|Stepping out of St. Peter's |
last Tuesday morning
Thursday, October 31, 2013
HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2013:
“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this
Solemnity of All Saints, this question
that we heard proclaimed from the Book of
Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where
did they come from?” Or perhaps, closer
to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did
they become saints?
I was fortunate enough to be in Rome for a meeting of friars last week and as a great honor, on Tuesday, we celebrated Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the tomb of St. Peter himself. The feast that day was the Memorial of Blessed Pope John Paul II – who will become Saint Pope John Paul II next April. After Mass, I went upstairs into the main body of St. Peter’s where our beloved former Pope’s body now is located at a side altar for public veneration to say a prayer and I couldn’t help but recall his funeral Mass a few years ago which took place at that same site. You might remember the incredible scene as people waved numerous signs and chanted, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst. “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.
But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. Ironically, perhaps, today’s celebration is actually not about all of the holy men and women who have gone before us and now enjoy an eternity in God’s presence; but rather it is about the common call that each of us who are baptized share to become one of them. All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints.
The famous mystic Benedictine, Thomas Merton, once asked a friend, “How does one become a saint?” The answer, “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” We must first desire to be saints, instead of saying to ourselves that sainthood is out of our reach.
So, how do we show that desire? How do we become saints? Jesus gives us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. The 144,000 we heard about in the first reading followed that good instruction. They are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. What instruction did they follow? The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Few of us would expect chants of “Santo Subito” at our funeral. If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus. But, our human life in this world is destined to become eternal life with God in the next. We must live as though we believe that, as though we desire that. Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit. With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory. It was once said that, “there is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”
My brothers and sisters, we celebrate this day all of those saints, those women and men who have successfully lived that life of faith all the way to glory, and we remember that we too are called to that same glory. We remember that to be a saint, “All you have to do is desire it.”
May God give you peace.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, October 27, 2013:
A tourist in Vienna was going through a graveyard when all of a sudden he heard music. No one was around, so he started searching for the source. He finally located the music coming from a grave with a headstone that read: Ludwig van Beethoven, 1770-1827. Then he realized that the music was the 9th Symphony being played backwards! Puzzled, he left and persuaded a friend to return with him. By the time they returned, the music has changed. This time it was the 7th Symphony, and again, it was being played backwards. The men decided to bring in a music scholar and when they returned with him, it was the 5th Symphony playing, again backwards. The expert noticed that the symphonies were being played in the reverse order in which they were composed, the 9th, then the 7th, then the 5th. By the next day, word spread and a crowd gathered around the grave. By now, the 2nd Symphony was playing backwards. Just then the graveyard's caretaker came upon the group and someone asked if he had an explanation. “Oh, it's nothing to worry about,” the caretaker said, “Beethoven’s just de-composing!”
With Halloween just a few days away, I couldn’t resist a little grave humor today. And of course, toward the end of the week, we will celebrate in consecutive days, Halloween on Thursday and then the Solemnity of All Saints on Friday. There is an interesting juxtaposition between these two celebrations. On Halloween, there is, of course, the tradition of dressing up in costumes and putting on masks. It is a day of pretending and covering up our true identity. But, then, on the day after Halloween, on All Saints Day, we celebrate the exact opposite. Really, what All Saints Day is about is a celebration of all those women and men who grew out of the need to put on a mask. Saints, after all, are merely people who have been able to get past the pretending in life to the point of being simply and fully the person God created them to be. Saints let go of cover-ups, falseness, masks and pretenses and instead live in the truth of who God is and who they are in His sight.
And, in this week where we will go from costumes to saints, we have this wonderful Gospel passage from Luke that Jesus addressed “to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” It is the story of two men at prayer – one a Pharisee, one a tax collector; and I would suggest, one perhaps wearing a mask and the other one on the road to sainthood, to living in the truth of who he is before God, a sinner in need of redemption.
In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees, one of the major religious groups, were very disciplined and devout men of God. They were serious-minded believers who had committed themselves to a life of regular prayer and observance of God's Law, even going far beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays, even though the law only required people to fast once a year, on the Day of Atonement. They gave tithes of all their income and not just of the required parts. When the Pharisee in the parable said, “I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income,” he wasn't kidding. I bet there are very few of us today who could measure up to the external moral standards of the Pharisees.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. Because tax collectors worked for the pagan Romans, mixed up with them and constantly handled their money they were said to be in a state of ritual uncleanliness. As far as anyone was concerned, they were public sinners on the highway to hell. But the tax collectors knew that the voice of people is not always the voice of God. They still hoped for salvation not on the merit of any religious or moral achievements of their own but on the gracious mercy of God.
So, who is wearing the mask and who is living in the truth in this parable? Surprisingly, we see that the Pharisee is more interested in external appearances. His prayer is all about the mask of his life and not about the truth of who he was before God. He is so focused on himself and his superiority to the tax collector and his own spiritual accomplishments that there was hardly any room for God. By contrast, the tax collector, whatever his failings may have been, knew who God is and who he is before God. He prayed sincerely, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Just as we know on Halloween, appearances can be deceiving. The model person in the parable Jesus puts before us is, of course, the tax collector who honestly acknowledges his faults and begs for help from a God who is full, even overflowing with mercy. This is a life without pretense; a life that seeks only to follow our loving God. This is what holiness looks like on the inside.
There is a story about a young woman who died and went to heaven. Her life on earth had been a life full of sin and when she arrived at the Pearly Gates she was told that she could only be admitted under one condition: she must return to earth an bring back the gift that God values above all others.
The young woman returned and one day came upon a young man who had just died for his faith in God. She thought, “This is the gift that God values most: the blood of someone who has died for their faith.” She took a drop of the young man’s blood and brought it back to heaven. But, when she presented it, she was told there was something that God values even more than this.
She returned again and came upon an old missionary preaching God’s word among the poor. She thought, “This must be the gift that God values most: the sweat of the brow of someone who has spent their life bringing the good news of salvation to the poor.” But, she was again told there was something that God valued more.
Returning over and over again, she kept bringing gifts, but was still told there was something God valued more highly. Finally, one day she was about to give up when she came upon a child playing at a fountain. The child was beautiful and innocent. At that moment, a man on horseback rode up and dismounted to get a drink at the fountain. When the man saw the child, he remembered his own former innocence. Then he looked into the fountain and saw the reflection of his own face. It was hardened and weathered. He suddenly realized that he had wasted the life that God had given him. At that moment tears of repentance welled up in his eyes and rolled down his cheeks and fell into the fountain.
The young woman took one of the man’s tears and brought it back to heaven. When she presented it, there was great joy among the angels and the saints. This was, indeed, the gift God valued above all others: the tears of a repentant sinner.
“The tax collector…beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ I tell you…the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We pray, today, for the grace to be like this tax collector, to remove the masks, the costumes, the pretenses we wear in life and to live in the awesome reality of who we are before our God – and in this way count ourselves among the Communion of Saints.
May the Lord give you peace.
Saturday, October 12, 2013
HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 13, 2013:
One night a Mom overheard her young son praying as he was kneeling by his bedside, “Dear Lord, Mommy said that I should pray that you help change me to be a better boy. So, if you can, please make me a better boy. But, if you can’t, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time just like I am.”
We heard in our Gospel today that “he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Our readings today invite us to think about this theme of giving thanks. In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian is healed from leprosy. His response is a great example of thanksgiving. Having been healed, Naaman recognizes that God was powerfully at work through Elisha the prophet, and he makes a public profession of his conviction. He said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.”
Our Gospel is also clearly about thanksgiving in the account of the healing of 10 lepers. We heard the lepers approach Jesus crying out, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus heals them, and “And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Now, most homilies on this passage will focus on why this one came back and the others didn’t – in fact, I think I’ve preached about that once or twice myself. But, today, I want to think about this in a different way – in a Eucharistic way. There’s more going on here than just the fact that sometimes we’re thankful and sometimes we’re not.
There’s something else going on in our readings today – whether Namaan or the leper in our Gospel – we see something important about their giving thanks. We see that the act of giving thanks changes them. God did something for them and then, the God-centered gratitude in their hearts helped to change them in an amazing way. It had an effect on them. And this is where the Eucharist comes in. The Eucharist is the other place today that we hear the word thanksgiving. The very word Eucharist comes to us from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” So, when we gather here, we are like Namaan or the man in our Gospel. We have returned glorifying God in a loud voice and giving thanks. That’s what we do here.
So, let’s talk for a minute about what happens in the Eucharist. Have you ever really thought about how it is that we believe that what was once bread and wine become completely and fully the Body and Blood of Jesus? After all, we always have the problem of our natural senses. Our senses tell us that it still tastes like bread and wine, and yet our faith tells us something different. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the glorified Christ becomes present under the appearances of bread and wine in a way that is unique, in a way that is Real.
The Church's traditional theological language says it this way: in the act of consecration during the Eucharist, the "substance" of the bread and wine is changed by the power of the Holy Spirit into the "substance" of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the appearances of bread and wine remain. This change at the level of substance from bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is called “transubstantiation” – from one substance to another. Does that clear it up for you? Obviously, this language of substance and appearance doesn’t exactly excite us or make our hearts soar.
But let’s think about it a little differently. Many changes in life involve a change in appearance. Think about a child reaching adulthood. The appearance of the person changes in many ways through life growing up, but who that person is on the inside, remains the same person—they are the same substance. Over the years, they’ve gotten taller, older, thinner or heavier, smarter or not, more mature hopefully – but through it all, they are still the same person. So, a change in appearance is only on the outside. But, a change in substance is much more important – it is a change at the deepest level. And just think in your own lives for this one. Have you ever known someone who has had a total conversion of person? Maybe yourself or someone you know? Maybe they didn’t have any faith, maybe they were the meanest nastiest person that you knew, but something changed in their life – either an experience, a realization, perhaps an encounter with God – and they became radically different – they became happy, loving, Spirit-filled whatever. Their deepest reality changed and that happened regardless of any change in appearance.
This is what is going on in the Eucharist. Of course, God could change the bread into the outward appearance of human flesh, and the wine into the outward appearance and taste of human blood. Nothing is impossible for God. I for one, am glad that He doesn’t do that. Could you imagine? Instead God changes what is most important – He changes its deepest reality, the very identity of the bread and wine into the full and complete identity of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ!
But it doesn’t end there. If it were only about what happens to the bread and the wine, then that still would be a miracle, but not one that changes the world or any of us. The power in that change, is that what we see and believe God is doing in the bread and wine, we see and believe God will do in us. Thanksgiving – Eucharist – changes us. We see and believe that God changes simple bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son and we believe that through our sharing in that meal, through our reception of that Body and Blood, through our giving thanks, we too will be changed into the Mystical Body of Christ.
St. Augustine said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” So, we receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist that we may become the presence of Christ for each other and for our world. We are meant to come here giving thanks, and then leave here each week to go out and share His presence and His love with our world. Only then can God do to the whole world, what He has done to that bread and wine and what He does to us – change us into His Son, make us and the world a place full of love and joy and healing and compassion.
The challenge of the Eucharist placed before us every time we celebrate, is three-fold. We are challenged to recognize that what happens at this and every Mass is an event unparalleled – God becomes really present in our midst through the Eucharist. We are challenged to recognize that by our sharing in this Eucharistic meal, we too become living, breathing, walking, talking Tabernacles of the Lord’s Presence. We carry His presence physically in ourselves when we receive. We need to reverence ourselves and each other as bearing that Presence of Christ. And finally, we have got to be that real presence of Jesus in our world in all that we say, all that we do, all that we are.
This is the Eucharist; this is Thanksgiving! Giving thanks changes us! If we have the courage to embrace that, to believe it – most importantly to live it – each one of us here, imagine what could happen outside these doors. Imagine what the Kingdom of God might look like.
“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Let us fall at the feet of Jesus, thank Him, and let this act of Thanksgiving change and transform us into His image, His body, His very presence in our world.
May the Lord give you peace.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
HOMILY FOR THE TRANSITUS OF ST. FRANCIS, October 3, 2013:
“I’m not Francis of Assisi and I do not have his strength and his holiness.” Now, I know that you know that I’m not Francis of Assisi, but I’m actually quoting another Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, who said these words in the second of his extraordinary interviews that he gave to the press in the last few weeks. This one was made public just this week in the Italian journal La Repubblica. So, he is not Francis of Assisi, but Pope Francis certainly knows the heart of our great saint, who we gather to commemorate tonight – as Franciscans and Claritians and those who love and follow Francis and Clare around the world also gather tonight. We gather once again to celebrate this Transitus, this passing, of St. Francis from the earthly to the heavenly realms.
And, I think, this year the celebration, the feast, is unlike previous years, precisely because of this new Francis, Pope Francis, who has shaken up the Church, shaken up the world, and hopefully shaken up all of us who so faithfully follow Francis and Clare. I had the privilege of being at a meeting this past April with Fr. Michael Perry, who is now our General Minister. Fr. Michael took a few moments to speak about this extraordinary time in the Church and the Order. He said, “It’s clear that Pope Francis has ushered in a new Franciscan moment in the Church. We now have a Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan heart calling us back to ourselves. If we don’t embrace this Franciscan moment, then we might as well all go home.”
So, what does this moment call forth from us; especially those of us in brown? What does it mean for us to have a Pope named Francis anyway? What’s in a name, after all, as Shakespeare so famously questioned? Well, you’ve probably heard the story before, but this is a good night to remember why our Pope chose that name. He said, “Some people wanted to know why [I] wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend [and a Franciscan]! When things were looking dangerous, he encouraged me. And when the votes reached two thirds, there was the usual applause, because the Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and a kiss, and leaned in and said: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars [in the world], as the votes were still being counted, till the end. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man … How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”
So, what’s in a name? I once heard a phrase that said, “A name accrues its heritage.” A phrase that means when you name something, eventually it takes on the characteristics of that name. Well, my friends, so especially my brothers and my dear sisters – it is not only the Pope who bears that name Francis – you and I bear it too. So, what’s in a name? What’s in that name that he bears, that we bear? I think it is the hope of our Holy Father Pope Francis to embody the same spirit of renewal and reform that embodied the great Saint of the Poor who we remember tonight.
You know, we live in a time through which the Church has endured many scandals; scandals brought on by the sinful actions of its own members. But, did you know that these scandals pale in comparison to the scandals in the times of St. Francis? The 13th Century in which he lived was rocked by sin and immorality all around – both within and without. And yet, today, we don’t remember that time for its scandal, we remember it for the great period of holiness that it gave birth to. We remember the luminary saints who were born in response to that sin – St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony; St. Agnes and Bl. John Duns Scotus; and so many, many more. And so much of it began with Francis.
How? He heard those words of Christ from the cross, “Rebuild my Church.” And he rebuilt it by following the Gospel – more through his actions than through his words. “Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary use words,” is a theme attributed to him. He rebuilt it by loving the poor; by joyfully giving all of himself. He rebuilt the Church by loving the Church, by loving its members, by loving its clergy, by loving its sacraments. He rebuilt it by holding back nothing of himself for himself and giving of himself completely in service to Christ and His Church and the world.
What’s in a name? A name accrues its heritage. So, the Pope may not be Francis of Assisi, but we clearly have a new spirit of Francis in our midst. For example, the Pope refused the Papal throne on the first day; he refused the lavish trappings of the Papacy and dressed more simply. His first action as Pope was not to stand like an emperor before the world, but instead as the whole world looked on to listen to his first words, the Supreme Pontiff and the Vicar of Christ on Earth; this new Pope bowed down before the world and asked us for our prayers; asked us for our blessing. And then he prayed. He rode on the bus and not the limousine, paid his hotel bill and picked up his own bags. He washed the feet of prisoners, women and non-Christians. He has amazed and surprised us at every turn. He smiles, he laughs, he jokes, he hugs, he kissed and he cries and his homilies are that of a pastor who loves his flock.
And his hope for us? Well, he knows that we bear that name too. His hope is that we will do the same. St. Francis changed the Church and changed the world with one simple proposition – that the Gospel is meant to be lived; that the Gospel can be lived. “The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this - to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Eight hundred years later, this new Francis, our Holy Father Pope Francis, wants to propose it to us again – and if we follow where he wants to lead us – not in word, but in action – we will again change the Church and change the world – if we first again change our hearts.
In his interview with America magazine, Pope Francis said, “Religious men and women are prophets. In the church, the religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves. I do not know how to put it.... Prophecy makes noise, uproar, some say ‘a mess.’ But in reality, the charism of religious people is like yeast: prophecy announces the spirit of the Gospel.”
My friends, on this night, let us be renewed in our calling, renewed in the name that we bear – the name of Francis. Let us burst forth into the world as the prophets that our religious life calls us to – makings some noise as we announce the Good News of love and joy and compassion and healing and faith and hope that God wants all of His people to hear.
Let us begin again.
May St. Francis bless us and bless our Pope and may the Lord give you peace.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
By David Gibson | Religion News Service