Welcome to CatholicPreacher! I use this page as a type of archive of my thoughts for my Sunday homily.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

The Second Sunday after Epiphany

 


“Everyone serves the good wine first,
and then when people have drunk freely an inferior one;
but you have kept the good wine until now.”

One thing that strikes me as odd in this parable, aside from turning water into wine, is that Jesus associates new wine with superior wine.  Everyone knows newer wine is inferior to wine that has had time to ferment and age.  Why, then, is this “new wine” Jesus has transformed from water superior?
The account is that the head server tasted the newly created wine, not knowing its source, and declared it superior.  Had he been told this wine was just created a few minutes ago, he would have probably not even tasted it, confident in its inferior quality.
As Jesus’ first recorded “sign”, which is the terminology John uses rather than “miracle”, its significance lies in its link to Jesus’ passion.  In verse 4, Jesus responds rather strangely to Mary’s revelation that the wine has run out with “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”  Jesus implies that his only concern is with the fulfillment of his mission, and the miracle becomes a sign of this mission of transformation.
At the level of symbol, the water—the fundamental association being humanity—is transformed into wine, the symbol associated with divinity.  In the Mass, the priest says as he pours the water into the wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”.  This symbolic act is charged with Christ’s mission to “divinize” humanity, to use an Orthodox term.  The forming of God into our human existence wasn’t so much the humanization of God, but the divinization of humanity; God didn’t need to experience us, we needed to experience God.
This “in-breaking” of divinity into our world as God who martyred Himself for His people out of love is the great sign and pathway to our divinization.  If we wish to follow Christ, we must be caught up in a life of sacrificial love.  In a world full of martyrs who blow themselves up for a political cause masked by pseudo-religion hobbled by hatred, God’s martyrdom was borne of perfect love that sought not the destruction of sinners but their salvation.
The “old wine” now becomes the wine of hatred of the other--- whatever the label: sinner, infidel, terrorist.  The “new wine” is the transformation of this self-seeking love of tribe, of country, of religion over that of neighbor to be transformed into a love that seeks out the other in an act of selfless love.  Jesus’ miracle at the wedding resonates with Isaiah’s imagery of God’s people as the bride, God as supreme lover---the promise that “As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you.”  
            The great revelation of the Gospel is the good news that God’s love is the counter-intuitive truth that the new wine is superior to the old.  Behold, God is doing something new!

Saturday, January 8, 2022

 


"This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased"

            It is easy to treat today’s Baptism of the Lord as an historical feast.  Indeed, there are good historical reasons to believe Jesus was baptized by John since there has always been a controversy between the Christians and “Baptists”(those who continued to follow John the Baptist) over this event; however, what is at work in today’s readings is connected with epiphany, God’s healing presence in the world shown in Jesus. God acts through Jesus and is therefore made manifest to the world.
            In the scripture reading from Isaiah, we learn of the servant-messiah.  Jesus, as this servant-messiah, will extend God’s covenant between his chosen as “a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”  Jesus’ baptism is a mandate of healing and a drawing together of the nations. In Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, which was originally a second part of the Gospel of Luke, it is God acting through Jesus, not Jesus simply obeying orders from on high; Jesus is in perfect relationship with the Father, and his life among us brings God’s blessings. This gives us a crucial insight as to what it means to be a follower of Christ.
            To follow Christ is more than an imitation of Jesus’ actions; it is a call to a deepening relationship with God the Father.  As Christians, we must become animated with God’s love for humanity, and that animation is only possible through God’s Holy Spirit.  As apprentices in our spiritual journey, we begin like all good apprentices: by imitation. We learn to love, to heal and represent ourselves as ethical and moral people with a high calling, but this is not our end.  Our end is perfect communion with God.  What we imitate in Christ goes beyond his actions on earth and focuses on his relationship with the Father.  It is only from this fuller communion with God the Father that our true vocation as Christians is being fulfilled.  While living a life based on high moral and ethical standards is important, the much more enduring significance of Jesus’ baptism resides in coming into full communion with God the Father from whom we have been estranged since Eden.
            This need for a deeper, fuller communion is achieved only through prayer and God’s grace received in the Spirit.  That is why baptism is so essential; it invites the Holy Spirit to enable this essential communion.  To put it a different way, Thomas Merton, a monk, and mystic wrote that the Christian must do more than simply do the will of God.  He or she must will the will of God.  We cannot have this deeper communion without the Holy Spirit and the baptism that bestows upon us the calling to move beyond imitation and to manifest God to the world as Jesus made God known to the world.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Fourth Sunday of Advent


 “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”


Mary believed the words of the angel.  She didn’t demand proof, sign a contract to cover all reasonable contingencies in case the whole mother-of-the-Messiah thing didn’t work out.  Her response to the word: “May it be it done to me according to your word.” In our faith, we have Jesus as the Word--the embodiment of God as human—Emmanuel, “God with us”. 

We also have the word of holy scripture that is our link to the living tradition of our brothers and sisters in faith, used by the Church as a tool of furthering the inspiration of the original community of believers. Unlike Mary’s time, we are overwhelmed with words.  It is estimated that nearly 300 million books will have been published this year alone!  That doesn’t include the words of advertising spoken on television, splashed across computer screens, covering bus shelters, billboards, and car bumpers.  It is hard to set your eyes on an object that doesn’t ask you to read something.  We are awash in more words than at any other time in history, yet we seem to have less and less to say. 

Cutting through this clutter is one righteous quest to enter the Christmas season that begins Saturday. In today’s gospel, John the Baptist as an infant still inside Elizabeth, responds to Elizabeth’s hearing of Mary’s greeting.  This chain of events reveals something important about how we exist in relationship to God and to one another.  

 Since baptism, each of us has been comforted, protected, educated by, and imbued with the presence of the Holy Spirit residing within us.  Like Mary and Elizabeth, pregnant with promise and God’s Spirit, our bond with God and one another is powerful. Our spiritual journey of Advent, distinct from Lent, is essentially communal—we prepare as a community, much the way both Elizabeth and Mary were in a strong bond of having received and believed God’s promise.  Each gave birth to the fulfillment of that promise, but also had to be sustained by it because of the difficulty to remain faithful during the rough times ahead for each woman.

We receive the Word if we are open to its life within us as a community who listens, who is attentive to God's promises.  Holy Scripture can only become Word through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and our willingness to, like Mary, have it transform our lives.  With Mary, our faith-filled response is "May it be done to me according to your Word".

Sunday, October 31, 2021

All Saints and All Souls


 

"Hope Never Disappoints" St. Paul, Rom. 5:5


     Paul’s powerful declaration is one of the most powerful statements, in my opinion, that he makes among all the letters of his that we have. It is a bold statement that someone who has lost hope can sneer at as being hopelessly inept, na├»ve, and somewhat insulting.
     Today, our celebration of All Saints and All Souls is all about hope.  Jesus, in comforting his disciples for his impending death proclaims Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”(Jn.14:27). The peace of Christ is a supernatural gift; it doesn’t come under our control and use. It is bestowed upon us by God through Christ. Our hope then is founded on this supernatural trust in Christ’s peace. It is a peace that does not shelter us from the world’s tempests and changes, it is a place where we can stand in the midst of turmoil and still have hope.
     Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer, observes that “…hope born of faith becomes matured and purified through difficulty. The surprise we experience in hope, then, is not that, unexpectedly, things turn out better than expected. For even when they do not, we can still live with a keen hope. The basis of our hope has to do with the One who is stronger than life and suffering. Faith opens us up to God’s sustaining, healing presence. A person in difficulty can trust because of a belief that something else is possible. To trust is to allow for hope”(Turn my Mourning into Dancing).
     One very real sign of our hope is our prayers today to and for the ones we love, and who have died, that for them and for us death is not a final separation, but only a delay that calls for hope in the Resurrection. A resurrection that plays out each day in the setting and rising of the sun; in the seasons that move from the birth of spring to the death of winter, and again to the birth of new growth; in the healing sacrament of reconciliation where death is sown in our sins and resurrection happens through forgiveness, and in Christ’s victory over death. All around us, God’s abundant love is present and anchors us in the sure hope of the resurrection.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Twnety-Second Sunday after Pentecost


 Unworthiness is not Worthlessness: "Go your way; your faith has saved you."


Faith is a gift, freely given, immeasurably valuable, but rarely embraced. Why? Consider Bartimaeus in today’s gospel. He is blind and wants to see. In his blindness, he yells out in his darkness at the passing healer, Jesus, whom he knows will save him. The folks around him probably wondered what he had done to displease God such that he was blind; and what does Bartimaeus do? He makes a scene—a very annoying distraction for those trying to get a glimpse of Jesus. Bartimaeus seems also to attribute his blindness to sinfulness because he doesn’t yell out “Make me better! Over here, Jesus. I’m blind. Make me better”. Bartimaeus gets Jesus’ attention by yelling "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me." He yells this out twice. By addressing Jesus as Son of David, he implicitly acknowledges Jesus as successor to David and Messiah. Jesus’ reply is intriguing: “Go your way; your faith has saved you." Jesus didn’t say “I have healed you”, but rather focuses on the power of Bartimaeus’ faith. There is no recording of Bartimaeus even having been touched by Jesus. Jesus simply declares him healed by Bartimaeus' faith and to “Go your way….”
Bartimaeus’ healing is a wonderful instruction in faith, healing, and mission. In leading with the phrase “Have mercy on me”, he understands healing begins establishing the correct relationship between himself and Jesus. He, perhaps more than anyone else in the crowd, knows he is the least entitled; but his faith in the nature of Jesus’ compassion gives him the courage to call out. If our sense of unworthiness doesn’t compel us to call out, our real need isn’t healing, but faith. Realizing our unworthiness isn’t the same as worthlessness. God’s love gives us our worth; we cannot generate it ourselves. William Sloane Coffin, a famous preacher, wrote of this dynamic eloquently:
“Of God’s love we can say two things: it is poured out universally for everyone from the Pope to the loneliest wino on the planet; and secondly, God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates value. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved that we have value. Our value is a gift, not an achievement.”
Bartimaeus understood the source of his worth by faith, and this is what gave him the courage to call out for healing from Jesus. Approaching God in a humility that is based upon establishing this right relationship is essential. Too often a sense of worthlessness keeps our prayers silent or redirected towards a favorite saint. We might be unworthy, but we are far from worthless. God’s love establishes our worth for all time, independent of our actions. Recognizing God’s love can allow us to cry out to God “Have mercy on me, a sinner….unworthy, but not worthless, because you love me, God!” Faith, then, at its essence is letting God know you’ve received the gift and want to claim it despite all the negative voices telling you to “be silent.” Get up. Jesus is calling you!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Tweny-First Sunday after Pentecost


 “...whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;

whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”

Mark’s community faced many struggles.  This community was likely made up of Jews living outside Palestine, and Romans. It is this reason that many have suggested that “Mark’s” community was in or near Rome. More important, though, is this community faced persecution from outside and division from within; it was a community under siege. One source of internal division seems to be over positions of prestige and honor within the community as reflected in James and John jostling for position. It is interesting to note that in Matthew, it isn’t the disciples seeking position and prestige, but rather their mother interceding on their behalf! Although such concern for ranking was not exclusive to Gentiles, Jesus’ response suggests the Kingdom will not be about the exercise of authority, but about the exercise of humility. Jesus’ identification with the Suffering Servant Messiah of Isaiah was difficult to accept, and the motif of the journey to Jesus’ death on the cross is central to following him both in a figurative and literal sense.
            How, then, do we regard the admonition to be servants? How far do we take this? Once again, Jesus gives us a standard of living that seems absurdly idealistic. And, once again, we see how far we are from that ideal. Following Jesus, the greatest cross for many is the cross of failure when one comes to understand the demands of love and sacrifice asked of us. Rather than becoming disheartened, however, it should remind us of the need for God’s grace, and our humble response of humility and gratitude.
            If we could but picture ourselves in a long retinue of followers, tripping constantly and falling farther and farther behind on this journey to Jerusalem, only to discover at the end of the line Jesus, offering us water and encouragement by telling us we were not the last after all; Jesus will be just behind us all the way.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost


 

Thirst-Slakers, Children, and Prophets

           The gospel reading in Mark unites two completely different events and renders a fascinating connection.  The first excerpt, or pericope, is Jesus reproving John for preventing a man who is not Jesus' disciple from casting out demons by declaring "...whoever is not against us is for us."  The second pericope is taken from the context of warning his disciples not to scandalize children (the pais), or "little ones."  By linking these two passages together, Mark gives the moral force of punishment for those who lead astray the least and last (those in need of healing) with the "outsider" exorcist.  Remember last week when I told you that the word for child and servant was the same?  Today, we get an explicit linking between the two.
           The Old Testament scripture is also about cautioning against limiting God's work to only "approved" sources.  Moses remonstrates Joshua of Nun for complaining that there were two outside of God's chosen seventy elders who were prophesying (Eldad and Medad).  Moses asks, "Are you jealous for my sake?  Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets.  Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!"
These readings suggest quite clearly that the true authority does not reside in human institutions as such, but in what is done in God's name.  Gospel authority is doing the will of God.  Period.
           How does one, then, discern who is working in God's name?  Paul helps us with recognizing the "fruits of the Spirit" in " "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."(Gal.5:22-23).  In a sense, when you recognize goodness, there God's Spirit is at work.  The other element besides the work is time.  Are these works true and good over time?  The ruse never lasts; the wolf must eventually shed its sheep's clothing to breathe.
           At the conclusion of all the Eucharistic prayers, the priest declares "...from whom all good things come." God is not only the source of all that is good, but God is also perfect goodness in essence.  Much of what is good is apparent, but finding the Resurrection looking at the Cross can be a bit more difficult.  Again, time reveals all.  Given enough time, the Cross becomes the Resurrection.  How long do we wait?  How deep is your faith?