Advent - Tuesday of Week I

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent
Isaiah 11:1-10    Luke 10:21-24
November 29, 2011

The book of the Old Testament that the Church turns to most frequently during Advent is, without a doubt, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  Isaiah, as I’m sure you know, is one of the four “major prophets” of the Old Testament:  those four being Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.  The Season of Advent, of course, is a season of prophecy, symbolizing as it does the entire period of human history from the Fall in the Garden of Eden to the pregnancy of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  This entire stretch of human history was one of longing and expectation for the coming of the Messiah, promised as it was by God in the Garden after the Fall of Adam and Eve, and symbolized by the longing and expectation of Mary’s pregnancy.

In today’s First Reading from Isaiah, the Church proclaims the coming of the Messiah.  Just as Mary’s human pregnancy truly and historically became the symbol of Israel’s hope for a Messiah, so Isaiah uses metaphors of vegetation to prophecy God’s plan to fulfill His promise for a Messiah:  A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, / and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

Then Isaiah prophesies that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon this Messiah.  This prophecy, like all prophecies, is limited in what it reveals.  Isaiah himself, the human prophet, likely did not understand that the Messiah would be the Son of God in a human nature.  How could he have suspected that God the Father would be so gracious as to give us His only-begotten Son as the Messiah?  But God does announce through Isaiah’s prophecy that the Holy Spirit shall rest upon the Messiah.

God, through Isaiah, reveals that this Holy Spirit is a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord….  The Church calls these six—along with “piety”—the “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, and these seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are the best Christmas gifts that we as Christians might hope for.  We receive these seven gifts through Jesus Christ, whose birth we await.  You first received these seven gifts on the day of your Baptism:  your birthday into the Church.  These gifts were further strengthened in you through the Sacrament of Confirmation, so that you might more fully live out your vocation as a Christian, and in the particular vocation by which God asks you to carry out His work on earth.

1st Sunday of Advent [B] - 27 NOV 2011

The First Sunday of Advent [B]
Isaiah 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7  ─  1 Corinthians 1:3-9  ─  Mark 13:33-37
November 27, 2011

“Yet, O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.” [Isaiah 64:7]

This past Monday evening, after a good rain had fallen in our parish, the breeze was cool.  But in spite of the temperature, I walked around for quite a while simply smelling the earth, plants and trees:  all of which smelled strongly wet.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, because in our own culture, we’re not used to talking much about the sense of smell.  Particular groups of individuals, such as cooks or florists, dairymen or hog farmers, are very used to specific smells, and likely use their sense of smell to judge or anticipate decisions they need to make.  But the “ordinary Joe” uses his sense of smell very little during the average day, and usually not in regard to important matters.

For the “ordinary Joe”, December is a time for enjoying many rich and sweet smells.  Fresh evergreen, whether used for an Advent wreath, a Christmas tree, or other seasonal decoration, bears a smell that many would associate with no other time of year.  Many families have recipes for baked goods made only before Christmas, the mere thought of which evokes their aromas.  Our preparations for, and celebrations of, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without these sweet smells.

The first Christmas was full of smells, also, but not sweet ones.  Close your eyes and imagine the moment surrounding Jesus’ birth:  the Holy Family, who had made a week-long journey without finding a place to lodge, were in a stable surrounded by livestock.  And although Western art pictures the Bethlehem stable as a sort of wooden barn, the stable in fact was a cave in the side of a hill.  Still today, shepherds near Bethlehem use such caves to protect and shelter their folds.  But a stable of this kind likely had a dank odor, compounding the smell of the animals and their filth.

Yet the foulness of the first Christmas wasn’t limited to its smells.  Worse than foul odors are the vices of men and women who refused to shelter this peasant family.  Worse than a lack of hospitality and charity were the vices of the king who feared a rival, and systematically destroyed the innocent, so that he could dominate his lands.

Why would God the Father send His only-begotten Son down from Heaven to be born in a stinking cave, amidst threats of violence?  For that matter, why would God the Father choose peasants to serve as the mother and foster-father of His only-begotten?  Did God make a mistake?  Or is He revealing to us something both about His own divine nature, and about the holiness that you and I are called to?  The foulness, baseness, and poverty of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is a revelation from God, and introduces us, right from the beginning of the Gospel, to the fact that paradox lies at the heart of both God’s divine life, and the holiness that God is calling you to.

The entire Gospel is filled with paradox, but the stories of Advent and Christmas seem to highlight the paradox of the all-powerful God becoming a weak human; in order to destroy death, by dying.  The English writer G. K. Chesterton wrote a book about human history, and Jesus’ place in the center of human history.  The book is titled The Everlasting Man.  Chesterton writes at length about Bethlehem, and describes the paradox that Mary held in her arms and gazed upon the face of her Creator and Savior.  This is the paradox, Chesterton wrote, “that the hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to reach the huge heads of the cattle.”[1]  God, in other words, is right under our noses.
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“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”  Jesus opens the door to Advent with these words.  Jesus wants us to open our eyes.  “Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Be watchful!  Be alert!’”  Through the Sacred Liturgy, Jesus is saying this to us, His disciples, today.  But what are we to be watching for?  What are we to be alert to?  Advent and Christmas are such richly symbolic seasons that it’s easy to lose sight of God’s most obvious presence in our lives.  Before getting to that, though, consider two more obvious ways that we prepare for Jesus during Advent.

History reveals Jesus to us.  We look back two thousand years in time each Advent.  We commemorate, proclaim, and celebrate in the Sacred Liturgy the historical events that truly took place over two thousand years ago:  that for us men and for our salvation He came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.  During Advent, we look back at the life of Mary, bearing Jesus in her womb for nine months.  We reflect on Joseph toiling to protect Mary and her unborn Child.  Through this reflection, we ask God to help us see how those historical events symbolize the spiritual challenges that you and I face each day.

But the future reveals Jesus to us, also, during Advent.  That’s why the Gospel passage, on this First Sunday of Advent, does not come from the first few chapters of the Gospel.  Today’s Gospel passage is not about Mary bearing Jesus, or Joseph keeping watch.  Instead, today’s Gospel is from Chapter 13 of Mark’s Gospel account.  Mark has only sixteen chapters.  Mark records the Last Supper in Chapter 14.  Why, then, does the Church proclaim this Gospel passage today?  It is to prepare you for the future:  for the particular judgment of your life that Jesus will make on the day of your death, and for the Final Judgment that Jesus will make at His Second Coming.  Those future events will determine how each of us will spend eternity, and so God gives us this season every year to focus on the need to be alert:  to be ready to see Jesus when He comes to us in the future.

Jesus came into this world two thousand years ago to save mankind.  Jesus will come at the end of time to judge mankind.  But Jesus is also right under our noses.  The solemnity of Jesus in the past, and the majesty of Jesus in the future, can overshadow the Presence of Jesus here and now:  the Jesus who wants to dwell within your own soul.  You likely think of yourself as simple, and maybe even unimportant in the grand scheme of the world.  You may recognize yourself as a poor sinner.  But it’s because of that spiritual poverty that Jesus wants to dwell in your soul, so that you can live your life in Him.

The foul poverty and vice of Bethlehem two thousand years ago symbolizes the spiritual poverty of a sinner.  Are you a sinner?  The penitential season of Advent is a time to be alert to your sinfulness, in order to recognize what the gift of salvation means.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), page 301.

Christ the King - 20 NOV 2011

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ The King [A]
Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-17  ─  1 Corinthians 15:20-26,28  ─  Matthew 25:31-46
November 20, 2011

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.”  [Psalm 23:1]

In the moment after your baptism, the priest anointed your head with Sacred Chrism, saying, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”  Your entire life on this earth—at least, inasmuch as you conform your human will to God’s divine will—is spent carrying out those three roles:  the role of priest, the role of prophet, and the role of king (or queen).  These three roles help us focus our reflection each fall on our commitment to the Stewardship Way of Life.

These three roles are also the “lenses”, if you will, for you to look through as you reflect on the particular vocation that God gave you (of, if you are young, has in store for you).  Two Sundays ago, the homily focused on the third of these roles:  the role of king.  In Sacred Scripture the role of king is inter-twined with, and often parallels, the role of the shepherd.  The readings today, on this Solemnity of Christ The King, illustrate at length this role of “shepherd / slash / king”.

Last Sunday, the homily focused on the role of prophet.  In the Old Testament, the role of prophet was exemplified by Moses.  In the New Testament, the role of prophet is fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  Throughout His earthly life and ministry, Jesus served mankind as the perfect prophet.  The greatest example in His public teaching is His Sermon on the Mount.  The greatest example in His private teaching among His apostles was at the Last Supper, in the prayer that John records in chapter 17 of His gospel account (often called His “High Priestly Prayer”).

But Jesus isn’t just a prophet whose words instruct people.  Jesus was sent into our world by God the Father primarily to be a priest, whose priestly sacrifice was His own self, not rams and bulls, as the priests of the Old Testament offered in the Temple.  To show the importance of Jesus’ priestly sacrifice on Calvary—the sacrifice that Jesus makes present for His followers in the Sacrament of the Eucharist—I want to contrast Jesus’ roles as prophet and priest, and point out how Jesus’ prophetic role serves, and leads to, His priestly role.

If we think of Jesus only as a prophet, and compare Him to well-known teachers such as Confucius, the Buddha, or Plato, we miss the point of the Gospel entirely.  Jesus’ prophetic teaching isn’t its own point.  The point of Buddhism is to imitate the Buddha by practicing what he taught.  The point of Confucianism is to imitate Confucius by practicing what he taught.  The point of Platonism is to imitate Plato by thinking as he thought.

But Jesus’ teaching is different.  His teaching is a sign that points beyond His teaching, to the top of Mount Calvary.  Jesus’ death on the Cross fulfilled His life as the divine Prophet.  Everything Jesus taught, in public or private—from the Beatitudes to the High Priestly Prayer that He offered at the Last Supper—is shown, exemplified, and fulfilled by Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice on the Cross.  But that sort of perfect self-sacrifice only wearies men and women, if they try to imitate Jesus’ self-sacrifice only through their own human strength.
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This is why Jesus gave His followers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Holy Thursday evening:  to offer His disciples—through all the centuries to come—the gift of His self-sacrifice on Calvary.  Jesus isn’t just an historical figure to imitate.  Jesus is the eternal God, who offers us His life, so that we can offer our lives in self-sacrifice.  Without the strength of Jesus’ Body and Blood, soul and divinity, it is impossible to follow Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus on Calvary proclaims that human nature alone is impotent and empty—that human life is impotent and empty—without God, who showers His grace upon us through the Cross.

All of this is reflected in the very structure of Holy Mass.  As the Mass proceeds, you ascend to its summit, just as on Good Friday the crowds ascended Mount Calvary.  We see during the celebration of Holy Mass that there are three stations where the priest and others stop and stand, reflecting the Church’s members carrying out the roles of shepherd, prophet, and priest.

The first station is symbolized by the priest’s chair, where he acts in the role of shepherd.  He gathers God’s flock together:  one of the first examples is a ritual of penance.  Then, a few minutes later, the priest through the prayer known as the Collect “collects” or folds all of our individual intentions and prayers into the single prayer that the priest offers to God, so that all of us together will be ready for both the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The second station of Holy Mass is the pulpit.  Here the second baptismal role is carried out:  the role of prophet.  This role is exercised by the laypersons who act as the lectors and cantors of the first three Scripture passages.  But the final Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is from the gospel accounts, where Jesus Himself acts and speaks.  In the Old Testament, Jesus is foreshadowed.  In the writings of the Apostles, Jesus is spoken about.  But in the gospel accounts, Jesus Himself acts for us and speaks to us, and all His words and actions point us in one direction:  onward to Calvary.[1]

The altar is the third station of Holy Mass.  The actions that take place at the first and second stations lead us to the altar.  The altar is the sanctuary’s “center of gravity”, if you will.  The Word of God that is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word becomes Flesh during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

In our Church’s sanctuary here at St. Mark’s, we can literally see this.  The altar of sacrifice is in the center of our sanctuary.  Closer to the people, and to either side of the altar, are the first station—the priest’s chair—and the second station—the pulpit.  The fact that this altar stands in the center visually highlights its importance.  Let me describe for you, though, a very different Catholic parish.

For the last four years of seminary formation, Bishop Gerber sent (now “Father”) Sam Pinkerton and me to Chicago.  Like any large city, Chicago has its share of parishes where things went off the rails after the Second Vatican Council.  Even in the early ’90’s, there were still parishes afflicted by ideas that had nothing to do with the teachings of Vatican II.  One day, a group of us seminarians stumbled upon a Catholic church whose exterior architecture should have warned us about what the inside would look like.

In the stripped-down sanctuary, with white walls and no statues, the altar was not in the center.  The altar and the pulpit were equidistant from the center, like two eyes on the front of a person’s face.  The altar itself was “unique” because it had the tabernacle built inside it:  you had to reach down to take the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle.  At the side of the altar burned a red sanctuary lamp.  On the other side of the sanctuary was the pulpit.  On the front of the pulpit, at the top, was a recessed stand on which rested a copy of the Holy Bible.  To the side of the pulpit burned… a red sanctuary lamp.

You might be tempted to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”  Of course, practically speaking, it would take less time to answer the question, “What’s right with this picture?”  But to focus on one problem related to the baptismal role of prophet:  the architecture of the sanctuary, in placing the pulpit and altar equidistant from the center, suggests that the pulpit and altar are equal, and so also that the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are equal, and so also that the Word of God and the Word of God made Flesh are equal in significance.[2]  Through authentic Catholic worship, however, we see that the Word of God chooses not only to speak to us, but also to become Flesh for us.  In fact, He speaks to us so that we might be ready to receive His Presence in the Eucharist.

But why?  Why is the Word of God made Flesh on the altar at Holy Mass?  In the words of the Creed, the Word of God becomes Flesh “for us men and for our salvation”.  Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist so that when you, as Jesus’ disciple, share in the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, you will have the strength to offer the sacrifice that God calls you to make every day in your vocation, and in your stewardship through St. Mark’s.

Your time, talent, and treasure are gifts of stewardship only if they are sacrificial gifts, in imitation of Jesus.  For example, the time that you—adults and children—give, should not be the surplus time in your schedule, which you give once more important concerns like sports and work are taken care of:  instead, the time you give to your parish must be a sacrifice of time, and that means that you give something else up in sacrifice.  Likewise, the talent that you—adults and children alike—give, should not be only a giving of your best talents.  A sacrifice of talent also involves giving yourself to doing things that you may not seem to be very talented at.  Just as we grow interpersonally and psychologically when we “stretch” ourselves, so we also grow spiritually.  And of course, the treasure that you—adults, teenagers, and children alike—give to your parish must be a sacrificial gift:  this means, as Monsignor McGread always says, that you give from a need inside yourself to give, rather than giving for a need outside yourself in the parish or diocese.  Where is the need?  The need for giving is inside yourself, not outside.

We are here—each of us—as members of the Body of Christ.  Just as any human body has different members with different roles to play, so the Church is the Body of Christ, where each member has a vocation lived out in a unique “corner” of the world.  The entire Mystical Body of Christ—throughout history and throughout the world—is nourished by the one Sacrament of the Eucharist.  This sacrament is the strength God gives us to imitate the Sacrifice that becomes present at the altar:  the Sacrifice that Jesus offered on Mount Calvary as our High Priest, Good Shepherd, and King of Kings.

[1]              Let me give an example of Jesus’ actions and an example of His words, both of which point beyond themselves.  First:  Jesus’ act of raising Lazarus from the dead.  Why did Jesus do this?  What was His point?  Did Jesus descend from Heaven to extend the length of human life on earth?  Unfortunately, Lazarus did die a second time, some years after Jesus raised him from the dead.  Does Lazarus’ second death, then, invalidate Jesus’ miracle, or show that Jesus isn’t as powerful as He claimed?  Or was Jesus’ miracle—the mighty work of raising a man from the dead—a sign that points beyond itself:  that points to Jesus’ own Resurrection at the Hand of God the Father?
               The other example is found is one of the greatest of Jesus’ sermons, found in the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account.  There, Jesus preaches the discourse on the Bread of Life, claiming that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”   Many of those who had followed Jesus up to that time were scandalized.  In the end, many [of those] disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
And in response, what did Jesus say to them as they departed?  Did Jesus run after them, explaining, “I was only speaking symbolically!  I didn’t really mean that you had to eat my Flesh and drink my Blood!  Come back!”  Jesus let them leave, just as He let Peter and nine other apostles deny Him after His arrest; just as Jesus allowed Judas to kiss His cheek and hand Him over to the guards; just as Jesus allowed the thief hanging on His left mock the Son of God who was dying in order to open the Gates of Heaven for him, for Judas Iscariot, for the nine Apostles who fled, and for you and me.
               Jesus let them leave.  The disciples who were scandalized by Jesus’ sermon of the Bread of Life could not see where Jesus was leading them.  But it’s no wonder that those listening to Jesus did not understand where He was leading them.  At the beginning of the Gospel, when Jesus invited Andrew and Peter to leave their father and their nets, saying to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men”,  Andrew and Peter did not realize where Jesus was going to lead them.  He was going to lead them to Calvary.  And after three years of public preaching and miracles, Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist at His Last Supper, in order to give His followers—that is, the Church—the means of fulfilling His command to live a life of self-sacrifice.

[2] Of course, the Word of God and the Word of God made Flesh are equal personally, as both are the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity:  the Son of God made man in Jesus Christ.

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time - 13 NOV 2011

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31  ─  1 Thessalonians 5:1-6  ─  Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21
November 13, 2011

“Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master’s joy.”  [Matthew 25:21]

In the moment after your baptism, the priest anointed your head with Sacred Chrism, saying, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of His Body, sharing everlasting life.”  Your entire life on this earth—inasmuch as you conform your human will to God’s divine will—is spent carrying out those three roles:  the role of priest, the role of prophet, and the role of king (or queen).  These three roles help us focus our reflection on the commitment we make to the Stewardship Way of Life each fall.

These three roles are also the “lenses”, if you will, for you to look through as you reflect on the particular vocation that God gave you.  If you are a husband and father, or wife and mother, you can consider every responsibility you have in your vocation through those three roles of priest, prophet, and king (or queen).  For example:  a mother and father sacrifice their time and energy to take a sick child to the doctor’s office, teach their child how to read, and provide shelter and nourishment.  These examples mirror the many actions that Jesus carried out during the three years of His public ministry, as a priest, prophet and king.

Last Sunday the homily focused specifically on the third of these roles:  the role of king.  In Sacred Scripture the role of king is inter-twined with, and often parallels, the role of the shepherd.  In the Old Testament, the role of “shepherd /slash/ king” is exemplified by David.  In the New Testament, the role of “shepherd /slash/ king” is fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  Throughout His earthly life and ministry, Jesus served mankind as the perfect Shepherd/King.  For example, when Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves, He was providing for His flock, like a Good Shepherd.  When Jesus expelled demons, or extended His arm to Peter as he sank in the water, He was protecting His flock from evil.

But Jesus’ death on the Cross was the summit of His entire earthly life, and the specific act that opened once again the gates of Heaven, which had been shut by God because of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin.  Jesus’ death on the Cross fulfilled His life as the divine Shepherd/King.  And vitally important for you and me is the fact that on the previous night, “on the night he was betrayed he himself took bread, and, giving [the Father] thanks, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying:  Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body, which will be given up for you.”

Jesus established the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Holy Thursday evening, in order to offer His disciples—through all the centuries to come—the gift of His self-sacrifice on Calvary.  When you are at Holy Mass, you are on Mount Calvary, on the day of Good Friday some 2000 years ago, just as surely as His Blessed Mother Mary and the Beloved Disciple, John the Evangelist.  But maybe we shouldn’t compare ourselves to two disciples as holy as Mary and John.  When we consider our selves, maybe a more apt comparison would be that we are one of the two thieves, hanging to Jesus’ left and right, on crosses of their own making.  We are present with Jesus on Calvary, but we still are free to accept or reject what He offers us there, and here.
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Being present at a celebration of Holy Mass is like being present along the Way of the Cross.  As the Mass proceeds, we are ascending to the summit of the Mass, just as on Good Friday the crowds—both disciples and accusers—ascended Mount Calvary.  And just as there are stations—stopping points—during the Way of the Cross, we can also see stations during the celebration of Holy Mass:  three stations, which reflect the priest carrying out the roles of priest, prophet and shepherd in his vocation.

The first station is symbolized by the priest’s chair.  After the entrance antiphon and procession, the priest begins speaking to God’s flock, and exercises the role of shepherd.  He gathers God’s flock together:  first through a ritual of penance.  The shepherd says, “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries.”  He’s calling all God’s lost sheep, including himself.  He calls God’s lost sheep away from their sins, and into God’s Presence.

Another simple example of the priest shepherding at his chair is found on page 8 in our Missalette.  The introductory rites of Holy Mass end with the priest gathering God’s flock to pray together:  the priest says simply, “Let us pray.”  The shepherd then pauses… not so that the server has time to bring the Missal over, but so that the flock—so that you—have time to recollect your hearts and minds for prayer.  At the top of page 8 in our current Missalettes, these prayers are called the “Opening Prayers”.  But in the new translation of the Roman Missal, these prayers are called by their traditional name:  the “Collect”, which comes from the verb “to collect”.  That’s what you will see printed in two weeks on the corresponding page in the new Missalettes:  instead of “Opening Prayers”, it will say “Collects”.  The Collect “collects” or folds all of our individual intentions and prayers into the prayer that the priest offers to God on behalf of everyone present.
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The second station of Holy Mass is right here:  the pulpit.  Here at the second station the second baptismal role is carried out:  the role of prophet.  This role is exercised at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word by laypersons who act as lectors.  In our own parish, any Catholic who has received the Sacrament of Confirmation is eligible to serve as lector at Sunday Mass.

Throughout the course of the Liturgy of the Word—the first main part of the Mass—there is an ascent.  We climb throughout the Liturgy of the Word.  We begin in the Old Testament.  For example, our first Scripture reading today is from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs.  The next Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is typically one of the Psalms:  today, Psalm 128.  Then the Church moves to the New Testament.  The Scripture passage after the Psalm always comes from one of the writings of the Apostles:  today, from St. Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians.

But then the summit of the Liturgy of the Word is reached.  The final Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is from the most important part of the Bible:  the gospel accounts, where Jesus Himself acts and speaks.  In the Old Testament, Jesus is foreshadowed.  In the writings of the Apostles, Jesus is spoken about.  But in the gospel accounts, Jesus Himself acts for us and speaks to us.  It’s because Jesus’ presence in this part of the Bible is unique that the proclamation of the Gospel is unique.  Actions are carried out here in honor of Jesus’ presence in the Gospel that we don’t observe when any other part of the Bible is proclaimed.  For example, we stand to honor Jesus, just as if He were to enter our living room at home.  The proclamation of the Gospel is prefaced by a dialogue between the priest and laypeople, and everyone blesses himself over his mind, lips, and heart.  And on particularly solemn Sundays and Holy Days, the Gospel may be incensed, servers may bear candles, and the Gospel may be chanted, just as it was at every High Mass celebrated in the years before the Second Vatican Council.

Although the proclamation of the Gospel is the Liturgy of the Word’s summit, it’s not its conclusion.  The homily, Profession of Faith, and intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word.  All three of these flow from the Gospel, each in its own way.  Of these three, the homily is where the priest exercises his baptismal role of prophet most specifically.

The homily shows where the Gospel bears directly on the lives of those listening.  The homily is also, we might say, the most dangerous part of the Mass for the priest.  Everything else the priest says at Holy Mass (except perhaps the announcements) is printed for him directly in the Missal.  The Missal tells the priest what to do and say.  But the homily opens up possibilities of danger for the priest.  Of course, some types of danger are holier than others.  Some types of danger arise from stupidity or gracelessness.  But other types of danger are inherent in the role of prophet.  If you don’t see that, look at the crucifix.

The crucifix, however, isn’t just a Catholic symbol.  It’s not just something to wear on a necklace.  It’s something to be embraced.  Jesus, in every one of His acts of shepherding, is leading you to the top of Mount Calvary.  Jesus, in every one of His prophetic words, is telling you to accept Calvary as your destiny, to take up your own cross and follow Him.  Because the Word of God, as powerful as it is, is not the goal of Catholic worship or Catholic life.  There’s only one thing in this world more powerful than the Word of God, and that’s the Sacrifice of the Word made Flesh.

The 32nd Week [I] - Thursday

The 32nd Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday, November 10, 2011

God created man—male and female He created them—in His own divine Image and likeness.  The immortal human soul that God creates at the moment of a human being’s conception has three capacities that reveal the Image of God:  the human memory, intellect, and will.

The human intellect is an ability that includes what we observe in lower animals, who can reason by putting together the memories of their own experiences, and the world around them at any given moment, as they perceive it.  But the human being has a memory and a will that can transcend one’s own experiences.  The human person can hold memories of events that happened long before his life.  The human person can also, through his intellect, plan far into the future.  Dogs don’t take out life insurance policies, or anticipate what might happen to someone half way across the world.  Man’s intellect can ponder not only about next year, though.  With his intellect man can ponder events that may happen after his death to this world.  What lies beyond this earthly life?

The human intellect is not an end in itself.  If we treat it as such, human life in this world becomes a torment.  Neither is the human intellect meant to be the servant of the human will.  The past two hundred years offer up many examples of “evil geniuses” who twisted the human intellect and will to evil ends.  The human intellect finds meaning—in this world, and in the possibilities of the next—only is discerning and carrying out the divine Will of God, as Jesus Christ did on Calvary.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)