Recent Homilies and Reflections

January 13, 2019 Baptism of the Lord Homily: The famed Waldorf–Astoria hotel in New York City is the venue for an annual event that is widely covered by the local and global media: the International Debutante Ball. A debutante is a young woman of upper class family background who has come of age and is now prepared to be introduced to High Society. For the young lady, who is likely from fifteen to seventeen years of age, the event is a “coming out” party. She is sponsored by an elite member of society, usually a relative. One of the special moments of the gala is when the debutantes stand in a receiving line and are introduced individually to the audience. For a daughter of privilege, the ball is a rite of passage for a teenage girl and a turning point in a young life. She is now a prominent figure on the world stage. She must leave behind her childhood and embrace the duties and responsibilities of a mature young woman.

The Baptism of Christ marks the beginning of the public life of Jesus. He emerges from the shadows of his hidden life in Nazareth and stands on the banks of the River Jordan. He has left his home for good. The evangelist Luke presents him as someone hidden in the crowd, an anonymous figure, while he went to John the Baptist to be baptized.

The baptism of Christ is a sort of “coming out” moment, and one which will never be repeated. The atmosphere of the event is not festive but somber and serious. A monumental drama begins to unfold. Right at the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus gives an unmistakable sign. He shows us the new path he has taken. He is going out in the midst of people. He places himself among sinners who are in line to receive the baptism of repentance John offers. Jesus intends to carry our burdens and our sins on his shoulders. Clearly, he does not despise the people among who he is taking his place. He fully understands our weakness. He immerses himself in the human condition. The baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity. Jesus’ sponsor is from above.  The Father introduces Jesus as His Divine Son. “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased”. (Lk.3:22) A voice from heaven explains what has happened… Jesus is the servant of the Lord, the perfection of his people.

What lessons can we derive from this gospel reading?

First, it was a prayer event. Luke tells us that Jesus was praying (Lk.3:21). While Jesus was in prayer, the heavens opened and under the form of a dove, the Holy Spirit descends on Him. Surely it is worth noting that at key junctures in his life Christ speaks with his Father in heaven. The evangelist Luke, in particular, underscores the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus. How often do we rely on prayer at critical moments in our own life? Do we speak to the Lord? Can we hear his response? Can we, in faith, accept his Holy Will?

The grey mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan may remind many of our aged priests of the time, years ago, when repentant sinners stood in a long line awaiting to receive the sacrament of Penance. Many confessions were heard by priest in anticipation of the major feast days of the church. The penitent was never alone but stood shoulder to shoulder with his brothers and sisters in need of God’s mercy. Have we ignored one of the great sacraments of the church? Do we still acknowledge our sins?

The early church saw the baptism of the Lord as a celebration of our baptism, too. As a celebration of the new life that is shared through the sacrament.

The Christmas season ends today. Tomorrow begins “ordinary time”. But for us who are Christians, it is as opportune a time to re-commit ourselves to living out our baptismal faith.

Amen!

 

January 6, 2019 Homage to the Newborn King Homily: In his justly acclaimed book, “The Birth of the Messiah”, the late Fr. Raymond Brown, a respected biblical scholar, tells an amusing story of a fellow scholar, who was a notorious skeptic regarding the historicity of many of the events recorded in the bible. He once claimed that Matthew’s narrative of the visit of the Magi was pious fiction.  He boldly declared, “There were no wise men or kings”. Not surprisingly, many of the faithful were disturbed, and even scandalized, by the scholar’s casual dismissal of one of the key events revealed in the Gospel of Matthew. So one day the skeptical professor received a hand painted Christmas card depicting three angry Oriental kings in royal attire, accompanied by camels knocking at the door of the professor’s study, demanding by name to see him. One must not trifle with the Word of God!

The adoration of the Magi was a popular theme throughout the history of Christian art. The great painters of the past accepted, without the slightest reservation, the account of the Magi’s visit in Matthew’s second chapter. Leonardo DaVinci, Sandro Botticelli, and Fra Angelico are just a few of the great painters of the past who have depicted this splendid event on canvas. What is particularly striking about their work is the posture of the Magi (or kings) who have found the Christ child. These representatives of highly advanced cultures, aristocrats all, are depicted on their knees, and presenting gifts to Christ. First they sought, then they found and worshipped. “They prostrated themselves and did him homage.” (Mt.2:11)

Fast forward to today. Could we possibly imagine a chairman Kim of North Korea, a Castro of Cuba or one of the powerful leaders of Western Europe on their knees honoring the newborn King? Or what of a famous scientist such as the recently deceased Steven Hawking prostrating himself before Christ? Not likely!

It is interesting to note that the word “homage” appears no fewer than three times in this gospel reading (Mt.2:1-12) and ten other times in the rest of the gospel. The word means “Something done to show reverence, honor or respect to a person of dignity or authority.”  Like any great drama a villain plays a key role in the narrative of the Evangelist: King Herod. He poses as a pious Jew, and pretends to want to adore the newborn King. His plea is cunning: “When you have found him, bring me word, so that I may go and give him homage”. (Mt.2:8) The news of Christ’s birth does not give rise to joy in Herod but to fear and rage. He sees the newborn king as an enemy, a future rival to his throne. In short, he is an impostor, a phony.

Although Herod is dead, his evil spirit is alive and well in the secular and anti-Christian cultures of East and West. Christians are persecuted for observing the feast as a Holy day; Christmas cribs have been vandalized and oftentimes removed from public squares, the setting up of the Christmas crèche can be a punishable crime, subject to stiff fines and even imprisonment. In addition, many of the lovely religious symbols of Christmas have been replaced by secular ones with no possible connection to the great mystery we Christians celebrate: the Eternal Word taking for Himself a human nature, otherwise known as the Incarnation.

In one of his meditations on the feast of the epiphany, the retired Pontiff, Benedict XVI asks if there is something of Herod in each one of us. “Are we sometimes blind to his signs and deaf to his words?”

At a time when fewer and fewer Catholics are availing themselves of the sacramental life of the church, we would profit immensely by reflecting on the following words:”…and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother”. (Mt.2:11) The house in some sense represents the church. In order to find Christ, one has to enter the house, which is the church. If we cease passing through the doorway of the church, then what doors are we opening? Surely many of those doors do not open to Christ.

Let us open up our treasures to Christ. If we have a generous spirit, he will gladly receive all that we offer him, especially our good deeds done in the service of his holy name.

Amen!

 

December 30, 2018 Hide and Seek Homily: One of my favorite games as a child was “hide and seek”. Among the children of my generation it was very popular. The game was usually played in my home, and included my siblings, two sisters and a brother. Of course, the great challenge was to find a player in hiding. I still recall the great thrill of saying to my sibling, “I have found you”. If I failed in my search, the game would have been lost, and I would be compelled to declare my brother or sister the winner of the game.

The late Nobel Prize winning author and concentration camp survivor, Elie Weisel, once told a Rabbinic story about a young boy named Jehel, who comes running into the home of his grandfather, the famous rabbi Baruch. Big tears are rolling down his cheeks. The rabbi is understandably concerned. “Why are you sobbing?” The boy responded “My friend has totally given up on me. He is very unfair and mean to me”. The rabbi then asked for an explanation. “We were playing hide and seek. I was hiding so well that he simply gave up and went home. Isn’t that mean?” The master caresses the boy’s cheek. He himself now has tears in his eyes. “Yes. This is not nice. But look, it is the same way with God. He is in hiding, and we do not look for Him. God is in hiding, and people do not look for him.”

The fourth joyful mystery of the rosary is “The finding of the boy Jesus in the temple”, today’s gospel reading. (Lk.2:41-52) And the reason for our joy?  Jesus, who had inexplicably disappeared from sight, was found by his parents in the temple of Jerusalem. Having persevered in their search for Jesus, they finally find him after three days had passed. It must have been a relief to them. The third day should remind us of the days of darkness preceding Our Lord’s resurrection. Essentially, this is a story that symbolizes our search for God and it involves a human being’s whole life. “Jesus allowed his parents the cloud of not knowing, the distress of dryness, and the increasing pain of those who seek the Lord and do not find Him. Jesus, then, is close to whoever experiences this suffering and this mysterious silence of God” (Carlo Martini, S.J.)

Let us recall that in John’s gospel the first question Jesus asked the two disciples who approached him was, “What are you looking for?” (Jn.1:38) Also note that in Luke’s gospel, particularly chapter 15, there is a strong emphasis on finding what was lost. Consider the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. At the end of the parable of the lost, or prodigal, son we read the words, “He was lost and has been found”. (Lk.15:32)

Christ is the center of our spiritual life. But every so often he seems to disappear, often suddenly and without the slightest reason. We feel abandoned and left alone. Faith seems absurd. But we must persevere in our search. We are assured that one day we will find Jesus again.

In his reflection on today’s gospel, the late Franciscan friar, Benedict Groeschel writes, “As we meditate on the desperate anxiety of the couple looking for their child, we are reminded that for all of us life has its own mysterious failures, catastrophes, and sorrows. When we are forlorn and anxious, or perhaps deeply grieved, we need to remember that such experiences come not only to us, but they also came to the Messiah and his family”

G. K. Chesterton once surmised that the one who goes to a bordello is looking for God. His point is that we are, without exception, looking for peace and joy, and that search will not be successfully completed until we have found Christ, the true object of our search.

Whenever a family is reunited, as was the Holy Family in today’s gospel, it is cause for joy.  Let us pray for all families, especially those that are fractured or wounded, that they may experience the joy of the Holy Family… The family that prays together stays together.

Amen!

 

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