Homilies: September 2009 Archives

Vespers at Holy Family Cathedral

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Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year B
27 September 2009
Holy Family Cathedral
Tulsa, Oklahoma

Pope Benedict in Czech Republic

This weekend, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is in the Czech Republic. He is visiting a nation wounded by 40 years of Communism, where two out of three individuals say they believe in nothing, and where the encroaching forces of secularism are allied to erase even the memory of a Christian culture from the hearts of rising generations. For all of that, our Holy Father is not intimidated.

The Little Jesus

Yesterday morning he accomplished an amazing gesture -- a prophetic one. The Supreme Pontiff and, quite apart from that, one of the greatest theologians of modern times, went in pilgrimage to the Little Jesus, to the Infant Jesus of Prague. Bareheaded, and with a look of indescribable tenderness and affection, the Pope approached the little statue known and loved around the world and left a golden crown at the feet of the Infant Jesus, as a token of his devotion.

Vespers and Benediction

What, you may ask, has this to do with Vespers of this Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year? In a certain sense, everything. Catholic tradition has, for centuries now, coupled the celebration of Sunday Vespers with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Vespers, being a Liturgy of the Word, recalls the Liturgy of the Word at this morning's Mass. Mother Church frames the Magnificat with a fragment of the Gospel proclaimed at Mass. A grace remembered is a grace renewed. At Vespers, the Holy Spirit quickens the very Word we heard at Mass, and in that mystical quickening, we experience its power all over again.

Word to Sacrament

Mother Church's liturgy is all of a piece. The Magnificat Antiphon, a mere fragment of this morning's Gospel, brings back the divine energy that compelled us at Holy Mass to go from the ambo to the altar.

The same thing happens at Vespers: the Word remembered, repeated, and prayed, drives us to the altar, just as Our Lord's explanation of the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus compelled them to say, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent." (Lk 24:29).

Every time we hear the Word, receiving it with hearts that are childlike and humble, it causes us to say over and over again, "Stay with us, Lord." At Holy Mass, He answers that prayer of ours by giving us bread changed into His Body and wine mixed with water changed into His Blood. At Benediction, that same adorable Mystery is withdrawn from the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze so that we, by looking, and adoring, and bowing low might be blessed, and so experience again, at the close of Sunday, the miracle of His Real Presence. The movement, at Holy Mass as at Vespers, is always from Word to Sacramental Presence.

Amor Meus Crucifixus Est

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Twenty-Fourth Sunday of the Year B

Isaiah 50:5-9a,
Ps 115:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
James 2:14-18
Mark 8:27-35

I Hid Not My Face From Shame

By a happy coincidence, the Word of God today announces tomorrow's solemn festival of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and transports us, ahead of time, into its mystery. We listened, in the First Reading, to Isaiah's mysterious prophecy of the Passion of Christ. Like a photograph developed in a darkroom, an image emerged from the sacred page: the portrait of One who goes forward into suffering, fully conscious of what awaits Him, totally abandoned to God who alone can save Him. "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting" (Is 50:6). The adorable Face of the suffering Christ came into focus, the Holy Face that, from the earliest preaching of the Gospel, captivated believers, drawing them irresistibly into the mystery of the Cross.

The Adorable Face of the Saviour

In the apse of ancient Christian basilicas, it was not uncommon to see an immense cross, worked in shimmering mosaic. The body of Christ was not depicted on the cross; instead, at the center of the cross, in a shining circle at the juncture of the vertical and horizontal beams, was an image of the Holy Face of Christ. The arms of the Cross converged in the Face of Christ, His most distinctive characteristic.

The Cross of Christ

The uniqueness of each human face expresses the uniqueness of each person's identity. Our personal identity is linked to the image of our face, as on a photo ID card. By placing the Face of Christ at the center of the Cross, the artisans of old were suggesting that the Cross is the key to Christ's identity and the Face of Christ the key to understanding the mystery of the Cross. Apart from the Cross, there is no knowledge of Christ, no understanding of His mission, no experience of His love, no way of answering the question put to Peter in today's Gospel, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mk 8:29).

His Voice

The First Reading focused our attention on the Face of the suffering Christ; the Responsorial Psalm filled our hearts with the sound of His voice. To the uniqueness of Christ's human face is added that other identifying characteristic of the human person, the uniqueness of the voice. By juxtaposing this particular psalm to the prophecy of Isaiah, the liturgy suggests that in it we are to hear the voice of the suffering Christ, and the unmistakable accents of His prayer to the Father. "I love the Lord -- my Father -- because He has heard my voice and my supplications. He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live" (Ps 116:1-2).

Prayer With Loud Cries and Tears

The Letter to the Hebrews describes this prayer of the suffering Christ to the Father: "In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard for His godly fear" (Heb 5:7). The sacred liturgy is precisely the experience in faith, here and now, of the Face and of the voice of the living Christ; of the penetrating gaze from the Cross and of the prayer from the Cross; of the gaze that searches hearts and of the prayer that pierces the heavens and fills the whole cosmos.

The Supreme Work of the Church

In the Second Reading, Saint James says, "I by my works will show you my faith" (Jas 2:18). The Church, the assembled body of believers, shows forth her faith by doing the work of the liturgy. The liturgy is the supreme work of the Church, the source and summit of all her works, the highest expression of her faith, the work done always, in every place, by all believers, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Mal 1:11, E.P. III). Just as a faith without works is dead, so too, a church without the Most Holy Eucharist is no church at all.

Love's Work

The doing of the Eucharist in obedience to Christ's command, "Do this in remembrance of me" (1 Cor 11:24), shows forth the mystery of the Cross, and makes it present. The Cross is Christ's own work, the immense work of redeeming love accomplished with hands outstretched upon the wood. The liturgy of September 14th sings, "This was Love's great work that death should die, when Life itself was slain upon the tree" (Antiphon, 2nd Vespers). The Cross is the work of love "obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8), the work of a "love "strong as death" (Ct 8:6).

The Cruciform Work of the Eucharist

The death of the crucified Jesus signifies the completion of His work in the Spirit. Jesus prays, "Father, I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (Jn 17:4), and then, from the Cross, He utters, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30). In the Eucharist, the work of Christ intersects the work of the Church. The cruciform work of the Eucharist reveals the faith of the Church and shows forth the Cross, the key to Christ's identity.

Jesus Crucified

Before the work of the Cross was accomplished, not even Peter held the key to the identity of his Master. "Who do you say that I am" (Mk 8:29)? At one level, Peter answered correctly. "You are the Christ" (Mk 8:29). Nonetheless, the separation of the Christ from the Cross so compromised Jesus' mission, and so distorted His identity, that Peter was sharply rebuked. "Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men" (Mk 8:33). There is no half-truth so dangerous to the faith of Christians as the separation of Jesus the Christ from the mystery of the Cross.

The Cross and Our Life

What is true of Christ is true of Christians. The lifework of the Christian, quite apart from any gifts, accomplishments, words, or deeds, is the work of the Cross, the surrender of self to the Father in the crucible of suffering. Paul says it: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). The identity of the Christian is inextricably bound, I want to say, nailed, to the wood of the Cross. "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mk 8:34).

To the Altar and the Cross

Because the essential work of the Christian is the Cross, it is also the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for in the crucible of the Mass, suffering is converted into love, and love into victory over death. And so, it is time now to do what we have announced, time to fulfill again the words of the apostle, "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

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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