Recent Homilies and Reflections

December 10, 2017 Going Home Homily: Brothers and sisters, in the festive liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas, it is not uncommon for many of us to hear one of the masterworks of the great eighteenth century, the composer George Frederic Handel’s The Messiah. It is surely worth noting that the libretto of the Oratorio features words from the prophet Isaiah’s so-called Book of Consolation, which begins chapter forty. It is indisputably one of the best known prophecies of the Old Testament and is quoted quite liberally by preachers in the Advent season. The words are as follows: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people saith the Lord. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem; and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned”. (Is.40:1-2)

The biblical background of Isaiah’s prophecy is the Babylonian captivity, which dates back six centuries before the birth of Christ. For seventy years the Jews were a captive people and lived in exile far from their ancestral homeland. The prophet is called by God to bring a message of hope and consolation to the Chosen People, who had suffered through years of persecution. Through God’s designated instrument, the Pagan ruler Cyrus, He, the Shepherd of Israel will lead his flock back to Palestine, the biblical site of their sacred temple in Jerusalem. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will uphold you by my victorious right hand”. (Is.40:10)

Does an event in the far distant past continue to speak to us today?

Recently, a young man, the brother of the bride, approached me during a wedding reception and asked me a question. “Do you agree with President Trump’s decision to name Jerusalem as the capital of the modern state of Israel?”he inquired. I informed him that I could not answer his question since I had very little knowledge of the long simmering controversy. But I did share with him one of the more remarkable episodes of recent world history. In the aftermath of the Second World War, many of the Jews who were fortunate enough to have their lives spared during the war chose not to return to their homes in the countries of Western Europe. Instead, they chose to go to Palestine and re-settle there.  Two years later the State of Israel would be recognized by the United States. Significantly, the Jews once again turned up in the holy city of Jerusalem. Deeply religious Jews recognized the Hand of God in their liberation from the camps and their opportunity to go to the Holy Land.

Let us ask ourselves if we, in faith, can sense the Hand of God active in our own lives and in the life of Christ’s Church. How often do we doubt God’s providence and think that he is absent?

Handel also quotes from the biblical text that we hear so often in Advent: “The voice that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God:” John the Baptist picks up this message. He prepares the people for the coming of the Messiah”. (Mk.1:3) “The Way” is one of the richest expressions of the entire bible. The phrase reminds us of Christ, who is “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn. 14:6) in our earthly pilgrimage. We are on a journey to the Kingdom of Heaven. Before the disciples of Jesus were called Christians, they were known as followers of “The Way”.

Good Shepherd, feed us and lead us to the Promised Land!

Amen!

 

December 3, 2017 An Old Latin Hymn Homily: Brothers and sisters, in the not too distant past a Roman Catholic was likely to hear Christian hymns in the traditional language of the Church, Latin. In the season of Advent one of the more popular hymns was Rorate Caeli Desuper, the words of which were undoubtedly inspired by the prophet Isaiah, “That you would tear the heavens open and come down, with the mountains quaking before you” (Is.63:19). In anticipation of the mystery of the incarnation, it was usually sung on the fourth Sunday of Advent. The hymn gives expression to the longings of patriarchs and prophets… and symbolically of the Church… for the coming of the Messiah, the one foretold by the messengers of God to bring salvation and deliverance to His people.

Recall the reference to the great article of our faith found in the Apostles’ Creed: “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven”

The background of today’s first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah is worth noting. In the early fifth century before the birth of Christ, the Jews had returned to their homeland after a long period in exile. The Temple lay in ruins and many of the Lord’s chosen had failed to reform their ways. Isaiah’s prophecy is a cry of hope and longing for the coming of God. It seemed for the heavens were closed. God did not speak. He was silent and absent. The faithful Jew hoped for Divine intervention from on high, and that God would come near to his people yet again.

We begin Advent by recalling the long darkness endured by the human race. Many are still in it. The experience of the Jewish people during centuries of waiting is really not so different from the lives of those around us, who live without the consolation of faith and hope.

The Nobel laureate and concentration camp survivor, Elie Wiesel, writes poignantly of the Jewish people’s remarkable patience and their extraordinary witness in face of centuries of oppression. Even today, many Orthodox Jews await the coming of the Messiah. In his fine book, Souls on Fire: Portraits and legends of Hasidic Masters, he writes of an anguished prayer offered by one Rabbi Moshe. The great man waited his whole life for the Messiah; he never went to bed at night without reminding his sons: “If he comes, wake me right away”. This is how he spoke to God: “Master of the universe, my strength is gone; I am exhausted. You must send us the Messiah. You have no choice. Don’t think that I am asking this for my own salvation. If you wish, I am willing to deny myself even a single ray of light and joy. Believe me, I am ready to sacrifice my life and my soul and undergo the terrors of eternal night if that be the price of Israel’s redemption.”

The late president of the University of Notre Dame, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, once wrote an introduction to a book written by Wiesel on the Hasidic masters published by the University’s publishing house. He offers an interesting perspective on the importance of “waiting”. He writes, “In these lectures it makes little difference that the Jew waits for the Messiah while the Christian waits for the Messiah’s Second Coming. Both wait. It is the human condition. It demands a difficult and balanced response. Jew and Christian can learn much from each other about the proper way to wait”.

In the first two weeks of Advent, we are reminded that Christ will come again in glory, his second and last coming. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”

Let us be brutally honest with ourselves. We are not a patient people. We demand “Fast food”, “instant coffee”, “speed dials”, “Jiffy lube” and “one minute sermons”.  Yikes!

We have much to learn from our ancestors in the faith about the value of patience and the need for constant vigilance. When Our Lord does return, may he find all of us beyond reproach for our faithful witness.

Amen!

 

November 26, 2017 Christ In Disguise Homily: The English writer Caryll Houselander is unfortunately not a household name today. But back in the first half of the twentieth century, she was considered one of Europe’s foremost writers on Christian spirituality. By her own admission, her philosophy of the Christian life was largely inspired by an extraordinary incident on the London underground. As a passenger on a crowded train she had a mystical vision of Christ. She inexplicably recognized Christ in all her fellow passengers: among others, the blind man, the bag lady, the factory worker and the merchant. Until that moment, they all were just anonymous faces without an identity. Their welfare was of no concern to her.  Having seen Christ on the train in the faces of the passengers who surrounded her, she could then write of the gift of having a vivid sense of Christ living in all people. No longer were people anonymous and unworthy of her attention and concern.

She is not alone.

There is the case of St. Francis of Assisi. When he stooped down to kiss the disfigured face of a poor leper, he truly believed he had kissed the mouth of Christ.

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta could recognize Christ in the most distressing of disguises. In her remarks to her biographer and friend Eileen Egan, she states, “How could we turn away from Jesus? Each one is Jesus, only Jesus in a distressing disguise. Sometimes we meet Jesus rejected and covered in filth in the gutter. Sometimes we meet Jesus stuffed into a drain, or moaning with sores or rotting with gangrene… or even screaming from the agony of a broken back. The most distressing disguise calls for even more love from us”

Are we able to see Jesus in the sick, the needy and the forgotten?

The parable of the Last Judgment is the last of three parables of Judgment in Matthew’s twenty-fifth chapter. The scene of the judgment inspired the legendary artist Michelangelo to reach unheard of heights in his masterpiece, the depiction of the Last Judgment, in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. Christ reveals to have been a hidden presence in the poor, outcast and oppressed. He identifies Himself with every form of misery and suffering.

The key to this parable is how we are to be judged once our earthly pilgrimage comes to an end. The answer is that we will be judged uniquely in our treatment of those in any kind of need.

As we celebrate the Universal Kingship of Christ, we can recall, with appreciation, the words of the erstwhile pope, Benedict XVI: “If we put love for our neighbor into practice, in accordance with the gospel, we make room for God’s dominion, and his Kingdom is actualized among us”.

The traditional Christian hymn, Where Charity and Love Prevail sums up the beauty of the gospel. “Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found, brought near together by Christ’s love, by love are we thus bound.”

In closing, I gladly cite a prayer written by an Eastern Orthodox Christian, Gillian Crow. The words of the prayer are an earnest appeal to see Christ living in all people.

“Lord, help me to see you in every person I meet today, even in those who are unlovely. Help me to remember whatever I do for another is done for you”.

Amen!

 

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