Homily – Sunday OT 15 C


Deut 30:10-14
Ps 19         R/. The precepts of the Lord are right, and give joy to the heart.
Col 1:15-20
Lk 10:25-37


Audio of the Homily.

Today in our Gospel reading we encounter one of Luke’s great parables of mercy — one of the best-known parables of the Bible along with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. I think it’s safe to say that most people know this story by heart.

But knowing it and understanding it are two different things. While this parable touches the human heart of all who hear it, how many of us are moved to imitate it? When we hear it, do we just say, “Yeah, I know that one. Mercy is good; Jesus is good. It makes me feel good”, or do we reflect on it and say, “Wow, that’s really challenging! I generally don’t help people in this way. Maybe I should. With the help of God’s grace I will!”?GoodSamaritan

You see, too often we hear the words of Jesus and our selfishness filter kicks in and we push them to the back of our minds and pat ourselves on the back with reassurances that we’re nice to others and that we nonetheless do ‘good’ things, even if we don’t go as far as the Good Samaritan. But this isn’t enough!

In the last verse of today’s Gospel, Jesus is quite clear, Go and do likewise (v. 37). Jesus wants us to go and show mercy to others, and He doesn’t make it a suggestion, He commands it: Go and do! And as Moses tells us in the first reading, Obey the Lord your God by observing His commandments and decrees (Deut 30:10). To be merciful as God is merciful is a necessary dimension of the Christian life (cf. Lk 6:36)! This has been a central message of Pope Francis’ pontificate and the reason why he’s given us this Jubilee Year of Mercy: we really do need to go and do likewise.

But in order for us to do likewise, we first need to experience and understand the depths of God’s mercy, and that’s also at the heart of this parable.

Jesus gives this parable in answer to a question, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (v. 25). In other words, to inherit eternal life we must be merciful like the Good Samaritan. It’s not enough to just love God; we must also love our neighbour, and this love is expressed first and foremost through mercy.

In the parable, the Priest and Levite — Jewish ministers of God — pass by the half-dead man. Now it’s not that they didn’t see him or that they simply ignored him, or even that they didn’t feel moved by his condition. They most certainly did see him, but they were stopped from helping him because they put themselves and their needs and plans ahead of the man.

You see, in Jewish law, touching a dead body would defile you, make you ritually impure. Had they helped him, the Priest and Levite could not have fulfilled their religious office as ministers, at least for a week or so. They refused to help the man in order to stay pure, to remain ‘holy’ according to the Law. They put themselves ahead of the needy man; they didn’t want to be inconvenienced. They were being selfish, and this is what prevented them from having mercy. It’s this attitude that Pope Francis decries as ‘pharisaic’. Through this parable Jesus calls us not to be concerned about what the needy person believes, how they live, what they think of us, and so on; He just calls us to respond to their needs, and to do so with love.

The Good Samaritan didn’t let the purity laws be an obstacle. Moreover, Samaritans and Jews were sworn enemies, and yet, he was moved with pity (v. 33) for the half-dead man. He was able to see and respond to the needs of the man with mercy and compassion because he understood that the Law of Moses was intended not to make him cold-hearted, but loving. He understood that charity trumps the Law, and so he allowed his love of God to move him to mercy, and was able not only to help the man but also show that he in fact loved God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbour as himself (cf. v. 27).

But the Parable of the Good Samaritan isn’t just a moral lesson; it’s also an allegory of our own life. St. Augustine says that we are the man half dead by the road. Through the devil’s deceptions, we’ve been beaten by sin to the point of death. Jesus is the Samaritan who, moved with pity, picks us up and brings us to the inn (the Church) for healing and recovery through the Sacraments (symbolised by the oil and the wine). It’s Jesus who goes down into the ditch of our sin to carry us out and bring us forgiveness, healing and holiness. This is what Pope Francis means when he says the Church is a ‘field hospital’; it’s where Jesus brings wounded sinners for healing and recovery.

Is this how we see ourselves? Do we see ourselves as wounded sinners, half dead along the road, in need of mercy, healing and forgiveness? Only when we see ourselves as being in need of mercy, of being rescued by Jesus, of being saved by Jesus from sin and death — only then will we be able to turn around and be merciful to those around us.

The Priest and the Levite thought they could achieve holiness by their own efforts in strictly following the Laws of Moses. The Good Samaritan understood that God’s love for him called him to help the man in need. Jesus tells us that we, too, need to recognise our own brokenness, allowing it to lead us into His care and grace, so that in turn we might go out and be merciful to those in need; that in gratitude for the mercy we’ve received from Him, we should ‘pay it forward’, as it were.

As we celebrate this Year of Mercy, may we allow God’s mercy to bring us to repentance, healing and conversion, so that in turn we might go and do likewise, bringing mercy to a world, half-dead and in desperate need God’s mercy, healing and grace. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday OT 15 C

Filed under Homily, Ordinary Time

Homily – Sunday OT 14 C


Is 66:10-14
Ps 66         R/. Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.
Gal 6:14-18
Lk 10:1-12, 17-20


In our Gospel today, Luke recounts the second of three times Jesus sent His disciples on a missions to evangelise. The first was to the Apostles (Lk 9); the third will be during the Last supper (Lk 22).

In each sending out, Jesus uses almost exactly the same language, and He focuses their task on the same object: to make disciples by proclaiming the Good News.

When we examine today’s Gospel text in correlation to the other two commissions, we begin to notice a few key things.

First, we notice that Jesus sends the disciples to prepare His way: [He] sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go (Lk 10:1). The mission of the disciples was to go ahead of Jesus and open the hearts of the people so that when Jesus arrived, they would be ready to hear Him and encounter Him. [C]ure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Lk 10:9). This almost echoes the role John the Baptist had in preparing the way of the Lord.

Second, we notice that Jesus wants His message proclaimed to everyone, no exceptions. In Genesis 10, we hear that there were 70 nations in the world besides Israel. Choosing 70 missionaries is symbolic of their going out to all nations, which Jesus will make explicit in His last words to the disciples before He ascends to the Father (Lk 24:47). The harvest is plentiful (Lk 10:2), and the disciples are to go to everyone who will welcome their words and listen.

Third, we notice that this mission is urgent: greet no one on the road (Lk 10:4). Focus on your mission, Jesus was saying; don’t get distracted. This is also part of why Jesus tells them not to bring anything with them. Don’t worry about your needs, they will only distract you from your work; I will take care of all your needs. This mission was also a lesson in Divine Providence.

Lastly, but most importantly, we notice that disciples are called to progress in the faith. When Jesus first began to preach, many people gathered around Him to listen. As He continued, some began to believe in Him and live according to His words; some even began to follow Him around. The word ‘disciple’ means student, and well describes the beginning of the Christian life. Disciples are called to listen to Jesus, to learn from Him and to follow in His ways.

But in this second mission, Jesus is calling out some of the disciples to advance in their relationship with Him. He calls them to move from being ‘students’ to become teachers themselves, as He gives them a mission to go out and preach the Good News. That’s because there’s a necessary progression in the life of faith to move from merely following Jesus (being a student) to one of announcing Jesus to others (being a missionary).

As disciples we’re called to learn from Jesus, allowing Him to change our hearts and minds. But once transformed, we’re called to grow from being a ‘disciple’ to being a ‘missionary disciple’. Each and every baptised person is called to be a missionary, to go out and help others to know and experience the love of Jesus; this is the basic mission of every Christian! Jesus calls us to Himself so that we might go out!

My brothers and sisters, the sending out of the 70 is our sending out; their mission is our mission. Are we ready to go out and preach Jesus to others? Do we know Him well enough to do that? Do we trust Him enough?

This is what Pope Francis keeps telling us. But in order to embrace this mission, in order to grow from being a disciple to being a missionary disciple, we ourselves must first be transformed by the love and grace of Jesus.

As we ponder this mission today, may we turn to Jesus asking for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that we might grow in faith and in our experience of His love and be faithful to the mission He gives us. Amen.PopeFrancis_Missionaries

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday OT 14 C

Filed under Homily, Ordinary Time

Homily Sunday OT 13 C – Confessions of a Band Geek


1 Kgs 19:16b, 19-21
Ps 16   R/. You are my chosen portion, O Lord.
Gal 5:1, 13-18
Lk 9:51-62


Audio.

As a teenager, I was different than the other kids: I was a ‘band geek’.

Roger_ECMB

Me, May 1994.

Yes, I was big into band: school band, concert band, jazz band… and my favourite of all, marching band; but not the typical kind of marching band, doing parades. No, I was in a ‘hard core’ marching band, and the best part of it was the marching, or rather the drill. We would do choreography, different movements and patterns, on football fields all the while playing our instruments making music. Every summer we’d go on the road for three weeks doing tours and competitions throughout the western U.S., performing for crowds numbering even into the thousands. And we were pretty good: we always ended up in the top three of our tier. It was a blast!

But one of the key concepts I remember learning very early on was that you couldn’t just follow the person in front of you. If all you did was focus on the person in front of you, you were likely to hit them, but you were certainly going to lose the shape you were trying to show. In order to keep your instrument up straight and keep the choreography in step and in flow, you had to know the overall picture of the shapes and look down the line and out toward the boundaries of the fields. This was the only you could keep a straight line or keep the shape flowing. This meant you had to constantly check everything around you, without turning your head, and still keep playing the music. It required a lot of concentration and effort, but especially a lot of training and practice.

In our Gospel today, the Lord is giving us a very similar message: No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). In other words, if you plough looking backwards, you’re going to lose your sense of direction and have crooked rows. That’s because we go where we’re looking: our eyes fix on a point of reference, and that’s where we head. So if you’re looking backward, you can’t plough straight because you’re not looking where you want to go: you lose your proper point of reference.

This is all the more true in the spiritual life. If our life of faith isn’t focused on Christ, then we won’t reach Him. It’s the same message He tells us elsewhere: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Mt 6:21). In the spiritual life, we go toward what the eyes of our hearts and minds are fixed upon. If that’s Christ, then we’ll become holy; but if it’s the world, or distractions or sin, then we shouldn’t be surprised that that’s where we end up, very far from God and grace. With these words, Jesus is reminding us to keep the eyes of our minds and hearts fixed on Him, so as to arrive at our destination of holiness, peace and joy — the Kingdom of God.

But there’s also a second aspect to these words. No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. These words also speak of our conversion process. If we put our hands to the plough, that is, if we turn toward Jesus, we can’t look back to what we’ve left behind. How many times do we encounter Christians who lament that so-called ‘good things’ they left behind in order to follow Christ, or worse, who long to return to those things? ‘Oh, I wish I could lie and manipulate like I used to; I always got my way…’; or, ‘How I wish I could watch porn and have casual sex like others do; it looks like so much fun…’; or, ‘Why do sinners look so happy and free?’.

These questions and attitudes reveal a ‘looking back’ while still trying to plough forward. This is what St. Paul called self-indulgence and desires of the flesh (cf. Gal 5:13, 16f). Not only do they lead us off course, but they also increase our desire for these things and lead us into slavery to them.

But Christ, on the other hand, as St. Paul tells us, has made us free! He’s freed us from our base passions to lead us into the ways of holiness, but we’ll only arrive there through grace if we keep the eyes of our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus. Because, in truth, we haven’t left anything ‘good’ to follow Jesus, we’ve only left what hurt us, what enslaved us, what brought us pain and suffering. If we look beyond the veneer of the so-called happiness the world presents — wealth, pleasure, power, etc. —, we won’t find joy, but only pain, sorrow and selfishness, which lead to death. And this is precisely what the Lord Jesus has come to grant us freedom from: freedom so that we might be able to walk in His path of love. His is the only path that leads us forward to true joy, love, happiness and the Kingdom.

IMG_2710

Carolina Crown, 2004.

May we, then, as His disciples, truly put our hands to the plough of Jesus, and not look back at our old lives with envy or desire, but look forward, earnestly focusing on Christ crucified and walking toward the Kingdom of God. Anything else will leave us bitter, sad and resentful, and God knows, we already have enough people like that in the Church and in the world. What we desperately need today are joyful Christians committed to life in Christ, joyfully walking toward Him in the ways of holiness and love. Only in this way will the world be able to see the true patterns of His love and mercy, and be moved by them to join the ranks of the saints and make joyful music to the praise of God the Father. Amen.

 

*        *        *

For a great example of what we used to do,
check out this exceptional performance and this one.

Comments Off on Homily Sunday OT 13 C – Confessions of a Band Geek

Filed under Homily, Ordinary Time

Homily Sunday OT 12 C – Altar Crucifix


Zech 12:10-11
Ps 63         R/. My soul thirsts for you, O Lord my God.
Gal 3:26-29
Lk 9:18-24


No. 308 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which provides the rules for Mass, states that,

“…either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations…”

 

IMG_2492

Sanctuary, Holy Name Church, Christmas 2016

That’s why, whenever you enter a Catholic church, a crucifix is the focus of your field of vision (or at least it should be).

 

So why an image of this cruel day, of this moment of torture, pain and death? Why not just an empty cross, clean and elegant? Well to put it simply: it’s not the Cross that saves us; it’s Christ! So then, why not an image of the risen Christ? Because it’s by His Death on the Cross that Jesus saves us, a Death He freely accepted. The Cross is His throne of glory! And so a Crucifix is a statement of faith, a proclamation of the divinity of Christ Jesus.

This is made clear in today’s Gospel reading, for as soon as Peter makes the confession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, Jesus begin to talk about His upcoming Passion and Death. And not just any kind of death: but specifically the Cross. The man who never sinned, the man who didn’t deserve to die, was to die a most horrible and humiliating death. And Jesus knew this was to happen; He knew this was His mission.

And it’s this very Passion and Death, along with His Resurrection, that we celebrate on the Altar at every Mass. And the Crucifix is there to remind us of that one sacrifice and of our participation in it. That’s why we gather and celebrate Mass facing the Crucifix; ideally I, too, would be facing it with you, when celebrating, offering with Christ His sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving and worship.

But it’s not just for this reason. In today’s Gospel, as He predicts His own Passion, Jesus also tells us that we, His disciples, must also share in His Passion, because, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading today, as many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal 3:27). We’ve been joined to Him by this wonderful Sacrament; therefore we, too, must take up our cross (Lk 9:23).

We must follow in the footsteps of our Lord, offering ourselves to the Father, growing in discipline and virtue through self-denial, bearing patiently with suffering and persecutions, all the while remaining faithful to the Father’s love for us. This is the only way to Heaven: the way of the Cross.

And no one said this would be easy! That’s why elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus refers to it as the narrow gate (Mt 7:13). But that’s why Jesus spent so much time in prayer, to show us how to do it, and that we cannot do it without Him. So we, too, must spend much time in prayer —everyday —, asking the Father to give us the grace to persevere; asking Jesus to forgive us our sins and strengthen us with His grace; asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom; and asking blessed Mary to comfort us along the way.

But it’s also why we journey as a community, because we’re not alone in carrying our cross. Just as Jesus had the help of Simon of Cyrene, so, too, we have each other to help us along the way. So it’s okay to ask each other for prayers and for help; it’s okay to offer someone a shoulder to cry one; it’s okay to speak of our struggles and ask for advice. In fact, it’s necessary for us to do these things!

This isn’t always easy, and it makes us very vulnerable, but this is how we grow closer to Christ and to each other; this is how we become a community in the true sense of the word: a group of people united to each other in truth, in faith, and in love. This is the way of the Cross; this is the way to Christ.

Jesus isn’t some mere prophet, teacher or leader; He is the Son of God, our Lord and our Saviour. He gave His life for us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8), and He invites us to give Him our lives in return. Through His grace, may we have the courage and the faith to embrace the Cross He shares with us for our salvation. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily Sunday OT 12 C – Altar Crucifix

Filed under Homily, Ordinary Time

Homily – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity


Prov 8:22-31
Ps 8     R/. O Lord, our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth.
Rom 5:1-5
Jn 16:12-15


Audio: soundcloud.com/pereroger

When we examine Scripture and the history of salvation, one of the things that stands out very clearly is God’s desire for us to be in relationship with Him. From the Fall of Adam and Eve to the gathering of the people of Israel to the Death and Resurrection of Jesus until this very day, God is searching out for us, calling us to come to Him so that we might be in relationship with Him.

But not just any kind of relationship. God doesn’t just want to be friends: He wants us to be in communion with Him, to be one with Him. This is the heart of the Gospel message we’ve been hearing for several weeks now, and which, in a sense, culminated in the celebration of Pentecost last Sunday. God want’s us to be one with Him; that’s why He sent His Son Jesus to teach us about Him and His love for us, and to show us how to respond to His invitation; and that why He sent us the Holy Spirit, to make that union possible and to deepen our knowledge and experience of His love and mercy.

Trinity_StainedGlass.jpgAnd this is why now we celebrate this Sunday the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity,
because God is not isolated or alone, but is in His very being a relationship of love. Last year I described to you the notion of the Trinity as a communion of love: the Father is the One who loves; Jesus, the Son, is the One who is loved and who loves in return; and the Holy Spirit is the One who is the mutual love.

In celebrating this great mystery the Sunday after Pentecost, we also celebrate the reality that God wants us to be participants in that relationship of mutual love, in this communion of divine Persons. God created us not to be independent and solitary beings, but to be one with Him. That’s why He created us in His image and likeness: so that we, too, can love as He loves. In fact, loving is at the very core of what it means to be human.

But our capacity to love isn’t to be focussed on ourselves, on being loved. To love means to reach out to the other for the sake of the other, to desire for the other what is good for the other. And this is what Jesus teaches us most perfectly by reaching out to us in our sinfulness and bringing us mercy so that we might truly live.

As disciples this is key for us, because we’re called to imitate our Master. Jesus brought us into communion with the Trinity through Baptism, and He continues to sustain and nourish our union with Him through the other Sacraments. But He does this not just for our individual sake: we’re not united to Jesus just for ourselves alone. Precisely because we’ve been called to share in the life and love of the Trinity, we’re also called to share in Jesus’ mission to bring that same communion to the world.

Love, precisely because it always looks to the other, also always seeks to expand itself toward another. That’s why Mother Teresa wasn’t satisfied to just embrace one dying person, or why missionaries don’t stop after just one conversion. Jesus thirsts for everyone to share in His Trinitarian life, and so must we.

If we’ve truly experienced the love and mercy that Jesus has come to bring, then we need to share it with others; like Him, we need to desire that others may come to know and experience His love for them. This is our mission as disciples.

But we also need to love one another; we need to seek communion with each other as well. As a children’s book once put it, “If Jesus loves me and He loves you, too, then I ought to love you, too”. We need to reach out to each other to build communion, and not just as a closed-off group of mutual affection and appreciation, but as a community that is constantly reaching out to others to invite them in also. This is particularly the mission of the family and of the Parish, because it’s through us that the world will come to know and experience the love of Jesus. By the way that we greet others; by the way that we welcome them and include them, others will come to know that God loves them and wants them in communion with Him. But if we ignore them, give them the cold shoulder or push them away, then that becomes the experience of God we give them. This is why Jesus said, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (Jn 13:35).

When we ponder on this reality of being called to communion with God and with each other, we can begin to get a glimpse into what it means for the Trinity to be a communion of love.

As we celebrate today this great mystery of the God who reveals Himself as a communion of love, may we open our hearts to His invitation, allowing Him to draw us into this communion with Him, so that in turn, we might work to bring others in as well. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

Filed under Feasts of the Year, Homily, Ordinary Time

Homily – Ascension of the Lord C


Acts 1:1-11
Ps 47         R/. God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Eph 1:17-23
Lk 24:44-53


Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord, one of the five great feasts of the life of Jesus. In many parts of the world, this Solemnity was celebrated this past Thursday, the 40th day after the Resurrection, the actual day on which the Lord ascended into Heaven. When this feast is celebrated on Thursday, it’s a holy day of obligation — this speaks to its importance in the life of the Church. In many other parts, like in Canada, we move this Solemnity to the following Sunday. This was done in an attempt to make it easier for people to attend Mass on this feast. While it may have made it easier for people to celebrate this feast, it’s also regrettably obscured its importance. Since it falls on a Sunday, it seems we barely take notice of it. But the Ascension of the Lord is a significant moment in the life of the Church!

Our first reading today, describing the event of Jesus’ Ascension, helps us to see why. As I’ve mentioned before, repetition is always a call to pay attention. In these eleven verses, Luke uses repetition to call our attention to several key themes, but today I want to focus on just two of them: the Kingdom (vv. 3, 7); and, the Holy Spirit (vv. 2, 5, 8).

The ‘Kingdom of God’ was a major theme in the preaching ministry of Jesus. He often spoke of the ‘coming of the Kingdom’ or of the presence of the Kingdom. This was related to the ancient expectation Israel had for a Messiah King who would deliver it from its enemies and rebuild the kingdom of David. This expectation is explicit in today’s verse 6, Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6).

But this notion of a kingdom is more than just a political reality. For the Jewish mind, it included the reunification of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, who had long been divided and scattered (cf. Sir 48:10; Jer 50:19-20; Hos 11:11; Lk 22:30; Acts 26:6-7). It also carried with it the hope that all God’s people would once again be gathered together under His Name and under His sovereignty.

However, as we know, Jesus spoke of a Kingdom that was much different than a political reality. While Jesus’ Kingdom embodied the aspects unity and Divine Sovereignty, its deliverance wasn’t in regards to political powers like Rome or the gentiles, but rather in regards to sin and death. This we discover more clearly through the Passion and Resurrection. That’s why Jesus spoke of His Kingdom as not being of this world (Jn 18:36).

But more than just these two mentions of the Kingdom, the whole scene is full of this symbolism. As St. Paul reminds us in the second reading, Jesus ascends into Heaven to take up His throne at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20-21; cf. Acts 2:33). This is why our feast today is so important: it’s the enthronement of Jesus in the Kingdom of Heaven. First, as He said, in order to prepare a place for us so that He might take us up to the Father’s house (Jn 14:1-3). And second, in order to send us the Advocate so that His Kingdom might be built up in this world (Jn 16:7ff)

This is why the Ascension is necessarily tied to the Solemnity of Pentecost, which we’ll celebrate next Sunday. And Luke makes this link clear in today’s reading: you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now (v. 5).

Jesus’ bodily Ascension to the Father is so that He might bestow on His disciples the gift of divine Life, which is the Holy Spirit (cf. Nicene Creed). It’s precisely through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that Christ will unite His Kingdom, and not just the Tribes of Israel, but all peoples, together as one in His Name, in His Spirit, in His Kingdom, which we call the Church. Luke mentions this explicitly in our Gospel today, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Lk 24:47); and in the first reading, too: You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

And so, my brothers and sisters, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins is the mission of the Church — of all the disciples of Jesus —, until the Kingdom of God is spread throughout the earth and all nations proclaim His Name. Because the great desire of the King is that none should be lost, but that all might be one in Him as He is in the Father (cf. Jn 6:39; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9; Jn 17:20ff). Again, this is why He has sent us the Spirit of unity.

In the mystery of the Ascension, Jesus has not abandoned us or left us orphaned (Jn 14:18ff), but rather has gone up to the Father for our advantage, so that we might be clothed with power from on high (Lk 24: 49) and be united to Him through the gift of the Holy Spirit. And all of this He does, not because of any merit of our own, but because of His gracious and merciful love for us; not for His own profit, but for our sanctification. Jesus is taken up into Heaven so that He might return to take us up with Him and share with us fully the glory that He has in the presence of the Father.

And so, my brothers and sister, you can begin to see now why the Solemnity of the Ascension is an important event in the life of Christ and of the Church: it further demonstrates His love for us, and continues His mission to draw us all to the Father for our salvation.

As we rejoice in this great gift today, may we open wide our hearts to the Lord, asking Him to make room in us for the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw us more closely to Himself, to conform us more perfectly to His image and likeness, and to enkindle in us the fire of His love, for our sanctification and the salvation of the whole world. Amen.

 

Comments Off on Homily – Ascension of the Lord C

Filed under Easter, Homily

Homily – Sunday Easter VI C


Acts 15:1-2, 22-29
Ps 67         R/. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Rev 21:10-14, 22-23
Jn 14:23-29


Have you ever wondered why the Church teaches what she teaches? Have you ever wondered how the Church arrived at her teachings and why she continues to defend and promote them? It’s easy to miss it, but our first reading this Sunday gives us a beautiful insight into the life of the Church and into the historical development of doctrine.

Chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts for us the first major theological crisis in the Church. We’ve been reading it all week at daily Mass, but today we get a summary of the event, which has come to be called the ‘Council of Jerusalem’, the first ever Council of the Church’s Pastors.

The question at hand is about whether one is saved by the Jewish practice of circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses, or by Baptism into Jesus. In other words, do those who want to be Christian first need to become Jews? Some said yes, others said no; and so began the first theological fight in the Church.

This was a major event in the life of the Church. The outcome established a method of dealing with theological problems, gave a specifically Christian direction for the Church, and instituted a benchmark to evaluate future challenges to the teachings of Jesus.

As our first reading indicates, the theological conflict began in Antioch, in the missions, if you will. Certain Christians, former Pharisees (cf. v. 5), were teaching that in order for gentiles (or pagans) to become Christian, they first had to be circumcised and taught to live according to the Law and traditions of Moses. Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them and decided to bring the matter to the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Church’s leadership at the time.

What an inspiration for Paul to have! He didn’t insist he was right, but humbled himself to go to ‘experts’ for advice. Who better to tell us what Jesus wanted and intended than the Apostles? This is now the role of the Bishops. And the ‘elders’? Well that’s just English for the Greek word presbyteroi, also translated as ‘Presbyters’ or ‘Priests’.

Here the Apostles establish a new method of interpreting the teachings of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit: conciliar discernment. The Apostles and elders gathered together in prayer to better understand what the Holy Spirit was saying to the Church, and debated the matter as a tool of discernment. This particular portion of the text is omitted for this Sunday’s reading, but I encourage you to go back and read it. You’ll notice some very interesting points, namely Peter’s authority as Chief of the Apostles (he’s the first to make a formal statement); and James’ authority as Bishop of Jerusalem and host of the Council (he summarises the discernment).

Through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council of Jerusalem set firm in the life of the Church a new course that separated her from the Jewish Religion, establishing a specifically Christian Faith.

After the debate, Peter, based on his experience with the conversion of Cornelius the Centurion (Acts 10) spoke out in favour of the faith: God, who knows the human heart, testified to [the gentiles] by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us; and in cleansing their hearts by faith He has made no distinction between them and us. […] we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (vv. 8-9, 11).

In other words, salvation is through Jesus, not through the Law of Moses; and salvation through Jesus isn’t just for the Jews, but for all peoples. This is the reason why the Church is catholic, or universal. It’s meant for all peoples, not just a select group. It’s for this reason that the Christian Faith continues to spread to all nations; it knows no boundaries. Jesus died for all, and desires that all be saved. This is the purpose and mission of the Church.

The conclusion of the Council is also of particular importance, not merely for the decision that it makes, but for the way it arrived at this decision. After having debated the matter and reached a conclusion through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Council writes to the Church in Antioch (and everywhere): it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us — notice the collaboration with the Holy Spirit — to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well (vv. 28-29).

Through the Holy Spirit, the Apostles established a guiding principle for Church doctrine and discipline that has lasted even unto today: nothing should be imposed on the faithful except what is essential. Throughout the ages, in every controversy, this has been the litmus test used to evaluate the demands of the Faith.

So how did we get from the four precepts listed in this letter to the tome that is the Catechism? Well, there have two thousand years of sinful human history since then, with many, many challenges to the Faith over the years, each of which called for a clearer definition of what is essential. There were questions about whether Jesus was human or divine (He’s both); questions about Mary’s motherhood (She is mother of God); questions about the reality of the Sacraments (i.e., the Eucharist truly is the Body and Blood of Jesus); and so on, and so on.

Though the Bible is important and essential, Christianity is not a faith based on a book; it’s a faith based on a Person, a living Person — Jesus —, who invites us into a dynamic relationship with Him. As such, then, it’s a living Faith that deepens and grows over time. It doesn’t change or abandon its roots, but like a tree, it matures and blooms into the fullness of its nature over time.

I find this reading gives us hope, because if there’s ever anything in Church teaching that we don’t understand — or perhaps don’t like — then we owe it to ourselves to seek to better understand it. Where does it come from? Why does the Church teach this? What does it reveal about who Jesus is, what He’s done, and to what He’s calling us?

My brothers and sisters, nothing in the Church is random or accidental; it all serves a purpose: to proclaim Jesus Christ as the loving God who has come into the world to save mankind. May we open our hearts to the Holy Spirit so that He might guide us in the paths of Christ and into the heart of the Church. Amen.

Comments Off on Homily – Sunday Easter VI C

Filed under Easter, Homily