28 November 2005

Homily 27 November 2005

Advent is the season in which we call to mind the coming of the Lord. This season

has a twofold character: as a season to prepare for Christmas when Christ’s first coming to us is remembered; as a season when that remembrance directs the mind and heart to await Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. Advent is thus a period for devout and joyful expectation (General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, 39).

More often than not we spend much more of our time and prayer during the weeks of Advent reflecting upon and calling to mind the first coming of Christ nearly two thousand years ago at Bethlehem. It is certainly appropriate to do so and a very fruitful activity for the spiritual life, but if we only reflect upon the coming of the Christ-child we do ourselves a great disservice and we place ourselves in danger, for we then ignore the second character of Advent.

We know that Jesus Christ was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary so that he might embrace the cross and so die for our sins. We know that Jesus died for our sins so that he might be raised from the dead by the power of the Father and so wipe away our sins in the blood of the Lamb. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead so that he might come again to us and raise our mortal bodies from the dead to be like him forever in glory. Jesus, then, came to us in the Incarnation so that he might come to us also in the Second Coming at the Resurrection of the Dead. His first coming and his second coming must be seen together. St. Cyril of Jerusalem says,

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels. We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Cat. 15:1-3).

It is the coming of Christ the King in glory for which we prepare during the season of Advent; we await, in joyful hope and expectation, for the coming of the King of Heaven and Earth when his kingdom will at long last be fully established and we will – God willing – be ushered into his kingdom for ever.

But Christ comes to us at other times, as well; his birth in Bethlehem and his Second Coming are not the only times he comes to meet us. If these we were the only times that he came to us, we could not know him as we do here and now. St. Anthony of Padua says to us,

Note that there are four Comings of Jesus Christ. The first was in the flesh, of which is said: Behold the great Prophet comes, and he will renew Jerusalem. The second coming is in the soul: We will come to him and will make our abode with him. The third is at death: Blessed is that servant, who when the Lord comes, etc. The fourth will be in majesty, whence it says in the [Book of Revelation]: Behold he comes with the clouds, and every eye shall see him (First Sunday of Advent, 3).

Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King; this celebration has not ended, but rather has been extended throughout the next four weeks. For as we journey through the four weeks of Advent we journey toward Christ the King and we await his coming to judge the nations and set all things right, when he “will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8). On that day it will finally be said, “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” (Isaiah 25:9).

But until that time we cannot simply wait around twiddling our thumbs as we look for the magnificent and wondrous procession of angels and saints preceding our majestic King. We must prepare for the arrival of the King, for Jesus says to us, “May [I] not come suddenly and find you sleeping” (Mark 13:36). Our King gives us a very simple command to follow and to carry out: “Watch!” (Mark 13:37).

As we look for the coming of the Lord in increased prayer, we prepare ourselves interiorly for his coming so that, as St. Anthony teaches us, the Lord may enter into our souls. We must worthily prepare ourselves for the coming of the King who “places his servants in charge, each with his own work” (Mark 13:34).

What work has the Lord given to us? To parents, the Lord entrusts their children commanding them to raise their children according to the laws of Christ and his Church. To children, the Lord commands us to honor our parents and to develop our skills that he has given us and to use them to serve him. To those who work, he entrusts the mission of transforming the world by faithfully living out the Gospel life each day. To spouses, the Lord entrusts you to each other, commanding you to bring each other into the everlasting life of his kingdom. To those who do not work or have retired, the Lord entrusts a life of prayer for the needs of the Church and for the needs of the world. To his priests the Lord entrusts the mission of bringing all people to salvation through the administration of the sacraments. To those who serve in public office, the Lord entrusts the duty of seeing to the honest and genuine common good of all people. Each of us has a task that Christ the King has given to us and by fulfilling this duty we faithfully wait for the Lord, for “blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so” (Matthew 24:46).

As we wait with great and ardent longing for the return of the King, let us cry out with Isaiah, “Return for the sake of your servants… Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old” (Isaiah 63:17; 19). Come, Lord Jesus!

19 November 2005

Homily - 20 November 2005

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King (A)

Every king carries with him certain symbols of his authority and of his office: the crown, the scepter and the orb, and the royal cloak. Christ the King is no different from earthly kings in this respect; he also wears a crown and robes and he holds in his hands a scepter and an orb.

To this day, the coronation ritual has changed very little over the centuries; kings are made today much as they were fifteen hundred years ago. The ritual consists of four parts:

1. the entry of the Sovereign
2. the formal recognition of the Sovereign
3. the investiture of the Sovereign, and
4. the enthronement of the Sovereign.

This being the case then, how is Jesus our King?

The entry of the Sovereign occurs when the one to be anointed King enters into the church. Jesus Christ entered the church of Creation when “he leaps to his feet and abandons the glory of heaven, in order to go in search of the sheep and pursue it, all the way to the cross” (Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily, 24 April 2005). Being born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem Jesus entered into our world and lived among us. Of this magnificent birth, St. Clare of Assisi exclaims, “O marvelous humility, O astonishing poverty! The King of the angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger!” (The Fourth Letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, 20-21).

But this is not the only time that Jesus comes to us. He enters into us when the Scriptures are proclaimed and when we read them. He enters into us, also, in the celebration of the Sacraments, most especially when we receive his sacred Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist.

The second aspect of the coronation ceremony is the formal recognition of the Sovereign by the people. Jesus, too, was recognized in this way. The Magi came from the East and inquired, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage” (Matthew 2:2). The shepherds, too, went to pay homage to the newborn king saying, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us” (Luke 2:15). When also recognize Jesus as our King when we genuflect and kneel before both in the tabernacle and upon the altar.

The birth of Jesus, though, was not the only time that he was acclaimed as King. At the beginning of Holy Week when he entered into Jerusalem for the Passover celebrations, he was welcomed with the shouts of the people, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). We make this proclamation at every Mass when we join in the hymn of the choirs of heaven.

Another aspect of the recognition is the anointing of the Sovereign as King. Jesus was anointed on several occasions. When Jesus was eating in the house of a Pharisee, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head” (Mark 14:3-4). Every King is anointed on the crown of the head. The morning after the Resurrection, “Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices so that they might go and anoint [the body of Jesus]” (Mark 16:1).

The third part of the coronation ritual is the Investiture with the royal robes. It is here that the Sovereign is given the robes – the royal purple that today is more red than purple – as well as the insignia of his office and the crown. St. Anthony of Padua said of the royal robes of Jesus,

The swaddling clothes are his garment… At Nazareth he was crowned with flesh as with a diadem; at Bethlehem he was wrapped in swaddling clothes as his purple. These were the first insignia of his reign (Palm Sunday, 8).

But Jesus was clothed another time by Herod at the same time he was given his crown. “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (John 19:2-3). The soldiers did not know him whom they mocked even though they addressed him rightly.

Next the Sovereign is given the insignia of his office: the orb and the scepter. The orb represents the new King’s dominion over the earth and while the dominion of earthly kings is only fleeting and temporal, the dominion of Jesus Christ is eternal and without end. He is the only true King of all the earth and this we proclaim whenever we pray the Creed. It is Jesus “whose hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. The sea and dry land belong to God, who made them, formed them by his hand” (Psalm 95:4-5).

But what of Jesus’ scepter? Says St. Anthony of Padua,

In his Passion he was stripped by them of his garments, and pierced with nails. There his kingdom was completely fulfilled, for after crown and purple he lacked only a scepter; and this he took when he went out, bearing his cross, to the place called Calvary (Palm Sunday, 8).

It is, then, on the cross that Christ most fully becomes our King, for on the cross he wears the royal purple, bears his crown, carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, and holds his scepter in both of hands. What a glorious scepter that saved us from sin and death!

But there is still the fourth part of the coronation ritual: the enthronement when the Sovereign receives the homage of his subjects. In one sense, Jesus has a number of thrones. His first throne being Blessed Mary, then the manger, then the lap of Joseph, then the wood of the cross. After the ascension Jesus sits now at the right hand of God the Father. His throne now is in heaven, but it is also here on earth when Jesus takes his throne upon the altar in the hands of the priest.

As we come before Our Lord Jesus Christ the King, let us approach him in humility to offer him homage and to listen to his will for our lives. Let us offer ourselves to him who has given us himself. Let us listen to his will and follow his commands, and as St. Francis of Assisi urges us,

“Let every creature
in heaven, on earth,
in the sea and in the depths,
give praise,
glory, honor, and blessing
to Him
Who suffered so much for us,
Who has given so many good things,
and [Who] will [continue to] do so for the future.
For He is our power and strength,
He Who alone is good
[Who] is most high,
[Who is] all-powerful, admirable, [and] glorious;
[Who] alone is holy, praiseworthy, and blessed
throughout endless ages. Amen.”

(The Second Version of the Letter to the Faithful, 61-62).

16 November 2005

Homily - 13 November 2005

The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

What has the Lord given us? To the men in his parable he gives various numbers of talents, but what does he give to us? Certainly not some monetary figure to be invested to earn simply more wealth, for he tells us that it “is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24).

The gift, which the Lord gives to us, is faith. And like the parable of the talents, he gives to each of us a differing degree or level of faith, but he calls each of us to grow in our faith, to come to an ever-deeper and ever-greater love and knowledge of him. The Lord gives faith “to each according to his ability” (Matthew 25:15).

This gift of faith, which the Lord gives to us, is not something that we can “put under a bushel basket” (Matthew 5:15). It cannot be something that we bury in a hole in the ground that we have dug (see Matthew 25:18). Like every gift that comes to us from the Lord, faith is given to us to be used, to be cherished, and to be grown.

Surely none of us wants to hear the Lord say to us, “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Mathew 25:26). With the Apostles, then, we must cry out to him, “increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5). Just as the servants of the master were required to invest and increase the monies they were given, so, too, must we strive always to increase the faith that we have been given.

Certainly we cannot increase our faith on our own. It is the Lord who gives faith in the first place and it is the Lord who increases faith. This is why the Apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith and did not simply take greater faith for themselves. All faith comes from the Lord and he gives it and increases it to those who ask him in all sincerity and to those who are willing to receive it.

The Lord will increase the faith of those who call upon him in honesty and trust. He says to us, “Ask and it will be given you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

But to call upon the Lord and to ask him to increase our faith means that we must already be humble enough of heart to acknowledge that we are not in control of our lives. It means that we already honestly recognize that he sustains our every breath, simply out of love. It is to feel, in the depths of our heart, the Lord calling us to an ever-deeper relationship with himself and it is to desire this relationship above all else. The one who has faith and yearns for a deeper faith, as Pope Benedict says, “lifts his eyes to the Lord and waits for a divine reaction, to perceive a gesture of love, a look of benevolence” (General Audience, 15 June 2005).

The faith, then, which we have, regardless of the size, must be safeguarded and protected and certainly not wasted. It must be used because when we live out our faith and rely upon our faith and recognize the one one from whom it comes, our faith will grow, “For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich” in faith (Matthew 25:29).

When in faith we call upon the rich mercy and tender love of Jesus we will not be thrown “into the darkness outside,” but we will stand before him one day and he will judge the way that we have used and received our faith (Matthew 25:30). And if we have grown our faith he will say to us, “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Come, share your master’s joy” (Matthew 25:23). Then we shall be with the Lord forever.

07 November 2005

Homily - 6 November 2005

As the leaves continue to change colors and the brilliance of autumn unfolds, we know well that the death of winter will soon be upon us. The leaves, now so stunning in their gorgeous array of reds, oranges, and yellows, will soon lose their brilliance and turn brown and then slowly fall from their branches onto the ground below. The skies, once illuminated for long and pleasant hours by the light of the sun and filled with a bluish hue, will soon be dominated by clouds even as the darkness of night settles over us.

We see this happen each year we each have our methods and ways of coping with this change of the seasons; we have our rituals and so we adjust to the seeming gloom of winter. The manifold life of summer gives way to the death of winter and as we experience again the change of the seasons - and as the liturgical year draws to an end - Holy Mother Church calls us to reflect upon our deaths as we see nature die around us. And even as we know that the suffocating grip of winter will lose its hold and be overpowered by the bright dawning of spring, so, too, do we know that our own death is not the end of all things. The Church calls us to reflect not only upon our deaths at this time, but also upon the ever-lasting life of heaven, especially on Sunday as we celebrate the great day of the Resurrection of the One who died for us.

November is, and has been for many centuries now, a fitting time to reflect upon our death and to seek to prepare ourselves for this inevitable moment, whenever it may be. Jesus commands us today, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matthew 25:13). These sobering words can light a spark of fear within us, but they are not meant to inspire terror and dread at the thought of our death. Rather, Jesus reminds us that we do not know the time when we will die. None of us knows how many years or months or days we have left and because of this we must always be prepared for the moment when our “life will be demanded of [us]” (Luke 12:20). When we, at long last, finally come to the kingdom of heaven, we do not want to cry out, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us” only to hear him reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (Matthew 25:11-12).

From this chilling response with which our Lord warns us today we can learn how we should prepare for our death: we must know the Lord Jesus. The foolish virgins who did not bother to plan ahead so as to bring a sufficient supply of oil, were not turned away because there was something they had not done; they were turned away because they did not know the groom. They had not spent time with him, they had not learned from him, they had not rested in his presence.

But how do we come to know the Lord? He says to us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Finding Jesus is not a difficult task for those who seek him with sincerity and trust, for he “is readily perceived by those who love [him], and found by those who seek [him]” (Wisdom 6:12). Indeed, Jesus “hastens to make [him]self known to” us (Wisdom 6:13).

When we find the Lord, when we find the God whom we seek and for whom our “flesh pines and [our] soul thirsts,” we will come to know him by being with him (Psalm 63:2). As we read the Scriptures we will know him. As we spend time with him in other forms of prayer – the rosary, the Stations of the Cross, novenas, meditation and adoration – when we receive the Sacraments, we will daily come to know him more and more. When we receive him in the Most Holy Eucharist, not only will we come to know him better but we will be changed into him. This is our ultimate goal: to know him and to be united with him forever.

The more we come to know the mercy and love of Jesus, the more we come to know his tender compassion, the more we will also come to know his will for us. The more we know his will the more we will want to be with him and the easier it will be for us to follow his will.

The great spiritual classic of the Middle Ages, The Imitation of Christ reminds us that

“Every action of yours, every thought, should be those of one who expects to die before the day is out. Death would have no great terrors for you if you had a quiet conscience . . . . Then why not keep it clear of sin instead of running away from death? If you aren’t fit to face death today, it’s very unlikely you will be tomorrow” (1.23.1).

In truth, we who have been baptized have already died once and the second death that we will experience is not something to be feared. It is not to be feared for those who know the Lord, “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise” (I Thessalonians 4:16). Indeed, St. Paul asks us,

“are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4).

When we, like those wise virgins who prepared themselves for a long night as they watched for the coming of the groom, prepare ourselves well for the coming of Christ, cooperating with his grace, will stand before the Lord and cry out to him, “Lord, lord, open the door for us.” When he hears our voice and sees us calling out to him, he will not say to us, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.” Rather, “we shall always be with the Lord” (I Thessalonians 4:17) because we have known him. St. Francis of Assisi concludes his great Canticle of the Creatures with these lines:

“Praised are you, my Lord, for our sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.
Woe on those who will die in mortal sin!
Blessed are they who will be found
in your most holy will,
for the second death will not harm them.”