Homilies: July 2009 Archives

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The Seventeenth Sunday of the Year B
The First of Five Sundays
Focusing on the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist
in the Sixth Chapter of Saint John's Gospel


A Midsummer Eucharistic Season

Every three years when the B cycle of the Sunday Lectionary returns, the Church interrupts her reading of Saint Mark's Gospel to spend five weeks listening to the magnificent sixth chapter of Saint John: Our Lord's discourse on the Bread of Life. These five Sundays -- the 17th through the 21st -- constitute a kind of Johannine interlude, a Eucharistic season within the cycle of Time Throughout the Year. In this Year of the Priest, these five Sundays will take on an even richer meaning.

These five weeks, marked by the contemplation of the Bread of Life, invite us to three things:

1) a clear and systematic Eucharistic catechesis;
2) an examination of conscience on our personal response to what the Church teaches concerning the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist;
3) a more generous dedication of time to Eucharistic adoration.

A Eucharistic Program

Pope John Paul II's Year of the Eucharist in 2004-2005 is, I fear, already beginning to fade from our consciousness. We are, as the saying goes, "no better than our fathers, slow to remember and quick to forget." I would suggest, then, that you make yourself a program for these next five weeks. It would be opportune to re-read Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, and his Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum, Domine. Take out the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study articles 271-294 on the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Meditate on Pope Benedict XVI's Letter for the Year of the Priesthood. Prepare each day's Mass with attention. Make more time for Eucharistic adoration, remembering that when adoration involves an element of sacrifice, it is a more worthy expression of love.

A Lavish Love

Our Lord multiplies the loaves in today's Gospel in order to give us an image of just how lavish His superabundant love for us is. The twelve baskets left over demonstrate that God is not content with providing us with what is strictly necessary: the work of God is characterized by superabundance. "I came that they may have life," says Our Lord, "and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).

The Antiphons at the Magnificat and Benedictus

The three antiphons carefully chosen by the Church for the Gospel Canticles of today's Divine Office are, in themselves, a meditation in three movements on the Mystery of Faith that we will contemplate over the next five weeks:

Magnificat Antiphon at First Vespers

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a multitude was coming to him, Jesus said to Philip, "How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?" This he said to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

Benedictus Antiphon

The Lord satisfied five thousand men with five loaves and two fish.

Magnificat Antiphon at Second Vespers

When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!"

Note: The American edition of the Liturgy of the Hours, due to a purely arbitrary editorial decision, does not, alas, give all three antiphons for each of the yearly A, B, and C cycles. They are given in the Latin editio typica, as well as in the Italian, French, and German editions of the Liturgy of the Hours. Those who pray the Hours in English are unjustly deprived of the richness of what Mother Church wants them to have. One hopes that this omission will be corrected in future editions of the Liturgy of the Hours in English. Until then the best solution is to repeat the antiphon corresponding to the Sunday Gospel at all three Gospel Canticles. The Magnificat I Antiphon corresponds to Year A; the Benedictus Antiphon to Year B; and the Magnificat II Antiphon to Year C.

Transubstantiation

The miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is a very little thing in comparison to the miracle which takes place on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Acting in the very person of Christ the Head of His Mystical Body, the Eternal High Priest, the priest pronounces the words of consecration over the offerings of bread and wine. By the words of consecration and by the action of the Holy Spirit, the bread becomes the very Body of Christ and the wine becomes His Precious Blood. This is the miracle of Transubstantiation: the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of his Blood" (Comp. CCC, art. 283).

You still see the appearance of bread, but there is no longer any bread, but only Christ, the Bread of Life. You still see the appearance of wine, but there is no longer be any wine, but only the Precious Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine: "Christ whole and entire, God and Man" (Comp. CCC, art. 282). This is no momentary or fleeting presence; it is permanent, lasting so long as one can see, touch, and taste the outward properties of bread and of wine.

Fruits of Holy Mass and Communion

In Holy Mass the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ are offered to the Father for the salvation of the world, for the forgiveness of sins, for the needs of the living and for the eternal rest of the dead. This same Sacred Body and Precious Blood are offered to us as food and drink in Holy Communion. Holy Communion builds up the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ; "it increases our union with Christ and with His Church. It strengthens us in charity, wipes away venial sins and preserves us from mortal sin in the future" (Comp. CCC, art. 292).

The Eucharistic Life

Without Holy Communion the Christian life is impossible. The more you receive Holy Communion, the more will you hunger and thirst for it. Saint Sharbel Makhlouf, the Lebanese monk whose feast we celebrated this past Friday, organized his whole life around the Eucharist; he celebrated Mass at noon each day so as to have the whole morning to prepare for it, and the whole afternoon for thanksgiving. Holy Communion is Love poured into our hearts, and the effect of Love is to make us long for even more Love.

Real Presence

The mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist is not confined to the duration of Holy Mass. The miracle of Our Lord's real presence is ongoing and dynamic, continuing by day and by night at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world. This, of course, is why we Catholics adore the Most Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze in the monstrance on the altar. The faithful Catholic is compelled to linger before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, is magnetized by His presence, and drawn to His Open Heart hidden, and yet beating with love for us in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Our Lord's real sacramental presence is not static; it is not the presence of some thing, however sacred; it is the living presence of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, eternally Priest and Victim, offering Himself to His Father, and saying to us, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Mt 11:28). Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is supremely active, divinely active, testifying here and now to what Saint Luke wrote: "And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power (virtus) came forth from him and healed them all" (Lk 6:19).

With the Saints

In a few days the Church will present us with the feasts of three holy priests: passionate lovers of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. These three saints appear right on cue as if to encourage us in living this summer Eucharistic season as they lived their whole lives. On August 1st, we will remember Saint Alphonsus Liguori; on August 2nd, Saint Peter Julian Eymard; and on August 4th, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. These will be privileged moments of grace in this Year of the Priesthood. Do not let them pass you by!

Saint Alphonsus, Saint Peter Julien Eymard, and Saint Jean-Marie Vianney were priests overwhelmed with Eucharistic Love, drunk with Eucharistic Love, all ablaze with Eucharistic Love! They lived from one Holy Mass to the next. I so look forward to their companionship in this Year of the Priesthood. Ask them, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Priests, to introduce us into these five weeks of Eucharistic renewal. There is no better way to go straight to the heart of the Year of the Priesthood.

My grace is enough for thee

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Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year B

Ezekiel 2:2-5
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

God Chooses the Broken Man

Prophets are often held in contempt and rejected by those to whom they are sent. The choice of God rarely, if ever, meets the narrow and shortsighted criteria set up by men. God chooses the broken man and promises to repair him. He chooses the fallen man and promises to raise him up. He chooses the man deformed by sin and promises to reform him by grace. Even more surprising is that God does not wait until the broken are completely repaired, the fallen steady on their feet, and the deformed totally reformed, before using them. He chooses his prophets, entrusts them with a mission, and sends them out while they are still imperfect.

Faults, Limitations, and Neuroses

In his best seller, My Life With the Saints, Jesuit Father James Martin tells about coming to terms with the paradox of having a vocation and having at the same time a lot of sinful baggage. This is what he says -- I don't often quote Jesuits, so pay attention -- "It seemed that I was being called to be a Jesuit not despite my faults, my limitations, and my neuroses, but with them, maybe even because of them. God was calling all of me -- even the parts of me I didn't especially like -- to be with him."

Get Real

About thirty years ago a certain Abbot decreed new admissions policies for his monastery. In order to be accepted as a postulant one had to have had a happy childhood; one could not come from a broken home; one had to have affective and sexual maturity and a blameless record of unsullied virtue; one had to have no past history of problems with drugs or alcohol and no alcoholism or mental illness in one's family; one had to have an undergraduate degree and be free of debts; and one had to have good teeth with no cavities. Paradise is peopled with saints who would not have measured up to the Reverend Father's standards. As a youthful friend of mine would say, "Dude! Get real!"

My Grace Is Enough for Thee

Saint Paul, in a very candid autobiographical passage, speaks today of his thorn in the flesh and of his own weakness (2 Cor 12:7-9). "And indeed, for fear that these surpassing revelations should make me proud, I was given a sting in the flesh to distress my outward nature, an angel of Satan sent to rebuff me. Three times it made me entreat the Lord to rid me of it. ; but He told me, My grace is enough for thee; my strength finds it full scope in thy weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me, so that the strength of Christ may enshrine itself in me'" (2 Cor 12:7-9).

Stings in the Flesh

What kind of person does God call to live intimately with Christ, preferring nothing to His love and putting nothing before the Work of God? Men and women who are weak, imperfect, struggling along, like Paul, with a sting in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7) or, like Jacob, with a thigh put out of joint from having wrestled with an angel (Gen 32:25). Weakness is no obstacle to holiness, not in priests, not in nuns or monks, nor in anyone of us. Writing to the Fathers of Jesus Crucified in 1938, Mother Marie des Douleurs had this to say: "It is with nothing -- and with us who are nothings -- that God is doing something. Your weakness or your defects are, therefore, not an obstacle."

The Choice of God

All too often when the choice of God doesn't correspond to what folks think it ought to be, they reject it and reject the one chosen. Our Lord, in the Gospel, is rejected by those who saw Him grow up, by those who knew His mother and family, by those who knew Him first, not as a rabbi of astounding wisdom and mighty works, but as a lowly village carpenter (Mk 6:1-6). The townsfolk knew the mother of Jesus and His relations. Their familiarity with Jesus, and with His human background, blinded them to His mission. It made them skeptical and doubtful of His message. They were unwilling to admit that God had chosen one of their own. "Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to Him (Mk 6:2)?

Unbelief

Saint John describes this very drama in his Prologue. "He came to His own home, and His own people received him not" (Jn 1:11). The unbelief of Jesus' own people impedes His work and frustrates the fruitfulness of His mission. Saint Mark says, "He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them" (Mk 6:5).

Thwarting God's Plan

Each of us has the frightful possibility of thwarting God's plans, of frustrating His desires, and of impeding His work by refusing God's choice of ourselves or by refusing His choice of another. Each of us also has the blessed possibility of corresponding to God's plan, of living out the mystery of our vocation.

The World

A vocation is an invitation to paint one's life with broad strokes and bold colours. As prophets chosen by God, priests and religious are bound to be critical of prevailing cultural standards, philosophies, and systems. Shortly after the Second Vatican Council when people were reading Gaudium et Spes through a kind of rose-coloured haze, they thought they were being called to blend in with the world. It was all very heady stuff: dialogue, adaptation, and openness.

Crisis

What happened? The reality was one-sided: the Church listening to the world without the world listening to the Church. The Church adapting to the world without the world adapting to Church. The Church open to world without the world open to the Church. Instead of the Church evangelizing the world, the world began secularizing the Church. Confusion ensued. In many cases, the General Chapters of Renewal for religious Orders and Congregations mandated by the Second Vatican Council were, in effect, Chapters of Demolition, breaking with the past and intoxicated with change for the sake of change. Seminaries and novitiates closed. People stopped going to Mass. Children stopped learning their catechism and their prayers. In a single generation, families that had been strong in the Catholic faith for centuries fell away from the Church, some into agnosticism, some into neo-paganism, some into materialism and indifference.

An Adult Faith

Pope Benedict XVI alluded to all of this when, in his homily before the opening of the Conclave that elected him, he said: "How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking." Only now are we beginning to recover from it. The Holy Father announced the dawning of new day when he said: "An 'adult' faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth."

A New Day

The new day dawning in the Church will be marked by the return of prophets and of saints. God will demonstrate again the power of His grace by choosing and calling the weak, the broken, and the fallen. Weak men will again become the living evidence of His power. Broken people will become the vehicles of His all-sufficient grace. Fallen sinners will be raised up and sent forth as the heralds of spiritual resurrection. Divine mercy will have the last word as, one by one, souls are brought, under the protection of the Mother of God, to the Eucharistic Face of Christ and to His pierced Heart. The priesthood will shine with a new holiness.

A Prophet Among Them

There is every reason to be full of hope, "gladly boasting of our weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon us" (cf. 2 Cor 12:9). If we have fallen away from our first love, it is not too late to recover it. If we have compromised with worldliness and exchanged the patrimony of the saints against a few tawdry comforts, it is not too late to change. Looking for prophets, the eye of Christ has fallen on us. No one of us is too old, too sick, too dull, or too far-gone to be used for the designs of His Heart. Approaching the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood today, say "Yes" again. "And whether they hear or refuse to hear . . . they will know that there has been a prophet among them" (Ez 2:5).

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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