29 June 2024

Homily - 30 June 2024 - The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are reminded today of something we too often forget, namely, that “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wisdom 1:13). But because we experience death each day in one way or another, we presume death is a natural consequence of life; that we are born and die seems as normal as eating, drinking, and sleeping, but this does not make the experience of death any easier to bear.

From the beginning it was not so, “for God formed man to be imperishable” and only “by the envy of the devil [did] death enter the world” (Wisdom 2:23, 24). Death, then, is not natural, it is quite unnatural and not part of the original plan of God, yet he has nonetheless brought it into the workings of his Providence. Indeed, death was first given as a divine punishment, but

a divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift”, if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained.[1]

The punishment of death because of our sin becomes a gift of God’s mercy, which is why can sing “at nightfall weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing” (Psalm 30:6). Death becomes the means God uses to change our “mourning into dancing,” for by death we are not bound forever to the drudgery of this life (Psalm 30:12; cf. Job 7:1).

Because God does not rejoice in the destruction of the living, he sent his Only Begotten Son among us. He willingly abandoned the glory of heaven and took on our frail humanity; he lived our life and died our death, giving his life for us on the Cross (cf. II Corinthians 8:9). Yet his death was not to be the end. He was raised from the dead by the power of the Father and his Resurrection destroyed forever the bonds of death. This is why the hope of the souls of the just is “full of immortality” (Wisdom 3:4). The just look to the Risen Lord, confident that he will raise their mortal bodies from the dust, as well, that they will live with him forever. His faithful long to hear his command, Koum, “Arise” (Mark 5:41).

And yet, if all Jesus has to do is issue the word of command, why must we still die, why must we suffer? This is a question without any obvious answer, but that does not mean we cannot say something about it.

Before the Lord Jesus ascended the throne of his Cross, he said to those who would be his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). From this it follows that just as the Cross was the only means to the Resurrection, so, too, is the Cross – in whatever it is presented to each of us – the means by which we will attain eternal life because our own crosses are a share in the Cross of Christ. This is why Saint Peter encourages us, saying,

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (I Peter 4:12-13).

The suffering we endure is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Christ, to complete in our flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (see Colossians 1:24). If we seek to unite our sufferings together with the sufferings of Christ, our sufferings, like his, can be redemptive, both for us and for others; they can bring about a good unseen and even unlooked for.

If we are honest, each one of us will recognize we have a longing that extends beyond the realms of this world, a desire for something greater than this life can give; we have a yearning for life without end, but not simply an unending life as we know it now; such a life would be unbearable. We long, rather, to be with the Lord, to look upon the Face of the Creator who alone can fulfill the deepest aspirations of the human heart.

In one of his letters to his son Michael, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote beautifully of this desire: “There is a place called 'heaven' where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet…”[2] When we gather at the altar of the Lord and offer him the worship that is his due, we pray we may one day laugh with our loved ones again, that our hopes may be fulfilled, our stories completed, and our good works finished. But how can this be?

Earlier we said that death, which was first a punishment brought about by the envy of the devil, is, paradoxically, also a gift that brings about something otherwise unattainable. What do we mean? The unexpected consequence of death – the unexpected gift of death – is heaven: “With this term "Heaven" we wish to say that God, the God who made himself close to us, does not abandon us in or after death but keeps a place for us and gives us eternity. We mean that in God there is room for us.”[3]

Before our expulsion from Paradise, before we rebelled against God and set ourselves up as his equals and rivals, God walked with us in the garden in the cool of the evening (cf. Genesis 3:7). Now, though, through the death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, God does not simply walk among us but has opened himself up to us; now we can live not simply with God, but in God. And because there is now room for us within the One who is Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, within the One who is Love, the deepest yearnings of our hearts can be satisfied and fulfilled; indeed, they will be satisfied if we die in friendship with him.

To understand this reality a little better let us look at our own lives. We all experience that when people die they continue to exist, in a certain way, in the memory and heart of those who knew and loved them.


We might say that a part of the person lives on in them but it resembles a "shadow" because this survival in the heart of their loved ones is destined to end.


God, on the contrary, never passes away and we all exist by virtue of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he conceived of us and called us to life. We exist in God's thoughts and in God's love. We exist in the whole of our reality, not only in our "shadow".


Our serenity, our hope and our peace are based precisely on this: in God, in his thoughts and in his love, it is not merely a "shadow" of ourselves that survives but rather we are preserved and ushered into eternity with the whole of our being in him, in his creator love.


It is his Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call "Heaven": God is so great that he also makes room for us.[4]

The Saints live now in God and experience the fullness of his love. May we be admitted one day to their company to know the fullness of happiness, joy, and peace forever. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 212.

[2] Ibid., Letter to Michael Tolkien, 9 June 1941.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 15 August 2010.

[4] Ibid.

11 June 2024

Homily - 9 June 2024 - The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The beginning is always connected to the end and the end is always necessarily connected to the beginning. If we look closely at the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis we perceive an understanding of the world and of the cosmos very different from that of other religions and of our own secular age. This understanding of creation gives us a more insightful recognition of what it means to be human. The understanding of the high dignity of every man, woman, and child – and why that dignity has been marred – is essential to understanding both Judaism and Christianity.

What do we find if we consider these eight verses we have heard from the third chapter of Genesis? If we go back just a little, we find the context in which these verses occur: Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit of “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17). They were forbidden to eat of this tree on pain of the loss of their deathless state: “From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die” (Genesis 2:17).

Detail, The Creation of Adam and Eve, etc., Add MS 10546, f. 5v

Now, having eaten of that tree, our first parents recognized their nakedness, which is to say they lost their innocence. Saint Augustine put it this way:

…they saw that they were naked, but with eyes asquint, to which the simplicity signified by nakedness seemed something to be ashamed of. And so, as they were no longer simple, they made themselves aprons from fig leaves, to cover their private parts, that is to conceal their simplicity, of which cunning pride was now ashamed.[1]

And because they were ashamed they hid from God, they tried to conceal themselves from God; the combination of their pride and shame something convinced such a ridiculous notion – hiding from God - was possible.

It is fair to say Adam and Eve rejected their state of original innocence and threw it away. Because they lost that simple innocence in which they were made, they came to fear God, which is why

Man is always in need of liberation from his fears and his sins. Man must ceaselessly learn or relearn that God is not his enemy, but his infinitely good Creator. Man needs to know that his life has a meaning, and that he is awaited, at the conclusion of his earthly sojourn, so as to share for ever in Christ's glory in heaven.[2]


If we are to encounter God when he comes toward us, we must let go of our pride and shame.

But how is it you and I share in the consequences of the original sin of our first parents?

Why do we have evil, pain, suffering, alienation, loneliness, and death? God is not the author of moral evil and human suffering. Death was not in God’s design for man. He did not make the world bent and broken in this way. Darkness descended as a result of Adam’s sin. He was given dominion, and his disobedience had dire consequences. Choices have legs and walk around, so to speak. Satan sneered in wicked glee as he watched death overshadow what God had seen as “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As Wisdom says, “Through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it” (Wisdom 2:24).[3]

Before any of us objects that we are part of the devil’s party, have I ever resisted or opposed God’s will? The answer is certainly yes, which means we are not fully part of God’s party. Adam and Eve rejected God’s will; we, too, reject God’s will. Just as we inherit physical – and even some emotional – traits from our parents, so we have inherited a spiritual fallenness from Adam and Eve.

At the very moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s will through disobedience,

…a spiritual death took place instantly, a separation between man and his God; a second death also began to work in mankind, a physical death in which the body is separated from soul. Other “deaths” also were at work: separation of man from man – Adam blames Eve. Later, Cain kills Abel, and a separation of man from himself so now he lies to and deceives himself; he has fear, loneliness, and psychological problems. Man is separated from nature – harmony with creation is broken, and the physical world now turns a hostile face to mankind. As a result of man’s sin, even the physical creation is cursed and suffers.[4]

Many people find themselves asking why so many tragedies and heart-breaking stories are heard every day – things such as bullying or the abandonment of a child. The answer is simple, even if not quite satisfactory: sin. Men, women, and children choose to listen to the deceptions of the Evil One and close their minds and hearts to God.

If the story simply stopped here, we might be tempted to despair, which is “only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.”[5] But we know how the story ends; we cannot fall into despair because the end is full of hope. We do indeed see the end beyond all doubt, but not as the despairing do. The end, as we said, is contained in the beginning: “…he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel” (Genesis 3:15). The one who strikes at the head is certainly stronger, more powerful, than the one who strikes at the foot. “The colorful imagery foretells a future conflict between the devil and a man born of a woman,”[6] the man Jesus, the Second Adam, born of the Second Eve, Mary. It is what the ancients called the protoevangelium, the first Gospel or even the source of the Gospel. At the very moment mortality doomed humanity, God foresaw the restoration of mankind’s dignity.

There is yet more of the end contained in this beginning, something much more than a mere literary device.

Here in a garden Adam and Eve brought about death at the tree of life through their disobedience. Someday in another garden (Jn 19:41), the Last Adam (I Cor 15:45) and the New Eve will bring about life (I Cor 15:22) at the tree of death (Gal 3:13) through their obedience.[7]

This turn of events brims with hope and brings great comfort to those who ponder it, for it contains the unmistakable profundity of the merciful love of God.

All of this speaks to the purpose of human life, to the very meaning at the core of our existence. We were made to live in communion with God. We have rejected that communion with the Creator. Yet God does not leave us in this state, but goes to great lengths to make a way for us to have communion with him again. We must not reject or resist the means our salvation – the Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus – but must embrace it and him and all that he commands us.

If you want to know why you exist, if you want to know the purpose for which you were born, it is this: “increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks.”[8] Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you. If we live in this way we shall walk again in the garden with God; we shall be with him in paradise forever. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, On Genesis, II.23n

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the French Bishops, 14 September 2008.

[3] Steve Ray, Genesis: A Bible Study Guide and Commentary (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2023), 69.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.

[6] Steve Ray, Genesis, 71.

[7] Ibid.

[8] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 310 To Camilla Unwin, 20 May 1969.