Recent Homilies and Reflections

March 17, 2019 The Mountaineers Homily: Some forty years ago a distinguished British subject and native of New Zealand, Edmund Hillary turned up in a commercial as a spokesman for Master Card. I suspect few American viewers recognized him. In 1953, the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, Edmund Hillary, a mountaineer, was the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, the highest point on earth. At the top of the mountain, Edmund and his team basked in glory, but only for a short time. One of the basic facts of mountain climbing is that more help is needed going down the mountain than going up. And, sure enough, their descent was complicated by drifting snow that had covered their tracks. Edmund Hillary successfully completed his mission and, for his noble efforts, was knighted by the Queen.

Special things seem to happen on mountains. Just consider the various mountains of Christ’s life: the mountain of the temptation, the mountain of his great preaching, the mountain of his prayer, the mountain of his Transfiguration, the mountain of his agony, the mountain of the cross and, finally, the mountain of his Resurrection

In today’s gospel Jesus takes three of his disciples, Peter, John and James, up the mountain. Eight days earlier he had challenged them to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow him. (Lk.9:23) Luke the Evangelist informs us that they “saw his glory”.  The transfiguration event was a preview of our Lord’s Resurrection. One is reminded of a popular song by the late entertainer, Al Jolson, “I’m Sitting On Top Of The World”.  But they could not remain there for long. By guiding the apostles down the mountain Christ was instructing them in the faith they would need for the trials ahead. The very three disciples who were a witness to the transfigured Christ were also present at the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

One of the great Pontiffs of the Church, Pope Leo the Great, was of the view that the Lord was strengthening his disciples for the crucifixion to come and desired to minimize the scandal of his ignominious death. It is interesting to note that once the disciples resume their ministry, they are called upon to heal a boy with a demon. They failed miserably. “I begged your disciples to cast it out but they could not”. (Lk.9:40) declared the father of the boy.

After the dramatic event of his Transfiguration, Jesus then begins his descent, his final descent, to Jerusalem. The mystery of his passion and death looms large. The shadow of the cross begins to lengthen.

Surely one of the most important lessons of today’s gospel is the primacy of prayer. The Transfiguration of Christ is a prayer event. It displays visibly what happens when Jesus speaks with his Heavenly Father. “When he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white”. (Lk.9:29) A story: When I was a child, I once heard the sound of whispering in my parent’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar I was faced with the temptation of looking inside. I could not resist the temptation. I somehow managed to stealthily take a peek. What I discovered was a life-changing moment. My father was praying on his knees. His prayer may not have changed him, but it surely changed me. Seeing a devout person praying can be a moment of grace.

In his reflections on the Transfiguration of Jesus, Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming down bearing the love and strength from him, and to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love”.

On whichever mountain we find ourselves it is always a golden opportunity of encountering God. Jesus prays on mountains. Jesus teaches on mountains. Special things happen on mountains. We can echo the words of Peter himself: “Master, it is good that we are here”. (Lk.9:33)

Amen!

 

March 10, 2019 Amnesia Homily: In 1926, one of England’s most celebrated literary figures, Agatha Christie, the doyen of mystery writers, disappeared without a trace for eleven days. Her sudden absence was a newsworthy item and caused a sensation in media outlets around the world. Fearing the worst, her own family expected to learn of her tragic death sometime in the near future. Quite unexpectedly, she was eventually discovered two hundred miles away from where her abandoned car had been found. How did the investigators account for her disappearance? Mrs. Christie suffered from a complete loss of memory. She was afflicted with a temporary case of amnesia. How terrifying must have been her ordeal. Not only had she lost her identity and knowledge of her past history, she, in addition, could not even identify by name members of her own immediate family, who were available to offer her valuable assistance in recovering so much of what she had lost. Her mind was a blank!

Amnesia, a medical malady, is a matter for a neurologist. Advances in medicine have made it possible to cure the one afflicted with the disease. There are other forms of amnesia that are not so easily recognizable. Consider the case of the spiritual amnesiac. His identity as a Christian has vanished, God is forgotten in his daily life and he has no clear sense of direction. He wanders about aimlessly through life. His amnesia is very often willful. He is partly, if not entirely, to blame for his loss of memory. Only one remedy, a surefire remedy, is available to him. He must recover his memory by a conscious decision to once again return to the Lord and to follow the path chosen for him to salvation. Divine assistance is required!

In his highly acclaimed Nobel Prize winning address, the humanitarian and concentration camp survivor, Elie Weisel, a Jew, declared that to be a Jew is to remember. Indeed, Professor Weisel made it his life’s mission to keep alive the memory of the holocaust. The world, in his view, must never forget man’s inhumanity, his cruelty, to his neighbor .On the other hand, Weisel maintains that “the rejection of memory is a curse”.

In the 26th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses insists the Jew must never forget what God has done for him. “Moses spoke to the people, saying “The priest shall receive the basket from you and shall set it in front of the altar of the Lord, your God”. (Deut.26:4) After he arrived in the Promised Land, every Jew had a solemn duty to offer the first fruits of the harvest to a priest of the temple. It was thought an appropriate way to express gratitude for the great deeds performed by God. After surrendering the first fruits, the Jew then professes his faith publicly. In a nutshell, he offers a brief summary of salvation history: How God had liberated the Chosen People from their bondage in Egypt and how He established them in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey”. (Deut.26:10)

Evidence abounds that we suffer from a collective amnesia in our own day. When our legislators enact laws approving of infanticide, we suffer from a massive loss of memory of God as the author of life.

When migrants are treated disrespectfully as invaders or intruders, we have lost the moral sense of right and wrong and  conveniently forget that they are our brothers and sisters, who are in need, and are often desperate for a more humane life, especially for their children.

When mass attendance declines in staggering numbers, the Sabbath day is trivialized and God is forgotten; and

When family life is on the verge of total collapse, we show that we are forgetful that the Father of the human family and the author of marriage is God Himself, who is always faithful and true to his people and never ceases to care for them in their struggles.

The penitential season of Lent is an opportune time to recover our memory, our Christian memory. The many distractions in our life may make it very difficult to focus on the truths of our faith and act accordingly. So let us pause and reflect on God’s many blessings and our secular culture’s anemic response.  Help us remember, Lord!

Amen!

 

January 20, 2019 The Hapless Steward Homily: One of the great Christian artists of the past has found humor in the events in the life of Christ. Consider the Italian painter, Giotto, whose works date back to the early fourteenth century. In one of his masterpieces, “The Wedding Feast of Cana”, the one figure in the fresco that first attracts your attention is the chief steward (or headwaiter). Overfed and overweight, he is depicted drinking wine… the wine that had earlier been water… from a large drinking cup, a goblet. He is a ridiculous figure and the object of ridicule. To understand why the artist makes him a rather pathetic figure we must first consider his role as, we would say today, the wedding planner. The chief steward was responsible for coordinating the wedding feast, which often lasted a week. For wine to run out at a wedding feast would have been a social disaster and have brought dishonor to the bride and groom’s family. At the wedding feast of Cana, the chief steward failed to keep track of the wine that was in short supply. The words of Mary, “They have no wine”, must have been unnerving to him. It was a singular moment of crisis and panic.  At a loss for words, he is unable to give a satisfactory explanation for the embarrassing turn of events. In addition, he knows not who was responsible for providing the guests with the “good wine”, a superior vintage. The hapless chief steward may represent for Giotto those of us who are obtuse and clueless, and who fail to recognize the mystery of the divine presence in our daily life and the answers to some of life’s most vexing problems.

Enter Jesus. In the first of his signs in John’s gospel, Jesus reveals his power and his glory. The glory of which Scripture speaks repeatedly is the splendor of God who intervenes in history. “This is glory: the divine splendor which intervenes in history and is made visible”. (Carlo Martini, S.J.) The focus of the evangelist is what the signs reveal about Jesus and his identity. His power inspires respect and confidence in his disciples, who have faith in him. Jesus came to the feast not just as the village carpenter, but as the Messiah or the Christ.

In Jesus’ day, the all-powerful Roman emperors likened themselves to one of the gods of ancient antiquity, Dionysius, the god of winemaking. The pagans of Rome truly believed that it was Dionysius himself who supplied them with wine in abundance. To be without the “fruit of the gods” was catastrophic. The superstitious among the citizens of Rome would consider a paucity of wine to be a curse. No longer were they enjoying the favor of the gods.

In Sacred Scripture, wine, because of what it symbolizes, is one of God’s greatest gifts. It “gladdens the hearts” (Ps.104:15) and that of God Himself. It is a blessing from heaven. In the miracle worked by Jesus at the wedding feast, an incredible amount of wine is available to the guests once the miracle has been carried out: over 180 gallons. Wine in such abundance is a Messianic sign. Later in John’s gospel, Jesus declares that “he has come that they may have life and more abundantly”.(Jn.10:10) In bestowing his blessings, God is lavish in showering his people with gifts. God is the one who expends Himself completely for our joy.

In the celebration of Mass, we hear the priest repeat the words of Christ, “This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant”. If Our Lord has the power to change water into wine, has he not also the power to transform wine into his own precious blood? The English convert, Fr. Ronald Knox considers the words of an earlier convert, Richard Crashaw on the wedding feast of Cana to be one of the most sublime in Latin letters “The shame-faced water saw its God and blushed.” The waters in the jars blushed because no creature is worthy to see God face to face unless God himself gives him permission.

In our secular, unbelieving age, the words of Mary, “They have no wine” reflect exactly our present day situation. There is too much rage, hostility and disquiet in our contemporary culture. All too often we lack the joy of the gospel. And how often are we ready to blame others for our troubles and fail to take responsibility for our own actions?

Do we have the joy of the gospel in us? The disciples believed in him and experienced joy. (Jn2:12)

When was the last time we tasted the fruit of the vine?

Amen!

 

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