Recent Homilies and Reflections

June 30, 2019 Called for Freedom Homily: Members of this congregation may recall with gratitude and appreciation the fables of Aesop, a marvelous storyteller, who lived six centuries before the birth of Christ. Each one of his tales has a profound message. Take, for instance, his fable of “The Wolf and the Dog”.

One day a wolf, underfed and starving, encounters a well fed and perfectly healthy house dog on the road. The dog takes note of the wolf’s sorry condition, and is moved with pity for him. “Why do you not work steadily as I do and get your food regularly given to you? asked the dog. In reply, the hungry wolf says, “I would have no objection if I could find a place to work.”  The dog wanted to be helpful. “I will arrange for you to come with me to my master and we will share my work”. The wolf was pleased. And so they began their journey to the dog’s master. On the way the wolf noticed that hair was missing from the dog’s neck. He asked for an explanation. “Oh that”, replied the dog. “This is the only place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up. After a while, you get used to it”.

At that very moment, the wolf walked away. He no longer wished to accompany the dog on his journey to his master. He simply refused to surrender his freedom!

The moral is: It is better to suffer hunger and remain a free creature and not be in bondage to a master as a well fed slave.

In religious terms, freedom is a divine gift and, without question, the hallmark of Christian existence. Clearly, freedom was an important issue for St. Paul. The word occurs with striking frequency in his magisterial letter to the Galatians “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Gal.5:1), declares the great apostle at the beginning of his fifth chapter. No fewer than forty-seven times is freedom mentioned.

What Paul has in mind is the Law, which stipulates that a convert undergo the rite of circumcision, a visible sign of the Jewish covenant with God. In addition, they had to faithfully observe the dietary restrictions imposed by the Law, such as abstaining from all pork products. Paul insists that Christians are not bound by the law. Ultimately, freedom draws it meaning from love. Our true freedom is realized only when we place ourselves in the service of others. In today’s reading Paul exhorts Christians to “serve one another through love”. (Gal.5:13)

Clearly, if there ever was one who was perfectly free, it was Jesus Himself. Recall his words, “The Son of Man has come, not to be served but to serve and to give his life for the many”. (Mk.10:45) He also emphatically stated that the two great commandments of the Torah are the love of God and the love of neighbor. St. Paul echoes Our Lord’s words in his letter. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Gal.5:14)

Having been born in 1954, and having recently turned 65, I have heard scores of songs over the years in which the word “free” or “freedom”, is included in the song’s title More than likely, you remember the songs “I’m Free” (The Who), “Philadelphia Freedom” (Elton John), “Free Bird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd), “I feel Free” (Cream), “I shall be Free” (Bob Dylan), and so many others. Freedom is one of the most popular themes in contemporary music. Alas, in many of the songs freedom for the song writers mean, “freedom from the commandments”, “freedom from responsibility”, “freedom from authority”, and “freedom from the church” The emphasis seems to be on doing as one pleases. Rarely do we hear the words, “duty”, “accountability”, “responsibility” and “obedience”. For the writers of popular songs the freedom we enjoy must never be impeded or constrained. Sadly, such are the pitfalls of living in a hyper-individualist culture.

Paul cautions the Galatians that they must not use their freedom, a divine gift, “as an opportunity for the flesh”. (Gal.5:13) What he means here is that we must not follow the selfish tendencies of our fallen human nature. It is a seductive trap. If we were to do so, we would fall into slavery yet again. Such are the devastating consequences of abusing the freedom won for us by Christ. If we act in our own selfish interests, we are slaves to our own appetites, and truly show unmistakable signs of addiction. And addictions can be deadly if not addressed in short time.

On the other hand, if we live by the Spirit, we will be free. St. Paul is adamant on this very point. Our freedom, a gift, will be anchored in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. And the chains that once bound us will be shattered, hopefully for good.  Our promise must be to never again submit to the yoke of slavery. After all, we have been “called for freedom”. (Gal.5:1) And the freedom Paul speaks of is one of the Christian’s most beautiful blessings.

Amen!

 

June 23, 2019 Eating and Drinking Homily: Every couple of months I see my local doctor, an Orthodox Jew, at Albany Medical Center. A remarkably genial fellow, he is thoroughly knowledgeable about his religion, and openly and unapologetically practices it. In our brief time together, it is not uncommon for us to share our thoughts on our respective faiths. Only recently, I pointed out to him that our two religious faiths have something very important in common, namely, the sacred act of eating and drinking.  Eating and drinking affords the Christian and Jew to enter into communion with others. It is a Eucharistic act in the sense that the person of faith can render thanks to God for his many gifts, including the food and drink on our tables. Jewish families gather together for the Sabbath meal and observe the High Holy day of Passover with a ritual meal commemorating their deliverance from oppression in Egypt. Roman Catholics celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday in response to the Lord’s command to eat and to drink. “Take and eat, for this is my body, which is to be given up for you” and “Take and drink, for this is my blood which is to be shed for the many.”

Pause for a moment to consider the dwindling number of Catholics who gather around the table of the Lord on Sunday. Also consider the few who gather around the family table for meals in so many parts of the Western world. Even when they occasionally sit down for a repast, the meal is often rushed or those sitting at the table are often preoccupied with their smart phones, and ignore their fellow table mates. The opportunity for communion is lost.

On today’s solemn feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the Church renews the mystery of Holy Thursday. Recall that at Jesus’ farewell meal with his disciples, he thanked and praised God. The twelve apostles were the first to receive the gift of the Eucharist from the Lord. The Eucharist was destined for all, for the entire world.  On the night of the Last Supper, Christ entered into communion with his disciples by distributing to them his sacred Body and Blood. The Eucharist is a mystery of communion. When we partake of the Eucharist we are in communion with our brothers and sisters of every nation.

For us to understand and appreciate the mystery of Our Lord’s body and blood, it is crucial that we turn to Our Lord’s words of institution at the Last Supper. What happened at the precise moment Jesus uttered the words, “This is my body, which is to be GIVEN UP for you” and “this is the cup which is POURED OUT for many”? In using the language of sacrifice, Christ was anticipating the event of the following day: his death on the cross. Out of love, he accepted the whole passion. “…He loved us to the end”. (Jn. 13:1) His body was broken for us; his blood was poured out for us.

The greatest gift God gives to us is Himself in the Holy Eucharist. And one of the central mysteries of this great sacrament is the transformation of bread and wine into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. It is a deep and profound mystery that far surpasses our human understanding. Indeed, it is a mystery of faith. It will always be a sign of contradiction. After proclaiming Himself as the “Living Bread come down from heaven” and insisting that His body is true food and His blood true drink in a Capernaum synagogue, Christ provoked a negative reaction from some of his followers. They simply walked away. His bold words scandalized the Jewish faithful.

Several years ago, a German journalist interviewed the then pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. In the course of the interview he expressed his thought that Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is symbolic. The Pope protested. His words are worth noting. “Christ does not give us symbols. He truly gives Himself. That means that communion is an encounter between one person and another, and that Christ enters into me and I in Him”. As Roman Catholics, we are nourished by this sacred mystery and made holy.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut is considered an American hero and a national treasure by the Major League  Eating and International Federation. His accomplishment: consuming 74 hot dogs in the span of ten minutes at the annual Nathan’s Hot dog eating contest held at Coney Island. Binge eating for money proved to be a profitable exercise for the winner of the event. But not only does it reveal gluttonous behavior, it also casts a rather dim light on the true meaning of eating and drinking… entering into fellowship and communion with family and friends, aliens and the outcast.

On this feast day, let us all remember that the Eucharist is the mystery that constitutes the heart of the Church. It has the power to foster communion and inspires us to be thankful for his greatest gift. In closing I turn to St. Paul. “We have a cup that we bless; is not this cup we bless a participation in Christ’s blood? Is not the bread we break a participation in Christ’s body? The one bread makes us one body, though we are many in number; the same bread is shared by all.” (I Cor.10:16-17)

Amen!

 

June 16, 2019 God Friended Me Homily: “Are you on face book?” It is a question I am often asked. “Indeed I am” is my standard reply. As many of you doubtless know, Face book is part of the social media network, and is enormously popular with the public. It affords the subscribing members limitless opportunities to engage friends, past and present, in conversation and keeps them up to speed on current events. One of the features of Face book is so-called “friending”. One can respond to another member’s request to be a friend or he can make the same request of another person. Forming or continuing a friendship on-line is one of the attractions of social media. It enables you to be connected to others.

Several years ago the distinguished American scholar, James Schall, a Jesuit priest, penned an article on the subject of the Trinity in a journal of opinion. He singles out one of the great philosophers of the Pre-Christian world, the pagan Greek Aristotle. Aristotle expressed an opinion that God was perhaps lonely… that he had no friends. God did not have what is most uplifting in our human experience. One can readily appreciate the philosopher’s concern. Just being in the company of a trusted friend is one of life’s most satisfying delights.

Is there an answer to Aristotle’s loneliness question? The answer is a resounding yes. It is the Trinity, the central mystery of the Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God Himself.  The God of Christianity is no solitary being. He is not alone. God exists in relationship even in Himself. The inner life of God is a Trinity of Persons; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To quote the late, Pope John Paul, recently canonized by the Church, “God in his deepest mystery is not solitude, but a family… since He is Himself fatherhood, son-ship and the essence of the family, which is love”.

Let us not forget that every time we sign ourselves with the sign of the cross, we remember God’s name in which we were baptized. And since we are created in the image and likeness of God we become an image not so much in our moments of solitude but in communion with others. On this Father’s day let us consider some every day words that imply a relation to others: father, mother, aunt, sister, brother, grandparent. And then there is the word “friend”. Recall the words of Jesus addressed to his disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have learned from my Father”. (Jn.15:14-16)

When the Quakers, a Christian sect gathers for prayer and the reading of scripture, it is a meeting of friends. Indeed, the Quaker is a member of the “Society of Friends”.

Recall the popularity of the long-running series, “Friends”, once seen on prime time television and, to this day, very popular in syndication.

In our secular age of rampant individualism, and an increasing animus towards people of faith, it is vital that we re-discover the central importance of communion, particularly regarding worship. “Why do I need to attend Mass?” is a complaint one often hears. What would heaven be like in the absence of our family and our dear friends? Would our joy then be diminished? Ours is a communal faith.

As I bring my reflections to a close, I should like to quote another Jesuit scholar, the late Martin D’Arcy, an English priest. In his reflections on the Most Holy Trinity, he wrote the following words: “All down through the centuries saints have found in the thought of the Holy Trinity a subject of never-ending meditation and devotion. They see in that final perfection of love, for which love between persons craves. The Christian God is not like the abstract entities of philosophical religions; his Godhead is not impersonal; it is a living, inexhaustible fund of love, which consists of personal relations.” In view of what this great scholar has written, would it be unreasonable to speak of the Trinity as a loving community of friends?

Amen!

 

 

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