Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Homily - Thursday of 33rd week in Ordinary Time - 11/18/10

Dedication of the Basilicas of St. Peter & St. Paul – Luke 19:41-44
         Today, we celebrate the dedication of the basilicas of St. Peter & St. Paul, two of the four major basilicas in Rome.  (The other two major basilicas are St. Mary Major & St. John Lateran – our Church also celebrates the feasts of their dedications as well).  The basilica of St. Peter is perhaps one of the most well-known places of worship in all of Christianity – the current structure began to be rebuilt in the year 1506, but its construction was not completed until the year 1626 under the papacy of Urban VIII. 
         In the context of this feast day, our Gospel reading today take place in the city of Jerusalem, with Jesus approaching this holy city for the last time during his public ministry here on earth.  He is overcome with emotion & starts to weep, knowing in his heart the destruction & calamity that will soon befall the city.  Jesus knew that the ancient Jews have really struggled in order to follow God throughout their history, to practice their faith with obedience, to live out their faith in their daily lives.  Perhaps we also struggle with the same things that the faithful in ancient Israel struggled with in the practice of their faith.  I imagine that Jesus had all this in mind as he wept – the importance of Jerusalem & the Temple to the Jewish people & the practice of their faith, the struggles that the people of Israel endured throughout their turbulent history.  Indeed, the city of Jerusalem & the great Temple were destroyed in the year 70 AD by the Roman forces, not many years after Jesus’ death.   Since the Temple was the center of the Jewish faith, the practice of Judaism changed dramatically after its destruction, since the worship & sacrifices offered there were the life-giving focus of their religious practices.   As we honor the two great basilicas of St. Peter & St. Paul through the feast we celebrate today, as we remember Jesus weeping as he approaches Jerusalem, may we appreciate the opportunity to worship God that we have each time we get together as a community of faith here in this beautiful place of worship.

Homily - Wednesday of 33rd week of Ordinary Time - 11/17/10

Elizabeth of Hungary – Luke 19:11-28
         Today, we hear the familiar parable of Jesus, of the servants who are given gold coins by their master to invest & to use wisely. Yet, one servant hides his coin out of fear & does not do anything with it.  Like these servants, much has been entrusted in us by God: our gifts, our talents, our faith, & God’s holy word.  How do we use all that God has given us wisely & lovingly?  How do we share the word of God with others & proclaim his kingdom throughout the earth?
         We have a great example in our saint for today, Elizabeth of Hungary, who lived way back in the early 13th century & who died at the very young age of 23.  The daughter of the King of Hungary, Elizabeth married into a royal family in a principality in present-day Germany.  She could have lived a very luxurious & pampered lifestyle, but instead she chose a life of penance, prayer, & service.  She distributed hundreds of loaves of bread daily to the poor of her kingdom.  Her husband died in one of the Crusades, & his family tried to take political power away from her.  After her husband’s death, Elizabeth devoted her life to the foundation of a hospital for the poor where she worked serving others & where she died at such a young age.
         We can hide the gifts & the faith that God has given to us – we can use these gifts for selfish & self-centered purposes.  Or, we can do what Elizabeth of Hungary did – following God with our whole hearts & serving him according to his will in our lives.  The choice is ours.  

Homily - Tuesday of 33rd week of ordinary time - 11/15/10

Martyrs of El Salvador – Luke 19:1-10
         How often do we go out on a limb for our faith?  Do we make an extraordinary effort to search for God in our lives & to find the ways he is present to us?  Today, in the familiar story of Zacchaeus, which we just heard in our Sunday liturgy back on October 31, we see Zacchaeus literally climb a tree, to go out on a limb, all in order to find God in his life.  He respond to meeting Jesus, to having Jesus call after him, by conversion & repentance, by offering to give half of his possessions to the poor, by willing to make amends to those whom he extorted money from during his work as a chief tax collector. 
         God calls us in the reality & the circumstances of our lives, just as he called out to Zacchaeus while he was up in that tree.  Today, we commemorate a very stark reality that happened in our own lifetime: the anniversary of 6 Jesuit priests who were martyred in the country of El Salvador in Central America on this date in 1989 at their residence at the university.  These men gave up their lives for the faith in the midst of a revolution & great political turmoil in this poor Latin American Country. In our own way, in the reality of our own lives, we are also called to go out on a limb in order to find Jesus in our own lives & to be witnesses for the faith. “The struggle against injustice & the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one independent of the other”: These are words spoken by Father Ignatio Ellacuria, the superior of that Jesuit community that was martyred.  His profound words challenge us to live out the justice that God’s truth calls us to, a justice that cannot be separated from our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, as we reflect upon today’s Gospel story of Zacchaeus, might ask ourselves this question: How is God challenging us today to go out on a limb & to live out his justice in our lives? 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Homily - 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 11/14/2010

Luke 21:5-19

         We’re in the middle of November right now, which means that we’re preparing for Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks & we’re getting ready for the end of our Church year.  Advent will usher in our new liturgical year right after Thanksgiving, starting 4 weeks of preparations for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas.  Our readings today set the tone for the end our liturgical year & for the beginning of Advent, but perhaps the harshness of the readings is a bit of a shock, with Jesus foretelling the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, warning us not to believe the alarmists & false prophets among us, & alerting us as to the difficult times ahead. 
         Ever since Jesus’ death & resurrection, the faithful have been anticipating the end times that Jesus foretold.  Even though in today’s Gospel we hear Jesus telling us that the end times would not occur immediately, that 1st generation in the early Church believed that the end times were imminent based upon other teachings from Jesus, that the end times would certainly happen in their own lifetime.  Well, here we are, almost 2000 years later, & we are still awaiting the end times.  Yet, in the centuries that have passed since the Gospel of Luke was written, we continue to witness the events that Jesus told us about: wars & insurrections; earthquakes, famines, & plagues.  Look at what has happened to us in our own country in recent years:  we’ve witnessed the rise of terrorism & the attacks of 9/11; Hurricane Katrina will forever be etched in the memory of all of us in Mississippi; & in our own town of Yazoo City, many are still recovering from the tornado that hit here this year. 
         Luke’s Gospel was written soon after the Temple was actually destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, so Jesus’ message of persevering through trials & tribulations would have hit home to the believers in the early Church.  We don’t face the same sort of persecutions today, but in other ways, our faith & our religion also are under attack.  Perhaps indifference & apathy are the greatest enemies of our faith today.  Many seem to take the Church & their faith for granted, thinking that it will always be there for them, thinking that they don’t have to do much more than a minimal effort, that others will take care of the preparations & the hard work & the sacrifices that the practice of our faith requires.  A parishioner I know in Jackson told me that her sons in high school & in college call the mass that is held on Sunday evenings the “last chance mass,” meaning that if they couldn’t fit mass into their busy weekend schedule, they could always make it to the last mass of the weekend as a last resort.  What a difference that is compared to a young man I visited in the county prison here in Yazoo City just a couple of weeks ago, how he had not been able to receive the Eucharist for several months due to his incarceration, how tears of joy streamed down his cheeks for being able to receive communion as a sign of encouragement & hope in such a difficult time in his life.
         It’s important for us to always remember that the kingdom of God has a two-fold dimension: it’s already here with Jesus & his ministry, with the presence of the Holy Spirit & the body of Christ in his Church.  Yet, there is a fulfillment of God’s kingdom that is not yet here, that will be fulfilled at the end times when Christ will come again.  We do not know when he will come, but we can proclaim with certainty that he will come again just as he foretold.
         We prepare for the coming of Jesus in the practice of our faith – we will prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world & into our lives as we will soon journey through the holy season of Advent in a couple of weeks.  Perhaps the message that we can take away from this stern Gospel warning is one of trust: trusting in Jesus, trusting in our faith, trusting that we will preserve through all the trials & tribulations that we have to endure.  We are not to wait for the end times to come in order to find the courage we need to endure – we are to learn from Jesus’ wisdom & teaching, we are to testify & witness to Jesus & his ministry, as we travel along our journey of faith. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Homily - 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 11/7/2010

2 Maccabees 7:1-2,9-14; Luke 20:27-38

(Photo of St. Mary Church, Yazoo City, MS.
Photo taken by Mark Leffler, parishioner of
St. Richard parish, Jackson, MS)

The people of Ancient Israel had questions about what life after death would be like, just as many in our modern world struggle with the significance of both life & death as we live out our earthly existence. Our 1st reading from the 2nd book of Maccabees takes us almost 2 centuries before Christ, when the Jews in ancient Israel were struggling to live out their faith against a occupying Greek government that forbid their Jewish religious practices. A woman & her 7 sons who were arrested by the Greek king; they were subjected to cruel torture in an attempt to get them to eat pork in violation of the laws given to them by God. One by one the sons are put to death with their mother as a witness, but they stand firm, willing to die for the faith of their ancestors. We might not understand how being forced to eat pork would be grounds for giving up our lives, but to this family, eating pork was an act of betraying God. The sons gave up their lives with hope in the resurrection, that the Lord would raise them up after death.

Throughout history, many men & women have given up their lives for the faith, willing to be enduring witnesses to the values & teachings of Jesus. Just a couple of weeks ago, we celebrated the memorial of Jean de Brebeuf & Isaac Jogues, two Jesuit priests from France who were among the first to bring the Gospel to North America in the 17th century in present-day Quebec & New York state. Both men suffered great violence in their ministry to the Mohawk & Huron tribes. Isaac Jogues even had to get special dispensation from the pope in order to continue to say mass, since he lost many fingers from the torture he endured, & under the old rules of canon law, a priest had to be able to pick up the host with his thumb & forefinger. Eventually, both died very violent, painful deaths for the faith. Yet, they came to America with a heart for the missions, knowing the dangers that were present. Even though Jean de Brebeuf & Isaac Joques lived many centuries ago, their witness of faith still speaks so strongly today across time & space; their belief in the resurrection & the new life they have in Christ allowed them to have no fear of death, just like the woman & her sons from Maccabees.

Our belief in the resurrection & the new life we receive in Christ should be the source & summit of our lives. But, like the convoluted situation that the Sadducees posed to Jesus in their questions, perhaps we also have difficulty in fully understanding the connection between the resurrected life that we have after death & the reality of resurrection of Jesus that already brings us new life here on earth. We often see people living in two extremes here on earth. Some in our society seem to think that earthly pleasure is all that matters, that we don’t need faith in God, & can instead live by our own man-made laws & our own man-made code of morality. On the other extreme, some are zealous in the way they live our their religious faith, trying to obey the letter of the law to the smallest detail, but violating the spirit of God’s love & mercy & finding very little joy in the way they live out their faith. When we don’t see the continuity between our lives here on earth & the eternal life that is to come, then we can easily fall into one of these two extremes in our lives. God calls us to see our earthly lives & our lives after our earthly death as one continuous journey in the light of our faith. The values of the kingdom of God in which we live now will guide us & mold us toward our eternal destiny.

St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians that our Lord Jesus Christ & God the Father give us encouragement in the graces we receive in our journey of faith, that our hearts are strengthened by every good deed & good word we undertake for the faith. Paul prayed that we like the Thessalonians be delivered from the perversity & wickedness that can entrap us, that we instead must trust in the way we are instructed in order to live true lives of faith. If the decisions we make in this life are uncaring, unloving, self-centered & superficial, if the way we live turns our hearts away from God, then we are not preparing ourselves in the eternal ways of God’s kingdom.

Paul tells us that God is the God of the living, not of the dead. We can better understand this statement by realizing how our faith shapes us – we become what we believe & what we practice here on earth, & we become what we believe when we enter eternal life in Christ. In our lives of faith here on earth, we are called to live in hope, in trust, & in love. Our faith helps us to let go of our fears, our sins, & our faults. In life & in death, we give ourselves over to God’s love & mercy.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Homily - All Souls Day - 11/2/2010

John 6:37-40; Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 6:3-9

In the great feast that we celebrate today, we remember how the Church has encouraged prayers for the faithful departed from its early days.  St. Augustine, one of our great Church fathers, commented: “If we had no care for the dead, we would not be in the habit of praying for them.”  Out of our Church’s prayers for the dead, today’s feast is traced to a custom started in the influential Benedictine abbey of Cluny, France almost 1,000 years ago, which prayed for the dead on November 2, right after All Saints Day; this practice spread to other monasteries & then to the Roman Catholic Church in general.

We celebrate the feast of All Souls Day as a community of faith, underscoring the frailties, weaknesses, & imperfections we feel as human beings.  We strive toward the perfection to which God calls us, but we often don’t hit the mark.  Our 1st reading from the book of Wisdom reflects the belief that was common in the ancient world, a belief that many in our secular world still hold today, that our human life ends when our bodies terminate their earthly existence.  In our Catholic faith, we’re not afraid to acknowledge that so much remains a mystery to us, that no matter how much we learn about God, there will always be much more for us to learn, so much we don’t completely understand. There is so much about death that remains a mystery.

Yet, the writer of the book of Wisdom assures the faithful: “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, & no torment will ever touch them.”  Death remains a mystery, but we are confident that God is with us both in our earthly life & in our earthly death.  In this mystery, we place our trust in God, in his infinite love & mercy.  In the spirit that came into us in the waters of our baptism, as we died with Christ in those waters & gained new life through him, we continue to be united with the Body of Christ even after the passing of our earthly bodies.  In our reading from his letter to the Romans, Paul focuses on the link between Christ’s death & resurrection & our own baptism, how we enter into the resurrection of the risen Christ. 

Even though there is a sense of mystery inherent in our faith, there is also a sense of reality.  Our tradition of blessing the graves in Yazoo City & Belzoni in commemoration of All Souls Day is a beautiful ritual that is similar to what I witnessed in Latin America when I was a missionary down there.  It is a visual reminder of those loved ones who are no longer here in body but here still with us in spirit, of those who passed down the faith to us.  Moreover, the feast of All Souls Day reminds us that it is important for us pray for the souls of the faithful departed, for the souls who are in purgatory who are awaiting their union with God.  Likewise, it is a comfort for us to know that the faithful departed help us & pray for through their intercessions as well.  

Homily - All Saints Day - 11/01/10

Luke 6:20-31
Our Church’s liturgy takes us through a particular rhythm each year, which is particularly evident to us at this time of the year, since we will soon end ordinary time in just a few weeks, then we’ll enter a new liturgical year with the season of Advent.  Throughout the daily masses that we celebrate in the liturgical year, we recognize certain saints that are placed in our Church’s calendar.  In the variety of saints that our Church celebrates, we see the many different ways that men & women have lived out their Catholic faith throughout the centuries.  Looking at the saints we celebrated in this past month is a witness to the richness of our Catholic faith.  They include: Isaac Jogues & Jean de Brebeuf, Jesuit missionaries from the 17th century who were martyred while ministering to the Huron tribe in Canada; Hilarion, who fled to the desert in the 4th century to follow God in the silence & the solitude he found there; Luke, who wrote the Gospel named after him & the Acts of the Apostles; John Henry Newman, a convert to the faith who became a priest & the most influential Catholic theologian in England in the 19th century; & Therese of Liseux, a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at the young age of 23 in the late 19th century in France, but whose “little way” of following God in the ordinary moments of our daily lives has made her a great witness to many of the faithful in our modern world today.

If we look at the different saints we have in the Church, they are not the rich & the powerful of society.  Many of them weren’t very popular in their own day because of the ways they often challenged others as to how our faith can be lived out, because of the ways they broadened the way we see God working in our world. Many of these saints had great flaws & obstacles to overcome.  Yet, they followed God faithfully, they worked to overcome the obstacles in their lives, they became great witnesses & teachers for us as we go through the ups & downs of our own journeys.

If we look at the people Jesus says are blessed in the beatitudes, it is not the rich & powerful, not the most intelligent & the most popular.  The ones Jesus names as blessed were those who were labeled as “unfortunate” or “desperate” in ancient Israel: the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the persecuted, the despised.  The saints we celebrate in our mass today, as well as the people Jesus names in the beatitudes, may come from a great diversity of life, but what they have in common is their ability to open up to God through their vulnerability & adversity, to be fully human & to take risks in using their lives to serve God & neighbor.  They go beyond their own self-interest in order to place their full trust & reliance on God; they find meaning & significance in their relationship with him.  In our reality, in our vulnerability, in the nitty-gritty circumstance of our lives, we, too, are called to open ourselves up to God, to take that leap we need to make in order to be servants for God.  In the holiness we’re called to follow here on earth, we’re to open ourselves to the values of the beatitudes that Jesus proclaims, to a new way of seeing the world that reflects the values of God’s kingdom.

As we honor the saints today, both those saints who’ve been officially named so in our Church, & the other men & women who’ve truly lived out their faith here on earth, we remember what we pray together in the Eucharist prayer, that we rely on the intercessions of the saints to help us.  May we turn to teach us & guide us as we embrace the cross of Jesus, as we continue to walk on our journey by faith.