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Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

The Twenty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of my jobs before I went to seminary was in the sales department of a computer supply company.  In that job, they taught us that one of the first good rules of sales was never to ask a question to which you didn’t already know the answer.  I think teachers get taught that principle as well.  I can’t help but think that Jesus’ question to the disciples in today’s Gospel falls under that heading.  Because Jesus certainly knew who he was.  But, as often happens in our interactions with Jesus, there’s something more going on.  And to figure out what that something more is, all you have to do is go back to the Gospels the last couple of weeks and see in them that Jesus is looking for people’s faith.  He was looking for faith from Peter when he called him to walk on the water.  He was impressed by the faith of the Canaanite woman last week as she persisted in her request that Jesus heal her daughter.  And now he queries the disciples’ faith – and ours too – as he asks us the 64 thousand dollar question: “Who do you say that I am?”

He actually starts with kind of a soft-ball question. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they recount all the obvious and probably much-discussed options of the time.  If there were bloggers and influencers and talk radio people and cable news in that first century, they too might have said “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or “Jeremiah” or “one of the prophets.”  So this is an easy question for the disciples to answer.  But when he gets to the lightning round question, “But who do you say that I am?” there’s a lot more silence.  And, as often happens with the disciples, it’s the impetuous Peter who blurts out the right answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Very good, Peter, you have been paying attention.

But here’s the thing: that answer is going to require much of Saint Peter.  You see, his answer not just a liturgical formula or a scriptural title or even a profession of faith in the formal sense.  Jesus is looking for something that goes quite a bit deeper, something that comes from the heart, something integrated into Peter’s life.  He is looking for faith, not just spoken, but faith lived, and that’s why Peter’s answer is actually pretty dangerous.  If he is really convinced that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” then that conviction has to show itself in the way Peter lives.  He can’t just believe that and keep it under his hat.  If Jesus really is the One who is coming into the world, the Promised One of all generations, the salvation of the world, then Peter has to proclaim it from the rooftops.  Now, to be fair, we should note that Peter had a little problem with this around the time of the crucifixion, when he denied Jesus not just once, but three times.  But that’s not going to be his everlasting reality, because Peter has to be the rock on which Jesus will build his Church.  Whether people want to accept that or not.

So I’m very sorry to tell you all this, but we have all gathered here on a very dangerous Sunday.  We too, you know, are being asked today, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Jesus isn’t asking us just to recite the Creed, the Profession of Faith.  That’s too easy; we do it all the time.  Half the time it just flies past us by the time we say “Amen.”  Jesus doesn’t want to know what you learned at Bible Study or what you read on Facebook.  Those things are nice, but He isn’t going for what’s in your head.  Jesus is calling all of us today to dig deep, to really say what it is that we believe about him by the way that we act and the things that we do and the life that we live.  It’s a dangerous question for us, too, because what we believe about Jesus has to show forth in action and not just word.  Our life has to be a testament to our faith in God.  And if we cannot answer that question out of our faith today, if we are not prepared to live the consequences of our belief, then we have a lot of thinking to do.

Because if we really believe – really believe – that Jesus is who he says he is, then we cannot just sit on the news.  Like Peter, we are going to have to proclaim it in word and deed.  In our homes, in our workplaces, in our schools, in our communities – we must be certain that everyone knows that we are Christians and that we are ready to live our faith.  That doesn’t mean that we need to interject a faith lesson into every conversation or bludgeon people with the Gospel.  But it does mean that we have to live that Gospel.  In St. Francis’s words, “Proclaim the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”  People absolutely need to be able to tell by noticing the way we live our lives that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  If they can’t, then our faith is as tepid as the Pharisees’ and that’s certainly no cause for pride!  Frankly, that too has consequences.

Every part of our Liturgy has consequences for us believers.  “The Body of Christ.”  When we hear that proclamation and respond with our “Amen,” we are saying “yes, that’s what I believe.”  And if we believe that, if we are then filled with the Body of Christ by receiving Holy Communion, then we have made a statement that has consequences.  If we truly become what we receive, then how does that change the way that we work, the way that we interact with others?  “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  “Thanks be to God.”  If we accept that command, then what?  What does it mean to glorify the Lord with our life?  Does it mean that we just do some kind of ministry here at Mass?  Absolutely not.  The first word in the command is “Go” and that means we have to glorify the Lord in our daily lives, in our business negotiations, in our community meetings, in our interactions with peers or the way that we mentor those who work for us.

So if we really believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, then our lives just became a whole lot more complicated.  We may have to give up some of our habits and vices, we may have to make a concerted effort to be more aware of Christ in our daily lives, we may have to learn to treat other people as the Body of Christ.  We may have to do all this preaching in a hostile environment, because sometimes people don’t want to hear the Good News, or even be in the presence of it.  I think that’s more true today than every.  The Gospel is met with hostility just because Christians preach it.  And this is dangerous, because if we really believe, then we have to preach anyway.  Peter did, and it eventually led him to the cross.  What will it require of us?

So I don’t know just how dangerous this will be for me or for you.  I’m not even sure how we will all answer the question right now.  But one thing is for sure, all of us sitting here today have the same one-question test that Peter and the disciples had.  Who do you say that the Son of Man is?  Be sure to take that to your prayer this week.

Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

When I was in Israel last fall, we were able to visit Mount Tabor, the traditional site of the transfiguration of the Lord, the feast we celebrate today.  We went up several mountains on that pilgrimage, and the thing about being on top of a mountain is that it’s like you can see everything.  And I think that is an important point about this feast, because, in the Transfiguration, the disciples started to see who Jesus really was.  The Transfiguration is the fourth Luminous mystery of the Holy Rosary, the mysteries on which we usually meditate on Thursdays.

Sometimes I think that, because of the limitedness of our minds, we accept a rather small and rather bland view of Jesus.  I think that was true for the disciples too, although they had a good excuse: they didn’t have two thousand years of Church history to guide them!  It’s understandable that they were definitely familiar with the human side of Jesus: over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher, even a miracle worker.  They experienced him in his humanity every day.  But they were always having trouble with his divinity; they often missed his connection with the Father.

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well.  If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it had to be gone now.  That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”  Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed.  It’s nice, even comfortable, for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, but we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place.  He is the “one like a Son of man” of whom the prophet Daniel speaks in our first reading today, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship.  If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would be dead in our sins, and we would have no chance of being caught up in the divine life ourselves, that life for which we were created and intended from the very beginning.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity.  Knowledge of both is absolutely necessary because Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories.  Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation.  Peter, James, and John got a clear picture of that as Jesus was transfigured on the high mountain.  We too must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior.  No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

Categories
Christmas Jesus Christ The Church Year

The Presentation of the Lord

Today’s readings

Who is this king of glory?
The 
Lord of hosts; he is the king of glory.

Today we celebrate the traditional end of the Christmas season with this feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  The current liturgical end of the Christmas season was back on January 12th, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.  But the older tradition reflected what we have seen in the readings for the Sundays ever since, and that is remnants of the Epiphany, or manifestation of who Christ is in our world.  On Epiphany, Jesus was manifested to the Magi as priest, prophet and king.  On the Baptism of the Lord, Jesus was baptized as the eternal Son of the Father, with whom the Father was well-pleased.  Today, Jesus is manifested as a light to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel, as the king of glory.

Like Epiphany, this feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a feast of light.  On Epiphany the world was illumined by a star that pointed to the true Light of the world.  Today, a world grown dark is illumined by that true Light and the glory of God sheds light on the whole world: Gentiles and Israelites alike.  So today, the Church has always blessed candles, which we did at the beginning of Mass today.  The reason the Church lights candles is always to draw our attention to Christ our Light, in the midst of whatever darkness the world throws at us.  This feast is a foreshadowing of the Easter Vigil, when the deacon proclaims in a darkened church, “Lumen Christi,” “The Light of Christ,” and the Church responds, “Deo Gratias,” “Thanks be to God.”  Today is a foretaste of Easter, when the true Light of the World, Christ our Light, will definitively conquer every darkness.

And so you will be invited today to purchase some of the candles we just blessed to take into your home.  Traditionally these blessed candles have been used in many ways: to be a sign of Christ’s presence when the priest is called to anoint a dying loved one; to be lit during a storm to remind us of Jesus who had power to conquer every storm; to be lit when the family gathers for prayer so that we remember that whenever we gather in Christ’s name, he is there in our midst.  Every family should have blessed candles in their home because every family has times when Christ’s light needs to be shown brightly.

Those blessed candles which remind us of the presence of our Savior in good times and in bad remind us that we, too are meant to be the light of Christ.  And we are called to be the light because the world has times of darkness too.  The world needs us to be the light that scatters the darkness of apathy by looking in on a sick neighbor or bringing a meal to a family that has suffered the death of a loved one.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of ignorance by mentoring a young person, or opening our home to a foster child, or being a catechist.  We are called to be the light that scatters the darkness of racism by standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters, no matter where they’ve come from.  We have to be the light that scatters the darkness of death by taking every opportunity to oppose abortion, euthanasia, and any endeavor that cheapens human life.  We have to be the light that scatters the sadness of a spiritually bereft world by joyfully living our faith and standing up for what we believe.  The world needs the light of Christ, and you might be the only candle someone sees on a given day.  Be the light, friends: be Christ’s presence.  People of faith don’t have any other option than that.

The Methodist minister William L. Watkinson once said, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”  We can look at the darkness of our world – and there is plenty of it! – and shake our heads and walk away in sadness, but that doesn’t shed any light.  We have to acknowledge the darkness and remember, as the Gospel of John proclaims, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  We are Catholics and we believe and proclaim that there is no darkness on earth that Christ our Light can’t overcome with the brightness of his glory.  It is up to us to light the candle that helps others to see that glory.

In today’s Gospel reading, Simeon and Anna experienced the power of the Light of the World.  They had been waiting and praying and fasting for the day of his appearance, and those prayers were answered.  The Lord came suddenly to the temple, as Malachi prophesied, and they could now be at peace.  But that appearance of the Lord requires a response: one doesn’t just experience the light and remain the same.  Christ our light is that refiner’s fire that purifies the lives of his chosen ones so that they might go out and shed light on our dark world.

And I don’t mean for this to just be an academic or poetic discussion.  The light of Christ is not a mere metaphor.  Being the light for the world isn’t just a “yeah, maybe I should do that some day” kind of thing.  Every baptized one, according to her or his station in life, is called to actively shed light on the world.  So let’s take a few moments to pray with this.

  • Call to mind a darkness that you have noticed, either in your life, in your community, or in the world: a darkness that affects you or those around you.
  • Take a moment to talk with Jesus about that darkness and let him know your concern.
  • Listen for Jesus as he acknowledges the darkness and accepts your concern.  
  • Ask him for the grace to shed some light, small or big, on that darkness.  Listen for him to tell you what he wants you to do.
  • If you don’t hear that call right away, bring it to your prayer this week.  Ask Jesus for grace to be the light.
Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: Sunday of the Word of God

Today’s Readings
Pope Francis’s “motu proprio” APERUIT ILLIS, instituting the Sunday of the Word of God

About fifteen years ago now, my home parish put on a production of the musical Godspell, and somehow I found myself part of the cast.  If you’ve ever seen the musical, you know that it is based on the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel that we are reading during this current Church year.  I remember the first song of the musical was kind of strange to me at the time.  It’s called “Tower of Babel” and the lyrics are a hodge-podge of lots of philosophies and philosophers throughout time.  I didn’t get, at the time, the significance of the song, but I do now.  “Tower of Babel” represents the various schools of thought about God, over time.  It shows how philosophy at its worst has been an attempt to figure out God by going over God’s head, by leaving God out of the picture completely.

The song ends abruptly and goes right into the second song of the musical, “Prepare Ye,” of which the major lyric is “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”  The message that we can take from that is that the useless, and in some ways sinful, babbling of the pagan philosophers was once and for all settled by Jesus Christ.  If we want to know the meaning of life, if we want to know who God is, we have only to look to Jesus.  That’s true of most things in life.

That’s what is happening in today’s Liturgy of the Word too.  The people in the first reading and in the Gospel have found themselves in darkness.  Zebulun and Naphtali have been degraded.  They have been punished for their sinfulness, the sin being that they thought they didn’t need God.  They thought they could get by on their own cleverness, making alliances with people who believed in strange gods and worshiped idols.  So now they find themselves in a tower of Babel, occupied by the people with whom they tried to ally themselves.  Today’s first reading tells them that this subjection – well deserved as it certainly was – is coming to an end.  The people who have dwelt in darkness are about to see a great light.

The same is true in another sense for Peter and Andrew and the sons of Zebedee in today’s Gospel.  These men have been fishermen all their lives.  Reading the Gospels and seeing how infrequently they catch anything unless Jesus helps them, we might wonder how successful they were at their craft.  But the point is that fishing is all they’ve ever known.  These are not learned men, nor are they known for their charisma or ability to lead people.  But these are the men who Jesus calls as apostles.  One wonders if they had any previous about Jesus, because on seeing him and hearing him and recognizing the Light of the World, they drop everything, turn their backs on the people and work they have always known, and follow Jesus, whose future they absolutely could never have imagined.

All of this is good news for us. Because we too dwell in darkness at times, don’t we? We can turn on the news and see reports of men and women dying in war, crime and violence in our communities, corruption in government, and maybe worst of all right now, sniping between political candidates!  Then there is the rampant disrespect for life through the horrific sin of abortion, as well as euthanasia, hunger and homelessness, racism and hatred, and so much more.  Add to that the darkness in our own lives: illness of a family member or death of a loved one, difficulty in relating to family members, and even our own sinfulness.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much imagination to know that our world is a very dark place indeed.

But the Liturgy today speaks to us the truth that into all of this darkness, the Light of Christ has dawned and illumined that darkness in ways that forever change our world and forever change us.  One of the Communion antiphons for today’s Liturgy speaks of that change.  Quoting Jesus in the Gospel of John, it says this:

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.  

There is an antidote available for the darkness in our world and in our hearts, and that antidote is Jesus Christ.  The limits that are part and parcel of our human existence are no match for the light that is God’s glory manifested in Christ.  This is what we mean by the Epiphany, and we continue to live in the light of the Epiphany in these opening days of Ordinary Time.  Now that Jesus Christ has come into the world, nothing on earth can obscure the vision of God’s glory that we see in our Savior.

Pope Francis has made this particular Sunday each year a celebration of the Word of God.  He means for us to spend time opening the Scriptures and finding the manifold riches that are there.  That’s what our Mass is always about.  Read carefully through the order of Mass and you’ll find scripture in every part of it.  Not just in the Liturgy of the Word – that’s a given, but in each and every one of the prayers of Mass.  Catholic worship isn’t something someone made up, it is literally a celebration of the Word of God from beginning to end.  And that makes sense, when you think about it: if we are called to “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord,” as one of the dismissal formulas invites us, we can do that with confidence because we have just been fed on the Gospel in every part of our Mass.

The Mass, too, is an Epiphany celebration at every point of the liturgical year.  Because when we’re attentive to the Word of God and the prayer of the Mass, we can’t possibly miss Jesus present among us.  So Pope Francis on this Sunday of the Word of God encourages us to devote ourselves to God’s word: to join a Bible study – we have that here at Saint Mary’s, to help others break open the word by leading that part of the RCIA, to teaching the scriptures to children in our school and religious education programs, to proclaiming the Word at Mass.  Do any one of those things, sisters and brothers, and I guarantee you’ll grow in your knowledge of scripture.  And, turning a famous saying of Saint Jerome around to the positive, knowledge of scripture is knowledge of Christ.

Jesus came to be good news for us.  He is the Word of God incarnate among us, not just two thousand years ago, but even now if we would give ourselves over to loving the scriptures.  So for those of us who feel like every day is a struggle of some sort, and who wonder if this life really means anything, the Good news is that Jesus has come to give meaning to our struggles and to walk with us as we go through them. For those of us who are called to ministries for which we might feel unqualified – as catechists, Eucharistic Ministers, Lectors, RCIA team members, small group leaders or retreat leaders – we can look to the Apostles and see that those fishermen were transformed from the darkness of their limited life to the light of what they were able to accomplish in Christ Jesus. Wherever we feel darkness in our lives, the Good News for us is that Christ’s Epiphany – his manifestation into our world and into our lives – has overcome all that.

As the Psalmist sings for us today, the Lord truly is our light and our salvation.

Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

I wonder if this solemnity of Christ the King is one to which many people can relate.  In our American society, so many people don’t recognize or accept any authority outside of their own personal opinion of what is okay, let alone grasp the concept of a monarchical, top-down method of government.

And even if we were looking for a king, what kind of king is this?  Our gospel reading today presents a picture of a king who, objectively speaking, seems to be rather a failure.  This is not a king who lived in a lavish palace and expected the blind obedience of all those around him.  This is not a king who held political office, or led a great army.  His message has always been quite different than that, and now today, look at him hanging on the cross between two hardened criminals.  That one of them thinks to ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom is almost laughable, but, well, there it is.   There is our king.  This feast leaves us on the very last Sunday of the Church year with more questions than, it would seem, could ever possibly be answered.

This wasn’t the kind of thing the Jews were expecting, of course. They had long been expecting an Anointed One, but never one like this. Their whole picture of a Messiah had been one of political greatness and military strength, one who would restore the sovereignty of Israel and reestablish Jerusalem as the great political and religious city that it had once been. That was the Messiah they were looking for, but what they got was one who was so much of a suffering servant that he ended up on a cross. Pilate’s inscription, “This is the king of the Jews” was sarcastic and completely offensive to them, which of course is exactly what he intended.

So it’s easy to see why the Jews might not have noticed that this one was their king. It’s easy enough to even see why they would have chosen to ignore his kingship. But we can’t miss it: we have heard the Word proclaimed all year long and we know that this is the way that God chose to save the world. There are times, of course, when we could do with a bit more opulence and certainly a lot less suffering. But Jesus is the king of our reality, not of our fantasy, and so he is not ashamed to herald the cross as the gateway to the kingdom and the instrument of our salvation.

And we have to admit that we are a people who need a king like this. We might want a king to give us greatness and rest from our enemies, but that’s not real. What’s real is our suffering, whether it’s illness, or grief, or job dissatisfaction, or personal troubles, or family strife, or broken relationships, or any other calamity. Suffering happens, and that’s why Jesus chose the image of the Suffering Servant as the motif of his kingship. St. Paul says today in our second reading from his letter to the Colossians that “in him all things hold together.” Even when the world seems to be falling apart for us, we can trust in the Suffering Servant to walk with us and hold everything together.

And so, as preposterous as it may sound to others, we know that Christ is our King.  His Kingship, he says in another gospel, is not of this world.  No, he was not a king who came with great fanfare, oppressing peoples and putting down vast armies.  No, he was not the king who restored Israel to the Davidic monarchy that began in this morning’s first reading.  His power was not exercised over the political forces of this world, as much as it was exercised over the power of evil in the world.  He is the King who conquered, once and for all, the things that really plague us: evil, sin and death.  His Kingdom was not defined by his mortal life, but in fact begins just after he gives up that mortal life.  Unlike earthly kings, his power is everlasting.

In 1925, Pope Pius XI, in the face of rising nationalism and Fascism, instituted the Feast of Christ the King to reassert Christ’s sovereignty over all forms of political governance.  Jesus Christ is not just one king among others, but rather he is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Perhaps, if this feast had been instituted today, our Church might be reasserting Christ’s sovereignty over all powers of cynicism, relativism, and apathy.  Jesus Christ our King is, as he says in another place, “the way, the truth, and the life” and there is no other way to the Father, no other way to the kingdom, no other way to life eternal than to take up our cross and follow our King through the sadness of sin and brokenness, through the pain of death, to the glory of his kingdom.  And so we have to say with boldness and conviction on this day that one religion isn’t as good as another; that it’s not okay to skip Mass to go to your child’s basketball game; that Sunday isn’t just a day to sleep in, or shop the malls, but rather a day to worship our King who is the only One who can give us what we really yearn for; what this life is all about.

And so this is how we wrap up our Church year.  Next week we begin anew, the first Sunday of Advent.  On this last Sunday of the year, it makes sense that we stop for a minute, and look back at the year gone by.  How has it been for us?  Have we grown in faith?  Have we been able to reach out to the poor and needy?  Has our faith really taken root in our lives, have we been people who witness to the truth with integrity and conviction and fearlessness?  Have we put our King first in our lives or have we been worshipping false gods, attaching our hopes to impotent kings, recognizing false powers, and wandering off the path to life?

If we have been lax about our faith this year, if we have given ourselves to relativism and apathy, then this is the time to get it right.  On this eve of the Church’s new year, perhaps we might make new year’s resolutions to worship our King in everything we say and everything we do.  Because nothing else is acceptable, and anything less is offensive to our King who gained his Kingship at the awesome price of his own precious life that we might be able to live with him in his kingdom.  Maybe we can resolve to get to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation, not just when it works out in our schedule, and including those times when we travel (there are Catholic churches pretty much everywhere).  Or perhaps we can resolve to reinvigorate our prayer lives, making time every single day to connect with our Lord, to remember our Sunday worship, to seek his guidance in all our endeavors and plans, to strive to catch a glimpse of the Kingdom in the quiet moments of our prayer.  And certainly we must resolve to live the Gospel in its fullness: to reach out to the poor and needy, to live lives of integrity as we participate in our work and in our communities, to love every person God puts in our path.  On this “new Church year’s eve” we must resolve to be followers of the King in ways that proclaim to a cynical and apathetic, yet watching world, that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords and that there is absolutely no other.

Our prayer on this glorious Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King must be the prayer of Saint Dismas, the “good thief” as he hung upon the cross: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!” Pray that with me in song…

Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

This feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord can be a puzzling one for us to understand.  It’s an event we’ve heard about in Gospel readings, but it’s not something that we’ve ever seen.  So it’s hard, I think, for us to figure out.  If that’s true of us, we shouldn’t feel too bad: it’s clear that Peter, James and John, disciples who were clearly in Jesus’ “inner circle” didn’t get it either.  In fact, they were so frightened by it that they hardly knew what to say.  

But as we reflect on this feast, we should see that the Transfiguration is a sign for us of three things: it’s a sign of who Jesus really is, a sign of what would happen in the paschal mystery, and a sign of what is to be for those who believe.

First, then, it is a sign of who Jesus really is.  We get three very beautiful clues to Jesus’ true identity here.  First, there is the transfiguration, or change, itself. Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become dazzling white.  He literally shines with the Glory of God.  This perhaps reminded the people of Jesus’ time of the way Moses’ face was said to shine after he came down from the mountain where he conversed with God. It also reminds us of the way the figure who was “one like a son of man” shone in today’s first reading.  The transfiguration tells us that Jesus is no ordinary man, that the divinity the had from the beginning but set aside at his Incarnation, that divinity was ready to burst forth from him at any moment. It did in today’s Gospel, and Peter, James and John were witnesses of it.  The second clue is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus.  This appearance linked Jesus with Israel’s past, Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets.  His conversation with Moses and Elijah underscore that Jesus’ ministry in the world was part of God’s plan for our salvation.  The third clue is the voice of God.  “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If there had been any doubt, it had to be gone by now.  Rarely does God speak in such a direct manner to his creation, but he did it here.  Jesus was his beloved Son, and Peter, James and John – and all of us too – would do well to listen to him.

Second, the Transfiguration is a sign of what would happen in the Paschal Mystery.  The incredible event of Jesus’ Transfiguration foreshadows the glory of the Resurrection.  It’s a peek at what Jesus would look like after he rose from the dead.  You may remember that the first witnesses of the Resurrection had a hard time recognizing Jesus.  That may be because he was transfigured by the Resurrection, and so today’s event is perhaps a foreshadowing of what that would be like. Yes, Jesus would have to suffer and die, but his Resurrection and Ascension would be glorious, and would open the possibility of glory to all of us as well.

Third, the Transfiguration is a sign of what waits for us who believe.  The glory that we see in Jesus today is the glory that waits for all of us.  We have hope of the Resurrection, we have hope of an eternal home in heaven.  The Transfiguration shows us that this hope is ours, if we but listen to the one who is God’s beloved Son.  Sure, we come to that as those who don’t deserve that kind of glory.  We are in need of our own kinds of transfigurations.  We are in need of our sins being transfigured into faithfulness, of our failures being transfigured into joys, of our death being transfigured into everlasting life.  All of those transfigurations are accomplished in us when we but listen to God’s beloved Son.

Categories
Christmas Homilies Jesus Christ

The Baptism of the Lord

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate a feast that is commemorated in the first Luminous Mystery of the Rosary.  The Luminous Mysteries were popularized by Saint John Paul II, and illustrate the various ways that Christ’s nature and the purpose of his coming were revealed to us.  That is, they are luminous mysteries because they shed light on who Christ was and is.  I like to think of the Luminous Mysteries as particularly appropriate during the Epiphany part of the year, because as we discovered last week, Epiphany means manifestation; it refers to light being shed on the person of Jesus Christ.

I call this the Epiphany Season.  Epiphany was last Sunday, and today, the Baptism of the Lord is the end of the Christmas Season.  But the Epiphany goes on in some ways for a while: traditionally until February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord.  So we will see in the readings in this first part of the year, more and more about who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Today we have some wonderful words of Epiphany in today’s Gospel reading.  Here, it is God the Father who speaks of his Son:“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased.”  Talk about a message of Epiphany.  Anyone who heard it cannot possibly be in doubt about who Jesus was. It was certainly enough to convince Saint John the Baptist, who later testifies to the “Lamb of God” and proclaims that “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

So, if you stop to think about it, we have come a long way since December 25th.  Jesus, the Son of God, has become the son of Mary, and has consecrated the world by his most loving presence.  The Second Person of the Holy Trinity has taken on flesh and become one like us in all things but sin.  He took that flesh as the lowliest of all: as a baby born to a poor young family in the tiniest, poorest region of a small nation. He has grown up now, and stands ready to take on his ministry – we will hear more about that next week.  He begins all this by doing what is a very odd gesture: he receives John’s baptism, which is for the forgiveness of sins.

I say it’s an odd gesture because obviously, Jesus didn’t have sins to be forgiven.  So what is this all about?  Why would he set foot into waters that could not wash him from anything?  Well, traditionally, scholars find two reasons for that.  First, by accepting John’s baptism, Jesus identifies himself with sinners, that is, with all of us – the people he came to save.  Nowhere in the Gospels did he ever distance himself from sinners, because of his great love for us.  This then signifies the beginning of his ministry to sinners: the people he would famously dine with and spend time with, and heal and call to conversion. Secondly, his baptism does something to the water.  If the water could not wash him, he could certainly consecrate the water.  By our God setting foot in the waters of baptism, he forever sanctifies the water with which all of us sinners are baptized.  So his being baptized is an act of mercy for all of us, those he came to save.

The secret to our celebration of the Epiphany is that we must be ready to accept the manifestation of Jesus in our own lives.  We have to let him be our king and priest, accepting his death for our salvation.  We have to celebrate our own baptism, which has become significant because Christ has gone through it first, long before us, sanctifying the waters.  We have to accept and treasure the mercy of sharing in his baptism.

This is Jesus: this is the One with whom the Father was well-pleased; he is the One with whom we are in awe.  We are moved to silence before our Christ who came most lovingly to sanctify our way to heaven.  That silence can only be appropriately broken by the exclamation of the Father: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased!”

Categories
Christmas Homilies Jesus Christ

The Most Holy Name of Jesus

Today’s readings

Not everyone has St. John the Baptist around to point out the Messiah to them. Lots of us, I think, at one point or another, would have loved to have been in the sandals of those apostles when Jesus was passing by. As much as we believe that Christ is present in every person, place and time, I’m sure lots of us would love to have St. John the Baptist point out when we’re missing Christ’s presence in some person or situation. It’s harder when you don’t have the Forerunner showing you the way.

But not everyone even recognized Christ – or at least who he was – in that time and place either. St. John tells us in our first reading that people don’t recognize that we are children of God because they didn’t recognize God in Christ in the first place. So if we miss Jesus in some situation or person, well, our mistake is not unique to us.

During the Christmas season, we are celebrating the Incarnation: the presence of God among us. Of course, this isn’t just about the presence of God among us two thousand years ago, but his real presence among us in every person, in every place and blessing, and especially in the Eucharist. During this time, we might gaze on the manger and long to have been there gazing into the face of Christ. We can gaze into the face of Christ today by taking time for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or time to reach out to someone in need. During this time, we might imagine ourselves next to the Manger on that night long ago, and long to have been there, holding the Christ Child in our arms. In a few minutes, we can come to the Altar and receive our Jesus and hold him in our hands in the Eucharist, receiving him body and blood, soul and divinity. Jesus is just as incarnate, just as Emmanuel, God-with-us, now as he was back then.

We will be strengthened by the Word and the Eucharist today to go forward and see Christ all around us. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Categories
Christology Homilies Jesus Christ Ordinary Time

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the great feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe.  It’s one of those feasts that I think we can say, yeah, okay, I believe that.  But it really doesn’t affect me.  I mean, we don’t even have the political reference of being ruled by a king any more.  Not only that, I think we as a society have pretty much bracketed the whole idea of authority.  Basically if an authority gives us permission to do whatever we want, then fine, he or she can be in authority.  But the minute that authority tries to limit us in any way, then whoa: hang on a minute.

Yet there are times when we do want an authority.  Whenever we are wronged, we want an authority to give us justice.  Whenever we are in danger, we want an authority to keep us safe.  Whenever we are in need, we want an authority to bring us fulfillment.  But other than when we need something, we hardly ever seek any kind of authority.  Certainly not as a society, and if we’re being honest, not as individuals.  As an example, take the days after the tragedy of 9-11.  Our whole world was shattered.  I wasn’t here then, but I would be willing to bet the church was filled to overflowing; I know my home parish was.  In those days, we wanted an authority to bring us peace and comfort and rest.  But now that we’re seventeen years on the other side of it, look around.  Not so many people in the pews, right?  If Christ was the authority then, what makes him less of an authority now?  We certainly did not come through those harrowing days with our own feeble efforts, but when we don’t have buildings crashing down around us, we don’t seem to remember that.

Still, the Church gives us this important feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King of the Universe to remind us that there is an authority.  Christ is King in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health.  Christ is king of the Universe and king of our own lives.  And if that’s true, we have to be ready to live that way.  So no, we can’t just do whatever we want.  And no, just because we believe something with all our hearts, that doesn’t make it truth.  And no, the idea of living according to our conscience doesn’t mean that it’s okay as long as it works for me.  The world would have us believe that, but the world will one day come to an end.  If we want the possibility of eternity, then we have to be open to the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe!

In today’s first reading, we have the promise of the king: one like a son of man with an everlasting dominion.  This part of the book of Daniel comes from a series of visions. In these visions, particularly the one we have today, Daniel gives the Jews hope in persecution.  This is a vision that is spoken to lift the people up and help them to know that their hope is in God.  The Jews of his day have been being persecuted by the Greek tyrant, Antiochus Epiphanes IV.  He and his henchmen were certainly persecuting the Jews who insisted on living the Jewish way of life.  But what is even more evil and more disastrous to the community, is that some of the Jews were starting to think that giving up their way of life and instead worshiping the gods of the Greeks was a good idea.  They figured if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.  So, why not give up their own faith to follow one that seems to be working better?  The biggest danger they faced was losing their faith to the pagans by adopting pagan ways of life.

We clearly are not under the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes, but we are definitely in danger of losing our faith to the pagan forces of this world.  And there are so many seductive ways that pagan forces weasel their way into our lives and tempt us to give in to their power over us.  Relativism and intolerance for Catholic values seem to be winning more souls every day.  Everything that promises us power, success and wealth has the ability to take our hearts and souls with it.  Why not just give in?  Won’t paganism and evil win out in the end?

Well, Daniel sure didn’t think so. He prophesied that there would be one like a Son of Man who would triumph over Antiochus and others like him.  This One would deliver them from the persecution they suffered and from the seduction that confronted them.  This One would rule the world in justice and peace, and would lead the persecuted ones to a kingdom that would never pass away.

The early Church identified this Son of Man with Jesus Christ.  He is the One who has power to rule over all and he is the One whose kingdom is everlasting.  He even referred to himself as the Son of Man, and made it clear that he was the Son of Man who would suffer for the people.  He came to deliver those first Christians from persecution with the promise that he would indeed come again, and that same promise is made to us as well.

But the problem was, he didn’t return right away.  People lost faith, gave in to persecution, and just went with the powerful forces of the day.  The delay in his return led some to believe that he was not returning, and so they should just do what seemed expedient.  Why not go with the victorious pagan forces of the world? Sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?

Jesus told Pilate in today’s Gospel that his Kingdom was not of this world.  That should be the red flag for us.  When we begin to worship and follow the forces of this world, we know that we are in the wrong place.  The preface to the Eucharistic Prayer, which I will sing in a few minutes, tells us the kind of kingdom that Christ came to bring and we should long for is a kingdom like this:

…an eternal and universal kingdom
a kingdom of truth and life,
a kingdom of holiness and grace,
a kingdom of justice, love and peace.

 Christ is the King, the Son of Man, who will lead us to a kingdom not made by human hands, a kingdom that will not pass away, a kingdom of eternal beauty and unfathomable joy.  The choice is ours, though.  Will we follow the pagan forces of this world, or will we follow Our Lord Jesus Christ the King to that perfect and everlasting kingdom, not of this world that will certainly pass away, but the kingdom of eternity and the life of heaven?

Categories
Homilies Jesus Christ

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

How do you picture Jesus? We’ve never seen him face to face, but we have definitely seen artwork depicting him. That artwork can be very inspiring. But that artwork can also give us a perhaps false, overly-familiar look at Jesus our God. I tend to think Peter, James and John also had a kind of familiar picture of their Jesus. Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity. We can be like that too. We’ve been taught to see Jesus as a friend, and so sometimes we forget that he is also our God. Or vice-versa. The truth is, of course, that he is both.

Today’s feast changes things for those disciples, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”