18 February 2006

Homily - 19 February 2006

The Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

“See, I am doing something new!” says the Lord God to us; “I am doing something new!” (Isaiah 41:19).

Israel rejected her God, she had turned to false idols and openly broken the commands of the Lord. Rather than to turn to her Creator for help, Israel turned to the false gods of her enemies. As Israel sought her independence, she neglected the poor, the widows, and the orphans. To call Israel back to himself the Lord sent the prophets to speak on his behalf. Through these prophets, in his love and desperation for “the people [he] formed for [himself]” (Isaiah 43:21), the Lord lamented, saying, “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of me, O Israel” (Isaiah 43:22). Have we not done the same?

We reject the Lord many times each day. We hear him gently calling to us,
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light (Matthew 11:28).

And even though we know in the depths of our hearts that his word ring true, still we do not come to him; instead, we run from him and look to everything else to satisfy our longings. We, like Israel, all too often have not called upon him and truly trusted him in our need. We, like Israel, have perhaps grown weary of what we perceive as the Lord’s unreasonable commands and rules.

Seeing us in such a deplorable condition, having called us back to himself time and time again and we having ignored his call, the Lord announces to us, “See, I am doing something new!”

He does not refuse us as we have refused him but instead, in his grace and mercy, he says to, “Yes,” for as St. Paul says to us,

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was proclaimed to you by us, Silvanus and Timothy and me, was not “yes” and “no,” but “yes” has been in him. For however many are the promises of God, their Yes is in him (II Corinthians 1:19-20).

Jesus Christ is the ultimate answer of God; he is the great exclamation, “Yes!” to humanity. He is the final word of the Father, as it were; the great affirmation of life and of love. By his “Yes” God has claimed humanity for himself and has saved us; “he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment” (II Corinthians 1:22).

In the life-giving waters of death – in the waters of Baptism – the Lord has done something drastically new: he has re-created us. Just before we rose from the waters created anew, the priest and our parents and godparents traced the cross of Christ on our forehead, saying, “The Christian community welcomes you with great joy. In its name I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross” (Rite of Baptism, 79). No longer do we belong to ourselves “for [we] have been purchased at a price” (I Corinthians 6:20).

As we were clothed in the baptismal garment, the priest told 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, 99).

As we died with Christ and rose with him in the waters of baptism, the Father said to us,

Remember not the events of your past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new! It is I, I who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more” (Isaiah 43:18; 25).

Through our baptism, Christ the Lord placed his very own seal on our soul – the indelible mark – that can never be taken away, marking us for ever as his very own. We belong to him and all of our actions are to be done for him so that, as St. Paul encourages us, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31).

But of course we know that we do not do everything for the glory of God. We still, even after we have been given new life through Baptism and have been configured to Christ, we still ignore him and we still do not call upon him. We still try to be self-sufficient and independent. We still sin against the Lord and we grow paralyzed by sin. The Psalmist today gives us the answer to the plight that we are in; it is the same answer given us through Isaiah: the Yes of the Father in Jesus Christ.

When we feel the weight of our sin there is one who is waiting to lift this burden from our shoulders, for he has already borne the weight when he carried the wood of the cross on his upon his back. From the wound in his side the blood and the water – and symbolically with it, the Church and the Sacraments - flowed out. His very body became the fountain of eternal life. Even today Isaiah asks us, “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

Are you burdened by your sin? Do your offenses weigh heavy upon you? Do you grow weary and tired as you run from him who is love itself? My dear friends, you need run no more, for he is doing something new! If you turn now to him in humility and integrity and say to him, “O LORD, have pity on me; heal me, though I have sinned against you,” he will wipe away your sins again and renew his Spirit within you (Psalm 41:5). Turn to him and live!

Just as he said to the paralytic in the Gospel today, so he desires to say us, but first we must come to him. When we do, we will hear him say to us, “Child, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). “Your sins I remember no more” (Isaiah 43:25). I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home” (Mark 2:11). As we return home, cleansed and renewed, let us announce his praise.

“Blessed by the LORD, the God of Israel, from all eternity. Amen. Amen” (Psalm 41:14).

11 February 2006

Homily - 12 February 2006

The Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ,” says St. Paul to each of us today (I Corinthians 11:1). Paul is only able to imitate Christ because he knows Christ, because he has a friendship with Christ, a friendship that he nurtures and values above all else. If we are to imitate Paul and follow his counsel, we, too, must be friends of Jesus Christ and treasure this friendship above all else.
In order to be friends of Christ, we must spend time with him. Pope Benedict has spoken a great deal about friendship with Christ and recently to the young Catholics in the Netherlands he said, “Jesus is your true friend and Lord; enter into a relationship of true friendship with him! He is expecting you and in him alone will you find happiness” [Message for the First National Day of Young Catholics of the Netherlands, 21 November 2005].
If we know, then, that we will only find lasting and authentic happiness in Jesus Christ as the lives of so many saints clearly demonstrate for us, why are we so hesitant to spend time with Christ? Why are the Scriptures so very often at the bottom of our reading pile? Why do we not turn off the television and pray? Could it be that we are afraid of Christ?
St. Francis of Assisi often said, “What a man is in God’s eyes, that he is and nothing more” [Minor Legend, 6.1]. When we spend time with our friends we often encourage each other and look past each other’s faults. We tell each other that we are not as bad as some might think and we also tell each other that we are better and more skilled than really we are. We inflate each other’s ego, all in the name of self-esteem, but is this truly beneficial? Does it not do us more harm than good?
“What a man is in God’s eyes, that he is and nothing more.” To realize this is true humility because humility is not so much debasing ourselves as it is seeing ourselves as God himself sees us; St. Bernard of Clairvoux taught us this. When we spend time with the Lord he sees us just as we are – nothing more and nothing less. At they very same time that he sees our good works, all of the kindnesses that we have shown, all of the ways that we have faithfully followed him, he sees all of the times that we have failed, he sees our sins and our mistakes and our flaws. He sees the beautiful at the same time he sees the ugly. He sees what we portray to others at the same time he sees what we hide. He looks past nothing and ignores nothing. His is the greatest friendship for nothing is hidden. There is no reason for fear.
In friendship with Jesus there is no flattery, no puffing up. There are no undeserved compliments or praises. There is no ignoring of sins and faults. All is laid bare. There is nothing but faithful love. Is this, perhaps, why we are afraid to spend time with Jesus? Do we not know that he will show us – quite clearly – our sins and demand something from us?
If we are to be friends of Christ, we must be honest with him and not attempt to keep anything hidden from him. It is a vain attempt to do so for he knows all things and from him nothing is hidden. The longer we are in his company and the more honest we are with him, the more he reveals our faults, failings, and sins to us and at one and the same time he calls to be like him. As all friends do, Jesus challenges us to grow in holiness and he shows us the way to grow in holiness, but we must first seek his mercy and confess our sins.
Within this friendship with Jesus, each of us has been declared unclean because of our sins. We have all sinned against the Lord; we have all sinned against each other. To be friends of the Lord Jesus – to be honest with him – requires that we confess our sins to him and acknowledge our wrongdoing. We can say then with King David, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not” (Psalm 32:5). After our confession we can echo David’s words, “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered” in the Blood of the Lamb (Psalm 32:1).
The leper who approached Jesus begging him, “If you wish, you can make me clean” through his words acknowledged his faults and sought the mercy of the Lord (Mark 1:40). Through faith and humility the leper sought friendship with the Lord and this the Lord granted him. “I do will it,” he said, “be made clean” (Mark 1:41).
Jesus sent him away saying, “but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed” (Mark 1:44). This is what Moses prescribed for the cleansing of a leper:

If the priest finds that the sore of leprosy has healed in the leper, he shall order the man who is to purified, to get two live, clean birds, as well as some cedar wood, scarlet yarn, and hyssop. The priest shall then order him to slay one of the birds over an earthen vessel with spring water in it. Taking the living bird with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, the priest shall dip them all in the blood of the bird that was slain over the spring water, and then sprinkle seven times the man to be purified from his leprosy. When he has thus purified him, he shall let the living bird fly away over the countryside (Leviticus 14:3-7).

Whereas the leper was cleansed and healed through the priest’s sprinkling him with the blood of the bird, we are cleansed and healed through the priest’s absolution and the Blood of the Lamb of God.
To his friends, to those who allow him to know them through and through, who allow Jesus to challenge them to grow in holiness each day, he still says, “but go, show yourself to the priest.” Let us not be afraid to be with Jesus, to renew and strengthen our friendship with him. When he shows us our sins and tells us to seek his mercy, it is only because he wants us to be whole and clean. He wants to save us from the disease of sin, but if we do not recognize and accept the symptoms of our sin he cannot give us his medicine to save us.
The true friends of Jesus come before saying, “Lord, ‘if you wish, you can make me clean.’” In this way we truly can, as St. Paul urges us, “do everything for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). Having heard the depth of our faith and the strength of our love for him who first loved us, Jesus will say to us, “I do will it. Be made clean,” and we, too, will depart in joy and in peace.

04 February 2006

Homily - 5 February 2006

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B)

“Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” (Job 7:1). Is not man’s life on earth filled with heart-ache and pain? Is not man’s life on earth filled with grief and misery? The Psalmist sings, “Our span is seventy years or eighty for those who are strong; and most of these are emptiness and pain” (Psalm). We know the drudgery of earthly life all too well.
We spend many restless nights in the vain attempt to fall asleep; no matter what we do we cannot find peace. Our heart is torn in two and our mind cannot begin to understand our sorrow and hurt. Our misery simply makes no sense and there is no relief to it.
The drudgery of life of which Job speaks comes in a great many forms. The drudgery of Job consisted largely of the pain of the mourning and grieving of loved ones; the loss of possessions and wealth; the loss of good health and true friends; and especially of the immeasurable pain of the sense of abandonment by God. He suffers so greatly that he cries out, “Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again” (Job 7:7).
There are those among us who know well the agony experienced by Job and there are those among us who do not know the depth of these sufferings; but each of us suffers each day in some way – none of us is immune to the drudgery of life.
The daily routine of life and work grows weary upon us; we grow frustrated when our children do not listen to us and when our parents do not seem to understand us; homework becomes a chore and chores become toilsome; the vicious words of gossip sting our souls with their lies and tear us down. Parents die when we are but children and sons and daughters die too young; time spent with dear friends never is long enough; old man winter returns to those who looked for the return of spring. Even one of the greatest joys of life – the birth of a child – is marked with pain as a consequence of sin (see Genesis 3:16). To say that we do not suffer is to pay little attention to life itself. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?”
Indeed, the very preaching of the Gospel itself brings suffering, for as St. Paul says, “If I [preach] willingly, I have a recompense, but if unwillingly, then I have been entrusted with a stewardship” (I Corinthians 9:17). The recompense of the Gospel, the payment or reward of the Gospel says Paul, is that “I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible” (I Corinthians 9:22). Preaching the Gospel willingly requires the abandonment of self and the service of all and here there is always pain; no longer do my needs and concerns matter, but only the needs and concerns of those I serve. And if the Gospel should be preached unwillingly, then we are reminded that we have been entrusted with a stewardship. Every stewardship involves various obligations and duties and the duty of this stewardship is the preaching of the Gospel. The Prophet Jeremiah knew this well; he said,
The word of the LORD has brought me derision and reproach all the day. I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (Jeremiah 20:8-9).

Willingly or not, the Gospel must be preached; willingly or not, we, especially those who seek to serve the Lord, must become the servants, the slaves, of those around us, for “All this I do for the sake of the gospel, so that I may too may have a share in it” (I Corinthians 9:23).
Into the clamor of all of this suffering and pain come the stirring words of the Psalmist that lift our hearts with hope and expectation: “Praise the Lord who heals the brokenhearted” (Psalm 147, refrain). Our broken hearts can be mended; all is not lost; the drudgery of human life can be undone and it has been undone!
Indeed, when Simon and the Apostles say to Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, “Everyone is looking for you,” he does not hide from them nor does he turn them away (Mark 1:37). He turns to them, saying, “For this purpose have I come” (Mark 1:38). Jesus has come to heal the brokenhearted and to bind up the wounds that life has inflicted upon us (see Psalm 147:3). What is more, he does not simply wish to stay in Capernaum; he says to Peter, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also” (Mark 1:39). Jesus has come to save not only the people of Galilee, but all of the world.
Jesus has come to set us free from the drudgery of life on earth. We celebrated this reality just one month ago when we celebrated the birth of Jesus. During this festive time we recalled the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The drudgery of life has been removed; the ultimate goal and purpose of every life has been revealed in Jesus Christ through the Cross.
The very same Job who knew the misery of life also said, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21). Job’s trust in God, despite his suffering for no apparent reason, has not been shaken. In all of this Job waited for the Messiah (see Job 14:14). He says to his self-righteous friends, “But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust, and from my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
The great drudgery of death itself could not contain the Lord Jesus; he is risen and has saved us from the drudgery of life on earth! He beckons us on to enter fully into the drudgery and pain of life and so share in his death, so that we might share also with him everlasting glory and life. He has conquered death and given new meaning to our lives; for this purpose has he come!
He calls us to this table to receive his very Body and Blood, and so be united with him in his death and resurrection. He says to us, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. Yes, in joy you shall depart, in peace you shall be brought back” (Isaiah 55:3, 12).
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery? No, not with Christ. Where, then, is the joy in life? Only in Christ Jesus who has come “so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete” (John 15:11).