Recent Homilies and Reflections

November 4, 2018 Loving God and Neighbor Homily: Two of the most illustrious rabbis in the history of Israel are Shammai and Hillel, both contemporaries of Our Blessed Lord. So impressive was their vast learning that observant Jews often turned to them for guidance and counsel on the most challenging of all questions. The two men were not always in agreement on various issues. The following is one illustration. A Gentile approached Shammai and said to him, “Make me a convert to the Jewish faith on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah (the Law of Moses) while I stand on one foot. Shammai was not amused. He chased the man away with a stick that was in his hands. But when the Gentile approached Hillel and asked him the same question, Hillel gave him this answer. “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That sums up the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary; go and learn it”. Hillel managed to condense the wisdom of the first five books of the Old Testament into a few pithy sentences.

In today’s gospel, a student and teacher engage in a spirited conversation concerning the first of all the commandments of God. A scribe approaches Jesus in sincerity and good will. Clearly, he admires Jesus and is deeply impressed by his teaching. He stands for all those who seek to know and how to become truly human, truly good. The rabbis reckoned that there were 613 commandments in the Torah. But which one is the first of all of them? Jesus gives a splendid summary of the Law by referring to two passages in the Old Testament, which speak of the Love of God and the love of neighbor. And Jesus replied, “Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these”. (Mk. 12:29-31) The love commandment is “…worth more than all holocausts and sacrifices”. (Mk.12:33)

In his reflection on today’s gospel, Fr. George Rutler, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, wonders aloud that if Jesus were to hold a press conference today, would it be at all likely that any reporter would rush up to him to ask which one is the most important commandment. More likely, he would ask why there are any commandments at all and if it might be possible to drop a few!

The scribes of Jesus’ day had a great love of the commandments. In the Christian era the saints, too, gave extraordinary witness to their love of the commandments and received the greatest blessings by obeying them. “Serve God first of all.” was the motto of St. Joan of Arc.

In the ancient world of the Roman Empire, the esteemed historian, Tacitus, made the outrageous claim the Christians were hated because of their hatred of the human race. The words of Jesus clearly and forcefully refute such nonsense. But let a more recent scholar, Pope Benedict XVI, weigh in on the subject. He writes, “Only those who regard humanity from God’s perspective is capable of loving mankind… only one who knows God can love mankind… even the most wretched, the weakest ,the defenseless, the battered, the unborn, the inept.” If we share God’s perspective on mankind, we will see and value the necessity of honoring and obeying the “Love Commandment”. “There is no other way to come to holiness than love”! (A. Von Speyr)

In our secular, increasingly godless age, let us consider two pressing questions. First, why does God come last in my life? And second, why then do I turn to Him when all else fails?

Encountering the greatest of all teachers, Jesus Christ, the Eternal word, certainly made a difference for one scribe. Once the conversation ended, Jesus could say to him (and us) “You are not far from the kingdom of God”.

Amen!

 

October 28, 2018 The Blind Beggar Homily: In the opening scene of the award winning Broadway musical production of “Fiddler on the Roof”  the theatre going audience is introduced to one of the show’s most memorable characters, the town beggar. His name is Nachum. Wily and determined, Nachum is able to survive on the good will of others. One of the town merchant’s approaches the beggar and hands him one kopeck. Nachum is displeased, and expresses his disappointment to his benefactor. “But only last week, you gave me two kopecks”, he whined. “I had a bad week”, was the merchant’s sad reply.”So you had a bad week and I am the one made to suffer.” This is a classic example of Jewish humor.

The biblical city of Jericho was a resting place for Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover. The city was only fifteen miles from Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, the road to the Holy City was heavily traveled before pilgrimage feasts and was an ideal place for a blind beggar to appeal for charity. Of the many people whom Jesus healed, Mark’s gospel tells us the name of only one of them: Bartimaeus. In contrast to the festive crowds walking along, he sits, accentuating his isolation as a severely disabled person.  Unlike the inner circle of the followers of Jesus, who are often spiritually blind and obtuse, the blind beggar displays extraordinary prophetic insight. Drawn to Jesus, who is the “light of the world”, he addresses Him as the “Son of David” and begs him to show him mercy. “Master, I want to see”. (Mk.10:51)  Bear in mind that faith in Jesus is a prerequisite for Him to perform a miracle. Why did Jesus single out this one blind beggar among so many who were in need? It is clearly because Bartimaeus has confidence in Him. After Bartimaeus is healed, Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you”. (Mk10:52)

The Evangelist Mark points out another interesting detail of great significance. In gratitude for his healing Bartimaeus “followed him on the way”. (Mk.10:52) His response to the call of Jesus was immediate and eager, so eager that he cast off his only article of clothing, a cloak, to run to Jesus more quickly. A new life begins for him. He will accompany Jesus and the other disciples to Jerusalem where the great drama of salvation is soon to unfold. Bartimaeus is not only a model of faith, but also of discipleship.

A few lessons:

When your life has been totally changed by Jesus, you can say with deep conviction, “I was blind, but now I see”. (Amazing  Grace).  Bartimaeus represents all those whose sight is restored. Recall the dialogue in the story of the man born blind in the ninth chapter of John’s gospel. “Then Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind’. Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin, but now you are saying, ‘we see’, so your sin remains’”. (Jn.9:39-41)

The gospel appeals to those who sit by the roadside and refuse to accept the challenge of following Jesus. “Take courage, get up, the Master is calling you”. (Mk.10:49) To be actively engaged is a great challenge to those of us who are among his chosen disciples. Overcoming our fears, indolence and indecisiveness are a daily concern. Lord, give us strength!

Jesus’ searching question is addressed to each one of us. “What do you want me to do for you?”Let us give serious consideration to Our Lord’s question. He is awaiting an answer.

Amen!

 

October 21, 2018 Second Fiddle Homily: One of the most celebrated and respected figures in the world of music is the late Leonard Bernstein, a prolific composer, highly regarded conductor and the teacher of young students of music. He is best remembered for his work in the American Musical theatre. He wrote the music for such highly acclaimed and popular musicals as “West Side Story” and “On the Town”. Bernstein, the one-time conductor of the New York Philharmonic was once asked which instrument in the orchestra was the most difficult to play. Without hesitation, he replied, “second fiddle.” It was an unexpected, surprising answer to a simple question. He was asked to give an explanation. “I can get plenty of first violinists”, he explained. “But to find someone who can play second fiddle with enthusiasm… that’s a problem.” He concluded his remarks by saying, “If there is no one to play second fiddle, there is no harmony!”

The background to today’s gospel reading (Mk.10:35-45) is as follows. Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem, the drama of salvation is unfolding and the mystery of the cross draws near. In his most recent announcement of what will transpire very soon, Jesus again predicts his passion for the third time. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him and put him to death, but after three days he will rise”. (Mk.10:33-34) Two disciples, members of Jesus’ inner circle, James and John, are clueless, in a fog. They make a rather selfish request of Jesus that in his glory he grant them the privilege of sitting at his left and at his right”. In the cultural world of Jesus, status and honor were highly sought after. To sit at a ruler’s right hand was a sign of power and prestige. The seats on either side of the banquet host were the places of honor. If the other disciples are indignant with James and John, it is because the two self-absorbed apostles wanted the highest ranks and the seats of power in the Kingdom established by Jesus.  No “second fiddle” for them! James and John do not yet understand that service… heroic service… will be demanded of the disciples of Jesus. True greatness involves the service of others. In addition, they must drink of the cup, a biblical symbol of great suffering. “Can you drink of the cup that I drink”, asked Jesus. (Mk.10:38) The cup contains a drink that causes one to suffer and fall. Jesus and his disciples will drink from the same cup and they each will suffer a martyr’s death. No guts, no glory!

It is worth pointing out that the only time that the words “left” and “right” appear in the gospel is when Mark notes the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus, one on his right and the other on his left.

The late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, was an associate professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. Her most important contribution was a book she wrote on the mystery of death and dying. As an important part of her research she interviewed hundreds of people involved in a near death experience. Consistently, they reported a kind of instant replay of their lives. It was as if they were seeing a rapid fire movie of everything they had ever said or done. Based on her careful research, Dr. Ross concluded that two findings are the most relevant… the service you render to others and love. All those things we think are important in life like fame, money, prestige and power, are insignificant.

Are we slow to learn the demands of discipleship as John and James? Do we seek to be number one in carrying our out duties and responsibilities. Do we seek “glory” without a cross?  Is it a reasonable request to be the last and servant of all? Food for thought!

Amen!

 

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