Monday, August 26, 2013

Homily - 22nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

22nd Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29  Second Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24   Gospel Reading: Luke 14:1, 7-14


A truly humble person is hard to find, yet God delights to honor such selfless people.
Booker T. Washington, the renowned black educator, was an outstanding example of this truth. Shortly after he took over the presidency of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he was walking in an exclusive section of town when he was stopped by a wealthy white woman. Not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she had requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later revealed his identity to the lady.
The next morning the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington in his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. "It's perfectly all right, Madam," he replied. "Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it's always a delight to do something for a friend." She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.

Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. A major theme of this Sunday’s Readings is the need for humility before God. As a matter of fact, humility is the mother of many virtues, because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. Also, humility has always been one of the characteristics of the truly great. Today, we all are called to be humble, so that we may enter into the Kingdom of God.

In the First Reading of today we hear from the Book of Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus) which is a collection of teachings on how to live in a manner approved by God. Over all, the Book of Sirach places great emphasis on the virtue of humility and shows great sympathy to poor people and the oppressed.
In the short section we hear today, the first two verses advise us to be humble, even when others praise us to the skies - The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord.” When compared to God, no-one is very important, so Sirach says that if you are a great person, you have to work harder to make yourself lower or more humble, because God rewards and reveals his secrets to the lowly, unspoiled person. The lowly person is more open to communication with God, perhaps has more time for it, or has been forced to put his or her trust in God more. Humble people do not deny their gifts and talents. They recognize that their gifts and talents come from God. The last two verses encourage us to listen to those who are wise, and to be generous to those who are in need.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke we see that on a Sabbath day Jesus is gone for a meal to the house of a leading Pharisee. Actually, it should have been an occasion of fellowship. But instead, we are told, “the people were observing him carefully." Surely, they were not observing him out of admiration or curiosity. No, they wanted to see if Jesus on this Sabbath day would put a foot wrong so that they could accuse him. But before they can observe him, Jesus tells them two parables - one addressed to the guests and the other addressed to the host - and gives them a lesson on the basic Christian virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor. One of the elements of the Gospel of St. Luke is that St. Luke often places Jesus in opposition to the Pharisees. This is especially true in their understanding of what the Kingdom of God is, and what Jesus understands it to be.

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet …”
The first parable is a response to the way the guests took their seats. Jesus had noticed “how they were choosing the places of honor at the table." In most formal dinners, the seating is a very delicate matter. Those regarded as important are put near the host and the rest lower down. At a wedding dinner, only a few can share the top table with the married couple and their immediate family. Others will find themselves tucked away in a corner feeling the heat of the kitchen!
But here Jesus reverses the normal procedure and what he says is contrary to the guests' and our experience. Of course, Jesus’ parable is about status and maintaining one’s honor and it is basically just good advice. Instead of seeking places of honor his listeners are advised to go to the lowest place to avoid the humiliation of being asked to move down, with the chance that the host will notice their proper deference and invite them to a higher position. Even if it were just a little higher, one would feel honored by the move, not degraded as if it had gone the other way. However, it is a risky thing to do, of course. One might be left sitting in his lower place! For some, that could even be a social disaster.
Then Jesus makes another turn by invoking the theme of reversal - “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” - and goes on to shatter those very dining rituals that he seemed to support.
When you hold a banquet ...”
After narrating the parable of humility to the guests, Jesus then addresses the host and gives instructions on choosing guests to be invited. Reciprocity and the practice of inviting people of equal status were the twin pillars of ancient dining customs. Jesus rejects this and tells the host, when you throw a banquet don't invite your friends, colleagues and other rich and influential people, who will outdo themselves in returning your invitation. He has rather different advice. When you organize a dinner, he says, invite the poor, the disabled and the disadvantaged.
Again Jesus’ advice is so counter-cultural and also what he is suggesting is a very difficult thing in his period of time. No host in his right mind would think of inviting the people that Jesus suggests to his supper! No one wants to lose his social status by eating with those lower, or with those with a disability. No one wants to risk becoming impure and unable to partake in religious ritual because of it. But Jesus calls blessed those who invite society's outcast, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” The gospel imperative seems to be this: At every table, there must be a vacant seat for the poor, Jesus' representative. It is people who attend to the poor who “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” by the Father.

The wedding feast of the Kingdom:
But Jesus’ parables are always about more than they seem to be. Actually, the above two parables are in reference to the Kingdom of God, which is often compared to or pictured as a 'wedding feast,' a 'heavenly banquet.' The Kingdom of God does not follow the rules and logic of any culture. God’s ways cannot be understood in human terms. In the Kingdom which is one continuous wedding banquet, titles, positions and wealth do not count. What counts is fidelity to Jesus' law of love that embraces even and specially the outcasts of society. They are the ones who will be exalted in the kingdom of God. Having nothing but their ability to trust in God, they will be rewarded in heaven far above those who had position and honor and wealth in the earthly kingdom. In his wedding feast, Jesus seats his guests at the presidential table and he himself serves them, as he did his apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus expects nothing less of us in this life. As such, it is a meal for everyone, not just a private dinner for two by candlelight. All the dishes on the table are for everyone equally. There is enough and more for every single person's needs. It is an occasion of sharing and joyfulness.

Today's Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews describes a dramatic contrast between the Old and New covenants. When God made the covenant with the Israelite people on Mount Sinai, it was a majestic and even terrifying event. But our covenant with God in Jesus is characterized by its intimacy. The risen Christ draws all believers up to Mount Zion, a symbol of God's kingdom, or reign. There, all the angels and saints are gathered in a joyful celebration of love and friendship.
The New Covenant brings about a change in the way we interact with God. He is no longer the one who gives his Law from Mt. Sinai amidst peals of thunder and lightning, but Jesus, the author of the new 'law of love' promulgated by the sacrificial pouring out of his blood on Mt. Zion. The Law to which we must humbly turn our attention and receive is the 'law of love' made perfect in the sacrifice of Christ. It is the completion of all previous revelation and brings it all to perfection.
As followers of Christ, this means living the life he lived, one which was characterized by attentive obedience to the will of his Heavenly Father in all things. He embraced the Cross as his Father’s plan to save mankind. Christ did not humble himself as a mere slave, but as the Beloved Son of the Father, in whom the Father was well pleased. Thus his humility flows from his exalted status as Son of the Father.
Thanks to the incarnation and the establishment of the New Covenant, we are no longer called servants, but friends. The humility we are called to live is in the context of our adopted son-ship, as heirs of the Kingdom. This new status we have as “sons in the Son” gives the context for the new kind of humility and charity we are to live.

In today's gospel, Jesus prepares us with some good advice about ways to be a guest and ways to be a host. As God's guests in this world, we should act humbly and remember that we are always in the presence of Someone greater than we are. As hosts of God's people, we should offer hospitality to those who cannot reward us. Surely, we do not have to leave out our friends and families. But neither should we leave out the poor and disabled.
Again, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the virtue of humility in Jesus’ teaching for those who would follow him. It is essential in order to walk in his footsteps and to receive his teaching in its fullness. Over and over he tells us that, “Unless you become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” We need to be humble not only to obey God, but even to hear His voice and understand His Word.
Moreover, our Gospel Acclamation today says, “... for I am meek and gentle of heart.” Indeed this quality of humility is one for which Jesus himself is very much a role model. We often talk about how Jesus lowered himself to become like us - a God becoming a man! How much more humble could he be?
Today we are called to lead a life of humility and the Gospel makes this way of life explicit in its practical forms: to look upon ourselves as having received everything we are and have from its true source, God, and acknowledge Him as the giver of all blessings. We should choose the lowest place and never think of ourselves as better than anyone else, for all we are is due to God’s grace. This is the way to form our hearts in humble gratitude and to live with that peace of heart that only true Christian humility can bring us. And this is the Good News of today.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Homily - 21st Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

21st Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Isaiah 66:18-21          Second Reading: Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13          Gospel Reading: Luke 13:22-30


Several cotton farmers were whiling away a winter afternoon around the potbellied stove. They soon became entangled in a heated discussion on the merits of their respective religions. The eldest of the farmers had been sitting quietly, just listening, when the group turned to him and demanded, "Who's right, old Jim? Which one of these religions is the right one?"
"Well," said Jim thoughtfully, "you know there are three ways to get from here to the cotton gin. You can go right over the big hill. That's shorter but it's a powerful climb. You can go around the east side of the hill. That's not too far, but the road is rougher and difficult. Or you can go around the west side of the hill, which is the longest way, but the easiest."
"But you know," he said, looking them squarely in the eye, "when you get there, the gin man won't ask you how you came or what religion you believe. He just asks, 'Man, how good is your cotton?'"

Today is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. The First Reading of today presents us with the teaching that the salvation of God is extended to all the nations of the earth and it is our task to 'proclaim his glory among nations,' inviting all to the Kingdom of God. In the Second Reading from Letter to the Hebrews we are reminded that we must persevere in trials, even as God uses them to discipline us because it is the loving discipline of a father with his sons. Finally, we are warned in the Gospel of Luke against presumption and the idea of easy salvation. Salvation is for all, but it involves the hard work of collaborating with the grace of God day in and day out, until the last day of our lives. It cannot be taken for granted. It is a task and a mission.

God chose the Jewish people for special blessings. But this choice was not an end in itself. God selected them to bring salvation to the whole world. This is the theme of the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The prophet stirs up God's people with a vision of how they will participate in revealing God's glory to the world. He mentions several foreign lands around the Mediterranean. Scattered throughout the world, they will spread the knowledge of the one true God. They will attract all people to Jerusalem and its Temple, the symbol of God’s very presence. What a colorful procession! Pilgrims of every race and nation are traveling side by side on horses, mules, and camels. They have been gathered to worship the one true God.
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord was coming to gather all nations and tongues, and how the Lord will even make priests out of them. Today, he invites all of us, you and me, to recognize our absolute dependency upon an awesome God, who is the Lord of all nations, the creator of an incredible universe, the source of everything that is or can be.

Today’s Gospel Reading from St. Luke continues to exploit the rich significance of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem and his rendezvous with God’s divine will of universal salvation.
a)  Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
As Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem with his disciples, someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” It’s a rather curious question. The question reflected the belief of many Jews in Jesus' time that they and they alone were God's 'Chosen People.' For them that meant, on the one hand, that 'gentiles' and 'unbelievers,' people who did not observe the Law of Moses, were outcasts to be rejected by God forever. The salvation of God's People, however, was virtually guaranteed, provided they kept the Law.
But Jesus didn't choose to answer the question directly. Instead he took this simple question – and used it to teach his followers about salvation. He went further than that and stressed the essential facts. How many will be saved isn’t the important thing. The important thing, the one you and I should really be concerned about is, 'How can we be saved?' And this is the question Jesus answers.
b)  “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
Firstly, Jesus says that one has to struggle to enter through that symbolic 'narrow gate' into the kingdom of God - “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”
The implication of the narrow gate is that the passage is not built to accommodate throngs indiscriminately, as a wider entrance would. The narrowness of the door is stressed to express the reality that it is not made for crowds. Salvation is a personal and individual endeavor.
Also, salvation is not easy. It comes with a price. It comes with struggle and pain.
Moreover, the narrow gate is open to all, but only those who seek it are admitted. The kingdom of God is a choice to be made. Indeed, the gift of salvation is not an indiscriminate prerogative. Salvation is for all and God wills to save all, yes, but the divine saving love demands a personal response.
c)  “I do not know where you are from.”
Secondly, Jesus then uses the parable of the locked door to explain to his followers that there is more to being a follower of Jesus than they might think. The parable of the locked door refers to those who tarry in accepting Jesus. Jesus says very clearly that it is not enough to follow Jesus, eat meals with him and listen to him. We cannot claim discipleship by mere affiliation. There is something more that has to be done. Having once accepted Jesus' invitation, each one has to live by his teachings every moment of every day. Those who do not remain faithful to him will be left outside. Jesus is warning people of faith not to take their salvation for granted. What he does say is that salvation is not guaranteed for anyone. 'We are your people' will not be good enough. What Jesus is saying is that no one, no matter who he is, has an absolute guarantee of being saved, of being accepted by God. No one is saved by claiming identity with a particular group or by carrying a particular name tag. So, merely being descended from Abraham, Jacob and all the prophets - as the Jews were - did not count; there is no such thing as national salvation.
d)  Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Lastly, Jesus indicates that many who think themselves respectable or 'high and mighty,' so called 'movers and shakers,' will not be included in the kingdom of God; and many who are considered disreputable or 'looked down upon,' so-called ‘down and outers,' will be included. The list of 'saved' will shock and amaze us. Why? Because God’s ways are not our ways.
A story is told of a wealthy woman who, when she reached heaven, was shown a very plain mansion. She objected. “Well,” she was told, “that is the house you prepared for yourself.” “Whose is that fine mansion across the way?” she asked. “It belongs to your gardener,” was the answer. “How is it that he has one so much better than mine?” “The houses here are prepared from materials that are sent up,” she was told. “We do not choose them: you do that by your earthly faithfulness.”
So, will only a few be saved? But then that is not the issue. For God loves all of us and wills us to be saved. The issue is to discipline ourselves so that we be able to respond faithfully and at every moment to God's call and thus, with His help, attain salvation. This will then serve as the materials we send up to heaven for the house being built for us.

In the Second Reading of today the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks about the discipline of God and raises the age-old philosophical question: why do bad things happen to good people? There’s no satisfactory answer to human suffering and natural disasters, e.g., floods, fires and earthquakes. Some may argue that hardships can strengthen our character, make us better human beings. We’ve heard that expression: no pain, no gain. But in the final analysis, suffering is a mystery. Yet in the Christian tradition, inescapable suffering, accepted with trust in God, and united with the sufferings of Jesus, can be redemptive for others. Why? Because our faith proclaims that the sufferings of Jesus were precisely this: redemptive or healing for all mankind.
When we discipline ourselves, then, with God's grace, we can remain faithful in our following of Jesus. At times we have to struggle to live the Christian life. But God prepares us for the difficulties we will encounter. Like a responsible parent, God must at times discipline us. That discipline may cause some grief. But through it, we learn God's ways of love, justice, and peace.
The problems and sufferings we have all experienced, and will be experiencing, are parts of the discipline we undergo to remain faithful in responding to God's invitation. Discipline and no other is the “narrow gate” through which we enter into eternal life.

In conclusion, three questions can be posed from today’s readings:
First, 'Who is to be saved?' Everyone is to be saved. That is the meaning of the universality of salvation. Jesus does not at all say that only a few will be saved. The whole thrust of the Gospel, and especially of the Gospel according to Luke which we are reading, is that Jesus came to bring God's love and freedom to the whole world. The message of that Gospel is that there is not a single person, not a single people, nation, race, or class, which is excluded from experiencing the love and liberation that God offers. However, the universality of Christ’s salvation is not a guarantee that we will be saved. The mere fact of being baptized does not equate to salvation.
Second, 'How are we saved?' The unequivocal answer is that salvation comes from Christ through his Church. This explains the Catholic focus on the sacraments. The Church is the sacrament of Christ and so she makes available his life-giving sacraments to those of us who have been incorporated into his Body. The role of the Church from the beginning until now is first and foremost to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News.” It explains why the Church is evangelical in her mission.
Third, the Gospel speaks of entering the narrow gate. The question now is 'Are you saved?' The narrow gate indicates that salvation is not cheap. We need to discipline ourselves, use the the things that happen to us to help us grow, rather than get us down. We need to remember that the tested people, the people with the most problems, the last people, may be the ones who get in the door first. Those are the people that will easily slip through the narrow door. Indeed, many are lost because they do not choose the narrow door. They prefer a religion that is not too demanding, one that does not make it mandatory to attend Mass every Sunday. We may be surprised to discover that some who seem less worthy will enter the kingdom before us.
To end, salvation is a gift from a God which must be willingly and fully embraced. Christian life is a daily struggle to rise to a higher spiritual plain. It is wrong to sit back and relax after we have made a personal commitment to Christ. We cannot remain stagnant in our loyalty to God’s kingdom; unless we move forward we shall move backward. And this is the Good News of today.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Homily - 20th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

20th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)

First Reading: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10           Second Reading: Hebrews 12:1-4            Gospel Reading: Luke 12:49-53

A Hindu came to England for his education. He was already married. At Oxford he became interested in the Christian religion, was converted and baptized. He was a young prince, and his first duty on his return to his native land was to tell his father of his new faith. The rage and grief of the parents were great. He was turned out of the house into a cow-shed, and there left, hungry and sad. His mother brought him a dish of the favorite curry he had often longed for amid the strange meals of foreign lands, but before he might eat she had a condition - “Say, I am not a Christian.” He refused and the plate was taken away.
Hungrier and thirstier he grew, and at length, hearing a scratching outside, he found a low-caste man, a sweeper (whom in the olden days, to touch was defilement) offering him water. Now, in spite of his ingrained repugnance, he was thankful to receive it.
The next morning he heard sounds of mourning – it had been given out that he was dead, drowned in the courtyard well – therefore his girl wife was widowed. From the cow-shed he could see her being led across the courtyard in her bright clothes and jewels, then she was thrown down, and they were torn from her, and the rest of the cruel treatment that a Hindu widow receives was dealt out to her; while the boy husband watched, powerless to help.
That night, with the help of the friendly sweeper, he escaped to a mission station near by; later the poor little 'widow' was also discovered, and was brought to Christianity, and the husband and wife were reunited in Christian marriage.
This is what Jesus says in today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke - “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you , but rather division. … a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, … a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Christ comes to us as a challenge. Everyone who follows Christ and keeps his eyes focused on Jesus and the truth of his message in all its integrity, everyone who lives it to the full, will find the world opposes him. Christ himself suffered, as did all the prophets, and we must follow in his footsteps.

Today is the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Scripture Readings of today invite us to consider the struggle and difficulty inherent in being a Christian. The path of following Christ is one of contradiction and difficulty in every time and place, and if we aren´t living with that tension, it is perhaps because we are living without complete authenticity as a follower of Christ. Following Christ should cost us all something dear.

The First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah gives a glimpse of his sufferings in the days before Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. It takes great courage to tell people the truth about themselves when they do not want to hear it. The prophet Jeremiah’s mission to preach repentance to the Israelites often brought him into direct conflict with the powerful elite of his day.
God had given Jeremiah a message for the king that was sadly disregarded. At a time when Judah was a subject state of the much more powerful Babylon, the weak King Zedekiah was convinced by various leaders of the people to form an alliance with Babylon’s enemies and offer armed resistance. Jeremiah strenuously objected and predicted doom if the King did not change his plans. He warned that they would be defeated by the Babylonians and that Jerusalem would be destroyed. The prophet insisted that instead of revolt, repentance of their sinful ways was the only way out of their difficulties. Seeing how his preaching was demoralizing the army, the princes accused Jeremiah of treason and convinced the King to give him over into their hands. Today’s reading describes his fate: First, he was lowered into a cistern and left to die. And then, at the hand of a foreigner who interceded on his behalf with the King, Jeremiah was finally rescued. God never abandons His people.

In the Gospel Reading of today, St. Luke continues his travel narrative, in which he has Jesus instructing his followers on what they should expect of him as his disciples. No doubt St. Luke knows that his readers would be startled by the three important pronouncements Jesus makes in today's reading. At first, we may find these pronouncements difficult to reconcile with the other statements made about and by Jesus. But the very words Luke quotes invite us to understand the paradoxical truth of what he is saying.
As a matter of fact, this Sunday’s Gospel Reading shows us another image of Jesus. This is not the face of a sweet, gentle Jesus. This is the fiery, passionate, and crusading Christ. This is the Anointed One who takes up the struggle for justice. This is the prophet who speaks the word of God even when it hurts. This is the rabbi who stands uncompromisingly for the truth. He spoke the truth and he paid the price.
a) "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were blazing!"
In Jewish thought fire is almost always the symbol of God's judgment on people who either lived by His word or not. Just as fire separates the dross from the gold, keeping the word of God separates good people from bad. So then, Jesus regarded the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgment. The Jews firmly believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another; that the very fact that they were the chosen people of God would be enough to absolve them. However much we may wish to eliminate the element of judgment from the message of Jesus it remains stubbornly and unalterably there.
b) "There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!"
This does not mean that Jesus is to be re-baptized in the Jordan. The word baptism implies total immersion. That is the way in which Jesus uses it here. The cross was constantly before his eyes. So, we link this to the ordeal that awaited him in Jerusalem, as a 'baptism,' where he would be immersed in his suffering and death on the way to resurrection. Jesus does not look forward to his 'baptism' for the pain it brings but for the salutary effects it produces for all of us.
This way Jesus reveals his desire to give his life for us and describes it as a 'baptism,' for he will rise victorious over sin and death and will never die again. In our baptism, we too are submerged into his death and by it we die to sin and are reborn to a life of grace. Jesus wants his burning love to catch in us so we have the same passion and zeal for the Gospel and for the will of God that he did. He wants his message to reach all men and we are his messengers.
c) "Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division."
This is a very puzzling, even alarming, statement, for it seems to contradict the whole message of the Gospel. When Jesus said he has not come to bring peace, he is referring to the peace that was in vogue then in his time; the peace that was the product of war and compromise; where injustice and oppression prevailed. As a matter of fact, Jesus is not opposed to peace. Instead, he is the prince of peace; he came to establish peace that comes from forgiveness. This is the kind he wished his disciples when he told them, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.”
On the other hand, when he said that he had come to bring division, he was talking about the division that his message would bring between those who accept it and those who reject it; between the righteous and unrighteous. There is perpetual conflict, a state of war, between these two groups as one group strives to raise the world up to God and the other to pull it down to hell. These two groups do not live in two different parts of the world; they live side by side in the same neighborhood; they live together under the same roof; and in fact the forces of good and evil often exist together in the same person. By this Jesus indicates that his message would divide families between those who would accept the message and those who would reject it. It is painful to hear the Gospel speak of families being broken up because of Jesus.

In the Second Reading of today from the Letter to the Hebrews, the author reminds the early Christians, and us, of what an authentic Christian life consists, and that even Jesus had to endure opposition and suffering to be faithful to the will of his heavenly Father. We have to live by God's word. Therefore he tells us, “Let us persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Then he adds, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” With these words, St. Paul is asking us to make Jesus our model as we run the race of life. When we run the race of faith, we do not face the hurdles alone. Jesus is there to cheer us on. He endured the cross and its shame in view of the “joy that lay before him.” We should ours, too. He received the glory of his triumph by his obedience to the will of his Father. We would, too, if we live by God's word.
God never abandons his people. He will not abandon us if we fight the war against evil in ourselves and in the world. With this thought, the author of Hebrews encourages us not to grow weary or lose heart. Let us then make our choice for Jesus and reaffirm it daily in thought, word and deed. Then the “joy that lay before him” will be ours.

In the Gospel, Jesus speaks of the division and struggle that will come as a result of his preaching and mission, and the difficulties his followers will have to face. Jesus wants his followers to know the truth. He tells us that, if we truly want to live as his disciples, sometimes we will experience trouble and division. We cannot experience the peace of Christ until we turn away from sin and let God reign in our lives. Sometimes when people chose to do God's will, those they love turn against them. This can happen when people do not fully understand or accept the message of Jesus. This conflict with loved ones is what Jesus speaks of today. Remember that Jesus himself had to suffer rejection from his own.
Today, Jesus is asking us to make our choice: For or against him. There is no in-between, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” And our choice will have eternal repercussions - Live according to his word and we will be assured of eternal life or go against his word and we will suffer the eternal fires of hell. And his word will be our judge, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.”
Finally, every Christian needs to recommit himself to the path of following Christ, "keeping our eyes fixed on him," since he is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." There is no salvation in any other name. Jesus teaches the full truth about God and about man, and though at times it is hard for us to accept, we must pray for the grace to grasp his truth and for the courage to hold on to it no matter what. And this is the Good News of today.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Homily - The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Year C)

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (Year C)

First Reading: Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a  Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:20-27     Gospel Reading:  Luke 1:39-56

A Protestant clergyman was once visiting an orphanage, and the children were each reciting their prayers for him to hear. One little boy who had previously been to a Catholic school, after finishing the 'Our Father,' began the 'Hail Mary.'
No, no!” the clergyman vehemently protested. “We don't want to hear about her – go on to the 'Creed.'”
The little boy did so, but stopped suddenly when he came to 'born of the ….' and said, “Here she comes again – what shall I do now, sir?”

Indeed, we cannot have Jesus without Mary – they can never be separated. Today, we solemnly celebrate the feast of “the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.” Because it signifies the Virgin Mary's passing into eternal life, it is the most important of all Marian feasts and is a 'Holy Day of Obligation.' Celebrated every year on August 15, the feast commemorates that at the end of her earthly existence the Virgin Mary was taken up (assumed) body and soul into heaven, before her body could begin to decay - a foretaste of our own bodily resurrection at the end of time. “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold!”

There is a legend about the Assumption of the Virgin Mary - The tradition holds that Blessed Virgin Mary died in Jerusalem (or Ephesus?) and during the last moments of her earthly life all surviving Apostles were present there except St. Thomas, who was then preaching in India. He then was miraculously brought there and he insisted to see the dead body of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But to everyone's surprise, her tomb was found empty, excepting her clothes.

The Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a 'Dogma.' On November 1, 1950, in his Apostolic Constitution 'Munificentissimus Deus,' Pope Pius XII promulgated as a dogma revealed by God that: “Mary, the immaculate perpetually Virgin Mother of God, after the completion of her earthly life, was assumed, body and soul, into the glory of heaven.” “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold!”
The dogma of the Assumption of Mary is based, according to the Fathers of the Church, on four arguments:
Firstly, Mary is 'the Immaculate Conception' – she did not incur the general curse of sin and so her body was exempted from the general law of dissolution and immediately assumed into the glory of heaven, in accordance with God’s original plan for mankind.
Secondly, she is 'the Mother of God' – there is likeness to her Son, in body and soul.
Thirdly, her 'perpetual virginity' – her body was preserved in unimpaired virginal integrity.
And fourthly, she is 'co-redemptorist;' i.e. she participated in the redemptive work of Christ; therefore, she enjoys the full fruit of the Redemption, which consists in the glorification of soul and body.

Also, the doctrine of the Assumption says that at the end of her life on earth Mary was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, just as Enoch, Elijah, and perhaps others had been before her. It’s also necessary to keep in mind what the Assumption is not. Some people think Catholics believe Mary 'ascended' into heaven. That’s not correct. Christ, by his own power, ascended into heaven. Mary was 'assumed' or taken up into heaven by God. She didn’t do it under her own power.

Today's First Reading from the Book of Revelation and the Gospel Reading from St. Luke both present Virgin Mary as 'the Ark of the Covenant' of the New Testament:
Now, the First Reading begins with the sentence, “God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.” The ark of the covenant is then compared with a woman who is with child and is clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She gives birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with iron rod, who was caught up to God and his throne and the woman herself flies into the desert where she has a place prepared by God. This woman for sure symbolizes the Virgin Mary, who is the ark of the new covenant.
Again, in the Gospel Reading we hear about Mary who now is pregnant, visiting her cousin Elizabeth who is also pregnant, soon after the Annunciation, and there is an agreeing parallelism with the event mentioned in the 2nd Book of Samuel (6:1-23), where King David goes and brings the Ark of the Covenant. In the Gospel we find – (1) John the Baptist leaping out of joy in his mother's womb, (2) Seeing Mary, Elizabeth exclaims, “How can the mother of my Lord come to my house?” and (3) Mary remained with her cousin for three months. Similarly, in 2nd Book of Samuel we see – (1) David dancing out of joy, (2) David also exclaims, “How can the Ark of the Covenant come to my house?” and (3) the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the house of Obededom for three months. Comparing the two events it is evident that the Virgin Mary is the Ark of the Covenant in the New Testament.
Finally, in the Old Testament, the Ark of the covenant contained three things: (1) The two stone tablets received by Moses from God, in which were written the Ten Commandments, (2) Manna, the food the people of Israel received from God during their journey through the desert & (3) Aaron's (the high priest) rod that bloomed. In the New Testament, Mary is the Ark of the Covenant who carried Jesus: (1) whose law of love is encrypted in human hearts, (2) who is the 'Manna' of the NT – the Bread of Life and (3) who is 'Aaron' of the NT– the High Priest.

In the Second Reading of today from the 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, St. Paul speaks about the story of the Fall and Redemption - For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ." That is why we call Christ the new Adam. But as soon as we say that, we become aware of a missing link. The story of the Fall is not only the story of Adam but the story of Adam and Eve. If Jesus is the new Adam, who then is the new Eve? Mary is the new Eve. Just as the full story of our Fall cannot be told without Eve, so also the full story of our Redemption cannot be told without Mary. There is a contrasting parallelism between the old Adam & Eve on the one hand and the new Adam & Eve; viz. Jesus & Mary, on the other:
  • In the OT, the woman (Eve) was created out of the man (Adam), but in the NT the man (Jesus) is born of the woman (Mary).
  • In the OT, the woman (Eve) first disobeyed God and led the man (Adam) to do the same, in the NT the woman (Mary) first said "Yes" to God and raised her son Jesus to do likewise.
  • In the OT Adam & Eve had a fine time together disobeying God, but in the NT Jesus & Mary suffered together doing God's will. The sword of sorrow pierced their hearts equally.
  • In the OT Adam & Eve shared immediately in the resulting consequences and punishments of the Fall; i.e. sin and death. In the new order, in the same way, both Jesus and Mary share immediately in the resulting consequences and blessings of the Redemption; i. e. the fullness of life with God - Jesus through the Ascension and Mary through the Assumption. “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold!”
To conclude, the Scripture Readings of today present the Virgin Mary as 'the New Eve' and 'the Ark of the New Covenant,' who through her obedience to God's will, brought forth the Savior to the world and became co-redemtorist by participating in God's saving work; and she was finally rewarded for this by being assumed into heaven.
So, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is a 'DIVINE GIFT' to her, for her holy and immaculate life. It is her 'GLORIFICATION' by God for her humility, her belief, her acceptance, her hope, her love and her self surrender. It is also the hope of our glorification that if we follow her footsteps, then we too will be glorified like her and be there where she and her son Jesus are. Surely, she is there to help us, to intercede for us and to guide us. On this day when we honor our Blessed mother - May our lives magnify the Lord; May our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, for - “The queen stands at your right hand, arrayed in gold!” And this is the Good News of today.