03 September 2017

Homily - 3 September 2017 - The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Earlier this week, a headline of great importance caught my attention that most of the world simply ignored: “After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul.”[1] Can you imagine three years without the Eucharist?

PHOTO: Amigos de Irak
For the first – or, possibly, the second – time in three years, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered in the Iraqi city of Mosul - one month to the day of the city’s liberation from the Islamic State - on August 9th in what remains of St. George’s Monastery. When the Islamic State took Mosul in June of 2014, its fighters quickly began “using sledgehammers to smash crosses and icons, and removing the cross from the dome and replacing it with the black ISIS flag.”[2] They did what they could to remove every symbol of the Christian faith, but they could not remove the faith from the hearts of Christians.

What did our brothers and sisters experience as they watched their very dearest places be destroyed? What emotions filled their hearts as they suffered so dearly? Surely they cried out with the Prophet Jeremiah, “All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage is my message; the word of the Lord has brought me derision and reproach all the day” (Jeremiah 20:7).

We might suffer an occasional taunt because of our faith in Jesus, but they endured unspeakable persecution. To avoid any sort of ridicule, we keep quiet about our faith and pretend it is merely a private matter, but the Christians in Iraq, though they knew the persecution was coming, did not keep their faith hidden. Rather, they proclaimed the merciful love of the Lord Jesus to those who were not merciful because our brothers and sisters knew Jesus’ “kindness is a greater good than life” (Psalm 63:4). Do we know the same? They trusted in the Lord’s words that “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mathew 16:25). Do we trust the same?

Just as their faith in the Lord Jesus has not been in vain, neither will our faith be in vain. Now the black flag that taunted the Christians of Mosul for more than three years has at long last come down. They have rightly replaced it with the cross of Our Lord and beneath its shadow they “shout for joy” (Psalm 63:8). Now, finally, they can gather again at the Lord’s altar and sing, “As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you” (Psalm 63:9).

If we so often shy away from any public expression of our faith as we go about our daily lives, how did they have the strength to manifest their faith in public? They could do so because they listened to the instruction of Saint Paul “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans12:1). Commenting on the Apostle’s admonition, Saint Augustine asked:

If the body … is a sacrifice when it is used well and rightly for the service of God, how much more so is the soul when it offers itself to God? In this way, aflame in the fire of divine love and with the dross of worldly desire melted away, it is remolded into the unchangeable form of God and becomes beautiful in his sight by reason of the bounty of beauty which he has bestowed upon it.[3]

How can you and I offer ourselves to God so our hearts might be aflame in the fire of divine love? The answer is very close to us and a bit obvious, and so for this reason is often overlooked. The answer is found in the offertory of the Mass.

In just a few moments, the offertory will begin with the preparation of the altar, the taking up of the collection, and the presentation and offering of the gifts. Mother Church urges us to participate in each of these aspects of the offertory, but what does this mean?

To participate means to share in the task of another. Here that other is the priest. He is not there for himself, but for the congregation. By means of the words he speaks and gestures he makes in the power of his office, something happens – through Christ. Everyone present is called upon to share in that happening. The priest responds to it, not privately for himself, but for all. And again all are invited to share in his invocation, celebration, adoration, pleading, and thanksgiving. The celebrant’s actions radiate in all directions far beyond his personal life. This is so primarily that all may – and should – enter into them.[4]

It is not enough for us to come to the Mass without preparing to participate in it, nor is it enough for us to be at the Mass and simply stand, sit, and kneel at the proper moments and mumbling the responses without ever entering into the mystery of the Mass in the quiet of our hearts. To be sure, given the many distractions that may be present, this is not always easy to do, but still we must try. As with everything else important in life, something is required of us; we are required to offer ourselves to God.

In just a few moments I will receive your offerings and present them to God and will then invite you to join me in offering your gifts. What I will offer

is really very little [just a bit of bread, some wine, pieces of paper, and the occasional coin]. We could say that it has practically no value. But, it should represent us. If you want to learn to take [your] proper part in the Holy Mass, it is important that you learn to offer yourself and to offer all that is yours in this moment of the Mass.3 Take your work, your studies, your needs, your struggle, and even your weaknesses. Take all of that and put it on the paten beside the hosts, those small pieces of bread. Put it on the chalice with the wine.

Jesus Christ is going to come to this altar within a few minutes. There are many ways in which he could have chosen to come. But he has wished to come by marvelously turning the bread and the wine into his own body and blood. He has wished to come by means of transubstantiation, by which something that we offer him, something that is ours, is changed into his body and blood, while of the bread and wine only the appearances remain. The bread and the wine are our gifts, our offering to God. They will be your gift and your offering if you make them yours, if you put yourself there, on the paten with the bread, in the chalice with the wine. If you let yourself get distracted at the moment when the priest is offering the gifts, then the bread and the wine will be other people's gifts, something that other people offer to God. But they won't be your gifts, because you have not offered them, you have not offered yourself with them.[5]

Let us, then, heed the words of Saint Paul and make of ourselves an offering to God, that our hearts might be aflame with the fire of divine love. Then we will be able to manifest the joy and peace that comes from being friends of God and bring others to offer themselves to him, as well. If we live in this way, not only will our souls thirst for God, we will be satisfied with his gift of himself. Amen.

[1]After three years of ISIS occupation, the Mass returns to Mosul,” Catholic World Report, 30 August 2017.
[2]ISIS Destroys Assyrian Churches,Hostages Still Being Held,” Assyrian International News Agency, 16 March 2016. Cf. “Muslims and Christians unite to rebuild Mosul monastery,” Catholic News Agency, 7 June 2017.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, 10.6.
[4] Romano Guardini, Meditations Before Mass (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1993), 35.
[5] Cormac Burke, The Mass Explained (Manila: Sinag-Tala Publishers, 1981).

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