21 July 2019

Homily - 21 July 2019 - The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

Dear brothers and sisters,

We might be tempted this morning to focus our attention on the timing of the first reading from the Book of Genesis. We are told it occurred “while the day was growing hot” and we certainly know something of that in these recent days (Genesis 18:1). If we were, however, to focus our attention on this aspect of the reading, we would miss something much more important and something much more curious.

It was at this time of day that the Patriarch Abraham saw “three men standing nearby” the entrance to his tent (Genesis 18:2). We are next told how Abraham interacted with these three unnamed men: “When he saw them, he ran from the entrance to the tent to greet them; and bowing to the ground, he said: ‘Sir, if I may ask this favor, please do not go on past your servant’” (Genesis 18:2-3). Now, if you were listening closely you will have noticed something strange, something you might attribute either to an error on my part or on the part of the translator; in both guesses, though, you would be incorrect.

Abraham sees three men, in the plural. He goes to greet “them,” again in the plural. Yet when he addresses the three men he greets them, saying, “Sir,” in the singular. Why? Surely a man such as Abraham knows the proper rules governing the use of grammar. What is going on here?

Saint Ambrose of Milan, the great teacher and spiritual father of Saint Augustine, rightly says that

Abraham, who was glad to receive strangers, faithful to God and tireless in his service and prompt in fulfilling his duty, saw the Trinity typified. He added religious devotion to hospitality, for although he beheld three, he adored one, and, while keeping a distinction of the persons, yet he called one Lord, thus giving honor to the three but signifying one power. For not knowledge but grace spoke in him.[1]

In those three men standing nearby, Abraham beheld the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; God had visited the Patriarch and Abraham asked the Lord to stay with him. When the Lord draws near to us, what is our response? Do we stop whatever we are doing and ask him to stay with us, offering to him whatever hospitality we may, or do we ask him to come again another time because his visit is perhaps inconvenient?

Because Abraham was a man of justice, he bowed himself to the ground in the presence of God; he gave to God the honor that is due to him (cf. Genesis 18:19; 18:2). We can be sure that when Abraham bowed down before God, his exterior act reflected his interior devotion. Is it the same with us? Does our outward composure reflect the composure of our hearts, or do we simply go through the motions of piety? When we bend the knee before God, are we conscious of what we do? When we bow from the waist at the mention of the Incarnation during the Creed, are we conscious of the One before whom we bow?

Writing in 1939, Romano Guardini lamented what he perceived as a lack of genuine piety. He said,

Many churchgoers simply don’t seem to know where they are or what it is all about. A man’s presence in church does not mean merely that his body is there rather than elsewhere. His body is the equivalent of himself, and being present is a vital act. There are people who can walk into a room, sit down, and little more seems to have happened than that a chair has been occupied. Someone else can come in, and though he neither says nor does anything further, his presence is like a power. There are works of art in which this quiet power of presence is very strong; we have only to think of those medieval paintings which portray numbers of saints seated next to each other. They do nothing; hardly a gesture or word is exchanged, yet everything is vitally alive with their presence. To be present, then, is more than to sit or kneel in place. It is an act of the spirit and expresses itself in one’s whole being.[2]

These eighty years later, can we say that much has changed?

The act of bowing down before another, whether of bending the knee or of bowing the head – is an act of humble submission to another. It is an outward sign of the inner reality that I am not in charge of my own life and that I am not the center of the world, contrary to what our culture repeatedly tells us. We do not like to bow before others, to place ourselves at the service of others. “But to bow low before God can never be unmodern, because it corresponds to the truth of our being,” that we are only creatures. “And if modern man has forgotten this truth, then it is all the more incumbent on Christians in the modern world to rediscover it and teach it to our fellowmen.”[3] Indeed, we must remind ourselves and others that “the man who wants to come close to God must be able to look upon him – that is essential. But he must likewise learn to bend, for God has bent himself down.”[4]

When Abraham saw the Lord, he did not run up to him to embrace him; he bowed low before him. So must it be with us. We see this in the example of Mary, who “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10:39). She knew the importance of bowing before God; she showed the disposition of her heart with the expression of her body. While Martha was busy with the important details of hospitality, Mary chose that which will not pass away.

When he reflected on this passage, Saint Augustine pondered what Mary was doing at the Lord’s feet. “What was Mary enjoying while she was listening? What was she eating? What was she drinking? Do you know,” he asks. He says:

Let’s ask the Lord, who keeps such a splendid table for his own people, let’s ask him. ‘Blessed,’ he says, ‘are those who are hungry and thirsty for justice, because they shall be satisfied’ (Matthew 5:6). It was from this wellspring, from this storehouse of justice, that Mary, seated at the Lord’s feet, was in her hunger receiving some crumbs. You see, the Lord was giving her then as much as she was able to take… What was Mary enjoying? What was she eating? I’m persistent on this point, because I’m enjoying it too. I will venture to say that she was eating the one she was listening to. I mean, if she was eating truth, didn’t he say himself, ‘I am the truth” (John 14:6)? What more can I say? He was being eaten, because he was Bread. ‘I,’ he said, ‘am the bread who came down from heaven’ (John 6:41). This is the bread which nourishes and never diminishes.

Having bowed down before him and having placed herself at the Lord’s feet, Mary learned that “without love, even the most important activities lose their value and give no joy. Without a profound meaning, all our activities are reduced to sterile and unorganized activism. And who, if not Jesus Christ, gives us Love and Truth?”[5]

In these remaining days of summer, let us ask the Lord Jesus to open our hearts to him, to teach us to bow low before him, and to stay at his feet. May he perfect us in himself so that we will think the truth in our hearts and not slander with our tongues (cf. Psalm 15:3). May he make us, like Abraham, men and women of justice, who give him the honor and the worship that is his due, with our gestures and hearts united. Bowing low before him in this life, may he raise our eyes to see his Face in the life to come. Amen.


[1] Saint Ambrose of Milan, On His Brother, Satyrus, 2.96.
[2] Romano Guardini Meditations Before Mass, (Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1993), 28.
[3] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 206.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 18 July 2010.

08 July 2019

A glorious and beautiful day in Quincy to honor Father Gus

A humidity level of 91% did not prevent more than 150 people from showing their love for and devotion to the Venerable Father Augustine Tolton this past Saturday morning in Quincy by commemorating the anniversary of his death on July 9, 1897.

Photo: Reg Ankrom
This was the fourth year that I have had the great joy of leading a group of pilgrims in procession from the statue of Father Gus outside St. Peter's Catholic School in Quincy to his grave in St. Peter's Cemetery, a distance of about a mile.

Photo: Reg Ankrom
In addition to those taking part in the procession, others met us at the cemetery for the celebration of Morning Prayer, bringing the total number of pilgrims to more than 175, a turn out that swelled my heart with gratitude and love for my hometown.

A long line of men, women, and children of all ages, we must have made quite a sight as we made our way towards the cemetery, with media photographs running ahead of us to take photographs as we walked at a casual pace.

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Several people looked through the windows of their homes or businesses to watch the pilgrims go by, and one car even pulled over as we passed by on the other side of the road.

Once we arrived at the cemetery, the pilgrims had a few minutes to grab a bottle of water and to find a place in the shade, either in a chair or standing. As they did so, I honored Father Tolton's grave with incense and left a kukui nut lei as a token of my devotion to him.

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Gretchen Mason
Once everyone had gathered around the grave and was more or less in place, in the celebration of Morning Prayer we praised the Lord, the worker of wonders who draws near to us and is faithful forever (cf. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 119:151; and Psalm 117:2).

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Photo: Reg Ankrom

I invited Deacon Peter Chineke to preach a homily during the Morning Prayer, an invitation he gladly accepted. After hearing his moving words, I am very glad I asked to preach! 

Photo: Gretchen Mason
Here follows the text of Deacon Peter's homily, which was well received by all who heard his words, even drawing a happy applause when he spoke of Augustus of Quincy:
Photo: Reg Ankrom
Good morning.

I can see beautiful, smiley faces. That’s awesome!

Some of us don’t know me. I am your brother, your friend, and your Deacon Peter Chineke. I love Quincy, and I’m happy to be here again today, I think, the second time, but the first for this Pilgrimage to commemorate the death anniversary of Father Augustus Tolton.

The reading this morning tells us to be solicitous to make our call permanent. That when we do so, we will never be lost! Instead, our entry into the kingdom of God becomes guaranteed. The reading tells us that if we become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ; if we become intentional, solicitous, committed to our Christian life, we will see the face of God. We will enter the Beatific Vision of Jesus Christ.

But then, what is this call?

The Apostle Peter is talking about our call to HOLINESS. Holiness is our universal Christian vocation – the most important mission of our Christian life. We are called and baptized to be holy members of the body of Christ, the Church. It is a vocation that started the moment we received the sacrament of baptism – a time we made a vow, a Christian commitment to follow Christ in word and action, in our everyday life. It is a call that we have the privilege to renew every day of our lives. Yes. We can start anew today to pursue our call to holiness.

But how can we be solicitous to make this call permanent? What can we do as Christians to make our call to HOLINESS permanent?

Today, we are standing right in front of the holy grave of a man whose life can teach us how to make our call to holiness permanent in Jesus Christ. There are many others like him. There are hundreds and thousands of great witnesses of the Christian life from all over the world from whom we can learn and grow in our everyday commitment – in our daily resolve to follow Christ, to carry our joys and sorrows, our failures and our successes, our hopes and despairs to Jesus Christ – our Lord and Redeemer. One of these people, one of these great, giant witnesses of our Christian faith, is right here with us. We may not see him with our physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith, we see a man standing right by us, listening to our prayers and interceding for us before the God of all Goodness. He is Augustus Tolton. Some of our brothers and sisters up north may want to call him “Augustus of Chicago.” But we know the fact that he is, and hopefully, will be canonized as “Augustus [Tolton] of Quincy”! [I do not know if Deacon Peter saw my related post on an epithet.]

Augustus, a priest of our diocese – our friend, brother, and priest, lived a life that is worthy of emulation. He suffered rejection from among the people he called his own. Augustus was refused every opportunity and privilege to become what he wanted. Worst of all, he was rejected by his brother-priests. This was a rejection that broke his heart and forced him to seek what today, we would call asylum, in the Archdiocese of Chicago. He went to Chicago, but his heart was home. Augustus ministered among the black people in Chicago, but he never forgot the Gem City of Quincy – the place he was baptized and received into the body of Christ, the Church; the place he received his call to Holiness when he was baptized and received into Communion.

Father Augustus Tolton persevered in his call to holiness. To live a holy life and see the face of God was paramount in his Christian life – so much that no rejection, no persecution, no suffering stopped him or distracted him from making his call to HOLINESS permanent in Jesus Christ.

What can we learn from this brother of ours today? What do we do when we are faced with different but similar challenges in our times? Are we not persecuted for different reasons in our time? Do we not suffer rejection from the people we love in our time? Are we not confronted, every now and then, by circumstances that are beyond our control? What do we do in times like these? Do we give up on Christ and our call to holiness? Or do we, like Venerable Augustus of Quincy, stay focused on Jesus Christ and put our trust and faith in Him?

Even in the midst of his sufferings, Augustus Tolton carried his cross with Christ by remaining loyal to his oppressors; forgiving to his persecutors; respectful and compassionate to those who hate him; unwavering in his love and service to Christ and his Church; and above all, Augustus loved Jesus and his Church so much that he died serving them.
 

My brothers and sisters, Augustus Tolton, the pride of the Gem City of Quincy, and the Hero of the Christian witness in Illinois, is our model in the Christian faith here in our local Church – The Diocese of Springfield. He intercedes for us before the God of all Holiness. Today, as we go, let us continue to ask for his intercession to be active and intentional in our Christian faith and make our call to HOLINESS permanent in Jesus Christ.

After the conclusion of Morning Prayer, we joined together in praying for more priestly vocations through Father Tolton's intercession and the prayer for his canonization. Finally, we sang "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name," Father Gus' favorite hymn.

In the past, the pilgrims in this procession numbered between 20 and 35. Part of the difference this year is due to the time; whereas we processed in the evening in the past, this year we processed in the morning. The increased numbers are also no doubt due to the Holy Father Pope Francis' recent recognition of the heroic virtue of Father Tolton.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who helped with the preparations for this pilgrimage procession, and to everyone who participated in it, far exceeding all of my expectations! Although very warm, it was a beautiful morning of prayer and was a good example of why I love the Gem City.

There is a definite excitement in Quincy as we continue to hope and pray for his beatification and canonization. As I prepared for this year's procession, I anticipated an increase in pilgrims and printed 70 booklets. The Holy Name Society of St. Francis Solanus Parish set out 96 changes and brought lots of bottles of water kept in ice. Next year we will plan for more pilgrims yet, and look into using a sound system as well.

Several media outlets were present to cover the pilgrimage procession. 

07 July 2019

Homily - 7 July 2019 - The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time


The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)


Dear brothers and sisters,



“In Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “you shall find your comfort” (Isaiah 66:13). He speaks these words just after telling his chosen people Israel that, “as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13). What, then, is the connection between the Lord and the City of David? While we give little thought to Jerusalem, the Psalmist sang of her:



If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand wither!

Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem

above my highest joy (Psalm 137:5-6)!



What made Jerusalem a surer comfort than the highest of joys? What makes Jerusalem a surer comfort for us, as well?



Pliny the Elder - a Roman author, philosopher, commander, and friend of the emperor who died in A.D. 79 - called Jerusalem “by far the most famous city, not of Judea only, but of the East.”[1] The city of Jerusalem is indeed ancient and has been inhabited for more than 6,000 years. In the Middle Ages, its importance was demonstrated by depicting Jerusalem at the center of world maps, with the rest of the world - and even the cosmos - surrounding the City of David. Yet its importance is not to be found in its age, nor is it be found in its having been conquered by King David around the year 1010 B.C. Rather, Jerusalem is important because it was the place where the Ark of the Covenant was housed and, as such, was the place where God dwelt with his people, especially after the year 962 B.C. with the dedication of the Temple built by King Solomon. The Ark of the Covenant, God’s throne on earth, was kept in the Temple in the Holy of Holies for some four hundred years before it disappeared and was lost.



After “the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim,” “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (I Kings 8:6, 10-11). The comfort to be found in Jerusalem was to be found in the Temple, in the very presence of God who comforts us with a mother’s love. Therefore the Psalmist held Jerusalem above all other joys.



However, all of this changed around the year 586 B.C. when the Ark of the Covenant was lost and the prophet Ezekiel saw a distressing sight: “Then the glory of the Lord left the threshold of the temple” (Ezekiel 10:18-19). To make matters worse, the Temple itself was destroyed in A.D. 70. What, then, are we to do? Where are we to experience the motherly love of God? Where are we to find our comfort?



Pilgrims today to the city of Jerusalem do experience some comfort, but certainly none greater than all other joys, but there is another Jerusalem in which our comfort is to be found. When he saw a vision of heaven while he offered the Holy Mass on the island of Patmos, Saint John “saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). Who is this bride? Saint Paul, when he tells husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her,” explained that Jesus sanctified the Church so “that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25, 26-27). So it is that the new Jerusalem is the Church, the Bride of Christ, and, as Saint Paul also tells us, the Church “is our mother” (Galatians 4:26).[2] In the waters of Baptism, you and I were born from the womb of the Church and incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church.



It is, then, in the Church that our comfort is to be found and in the Church in which we experience the maternal love of God, most particularly in the spiritual nourishment that is the gift of his own Body and Blood. When we come to the Holy Mass, how conscious are we that are in the new Jerusalem, in the very presence of God? Do we hold the Eucharist above all other joys and find comfort in the very presence of God? We certainly should, because the Church is indeed the most famous city, not only of the East, but of the entire world.



Sometimes, just as we do with our family, we take the Church for granted. We grow perhaps too familiar with the mystery of the Church and forget that it is in the Church that



We are in some sense embraced by God, transformed by his love. The Church is this embrace of God, in which men and women learn also to embrace their brothers and sisters and to discover in them the divine image and likeness which constitutes the deepest truth of their existence, and which is the origin of genuine freedom.[3]



This is why we are to “rejoice with [the new] Jerusalem and be glad because of her” (Isaiah 66:10).



We know all too well in these days that, make up as she is by sinful men and women, the earthly image of the Church is often marked by stains and sins and failures to love. When he considered this sad reality, Saint Augustine of Hippo looked toward the heavenly image of the Church, the Church when her full reality is at last revealed as the Bride of Christ. He said,



This city is said to come down out of heaven in the sense that God created it by means of heavenly grace… Indeed, its descent from heaven began with the beginning of time, since it is by God’s grace coming down from above through the ‘laver of regeneration’ in the Holy Spirit sent from heaven that its citizenship has continuously grown up on earth. Yet only after God’s last judgment, the one he has deputed to Jesus Christ his Son, will his tremendous gift of grace be revealed so brightly in [the heavenly Jerusalem] that in this new brightness there will remain no traces of its earthly blemishes. For then its members’ bodies will pass over from mortal corruptibility to the new immortality of incorruption.[4]




The recognition of the sins of others – and especially our own sins – gives us greater reason to strive to imitate Saint Paul who bore “the marks of Jesus on [his] body” (Galatians 6:17). What does this mean, if not to say that Saint Paul began to look more and more like Jesus until he could rightly say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For this reason, he prayed, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).



When a new pastor arrives in a parish, many of the parishioners wonder what program he will enact, what agenda he will pursue. The only program, if you will, which I hope to enact is to help you enter more deeply into the life of the Church. My only agenda is to help you offer yourself completely to the Father, to place yourselves upon the altar with the bread and wine until you, too, bear the marks of Jesus on your bodies until you also look like him. My mission as your pastor is to prepare you to take 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 mere curiosity, but in sincere 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 by placing his Body, the Church, the new Jerusalem, at the center of your lives.



Let us, then, strive to imitate the example of Saint Paul and of Saint Peter, who both, in the end, gave themselves entirely to Christ, holding nothing back from him. May they intercede for us and teach us how to set the new Jerusalem above our highest joys and so find our comfort in the Church and in her Sacraments until at last we stand before Christ and he knows us to be his own. Amen.





[1] Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, 5.14.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 757.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Address at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, 6 November 2010.


[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, City of God, 20.17.