Recent Homilies and Reflections

June 18, 2017 Bread of Life Homily: In the German language there is a delightful proverb, which is a play on words “Man ist was man isst“. Translated: “A man is what he eats.” How are we to understand this saying? Perhaps a commercial now appearing on television may be helpful. It is an advertisement for PediaSure, a health drink for youth. A girls’ soccer game is in progress. Two mothers stand on the sideline, watching their daughters play. The daughter of one health challenged girl is depicted as a bag of French fries. Her diet is the problem. The daughter of the second mother sees her child score the winning goal. She kicks the ball through a player who has been changed into a donut another casualty of an unhealthy diet. The ball sails through the hole in the donut into the net. Game over! The mother of the girl who drinks PediaSure and who scores the winning goal then remarks, “Kids are what they eat”.

As Catholics, we can truly say with conviction, “A Catholic is what he or she eats”. It is interesting to note that in the sixth chapter of John’s gospel the verb “eat” is heard no fewer than six times in verses 51-58. In Greek, it is descriptive. It means “chewing” “munching” and “masticating”. Jesus speaks of his flesh as the direct object of eating. The same flesh and blood offered by Christ on the cross and then resurrected to glory is given to us in the Eucharist. Jesus is the LIVING bread and the bread of LIFE. One of my parishioners, Edward Martin, a scripture scholar in his own right, has this to say: “In the new creation, Jesus bequeathed to us his very own life under the symbols of bread and wine to carry the realities of his flesh (nourishment) and blood (life). The big difference from usual food is instead of it being absorbed and becoming part of us again, in the realities of the new creation, in this case we are absorbed into what we eat, if we have the right disposition, thereby ever growing in mystical communion with the risen Christ”.

We are “partakers of the one loaf”. (1Cor. 10-17)What must this say about us, about who we are and how we act? Have we ever paused for a moment to reflect on the love and goodness found in ourselves? It is the “Bread of Life”’ we eat taking effect in us. It is truly astonishing that Christ has become part of us! The words of St. Paul are, quite literally, true: “It is not I but Christ who lives in me”. On the other hand, have we ever stopped to think how much worse off we would be if we did not sustain ourselves with the “living bread come down from heaven” because, “a person is what he or she eats”!

One of the most remarkable women of the last century was a bedridden German woman named Therese Neumann. As strange as it may seem, this extraordinary Catholic was on Adolf Hitler’s enemies list. The chancellor of the Third Reich feared her because she survived on the Bread of Life, Holy Communion, and, aside from water, nothing else. Her life was sustained by eating the Bread of Life. Not surprisingly, she attracted the attention of the faithful and others who were simply overcome by curiosity. Others were downright hostile to her as a woman of faith.  A supernatural mystery sometimes meets with suspicion and disbelief.

Let us recall the deeply disturbing words of those disciples who turned away from Jesus as recorded in John’s sixth chapter, “This saying is hard, who can accept it?” And the words they found offensive: “For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”. (Jn.6:55-56)

Our Lord’s Body and Blood is a gift unlike any other. May we take advantage of the many opportunities the church affords us to receive our Lord in the sacrament entrusted to his church.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Amen!

 

Sacred Heart School Graduation Message 2017: In the American South, Southerners revere the memory of the late Hank Williams (1923-53), a legendary country music recording artist, and, arguably, the greatest Country-Western entertainer of the last century.  His enormously successful career was tragically cut short by a premature death at the young age of thirty. Sixty plus years after his death, his name is remarkably one the most recognizable in many sectors of our country. His hard earned fame has stood the test of time.

Sometime after his death, a close, personal friend remarked that Hank was very ambitious early in his career. His sole objective was to reach the pinnacle of the country-music world. In the competitive world of music, his efforts paid off. He achieved his personal goal. He reached the top rung of the ladder. He was king! But when he got there, he made a shocking discovery. He realized that there was nothing there… only a gigantic void.  Isolated and alone, he then realized that everything he truly desired and ever wanted in life was back from whence he came. His simple country roots afforded him more joy and meaning than the illusory fame of a celebrity.

Today, the prospect of material success can be very alluring for the unsuspecting young man or woman. Hank Williams learned a painful lesson: it is no guarantee of unending joy or deep satisfaction in life.  Today, students are told that the whole point of education is to prepare them for a successful career. “Nothing succeeds like success” is a well known proverb. In our society, the measure of success can be summed up in three words: wealth, power and fame. Yet worldly success can never succeed in doing what it promises it can do. In the words of Professor Donald Demarco, “It flatters our ego, arouses our greed, awakens our expectations, but fails to satisfy our deeper, more human needs”.

I would like to make the case that the most successful man who ever lived was Jesus of Nazareth. And it is not because his life was a success. Far from it! By the secular standards of the world in which he lived, he was an abject failure. After all, he was abandoned by his disciples and friends, abused by an angry mob, tormented by his captors and executed among thieves. Worse still, he died a shameful death on the cross, a fate reserved for slaves and other outcasts.

Nevertheless, he inspired countless others to live their lives in imitation of his love. “This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:34) He made it abundantly clear that if love is not the center of our life, we cannot choose anything but loneliness, frustration and sadness. The realism and sheer magic of love is convincingly expressed in its successful healing of broken lives and in the infectious joy it brings to those who live by it. That was one of Our Lord’s legacies, and an admirable one it is for us who live in the Twenty-first Century.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was once asked by a journalist if she considered herself a failure as a missionary of Christ because she had very few converts to show for all her labors.  “But I am not called to be successful”, Mother Teresa protested, “only faithful”.

By the yardstick of the secular world, she was a dismal failure because the unbelieving world thinks only in terms of numbers and statistics, hardly the barometer of a beautiful soul. By the standard of the gospel of love incarnated by Christ, she was an exemplary witness of the love of Jesus for all people, regardless of their color or creed. And that is all that truly matters.

Amen!

 

June 11, 2017 Holy Is His Name Homily: Brothers and sisters, several years ago, at the invitation of the Israeli government, the erstwhile pope, Benedict XVI, visited the Holocaust memorial, Vad Yashem, in Jerusalem. It was a solemn and sober event, which was widely covered by the world’s media.  In his prepared remarks, Benedict quoted from the book of the prophet Isaiah (“I will give in my house and within my wall a memorial and a name. I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off”) and then offered words of comfort for the victims and those who managed to survive the horrifying ordeal. He said, “They lost their lives, but will never lose their names. These are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again. Most of all, their names are forever fixed in the memory of almighty God”. Each one of us bears a name. A name affords us an identity. To have a name means the possibility of being called. God calls us by name.

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, let us remind ourselves that whenever we sign ourselves with the sign of the cross, we remember God’s name in which we were baptized. Ours is no solitary God, but a communion of divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Church is called to a witness of communion. As we are created in the image and likeness of God, our potential is realized, in part, by our communion and dialogue with others. Surely it is not without significance that we are often identified by our relations to others. For an example, I am a “son’, a “brother”, an “uncle” and so forth. The enemies of faith have, time and again, sought to erase our names and identify us only by number. Indeed in Sacred Scripture, the enemy of God does not bear a name, but a number, 666.

The name of God is hallowed (“Hallowed be thy name”). Even some of our best known and loved hymns make reference to the Holiness of the Name of God. “Holy God, we praise thy name” is the closing hymn of today’s mass.

For a moment, ask yourself the question, would I ever surrender my name for any reason? If I truly consider my name to be sacrosanct, would I exchange it for something of inferior value?

A story: in the 1950’s, a promising young actress, Kim Novak, had a rather heated conversation with the corporate heads of Columbia Studios in Hollywood. According to Ms. Novak, the CEO, Harry Cohn, did not think her name was suitable and he insisted that she give it up in exchange for a more seductive one, “Kit Marlowe”. She stubbornly refused. As she pointed out, she was christened with the name, Kim; her parents conferred on her the blessing of her name and most important of all, God knows her by the name chosen for her at birth. She did not want to be identified as a sex siren.  In her words, that would be degrading and insulting. The studio heads capitulated to her demand. And her career never suffered!

We begin our liturgies by the simple action of making the sign of the cross: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It proclaims the Trinity of Persons in the Godhead. At the same time, it acknowledges the oneness of God, because we bless ourselves in a singular “name” (“In the name of”).

Christ has revealed this truth to us. For us Christians, it is the central mystery of our faith and life.  Let us ponder the beauty of our names. And let us not forget the Holy name of God.

Amen!

 

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