26 February 2017

Homily - 26 February 2017

The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Each of us knows the truth of the words the Lord Jesus speaks today: “sufficient for a day is its own evil” (Matthew 6:34). Evil, of course, is a privation of the good; where goodness is lacking, there is evil. Because much of our days are often lacking in goodness – whether on our part or on the part of others – we experience evil throughout each day, to one degree or another. The form and degree of the evil we experience may be different for each of us, but who of us would like to experience more evil? Yes, sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Yet as often as we suffer the effects of evil, still the presence of goodness can always to be found. Most often, goodness is found in seemingly simple things, such as a budding flower or the flight of a bird (cf. Matthew 6:28, 26). Goodness is also found in things more profound, such as the witness of a faithful bishop or the realization that God loves us more tenderly than any mother can (cf. I Corinthians 4:1; Isaiah 49:14-15). This is why the Lord Jesus counsels us, saying, “do not worry about your life” because “I will never forget you” (Matthew 6:25; Isaiah 49:15). While we might forget the Lord, he never forgets us and desires that we pour out our hearts him (cf. Psalm 62:9).

There can be no doubt that Saint Damien of Moloka’i knew all too well the evils of his day, from self-centeredness and loneliness to disease and death. Still, despite all of these evils, he did not let himself be overcome with worry or anxiety, but trusted in the Lord’s love for him. This is why he said, “having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content.” Can we say the same? Because he knew of the Lord’s closeness to him throughout each day, Father Damien encouraged others to “tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.”

We know intellectually of the Lord’s loving closeness to us, but we do not always allow the knowledge of his continuing presence at our sides to seep deep into our hearts. When we become so focused on ourselves that we do not recognize the Lord’s love for us, we cry out, saying, “The Lord has forsaken me” (Isaiah 49:15)! It is in these moments that the “song of sweetness” that is the Alleluia is absent from our lips.[1]

In a similar way, it will not be long before we bid farewell to the great word of joy and praise that is the Alleluia. However, when Holy Mother Church silences this great “voice that cannot die,” it is not because the Bride of Christ feels forsaken by her Lord.[2] Rather, it is because “the solemn time is coming when our tears for sin must flow.”[3] As a wise steward of the Lord’s mysteries, the Church knows that while the Alleluia is silenced for a short time on earth, “the anthem ever raised by choirs on high” continues in heaven where the hosts of heaven “sing eternally.”[4]

We close our lips to the Alleluia throughout the season of Lent so that we might express in a simple, external way our recognition and contrition for the evil of each day brought about by our lack of goodness, by our failures to love, by our sin. Even as we implore the Lord’s mercy in the confidence that he will never forget us, we beg him to grant us, by his grace, “to attain merit’s reward” (Prayer Over the Offerings). This reward is nothing less than the grace to join the ranks of the angels and saints as they gaze upon the beauty of his Face, “there to [him] for ever singing ‘alleluia’ joyfully.”[5]

As we restrain our joy in these coming days, we should beg the Lord to “bring to light what is hidden in darkness and manifest the motives of our hearts” (I Corinthians 4:5). It is only by stirring up a sincere sorrow for our sins that we will be able to truly confess our sins and then, having received the Lord’s forgiveness, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). Living in this way, we will be untroubled in our devotion and while the song of Alleluia may be silenced on our lips, it will never die in our hearts (cf. Collect). Amen.

[1]Alleluia dulce carmen,” J. M. Neale, trans. In Eleanor Parker, “‘Ceasing from the voice of joy and gladness’” Aelfric’s Homily for Septuagesima,” A Clerk of Oxford, 16 February 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.

21 February 2017

On thirty-one years

The great J.R.R. Tolkien once penned these intriguing words to one of his sons:
The link between father and son is not only of the perishable flesh: it must have something of aeternitas about it. There is a place called "heaven" where the good here unfinished is completed: and where stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet... (Letter to Michael Tolkien, 9 June 1941).
Today being the thirty-first anniversary of the death of my own father, these words have been on my mind throughout the day.

Over these past three decades, so much has happened in which I would have liked my father to share. Though I have frequently felt the presence of my father because of the aeternitas shared between a father and son, so much good begun by him remains yet unfinished, so many stories of the two of us remain unwritten, so many of our hopes are still unfulfilled. With each passing year, I long more and more for the continuation of each of these and for the pleasure of laughing once again with my father. I long for the day when something of the aeternitas of his paternity is fulfilled.

The verse for the Gospel acclamation for the Mass of the day, felt especially poignant to me today: "Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel" (II Timothy 1:10). It is my great hope that my father and I will both share fully in the victory of the Lord Jesus and gaze eternally upon the beauty of his face.

Please, in the charity of your prayers, remember my father today.

19 February 2017

Homily - 19 February 2017 - What does it mean for us to imitate the perfection of God the Father?

The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

It has often been said that we are not called to perfection because, as humans with a fallen nature, we cannot be perfect. Such a claim, of course, stands in stark contradiction to the words of Our Lord who today commands us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We know that Jesus never commands us to do what is impossible, so what does it mean for us to imitate the perfection of God the Father?

The medieval theologian Richard of St. Victor teaches us, “nothing is more perfect than charity,” charity being a sort of technical word for the love that is of God. Indeed, Richard also rightly says, “Where there is fullness of all goodness, true and supreme charity cannot be lacking.”[1] We can rightly say, then, that the perfection of God is the perfection of love and it is to this perfection that the Lord Jesus calls us.

We see this understanding of the perfection of God within the writings of the Beloved Disciple, who has left us the true insight that “God is love” (I John 4:8). Love, of course, is more than a mere sentiment or an emotion that comes and goes like the waxing and waning of the moon. Love, if it is sincere and authentic, is more constant than an emotion. Love is a desire for the good of another person, together with a willingness to bring it about, even at my own expense.

Looking upon us in our fallen humanity, God the Father loved us. He sent his Son to die willingly upon the Cross so that we might attain salvation, the highest of all possible goods. Knowing that man has no greater love than to give his life for his friends, God desired our good enough to bring it about at his own expense (cf. John 15:13). As Saint Paul says, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

If the perfection of our heavenly Father consists in the perfection of love, then we are called – indeed, commanded – to likewise be perfect in love. This is why Saint John says, “In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world” (I John 4:17). This is why the Lord Jesus repeatedly tells us “the greatest and first commandment” is that we “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

Writing to a community of Poor Clares about the perfection of life, Saint Bonaventure reminded them that

To love [God] because it pleases you to give him your love or because the world recommends, or the flesh suggests such love, is not the love God asks. If for the love of Jesus Christ you would be prepared gallantly and lovingly to die in His service, should occasion arise, then most certainly do you love Him with your whole soul. If you do not love Him for His own sake or would find it difficult to die for His sake, your love is imperfect. It is not the love of your whole soul that you offer Him. Conform your will in all things to the Divine Will. This is what God demands. Do this, and the love wherewith you love God will be the love of your whole soul.[2]

If we are to arrive at the perfection of our love, we must not only love God perfectly by loving him for his own sake, we must also keep the second commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). The Lord God told Moses that loving our neighbor consists in not bearing hatred for our brother or sister in our heart, in taking no revenge, and in cherishing no grudge against another (cf. Leviticus 19:17-18). King David sang of the Lord’s love for us when he said, “Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Not according to our sins does he deal with us, nor does he requite us according to our crimes” (Psalm 103:8). If this is how the perfection of the Lord’s love is made known to us, then the perfection of our love must be shown to others in the same way because, as Jesus says to us, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34). For this reason Saint John says, “Whoever keeps the word of Christ, the love of God is truly perfected in him” (I John 2:5).

We know that each of us fails in loving one another as Jesus loves us but, as Pope Francis reminds us, “our falling short of perfection should be no excuse; on the contrary, mission is a constant stimulus not to remain mired in mediocrity but to continue growing.” [3] We can take comfort in the honest confession of Saint Paul: “Not that I have already obtained this, or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12-13). The Lord indeed knows our weakness and our sinfulness, yet still he calls us to the perfection of love.

As we seek to perfect our love for God and neighbor, we should make an honest examination of our consciences before we enter the season of Lent. By doing so, we can make better use of this coming “favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor.”[4] If we use this time well, we can be perfected in love and so become holy, as the Lord commands.

Let us, then, strive with Mother Marianne to “creep down into the heart of Jesus” so that his love might be our own. As we seek to conform our hearts ever more closely to the heart of Jesus, let us remember these words of Father Damien, “To have begun is nothing, the hard thing is to persevere. This is the work of God’s grace. That grace will never fail me, I am sure of that, provided I do not resist it.” Amen.

[1] Richard of St. Victor, On the Trinity, 3.2.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, 87.
[3] Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium, 121.
[4] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2017, 3.