Monthly Archives: February 2015

Homily – Sunday OT 6 B

Lev 13:1-2, 45-46

Ps 32: 1-2, 5, 11      R/. You are my refuge, Lord; with deliverance you surround me.

1 Cor 10:31-11:1

Mk 1:40-45

Christ cleanses the Leper, Anonymous, Duomo di Monreale (Monreale, Sicily)

Christ Cleanses the Leper, Anonymous, Duomo di Monreale (Monreale, Sicily)

Our Gospel passage for today may well be short, but it’s really quite packed with content. If we take a closer look at it, we can see four different movements that take place: first, the leper begs Jesus for help; second, Jesus heals him; third, Jesus sends him to the priest; and fourth, the healed leper proclaims his good news freely.

Mark is intentional in these different movements, because they’re an important part of the message he’s trying to share with us. That’s because the story of the leper is our story! If we go back to the first reading: for the Jewish community, a leper was considered sick beyond hope, and for the health and safety of others, a leper couldn’t live with the rest of the community. Lepers were to be banished. That’s what it meant for a Jewish person to be unclean; they couldn’t participate in the social and religious life of the community.

As I said, the leper’s story is our story, because each one of us, as a consequence of our sins, has been banished from the Kingdom, from God’s community; sin has made us unclean. But our uncleanliness isn’t a hopeless one like that of the Jewish lepers, because we have access to Jesus, who can heal us.

You see, if you remember, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began His ministry by reading a passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and applying it to His life and ministry. He said: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free (Lk 4:18).

Jesus came to set us free! He came that we might have life and have it in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10). It’s this gift of abundant life that He shared with the leper in today’s Gospel, and it’s this same gift that He so deeply desires to share with each one of us!

So how can we have access to this gift? Well, here’s why the rest of the story is important. First, like the leper, we must ask Jesus to heal us, to free us, to give us new life. Jesus said: Behold! I am standing at the door, knocking (Rev 3:20). He’s right there, waiting for us to open up to Him and invite Him in. Jesus, if you choose, you can make me clean (Mk 1:40). And we know from this Gospel passage and from the Cross, that Jesus doesn’t hesitate to choose to heal us when we give ourselves to Him and trust in His love and mercy. That’s the second movement.

In the third movement, Mark tells us that Jesus sent the healed leper to the priest. This is how Mark shows that Jesus obeyed the Law from the first Reading, and even worked within it. Jesus continues to work in this same way today in the Church. That’s why He gave Priests the power to forgive sins. And so in a sense, we can see in this passage a foreshadowing of Confession.

And finally, in the fourth movement, the cleansed leper shares the joyful news of his healing with everyone. Now at first glance this appears to disobey what Jesus told him: say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest (Mk 1:44). But I think that this is more related to Jesus’ respect of the Law, and that this command is linked to his visit to the priest. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want the leper to proclaim the good news, but that Jesus desired him to give thanks to God for the cleansing before he begins to share the news (cf. Lk 17:11-19).

This applies to us today, too. When Jesus heals us and frees us of our ‘leprosy’, we, too, need to humble ourselves before Him in thanksgiving before we go forth to share the joyful news with others. Because this healing is a gift of God’s mercy, a gift of His grace; one that we did nothing to merit, but that He freely gives out of love for us, and this love needs to be acknowledged first.

But, after giving thanks, we must go out and share with others the joy of our salvation. Being healed and freed by God is definitely Good News, and it should be shared with conviction and zeal. This is our mission as Christians; this is our mission as a people healed by God through the waters of Baptism. That’s why the dismissal at the end of Mass always has some form of ‘Go forth’, because we’re called to go out and proclaim the Good News of our salvation to the ends of the earth, so that others might come to know the healing love of Christ Jesus.

Jesus came to heal and save all people, and He’s chosen to include us in this mission; may we, by His grace, joyfully and faithfully carry it out. Amen.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXVII (Final)

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents.
We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXVII: Chapter VII: Sacred Art and Sacred Furnishings, continued

Abbey church of Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC.

Abbey church of Westminster Abbey, Mission, BC.

Sacred art — music, architecture, paintings, furniture, etc. — isn’t for it’s own sake; it’s always subservient to the Liturgy and to the Faith. It’s purpose is to help us enter more deeply into prayer, to raise our hearts and minds to contemplate the mysteries of God, and to teach us about the Faith. Hence, the nature and purpose of the Liturgy is the measure by which any work of art is evaluated in order to be called ‘sacred’.

These works of art should seek for noble simplicity rather than sumptuous display (no. 124). As the current General Instruction for the Roman Missal explains, the nobility and beauty of vestments, furnishings and art are found more in the quality of their materials and construction than in their outward decoration (see no. 344). The sacredness of these objects comes from their use, not their beauty or value. Nevertheless, these objects should reflect the beauty and value of the sacred actions for which they are used.

Therefore, the laws that govern the provision of material things involved in sacred worship are to be revised (no. 128). Especially those that refer to the worthy and well planned construction of sacred buildings, the shape and construction of altars, the nobility, placing, and safety of the eucharistic tabernacle, the dignity and suitability of the baptistery, the proper ordering of sacred images, embellishments, and vestments (no. 128).

The Council Fathers also insisted that the use of sacred images in churches for the veneration of the faithful be maintained, but that their number should be moderate and their relative positions should reflect right order. For otherwise they may create confusion among the Christian people and foster devotion of doubtful orthodoxy (no. 125). Sacred images are praiseworthy and useful to the faithful, but they’re not more important than the sacred mysteries celebrated in church. There shouldn’t be multiples of the same image (i.e., only one image of Divine Mercy), and there’s a hierarchy among the images themselves: images of our Lord are of the highest importance, then those of Mary and Joseph, then those of the other Saints. Titular or patronal Saints should have a greater importance than other Saints. In the same way, it wouldn’t be logical for the Priest’s chair to be larger and more elegant than the Altar.

Station IV - Jesus Meets His Mother, Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, AB.

Station IV – Jesus Meets His Mother, Chapel of St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, AB.

Consequently, it’s desirable that schools or academies of sacred art should be founded… so that artists may be trained. For, prompted by their talents, [and] desire to serve God’s glory…, [they] should ever bear in mind that they are engaged in a kind of sacred imitation of God the Creator, and are concerned with works destined to be used in Catholic worship, to edify the faithful, and to foster their piety and their religious formation (no. 127).

Seminaries are also to include courses about the history and development of sacred art, and about the sound principles governing the production of its works, so that Priests themselves will be able to appreciate and preserve the Church’s venerable monuments, and be in a position to aid, by good advice, artists who are engaged in producing works of art (no. 129).

This concludes our review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the sacred Council’s first document, and perhaps the one that has most impacted our lives since.

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Vatican Council II – Revisiting its Documents: Sacrosanctum Concilium Part XXV

Looks like i previously missed part XXV…

This is a multi-part series honouring the Vatican Council II by reviewing its documents. We continue with a review of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

Part XXV: Chapter VI: Sacred Music

chantMost people know that music in the Liturgy has been an area of conflict since Vatican II. What they often don’t realise is that it’s actually been a battlefront for centuries. St. Ambrose (d. 397) fought the use of secular (non-religious) music at Mass when musicians were putting Christian lyrics to common drinking songs so that people would sing more. Similar battles occurred in the 1500s. And in the 1800s, operatic music was banned from the Mass, as various composers and divas were turning Mass into concerts and competitions.

Such abuses detract from the prayer of the Eucharist and distort the Mass. Safeguarding Liturgy and preventing such abuses were the primary reasons why it took so long for vernacular hymns (in the people’s language) to be allowed. It wasn’t until Pope St. Pius X defined sacred music and set parameters that vernacular hymns were allowed, but only for liturgies other than Mass (Tra le sollecitudine, nos. 7, 21).

He defined sacred music as music that clothe[s] with suitable melody the liturgical text and add[s] greater efficacy to the text so that the faithful may be the more easily moved to devotion and better disposed for the reception … of grace (Tra le, no 1). It must be holy, and … exclude all profanity not only in itself, but also in how it is executed. And lastly, [i]t must be true art (no. 2). Notice how the text is more important than the tune. Popes Pius XI and XII also wrote about music in the Liturgy.

The Council Fathers at Vatican II built on these foundations: The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. …it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy, meant to [make] prayer more pleasing, [promote] unity of minds, [and confer] greater solemnity upon the sacred rites for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful (no. 112). In other words, music isn’t a decoration to the Mass; it’s part of it. Sacred music is intended to help us better experience and pray the rites and liturgies of the Church.

Pipe organ of the chapel of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal.

Pipe organ of the chapel of the Grand Séminaire de Montréal.

Consequently, the Council Father decreed that while the vernacular may be used (no. 113), [t]he treasury of sacred music is to be preserved and fostered with great care. Choirs must be diligently promoted (no. 114). Liturgical music must be taught and practiced in seminaries, religious communities and Catholic schools (no. 115). Composers and singers, especially boys, must also be given a genuine liturgical training (no. 115).

Gregorian chant [is] specially suited to the Roman liturgy: therefore, … it should be given pride of place in liturgical services. But other kinds of sacred music, especially polyphony, are by no means excluded … so long as they accord with the spirit of the liturgical action (no. 116). This last phrase is the essential guide to discerning what’s appropriate for Mass.

[S]inging by the people is to be intelligently fostered so that … the voices of the faithful may ring out (no. 118). In other words, singing isn’t just for the choir. Rather the choir and the musicians are there to lead, support, and sustain the assembly.  [T]he pipe organ is to be held in high esteem… But other instruments also may be admitted … with the knowledge and consent of the [Bishop], again, so long as they accord with the spirit of the Liturgy (no. 120).

It is the vocation of composers to cultivate sacred music… Let them produce compositions [with] qualities proper to genuine sacred music, not just for large choirs, but also for small choirs and for the active participation of the entire assembly of the faithful. The texts … must always be in conformity with Catholic doctrine; [and] should be drawn chiefly from holy Scripture and from liturgical sources (no. 121). This concludes Chapter VI, Sacred Music. (To be continued…)

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Homily – Sunday OT 5 B

Job 7:1-4, 6-7

Ps 147             R/. Sing praise to the Lord who heals the brokenhearted.

1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23

Mk 1:29-39

dying

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses gives to the Israelites a series of laws and directives. He knows he will die soon, and so he gives them his words of wisdom to help them to follow God. It’s a kind of farewell testament, if you will. In this long discourse, one of the concepts that emerge is what biblical scholars have come to call the theory of retribution.

It basically states that if we obey the commandments of the Lord, God will bless us and we will live in peace and prosperity, but if we disobey God, then we will be cursed by Him and live in hardship and suffering (cf. Deut 30:15-18). Sinners will suffer, but the righteous will prosper. Whether you suffered or prospered, it was because you deserved it. This was an attempt to explain the presence of suffering and evil in our lives. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament, and we even find traces of it in the New Testament.

But the book of Job challenges this doctrine and presents a real shift in understanding. You see, Job, whom the author makes a point of telling us is righteous and beyond reproach, suffers tremendous torments and losses, not because he sinned or offended God, but precisely because he is righteous (Job 1:1, 6-12). His faithfulness to God is tested by the devil, and his sufferings are trials of faith and perseverance. Job suffered not because he did anything wrong, but simply because suffering is a part of life in our fallen state.

With Job, then, the Bible begins a new perspective on the possible value of suffering. In his suffering, Job encounters God in a deeper more intimate way. While he was faithful and committed before, now in his suffering, Job meets God.

Isaiah takes this even further as he speaks of the suffering servant, the special servant of God who will suffer precisely because of his love for and fidelity to God (cf. Is 53).

Jesus ties all of this together in His Passion and Death, as He uses suffering as the means of our salvation.

St. Paul then builds on this to explain how we can join our own sufferings to those of Jesus so as to participate in His act of redemption: I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church (Col 1:24).

Precisely because Jesus shows us His love and saves us through His own suffering, suffering has power and meaning. In fact, we cannot love without pain. The very act of loving, of giving of ourselves to another and making ourselves vulnerable, causes us pain and suffering. But through faith in Jesus, who loves us and died for us, we can give meaning and power to our own suffering by offering it to God as an act of love. By accepting the sufferings that come to us and offering them to Jesus, we can turn them into powerful prayers and occasions of encounter with God.

anointingPrecisely because He knows physical and emotional pain, and that He endured them for us, Jesus is capable of understanding our pain and is present there with us in our suffering. In His compassion, Jesus suffers with us when we suffer. But it’s only by accepting this suffering and opening our hearts to Jesus that we can come to recognise that He is there with us. In this way, then, we’re consoled in our suffering as we experience the presence and closeness of Jesus, and we’re strengthened in faith, in love, and in perseverance. This is part of the message that Jesus gives us in the various healing events of the Gospels, and the reason why He gave us the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: Jesus is closest to those who suffer.

This past Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law that prohibits assisted-suicide in our country. Following the loud cries of a few, it has now made it possible for doctors to kill patients who don’t want to suffer. This should come as no surprise to us, that in a society that’s always looking for pleasure, suffering should be avoided.

Not only does this not respect the dignity of the person, the gift of life given by God, and God’s authority over life and death, it also deprives the suffering person of a special opportunity to grow closer to God. Those who are dying are in a privileged moment of preparation to meet God. Over and over again, as I journey with them in those last months, I’ve seen their hearts change and open to God’s grace and mercy. I’ve seen sinners convert, seemingly faithless people realise God’s love and desire for them, faithful people grow in their desire to be with God, and prayerful people grow deeper in prayer. That time of suffering and dying is a most sacred and special time of preparation to be with God. Murder, no matter what form it takes, deprives the person from that sacred time. And it deprives their families from witnessing this transformation and intimate closeness to God. This is the real sadness in the Court’s decision. And the real perverted part is that they’re doing this under the guise of a right to life.

My dear bothers and sisters, suffering is not useless or undignified; it is human, and it’s a privileged place of encounter with God. As we gather to worship God this Sunday, may we pray for those who are suffering and examine our own relationship to suffering; may we confront our fears and anxieties of death and suffering, turning them over to God, turning ourselves over to His mercy and love, knowing that God never abandons those who trust in Him, those who are faithful to Him; knowing that Jesus and Mary are especially close to those who suffer. When our time comes, may we have the faith to embrace suffering and offer it to God as an act of love to Him and for our families, inviting Him to be with us in our suffering so that we might be with Him in His glory. Amen.

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Following-up on this topic of the importance of the time of suffering and death in relation to faith, readers might find this book interesting: Deathbed Conversions: Finding Faith at the Finish Line.

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