Homilies: January 2008 Archives

And Again He Began to Teach

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Week of Sexagesima
Third Wednesday of the Year II

Mark 4:1-20

Behold, the Sower Went Out to Sow

Our Lord presents four situations to those who would hear His teaching: (1) the seed that falls on the path, (2) the seed that falls on rocky ground, (3) the seed that falls among thorns, and (4) the seed that falls into good soil.

The Vice of Routine

The seed of the Word falls on the path when it is received superficially. It lies on the surface; the earth does not open to take it in. Satan, like a great noisy flock of birds, swoops down to carry away the seed before it can sprout and take root. The defect here is in the superficial hearing of the Word, in a lack of intentional listening. Routine, that perennial vice of the devout, is the most common cause of this. Routine sets in where there is a lack of vigilance and a certain unwillingness to be surprised by the Word in its newness.

Hear What God Has to Say

The remedy is a lectio that is intentional and intelligent, humble and watchful. “I will hear what the Lord God has to say” (Ps 84: 9), says the psalmist. Listen to the reading of the text, ready to be surprised by the Word. Say, “O God, suffer not that Thy Word should strike my ears without piercing my heart. Open my mind and heart to receive whatever seed falls from the hand of the Sower.”

Fits of Fervour

The seed of the Word falls on rocky ground when it is received in fast-fading fits of fervour. Yes, fits of fervour fade fast. Instability in the face of temptations, contradictions, and failures, prevents the Word from taking root. One must be steady in hearing the Word. Paul’s words to Timothy apply as much to the practice of lectio divina as they do to the ministry of preaching: “in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). The remedy is in meditatio: in the persevering repetition of the Word “day and night” (Ps 1:2). The regular psalmody of the Divine Office is immensely helpful in this regard. Falling steadily, the Word can pulverize even the stoniest of hearts.

The Choreography of Faith

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Week of Sexagesima
Tuesday of the Third Week of the Year I

2 Samuel 6:12–19
Mark 3:31–25

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant that figures so prominently in the First Reading is, according to Saint Maximus of Turin, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Saint Maximus explains that King David’s rapturous dance before the Ark was a prophetic gesture: “In high rejoicing he broke into dancing, for in the Spirit he foresaw Mary, born of his own line, brought into Christ’s chamber. . . . The Ark carried within it the tables of the covenant, while Mary bore the master of the same covenant.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary

The Ark of the Covenant contained the Law; the Virgin Mary contained the Word made Flesh, the living Gospel, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The Ark was resplendent both within and without with pure gold; Mary was resplendent both within and without with the dazzling radiance of her virginity. The Ark was adorned with earthly gold; Mary was begraced with an imperishable holiness.

True Devotion to Mary

Every authentic expression of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is a way of “dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.” The Litany of Loreto calls upon Our Lady by means of this very expression: Foederis arca, ora pro nobis! Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

David was not self-conscious in his dance. He was humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted: figuratively and literally moved by grace. Every encounter with the Mother of God — in the liturgy of the Church, in her images, and in the secret manifestations of her presence that comfort us in this valley of tears — should move us to a similar expression of devotion: humble, spontaneous, and single-hearted.

The Kingdom of Heaven Is At Hand

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Sexagesima Sunday
Third Sunday of the Year A

Isaiah 9:1-4
Psalm 26: 1, 4, 13-14
1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Matthew 4:12-23

Zebulun and Nephtali

The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali (Is 9:1). The day of Midian (Is 9:4). Names of places that are familiar to us, and yet strange. We know them not only from today’s First Reading, but also from Psalm 82: “They plot against your people, conspire against those you love. . . . Treat them like Midian. . . . Make their captains like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunnah” (Ps 82:4, 10, 12).

The Day of Midian

The most obvious connection between today’s First Reading and Gospel is geographical. Our Lord inaugurates His preaching of the kingdom in the very territory signaled by Isaiah’s prophecy. The “land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the land beyond the Jordan” is a half-Jewish half-Gentile region. It is a foreshadowing and type of the Church wherein both Jews and Gentiles will emerge from “deep darkness” (Is 9:2) to contemplate “a great light” (Is 9:2). The cryptic allusion to the “day of Midian” remains. What does it mean?

Gideon

The day of Midian is linked to the vocation and ministry of Gideon; the vocation and ministry of Gideon prefigure the vocation and ministry of Jesus. The seventh chapter of the book of Judges relates that, “the Spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezirites were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. And he sent messengers to Asher, Zebulon, and Naphtali; and they went up to meet them” (Jg 6:34-35). Three things are worthy of note: 1) the role of the Spirit of the Lord, 2) the sounding of the trumpet, and 3) the repetition of the formula, “called out to follow him” (Jg 6:34-35).

Ecce Agnus Dei

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Today is Septuagesima Sunday. This means that we are approximately seventy days away from the Pasch of the Lord. The Church measures all time in reference to the Immolation and Glorification of the Lamb. Take heed, then, lest the beginning of Lent catch you unawares. Already, the Church looks forward to singing "Ad coenam Agni providi — At the Lamb's High Feast." Already, she lives for that joy. The photo shows the sculpture of the Lamb of God in the sanctuary of the Gable Church at the Shrine of Knock.

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Septuagesima Sunday
(Second Sunday of the Year A)

Isaiah 49:3, 5-6
Psalm 39: 1 & 3ab, 6-7a, 7b-8, 9
1 Corinthians 1:1-3
John 1:29-34

Jesus Comes to John

“Behold, John saw Jesus coming to him” (Jn 1:29). John the Baptist lifts his eyes and sees Jesus coming toward him. Can it be any other way? Is not Jesus, then and now and always, the One who comes toward us “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14), “revealing the Father” (Jn 1:18), “the dayspring dawning upon us from on high to give light to those in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:79)? Any movement toward Jesus on our part is, at one and the same time, a free response to His movement toward us and a pure gift of the Father in the Spirit. “No man can come to me,” says Our Lord, “except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him” (Jn 6:44) and again, “Every one that hath heard of the Father, and hath learned, cometh to me” (Jn 6:45).

Benedictus Qui Venit

Prayer begins, not with any movement of ours toward God, but rather with God’s movement toward us in Christ. No matter how early we rise, no matter how long we spend in prayer, Christ Jesus is there before us. His coming is not the response to our prayer; His coming anticipates our prayer and causes it to well up. His coming is not the fulfillment of our desire; His coming is its source. The coming of Christ causes praise to spring up. We sing it in the Benedictus of every Mass: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:9; Ps 117:26).

The Lamb

Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to us as the Lamb. This, Saint John the Baptist knew with the immediacy of sudden recognition, with a certitude born not of reasoning, but of the spiritual intuition that strangely stirs the heart and bends the mind to truth. In a flash of spiritual intuition John looks at Jesus and recognizes the Lamb of the Passover, the spotless Victim whose Precious Blood marks the lintels of the houses of the saved (Ex 12:5). He recognizes the Suffering Servant, the Silent Lamb of Isaiah, “led to the slaughter” (Is 53:7).

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Saturday of the 1st Week of the Year II

1 Samuel 9: 1-4. 17-19; 10, 1a
Psalm 20: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (R. 2a)
Mark 2: 13-17

Spiritual Resurrection

We began reading the Gospel according to Saint Mark on Tuesday. Since then, in four days we have seen four signs of spiritual resurrection. The first was the deliverance of the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum (Mk 1:21-28); the second the raising of Simon’s mother-in-law from her sick bed (Mk 1:29-39); the third, the cleansing of the leper (Mk 1:40-45); the fourth, the raising of the paralytic (Mk 2:1-12). Today’s Gospel continues that sequence. Today too, we witness a spiritual resurrection. Levi, the son of Alphaeus, passes from death to life, from bondage to freedom, from sin to mercy.

Grace and Mercy Granted

Saint Mark, in his account of the call of Levi, employs the very verb used to refer to the resurrection of Christ: kai anastàs. “And rising up, he followed Him” (Mk 2:14). This is more than a mere change of posture; it is change of heart, a resurrection to new life. Levi is given a new name to signify his new life: he becomes Matthew which, according to the Venerable Bede, means “granted,” a name to suited to one to whom Christ has granted heavenly grace and mercy.

Hastening to the Cross

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Wednesday of the 1st Week of the Year II

1 Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-20
Psalm 39: 2 and 5, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10 (R. 8a and 9a)
Mark 1:29-39

Hastening to the Cross

Saint Mark’s Gospel is a series of flashes in quick succession. Saint Mark writes in the style of a news broadcast: one image follows quickly upon another. Each image leaves, nonetheless, a vivid impression on the mind. One of Saint Mark’s favourite expressions is “forthwith,” or “immediately.” Reading Saint Mark’s Gospel just as it is written — and it can be read easily in less than an hour — can leave one breathless. In a sense, from the very first page of his Gospel, Saint Mark depicts Our Lord hastening to the Cross. Everything in the Gospel of Saint Mark is ordered to the mystery of the Cross.

Hospitality

Today’s Gospel contains four episodes. No sooner does Jesus leave the synagogue in Capernaum than we see Him entering the house of Simon and Andrew. “And immediately going out of the synagogue they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. And Simon's wife's mother lay in a fit of a fever: and forthwith they tell Him of her” (Mk 1:29-30). Our Lord lifts her up by the hand — a kind of resurrection — and she goes straight from the sick bed to the kitchen to wait on her son-in-law’s Divine Guest and his disciples. Hospitality.

Healing and Deliverance

Change of scene. The sun has set. There is a crowd at the door. Saint Mark says that, “all the city was gathered together at the door” (Mk 1:33). Just imagine the noise, the anticipation, the pleading. Jesus then heals the sick and casts out many devils. Healing and deliverance.

Contemplation

Change of scene again. A very dramatic one. Saint Mark passes from all the city being gathered at the door of Simon’s house to a setting of solitude in the pre-dawn darkness. “And rising very early, going out, He went into a desert place: and there He prayed” (Mk 1:35). We see Our Lord in prayer. Most of us, I think, would want to linger here with Jesus in this desert place. We would want to hear Him in conversation with His Father and gaze upon His Holy Face. Contemplation.

The Lord, He is God

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How I love this painting by Botticelli (1445–1510)! Saint Jerome is kneeling in his nightshirt in front of his bed. His cardinalatial red hat hangs on the wall behind him. Over his bed is a crucifix with three palms. Saint Jerome receives the Sacred Host from the hands of the priest, Saint Eusebius. Note the beautiful chasuble that Saint Eusebius is wearing, and the apparels on his alb. The most beautiful elements are the painting are the six human faces, all focused on the Body of Christ that a kneeling Saint Jerome is about to receive on his tongue.

January 9

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Wednesday After the Epiphany

1 John 4:11-18
Psalm 71: 1-2, 10, 12-13
Mark 6:45-52

Adoration

How does one discern an authentic spiritual epiphany from something cooked up by our own imagination or desires? First, every authentic epiphany compels one to adore. One cannot experience the Thrice-Holy God without falling to one’s knees (at least inwardly), without humbling oneself, without confessing the sovereign majesty of God. Do you remember what the people did on Mount Carmel, after Elijah prayed and fire descended from heaven to consume the holocaust? “When all the people saw this, they fell on their faces, and they said: The Lord, He is God, the Lord, He is God” (3 K 18:19).

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Yesterday, L’Osservatore Romano contained an article by Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of Karaganda, Kazakhstan. It was an invitation to reconsider the traditional practice of receiving Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. L’Osservatore Romano does not publish mere opinions; one of its functions is to educate Catholics. The kernel of Bishop Schneider’s argument is this: “If some nonbeliever arrived [at Mass at the moment of Holy Communion] and observed such an act of adoration, perhaps he, too, would fall down and worship God, declaring, ‘God is really in your midst.’” Adoration — an adoration that is expressed bodily, that is enfleshed — is the human response to every epiphany of the Divine.

Obedience

Second, every authentic spiritual epiphany calls one to obedience, that is, to conversion of life, to change. After the experience of God, one cannot return to “business as usual.” The Christian life is dynamic. It is movement and it is change, or it is nothing at all. The soul that is not going forward is regressing. This is what Saint Paul means when he says in Second Corinthians that, “we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor 3:18).

Peace

Third, every authentic spiritual epiphany produces peace in the soul. When Our Lord visits a soul by His grace, He leaves behind the impression of a parting kiss, a kiss of ineffable peace. So-called spiritual experiences that leave one in a feverish state of confusion and unrest are not of God. The devil can counterfeit any number of spiritual experiences and charisms, but he cannot counterfeit what Saint Paul calls, “the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding” (Phil 4:7).

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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