31 January 2016

Homily - 31 January 2016 - Why did their hearts change so drastically in so little time?

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we find the Lord Jesus back home, as it were, in Nazareth. After being tempted in the desert, he returned to those who presumably heard his first words and watched him take his first steps, who taught him how to skip a rock and how to cook a fish, who watched him learn the skill of Saint Joseph, his foster father (cf. Luke 4:1-13). They watched him advance in “wisdom and age before God and man” and saw that that “the favor of God was upon him” (cf. Luke 2:52, 40). They watched him play and they watched him pray, and now he returned to them to teach in their synagogues and “to announce glad tidings to the poor” (cf. Luke 4:15 and 16; Luke 4:18; cf. Isaiah 61:1).

In those days, Nazareth was just a tiny hamlet, at best, consisting of a few large, extended families. The childhood home of Mary was barely a stone’s throw away from that of Joseph. Nazareth was such a small place that those who were not related to you by blood or by marriage might as well have been because of how closely everyone surely lived among each other.

At first, those who heard Jesus make a rather staggering claim – “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21) – “were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22). Who can blame them? It was as if the great prayer of the Psalmist was at last being answered in their presence and through one of their own: “O my God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 71:4)! Did they make these words of the same Psalmist their own, as well: “My mouth shall declare your justice, day by day your salvation” (Psalm 71:15)? It might have seemed as if the Lord were making of Nazareth “a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass,” against which their enemies would not prevail (Jeremiah1:18; cf. Jeremiah 1:19).

How is it, then, that those who first “spoke highly of him” so quickly moved “to hurl him down headlong” over the cliff of Nazareth (Luke 4:22, 29)? What caused their hearts to change so drastically in so little time? Why had Jesus offended them so deeply?

The words he said to them today are words that we might find a bit confusing, but they – with their love and knowledge of the Old Testament – would have immediately recognized his meaning; they would have known that he named them unfaithful and acknowledged them as sinners. He said nothing that was false, but they did not want to hear the truth. His own family wanted to kill him because he pointed out their sin, because he called them to repentance; they wanted to kill him because his judgment – given in love – was just and because he called them to a life of sincere love. Are we all that different today?

How many people today speak highly of the Lord Jesus when they hear him say, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” but seek to cast him out of their lives when they hear him say, “whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father” (Matthew 7:1; 10:33)? How many people today are amazed at his gracious words when he says, “Let the children come to me,” but obstinately close their ears when he says, “everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery” (Matthew 19:14; Luke 16:18)? These are just two examples of his words that people commonly reject today, all the while claiming to love him. Their love, though, is false, because their supposed love does not rejoice with the truth but seeks instead to evade it (cf. I Corinthians 13:6).

Because Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life,” he cannot deceive us and he cannot be deceived by us; he cannot lie to us or tell us a falsehood (John 14:6). We know that Jesus loves us because everything he said and everything he did, he did for our good, for our salvation. If we consider all of the things that Saint Paul says about love today, we see that love is not a sentiment or an emotion; these come and go and we do not always have control over them. Rather, the Apostle tells us what love does and what love does not do. Love, then, is not an emotion, but a choice; it is a desire for the good of the one we love, accompanied by actions and choices to attain that good, even at our own expense. Jesus paid the ultimate expense to bring about our good: he willingly gave his life for us on the Cross so that our sins might be forgiven. He allowed his heart to be pierced for us so that he – and not ourselves – might be a rock of refuge for us, a stronghold to give us safety from the storms of life and the enticements of the devil and his servants(cf. Psalm 71:3).

If we wish to love Jesus and to love our neighbor – if we wish to attain salvation – we must drink anew from the source of love: we must drink daily from the water that flows from the pierced side of Christ (cf. John 19:34). This is why Saint Marianne Cope tells us to “creep into the heart of Jesus.”

She tells us to creep because entering into the doorway of his heart is not easy because the door to his heart is narrow and he tells us that “many … will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough” (Luke 13:24). They will not be strong enough because they will attempt to enter the door to his heart through their own strength, claiming the power to declare right and wrong for themselves in opposition to what he says, all the while living in unconfessed – and therefore unforgiven – sin. But those who listen to Jesus point out their sins to them - who listen to his true judgment and do not reject it, but confess their sins - these will have the strength to enter into his loving and merciful heart because they will walk in his own strength. These – the honest and the humble – are those to whom the Lord will always incline his ear; he will rescue them and deliver them because they strive eagerly after the greatest spiritual gifts, because they strive after love (cf. Psalm 71:2; I Corinthians 12:31).

Already, even now, the Lord Jesus stands at the door of our hearts, knocking on them and asking our permission to enter (cf. Revelation 3:20). Just as he did not force himself into the hearts of those at Nazareth, neither will he force his way into our hearts today. If we acknowledge his voice of truth and seek to live according to it, he will enter into our hearts; if not, he will pass through our midst to knock on other hearts (cf. Luke 4:30).

Let us not refuse him entry! Let us not ignore the truth of his words, hard as they might be! Let us open the doors of our hearts to him, that our hearts might be filled with the gladness of his tidings and that his freedom might be ours. That our hearts and his heart may be one. Amen.

26 January 2016

No more anonymous faces

During his Apostolic Journey to the United States of America last September, His Holiness Pope Francis spoke of the "deafening anonymity" in which so many people now live:
Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be. 

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.
PHOTO: Don Emmert/AFP
During this same homily, the Holy Father went on to urge us to "go out to others and share the good news that God, our Father, walks at our side. He frees us from anonymity, from a life of emptiness, and brings us to the school of encounter. He removes us from the fray of competition and self-absorption, and he opens before us the path of peace." In effect, he told us to refuse to allow people to remain nothing more than anonymous faces.

That phrase - deafening anonymity - caught my attention as soon as he spoke it, and it has not left me and it is a theme about which he has spoken several times throughout his pontificate.

In his encyclical letter Laudato Sì, he was right to say that "the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence." He was also right to say that "love always proves more powerful" and that "many people in these conditions are able to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome (149)."

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, he speaks of "a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity." Each of us, he said, "must look more closely and sympathetically at others" to enter into what he calls the "art of accompaniment" (169).

Even before this, he spoke of "the anonymous who rest in common graves" on All Souls' Day in 2014.

Having grown up in a big small town where your chances of bumping into someone you know as you run daily errands is quite large, the sense of being nothing more than anonymous face is something I cannot quite get used to. In fact, I don't like it at all. This is not to say that I have any desire whatever to be well known; quite the opposite! What do I mean?

There seems to be something in the culture of big cities, Rome included, that says you are not supposed to make eye contact with people as you walk down the sidewalk. These seems to me not only unchristian, but also inhuman because it degrades others to being nothing more than one more anonymous face to look past.

All of this is a long preface to an experience I had today while taking my walk through the streets of the Eternal City to restock my supply of Dr Pepper. At one point I happened to walk by a restaurant at the same time one of the employees was carrying a large box full of frozen meats from the storage area - around the corner - to the restaurant itself (the doors of which were shut).

Because he was using both hands to carry the box and guessing where he was going, I turned to him when I was in front of the doors and asked, in Italian, "Here?" He seemed taken aback and smiled broadly when he answered, "Yes, thank you!" I opened the door for him and he laughed happily as he entered because of the unexpected kindness (this is a city where people don't generally hold the doors open for each other, or even check to make sure the door isn't going to hit the person behind them).

I didn't learn his name and he did not learn mine, but I don't think we could call each other an anonymous face in a city of anonymous faces. We looked at each other for a brief moment and saw each others' humanity and left behind the fray of competition or self-absorption. How different would the world be if each of us did this each day, if we looked into each others' faces and met the needs we saw, however large or small? Let us not let others live in deafening anonymity!

25 January 2016

Archbishop Farhat: The Holy Face is the definitive sign of the divinity of Christ

Last week, I shared with you my translation of the homily of His Excellency the Most Reverend George Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Palace and Secretary to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, he preached during the pilgrimage of the Holy Face from Manoppello to Rome. Today, I am happy to share with my translation of the homily preached by His Excellency the Most Reverend Edmond Y. Farhat, Apostolic Nuncio Emeritus to Austria, to close the same pilgrimage:

In the Face of Christ, impressed on the veil of Veronica, conserved in the sudarium of Manoppello, we venerate the Lord God of mercy, Savior of the world.

Today, brothers and sisters, right now, we turn to the temple of the Holy Spirit to venerate the Holy Face and what it means.  We celebrate the Eucharist, we confess our sins, and we announce the Good News.
PHOTO: Antonio Bini
The Good News of today is the invitation to the wedding at Cana. Jesus was invited, invited by his Mother because the guests were friends of his mamma. She invited her Son, and at a certain point, said, “They have no wine.” “My hour,” responded the Son, “has not yet arrived.” “Do that which he says,” said the momma. Jesus, obedient to his Mother, saved face for the groom and his family.
The feast was beautiful and the joy was great. They drank and sang. The feast was transformed into a unique occasion. It was the occasion of the first sign of his manifestation, of the manifestation of his divinity. It was the beginning of the signs carried out by Jesus, because of which they believed in him. Better still, it is the first sign that reveals his personality. He came that they might have life, and have it in abundance. At Cana, Jesus manifested his authority. “Fill the jars,” and they filled them. Cana was the very first sign of the divine authority of Jesus, this authority that developed during his mission until it became known in the passion and in a true image, living, in the hands of Veronica.
PHOTO: Paul Badde
Cana was the first visible sign of the divinity of Jesus. It is a provocative sign now, the icon of Manoppello that is a definitive sign. Cana was the first, and the face of the sudarium is the definitive sign. It is a provocative sign and insignificant, discrete and quiet, but most eloquent, always old and always new. Discussed and venerated, look at it with your eyes, accompany, follow, and guide your gaze. It is a concrete sign, but it is not made by man; it is created, but no one knows its origin, its formation.
It is not an object of another time; it is the icon of the eternal face, the face of goodness and of friendship, of mercy and of peace. The face that speaks, that examines, that asks, that awaits a response. It seems to say: “Look at me, you who are tired. Come to me and I will give you rest.” They have not seen, they did not have to suffer humiliation, the men of our time, as the friends of Mary had to suffer humiliation at Cana. He had to make a deed.

They do not have faith, the men of our time, but, as at the wedding at Cana: “Have mercy on them,” Mary says [to her Son], “and contemplate the face bequeathed to you” [to the men of our time]. And we contemplate the face of Jesus. It speaks to us and nods to us, it is good, it is merciful. Therefore, we have brought it from Manoppello to here, because his expression [something inaudible] a wider goodness and mercy in this year of grace in which God reveals himself with the name of mercy, as the Holy Father Francis teaches. Therefore, we expose ourselves in the church of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit speaks to the heart, it suggests intentions of wisdom and hope. Therefore we put it in the church looked after by Saint Faustina because she has been able to perceive the dimensions of his face.

There are moments in which, in an even stronger way, we are called to keep our look fixed on mercy to become effectively inserted into the action of the Father, as Pope Francis says in his exhortation.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is a privileged moment. We fix our gaze on the Holy Face and we will be transformed by God’s mercy. The sign is not an end in itself; the sign is a pointer on the way of the return, the return to the Father. The sudarium [something inaudible] of Christ. Christ is Jesus that has transformed the water into wine to participate in the joy of his friends and parents. The transformation requires a change. Our transformation and our conversion from pointless spectators to collaborators in the work of Jesus and Mary, who kept all these things in her heart, and no one knows the son and Lord like her. She guides us on the journey to encounter her Son, through his face that we can physically contemplate.
PHOTO: Antonio Bini
Yesterday we took it and venerated it to give thanks for so many benefits; today we greet it and honor it, asking him to accompany us on our new journey, the journey to the wedding of the Lamb, full of grace and mercy.
We hold impressed in our minds and in our heart his image that speaks to us and examines us. It is the image of the Incarnate Word because we have life. It accompanies us in our street because we remember always that God is mercy. His mercy accompanies us. We remember that the people of God, going up to Jerusalem, in the Old Testament, always repeated in their pilgrimages: “God is good, he has given us goodness; he has given us faith because his mercy is eternal, because his mercy is eternal.”

We from this Eternal City, city of saints, of Faustina; city of John Paul II, of Paul VI, of John XXIII, of popes and saints; we want [to turn] our thought to the Jerusalem of Jesus, to the Jerusalem of Mary; and we ask peace for Jerusalem, peace to all the people of Palestine and of Jerusalem, of the Middle East and of the Mediterranean. There is room for everyone; mercy has no limits. [N.B.: He repeated the prayer for peace in Hebrew and in Arabic.] Eternal is the mercy of God, because he is good; he is great, his face guides us, accompanies us, and we will not be lost.