28 August 2017

Homily for the Titular Solemnity of the Parish - On Saint Augustine of Hippo

The Solemnity of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Dear brothers and sisters,

In his monumental history of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Joseph J. Thompson recorded something curious about the origins of this parish:

During the first year of [the original church’s existence], it was attended as a mission from Petersburg by Reverend Augustine Sauer. Doubtless, it was that good Father who gave it the name of his patron which it still proudly bears.[1]

With our American sensibilities favoring independence and personal autonomy, we do not speak much about patrons today because doing so would be to acknowledge that we are not as strong as we think we are. The word patron comes from the Latin patronus and refers to a protector, a defender, or an advocate. In her maternal care for us, Mother Church assigns a heavenly patron to each parish so that we will have someone in heaven to look after us, to pray for us, and someone to whom we can look to learn how to better follow Jesus Christ.

So it is, then, that we have come together today around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the life of our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine of Hippo, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, and to seek his continued intercession on our behalf.

Saint Augustine was in the North African city of Thagaste, in modern day Algeria in 354 to Patricius, a pagan who converted to Christianity, and Monica, a Christian of tremendous faith. His father installed within him a great love of Latin and of its literature. Because of his studies in the great literary masters, when Augustine read a poor Latin translation of the Bible, he thought Christianity to be beneath him, something only for the uneducated, and so he turned to the dualistic faith of the Manicheans. They believed the spiritual, immaterial world was good and the temporal, physical world was evil. As Augustine continued to learn from them, questions continually arose within his mind, but none could answer his questions. He realized then that Manicheism did have the truth and so he abandoned it; he knew his heart was restless.[2]

Even when he initially rejected his mother’s Christian faith as being too unintellectual, Augustine “was always fascinated by the figure of Jesus Christ; indeed, he said he had always loved Jesus but had drifter further and further away from ecclesial faith and practice, as also happens to many young people today.”[3] Augustine’s departure from Christianity was a source of great pain for his mother, Monica, who never ceased praying for the conversion of her son because she saw him living in grave sin for many years. Augustine settled in with a concubine for more than fifteen years, with whom he conceived a son, Adeodatus. Here, again, Augustine is not unlike many people today; he knew his heart was restless.

As he wrestled with his quest for the truth and sought the answers to his questions, he came to realize that he was “in love with love,” as he put it.[4] He went on to say, “To me it was sweet to love and to be loved, the more so if I could also enjoy the body of the beloved.”[5] He knew the way in which he was living was wrong, that it was not in keeping with the truth, but he enjoyed his life. So it was that he prayed to God, saying:

“Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” I was afraid you might hear my prayer quickly, and that you might too rapidly heal me of the disease of lust which I preferred to satisfy rather than suppress. I had gone along ‘evil ways’ (Exodus 2:10) with a sacrilegious superstition, not indeed because I felt sure of its truth but because I preferred it to the alternatives, which I did not investigate in a devout spirit but opposed in an attitude of hostility.[6]

Here, again, he like a great many people today; he knew his heart was restless.

One day while he was reflected on his life and his many sins, Augustine “heard a voice from a nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which), saying and repeating over and over again ‘Pick up and read, pick up and read’.” [7] He picked up a copy of the Bible and opened it, seemingly at random, and read these words from Saint Paul: “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts” (Romans 13:13-14). With that, his worries departed and he “neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.”[8] He would never be the same again because, as he said, “it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.”[9]

With his heart finally at rest, he converted to Christianity on 15 August 386 and was baptized on 24 April 387. Somewhat against his will, at the instigation of those who recognized his holiness, his intellect, and his zeal, he was ordained a priest in 391 and bishop of Hippo – modern day Annaba, Algeria - in 395. He died on 28 August 430 as the Vandals were besieging the city of Hippo for a third month. There is, of course, much more to say about his life, but this brief sketch will suffice for now. After his baptism, he devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures and realized the Lord’s will for him was that he should share the fruit of his studies with the people of Hippo.

When considered the fruit of the studies of the Doctor of Grace, Pope Benedict XVI once said,

“When I read Saint Augustine’s writings, I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel his is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith.”[10]

The same is true for us who are blessed to have so a great an intercessor before the throne of God.

The statue of Saint Augustine outside of the church depicts our patron as holding out his heart to us, a heart with a flame coming out from within it. It is a symbol referring to these famous words of Saint Augustine: “You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”[11] However, this flaming heart might also refer to something he said about the passage we heard from Saint John’s first letter: “Our love, like a fire, must take hold of what is nearest and then spread to what is further off.”[12]

As Saint Augustine holds his heart out to us and shares his journey with and in Christ with us, let us hold our hearts out to Jesus. Let us ask him to set our hearts afire with his love that we, with Saint Augustine, might be fully converted to the Lord. Then, let us hold our hearts out to others and take the risk of love. May Saint Augustine intercede for us, that the fire of our love will shine brightly, drawing others toward the peace that comes only from Christ. May our love, like that of Saint Augustine, take hold of what is nearest and spread to is further off, so we might attain our rest in Christ. Amen.

[1] Joseph J. Thompson, Diocese of Springfield in Illinois: Diamond Jubilee History (Springfield, Illinois: Hartman Printing Co., 1923), 418.
[2] Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, I.1. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 9 January 2008.
[4] Confessions, III.1.
[5] Confessions, III.1.
[6] Confessions, VIII.17.
[7] Confessions, VIII.29.
[8] Confessions, VIII.29.
[9] Confessions, III.21.
[10] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 16 January 2008.
[11] Confessions, X.38.
[12] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Ten Homilies on I John, 8.1. In Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. XI: James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2000), 214).

27 August 2017

Homily - 27 August 2017 - The Twenty-first Sunday of the Year

The Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

To recognize Jesus as the Messiah is to acknowledge the truth of the words announced to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel:

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:32-33).

His kingdom, then, is the Kingdom of David, the Kingdom of Israel. Jesus gives “the keys to the kingdom of heaven” to Peter because Jesus acknowledges his divine Kingship and re-establishes the office, as it were, of the Master of the Palace (Matthew 16:18).

Centuries ago, the Lord said to Shebna, then Master of the Palace under King Hezekiah, “I will throw you down from your office” because he has become a “disgrace to [his] master’s house” (Isaiah 22:19, 18). He was not a worthy Master of the Palace, the highest official in the Kingdom of Israel after the King and served poorly in the capacity of what might be called a Regent, a Prime Minister, or a Vizier, as Joseph was in the land of Egypt; there was no one above the Master of the Palace, save the King himself (cf. Genesis 41:40).

The King entrusted his own authority to his Master of the Palace, which is why “when he opens, no one shall shut” and “when he shuts, no one shall open;” what he did, the king did (Isaiah 22:22). The Master of the Palace acted in the name of the King and possessed his authority; to disobey him was to disobey the King.

The Lord God pulled Shebna down from his office as Master of the Palace because he looked to the Pharaoh of Egypt for deliverance from Sennacherib, King of Assyria (cf. Isaiah 22:19). Shebna trusted in mere men and did not rely on the help of the Lord God; this was his disgrace.

Taking from Shebna his robe, his sash, and his authority, the Lord God entrusted them to Eliakim, making him the new Master of the Palace so the office would not be vacant. The Lord further placed upon Eliakim “the key of the House of David” (Isaiah 22:22).

But what has this to do with Peter? Jesus himself told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). Yet, he sent the Apostles in his own name, telling them to announce, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Luke 10:9). From his many disciples, Jesus “appointed twelve [whom he also named apostles],” a word taken from civil structures and meaning “one who is sent,” an ambassador. Even the very title he gave to those he chose to “be with him” indicates the establishment of a kingdom; one who is not a king has no need of ambassadors (Mark 3:14). It should be remembered that Jesus himself began his public ministry announcing, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). To be sure, the kingdom of Jesus is not an earthly, temporal kingdom, but an eternal kingdom, one without end, one not bound by time and place; his kingdom, his reign, extends beyond that of geographical Israel to encompass the entire cosmos and all time through the ministry of the apostles and their successors who have received a share in the Lord’s own mission and authority.

The Lord first made his covenant with Israel to foreshadow the covenant he would make with all of humanity. In the fullness of time, the Son of God sealed “the new and eternal covenant” with the new Israel in his own blood. Through his appointment of the Twelve Apostles, Jesus makes clear that “the definitive time has arrived in which to constitute the new People of God, the people of the twelve tribes, which now becomes a universal people, his Church.”[1]  It is the Church, founded upon the rock of Peter, which is the new Israel.

We see, then, in this passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel, that Jesus uses three symbols regarding his Church:

Peter will be the rocky foundation on which he will build the edifice of the Church; he will have the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven to open or close it to people as he sees fit; lastly, he will be able to bind or to loose, in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church. It is always Christ’s Church, not Peter’s.[2]

Peter did not make the Church; he received it from Christ Jesus.  Peter did not create his faith; he received it from the Father.  Peter is not free to do with the Church whatever he wishes, but only what is consistent with the will of the Lord. Peter is, as it were, not the King but the Master of the Palace; he speaks not in his own name, but in the name of Jesus Christ. He, and those who share the power of the keys, bind and loose in the sacrament of penance and in their governance of the Church for the sake of justice and right order.

What is more, the office of the Master of the Palace continued beyond the life of the first Master of the Palace; the doors to the King had to be continually opened and shut and so the office of Master of Palace could not remain vacant. It is the same with the office of Peter: the keys must continually be held and so Peter must also have successors, whom we call the Popes.

Throughout the history of the Papacy, beginning with Peter, the first Pope, many have given their lives for Him whom they know to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” the keys to whose kingdom they have held (Matthew 16:16). Like their shepherds and fathers in faith, many of the Lord’s flock have also given their lives for him and for his Church founded upon the rock of Saint Peter.

Even today, on the other side of the world, many Christians have given their lives for Jesus, for the Messiah whose kindness endures forever (cf. Psalm 138:8). Tens of thousands of Christians in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Kenya, and elsewhere have been killed because of their faith in Jesus. Others have lost their homes and business; their friends and neighbors have been beheaded, crucified, and hung in the streets; their sisters and daughters have been kidnapped, raped and forced into false marriages; their cemeteries, churches, and monasteries have been desecrated; they live in fear and many are now starving and without shelter as the world looks on, watching and doing little to help. And the threats against them are not diminishing, but increasing. They have heard Jesus ask them, “But who do you say that I am?” and have answered with Saint Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15, 16).

Despite this tremendous persecution, they remain faithful to the Lord Jesus and refuse to renounce their faith; the Lord has been faithful to them and they will be faithful to him. Their clear witness of fidelity to Jesus poses two serious questions to each of us: Do I truly believe Jesus to be the Messiah, the only one who can save us from sin and death? If so, What am I willing to give up in order to hold on to him?

Reflecting on the experience of his life, J.R.R. Tolkien, the celebrated author of the Lord of the Rings, once wrote:

I have suffered grievously in my life from stupid, tired, dimmed, and even bad priests; but I now know enough about myself to be aware that I should not leave the Church (which for me would mean leaving the allegiance of Our Lord) for any such reasons: I should leave because I did not believe, and should not believe any more, even if I had never met any one in [holy] orders who was not both wise and saintly. I should deny the Blessed Sacrament, that is: call Our Lord a fraud to His face.[3]

This the persecuted Christians refuse to do; they refuse to call Jesus a liar and trust entirely in him, loving him with all their “heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Mark 12:3). If faced with a similar or even a lesser situation, what will our response be? Will we abandon Jesus and His Church, or will we abandon everything else to stay faithful to Him? The Lord remains faithful to us; let us remain faithful to him.

Jesus entrusted the keys to the kingdom of heaven to Peter and said to him, “…but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). Through the intercession of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles and the first Pope, may the Lord grant us all the strength to persevere in faith, hope, and love, that at the end of our lives, we may all sing his praise together in the company of the angels (cf. Psalm 138:2). Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Wednesday Audience, 15 March 2006.
[2] Ibid., 7 June 2006.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 250.

20 August 2017

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - August 2017

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 9 August 2017

Homily - The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 20 August 2017

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

A growing number of people claim to be Christians even though they have not yet been washed in the waters of Baptism, a curious claim, to be sure. As we learn in the Acts of the Apostles, the appellation of Christian was first used at Antioch to designate those who had repented of their sins and were baptized; it was not used of someone who liked what Jesus said, but of someone joined to him (cf. Acts 11:26). Indeed, the very word “Christian” means “anointed,” and “derives from that of Christ himself whom God ‘anointed with the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 10:38).”[1] To be a Christian, then, is to be another Christ and this of necessity requires Baptism because it is through the Sacrament of Baptism that we are made “members of the Body of Christ.”[2]

The Sacrament of Baptism “is the basis of the whole Christian life” and through it “we are freed from sin and reborn as sons of God; we become members of Christ, are incorporated into the Church and made sharers in her mission.”[3] This is why the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Christians as “all those who have been anointed through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism...”[4] One simply cannot be a Christian without being baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 6:3-4).

That Baptism is necessary for salvation is attested by the Lord’s own word. He said to Nicodemus, “unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). He also told the Apostles to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). For this reason, Wes and Alaina asked faith of God’s Church for their son, Beau William, who is to be baptized in just a few moments.[5] Though some contest the Baptism of infants, the Church and a child’s parents know they “would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.”[6]

The Lord says through his prophet Isaiah today that he will “bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer” those who “join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants” (Isaiah 56:7, 6). Is this not what happens in Baptism? Those who seek this grace are brought into the household of the Father and share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal mission of Christ Jesus. In these waters we are joined to the Lord in love and our lives become his, for we have been purchased at a very high price (cf. I Corinthians 6:20).

Yet to put too much emphasis on the decision of the one who is to be or who has been baptized brings a certain danger.

Becoming Christian is not something that follows a decision of mine: “herewith I make myself a Christian”. Of course, my decision is also necessary, but first of all it is an action of God with me: it is not I who make myself Christian. I am taken on by God, taken in hand by God and thus, by saying “yes” to God’s action I become Christian. Becoming Christians, in a certain sense is passive; I do not make myself Christian but God makes me his man, God takes me in hand and puts my life in a new dimension. Likewise I do not make myself live but life is given to me; I am not born because I have made myself a human being, but I am born because I have been granted to be human. Therefore my Christian being has also been granted to me, it is in the passive for me, which becomes active in our, in my life. And this fact of being in the passive, of not making ourselves Christian but of being made Christian by God, already to some extent involves the mystery of the Cross: only by dying to my selfishness, by coming out of myself, can I be Christian.[7]

Wes and Alaina, Kolby and Courtney, it will be your duty from this day forward to show Beau how to die to his self-centeredness and daily conform his life to that of Christ. In this task, you will not be alone, for you have the Christian community to support and assist you in this sacred task as we each seek to live in accord with our baptismal dignity by dying to our own selfishness.

Teach him to serve the Lord with humility by loving his neighbor. Teach him how to pray and converse with the Lord throughout the day. Teach him how to maintain communion with the Body of Christ, the Church. And teach him how to make an offering of his very life to God. If he does this, he will indeed be a Christian.

You have a magnificent tool to teach Beau the Christian faith in your last name. The medievals saw in the griffin, part lion and part eagle, a symbol of the two natures of Christ, human and divine. They also saw the griffin as a symbol of guardianship. Teach Beau, then, what it means that God became man and how Jesus guards us with his Cross. Teach him, also, to guard his own soul “from the poison of sin” and to “keep the flame of faith alive in his heart.”[8] If you watch over him as griffins to guard him against whatever is opposed to the Gospel, you will show him the way to the house of the Father where he will see the Lord face to face (cf. Isaiah 56:7; Psalm 67:2). Amen.

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1289.
[2] Ibid., 1267.
[3] Ibid., 1213.
[4] Glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 871.
[5] Cf. Rite of Baptism for Children, 76.
[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1250.
[7] Benedict XVI, Lectio Divina, 11 June 2012.
[8] Rite of Baptism for Children, 93 and 100.

13 August 2017

Homily - 13 August 2017 - The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We very often live with some level of discomfort, with some level of anxiety or fear, perhaps not all of the time, but often enough. When the Lord seems not to be present, we grow frightened. When we lose our way we grow afraid. When we lose a child or a parent or when we cannot find a way to pay the bills, our fear intensifies. The beginning of school draws near and we worry whether our classmates will be our friends or whether we will do well in our studies. We do not know the direction in which our lives are going and we agonize. Sickness, pain, and death come upon us and we find ourselves living with much uncertainty. In all of these situations, Jesus lovingly and serenely commands us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

When we find ourselves in any one of these situations – and perhaps even all of them – our tendency is to cry out to the Lord and beg him to give us a sign. We plead with him and bargain, if only he will show himself to us. We cry out with St. Peter, “Lord, save me!” and wonder if he will come to our rescue (Matthew 14:30).

The Lord promised to come to the prophet Elijah, the man of God, saying, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by” (I Kings 19:11). Elijah placed himself at the entrance to the cave in Mount Horeb, the very mountain where God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses and where the covenant was ratified and sealed in blood. Here, surely, the Lord would be found and Elijah might find comfort as his enemies openly plotted his death. He cried out, saying, “I have been most zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts, but the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life” (IKings 19:10). Indeed, Elijah wished to be dead and cried, “This is enough, O LORD. Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (I Kings 19:4). In his agony and anguish, he sought the Lord in the places he had previously manifested himself.

And then, quite unexpectedly, Elijah realized the presence of God not where he had previously shown himself, but in “a tiny whispering sound” (I Kings 19:12). Being now in the presence of the Lord, he “hid his face in his cloak and stood at the entrance of the cave” (I Kings 19:13). The original Hebrew of this text reads somewhat differently than our translation today. Where we hear “a tiny whispering sound,” but the original Hebrew says, “a sound that was no sound.” He did not seek the Lord here, in the silence. He wanted the Lord to speak in a powerful way, a commanding way, in the same manner he had always done. He heard the Word of God say to him, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Elijah did not hear the Lord amid the noise of this world and neither will we.

We might well ask why the Lord speaks in the silence of our hearts and not often in more impressive ways. To this question, Pope Francis reminds us that “silence is always more eloquent than words.”[1] We have largely forgotten this. The average American today spends some 1,642 hours per year watching television alone.[2] That comes down to four and a half hours per day. I say this not to completely condemn the television, but to raise a question. If we spend eight hours per day at work, eight hours per day asleep, and four and a half hours per day watching television, that leaves only three and a half hours for eating, for spending time with family and friends, for running errands, and for prayer. When do we allow ourselves to be still so we can hear the voice of God? When do we allow the sound that is no sound to be heard?

We must remember again that, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, “creatures must be silent, leaving space for the silence in which God can speak.”

This is still true in our day too. At times there is a sort of fear of silence, of recollection, of thinking of one's own actions, of the profound meaning of one's life. All too often people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the Truth or perhaps afraid that the Truth will find us, will take hold of us and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.[3]

Saint Augustine came to realize that, as he said, “although this ship is tossed by the storms of temptation, it sees the glorified Lord walking upon all the billows of the sea – that is, upon all the powers of this world.”[4] Do not be afraid of silence, but learn to rest in it. In the silence of our hearts, the Lord reveals our sins to us and calls us to conversion; this is why we do not like silence. But if we listen to his voice will hear him calling us to return to the confessional where we will hear him say to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid;” it is within the forgiveness of sins that “he proclaims peace” (Psalm 85:9).

We want God to come down and fix all of our problems. We want him to make us popular, to take our tests for us, and write our papers; we want him to make us wealthy and important; we want him to take away our sadness and pain and sickness. But Jesus did not come for any of these reasons, contrary to what is often heard today; he came to destroy sin and death. He came to show us the way through pain, through suffering, through heartache, and struggle, and strife. He came to show us the way out of lives of sin into lives of holiness, from death to new and eternal life. It was on the cross that he showed us the way to everlasting joy and peace.

If we return for a moment to the Gospel, it is curious that the boat “was being tossed about by the waves” already “when it was evening,” but that Jesus did not come to the Apostles on the water until “the fourth watch of the night” (Matthew 19:24, 23, and 25). Jesus made his appearance toward the end of night, towards the coming of the dawn. This is a significant and often overlooked aspect of this passage after the storm raged for several hours. “He did not come quickly to their rescue. He was training them … by the continuance of these fears and instructing them to be ready to endure.” This, says Saint John Chrysostom, “is the way he constantly deals with our fears.”[5]

When we cry out, “Lord, save me!”, Jesus says, “Come,” and only after we begin to go to him does he snatch us out of the waters (Matthew 14:29). Even as he assures us with this  comforting and powerful word, he stretches out his hand toward us to catch us as we sink into the waters of fear, into the waters of the unknown, into the waters of doubt. He calls us to place our trust and faith in him, to follow him without reservation or fear, even as he asks, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew14:31). “Did you not know that I am with you? Did you not know that I have walked this road before you? Did you not know that I have destroyed sin and death? You have nothing to fear.”

When Jesus said these words to Peter the “wind died down” and the storm disappeared (Matthew 14:32). Peter’s own fear subsided as he trusted in Jesus and climbed into the boat, into the heart of the Church, to continue his voyage after his Master and his Teacher. Let us, then, with Peter, place our faith and trust, and, indeed, our very lives, into the gentle yet mighty hand of Christ, who saves us from the waters of darkness and lifts us into his kingdom of light. Let us acknowledge our weakness and cry out with Peter, “Lord, save me!” When we do so, “kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven” and we shall come to see and know the Lord as he is (Psalm 85:11-12).

“Take courage, it is I,” he says to us; “do not be afraid.” When we hear his voice calling to us, “Come,” in the tiny whispering sound within the silence of our hearts, let us go, without delay, and without fear, “for he proclaims peace” (Psalm 85:9). Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Amoris laetitia, 12.
[2] Cf. Philip Yancey, “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul,” The Washington Post, 21 July 2017.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, 25 August 2010.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 75.7. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ib: Matthew 14-28. Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2002), 13.
[5] Saint John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 50.1. In ibid.

06 August 2017

Homily - 6 August 2017 - The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

There is something about looking upon the face of another person that is of great importance for us. Is this not why we prefer to chat with our family and friends via Facetime than simply with the telephone? It is good to hear the voice of another, yes, but it is better to also see their face. For some three years, the Apostles lived with Jesus. They traveled with him, ate with him, watched him pray, listened to his preaching, and talked with him each day. Yet today they saw something in his face they had not yet seen: they saw his face shine “like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).

With the coming solar eclipse, we have heard a lot about the brightness of the sun, and of the danger of looking directly upon it with unprotected eyes. We have seen the faces of others illumined by the light of the sun, but never have we seen the face of another shine like the sun, as Peter, James, and John were allowed to see upon Mount Tabor, upon the only mountain in Galilee, a mountain whose name means “the coming light.”[1] Because the Lord himself prepared his chosen companions, they could look upon the brilliant beauty and splendor of his face; they were given the privilege of seeing what “many prophets and righteous men longed to see … and did not see it” (Matthew 13:17).

Mount Tabor
Throughout his Gospel, the Evangelist Saint Matthew repeatedly demonstrates how Jesus is the new Moses, the new lawgiver of the new Israel, which comes to fulfillment in his Transfiguration. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29); the light of the Lord’s glory continued to reflect off of Moses’ face so brightly before the People of God that “they were afraid to come near him” and so Moses “put a veil on his face” (Exodus 34:30, 33).

In the Transfiguration of Jesus, those three Apostles saw

visibly what happens when Jesus talks with his Father: the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself ‘light from light’… Jesus, however, shines from within; he does not simply receive light, but he himself is light from light.[2]

When they looked upon the transfigured face of their Master and Teacher, they were, as Saint Peter said, “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16). In that moment, they looked upon the face of God and lived; the light of his face was not too bright for them. They received the fulfillment of the ancient longing of every human heart and so Saint Peter desired to remain before the Transfigured face of the Son of God (cf. Matthew 17:4). Our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine, recognized this common and universal yearning when he prayed in his Confessions, saying to God, “…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[3]

The apse mosaic of the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor
In that moment on Mount Tabor we see what Saint Irenaeus recognized so many centuries ago: “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.”[4] If the vision of God is our life and glory, if the sight of his face is the rest for which we long, how can we see his face? Is not his glory too bright for us to see? We can be sure that “one does not see the Risen Lord like a piece of wood or stone. He is seen only by those to whom He reveals Himself. And He reveals Himself only to someone whom He can send. He reveals Himself not to curiosity but to love.”[5] He reveals his face to hearts that seek him, to those who ask with the Psalmist, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

Today, then, is a good day for us to reflect upon the purpose of a parish and also of a pastor. Our word parish comes from the thirteenth century, when it entered into English from Latin via Old French. It comes from the Latin word paroceia, which is itself a Latinization of the Greek word paroikia, a word meaning “sojourning in a foreign land.” Its root in Greek is the word paroikos, meaning “dwelling place, stranger, sojourner.” It is really a composite word, being made of para, “beside, by, near,” and oikos, “house.” Fundamentally, then, a parishioner is a stranger dwelling near the house of God whose goal is not simply to dwell near the house of God, but to enter into his house, to enter into his presence and see his face.

The church of St. Augustine, Ashland, Illinois
The purpose of a parish is help our fellow strangers in this strange land grow in the theological virtues of faith, of hope, and of love and so to become holy, to become ever more like Christ (cf. Exodus 2:22; I John 3:2). If parishioners are not reflecting more and more of the light of the face of Christ Jesus, something is amiss and they are not moving toward the goal of their earthly pilgrimage. To encourage and nourish the pilgrim flock, Mother Church has divided the world into dioceses and parishes to ensure that every member of the baptized has a proper pastor, a shepherd, to lead them ever closer to the Father’s house. The pastor of a parish stands in the place of the Bishop, who stands in the place of Christ; a pastor, then, represents not himself, but Christ Jesus, in whose place he stands at the head of the flock to teach, to sanctify, and to govern (cf. canon 519).

When a new pastor arrives in a parish, many of the parishioners wonder what program he will enact. The only program, if you will, which I hope to enact is to help you prepare to see the face of Christ more clearly, to help you draw near to him and bask in the light of his face, a light which can transform us and make us like himself. I hope to help you seek the Lord not in curiosity, but in love, to not only hear his voice speaking in the quiet of our hearts, but to see his face and become witnesses of his majesty and to take your places within the Father’s house.

The Veronica, the Holy Face of Manoppello
Being but a frail human, I cannot do this on my own, and so I will rely upon the grace of God and upon the cooperation of a great many of you. I entrust myself to your prayers and to the intercession of Saint Augustine. As together we look to the Doctor of Grace as a sure guide on the path that leads to the face of God, let each of us make this prayer of Saint Augustine our own:

You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.[6]

May the Lord illumine our faces with the light of his love and send us forth to reflect his light in a darkened world. Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.
[2] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Adrian J. Walker, trans. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 310.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1.1. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
[4] Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 4.20.7.
[5] Joseph Ratzinger, in Paul Badde, Benedict Up Close: The Inside Story of Eight Dramatic Years (Irondale, Alabama: EWTN Publishing, Inc., 2017), 42.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.