Homilies: June 2009 Archives

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This is the homily that I preached this evening at First Vespers of Saints Peter and Paul in our Cathedral of the Holy Family in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Spiritually in Rome

This evening, with the Church's evening sacrifice of praise, we enter into the festival of the Apostles Peter and Paul and bring the Pauline Year to a close. The Vespers hymn given us by the Church would have sing: "The beauteous light of God's eternal majesty / Streams down in golden rays to grace this holy day (Aurea luce). We find ourselves on pilgrimage to the Eternal City; spiritually we are in Rome at the tombs of Peter, the Keeper of Heaven's Gate, and of Paul, the Teacher of the Nations. Describing Rome as the eyes of faith see her, the hymn goes on to say:

O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes' blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified.
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured life-blood's glorious tide.

Grace Abounds All the More

The mere tourist on a Roman holiday, rushing from one attraction to another, and distracted by a wildly delicious assault of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, misses the city's most precious secrets: the mortal remains of Saints Peter and Paul, and the immortal holiness of streets, and stones, and earth soaked in the blood of a host of other martyrs. "But Father," you may object, "I have been to Rome" -- it is rife with sin and thievery." Saint Paul, addressing the Romans, answers, saying: "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more" (Rom 5:20).

A Cascade of Graces

Mystically transported to the tombs of Saints Peter and Saint Paul and enveloped by the liturgy of the feast, we are already standing under a cascade of graces coming down from the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). Every feast in the Church's calendar, indeed every Hour of the Divine Office of every feast, is the vehicle of a particular grace: one coloured by the saint or mystery being celebrated and divinely adapted to whatever our present needs may be.

First Antiphon

The first antiphon, taken from Mathew 16:16-17, is composed of a word pronounced by Peter, and of Jesus' reply. Peter confesses his faith: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Straightaway Our Lord confirms him in his faith: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona." This first antiphon framed Psalm 116 for us: the shortest psalm in the Bible. Psalm 116 has but two verses: a clarion call summoning all the nations to praise the Lord because His mercy over us is confirmed, and because His truth will abide forever.

Blessed Art Thou

If you would enter into the grace of the first antiphon and psalm, make Peter's confession of faith your own, and then listen to Our Lord say to you, "Blessed art thou." If your own faith is beset with doubts, and uncertain in the face of suffering, lean on the faith of Peter and of the Church. Persevere in repeating Peter's prayer -- "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God." Say it even if you feel nothing. Say it even if you think that your prayer is going nowhere. Say it even if you think no one is listening. The mercy of Christ will, at the appointed hour, break through the darkness that surrounds you, and you will hear Him say to you, as He said to Peter, "Blessed art thou."

Second Antiphon

The second antiphon is taken from Matthew 16:18. Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks, saying: "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church" (Mt 16:18). These words, once addressed to Simon Bar-Jona have been repeated to each of his 265 successors as Bishop of Rome. This is the antiphon sung to greet the Pope every time he solemnly enters Saint Peter's Basilica. And this is the text written in monumental letters around the base of the great dome of Saint Peter's.

Pray for the Pope and for the Church

Today, this antiphon opens and closes Psalm 147, a hymn in praise of the Lord who so loves His Church that He blesses her children, places peace in her borders, and fills her with the wheat of the Most Holy Eucharist, the swift-running efficacy of His Word, and the very Breath of His mouth, the Holy Spirit. Both the antiphon and the psalm invite us to pray fervently and gratefully for Pope Benedict XVI and for the Church. Prayer for the Pope is as old as the Church herself. We read in Acts 12:5: "But prayer was made without ceasing by the Church for him [Peter]" (Ac 12:5).

Third Antiphon

The third antiphon is addressed to Saint Paul. It is an artfully crafted composition, made up of Acts 9:15 and 1 Timothy 2:7. This illustrates, incidentally, that the Church is sovereignly free in her use of Sacred Scripture in the liturgy. Guided by the Holy Ghost, she so grasps the unity of the Bible, that she knows how to lift out first one verse and then another. She then reassembles them in such a way that they become a fitting expression of her prayer for all times.

In Acts 9:15, Our Lord appears to Ananias in a vision. When Ananias protests to Him that he wants nothing to do with this hateful Saul, Our Lord answers, "Go thy way, for this man is to me a vessel of election" (Ac 9:15). That is the first part of the antiphon. In the second part -- 2 Timothy 2:7 -- Paul boasts of his divinely conferred credentials: "I am appointed a preacher and an apostle, (I say the truth, I lie not,) a doctor of the Gentiles in faith and truth."

Grace

This antiphon opens and closes a canticle that Saint Paul either composed or learned from hearing it sung in the assemblies of the Church. It is a song of praise and thanksgiving, glorifying God the Father for having chosen us in Christ, His Beloved Son, for the praise of His glorious grace. In this canticle, grace is the keyword. Grace is the graciousness of God in action, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace is what changed Saul into Paul, making him God's vessel of election, and the preacher of the truth in the world. Grace is what will change us from what we are -- frail, broken sinners -- into the saints God wants us to be forever. Hold fast to the Our Lord's own words to Saint Paul: "My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in infirmity" (2 Cor 12:9).

The Reading

It comes as no surprise that the short lesson this evening should be from Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It is, in fact, the salutation from the very beginning of his letter: "To all that are at Rome -- and, spiritually, we are there this evening -- the beloved of God called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 1:7). This is a greeting that delivers what it wishes. It is the word of God uttered in the midst of the Church: no vapid sentimentality here, but rather the efficacious Word of God sent like a flaming arrow into the hearts of those who hear it.

The Responsory

The Reponsory tells us that the Apostles spoke the Word of God with confidence and boldness, bearing witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Latin text has cum fiducia, with assurance, confidence, and trust. Trust in whom? Trust in our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit. "I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever" (Jn 14:16). There is no reason then to be timid and shrinking about our Catholic faith, even in an intimidating culture that mocks it, rejects the hope it offers, and would have us dilute it. Apostolic Catholic Christianity is to be lived cum fiducia, with confidence, and boldly.

Magnificat Antiphon

The Magnificat Antiphon will have us sing: "The glorious Apostles of Christ, just as they loved each other in life, so too, are they not separated in death." Did Peter and Paul love each other? Yes. Did they always agree about everything? No. It is this that makes their fraternal love credible, even more compelling. What was this charity with which they loved each other? It is the charity that Saint Paul describes in First Corinthians: a charity that is patient, is kind, that envieth not, that dealeth not perversely, and that is not puffed up; a charity that is not ambitious, that seeketh not her own, that is not provoked to anger; a charity that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, and endureth all things" (1 Cor 13:4-7).

The Collect

The Collect, in its own way, tells us quite a lot about God and about ourselves. It is proper to this evening and different from the one that we will hear at Mass and at the Hours tomorrow:

Give us, we beseech Thee, O Lord our God,
to be lifted up by the intercession of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
so that through them to whom Thou gavest Thy Church
the first proofs of heavenly gifts,
Thou wouldst provide us with helps for everlasting salvation.

We pray to God as a people in need of being lifted up. We are fallen and falling . . . but God is ever ready to lift us up. Today He does so by the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul. Both of them knew what it is to fall. . . and to fall in a spectacular way. Now, in the glory of heaven, they are well placed to help us rise from the sin that, again and again, knocks us down. In the beginning, God gave Saints Peter and Paul signs and demonstrations of His heavenly protection; what He did for them in the first days of the Church, He is ready to do for us in 2009, at this end of the Year of Saint Paul and beginning of the Year of the Priest.

A Lamp to Our Feet

Under Saint Peter's watchful eye, Saint Paul is handing the torch to Saint John Mary Vianney, the Curé d'Ars. Pray that this torch be for all of us, but especially for the priests of our diocese of Tulsa, "a lamp to our feet, and a light to our paths" (Ps 118:105).

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Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
[Thirteenth Sunday Per Annum B]

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

A Story of Two Healings

Two miracles. Two women. The first is a twelve year old girl with all the promise of life before her, the other, a woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering. Saint Mark intertwines the stories of the one and of the other. The connection is not merely coincidental, it is complementary. The underlying message is found precisely by taking both stories together.

Faith and the Power of God

Neither Jairus' twelve year old daughter, already at the point of death when he approaches Jesus, nor the woman with the twelve year hemorrhage can be helped by human means. Both are beyond the pale of what medical science can do. Both will be saved by the conjunction of Jesus' divine power with the power of faith. In the case of the sick woman, it is her own faith, a faith at once timid and bold. In the case of the girl, it is her father's faith, the faith of a distraught parent at the bedside of a dying child.

The Number Twelve

You may have remarked that the girl is twelve years old, and that the woman has suffered her affliction for twelve years. Saint Mark did not choose these two numbers at random. As is so often the case in the Bible, these numbers are charged with meaning and with mystery. In Sacred Scripture, the number twelve signifies fulfillment, completion.

In Saint Luke's gospel, Jesus uttered His first prophecy at the age of twelve (Lk 2:42, 49). Jesus calls twelve apostles to signify the arrival of the fullness of time and the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mt 10:1 15). After the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, twelve baskets remain, "full of broken pieces and of the fish" (Mk 6:43).

The glorious completion of all things at the end of time is imaged by the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, with twelve angels as gatekeepers. The gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the city has twelve foundations, inscribed with the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Ap 21:14). The woman of the book of the Apocalypse (an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Church), is crowned with twelve stars (Ap 12:1), and the tree of life that flourishes in the heavenly city yields twelve kinds of fruit, one for each of the twelve months of the year (Rev 22:2).

Finally, we know that for Jesus the day is made up of twelve hours; in Saint John's gospel, He says, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (Jn 11:9). What is Saint Mark trying to say by his symbolic use of the number twelve in today's gospel?

The Fullness of Time

These two miracles are more than the benevolent gestures of a faith-healing rabbi. They are more than the revelation of Jesus' compassion in the face of human suffering. They signify the arrival of the fullness of time, the completion of God's plan of salvation--and salvation means the restoration of health, of wholeness--in Christ. Saint Mark's use of the number twelve is a way of crying out, "At last, at last, God has kept His promises! The Messiah, the Christ of all our desires and longings is here!"

She Suffered Under Many Physicians

The woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering is an image of humankind from the fall of Adam and Eve to the coming of Christ, a history of blood and of tears, a history of oppression, violence, and disease. The woman of the gospel "had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse" (Mk 5:26). So too, had humanity suffered much under many physicians. Various philosophies, political systems, and kingdoms had come and gone, leaving, in their wake, a bitter trail of cynicism and disappointment. Societies and individuals spent all that they had, and were no better, but rather grew worse.

Blood is Life

The woman of the gospel comes to Jesus as to her last recourse. Having lost everything, her life was wasting away; that is the significance of her flow of blood. Life was seeping out of her! She was being drained of all vitality! For the people of the Bible blood is life. She felt herself sinking slowly, inexorably, into the pit of despondency.

Touching God

Then, timid and fearful, a veiled, stooped figure in the crowd, she approaches Jesus from behind, not daring to speak, but bold in reaching out to touch the hem of His garment. In faith, she touches, not the hem of a wandering, wonder-working rabbi's garment, but the very mystery of God. Power surges from Jesus, divine energy goes forth. In a single instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years.

Little Girl, Arise

Jairus' twelve year old daughter is on the threshold of womanhood; she is also on the threshold of death. Could any situation be more tragic? Her father tears himself away from her bedside and goes in search of Jesus. Seeing Our Lord, he falls at His feet, and beseeches Him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live" (Mk 5:23). Any parent who has watched at the bedside of a dying child knows the anguish that gripped this man's heart, almost suffocating him with grief. When Jesus follows Jairus home, they find that the girl is already dead. The Jewish funeral rites are already underway. The cries and laments of mourners make a ghastly din. Jesus goes in to the girl, takes her by the hand, and says, "Tálitha, cúmi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise" (Mk 5:41). Immediately, she got up and walked, and Jesus ordered that she be given something to eat.

God With Us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Saint Mark's message to us today is that Jesus Christ is mankind's one hope, the long-awaited Physician who, in His very person, establishes contact between the power of God and the faith of every human heart. In entering the history of the human race, Jesus Christ descends into the "valley of the shadow of death" (Ps 23:4). The rejected Christ, the condemned Christ, the suffering Christ, carrying His cross, passes through the midst of those who weep, and wail, and mourn: suffering children, the victims of war, of violence, of discrimination, of oppression, those who are afflicted by chronic illness, men and women living with cancer or with any one of a number of life-threatening diseases. To the prayer of faith, to the touch of faith, this Jesus who was crucified brings the power of God, the power that brings light out of darkness, joy out of tears, and life out of death itself, the power by which He, after three days, was raised from the tomb.

His Real Presence

This is the mystery that lies at the heart of every Holy Mass: the real presence of Christ. Like the crowd that thronged about Him in today's Gospel, though many may brush against Him on His passage, not all touch Him, as did the afflicted woman, with faith. It is not enough to be here, not enough to go through the ritual motions, not enough fulfill a duty in compliance with the letter of the law, not enough to say, "I've been to Mass." Jesus waits for us to touch Him with the touch of faith.

We may be like Jairus' daughter, on the verge of something new and wonderful in life, or we may be like the other woman, weary and spent after years of suffering. To each of us the Most Holy Eucharist holds out the power of God, a power unleashed by faith. After raising up the little girl, Jesus said, "Give her something to eat." And that is why we go now to the Holy Table, that all of us who have been raised up by the Word of Christ from the ambo, may be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar of His Sacrifice. "Approach, then, with the fear of God, and with faith" (Byzantine Liturgy, Invitation to Holy Communion).

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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