Monthly Archives: July 2014

Homily – Sunday Ordinary Time 15 A

Readings:
Is 55:10-11
Ps 65   R/. The seed that fell on good soil produced a hundred fold.
Rom 8:18-23
Mt 13:1-23
An icon depicting the Sower. In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania.
An icon depicting the Sower.
In Sts. Konstantine and Helen Orthodox Church, Cluj, Romania.
 

Sandwiched between today’s Gospel parable and its explanation, Jesus gives us some puzzling words: ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. […] The reason I speak to them in parables is that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”(Mt 13:11, 13).

It seems here that Jesus doesn’t want His listeners to become His disciples; that’s certainly what the disciples themselves understood. But in a sense, Jesus was testing to crowds: He was testing them to see who cared enough to try and understand His Words.

You see, Jesus wants everyone to be saved (cf. 1 Tim 2:4), but He doesn’t want a ‘superficial saving’. Jesus could just automatically decide that everyone is saved and that would be the end of it; but that’s not what He’s looking for. Jesus doesn’t just want us to be ‘saved’; He wants us to be converted! Today’s Gospel parable is a wake-up call. We can’t simply hear the Word of God and leave it at that; we need to allow God’s Word to penetrate the depths of our being, the depths of our souls; we need to allow it to change our lives, our hearts, our minds. [My word] shall not return to me empty, said the Lord through Isaiah (Is 55:11).

This means, then, that we need to open our ears, our hearts and our minds to receive the Word. We control what kind of soil we are! Are we satisfied to be merely emotionally uplifted by God’s Word, comforted by His talk of mercy, appeased by His words of love? Or are we trying to gain access to His mercy and follow Him more closely? We control what kind of soil we are; we control how much we allow God’s Word to change us. Will we allow it to bear fruit in our lives, or will we allow the seeds to be taken away or be choked?

This is the question that Jesus is asking each one of us today. This is the question the Spirit continues to ask us everyday. What kind of soil are we? Will we bear fruit?

Jesus spoke this message in a parable knowing that not everyone would understand (cf. Mt 13:11-16). But Matthew is careful to tell us that He was speaking to great crowds (Mt 13:2), many of whom were not His disciples. He hid His message so that only those who were seeking the truth, seeking to follow God, would understand Him. In a sense, He was testing to crowds to see who had good soil.

But this question isn’t just about how we respond to Scripture: it’s really about how we respond Jesus, who He is, and to what He’s calling us.

Faith, and the life that flows from it, are rooted in a choice, a choice to follow Jesus; a radical choice to follow Jesus: No one can serve two masters (Mt 6:24).

As we hear these words today, may we ponder them in our hearts; may we examine ourselves to see what kind of disciple we truly are: Are we just listeners, or are we followers who bear good fruit? Are we building our lives on Jesus and His Word, or are we building them on what society tells us?

O God, show us the light of your truth so that we might return to the right path; give us the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ, and to strive after all that does it honour (adapted from today’s Collect). Amen.

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Homily – Sunday in Ordinary Time 14 A

Zech 9:9-10
Ps 145             R/. I will bless your name for ever my King and my God.
Rom 8:9, 11-13
Mt 11:25-30

 

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt 11:29, 30). I think that’s a verse you all know by heart — whoever said Catholics don’t memorize Scripture!

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt 11:29, 30). We all know this verse, and we’re comforted by it: it gives us peace and assurance, even if we’re not always sure what it means. So what did Jesus mean by these words?

First we need to look at what is a ‘yoke’. It’s not a term we use much anymore, because it’s a tool we don’t use much anymore. A yoke is a heavy wooden beam that was strapped on the shoulders of a pair of working animals (usually oxen) so that they could pull an object (usually a cart or a plough), that also allowed the driver could steer them.yoke

Now it’s important that we have this image in our minds when hearing the words of Jesus, because it plays an important part of the literal sense of what He’s saying.

You see, a yoke is meant to do two things: First, it keeps the beast from doing his own thing; the yoke limits his freedom of movement. The ox can’t leave his partner to wander off track; he can’t stop to eat longer or even go at a slower pace. The driver controls the path and the pace, and both animals must work together. This helps them to focus on the task at hand.

Second, it distributes the weight of their cargo. Because a yoke makes the animals work together, it means that one cannot work less than the other. They both need to pull their weight. This makes it easier for each animal to pull something heavy, and allows them to pull something heavier than they could do on their own.

But not every animal is capable of working with a yoke. A stubborn, untrained or ‘independent’ animal won’t be able to accept the limitations of the yoke. They will constantly seek to be freed from it and fight against it. A pair of stubborn animals could be very dangerous for the driver.

Pulling from this literal meaning, Jesus is trying to teach us two things: First, He’s pointing us to the Cross. The Cross is the yoke of Christ. This was the wooden beam to which were tied His hands that He carried around the city. It certainly was a heavy and difficult burden.

But yet, it was also a sweet burden, because it brought about salvation. And, as we see from the Agony in the Garden, it was anything but forced upon Him; Jesus freely chose to accept this yoke and become for us a slave: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want (Mt 26:39).

And here’s His first point: because He chose to accept the yoke out of love for us, it became light. Charity lightens the burden of the yoke; it makes the yoke an expression of love and allows us to give ourselves over to it. Perhaps we should actually say instead that charity is the yoke. Or better yet, that Christ Himself is the yoke!

Jesus’ second point is this: we are not alone! Just as a yoke is carried by two animals, so Jesus is there with us in carrying our Cross. Jesus’ yoke is easy because He’s there helping us. And the best part of this is that He lets us set the pace; He’s the one who matches our pace. In His mercy He slows down so that we might keep up.

My brothers and sisters, to follow Jesus is to carry a yoke, His yoke. And the yoke of Jesus is the Cross of love. Yes there are demands; there are things we must stop doing in order to follow Jesus; there are things we cannot do because we follow Jesus — and sometimes our freedom seems to be limited by this. But when we take the time to look at it, Jesus’ yoke only stops us from doing what would hurt us. Instead, it opens us up to a path of true freedom: not freedom to do whatever we want — that always leads us into some kind of slavery —, but freedom to be and to do what it is we’ve been created and called to be and do, what is right and just, what is demanded by love. Following Jesus is really only a struggle when we fight against His yoke, when we try to stay tied to it but still do our own thing. But Jesus reminds us that we must be docile to the Spirit: learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart (Mt 11:29).

Jesus invites us to let go and abandon ourselves to the yoke of His Cross of love, to give-in to His love for us so that we might be guided by it. He also invites us to let go of our own stubbornness so that we can depend more and more on His grace, on His strength to pull the cart.

Sacred Heart 14When we accept this and repeat His words, not what I want but what you want (Mt 26:39), then His yoke indeed becomes easy and light. Because now it’s an act of love, a companionship rooted in being partners with God. This is what all the Saints have discovered, and what they encourage us to imitate. So the question that remains is, will we take up sweet yoke of Christ and follow Him, too?

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls .For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Mt 11:29-30). Amen.

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Homily – Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul

Vigil Mass:
Acts 3:1-10
Ps 19        R. Their voice goes out through all the earth.
Gal 1:11-20
Jn 21: 15-19
Mass during the Day:
Acts 12:1-11
Ps 34        R. The Lord has set me free from all my fears.
2 Tim 4:6-8, 17-18
Mt 16:13-19

pavel

In our times today, many people want to pit St. Peter and St. Paul against each other. St. Peter, they say, was the Apostle who wanted everyone to obey him; he was authoritarian, that’s why he’s the first Pope: everyone had to listen to him and follow his lead. St. Paul, on the other hand, was independent; he was the firebrand Apostle who was never afraid to speak, didn’t play by the rules, and went wherever he felt the Spirit was leading him. In this way, he was the first Protestant, they say, and a truer disciple of Christ…

Nothing could be further from the truth! In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke clearly sates that the disciples of Jesus were of one heart and soul (4:32). Their union with God translated visibly into a union with each other; this was a hallmark of the early Christian community! Sts. Peter and Paul were no different: both dedicated their lives to preaching Christ and bringing people to repentance and union with God; both laid down their lives for Jesus in the Roman persecutions of Nero (64-68 AD). Both believed with one heart, preached with one heart and died with one heart. It’s for these and other reasons that the Church has held, nearly from the beginning (ca. 258 AD), a solemn feast to celebrate these two Apostles together.

When Jesus first called Peter to become a disciple, it was from the shore, as Peter and his brother Andrew were fishing. Jesus said to them, follow me, and they did (Mt 4:18-20). When Jesus was walking on water, he called out to Peter and said, come (Mt 14:29). Peter himself later even said, Look, we have left everything and followed you (Mt 19:27).

But when Jesus was arrested, and the other Apostles left Jesus, Peter, who had claimed he would follow Jesus unto death (Mt 26:33, 35), followed Him only at a distance (Mt 26:58) and even went on to deny Jesus three times (Mt 26:69-74).

After the Resurrection, Jesus again appeared to Peter from the shore. Three times He asked, Peter do you love me? (Jn 21:15-19). Having said yes, Jesus, once again called him, Follow me (Jn 21:19). And this time Peter did, even unto death. Having experienced the depths of Jesus’ love — Jesus never gave up on Peter, never rejected him, never condemned him —, Peter finally gave himself over to God’s love: Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (Jn 21:17). And because of this abandonment to God’s love, the Holy Spirit was able to transform Peter from a man of fear and denial into one of courage and fidelity. We see this very clearly on that first Pentecost, as Peter preached the first homily and baptised 3000 people.

For his part, St. Paul started out as what he thought was a perfect Jew (Phil 3:4b-6). He was zealous for God and the Law, and strove with all his power to perfectly obey the will of God. That’s why he was able to approve of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), and dedicate himself to stopping the Christians (Acts 8: 1, 3; 9:1-2).

But then Paul heard God’s voice: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). The man who once arrested Christians and would have happily killed them for God, was now awakened to God’s true identity. Paul’s zeal for the Law had blinded him to God’s identity, but God, in His loving mercy, reached out to him and turn his zeal for the Law into a zealous love for God and people. Jesus, in His mercy, called Paul to repent and be an instrument of salvation (Acts 9:15). St. Paul spent the rest of his life helping others to love and follow Jesus.

My dear brothers and sisters, our weaknesses and sins only become obstacles to following Jesus when we keep them away from Him. When we accept Jesus’ love and mercy, and give ourselves over to Him, allowing His love to transform us, our sins become shadows of the past and our weaknesses, sources of strength. Jesus was able to turn an impetuous, quick-tempered apostate and a prideful accomplice to murder into two of the greatest Saints of the Church. He turned their stubbornness and zeal into instruments of salvation for the world, and their bodies into sacrificial offerings to God. If He can do that with Peter and Paul, what will He accomplish with us if we follow Him?

As we remember these two giants of faith — upon whose faith we stand today as Roman Catholics —, may we turn to them for their example and invoke their intercessions, as we strive to give our hearts over to Jesus, so that with them, we too, might be of one heart and soul with Christ and with all believers. Amen.

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Homily – Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Deut 8:2-3, 14-16
Ps 147             R/. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
1 Cor 10:16-17
Jn 6:51-59

 

LastSupperCommunionOn Holy Thursday we celebrated the institution of the Mass and of the Priesthood. Today, we celebrate a special feast in honour of the Holy Eucharist itself, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

The Church has celebrated this feast for almost 800 years now, as a means to remember and celebrate the tremendous gift of the Eucharist. And so this feast, then, is one of great joy and gratitude, because the gift that we celebrate today — the Eucharist — isn’t a mere ‘friendly meal’ or some symbolic sharing of bread and wine; the gift we celebrate with this Solemnity is the gift of Jesus Himself, given to us on the Cross in flesh and blood.

As we hear in during the Eucharistic Prayer at each Mass, Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, Take this … for this is my Body… the Blood of the new and eternal covenant… (Words of Institution). Now every Sacrament in the Church happens through a combination of word and an action — in Baptism, the minister says I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as he pours water on the child; in Confession, after sins have been confessed, the Priest lays his hands over the penitent and says the formula of absolution; in Marriage, the couple give themselves to each other through their vows at church, and then fulfil that gift bodily in the marital act.

The words of gift that Jesus makes of Himself at the Last Supper are fulfilled in body on the Cross, where He literally gives us His flesh and blood for our salvation. When we put these two parts together — the words of the Last Supper and the gift on the Cross —, we have the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

This is the Mass! It’s the gift of Christ made present for us today, so that we might receive from Him that very gift of His flesh and blood, that we might be fed and strengthened by His sacred Body and Blood.

And just as when a husband and wife come together to give of themselves to each other in body, so too, in the Eucharist, Christ’s love for us is expressed and our love for Him is strengthened.

In receiving the Holy Eucharist we’re united to Jesus in the most intimate communion possible in this life. So much so that, through it, we receive His divine life, for now His Body and Blood live in us, and work in us to transform us ever more into His image and likeness. Become what you eat!, St. Augustine used to say.

This is why the Church speaks of the Eucharist as the source and summit of the Christian life. Source, because it’s through the Body and Blood of Christ given to us on the Cross that we’ve been saved; it’s through the Body and Blood of Christ given to us in Communion that we’re made into more perfect disciples and are strengthened to live the Christian life.

Summit, because its through the Body and Blood of Christ celebrated at Mass that we offer to the Father the greatest gift and thanksgiving possible, and through that, experience our most sublime heritage as the people of God; and because through the Body and Blood of Christ, God makes Himself near to us, not just in Spirit, but also in Body.

These are challenging truths that we celebrate today, and they always have been. As we heard in John’s Gospel, many disciples found it hard to believe in what Jesus said: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?, they asked (Jn 6:52); many even abandoned Jesus as He continued to explain how His Body and Blood are true food and drink (Jn 6:66).

The Church continues to profess this same truth today: the bread and wine that we offer at Mass truly does become, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ. And so the Communion that we receive, then, is none other than the Body and Blood of Christ: the same Body which was given up for us on the Cross; the same Blood which was poured out for us on the Cross.

This is the food with which our Lord feeds us on our journey of faith; this is the extent to which He loves us; this is the gift that we celebrate today and receive at each Mass. There can be nothing greater in this life than to witness this miracle of God’s love and to receive this gift for our life and our salvation. This is why the Eucharist is sacred; this is why we celebrate with joy!

The Eucharist is our glory as children of God, and a foretaste of the eternal communion promised us through the covenant of Christ’s blood. May we continue to grow in our love and understanding of this great mystery, so as to better appreciate and adore this wondrous Sacrament. Amen.

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Corpus Christi 101

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (also known as Corpus Christi) is celebrated on the Sunday after Holy Trinity. It’s a special feast in honour of the Holy Eucharist that highlights the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.

‘But isn’t Holy Thursday the feast of the Eucharist’, you might ask? It is, but it’s also the feast of the Priesthood, of the great commandment to serve one another, and of the Agony in the Garden. And since Holy Thursday falls right between Lent and Passion Friday, it isn’t the most favourable time for a joyful festival. These were some of the reasons that St. Juliana of Liège proposed 800 years ago in her repeated appeals for such a feast. In 1264, Pope Urban IV agreed and established Corpus Christi. At the request of the Pope, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote many of the prayers and hymns used for this feast, most notably O Salutaris and Pange Ligua (Tantum Ergo).

This Solemnity has the purpose of inviting the whole Church to celebrate the great gift and joy that is the Eucharist; of renewing and strengthening our belief in the real and abiding presence of Christ in the Eucharist; and of reminding us of the tremendous love God has for us in bringing us into Covenant and Communion with Him through the Body and Blood of Christ given on the Cross.

Each Mass celebrates the Eucharistic sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, and re-presents, commemorates and perpetuates that one single offering, and allows us to participate in it here and now, in our own day, by receiving His Body and Blood, as if we had been there when He was crucified.

For those who have been reconciled to God, receiving the Eucharist unites us to Christ in His sacrifice, gives us a share in His divine life, feeds us to live the life of faith, and sanctifies us so that we might become more and more like Him, whom we receive, and to whom we have been united.

May our worship of this Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood helps us to experience the salvation He won for us and the peace of the Kingdom, where He lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Homily – Most Holy Trinity A

Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9
Canticle: Dan 3:52-56     R/. Glory and praise for ever!
2 Cor 13:11-13
Jn 3:16-18 

Icon of the Holy Trinity at Vatopedion Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

Icon of the Holy Trinity at Vatopedion Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece.

The great St. Augustine spent more than 30 years writing his book De Trinitate [On the Trinity], trying to find a clear way to explain the mystery of the Trinity. The story goes that, one day, while walking by the sea, pondering the mystery of the Trinity, he saw a young boy running back and forth from the water to the shore. The boy was using a seashell to carry water from the ocean to a small hole in the sand.

The Bishop approached him and asked, “My boy, what are doing?” “I am trying to bring the whole sea into this hole,” the boy replied with a sweet smile.

“But that is impossible, my dear child,” said Augustine. The boy stopped, and looked up at Augustine, saying, “It’s no more impossible than trying to understand the mystery of the Trinity.” Then he vanished.

*          *          *

If Augustine, one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, had a hard time understanding the Trinity and putting it into words, then it’s no surprise that we do too, and that’s okay! That’s why today, as we celebrate this great mystery, we marvel at God’s greatness. And we rejoice, too, because in His great love for us, God allows us to participate in His life, in His very Being, in the Trinity!

You see, we began Lent by hearing the voice of God calling us out into the desert. Then we followed Jesus through His Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension. Then last week we closed Easter by rejoicing in the gift of the Holy Spirit. Today, we reflect on that time by rejoicing in God, who’s revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Spirit.

But we rejoice today, not merely in knowledge, but in the experience God. Because God has revealed Himself to us, so that we might be able to participate in His divine life!

The Trinity can be explained briefly in this way: God the Father is, by His very essence, love, and allowing His love to flow from Himself, He begets the Son, who receives this love. But because the Son is also God and shares in the same nature as the Father, He, in turn, overflows with love to the Father, returning love for love. And it’s in this dynamic of mutual love that the Spirit proceeds from them both.

But the really cool part about all of this, is that, through the Incarnation — by joining our human nature to His divine nature — Jesus has brought us into this dynamic communion of love! In Baptism we were united to God — Father, Son and Spirit —, and received a share in His divine life. And that’s what it means to be saved: to have God’s very life within us! That’s why we belong to Him, why He is our God and we, His people. Through Baptism, we enter into the Trinity. And this is God’s desire for everyone; God wants everyone to be saved!

But as we say during the Rite of Baptism, this divine life needs to be “kept safe from the poison of sin, to grow always stronger in [our] heart” (no. 177). Just because we’ve been Baptised, it doesn’t mean that we’ve got a free ticket to Heaven. If we don’t live, here and now, according to this gift we’ve received, then we will lose it; the divine life within us can be killed.

That’s why Jesus gave us the Sacraments: in particular, Confession to heal and forgive us, and the Eucharist to make us stronger. And every time we receive any of the Sacraments — but especially Confession and the Eucharist —, we’re sanctified and increasingly conformed to Christ, and enter more deeply into the life and mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. This — and only this! — is salvation.

This is the mystery we celebrate today, indeed that we celebrate at every Mass, as we marvel at the mystery of the one God in three Persons who shares His love and His life with us. By opening our hearts to the Spirit, and living more and more according to the law of Christ, may we come to share fully in the Father’s life. Amen.

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Holy Trinity 101

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the most profound mystery of our Faith: the Holy Trinity. Now by ‘mystery’, I don’t mean some sort of puzzle or thing to be solved. ‘Mystery’ in terms of the Faith refers to a belief based on Divine Revelation, especially one that’s beyond our full human understanding. So to say the Trinity is the most profound mystery, is to say it’s the most central aspect our faith as Christians: it’s “the mystery of God in himself. …the source of all the other mysteries of faith” (Catechism, no. 234). It’s also the most complicated mystery of our Faith, one that we cannot know by reason alone.

We know about the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – only because Jesus Himself told us about it. He spoke frequently of His Father, and later of the Spirit of truth who would come to teach us (Jn 14:16-17; 16:13). Then there’s the great Commission: Baptise in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19). We find in these, and many other passages, the three Persons of the Trinity: Jesus the Son, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev, 15th century.

But these three Persons are not three separate gods; they’re one God. And they’re not three ‘faces’ or ‘roles’ of the one God, as if God took on different forms to do different jobs. The Trinity is one God because the three ‘Persons’ have the same ‘nature’; they’re consubstantial, as we say in the Nicene Creed. That’s why we call it the Trinity, the ‘tri-unity’, the ‘three-in-one’.

This Tri-Personal Unity can be better understood by looking at how they relate one to another. The Father and the Son and the Spirit all have the same Divine Nature; therefore they are one God. But they differ from each other according to how they relate:

The Father is the source and origin of all things. We call Him ‘Father’ not because He is male, but because everything finds its beginning in Him, and because He is loving to all His children (Catechism, no. 239). As St. John says, God is love (1 Jn 4:8), and love necessarily seeks to flow out of itself toward the object of affection.

The Son is the first object of affection: He is the beloved who is begotten by the Father’s love. It’s this begetting that makes the Father ‘Father’, and the Son ‘Son’. And since God is love in His very nature, the Father has always flowed out to the Son, and the Son has always existed with the Father as the receiver of this love. It’s for this reason that St. John writes: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (Jn 1:1). They are distinct Persons because they relate to one another as Father and Son, as the One who loves and the One who is loved and who loves in return.

The Spirit, in this analogy, is the Love who binds them; the Love which flows from Father to Son, and from Son to Father. And since this exchange of love between the Father and the Son has existed from eternity, so also has the Holy Spirit. While knowledge of the three Divine Persons was revealed to us over time, their existence is from eternity. As the early Church Fathers would say: There was no time when the Father was without the Son or the Spirit. Now you begin to see why it’s the most complicated mystery of our faith.

As we rejoice in this great mystery of God’s divine love, may we contemplate it so as to grow in our love for the Father, Son and Spirit. For more reading, see Catechism, nos. 232-248.

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