Recent Homilies and Reflections

May 12, 2019 Do You Have A Light Homily: In the days of my youth, I was raised on a steady diet of television dramas and comedies, and scores of motion pictures. It was not uncommon for one question to turn up in many of the stories. Perhaps you may remember it. “Do you have a light?” The reference is to the light of a fire of a cigarette lighter or a match stick. Asking for a light was not an unusual request years ago when so many Americans smoked. Indeed, my late mother, who smoked cigarettes, often asked for a light from neighbors and friends. To be the bearer of light, even if it is a single flame, is to be at the possible service of those in need of a light. Alas, it is a light that soon vanishes.

While in Pisidia, Paul and his companions go to the local synagogue on the Sabbath. The synagogue is the house of prayer where Jews pray and hear the Word of God proclaimed. Today’s first reading (Acts 13:1, 2, 43-52) records the first of St. Paul’s three great speeches he makes in the course of his missionary career as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles. His primary focus is the Passion and glorious Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although Paul had some early success, not all of his contemporaries embraced his message. The majority of his Jewish listeners rejected him and his message. They then begin a smear campaign against him. “They stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their territory.” (Acts 13:50)

Paul now turns to the Gentiles. Paul quotes a passage from the Book of the prophet Isaiah in support of his decision to speak to those outside the Jewish fold. “I have made you a light to the Gentiles that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Is.49:6) Paul and Barnabas apply the prophecy to themselves because they are conscious of their mandate to speak in the name of Christ and on his authority. Clearly, this is a major turning point in the history of salvation. God’s plan is not just for the Chosen People, the Jews, but also for the reconciliation and salvation of the entire human race. The Gentiles of Pisidia receive the Word with joy and thanksgiving. (Acts 13:48)

It is interesting to note that when the bishops of the world gathered in Rome for the Second Vatican Council in 1962, a large number of nations were represented. Nearly two thousand years after Paul’s memorable discourse in a Jewish house of worship the Church had seen explosive growth. Indeed, one of the documents of the council is “Lumen Gentium”, meaning a Light to the Nations.

Of course, there can be no guarantee of success whenever and wherever the Word of God is preached but the Word must be proclaimed whether people hear or refuse to hear the message of salvation.  We must never give in to discouragement or, even worse despair. When the gospel is rejected in one place, history shows that it is carried to another place, and begins to bear fruit. The church has experienced explosive growth in Africa the last one hundred years whereas in Western Europe the Church is moribund and fading fast.

We are bearers of a light that will never be extinguished. Christ is our Light. In Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, he declares to his disciples, “You are the Light of the world”. (Mt.5:14) We carry the flame of Christ in our hearts. In our secular culture too often we are unable to distinguish light from darkness. Only recently, the New York State legislature passed a bill legalizing infanticide. One of the elected officials who voted in favor of the bill dismissed the concerns of pro-life citizens by remarking, “After all”, she stated, “The fetus is not human”. Walking in darkness usually results in tragedy. And the tragedy is the death of the soul.

The late Fr. Stanley Jaki, a Benedictine priest and philosopher of science, bemoaned the enveloping gloom of the western world. His words are worth repeating. “Since the invention of the electric bulb in the late 1870’s almost each decade became bathed with a novel form of artificial illumination. Floodlights can now create the impression of daylight during night. The marketing of merchandise makes much of ever shinier wrappings .The television floods with brilliant colors every nook and cranny even in the farthest corners of the world. Light dominates everywhere and creates the illusion that man has gained power over darkness. Yet where it counts most, in the inner world of man, darkness keeps thickening.”

If a Christian were asked today the question, “Do you have a light?” the appropriate response would be in the affirmative. Even a flicker of light can bring hope in a time of enveloping darkness. Let us recall the words of Christ from His magnificent Sermon on the Mount, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father”. (Mt.5:16)

The flame of a matchstick vanishes in a short time. The Eternal flame of Christ burns always, and is never extinguished.

Amen!

 

May 5, 2019 The Defiant Ones Homily: Just recently a distinguished American scholar, Fr. James Schall, a Jesuit priest, died at the age of ninety-one. A prolific writer, Fr. Schall taught for many years at one of our countries premier institutions of learning, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. In one of his masterful essays, Fr. Schall writes of Easter as “A defiant feast”.  What does he mean? To be defiant is to openly resist, push back and stand one’s ground. Clearly, in sacred scripture there are many acts of justifiable defiance. Of course the most obvious example is Christ Himself! He defied the religious and civil authorities of his day.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we are introduced to “the defiant ones”.

The disciples of Jesus are arrested for a second time and are made to stand before the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jewish people. Earlier, Jewish leaders had strictly ordered them to abstain from teaching in the name of Jesus. “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name”. (Acts 5:28) For the apostles it was simply an opportunity to demonstrate their loyalty to Christ. They refused to comply with their demand. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), they protested. It was a tremendous act of defiance. As faithful witnesses, they were men of courage and principle. Their defiance proved costly. They were scourged and released with another warning. “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name”. (Acts 5:41)

In many places of the world today, we are not allowed to speak of the Resurrection… in no public school, in few Muslim countries, not in the land of the great wall, China and only cautiously elsewhere, usually in restricted places as quietly as possible. But the Good News cannot be entirely stifled. Some of the world’s greatest music has been written because of this feast. (Handel’s masterwork “Messiah” is one shining example). At the end of the day, God’s word prevails.

It is interesting to note that all the apostles, save the Beloved Disciple, John, died brave deaths proclaiming the astonishing news of the Resurrection. The remarkable witness unto death continues today in such far off places as Sri Lanka, where nearly three hundred Christians were brutally massacred on Easter morning, Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt. In country after country Christians are beheaded, stoned, and shot. They remained defiant until the very end of their life

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward will be great in heaven”. (Mt.5:11-12) In his commentary on the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, the Protestant biblical scholar, William Barclay points out that in the early days of The Russian revolution in the second decade of the twentieth century a man who could show his chain marks on his hands and the marks on his back was held in high esteem because he suffered for Christ.

We must all pray for the courage to be defiant in the name of Jesus Christ, our Risen Lord and Savior.

In the sixteenth century Saint Thomas More, an English jurist and Chancellor openly defied his king Henry VIII. For his insubordination, he was sentenced to be executed in the infamous tower of London. On the day of his martyrdom, Sir Thomas mounted the scaffold, the raised platform on which criminals were, at the time, executed. His courageous final words are worth quoting. “I die the king’s faithful servant but God’s first.” Surely the apostles of our Lord’s time would gladly agree.  “We must obey God rather than men”. (Acts 5:29)

Amen!

 

April 14, 2019 Palm Sunday Homily: Several years ago, an American rabbi achieved notoriety for himself by writing a book of non-fiction that was enormously popular with the reading public. Perhaps you may remember the catchy title, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”. The rabbi was prompted to write the book after he and his wife suffered the loss of their beloved young son, who died after a long battle with a rare disease that caused premature aging. The book is an extraordinary confession of pain and puzzlement. Why does God let innocent children suffer? Why is their pain and death? The death of his child seemed to him senseless, irrational and absurd. In the book he voices a conclusion based on his reflections. God is indeed all-loving and good. However, he is not all-powerful. God cannot touch the world’s suffering. He is too distant, remote and unconcerned about the suffering of the innocent

As Christians, we must politely but firmly disagree with the eminent rabbi. The Eternal Word, Our Lord Jesus Christ, has entered our world, our history, and our life. In our profession of faith, the Creed, we recite the words, “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, died and was buried.” God touches our humanity by assuming a human nature. In his person, he endures the world’s sufferings.

In his reflections on the life of Christ, the biblical scholar Donald Senior asks, “Why would a person like Jesus Christ be put to death? The gospels portray him as a man of integrity, humane and compassionate, someone at ease with the poor and the marginalized.” No fewer than three times in Luke’s account of the Passion does Pilate proclaim Jesus’ innocence. “It is plain that he has done nothing wrong”. (Lk.23:4) The so-called “Good Thief” protests that Jesus is innocent of any crime. ”This man has done nothing criminal”. (Lk.23:41) At the foot of the cross the centurion declared, “This man was innocent beyond doubt”. (Lk.23:47) Even Herod could find no reason to condemn him. (Lk.23:15) Practically abandoned, he was without the comfort of his friends and the satisfaction of a completed mission. He was scorned by the rulers of his own people. The men who held him prisoner beat him and mocked him. They blindfolded him and struck him in the face. One of the thieves blasphemed him to his face. He is the face of innocent suffering.

In Isaiah’s suffering servant (1st reading) Jesus sees himself. “I gave my back to those who beat me; my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting”.

We know the cross as the Passion of Jesus. His cross is a stark reminder to us that God is willing to share our pain. If he had never shared our pain, our suffering, we might find it hard to believe that he walks with us daily. Indeed, one can honestly say that Jesus “walked the walk”.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” is the title of a bestselling book. But let us be mindful that “bad things” happened to the Holy One of God, Our Savior Jesus Christ. There never has been a man or woman as “good” as our crucified Lord.  His death was the price of our salvation!

Luke and the other three evangelists view the Passion of Christ in the light of Resurrection faith. The sorrowful Passion of the Lord is not the end of the story. Each one of us looks forward through the darkness to the triumph of the Resurrection.

Amen!

 

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