Tag Archives: Jesus

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.

 

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

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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.

 

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Homily — Sunday OT 2 C

Wedding mosaic


Is 62:1-5
Ps 96      R/. Declare the marvellous works of the Lord among all the peoples.
1 Cor 12:4-11
Jn 2:1-11


After a short theological introduction, the Gospel of John recounts the first week of Jesus’ public life. On each day, we encounter a different testimony about Jesus: first, it was John the Baptist (twice), then Andrew, then Philip and Nathanael, and then, three days later, Jesus Himself. The first week begins with anonymity and ends with a Marriage feast on the seventh day. This is no accident! John purposefully structured it this way to say something profound about who Jesus is and what He’s here to do.

And John also filled this Marriage scene with a lot of symbolism. In fact, there is so much symbolism here that it’s impossible for me to cover it all even in a long homily, so I’ll spare you that and focus on just a few key points.

Now, the Marriage feast Jesus is attending isn’t just a setting during in which John tells a story about a miracle. It’s actually the reverse: the Marriage feast is the story! And the miracle serves to point to the nature of this feast.

You see, John begins his Gospel with the Wedding Feast at Cana and ends his Book of Revelation with the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (cf. Rev 19:7). In doing so, he frames the relationship of Christ and His Church in a marital context, and he presents the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast. At Cana, John isn’t merely telling us that Jesus and His mother and disciples attended a banquet. No, he’s using an image that we understand to teach us about God’s plan for humanity: we’re to be united with Him as in a Marriage, and when this union is fulfilled — when Christ returns in glory—, our life with and in God will be like a Marriage feast. This isn’t a new image: we find it in the Song of Songs, the Psalms, and in Isaiah, as we heard in the first reading: …as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder shall marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Is 62:5).

Now in the Jewish tradition, a Marriage was celebrated by seven days of feasting. This required a lot of supplies, so you can imagine that when the wine ran out, it would’ve been embarrassing. It meant they hadn’t planned properly or perhaps that they were too poor to supply adequately for their guests. Either way, it would’ve been a moment of shame for the host and the newlyweds: shame when there should be rejoicing.

Well, isn’t this much like our own condition? We, the crown of God’s creation, are insufficient for our own fulfilment. In itself, humanity can’t reach the goal for which God created it: we’re incapable of uniting ourselves to God. Our sinfulness has emptied us dry; our fallen human nature is inadequate to supply for the feast of the Kingdom. This is what Mary brought to Jesus’ attention: they have no wine (Jn 2:3).

Now, water can be seen here as a symbol of human nature: in itself, it’s good and it brings us life, but it’s not enough to satisfy us; it leaves us empty. We see this ever more clearly as society becomes more and more secular. Humanity is finite: we’re mortal, and left to ourselves we have no hope, no joy in this life, only pleasure and distraction.

There’s a wonderful scene in the movie Babette’s Feast where we see this quite clearly. Babette, a Catholic, had put on a banquet of the finest French cuisine for about a dozen people. The guests, who were Protestant Puritans, attended reluctantly but decided they shouldn’t enjoy these ‘pleasures of the flesh’. Having had only wine with the meal, they were relieved to see water served before the last course. Now in this particular scene, we see one of the women eagerly sip from her water only to find, with great displeasure, that it’s flavourless and unsatisfying, so she promptly puts down the water and takes up her glass of wine with a smile.

With Cana, John reminds us that our fallen nature is bland and unsatisfying; we need God in order to be fulfilled, to be joyful, to have ‘flavour’ (cf. Mt 5:13). And this is what Jesus does. In these eleven verses, John manages to summarise the Incarnation: Christ has come to fulfill humanity. The Catechism says,

The sign of water turned into wine … announces the Hour of Jesus’ glorification. It makes manifest the fulfillment of the wedding feast in the Father’s kingdom, where the faithful will drink the new wine that has become the Blood of Christ (CCC 1335).

And so, through this passage, John also begins his teaching on the Eucharist. He tells us that Jesus didn’t just give them wine, but that He gave them the best wine, and lots of it! You see, Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly (Jn 10:10), and John teaches us that it’s through the Eucharist that Jesus gives us this gift of abundant life: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (Jn 6:53).

By receiving Holy Communion in a state of grace and by spending time in Adoration, we acknowledge that our wine has run out, and that we need Jesus’ help. Through His grace, the water of our human frailty is changed into the wine of the Kingdom, and our lives are transformed into a sign of God’s glory, so that His love might be revealed in and through us and that others might come to believe in Him. Because, just as the new wine at Cana was shared with all present, so too is the new wine of our life in Christ to be shared with the world. This is our mission; this is how we build the Kingdom of God. May Jesus turn our water into wine so that His glory may be revealed in us. Amen.

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Homily – Christmas 2015: A Light for the Nations

img_0190

“Nativity”, by Giotto. ca. 1311-1320.

Every year, on this day, churches are full, sometimes overflowing, with so many people. Why? Because our hearts are filled with joy! Children understand this very well. Ask any child about Christmas and they almost leap for joy and excitement, and wait for it with great anticipation. Given the freedom, I think many would give gifts to anyone they could. And this spirit of innocence and joy is contagious. Parents delight in watching the joy, excitement, and awe that their children feel when they open their gifts and play with their toys.

But, as you know, it’s not about the gifts. We don’t rejoice because of the gifts. Rather, the gifts symbolise our joy. We rejoice because of the Gift, the gift that God has given of Himself in His Son, and the love that He’s shown us through Him.

In the darkness of our lives, of sin and suffering, God has come down to us to bring us light and consolation, to bring us hope and salvation. God has come to us to bring us forgiveness and life. This is our joy! This is the cause for our hope! God hasn’t forsaken His people but has lowered Himself to become one of them to lead them from captivity into freedom, from death into life. God loves us too much to leave us in our sin and darkness; He Himself has come to get us. This is His great act of mercy! In the birth of Jesus, the doors of mercy have been opened! This is why we rejoice.

And what joy this Gift brings! We’re no longer under the shadow of evil, but in the light of love, God’s love. And this is what brings us together to celebrate and rejoice in this gift. Now there is hope for the sinner; now there is life for those who are dead in spirit; now there is faith for those who suffer. This is God’s great gift of Himself to us.

This is what we symbolise by giving gifts and lighting lights. We need no longer fear the darkness of sin and death; God has come to set us free. God has revealed Himself to us; He’s shown us His face, and it’s a face of love and mercy; a face that heals and that forgives; a face that brings us light and joy. And not just for a day, or even a season, but for eternity!

By entering into time, by become a man, God has forever changed us; nothing has ever been the same. By taking up flesh, God has married Himself to humanity in a Marriage that can never be undone. And He does this not with power and intimidation, but with gentleness and humility, with weakness and vulnerability. The Almighty has become a little child, weak and poor, completely dependant on His mother and father. He’ll experience fear, temptation, suffering, pain, and even death. And all of this for us! All of this because of His love for us, and for our salvation.

This love, this mercy, that God has shown us in becoming man, this is the light that He brings into our darkness. It’s no accident that Jesus was born in the middle of winter, in the darkest time of the year. When all of creation lies in the death of winter, God has come to bring life.

Jesus gives us this life by the gift of Himself: a gift that began in a manger and found its fulfilment on the Cross; a gift that He continues to share with us today through the Sacraments — most especially in Confession and the Eucharist. And He continues to give us this gift of Himself so that He might be born in us; so that in us, He may once again be made visible. When we receive Jesus in the Sacraments, our hearts are changed, our souls are healed, and His light once again shines in us so that God’s love and mercy may be made visible through us.

Celebrating Christmas, then, isn’t just about an event that took place two thousand years ago that changed the course of history. It’s about celebrating an event that’s still taking place; an event that’s still transforming humanity and all of creation; an event that continues to scatter our darkness so that we might live in the light of God’s love.

And so, as we gather today to rejoice in the gift of the birth of the Child Jesus, may we open wide our hearts to receive this Gift of gifts, this gift of love and mercy, allowing Jesus to shine within the depths of our being so that we might be transformed into a new people, a people who live in the Light of God, a people who live according to the love of God, a people who live as a light for the world, helping others to encounter the love and mercy that God has brought into our lives.

May we always seek — especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy — to be children of the light in the midst of a dark world that so desperately needs to hear and experience the love and the mercy of God. Through Mary and her intercession, may God be with us; may Jesus be birthed in us, so that our lost and suffering world might come to know the joy and hope of His love and mercy. Amen.

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Homily, Sunday OT 27 B – The Bond of Marriage


Gn 2:7, 15, 28-24
Ps 128       R/. May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.
Heb 2:9-11
Mk 10:2-16


Once again, in today’s Gospel, we find the Pharisees placing their trust in their education and intelligence, and trying to trick Jesus. You see, the question they put to Jesus — Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? — was a trick, a double edged sword.

If Jesus said no, then He’d be disagreeing with what Moses taught, and that would make Him a blasphemer. If He said yes, then He’d have to choose His interpretation. That’s because the Pharisees themselves were divided on the matter. Some taught that a man could divorce his wife only for reasons of adultery; others that he could divorce his wife if she angered him (say, if she burned supper or broken something); and still others that he could divorce her simply because he didn’t want her any more. If Jesus answered yes, He’d have to choose one camp and have the other two as enemies. The Pharisees thought they had Jesus in a corner.

marriage-indissolubleBut, like in all other attempts to trick Him, Jesus outsmarts them. Instead of answering their question about divorce, Jesus speaks to them about Marriage: But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:6-9).

Instead of debating whether divorce was lawful or not, Jesus teaches about the meaning and reality of Marriage, and though His answer was short, He makes some very important points.

In making reference to the text of Genesis we heard in the first reading today, Jesus roots His answer in the will of God. God created man and woman, and He created them not for divorce but for partnership and union: This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh… Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gn 2:23, 24).

By creating Eve from the rib of Adam, God created her as an equal: a partner not merely because she is of the same nature and being as Adam, but because she is his equal in matter and dignity. She comes from the same piece of clay, and the rib, being close to the heart, places them side by side, and not one above the other. Therefore, Jesus reminds the Pharisees of the dignity God gave women, and that women aren’t property that can be dismissed when no longer wanted.

In creating man and woman as equals and for partnership, their union as husband and wife isn’t a mere human experience: it’s God’s plan. Therefore, He is the one who binds them to one another in the union of Marriage.

The Church has always understood that in the exchange of vows to each other, a bride and groom give themselves to each other as gifts. They offer each other as a mutual exchange of persons: ‘I give myself to you as husband, and I receive you as wife’, and vice versa. And it’s this mutual gift of self to the other that makes Marriage a sacred covenant, because it’s done in totality: total self for life. The Council Fathers of Vatican II put it in this way:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will … is a lasting one. ~

Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them (Cf. Pius XI, Casti Connubii) (GS, 48 – emphasis added).

By making appeal to God’s plan in creation, this is what Jesus brings into the discussion. Just like Jesus can’t separate His humanity from His divinity, nor can I separate myself into two people, neither can husband and wife break the union they have established through their mutual gift of self. That’s why Jesus concludes, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate (Mk 10:8). And why He insists that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).

Now over the years (and even in our own day!) many have misunderstood this truth about Marriage. Some have used it to keep people in abuse. The Church has never taught that someone has stay in an abusive relationship. In our Gospel passage, Jesus didn’t condemn separation; He condemned remarriage after divorce. Sometimes it may be necessary for someone in an abusive Marriage to live apart from their spouse. This is a sad and painful reality of our sinfulness. But such a separation doesn’t break the marital bond between the two; separated spouses are to continue to understand themselves as married, and to not attempt remarriage. And nor does legal divorce break the bond between husband and wife.

In some cases, though, the consent upon which the mutual exchange was built can be defective; that is, one or both people didn’t truly give themselves to each other. In such cases, the union can be declared null. That’s what we call a ‘declaration of nullity’ (wrongfully called an ‘annulment’); it’s not the Catholic version of divorce, but a declaration that, after careful study of the relationship, the bond of Marriage was never established; it was invalid. If a Marriage is declared ‘null’, then both parties are free to remarry.

This is the reality of Marriage: through the exchange of vows, a man and a woman are joined to each other so as to become one, and this union is for life. This was God’s plan in creating us male and female, that the two should come together for a communion of life and love. And this is a sacred union, one that reflects the Trinity and our union with Jesus (Eph 5:32); and one that’s revealed most beautifully in the Incarnation of Christ and in His Death on the Cross.

Let us pray today, then, for all married couples, especially those experiencing difficulties; for those preparing for Marriage; and for all the Bishops participating in the Synod on the Family, which opens today. Amen.

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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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