Homilies: January 2012 Archives

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A Preacher Unlike Any Other

Would that Saint John Chrysostom, the Patron Saint of Preachers, could stand here in my place today and preach with the golden-mouthed eloquence given him by the Holy Ghost! How would we respond to his preaching? Saint Chrysostom's preaching disturbed the placid, inflamed the tepid, woke up the drowsy, exposed corruption, frightened the indifferent, unsettled the comfortable, and caused the pious to squirm.

His preaching also inspired confidence in the Blood of Christ, gave hope to the hopeless, caused sinners to weep with sorrow for their faults, inspired the rich to give abundantly of their wealth, moved people to detachment from earthly goods, humbled the haughty, brought fornicators to chastity, converted swindlers to justice, and endowed the ignorant with the science of Jesus Christ.

Immersion in the Word of God

The secret of Saint John Chrysostom's eloquence was his total immersion in the Word of God. Centuries later, Blessed Abbot Marmion would say that nothing imparts a penetrating unction to preaching as much as a continual reference to the Word of God. On this point the greatest preachers are of one mind: their task is to repeat the Word in other words, to deliver not their own wisdom, but the wisdom of God revealed in the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18).

Take to heart Saint Chrysostom's admonition:

Listen carefully to me, I entreat you. . . . Procure books that will be medicines for the soul. . . . At least get a copy of the New Testament, the Apostle's epistles, the Acts, the Gospels, for your constant teachers. If you encounter grief, dive into them as into a chest of medicines; take from them comfort for your trouble, whether it be loss, or death, or bereavement over the loss of relations. Don't simply dive into them. Swim in them. Keep them constantly in your mind. The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well.

The Cause of All Evils

The cause of all evils is the failure to know the Scriptures well. Why does the Golden-Mouthed Doctor say this? Because he who fails to know the Scriptures well fails to know the mind and heart of Christ. He who knows not the mind and heart of Christ receives the Body and Blood of Christ with little fruit. It is the Word, the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18), that prepares us for the Holy Sacrifice.

Lectio Divina

It is the Word heard (lectio), repeated (meditatio), prayed (oratio), and held in the heart (contemplatio) that prepares the soul to receive the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ, and prolongs the effects of Holy Communion throughout the day.

The Word of the Cross and the Fruits of the Precious Blood

The intensity of our Eucharistic life is directly proportionate to our immersion in the Word of God. Ask Saint John Chrysostom today to pray that we may cleave to the "Word of the Cross" (1 Cor 1:18) and so experience the lasting fruits of the Precious Blood of Christ.

Saint Paul, the First Hermit

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Planted in the House of the Lord

Today, in our Benedictine calendar, we commemorate Saint Paul the First Hermit (+343). The Introit of the Mass, taken from Psalm 91, tells us that Saint Paul flourished like the palm tree and grew up like a Lebanon cedar. He lived as one planted in the house of the Lord, abiding in the courts of the house of our God. The imagery of the psalmist points to the words of Our Lord in the Fourth Gospel: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). Monastic enclosure, that is, separation from the world so as to live "in the house of the Lord and in the courts of the house of our God" (Psalm 91:14) is the concrete expression of a deeper aspiration: the soul's desire and resolution to abide in the love of Christ.

The Deeds of the Saints

In the Collect we ask that we may grow like Saint Paul the First Hermit in deed. What exactly does this mean? I, for one, am far from capable of following Saint Paul the First Hermit in his ascetical rigours.

The Epistle of the Mass answers the question. The other Paul, the Apostle, says, "Brethren, the things that were gain to me, the same I counted loss for Christ. Further, I count all things to be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as but dung, that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him" (Philippians 3:7-9). Saint Benedict synthesizes this in the Holy Rule by enjoining us "to prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ" (RB 72 and "to put nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21).

I Praise Thee, O Father

The Gospel of the Mass (Matthew 11:25-30) is wonderfully suited to the feast of a monastic saint. It is the prayer of Jesus addressed to the Father, a prayer at once eucharistic and doxological, the model prayer set before all who would confess, that is, praise and glorify, the Father in Christ and through Christ:

I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.

The second part of today's Gospel is, to my mind, the invitation by which Jesus calls souls to the monastic life. It is, in fact, quoted in the magnificent old threefold prayer by which a man is consecrated a monk, following his solemn profession.

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Yoked to Christ

Every morning, while putting on my scapular, I pray, "I take Thy yoke upon me, Lord Jesus, for Thou are meek and humble of heart, for Thy yoke is easy and Thy burden light, and I will find rest for my soul." In writing this I am think of our Oblate candidates who will receive the Benedictine scapular this coming Sunday. The monk in his cloister, and the Oblate living monastically in the world, are yoked to Christ. Nothing is said or done, thought or desired, apart from Him. In moments of weakness, weariness, and fear, He is present, yoked to the soul by love.

The Love of Christ Today

Some would argue that we live in a time and culture radically different from that of Saint Paul the First Hermit and of Saint Benedict, our Patriarch. Civilizations may rise and fall, cultures may wax and wane, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). One whom Christ has yoked to Himself will abide in His love, and one who has tasted of His love will, by His unfailing grace deployed in weakness, prefer it to all else.

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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