28 January 2023

Homily on the beatitude of beggging for love

The Fourth Sunday of the Year (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

If we consider carefully the Beatitudes Jesus declares today, if we take his pronouncements of blessedness to heart, we begin to realize he speaks of his own characteristics.  

He who has no place to lay his head (cf. Matthew 8:20) is truly poor; he who can say, ‘Come to me … for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (cf. Matthew 11:28-29) is truly meek; he is the one who is pure of heart and so unceasingly beholds God. He is the peacemaker, he is the one who suffers for God’s sake. The Beatitudes display the mystery of Christ himself, and they call us into communion with him.[1]

The Beatitudes “mirror the life of the Son of God who let himself even be persecuted and despised until he was condemned to death so that salvation might be given to men and women.”[2] Through the Beatitudes, Jesus presents “a new program of life” through which his disciples are “to free [themselves] from the false values of the world and to open [themselves] to the true goods, present and future.”[3]

Detail, Albrecht Druer, Ecce homo ("Behold, the man"), Ms 39-1601

This is why the Apostle Paul says to us, “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters”, reminding us “it is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus” (I Corinthians 1:26, 30). If, then, we are in Christ Jesus by virtue of our baptisms, if we seek to follow him and receive his rewards, we must become like him, each in the manner of life to which the Lord calls us.

When we look at the Beatitudes through the prism of Christ, we begin to see with clarity that what Saint Paul says is true, namely, that

God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God (I Corinthians 1:27-29).

The wisdom of Christ is the Cross, which even today is still seen as great foolishness. Few today accept the wisdom of the Cross and so do not realize that only in and through the Cross can true and lasting happiness – true and lasting blessedness – be found.

Is this not why Christ the Lord says, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)? As we embrace the Cross, we each become foolish, weak, and lowly in the view of the world. Yet it is precisely the foolish, the weak, and the lowly who can “take refuge in the name of the Lord;” the worldly wise, the strong, and the proud cannot do so (Zephaniah 3:12). The Beatitudes, then, “are directions for discipleship, directions that concern every individual, even though – according to the variety of callings – they do so differently for each person” because they teach us how to take up the Cross and follow Jesus by becoming like him.[4]

Those who become foolish, who become both weak and lowly, recognize their need for the Savior and see in Christ Jesus him who is “righteousness, sanctification, and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30). These are those who trust neither in themselves, nor in their own power, but who trust completely in God. “They come with empty hands; not with hands that grasp and clutch, but with hands that open and give and thus are ready to receive from God’s bountiful goodness.”[5] These are those who know themselves to be beggars, for the gesture of a beggar is an outstretched, empty hand. Indeed, we can rightly say, “In the heart of every man, begging for love, there is a thirst for love.”[6] In we are honest, each one of us is a beggar for love before God.

The men and women whom Jesus calls “blessed” are those who yearn for love. If we, too, desire to be called blessed by the Lord,

We need only to become aware that the gesture of opening our hand, of being able to receive in all simplicity, through which love first attains its inner purity, is grasping at nothing unless there is someone who can fill our hands with the grace of forgiveness. And thus once again everything would have to end in idle waste, in meaninglessness, if the answer to this, namely, Christ, did not exist. Thus, true loving necessarily passes into the gesture of faith, and in that gesture lies a demand for the mystery of Christ, a reaching out toward it – and that, mystery, when it unfolds, is a necessary development of that basic gesture; to reject it would be to reject both faith and love.[7]

The gesture of faith is the same as the gesture of love: an open and empty hand, seeking to be filled and seeking to be grasped by the beloved. If we stretch out an empty hand to Jesus he will always fill it, he will always grasp it. But we cannot then clinch our fists and never open them again because a filled hand is meant to be emptied. When our hands become filled with the love of God they must be opened and poured out upon others; this is the way of the Cross and the lesson of the Beatitudes.

Perhaps this is what led Saint Augustine to say this about the way we follow after Christ Jesus:

You hear the voice of a beggar, but before God you are yourself a beggar. Someone is begging from you, while you yourself are begging. As you treat the beggar, so will God treat his. You who are empty are being filled. Out of your fullness fill an empty person in need, so that your own emptiness may be again filled by the fullness of God.[8]

The Lord Jesus heard the voices of us beggars and poured out his love upon us. Let us not be stingy with his love, but willingly pour the love we receive from him out upon others, so that they, and we, might be blessed, having become like Christ. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Adrian J. Walker, trans., (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 74.

[2] Ibid., Angelus Address, 30 January 2011.

[3] Ibid., Jesus of Nazareth, 74.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 76.

[6] Ibid., Homily, 29 March 2007.

[7] Ibid., Credo for Today: What Christians Believe. Michael J. Miller, et al, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 13.

[8] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 53.5.

21 January 2023

Homily - The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time / Sunday of the Word of God - 22 January 2023

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Sunday of the Word of God

Dear brothers and sisters,

We heard the Prophet Isaiah say to us a few moments ago that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” that “upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 8:1). How much darkness and gloom there is in the world today! There is, of course the darkness of winter, but even more dreadful is the darkness found in so many hearts and minds, the darkness within those who seemingly do not know happiness and who live in self-absorption. Some find themselves filled with anxiety or with bitterness, while others are filled with anger or deep hurt. They cannot find their way out of this gloom because they have lost the light. Where are they – where are we – to turn to find the light?

Several years ago, the Holy Father Pope Francis declared today, the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, be celebrated as the Sunday of the Word of God. His intention in doing so was to “enable the Church to experience anew how the risen Lord opens up for us the treasury of his word and enables us to proclaim its unfathomable riches before the world.”[1]

It is fitting that we observe this day today - this Sunday of the Word of God - because, among other things, the Scriptures remind us in the Psalms that the Word of God “is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). If we wish to find our way out of the land of darkness and gloom in which we sometimes get lost, we must take up the Bible. In those holy words, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we find our light and our salvation (cf. Psalm 27:1). It is the very Word of God that illumines the path for us and leads us out of darkness to “the house of the Lord” where we can dwell eternally in the brilliance of his light and “gaze on the loveliness of the Lord,” knowing forever the fullness of happiness (Psalm 27:4).

We cannot forget that “the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord’s Body.”[2] As the Eucharist is nourishment for our souls, so are the Sacred Scriptures. This is why, within the Holy Mass, the Church “never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God’s Word and Christ’s Body.”[3] Both are necessary for us; a Christian cannot live without both the Word of God contained in the Bible and in the Eucharist.

We should open our hearts each day as we open the Bible. We should not let a single day go by without reading at least of couple of verses. If you do not know where to start, try reading at least one of the readings assigned for each day’s Mass. We should open the Word of God each day to ask the Lord to guide us in the daily tasks of life, so that in our work, studies, parenting, and play “the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning” but that we might be more conformed to the Crucified and Risen Lord (I Corinthians 1:17). In this way, we can also become lights in a darkened world illuminating the way to the house of the Father, urging others to follow the way of the Lord Jesus with us (cf. Matthew 4:19).

One of the many forms of darkness afflicting our society to which each of us must bring the light of the Word of God is the realm of abortion. This cannot escape our attention, as today is the anniversary of the horrendous Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade that in 1973 made abortion legal throughout these United States of America. Thankfully, this vile decision was overturned last year on June 24th by the decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, returning the question of the legality of abortion to state legislatures to decide. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has not given us an opportunity to rest, but has only made our local efforts all the more urgent.

Regrettably, thirty-eight states allow abortion; only 12 have made it illegal. Illinois, of course, is one of the states in which abortion is legal, having some of the strongest legal protections for abortion in the country. Some states, such as Illinois, even promote abortion. In 2020 in Illinois, the most recent year for which data is available from the Illinois Department of Public Health, 113,304 babies were born while 46,243 were aborted, 21% of which were done for non-residents of the Land of Lincoln.[4]

Of those women who ended the life of the child in their wombs, 88% were unmarried. This only serves to highlight the importance – the necessity - of marriage for a stable and loving society and for men to not only be chaste but also responsible.

It will take a great and concerted effort on the part of each one of us – men and women, adults and children – to repeal the laws in Illinois legalizing abortion. None of us can wait for others to take the lead; we must each strive to do all we can to protect the lives of every innocent and defenseless child. We must actively work to change not only laws but also hearts, to make abortion not only illegal but also – more importantly - unthinkable. We can do this by gently accompanying pregnant women who find themselves in difficult situations, supporting them both emotionally and financially, even taking them into our homes if need be.

Just as we should turn to the Word of God for guidance in each aspect of our lives, so should we turn to it as we seek to end the scourge of abortion. In the Sacred Scriptures God poses a rhetorical question to us, a question to which he also gives the answer: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). If God does not forget the unborn, neither can we. We must help women considering abortion to find the light, to see other paths out of what they perceive to be an impossible situation.

I urge you, then, to take up your Bibles each day and not let them be mere decorations on a shelf or a table. Allow the Word of God to wash over your lives every day so that together we can bring the light of the Gospel to a darkened world, warm gloomy hearts, and lead them to the house of the Father. Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Aperuit illis, 2.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 103.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Illinois Department of Public Health Birth Statistics. Accessed 21 January 2023. Available at https://dph.illinois.gov/data-statistics/vital-statistics/birth-statistics.html. Illinois Department of Public Health Abortion Statistics. Accessed 21 January 2023. Available at https://dph.illinois.gov/data-statistics/vital-statistics/abortion-statistics.html.