wanted. He waits for us to come home. He receives us, his prodigal children, with a loving embrace. In that embrace we start to tell him our story. I now have no fear of death. I look forward to this friend leading me to a world where I shall know God and be known by Him as His beloved son.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

GOD'S TEMPLE, VISIBLE AND INVISIBLE


Homily for November 20th, 2015. Luke 19:45-48.

          For Jesus’ people, the Jews, the Temple in Jerusalem was the earthly dwelling place of God. God, the creator and ruler of the world, was there as truly as he is the tabernacle today in every Catholic Church the world over. A modern biblical scholar writes: “When Jesus enters the Temple, or is in the Temple, the Temple is really the Temple.” What those words mean is this: when Jesus, who is God made visible in human form, is in the Temple, then God’s presence, normally invisible, becomes visible.

          St Paul tells us that we too are God’s temples or dwelling places: “You must know,” Paul writes in his first Letter to the Corinthians, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own.” (6:19) And the Catechism says we become God’s temples at baptism. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [a technical term for a newly baptized Christian] ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son [or daughter] of God, who has become ‘a partaker of the divine nature,’ member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit” (No. 1265, emphasis supplied).

          This truth of faith, that in baptism we become temples or dwelling places of God, corrects a widespread but false conception of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. Rather it is living up to what, through baptism, we have already become and are: God’s adopted sons and daughters, partakers of God’s nature, members of Christ’s body, co-heirs with him of God’s kingdom, and temples of God’s Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CHRIST'S KINGSHIP, AND OURS


CHRIST=S KINGSHIP, AND OURS
Christ the King, Year B.  Rev. 1:5-8; John 18:33b-37.
AIM: To proclaim the redemptive power of Christ=s unconditioned love, and the privileges and obligations he lays upon us.
 
Pilate=s question to the prisoner before him was simple: AAre you the King of the Jews?@ He was exasperated when Jesus refused to give a straight yes-or-no answer. Jesus seldom gave people the clear and simple answers they wanted. In this case Jesus could not answer No, for he was a king. Yet if he answered Yes, he was sure to be misunderstood, for his kingship was totally different from all others.  Jesus is a king whose rule was inaugurated not in glory but in suffering. 
Today=s second reading tells us three things about Jesus= kingship. It says that Jesus Aloves us;@ that he Ahas freed us from our sins by his blood;@ and that he Ahas made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father.@
1.       Jesus loves us. Do we really think of Jesus Christ as the representative and Son of a loving God? Or do we think of God as a stern judge who is just waiting to punish us for breaking one of his many rules? And if we do think of God as loving, don=t we sometimes assume that his love has strings attached? that God will love us only as long as we keep his rules, thus demonstrating that we deserve his love?
Both ideas B thinking of God as a stern judge, or that his love for us is conditional on our good behavior B are radical denials of the gospel. AGospel@ means Agood news.@ Is it good news to be told that God is always waiting to punish us for infractions of his laws, or that he won=t love us unless we first do something to earn his love? The good news which Jesus came to proclaim is that God is always loving; and that he loves us as we are, right now. The proof of this astonishingly good news is contained in our second reading=s second statement about our king B
2.       Jesus Ahas freed us from our sins by his blood.@ That statement is good news, however, only for people who believe they have some sins which they need to be freed from. If you don=t believe that B if you are basically satisfied with your life just as it is B then that is your good news: your good moral character.  Congratulations!
Jesus Christ has good news only for people of bad moral character: people who acknowledge that their lives are a tangle of loose ends, of broken resolutions, of high ideals and mediocre performance. The gospel is good news only for those who can say, with the apostle Paul: AThe good which I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will@ (Rom. 7:19).
Jesus, our king, doesn=t love some idealized version of us, the people we would like to be and keep on hoping we will be one day, when we get all our loose ends tied up and all our bad impulses screwed down tight. No. Jesus loves us as we are, right now. He loved us enough to die for us. And it is a central truth of our Christian and Catholic faith that Jesus= voluntary death on the cross in some mysterious but real way makes up for, and takes away, not only our own innumerable shortcomings and sins, but the sins of all humanity in all ages. The vicious circle of our high resolutions and our too frequent failure to keep them has been broken by a power, and a love, greater than our own: the power and love of Jesus our king, Athe firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth,@ as our second reading calls him. Unlike all other kings known to history, he rules not by power but by love, serving his subjects rather than lording it over them. That too is gospel. That is good news. But there is more.
3.       Jesus Ahas made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and father.@ That sentence from our second reading means that through baptism we share both in Christ=s priesthood and in his kingship. The baptized, the Catechism says, Ashare in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission.@ [No. 1268]  We exercise our priesthood when we come together, as God=s people, to obey the command of our high priest and king at the Last Supper, to Ado this@ in his memory with the bread and wine. We obey that command collectively. Christ=s ordained minister, a human priest, is necessary to lead us in this greatest act of the Church=s worship. But we all present our sacrificial offering and worship together with the priest, who is the human representative of the one true priest, Jesus Christ, the principal celebrant of every Mass.
In baptism Jesus also gave us a share in his kingship by making us, the first Letter of Peter tells us, members of Aa chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation ...@ (2:9).  We exercise our kingship as Jesus does: by serving people. A religion which is limited to obtaining blessings for ourselves, Asaving our souls,@ with few consequences in daily life, is not the religion of Jesus Christ. Like him, we are called to serve others: at home, at work, wherever we encounter people in need, and whether we find them loveable or not. That alone fulfils the commission given to us when, in baptism, Jesus our King made us citizens and members of his Akingdom, priests for his God and Father.@
We who in baptism have been given a share in the priesthood and kingship of Jesus Christ are called to live amid the darkness of our world in the light of the vision proclaimed in the closing words of our second reading: ABehold, he is coming amid the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him.  All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen.@
Repeatedly the Bible tells us that Jesus our King is coming. That we have not witnessed his return after twenty centuries does not prove the Bible wrong. This is still Athe last age,@ even if its termination is delayed, according to our limited human reckoning.  
How often we hear people say, AWe don=t know what is coming.@ We may have said that ourselves. It is true. We do not know what is coming. We cannot know what is coming. But we do know Who is coming. Our second reading tell us who he is:

AThe Alpha and the Omega, the one who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.@

"JESUS WEPT."


Homily for November 19th, 2015: Luke 19:41-44.

          “As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it,” we heard in the gospel. Just twice in the four gospels do we read that Jesus wept: at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus; and in today’s gospel, following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was God’s Son, endowed with divine powers. But he was no Superman immune to human sorrow. Whatever grief and sorrow we experience, Jesus experienced more. He understands, and he is with us in all our own griefs and sorrows.

          Today’s gospel reading immediately follows Luke’s description of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Some of the Pharisees object to the cries of acclamation with which Jesus was greeted: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” they say (vs. 39). To which Jesus responds: “If they were to keep silence, I tell you the very stones would cry out.” Jesus may be referring to an obscure passage in the prophet Habakkuk, who says that against people who practice violence, living only to feather their own nests, the very stones and doorposts of their houses will cry out (Hab. 2:9-11). Habakkuk’s message is that of all Israel’s prophets: ‘God is not mocked. Evil actions bring evil consequences.’

          That is what moved Jesus to tears. Like all devout Jews, he loved the holy city of Jerusalem. To see the leaders of his people rejecting the Messiah, whose coming all the prophets had promised, grieved the Lord deeply. Note that I said “leaders.” Many of Jesus’ people did accept him. Most of them were “little people,” as the world judges things: Mary and Joseph, the fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew, James, and John; and Matthew, an outcast because he collected taxes for the hated government of occupation.  

          That remains true today. Pope Benedict said often that most of today’s saints are “little people”: St John Vianney (the CurĂ© of Ars), Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), our own Rose Philippine Duchesne, Maximilian Kolbe (who gave his life in Auschwitz that another prisoner might live), the 20th century Mexican martyr Miguel Pro, and Mother Teresa.

          The greatest people in the Church are not those with the impressive titles and fancy clothes, but those who are closest to God. We pray in this Mass that we may be among them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

" I WAS AFRAID OF YOU."


Homily for November 18th, 2015: Luke 19:11-28.

          How can we make sense of the story? Is the central figure, the master, simply arbitrary: generous with the first two servants, cruel to the third?  So it would seem. 

          To understand the story we must ask not about the master, but about the servants. The first two servants acted out of trust. A man who had entrusted them with so much of his riches, they reasoned, was clearly generous. He could be trusted. The third servant was motivated by fear. He says so himself. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.” It is this fear which the parable condemns. Jesus came to cast out fear. 

          To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly golden book: a series of stars after our name representing our prayers, sacrifices, and good works. Thinking we must do that is “not believing in the name of God’s only Son.”  His name is synonymous with mercy, generosity, and love. Escaping condemnation, being saved, means one thing only: trusting him. It is as simple as that. We don’t need to negotiate with God.  We don’t need to con him into being lenient. We couldn’t do that even if we tried, for God is lenient already. He invites us to trust him. That is all. 

          Trust is at the heart of faith. Many Catholics think of faith as a matter of the head: affirming as true the statements we recite in the creed. Those truths are properly called the faith. Our assent to them is important, and necessary. Faith itself, however, goes beyond mental assent to a list of truths. It is resides not so much in the head as in the heart

          Yes, and trusting God means risking our hearts. It means loving: generously, recklessly, without limit and without conditions. Because that is the way God loves us. And yes, doing that will mean suffering when those we love fail to respond, or even betray us.

          With this parable of the three servants entrusted with gifts on behalf of an absent master Jesus is inviting us to imitate the first two servants: to recognize the generosity of the One who gives us all our gifts; and to trust him as we use and share his gifts, confident that when the Master returns we shall hear his voice, speaking to us personally, and with great tenderness: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:21)

 

Monday, November 16, 2015

"HE HAS GONE TO A SINNER'S HOUSE."


Homily for November 17th, 2015: Luke 19:1-10.

          Zacchaeus was an outcast. He collected taxes for the hated Roman government of occupation. And everyone knew that much of the money he collected went into his own pocket. When Jesus went to dine at Zacchaeus’ house, the good religious people of Jericho are scandalized. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner,” they protest. What for them was a scandal is for us good news. Jesus, we heard in the last sentence of our gospel reading, is the one who “has come to seek out and to save what was lost.” 

          Those words tell us who Jesus is. Then, now, for all time, Jesus Christ is the one who does not look at what we have been, or even at what we are. Instead Jesus looks at what, deep in our hearts, we would still like to be. He is the one who has come to search out and to save people without hope, the most abandoned, those most deeply entangled, like Zacchaeus, in webs of selfishness, self-indulgence, and greed.

          “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus tells Zacchaeus. He says the same to us today. This is our great today. This is our hour of salvation. Jesus is calling us, inviting us to his holy table. He reaches out to us in active, accepting love, though we have done little or nothing to deserve such love. He comes to us for no other purpose than to seek out and save people who, without him, are floundering, without hope, and lost. 

          Zacchaeus “welcomed Jesus with joy,” Luke tells us. We can share that joy. Because of Jesus Christ, and his love for us, life is not aimless, not without meaning. Our sins, our failures, our compromises are not the last word about us.  The last word belongs to the One who tells us that he has come “to seek and to save what is lost.” No matter what others think of us. No matter what we may sometimes think of ourselves. There is One to whom we are infinitely precious. He is Jesus Christ: Son of man and Son too of God — our brother, our lover, our best friend; but also our savior, and our God!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"LORD, PLEASE LET ME SEE."


Homily for November 16th, 2015: Luke 18:35-43.

          “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind beggar who has been calling out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Having heard that Jesus would be coming to Jericho, the beggar had positioned himself on the road where he knew Jesus would pass. There would surely be a good crowd eager to see the famous rabbi from Nazareth. With any luck at all, the beggar expected to receive many gifts. Yet when Jesus asked him what he wanted, the beggar asked for something more important than money: “Lord, please let me see.” The words of that blind beggar changed the life of a man who has been for the last 19 years the leader of the Benedictine community here in St Louis: Abbot Thomas Frerking. Let me tell you his story, just as he related it to me.         

Born into a Lutheran family, Thomas Frerking, like many young people today, gave up all religion in high school. Following graduation from Harvard, he went to Oxford University in England, on a Rhodes scholarship, to study philosophy. Reading Mark’s gospel one day, he came to the story about this blind beggar. We have just heard Luke’s version. “That’s me,” he thought. “I felt convicted of intellectual pride, and kept repeating: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I heard Jesus saying: ‘Call him over.’ So I went to Jesus – and he gave me a hard time. He asked me: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I had to tell him: ‘Lord, I want to see.’ This happened several times over the next few days. I realized that the people around Jesus were Catholic Christians. I knew I must ask for instruction in the Catholic faith. But then I thought: ‘Oh no, I could never do that!’”

“That was in July 1969. In August I came home for a holiday in the Rocky Mountains with my parents. Looking up at a cloud one day, the decision was just given to me. When I got back to Oxford in September I called the Catholic chaplain. He did know me from Adam. Yet he was with me in 15 minutes. I was received into the Church the following Easter.”

Jesus continues to speak to us today. His words still have power to change lives.