Recent Homilies and Reflections

June 17, 2018 Miracle Grow Homily: In order for a company to be successful in selling its product, it must first depend, to a considerable extent, on an effective marketing strategy. It is surely the hope of the entrepreneur that the advertising campaign targeting the American consumer somehow makes his product appealing. One of the key elements in driving a campaign is to find the right brand name. In the 1940’s two men of genius, Horace Hagedorn and Otto Stern, developed an innovative agricultural product. Mr. Hagedorn coined the name of the product… “Miracle-Gro”. Claiming his plant food to be miraculous was a stroke of genius and, in the end, highly advantageous . It made it seem as if God Himself was behind the extraordinary growth of the ripened seed.   “Miracle-Gro” remains, to this day, a popular plant food.

In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, there are three parables about seeds.  Each one reveals something about the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mk.4:26). Tellingly, Jesus takes his imagery from a vegetable garden. Certainly, the image of a garden was familiar to a largely agricultural people. What each the parables have in common is the theme of growth. The seed (the Word of God, the gospel) penetrates the soil and, in time, produces a rich harvest.

In today’s parable, Christ focuses on the inactivity of the sower. “It is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how”. (Mk.3:26) Once he has sown the seed, he quietly departs. He can leave all things in God’s hands. There is no need for the sower to be anxious because the harvest will be good despite any and all setbacks. The work of growing belongs to the seed, not the sower. The power of growth comes ultimately from God.

In his first letter to the Christians of Corinth, St. Paul echoes the point highlighted in the gospel. He writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God causes the growth. Therefore, neither the one who plants nor one who waters is anything, but only God who causes the growth”. (1 Cor.3:6)

At the very heart of our faith is mystery. This is true as well of the so-called natural mysteries, including the seed, which has the secret of life and growth within itself. Ponder, if you will, a tiny seed in the palm of your hand and then consider its amazing transformation into a large plant. (Mk.4:32)

Today’s gospel reading is a call to confidence that God who has begun a good work—the sowing of the seed—is in the process of bringing it to completion. Although the sower may appear to be in charge of the operation, he does not even touch the heart of the seed’s mystery. We are given assurance that the harvest will come. (Mk.4:29)

Another lesson of the parable is that we should never lose heart, give in to discouragement. A few years ago, a Cistercian monk heard my confession while on retreat. After pouring out my frustrations, he calmly replied, “Be of good cheer, Father. It is only going to get worse”. The Church is in the hands of God. We have no choice but to be patient and faithful. The Lord will never disappoint us. We may be lead to believe that the Church is in a bad way and in the midst of a severe crisis. That’s likely the case today.

In considering the mystery of the Church founded by Jesus, we may wish to adopt for ourselves the name, “miracle-gro”. Our Good Lord is the one responsible for the church’s growth. But oftentimes, he carries out His divine work in secret. Such is the mysterious way and wisdom of our God!

Amen!

 

June 10, 2018 A House Divided Homily: In 1858 a young Abraham Lincoln sought elective office. He wanted to represent the citizens of his home state, Illinois, in the United States senate. That particular year, he had a formidable opponent in the person of Stephen Douglas. The most contentious issue of that long ago electoral campaign was the institution of slavery. A crisis gripped the nation… one that could eventually destroy the Union. Lincoln was resolutely opposed to the institution of slavery and wished to see it outlawed. At the state capital in Springfield Lincoln delivered what many historians consider to be one of the most impressive speeches in his distinguished career. It is known as the “house divided speech”. His poignant words clearly show the influence of sacred scripture, in particular the words of Christ: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation. And every house or city divided against itself cannot stand”.  Now read Lincoln’s words: “A nation divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free”.

Not surprisingly, Lincoln was demonized by the Southern press. They labeled him a demagogue, an enemy of the American people, and, even worse, a dishonorable man.

The Jerusalem scribes occupy center court in today’s gospel (Mk.3:20-35). They were highly respected and influential biblical scholars. Given their role as authoritative interpreters of the Mosaic Law, they, understandably, were held in high esteem by religiously observant Jews. In Mark’s gospel, they are portrayed as fierce opponents of Jesus. Their hostility was provoked by Christ’s healing on the Sabbath, his association with public outcasts and sinners and his outrageous claim to have the authority to forgive sin. And let us not forget that Jesus was drawing enormous crowds, too. They may have been envious and worried!

The scribes accused Jesus of being in league with the devil. Jesus, they claimed, was a tool of Satan. That Satan, the adversary and accuser, dwelt within Him. His many miracles were not of divine origin, but rather were inspired by satanic forces.

“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand”, (Mk.3:24) declares Jesus. How can Satan drive out Satan? If Satan is indeed driving out demons, than, logically speaking, he is working against himself, an obvious absurdity. If Satan suffers internal divisions, then his reign has come to an end.

Jesus is the powerful one. He overcomes Satan, binds him and frees from bondage those who are in his clutches.

What lessons may we derive from today’s gospel reading? First, recognize the reality of personal evil and do not dismiss the supernatural. Richard Gallagher, M.D. is a board certified psychiatrist and professor at New York Medical college. A practicing catholic, he has advised priests and bishops on cases involving mental illness and possible diabolical possession. Over the course of many years, he has interviewed thousands of people thought to have been possessed.

Allow me to cite just one of his many cases.

On the night before he was to interview a young woman named Julia, he was awakened at three in the morning by the terrifying sounds of two cats fighting. When he engaged the woman in conversation the following morning, the first words out of her mouth were rather chilling. “So Dr. Gallagher, how did you like the cats last night?” The local parish priest who made the initial contact with Dr. Gallagher received a letter in which he was mocked by the Evil One. “We raised a little hell in doctor Gallagher’s house last night.” Scary!

Second, bear in mind that the root of the word “diabolical” means a rending, a tearing apart.  The devil’s plan is to sow division in the church, in society and in our legislatures.  Can we not fail to see the hand of the Evil One in our “divided house”?

Third, how many faithful Christians are demonized today in our secular culture simply because they hold fast to the truths of the faith, particularly on moral issues? It is as if, like Lincoln, they have a target on their backs and are continually harassed for their Christian witness. Sad and ominous!

It is interesting to note that few popes in recent memory have spoken so often of the devil as Pope Francis. We should heed his warning. But the “Good News” is that Christ is “the Strong Man” and more powerful than Beelzebul (Mk.3:22). But only if we remain close to him!

Amen!

 

June 3, 2018 Two Women Homily: Several years ago, a prominent figure in the entertainment industry, Martin Scorcese, turned up in our City of Troy to direct several scenes for a film he was then making, “The Age of Innocence”. The inspiration for this critically acclaimed film was a novel written nearly a century ago was by the distinguished author, Edith Wharton.  To this very day, Ms. Wharton enjoys the distinction of being the first woman ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The setting of many of her stories is Old New York around the turn of the last century. Alas, she was not of the Catholic faith. Therefore, it is all the more surprising that, by her own admission, one of the most delightful memories of her life was while living in Italy, she saw for the first time a Corpus Christi procession. A priest attired in sacred vestments carried a vessel (monstrance) in which the consecrated host (Blessed Sacrament) is exposed. Hundreds of the faithful could be seen singing hymns and praying. It appeared as if they were walking with the Lord.  The One who identified Himself as “the Way” was showing them the right path, leading them on their journey toward their destination, the kingdom of Heaven. She was moved to open the garden of her estate to the local parish, so that the people would have a proper place to celebrate the feast.

Consider another woman of great influence.

Elizabeth Ann Seton is the first native born American to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. According to one of her biographers, one of the defining moments of her life occurred when she, too, witnessed a Corpus Christi procession in Italy. She later confessed that the presence of the Eucharistic Lord was enough to compel her to fall to her knees in an act of adoration. It proved to be the turning point in the long drama of her conversion to the Catholic Church. After her conversion she entered religious life and founded a religious order, the Daughters of Charity.

Today we gather around the Lord to be together in His presence. The Eucharist is the sacrament of one who does not leave us alone in our journey but stays on our side and shows us the way. The procession on the day of the feast ought to remind us of a key moment in salvation history… the Lord leading the Chosen People in the wilderness to the Promised Land. Our Eucharistic Lord is leading us home to heaven.

On Friday, the feast of the Sacred Heart, we participated in a Eucharistic procession led by our bishop, Edward Sharfenberger. Together, we set out on a short journey. We all gazed upon the consecrated host. At the end of our journey, we prayerfully joined the bishop in adoring Our Lord who deigned to make Himself small in the bread consecrated at mass.

Why bread?

The retired Pontiff, Benedict XVI points out that bread is the most basic type of nourishment. It has always been considered the food of the poor. Bread is made up of simple ingredients, flour and water. Bread is the fruit of the earth and the work of human hands. In the Eucharist the Divine and human meet. Creation and heaven intersect. The consecrated bread is a visible sign of Him in whom heaven and earth, God and man, become one.

Before His Ascension into heaven Our Risen Lord promised that He would always be with his disciples. The sacrament of Our Lord’s body and blood is a confirmation that Our Lord indeed is true to his word.

Amen!

 

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