31 October 2005

Homily - 30 October 2005

It is a stern and disturbing message that we hear today from the Prophet Malachi and from Jesus himself. Both today focus on living out our faith not only in our words but also, and perhaps more importantly, by what we do. Malachi and Jesus both issue strong warnings to us today. Jesus tells the disciples to do as the Pharisees tell them because they teach properly and correctly by their words, but they do not do themselves as they order others to do. Malachi condemns them saying that they have broken the covenant God made with Levi.

The Lord himself says of this covenant with Levi:

“My covenant with him was one of life and peace; fear I put in him, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. True doctrine was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found upon his lips; He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and turned many away from evil” (Malachi 2:4-7).

Levi served the Lord well and because of his service the Lord blessed him greatly. He was able to serve the Lord well because he knew also who the Lord is and Levi knew who he himself was. Levi feared the Lord and stood in awe of him; he walked in the ways of the Lord and led others in lives of holiness.

Is this not what each of us is called to do? Are we not all called to fear the Lord and to stand in awe before him? Are we not all called to follow after the Lord and to keep his commandments? Are we not all called to help those around us grow in holiness? Of course we are.

It is because of these reasons that Jesus says to us today:

“As for you, do not be called be “Rabbi.” You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called “Master;” you have but one Master, the Christ” (Matthew 23:8-10).

The title ‘rabbi’ means “great one” and Christ alone is the Great One. The Father in heaven is the one who truly cares for us. Jesus himself is the only true Master that we have and he says to us “Follow me,” (Luke 5:27) and, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 8:23).

This fear, though, that Levi felt before the Lord and which is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, is not a simple terror or horror when standing before the throne of God. No, it is much more than this cowardice. The fear of the Lord comes from a proper understanding of who we are in God’s eyes. This fear is much more of a quiet and profound reverence and submission before God than it is a feeling of terror and dread. Looking upon the face of God we realize his greatness, his majesty, and his beauty and with the Psalmist we, too, can say, “I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me” (Psalm 131:2).

The ancient Fathers of the desert would leave their caves or huts in the hours of night and they would look up to heaven. While looking up they would first point upward and exclaim, “You are God; I am not. You are God; I am not. You are God; I am not.” Then they would return to their caves or huts and spend hours in prayer, reflection, and meditation, by resting in the abiding peace of God.

By praying in this way many of them came to know God as Father, Great One, and Master. The more they came to know God’s power and splendor, the more they came to realize their own finitude and how very small and tiny they were in comparison to the Lord. This is a lesson we would do well to learn because as they learned this, they came to understand in a deep and powerful way the love that God has for each us.

Knowing how small and frail we are, and our absolute powerlessness, the Son of God looked upon us and saw the weight of our “heavy burdens hard to carry” (Matthew 23:4). He saw the chains of sin and death, of sickness and pain, and he abandoned the glory of heaven and - rather than laying more burdens upon us - he took all of our burdens upon himself; he lifted much more than his “finger to move them” even though just one joint of his finger would certainly have been strong enough to remove them (Matthew 23:4). So great is his love and his tender mercy that he humbled himself and became our servant, dying upon the cross that we might live in true and lasting peace and joy.

Very often we tell ourselves about the mercy and love of Jesus but we do not always feel his love. We do not spend enough time with him to know him better. We forget, as the Opening Prayer today reminds us: “only with your help can we offer you fitting service and praise” and we try to do it alone. When this happens, when we forget that we need the Lord, the words that the Lord spoke through Malachi are then addressed to us as well: “You have turned aside from the way, and have caused many to falter by your instruction; you have made void the covenant with Levi” (Malachi 2:8).

Let us then remember, this day and every day, that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). With all God’s holy ones, let us daily cry out to him, “Do not abandon me, Lord. My God, do not go away from me! Hurry to help me, Lord, my Savior” (Introit). With his help and grace we will “live the faith we profess and trust [his] promise of eternal life” (Collect).

We have a duty to ensure that our actions match, as closely as possible, what we say. The faith which we claim must be evident from the life that we live. People should be able to do nothing more than look at the way we live and listen to what we say and know without question or doubt that we are followers of Christ. In our lives they should see the presence of Jesus radiating through us, but this can only happen when we are humble and remember, “You are God; I am not.”

When we humble ourselves before him and recognize our true stance before the Most High, then we will follow after our “Master” and “Teacher” (John 13:13). And bearing our crosses and following after him, we will come to share in a portion of the covenant made with Levi. The Lord will then say to each of us:

“My covenant with him was one of life and peace; fear I put in him, and he feared me, and stood in awe of my name. True doctrine was in his mouth, and no dishonesty was found upon his lips; He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and turned many away from evil” (Malachi 2:4-7).

When we, just as Levi did, recognize our true relationship with God and stop trying make ourselves more important than we really are, then we will truly sing with the Psalmist, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.”

27 October 2005

Homily - 23 October 2005

Today the Universal Church celebrates World Mission Sunday. The Church sets this Sunday aside in every parish to reflect upon the work and necessity of the missions in all parts of the world. Too often we think of the missions as something that “other” people do in the distant reaches of Africa and Asia, and maybe even South America. We do not often see the missions as something that we can and must do, even here in central Illinois. This is most unfortunate because, as Francis Cardinal George, the metropolitan Archbishop of Chicago, is fond of saying, “The Church does not have a mission; the mission has a Church.”

The Church exists because of the mission given to the Apostles by Christ and for no other reason. Just before he ascended to the Father, he said:

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

As members of the Church, each of us shares in this most important mission. And unlike 007, this mission is ours whether we choose to accept it or not. It is a mission that comes with our baptism when we are anointed as priest, prophet, and king.

The readings from the sacred Scriptures this morning focus on love and love, of course, is at the heart of the Church’s mission.

True and authentic love cannot be bottled up; it cannot be kept quiet or secret. Love, when it is genuine and true, must be shared; there is simply no way around it. True love wells up inside of us and if we do not share this love, much like a volcano, the pressure builds up and this love explodes around us. This is, in all truthfulness, the purpose of love. Love is meant to be shared with all. Love is supposed to well up inside of us and flow out of us, much like a fountain feeds a pool of water.

Love is the focus of World Mission Sunday because when we love someone we want everyone we know to know this person so that they, too, can love him or love her. We look for ways to introduce people to those we love, whether we invite them to dinner, to weddings, to a birthday party; we help people get to know those whom we love and we like to know those whom our friends love. It is always a joy to meet someone who is loved and who shares love with others. If we know Jesus, if we love him, we will want everyone to know him as well. This is, as it were, the lithmus test of our faith: do we want others to know Jesus? Do we want to help others know Jesus?

Genuine love helps and enables us to know the plight and suffering of those around us, because love is always concerned with others and never with ourselves. Love allows us to see the face of Jesus in the poor and in the suffering of the world and so we want to love them as Jesus has first loved us.

Most of us have good and holy commitments here that legitimately keep us from physically sharing the Gospel with the four corners of the world. We are married and must be with our spouse; we have children to care for and raise and maybe even parents to support and look after; we have duties and within the community we must see to. Each of these responsibilities certainly comes first in our lives because they come from God.

Some among us, however, do not have these commitments and should prayerfully discern the call of the Lord for them. These questions must seriously be considered by each of us: What brings me the greatest joy? What will bring me fulfillment? Where do I feel at peace? Where these answers coincide we will find the will of God, and only there will we find true and lasting peace and joy. It may well be that some among us here this morning are called to serve the Lord and his people as priests or religious brothers or sisters. This is particular calling to share the love of Christ Jesus with a hurting world in a unique way. It is not, however, the only way to spread the message of the Gospel to all the nations.

Roughly one-fifth of the world’s population belongs to the fold of the Roman Catholic Church while some two-fifths of the world do not know Christ Jesus. This is much work to be done in the mission fields of the world. Jesus has commanded us to “teach all nations” and as yet we have not done this. This is a responsibility that each of us has as baptized members of the Body of Christ. We must do our part; we cannot sit idly by.

This weekend, Holy Mother Church urgently calls us to reflect upon the mission of the Church and begs our assistance, both prayerful and financial. Those who toil in the vineyard of the Lord need our prayers to sustain them and assist them as they share the faith of the Church with the world. At the same time, our prayers will help us to find the ways here in our local community we can reach out with love of Jesus to those around us. The laborers in the Lord’s vineyard need, also, the assistance of our finances as they seek to meet the physical needs of the world so that their souls can then be tended.

Just as the love we have for those around us cannot be kept to ourselves but must be shared, so too the love we have for Christ Jesus. If truly we love we will want others to know him, too, and we will do what we can to help others know him and love him as we do. This can be done in any number of ways: praying a rosary for the work of the missions; making the Stations of the Cross for those we love; holding a door for someone behind us; smiling at someone who seems to need some encouragement; listening to someone who hurts. We often hear it said that we can spread the Gospel without words; that our actions enough will spread the Gospel. While we certainly can show and must show our faith in the Lord by what we do, this is not enough. Sometimes people see in these acts nothing more than nice people; faith does not always enter the picture, but it must.

Our very lives are to be directed toward the work of the missions, so that the whole world may know, by what we say and do, of the love of Christ Jesus crucified and risen for us.

15 October 2005

Homily - 15 October 2005

“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21). Very often when we read or hear this passage, we focus on the first half of Jesus’ response: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” No doubt each of us does this already and without a great deal of effort. We pay our taxes in the many different areas they are imposed upon us. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” Jesus tells us; this we do, we say, and we happily go about our lives, usually quiet content to forget that Jesus has said more than this.

Repay “to God what belongs to God,” he says. How often do we give this saying of Jesus any thought? What do we have that belongs to God? In reflecting on the first reading today from the prophet Isaiah, we can learn something about these questions. The Lord speaks through Isaiah to Cyrus, King of Persia. To understand the importance of King Cyrus, we must know something first of the history of the Jewish people.

In 586 B.C., the Babylonian armies destroyed all of Israel and Judah. They sacked Jerusalem and even destroyed the great Temple on Mt. Zion. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon then forced the Jewish people to leave Palestine and put then in exile in Babylon. The Jews then lived in exile in Babylon until the rise of the empire of Persia, which grew in power under the reign of King Cyrus.

When Cyrus conquered Babylon he allowed the Jews to return to their homeland in 537 B.C. and even sent with them money from the royal coffers with the explicit order to rebuild their Temple on Mt. Zion. With the Temple holding the central place in the Jewish faith, the Jews quickly hailed Cyrus as the “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1) and knew that God had used the Persians to conquer the Babylonians.

Cyrus had become, in just a few short years, the most powerful king in the land, powerful enough to tear down the mighty Babylonian Empire and inaugurate his own Persian Empire. With so much power and authority in his possession, with so many great victories and territories, it would be easy for Cyrus to assume and claim that he himself had done all of this, that he himself had won the battles with his own strength and power, but the Lord clearly says to him that this is not the case. We are not so very different than Cyrus in this matter.

“Thus says the LORD to his anointed, Cyrus, whose right hand I grasp, subduing nations before him, and making kings run in his service, opening doors before him and leaving the gates unbarred: For the sake of Jacob, my servant, of Israel, my chosen one, I have called you by your name, giving you a title, though you knew me not” (Isaiah 45:). It is the Lord himself who guided Cyrus’ armies and arranged for his victories; it was the Lord who gave to Cyrus the idea to wage war with Babylon and not Cyrus himself. The hand of the Lord guided each of Cyrus’ great achievements and accomplishements. None of this belonged to the King of Persia but to the Lord God.

Today, then, the Psalmist sings to Cyrus even as he sings to us, “Give the Lord glory and honor. Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his wondrous deeds” (Psalm 96:1, 3). Everything that Cyrus owns, everything that he has done, belongs to Lord and so Jesus says to him, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

We have now our answer to the question: What do we have that belongs to God? The answer is the same for us as it was for Cyrus: everything. Everything that we have belongs to God, our homes, our cars, our food, our clothing, our children, our parents, our toys, our businesses, our spouses, and even our very lives. All that we have done also belongs to him because he allows us to do everything we do. Everything that exists has come from his hand and so it all belongs to him.

This being the case, then, when Jesus says to us, “repay ‘to God what belongs to God,’” must we then sacrifice everything that we have and bring it here to the altar of God? Must we, like Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, also be willing to sacrifice our children, our parents, and our spouses? Yes, and no.

Yes, we should be willing to offer our children, our parents, and our spouses, even our very selves, to the Lord, because we all belong to him. But no, we do not offer them physically to the Lord, but spiritually. In offering those around us to the Lord we show the depth of our faith and our trust in the Lord. We know that God desires only our good and that “all things work for the good of those who love” him and so we ask the Lord to do with those around us and ourselves as he wishes and as he sees fit (Romans 8:28). We place our will and those around us at his disposal for his purposes. In this way we repay to God what belongs to God.

Sometimes the Lord will ask us to give difficult things back to him. At times he tugs at our hearts to forgive someone who has harmed us; he tugs at our hearts to help a person in need when we do not think we have the time; he tugs at our hearts to be kind and sociable with those society sees as outcasts.

Every aspect of our lives should, in some way, be directed to the service of God and neighbor. St. Paul says to us, “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). The Lord has given us all things, he has made us stewards over his creation to use the things he has made for our benefit. We should often give thanks to him for his fatherly care for us.

The Psalmist today sings, “Worship the LORD, in holy attire; tremble before him all the earth; say among the nations: the LORD is king” (Psalm 96:9-10). I encourage each of us, then, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi to “Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks to him and serve him with great humility.”

08 October 2005

Homily - 9 October 2005

Where are we going? Are we there yet?

Each of us has heard this question any number of times. We have responded to it and we have even asked the question surely at least on one occasion. These questions are sometimes asked in jest and laden with sarcasm but they are real questions nonetheless and we would do well to ponder them.

Where are we going? Are we ambling along without any real direction or purpose? Do we know our destination? What is our goal? Our lives are either filled with meaning and purpose, or else we simply live each day void of significance. Where are we going?

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that we, having been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, are members of “the pilgrim Church” (Lumen Gentium 48). As members of the Church we are all pilgrims, and no pilgrim stands still. To be a pilgrim is to be a person on the move, a person on his or her way, together with a multitude of other persons, to a particular and special destination. A pilgrim knows where he or she is going and so do we.

Each year the Jewish people went on pilgrimage to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem and each Sunday we go on pilgrimage to the same mountain of the Lord, only our route is much shorter than theirs.

This church in which we now pray represents well our pilgrim life on earth on our way to the new and heavenly Jersualem. We enter at first through the main doors of the church, as if passing through the waters of baptism into new life. Passing through the doors, we enter a new surrounding and a place unlike any other.

We process down the aisles of the Church as if walking the journey of our life. The aisles lead to the sanctuary, to the mountain of the Lord, to heaven itself. The aisles of the church, just as life, are filled with other people; none of us walks alone, but we journey together toward heaven, toward the mountain of the Lord.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6). Here in this church, at this altar, we receive the richest of foods and the choicest of wines, the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus himself. There is no greater food in all of the earth than what he gives us here. He says to us here on this mountain, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Here on this mountain “he will destroy death forever” because he feeds us here with his own Body and Blood (Isaiah 25:7).

We have each been invited here to the wedding banquet of the Lamb of God where our “cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5) by the “King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). And just as in the parable Jesus tells us today, we must all come to this great feast properly dressed.

“But he was reduced to silence” (Matthew 22:12). Why was this man reduced to silence? What made him so uncomfortable? Why could he not speak to the kindly king?

Everything had been prepared for the banquet. The invitation was sent out: “everything is ready; come to the feast” (Matthew 22:4). The man was invited to the very mountain of the Lord, where “the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).

The man seemingly had nothing to fear; he had no reason to be ashamed. When the king spoke to him, he addressed him as an equal: “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12). At this simple and unassuming question, he was reduced to silence, even though the king did not accuse him of any wrongdoing, nor did he threaten him. Why, then, could the man not speak to him.

The man came to the wedding feast not fully aware of where he was going. He heard the invitation, he saw others going, he heard tell of the savory food to be served, and he went to the feast, even though he did not know those for whom it was held.
The man did not expect that he would speak with the host and so he came as he was, without making any preparations to attend such a great feast. And now, standing before the king, the man realized in whose presence he stood and there was nothing he could say.

The man suddenly knew the great generosity of the king, he knew his love and his mercy; he knew that everything had been prepared for him. The man knew as well that he had come unworthily to the feast; he did not even bother to bring his wedding garment with him to celebrate properly.

Each of us has just such a wedding garment; it is our baptismal garment. On the day of our baptism, we were each given a new garment and the priest said to us, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven” (Rite of Baptism of Children 99).

We must take care that we keep this garment unstained by living a life of virtue and of holiness so that when we come at last to the heavenly feast the Lord does not say to us, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” If this happens to us it will not be the Lord who accuses us of our sins, but standing before his mercy and love we will accuse ourselves and will then be cast outside for we did not come prepared.

How do we prepare for the wedding feast? Through prayer, through the Eucharist, through Reconciliation, through fasting and almsgiving and good works, but most of all through humility. It is humility that will allow us to seek the Lord in all of this and will help us to keep our garment clean and pure.

We know our destination at the end of our pilgrimage on earth; it is the wedding feast of the Lamb and here in this church we share in the foretaste of that heavenly banquet. Here on this mountain in this church, on this altar, Isaiah says to us, “Behold our God for whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”

As we journey on our pilgrimage of faith, let us take comfort from the words of St. Paul: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Trusting in the Lord, we will come to “live in the house of the Lord all the days of [our] life” for he himself says to us: “everything is ready; come to the feast (Psalm 23:6).