Recent Homilies and Reflections

May 13, 2018 Divine Assistance Homily: The late Bishop Fulton J. Sheen often spoke in admiration of a Swiss psychiatrist and author, Dr. Paul Tournier. Tournier, a serious minded Christian and member of one of the Protestant Reformed churches, was acutely aware of his own shortcomings as a man and he wisely recognized that medical science had not all the answers to life’s most difficult questions. So, whenever he was faced with a vexing case, he would suggest to his patient that they pray together. Soon afterward, the two would fall to their knees and appeal for God’s assistance. Dr.Tournier may have recalled the words of Christ, “Apart from me, you can do nothing”. (Jn.15:60)

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the spokesman for the 120 disciples gathered together, St. Peter, calls upon his brethren to assist him in making a decision of monumental importance. “The one who was numbered among the twelve and who was allotted a share in Christ’s ministry”, Judas Iscariot, must be replaced, Judas “handed over” Our Lord to his enemies and hence forfeited his standing as one of the twelve apostles. The time frame is the period between the Ascension of Christ and the Pentecost event, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The one chosen must have followed Jesus from the beginning of his public life until his death because, as St. Peter says, “he must become with us a witness to his resurrection”. (Acts 1:22) Two men were considered suitable candidates, Matthias and Justus. Matthias, the patron saint of late vocations, was the one chosen to replace the traitor. (Acts 1:26)

Such a grave decision could not be made without first consulting the Lord and praying for divine assistance. “You Lord, who knows the hearts of all, show which of these two you have chosen to take the place in the apostolic ministry in which Judas turned away to go to his own place”. (Acts 1:24) Lots were then cast. Biblically, it was the way of handing over a decision of enormous importance to God. Casting lots was a method of seeking God’s will. There was no casting of votes. Dr. William Barclay, a scripture scholar, puts the casing of lots into sharp focus. “The names of the candidates were written on stones; the stones were put into a vessel and the vessel was shaken until one stone came out; and he whose name was on that stone was elected to office”.

In preparing to make a major decision, do we call upon Our Lord for help? Do we seek his guidance? Before rendering a judgment, does a judge pray for the wisdom to make the correct decision? Does a bride call upon the Lord to validate her choice of a husband? Does an employer pray for help in making his choice of a new employee?

The fine example of Christ is very instructive. In St. Luke’s gospel, we often find Jesus at prayer. In chapter six, we read the following, “It was at this time that he (Jesus) went out to the mountainside to pray and spent the whole night offering prayer to God. And when day dawned, he called his disciples to him, choosing out twelve of them. These he called apostles”. (Lk.6:12-13)

St. Luke also reminds his Christian readers that they are called to be witnesses of the risen Christ. To be an effective witness, we must love one another. And recognize in each person we encounter the presence of Christ Himself.

In closing, let us be mindful that we are God’s chosen ones and members of the body of Christ. We enjoy an eminence that requires us to be effective witnesses of the faith we profess daily.

Amen!

 

May 6, 2018 Only A Man Homily: In his fine book, “The Quest for God”, the English historian Paul Johnson shares a telling story about the renowned French painter, Henri Matisse, who passed away in 1954. Matisse received a commission from a religious community of women to design and decorate a chapel somewhere in the South of France. Upon completing his project, he showed and explained his work to two nuns, a prioress and a simple sister whom he had known for many years. The prioress was effusive in her praise of the artist. His work was simply dazzling. She thanked him for devoting so much time and genius to the glory of God. “I did it for myself”, replied Matisse. The sister, shocked, said, “But master, when you were still at work you told me you were doing it for almighty God”. Matisse replied calmly, “I am God”! The historian Johnson was aghast. He thought the French artist mad.

In today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 10) we hear the story of the Roman army officer, Cornelius, who is a pagan, and one who is considered “unclean” by strict, observant Jews. According to St. Luke, Cornelius was a pious and God-fearing man. As strange as it may seem, Cornelius had a deep admiration for the Jewish faith and adopted some of the customs of the Jewish people, such as almsgiving. In addition he was very generous in financially supporting many charitable causes favored by Jewish leaders. This may explain why, in Luke’s assessment, he was respected by the whole Jewish nation.

And then Cornelius met Peter.

When Cornelius met Peter for the first time, he fell to his knees in deep reverence. In the original Greek, his stunning gesture suggests one who bows down to kiss another’s feet! Peter, understandably embarrassed, gently scolds him. “Stand up”! I am only a man”. (Acts 10:26)

Later in Acts the missionaries Paul and Barnabas are distressed to learn that some ignorant pagans wished to offer sacrifice to them. The two great evangelists reject the pagan’s treatment of them as Gods with the words, “We are of the same nature as you, human beings”. (Acts 14:15)

We must always keep in mind that those who minister in the name of Jesus are flawed human beings. To be placed on a pedestal by fawning admirers is a recipe for disaster. Learning of the fall of a hero can be, sad to say, very deflating!

The American actress Meryl Streep is certainly one of the most talented and recognizable celebrities in the world. She has deservedly earned considerable praise from her peers. In 2012, she accepted the award for best actress in a motion picture at the annual golden Globe awards ceremony. In her acceptance speech, she thanked god for giving her the opportunity to star as England’s former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in the film, “The Iron Lady”. But the god she was referring to was not in heaven. She made reference to a now disgraced movie mogul, who has been accused of multiple acts of sexual assault.

In 1966, an admirer of the recording artist Eric Clapton spray painted the words, “Clapton is God”, on a wall on the London Underground. The phrase began to appear in other areas of the city as well. At first, Clapton was amused and dismissed the words as a rather silly practical joke. But as his fame continued to grow, he acted in such a way that clearly suggested that he was more than comfortable with being idolized by his many fans. A short time later, he found himself an addict to drugs and booze His fall was dramatic and painful. It is only when he acknowledged his weakness as a fallen human being that the necessary reform of his life could begin.

The foibles of Peter are well known to us. He denied our Lord three times on the eve of his death and deserted him on the day of his crucifixion. Nevertheless, this flawed man was chosen by Christ to be his ambassador and witness.

Let us ask ourselves if we are rash in our judgment of the failures of our leaders. Are we too harsh in condemning those who disappoint and even scandalize us?  Let us never forget the words of Peter, a Saint of the church: “I am only a human being”.

Amen!

 

April 22, 2018 The Holy Name Of Jesus Homily: Brothers and sisters, in the year of Our Lord 1431, a devout young Frenchwoman, Joan of Arc, was brought up on false charges of sorcery and heresy by the state.  A mystic, military leader and friend of the French crown, she was inspired to lead the French forces in battle against their sworn enemy, the English. Her trial was a travesty of justice. She was condemned to a hideous death… a burning at the stake. According to eyewitnesses, Joan called upon the name of her savior as the flames enveloped her. Three times she cried, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu”. Her executioner, a man well schooled in the art of killing, was deeply moved by the saint’s death. After she expired, he cried, “We have burned a saint”. His guilt prompted him to seek out a priest for confession.

At the time of her execution Joan of Arc was nineteen years old! She is the patroness of France!

The background to today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 4:5-12) is as follows: John and Peter have been arrested for their preaching and their role in healing a cripple. They are called to appear before the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews.  “By what name have you done this?” (Acts 4:7) demanded the agitated leaders of the Chosen People. “It was done in the name of Jesus whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead”. The two men were forewarned not to utter a word or give any teaching in the name of Jesus. But they insisted that the source of their healing power is Jesus Himself. The powerful name of Jesus is the focus of today’s first reading.

Looking back, we may recall that the name of Jesus was given from heaven and revealed His identity. “She will bear a son and you will name him Jesus for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt.1:21) the name Jesus means, “God saves”. Jesus is the savior of all humanity.

In St. Paul’s justly famous letter to the Christian community at Philippi, he quotes a hymn in which one hears the words, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed upon him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend”. (Phil. 2:9-10)

Jesus himself declares, “If you ask anything of the Father, He will give it to you in my name.”

In the Acts of the Apostles the name of Jesus is invoked to heal the sick, perform signs and wonders, drive out demons and administer baptisms. All is done in the name of Jesus.

What further lessons may we derive from today’s reading?

First, the name of Jesus is at the very heart of Christian prayer. Just consider the Eucharist. We call upon the Holy Name of Jesus at the conclusion of many of the prayers recited by the priest. A prayer familiar to virtually all Catholics, the “Hail Mary”, reaches a high point in the words, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”;

Second, Once upon a time, it was a common practice for a Catholic to bow his or her head upon hearing the name of Jesus. One seldom heard anyone use the name of Our Lord in a disrespectful manner. Even the entertainment industry at one time honored his sacred name. Not so much today! Indeed, the name of Jesus is often mocked.  His sacred name is often blasphemed and made the butt of jokes.

Third, the Holy Name of Jesus is a powerful weapon in our daily struggle against the forces of evil. Like Joan of Arc, we must call upon the name of Jesus whenever our faith is sorely tried.

In closing, let us repeat St. Peter’s ringing defense of the Holy Name. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved”. (Acts 4:12)

Amen!

 

 

 

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