Recent Homilies and Reflections

November 3, 2019 The Prayers Of A Saint Homily: “When I die, I will send down a shower of roses from heaven. I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” (St. Therese of Liseaux)

Recently, while on my annual retreat in Massachusetts, I read the text of a conference given by Father Eugene Boylan, a Cistercian monk and a native of Ireland, to a gathering of his fellow monks many years ago. Father Boylan died in 1963. Reflecting on the law of charity, he suggested that the Sixteenth Century English monarch, Queen Elizabeth the first, is probably in heaven. His words must have stunned his listeners. Elizabeth subjected the Catholics of her realm to unspeakably cruel persecution and martyrdom. In England, she was the scourge of the Roman Catholic Church. So his explanation deserves our consideration.

“Nobody who has martyred so many people could possibly go to hell. Why? Those martyred by her have prayed for her. This is an example of the way God works. I am taking her as an example of a persecutor of the Church. You will see that God glorifies Himself by making these people saints. THEY CANNOT GET INTO HEAVEN UNLESS THROUGH THE PRAYERS OF THOSE THEY PERSECUTED. Just as the Lord himself dying on the cross prayed for the people who persecuted him, so the martyrs prayed for those who subjected them to death. Well, if God will not hear the prayers of a dying martyr, who is he going to hear?”

Today the church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. This solemn day in the church’s liturgical calendar reminds us that the sole reason for being a Christian is to be a saint. We are called to holiness. Quite simply, that is our vocation.  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3), writes St. Paul. Their great example inspires us to follow in their footsteps. If only because they are members of the Body of Christ, we share a special bond with the faithful departed. They are truly our friends.

What we have in common with the saints is a desire to pray for those in need. As part of Catholic devotion we speak of invoking or “praying to” the saints “On whose constant intercession we rely for help” (Eucharistic prayer #3). We do not invoke the saints in the same way we call upon God. We ask for their prayers the way we would ask the prayers of anyone else in our family. Through the witness of Sacred Scripture we learn of the saint’s intercessory power before the throne of God. In his vision of Heaven, St John the Evangelist saw four living creatures “With golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of saints”. (Rev.5:6) The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that the saints in glory take an active interest in our lives on earth; they surround us as a great “cloud of witnesses”. (Heb.12:1)

As Christians, we “share the lot of the saints in light”. (Col.1:12) If the sun is an image of Christ, the Light of the world, then his disciples are the image of the moon, which has no light of its own but shines with a brightness that comes from the sun. Surely, it is no coincidence that the saint is depicted with a ring of light, a halo, above his head. Being a saint means being close to God.

For the Christian, earth represents the journey of history while heaven (or eternity), the fullness of life in God. We are on a journey. Our destination is heaven. The reunion of all those who have gone before us will be sweet indeed.

In closing, I should like to advert to a popular song “When the Saints Go Marching In”. The words are fitting for today’s feast. “Oh, when the saints come marching in, oh how I want to be in that number.” The Church traditionally remembers the dead during the month of November. Let us bear in mind that many who were close and dear to us in this life are praying for us in the next one.

Amen!

 

October 27, 2019 A Lesson Learned Homily: The late Thomas Merton, one of the most profound religious thinkers of the last century, was a man of many gifts. A poet and monk of the Cistercian order, Merton earned world- wide acclaim for the many books he authored in his brief lifetime. His notoriety afforded him many opportunities to correspond with some of the world’s most notable figures. Merton learned that success can make one susceptible to pride and even to adopt a condescending opinion of others. An important turning point in his life occurred in a most unlikely place. Only two or three years prior to his death he shared his story in one of his books. He wrote:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and holiness.”

“The whole illusion of a separate existence is a dream”

The lesson he learned is that the monk, far from being superior to the run-of-the mill citizen, is one with them in their joys and sorrows, and their triumphs and failures. He does not stand on a pedestal looking down on others.

In the well known parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk.18:9-14), Our Lord makes some rather pointed comments on humility and pride. It is interesting to note that the word Pharisee means, “separate one”. As a lay scholar and interpreter of the Mosaic Law, the Pharisee in the parable stands, not with others in the Temple, but by himself to pray. His choice is not to be in the company of sinners. His prayer is condescending of others. “I give thee thanks that I am not like the rest of men, greedy, unjust, adulterous, and also this tax collector.” (Lk.18:11) In his commentary, the Protestant scripture scholar William Barclay notes, “The Pharisee does not really go to pray, he went to inform God how good he was”.

A story – in my first year as a seminarian studying for the priesthood, I got to know quite well the school’s librarian, a Presbyterian Christian. One of our nation’s most renowned bishops often visited the library, and borrowed several of the books in the vast collection. I admired him for his learning and for his outstanding gifts as a preacher. Once, I asked the librarian to share her thoughts about the bishop. To my surprise, she said, “Never liked him, too conceited”. I was stunned. Perhaps I was just too naive!

In the Books of Psalms, the Psalmist writes, “I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the company of evildoers and will not sit with the wicked”. Yet that was precisely the company Jesus kept during his ministry. Indeed, in next week’s gospel we will hear that Jesus visited the home of a notorious tax collector, Zacchaeus. Jesus offended the sensibilities of the self-righteous because of his association with the outcast.

Are we condescending of others?

Do we intentionally avoid those among us whom we hold in contempt?

How often do we judge harshly our neighbor?

Again, a story. Two elderly Irish ladies are standing outside a house of prostitution. They each spot a man they recognize leaving the house in a hurry: the local Protestant minister. “Well, what do expect,” cried one of the ladies. “After all, he is a Protestant minister.” Sometime later, another man they recognize leaves the house – the local Catholic priest. “Such a wonderful priest”, exclaimed the ladies. “I am certain he brought comfort to the troubled girls”. How partial are we in our judgment of others?

Let me conclude my homily by quoting Dr. Barclay once more. He writes, “No man who despises his fellow man can pray. In prayer we do not lift ourselves above our fellow men. We remember that we are one of a great army of sinning, sorrowing humanity, all kneeling before the throne of God’s mercy”.

Such was the much needed lesson Thomas Merton learned.

Amen!

 

October 20, 2019 Let Us Pray Homily: In view of the gospel reading for this Sunday, the parable of the widow and the corrupt judge (Lk. 18: 1-8), a popular fairy tale comes to mind, “The Little Engine That Could”. It is a story of a large train that suffers a mechanical failure, a broken down engine and, as a consequence, is unable to reach the top of a mountain. Some larger engines are called upon to pull the disabled train over the mountain. For various reasons, they all refuse. As a last resort, an appeal is made to a small engine, who gladly agrees to try. After a laborious effort, it succeeds in pulling the much larger train over the mountain while repeating the words, “I think I can” over and over again. The small train earns the admiration and affection of the reader because of its gritty determination and persistence. Although the odds were not in his favor, he still prevailed. In the history of children’s literature there are few characters as endearing as the “little train that could”.

The widow in Our Lord’s parable is a picture of misery. She is a biblical symbol of all those who were destitute and without rights. In the cultural world of Jesus, judges had to be trustworthy and God-fearing. As one of the least protected in society, the widow must be shown impartiality. In the Torah, we are told that God executes justice for the fatherless and the widow. The widow shows no fear. Her only weapon is her persistence. She simply refuses to quit. She pesters the judge and rattles his chain. The weary judge eventually renders her a fair judgment.

The widow represents for Jesus all those who persevere in prayer. We are all emboldened to pray unceasingly and not lose heart. As Bishop Robert Barron notes, “Nothing great in this world is accomplished apart from prayer”.

The recent tragedies of mass shootings and murderous rampages beg the question of why bother praying at all. Is prayer an exercise in futility, a colossal waste of time and energy? After a tragedy it is not uncommon for elected officials to assure mourners of their thoughts and prayers. One especially bitter woman who lost a loved one in a recent shooting was clearly upset by what she considered to be a hollow gesture, a meaningless string of words. “I don’t want your prayers”, she thundered. “I want action”. Prayers must take a back seat to legislative action… getting something done.

One never prays in vain. It has enormous power to change the lives of people. The one remarkable thing about prayer is that it changes us and not God whose Divine Will is sovereign. “How unsearchable his ways and inscrutable his judgments”, declares St. Paul.

A story: Jacques and Raissa Maritain were two of the most prominent Catholics of the last century. Early in their marriage, they agreed to sign a suicide pact together if the failed to find a purpose in life. They had not the benefit of faith. One day they poured out their frustrations to a close friend, Leon Bloy, a French Catholic intellectual. Upon telling the great man of their grim plan to end their lives, he replied, “Pray”. They were taken aback. “That’s absurd! We are atheists and do not believe in God.” Bloy refused to back down. Again, he said, “Pray!” Reluctantly, they both heeded his advice. The dark clouds soon lifted and they both became faithful witnesses of Christ.

Jesus Himself gives us a shining example of unceasing prayer. Indeed, in St. Luke’s gospel, Jesus prays often. In an earlier chapter of the Gospel Jesus declares, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”. (Lk.11: 9-11)

The prayerful person trusts in God.

In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research forum, the data shows that one in four Americans has no religious affiliation whatsoever.  There appears to be a growing number of Americans who claim to be either atheist or agnostic. The life of prayer is conspicuous for its absence in their daily life. By abandoning prayer, the unbeliever cuts himself or herself off from the divine source of life, wisdom and power.

“Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity of praying always without becoming weary.” (Lk. 18:1) In the fairy tale of the little engine and the parable of the unjust judge and widow, we are given inspiring examples of two characters whose relentless determination to succeed are surely worthy of our admiration and, what’s more, our imitation, Amen.

Let us pray!

 

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