Homilies: August 2012 Archives

Prepare to Disappear

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Birth, Passion, Death

The Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist each year: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today's feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers. The grace of hiddenness marks the life of Saint John the Baptist from the beginning.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam's sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

"And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the boldness of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim "by whose wounds we are healed" (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: "A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John" (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

In Jesus, John the Baptist recognizes the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God, and the Bridegroom. "Behold the Lamb of God!" (Jn 1:29). All John's joy is to gaze upon the Face of Jesus and to hear His voice. "I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease"(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

John was to be visible only for a time. "He was a burning and shining lamp," says Jesus, "and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (Jn 5:25). John's shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

Silence

The voice of John the Forerunner was heard crying in the wilderness, denouncing sin, calling men to justice, and sinners to repentance. But then the voice of the Eternal Father was heard, coming from heaven: "Thou art my Son, the Beloved; with Thee I am well pleased" (Lk 3:22). After the voice of the Father revealing the Word was heard over the Jordan, the voice of the Baptist was heard less and less until, finally, it was silenced by death, a cruel and ignominious death not unlike the immolation of the Lamb, which it prefigured.

Today's feast obliges us to come to terms with the paradox of a hidden and silent life. Graced from the womb of his mother in view of an extraordinary mission, Saint John the Baptist served the designs of the Father for the length of time and in the place determined by the Father's loving providence. "Sent from God . . . he came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light" (Jn 1:6-8). When the Sun of Justice dawned, when the Dayspring appeared, the Forerunner could disappear. When the voice of the Bridegroom began to make itself heard, the Friend of the Bridegroom could fall silent.

In the Shadow of the Cross

John the Baptist knew that, like the grain of wheat which falls into the earth and dies in order to bear much fruit (Jn 12:24), he was destined to return to a life of silence and obscurity. John the Baptist shows us that every vocation is subject to mysterious and unexpected turns. He demonstrates that every vocation must fall beneath the shadow of the Cross, sometimes in dramatic ways, but more often in the humble obscurity of day to day existence.

Pray

Suffering is necessary if we are to decrease and allow the Lord Jesus to increase. To each of us Saint John the Baptist says: Prepare to disappear. And lest this should alarm us and cause us to tremble with fear and anxiety, John teaches us how to pray in the words of the psalmist:

Thou art my patience, O Lord:
my hope, O Lord, from my youth.
By Thee have I been confirmed from the womb:
from my mother's womb Thou art my protector.
Of Thee shall I continually sing:
I am become unto many as a wonder,
but Thou art a strong helper. (Ps 70:5-6)

The Cross

The hidden and silent life is a necessary and inescapable part of discipleship. A vocation that is not marked with the sign of the Cross is suspect. A life that is without its moments of obscurity, silence and apparent uselessness, does not bear the imprint of the Lamb. The more a soul is surrendered to the love of Christ the Bridegroom, the more deeply will that soul be marked by the Cross.

Ultimately, the sign that authenticates the mission of Saint John the Baptist is his participation in the Passion and Cross of Jesus, in Jesus' humiliation, in Jesus' going down into the valley of the shadow of death. And the sign that our vocation is blessed by God is that it is marked by the Cross.

The Sweetness of the Triumph of the Cross

One whose life is marked by the Cross cannot live without the Sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Mass allows us to taste the sweetness of the triumph of the Cross in the midst of every bitterness. Partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ does not spare us any suffering; it infuses all suffering with an irrepressible hope. "Therefore this joy of mine is now full" (Jn 3:29).

This is a most unusual depiction of Saint Augustine washing the feet of Christ. A friar named Strozzi painted it in 1629. Augustine, wearing an apron over his black monastic habit, is assisted by an angel. A tonsured monk looks on from a distance. With his right hand Augustine clasps the foot of Our Lord. His gaze is wholly turned towards the Face of Christ, who appears to be instructing him on what he is doing.

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I preached this homily in 2007.

1 John 4:7-16
Psalm 118: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14
Matthew 23; 8-12

The Doctor of Charity

The words of Saint John in today's First Lesson are the perfect expression of Saint Augustine's own experience. Augustine is called the "Doctor of Charity," and with good reason. Saint John speaks of the discovery of charity that grounds every Christian life:

"Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins" (1 Jn 4:7-10).

He Hath First Loved Me

For Saint Augustine, however, the words of the Beloved Disciple became intensely personal: "By this hath the charity of God appeared towards me, Augustine, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that I may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though I had loved God, but because He hath first loved me, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for my sins."

The discovery of the love of God came late in Augustine's life. It is always late. One cannot discover the love of God too soon. And so, the Doctor of Charity laments his tardy discovery of the One Thing Necessary:

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new!
Too late have I loved Thee.
And lo, Thou wert inside me and I outside,
and I sought for Thee there, and in all my unsightliness
I flung myself on those beautiful things which Thou hast made.
Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee.
Those beauties kept me away from Thee,
though if they had not been in Thee, they would not have been at all.
Thou didst call and cry to me and break down my deafness.
Thou didst flash and shine on me and put my blindness to flight.
Thou didst blow fragrance upon me and I drew breath,
and now I pant after Thee.
I tasted of Thee and now I hunger and thirst for Thee.
Thou didst touch me and I am aflame for Thy peace....

(Confessions, Book X:38)

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A Learned Rabbi

Today is the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the apostle whose other name is Nathanael. A native of Cana in Galilee and a friend of the Apostle Philip, Nathanael was a rabbi learned in the Scriptures. Tradition says that he preached the Gospel in Armenia and India. Apart from that we know little about him. In art, one can recognize him by the flaying knife that he holds in his hand, a symbol of his gruesome martyrdom.

Come and See

Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Philip simply repeated the words of Jesus to Andrew and Simon Peter: "Come and see" (Jn 1:39). The most effective apostolate is the one by which souls are brought directly to Jesus by means of a simple invitation. Arguments, disputes and debates are to no avail; it is the experience of Christ that convinces and converts. How often has exposure to the Most Holy Eucharist -- the sacramental experience of the living Christ truly present -- been the occasion of a complete conversion!

A Man Without Guile

Our Lord saw in Nathanael a man free of the torturous complications that so often affect pious people. Nathanael had the prized virtue of simplicity; Jesus called him "a true Israelite in whom there is no guile" (Jn 1:47). Nathanael had no hidden agenda. What came out of his mouth was what he held in his heart.

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Saint Bartholomew's Gospel

I find it curious that, for the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the Roman Missal does not give the passage from Saint John's Gospel (1:45-51) that concerns him directly:

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith to him: We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him: Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? Philip saith to him: Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him: and he saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered, and said to him: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest: greater things than these shalt thou see. And he saith to him: Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Whole Night in Prayer to God

Instead, we are given Saint Luke's account of the call of the Apostles (6,12-19) among whom, of course, we find the name of Saint Bartholomew:

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray: and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named apostles): Simon, whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, And Jude the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, who was the traitor. And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place: and the company of his disciples and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the sea coast, both of Tyre and Sidon, Who were come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the multitude sought to touch him: for virtue went out from him and healed all.

We Will Run After Thee

What are we to garner from the choice of this Gospel for today's Holy Mass? First of all, we see Our Lord going out to the mountain to pray. Shall we not follow Him to the mountain? Do we not want to be with Him while He prays? Blessed indeed is the soul allowed to witness the Son in prayer to His Father! "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Ct 1:3).

Under the Anointing

What is a monk if not a man drawn after Jesus, running to the odour of His anointing, that is, the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Anointing from above, poured out in such abundance upon Christ our Head, that it flows down to cover even the least members of His Mystical Body, that is the Church. The monk is a man who follows Jesus in His ascent to the mountain. He is compelled to climb in the footsteps of the Son, and so return to the Father. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," says the Lord. "No man cometh to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6).

Whatsoever Thou Desirest to Find in Me

The summit of the mountain is union with Christ in charity. "Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear" (RSB 7) At the summit of the mountain the love of Christ embraces the monk and holds him fast, and the monk, humbly but sincerely, consents to that love. "Do Thou in me, Lord Jesus, whatsoever Thou desirest to find in me, so as to draw out of my nothingness all of the love and all of the glory which Thou didst have in view, when Thou didst create me" (Prayer of M. Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus).

Now, Not I

The monk is called not merely to be a witness the Son's prayer to the Father, but to participate in it. The goal of the monastic life is, in effect, to be able to say in words reminiscent of Saint Paul: "And I pray, now not I; but Christ prayeth in me" (cf. Gal 2:20). All of the thoughts, and words, and attitudes that one thought were prayer have, at some point in the ascent of the mountain, to be abandoned, utterly left behind. They become burdensome. One is obliged to relinquish them . . . or to give up on the ascent.

The Liturgy

Forsaking all that he experienced as prayer, the monk enters the sanctuary of the Sacred Liturgy, wherein no detail is insignificant. Putting aside his own words, he applies himself to uttering those given him by the Bride of Christ, the Church. Renouncing his own thoughts, however pious these may be, he begins to think with the Church, and through the Church, and thus, even in his personal prayer, he acquires the mind of Christ. Even his body must give up those attitudes and postures that once he found so congenial, so as to rise and fall, and bend and bow, and yield in all things to a choreography of divine artistry, the work of the Holy Ghost embodied in the rubrics that are the transmission of a secret life, an inner dynamism coming from above.

Be Nothing

Saint Luke goes on to say: "And he passed the whole night in the prayer of God" (Lk 6:12). For the monk, what is this whole night if not the span of a lifetime in this valley of tears, in the long, dark night of faith? The monk is a man who stays with Jesus the whole night through. The monk is a man who consents to be nothing, to do nothing, to represent nothing other than the Son in prayer to the Father.

Flayed

If only for what it reveals of the monastic vocation, I treasure this particular Gospel passage given us on the feast of Saint Bartholomew. And there is one other detail, this one drawn from the traditional account of Saint Bartholomew's martyrdom. He was flayed. The monk, too, is flayed, at least after a fashion. The things that I thought were myself, are peeled away from me. I find myself naked, vulnerable, and utterly not the man I thought I was. And this is an immense grace. It is the beginning of transformation into Christ, of Christ living, and praying, and dying, and rising in me to the glory of the Father.

The Good Samaritan

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The Mystery of the Good Samaritan

Today's Gospel, the parable of the Good Samaritan, is familiar to us. It is, perhaps, too familiar. That may be the problem. We assume that we have grasped its message when, in fact, its message may not yet have grasped our hearts. The Fathers of the Church discerned a mystery -- that is to say, something hidden -- in the story of the Good Samaritan: the mystery of the healing mercy of God revealed in Christ.

God Suffers at the Sight of Our Suffering

The Good Samaritan is none other than Christ Himself. In the days of His flesh, as He journeyed in this world, Christ came to where we were (cf. Lk 10:33). And when He saw all of us, sinners, stripped, and beaten, and left for dead in a ditch, He had compassion (cf. Lk 10:33). The human Heart of God was moved. God, looking upon us through the eyes of His Christ, suffered at the sight of our suffering.

Ethical Religion Alone Is Not Enough

It would be altogether too facile to reduce the message of today's gospel to its ethical demands alone, to hear it exclusively in terms of a social imperative. Be good. Be sensitive. Be caring. Show mercy. It is, of course, all of that.

In Chapter IV of the Holy Rule Saint Benedict counts the corporal and spiritual works of mercy among the Instruments of Good Works.

Saint Vincent de Paul writes that "we must try to be stirred by our neighbors' worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions."

Our Lord said to Saint Faustina: "I demand of you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for me. You are to show mercy to your neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it."

Wanting to Be Splendid

All of that being said, there is more to the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Most of us prefer to cast ourselves in the role of the Samaritan rather than to see ourselves in the one robbed, stripped, forsaken, and half-dead. The Samaritan is the hero. The Samaritan keeps the upper hand in the story. The Samaritan is splendid. Who among us does not, at least sometimes, want to be splendid?

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Salvation in the Gutter

Churches are full of splendid people and of people who want to be splendid. We needed the teaching of a twenty-four year old Doctor of the Church to see that holiness is not about being splendid at all. Saint Thérèse tells that it is, rather, about accepting that we have landed in the gutter, that we are in fact without resources, stripped, wounded, half-dead, and utterly incapable of changing any of that by ourselves. The God who bends over our souls with a face of indescribable tenderness, the God who touches our wounds with the strong and gentle hands of mercy, meets us not in the high places, not in Jerusalem, nor in Jericho, nor on the road of a splendid progress, but in the gutter of our absolute need of Him.

Discerning the Face, the Heart, the Hands of Christ

In the Samaritan of today's gospel, the Fathers of the Church discern the face, the heart, the hands of Christ. Christ is near us in our poverty, near us in our nakedness, nearer to us when we are broken and brought very low than we when we are splendid and marching on. "A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion" (Lk 10:33).

Christ Stops for Each of Us

Christ comes to where we are and, seeing us, has compassion. Christ stops for each of us; He binds up our wounds, pouring oil and wine upon them, cleansing and disinfecting them, healing them with the medicine of His Spirit and of His Blood. Christ lifts us from where He finds us. He brings us to the inn of His Father's healing hospitality where He cares for us, and pays all our expenses.

The Human Face of God

When the poor man opened his eyes to see who it was who was caring for him with such tenderness he beheld a human face. Christ is the human Face of God, the Face we behold when we open our eyes to see who it is who is caring for us. In the end, it is the experience of this Face that changes us. It is in the closeness of this Face to ours, with, as Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity said, "His eyes in our eyes," and with the warmth of His breath upon us, that we are resurrected to newness of life and sent back to the road whence we came to "go and do likewise" (Lk 10:37).

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I preached this homily several years ago. Allow me to share it with you again. Is this not a lovely icon for Marymass or Lady-Day-in-Harvest?

The Pascha of Summer

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pascha of summer, signals the beginning of the final phase of the liturgical year. The Church enters into the splendours of her harvest time. With the feasts of late summer and autumn, the Church turns the shimmering pages of the book of the Apocalypse and draws us into their mystery. "Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, writes the Apostle, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near" (Ap 1:3).

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I preached this homily in 2007, and decided to post it again today.

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 111: 1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9
John 12:24-26

Live With Christ and Laurence

I wish that I could put you all in a bus today and accompany you to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City just to see there the small round glass medallion dating from the fourth century that depicts Saint Laurence. The medallion bears the simple inscription: “Live with Christ and Laurence.” What some would see as a simple cultural artifact is for us a witness to the unchanging faith of the Church. The saints are those who have passed into eternal life with Christ. “Live with Christ and Laurence.” To live with Christ is to live in the society of the saints. Not only do we remember each year the anniversary of their birthday into the life of heaven; we seek their intercession and rely on it. We make our pilgrimage through this life in their company, having “over our head,” as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1).

A Saint Painting A Saint

I also wish that I could transport all of you to the Chapel of Pope Nicholas V in the Vatican to see there the series of frescoes that Blessed Fra Angelico painted to depict the life of Saint Laurence. This in itself is remarkable: a saint painting a saint.

Laurence and the Poor

In one scene of the series he shows Saint Laurence coming out of a basilica to meet the poor who are waiting for him. Laurence is youthful; he is dressed as a deacon for the liturgy. His dalmatic is deep rose in colour, suggesting joy, and trimmed in gold, hinting at the glory that is already transforming him. On the ground in front of him is a crippled man holding out his hand and begging for alms. To his right is an old man with a white beard, quite bent over, and leaning on his walking stick; he too is asking for alms. To Laurence’s left stands an impoverished widow in a dark dress and, just behind her, a young mother with a baby in her arms. Again to his left, is a man in need of medicine, pointing to a wound in his knee. On both sides of Laurence are little children; two of them, having already received their alms, are walking away, while a third is still waiting to receive something.

The Cheerful Giver

The fresco is a kind of homily on today’s First Reading and Responsorial Psalm. Laurence is the cheerful giver, beloved of God (cf. 2 Cor 9: 7). “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor 9:9, Ps 111:9). Blessed Fra Angelico painted theology: by showing the open basilica in the background, he is indicating that the Church is the servant of the hospitality of God, that her doors are open to all.

From Christ to Christ

By painting Saint Laurence in his dalmatic, he is suggesting that Laurence has just come from Mass where it is the deacon’s function to sing the dismissal, “Ite, missa est,” “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” or “Go, it is the sending forth.” The mission of the Church begins at the altar; leaving the altar, Laurence goes straight out the front door of the basilica to the poor who wait for him. He goes from Christ to Christ.

Bride of the Eternal One

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An Extraordinary Woman

Seventy years ago today, on August 9, 1942, the Carmelite Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, known in the world as Dr. Edith Stein, met death in the infernal concentration camp of Auschwitz. Edith Stein was a Jew, born into an Orthodox family on October 12, 1891. It was the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. For a time, suffering from depression, and determined nonetheless to seek her own truth, she abandoned all outward religious practice. Edith asked for Baptism after reading the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. "This," she said, "is the truth."

The Prayer of Esther

The liturgy places the impassioned prayer of Esther on the lips of Teresa Benedicta in Auschwitz. “As a child I was wont to hear from the people of the land of my forefathers that you, O Lord, chose Israel from among all peoples, and our fathers from among all their ancestors, as a lasting heritage, and that you fulfilled all your promises to them. Be mindful of us, O Lord. Manifest yourself in the time of our distress.“(Est 4:3, 12).

Salvation From the Jews

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is of the lineage of Miriam, of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Judith and Esther, of the same people as the Blessed Virgin, Miriam of Nazareth, of whom was born Yeshouah who is called the Christ. The words of Our Lord in today’s gospel strike us with a particular resonance. “Salvation is from the Jews” (Jn 4:22).

The Root

Saint Paul reminds us that, “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God’s choice of Israel remains; His love for Israel stands firm forever. How could God not cherish with a love of predilection the race that gave His only begotten Son flesh and blood? Gentile Christians are the wild olive shoot, grafted in place to share the richness of the olive tree. Lest we be tempted to boast, Saint Paul says: “Remember, it is not you that supports the root, but the root that supports you” (Rom 11:18).

Through the Eyes of a Bridal Love

Through the gift of the Law and the message of the prophets, God Himself undertook Israel’s education and preparation for a universal mission, for an abiding vocation. The Law and the prophets admonish Israel to fear the Lord God, to follow all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord God with heart and soul, to keep His commandments and laws. All of this is a response to merciful love. The vocation of Israel is to discover the holiness of God revealed in the Torah, to contemplate Him through the eyes of a bridal love. The God to Whom belong the heavens and the earth set his heart on Israel; God chose a people to be uniquely His own in view of a covenant by which Israel would become the beloved, the bride of the Eternal One.

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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