Homilette for Fiday, May 2, 2008

Memorial of St. Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(John 16:20-23)

In the gospel Jesus describes a mother’s joy in giving birth. Today we would want to include the father’s participation in that bliss. In having children parents contribute to the great chain of life. They not only experience solidarity with humanity but also realize a primordial personal goal. Their genetic material – what used to be called blood-line – is handed on. It is assurance against death in a way. Rather than being totally obliterated by time, they now have progeny to carry evidence of their existence into the future.

Of course, Jesus is only making a comparison when he speaks of the birthing process. Like a mother rejoices after the pang of birth, he says, his disciples will exult after the anguish of his crucifixion. We should see more here than a turn of emotion from unbearable sorrow to uncontainable joy. There is a deeper parallel between giving birth and rising from the dead. The one on whom the disciples have latched their hopes for the future has delivered. Better than handing on genetic material, they will achieve everlasting life.

Jesus then refers to “the Father,” a term the evangelist John continually cites to indicate Jesus’ filial relationship with God. We should take care, however, that we do not understand this bond to mean that the Son has issued from the Father like a child is borne of his parents. Today we remember St. Athanasius, the genius of the fourth century who saved the Church from this latter idea in the fourth century. At the time Christianity was deeply divided between those who understood Christ as one with the Father from all eternity and the so-called Arians who accepted Christ as created in time and therefore subordinate to the Father. St. Athanasius’ conception of the Father and the Son being of the same nature, alike in everything except being distinct persons, proved faithful to Scripture and traditional belief. It is the faith that we proclaim to this day in the Nicene Creed on Sunday.

Homilette for Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter (St. Joseph the worker, memorial)

(Acts 18:1-8)

Being a tentmaker both benefits Paul and restricts him. It gives him an income which not only makes him monetarily independent but also removes doubts regarding the motive of his preaching. More importantly, working in a tent-making shop – like he does with Aquila in the reading – allows him to meet people. We can imagine Paul steering any conversation with customers to his favorite topic, the Lord Jesus. The downside of being a laborer is that the upper crust may frown on him and his ideas. “So what?” we might ask. The problem is that Paul needs a rich patron to provide ample quarters for the Sunday gathering of all the people he is converting. Fortunately, Paul always seems to make the right connection.

Work continues today as a benefit and a burden. It enables people to develop their capabilities and to socialize with others. Of course, it provides daily needs for self and family. Often overlooked is how work allows people to contribute to God’s creation. Martin Luther King, Jr., once exhorted the street cleaners of Memphis to sweep the streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry; that is, with care and perfection.

But work is not always experienced as a good. One’s job may be tedious or one’s boss may be overbearing. People in these situations are often poorly compensated and otherwise exploited. We Christians should support them, especially in spiritual ways. We should suggest to workers that they express their grievances to the proper authorities and possibly to unionize. We too might speak up for the workers, at least to God. Finally, we should encourage disgruntled workers to pray and to practice prudence. Prayer opens us to God’s will; prudence insures that we follow it.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter, memorial of St. Pius V, pope

(Acts 17:15;22-18:1)

The scene of the first reading likely inspires most Christians. Athens is the cradle of Western Civilization, the home of the philosophers Socrates, Plato, Aristotle; the great Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Euripides; and the historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. Now Paul, the best educated and most successful of Christian missionaries, clears his throat to speak to the learned populace. His words do not disappoint us. They, in colloquial terms, “meet the people where they are.” They hint at Athenian culture and mention the traditional regard for religion. They appeal to the people’s mind, especially their strong sense of justice. Certainly, we feel, Paul will win Athens over to Christ.

Of course, the result of Paul’s preaching is catastrophic. The Athenians not only reject his ideas; they scoff at him. “’We should like to hear you on this some other time,’” is only a nice way of saying, “Get lost.” But Paul and indeed all Christianity learn from this bitter experience. No longer will Paul attempt to impress the sophisticated with lofty arguments. He will tell the Corinthians that he came to them without sublime words or wisdom but preaching Christ crucified. Through the years Christians have had to defend the gospel with reasonable argument and has met this challenge remarkably well. But it has realized all along that faith is God’s gift that neither rhetoric nor logic can implant.

St. Pope Pius V implemented the reforms dictated by the Council of Trent. He was intelligent and had the luxuries of the Vatican in affluent times at his disposal. He was prudent enough, however, to perceive that brilliance and pomp will not carry the battle that the spirit wages. Like Paul and the preponderance of Christianity, Pius understood that that faith and discipline are essential. We remember Pius V to this day for his assiduous leadership in shepherding the Church through a truly critical historical period.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Memorial of St. Catherine of Sine, virgin and doctor of the Church

(John 16:5-11)

If we are left scratching our heads over what Jesus means in the gospel today, we are in good company. It is said that St. Augustine avoided the passage because of its difficulty. But the passage is not impossible to understand. To do so, however, we should note that the word convict is too literal a translation of the Greek and does not fit well with each object. It would be better to say that the Spirit Advocate proves the world wrong regarding sin, righteousness, and condemnation.

The world sees Christians as sinful for believing in Jesus. But the Spirit Advocate’s presence among Christians, sent upon Jesus’ return to the Father, reveals that those who refuse to believe in Jesus are the real sinners. These include those who doubted Jesus’ relation to God after seeing him work a sign and those who still shake their heads after being told about Jesus’ resurrection. The error of righteousness concerns the Jews’ putting Jesus to death for claiming to be God’s son. The Spirit Advocate moving Christians to love one another shows them to be righteous, not those who crucified him. The final error regards the condemnation of Satan, the prince of this world. Since Jesus is vindicated by his resurrection and return to the Father, his adversary Satan is condemned. We might ask, how is it that Satan is at liberty to ensnare humans? The gospel would answer that Satan is powerless over true believers and his limited domination will last only until Jesus returns in glory.

We can see in the life of St. Catherine of Siena a person who exhorted other Christians to manifest the Spirit Advocate that is given to them. She famously convinced Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome after years of refuge in Avignon. Not so well known is her ministry to a condemned man who refused to see a priest for reconciliation. The convict asked Catherine to be present at his execution, which she was. He died surrendering his soul to God with the names “Jesus” and “Catherine” on his lips.

Homilette for Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26-16:4)

Jews have been persecuted so much throughout history that it is hard to imagine them persecuting other peoples. Yet this is the claim of Palestinians today who say Israelis have occupied their land, especially in recent years on the West Bank. It is also the charge of Jesus in the gospel who foresees the eviction of Christians from Jewish synagogues.

Christians prayed alongside Jews for almost forty years after the crucifixion. We see this in the first reading where Paul goes to the riverside to meet the Jewish wives of pagan Greeks gathering there for prayer. Then, with the reforms of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., Jews expelled Christians from synagogue worship. Jesus refers to this expulsion in the gospel where he says that he will send the Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to testify that Christians truly worship God.

This Advocate, whom we just call “the Holy Spirit,” remains with the Church in contemporary times. It assists her in discerning what is true and good. When necessary, it also defends her from persecution. The revisionist criticism of Pope Pius XII serves as an example. For nearly twenty years after World War II, Jews considered Pius XII a hero for his efforts to rescue the Italian Jewry from the Nazis. In the 1960s, however, critics began claiming that Pius was in league with the Nazis. With the help of the Spirit of truth scholars today are coming to the truth of the matter. Pius XII did act compassionately on behalf of many Jews. It is true that he might have spoken out more forcefully against Nazi persecution. However, such denouncement likely would have resulted in more, not less, persecution against Jews and prompted severe reprisals against the Church as well. We pray today that the Advocate continues to guide the Church and our own lives in ways of truth and goodness.

Homilette for Friday, April 25, 2008

Feast of St. Mark, evangelist

(Mark 16:15-20)

The Gospel according to Mark represents a literary landmark. It is not only the first of the four canonical gospels, but the first gospel of any kind. Never before had the world witnessed a pronouncement of “good news” (what “gospel” literally means) based on one man’s work, death, and glorious aftermath. We might say that the originality and sheer wonder of Jesus’ story required a new form of literature. As Jesus says in the same gospel, “new wine...new wineskins.”

We may enjoy reading Mark’s Gospel because it exhibits an earthiness about Jesus that is true of his Palestinian roots. Only in Mark of the four gospels is Jesus called a carpenter. Only Mark mentions Jesus living among wild beasts in the desert during his long pre-ministry retreat. Only in this gospel does Jesus use both fingers and spittle at the same time to cure the deaf mute. And only Mark quotes Jesus healing in Aramaic, his native tongue, when he tells the dead girl to arise, “Talita koum.” Jesus is a man of his times in Mark but also one that transcends those times because of his divine mission.

For almost the entire gospel Mark treats the disciples as dim-witted and cowardly. After Jesus feeds the five thousand and walks on water, Mark says that the disciples still do not understand. Likewise, they abandon Jesus like thieves in the night when he is arrested in Gethsemane. The disciples must await the grace of the resurrection in order to understand who Jesus is and to carry out his mission. In today’s gospel passage we see them going forth charged by that grace which accompanies Jesus’ commands. And that is where we are today – renewed and mandated to show God’s love to the world.

Homilette for Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:7-21)

Many years ago Cardinal Avery Dulles wrote an instructive book titled Models of the Church. The work answers the question, what is the Church? Is it an institution with organizational offices and a clear line of authority? Or is it a messenger announcing the divine offer of salvation? Or perhaps it is a servant of the world caring for the weak and instructing the powers? Maybe it is a sacrament, a sign of God’s ongoing presence among humans?

Although Cardinal Dulles indicates a preference for the sacramental model since it suggests a spiritual core, he concludes that the Church encompasses all the given models. Without having an institutional structure, the Church could not address issues that arise. Without preaching the Good News, the Church would not fulfill the mission given her by Christ. Without caring for the poor, the Church would not practice what she preaches. And without representing Christ in the world, the Church would not be his Body.

People sometimes wince at Church bureaucracy wondering if Christ intended all the pomp. The regalia of bishops and monsignors is not necessary, but order is essential. We see the order functioning in the first reading from Acts today. Peter, the head apostle, speaks first to the issue of Gentiles’ following the Jewish Law. Then James, the chief elder of the Jerusalem flock, presents his view. Finally, the reading indicates, all Apostles and community leaders decide the matter. Today’s system of pope and curia with dioceses and religious institutions represents a significant evolution of structure. But we can be assured that the Church has always had and will always need to be a visible institution.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(John 15:1-8)

Few people want to suffer. Suffering is unnatural and evil. Our bodies revolt at the proximity of pain. There are, no doubt, one or two who seek suffering per se. We term this behavior masochism and rightly see it as abnormal and harmful. Yet suffering may be accepted for a concomitant good. A cancer patient undergoes chemotherapy for this reason. Even when the benefit sought is not self-evident as the decrease in the size of a tumor or the amputation of a leg to save a life, suffering may occasion a benefit. Cardinal Avery Dulles, one of the Church’s great theologians, is suffering from increasing paralysis of limbs and mouth. He does not rail against the trouble. Rather he says, paraphrasing St. Paul, “I know that (Christ’s) power can be made perfect in infirmity.”

In today’s gospel Jesus indicates how suffering can lead to a positive outcome. He tells his disciples that the Father prunes productive branches so that they might yield more fruit. Of course, his metaphorical language describes the good that Christians do with the help of divine grace. Pruning is the invasive cutting back of superfluous branches that makes the remaining ones heartier. It implies suffering, but the end result obliterates suffering’s evil dimensions. Like the case of Cardinal Dulles, Christ’s power is being perfected.

All of us suffer slight setbacks if not major traumas. Perhaps our best efforts are criticized as unworthy or an illness causes us to miss an opportunity we have been counting on. Perhaps a close friend has died or we cannot afford central air-conditioning in hundred degree heat. Rather than consider these conditions as bad luck, punishment for past wrongs, or the triumph of evil, we should think of them for what they likely are – God’s pruning us of excess so that we might render more abundant fruit.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(John 14:27-31)

Jesus says that his peace is different from that which the world gives. Does he mean that our concept of peace – universal cooperation – is theoretically faulty. No, when we work together to produce a society where each person may live with dignity, our peace approaches Jesus’ own.

Jesus’ peace is full reconciliation with the Father so that people might love one another. To win this reconciliation he must go to the Father through the cross and resurrection. For this reason, he asks his followers not to be troubled. But what has this to do with the peace that we seek?

Many people in the United States are protesting for peace in Iraq. They mean that the United States should withdraw its forces. They are quite aware that withdrawal will add to the bloodshed. But they would argue that hostility in Iraq is a given with or without American presence and that the presence of U.S. military just prolongs the violence.

How Jesus would respond to this argument is hard to say. For this reason, people should not appeal to him to clinch their argument. But we can say that Jesus wants all sides to dialogue, and not abuse one another, over their differences. He would seek as much compromise as truth allows. Finally, he would have the opposing sides of the argument stand in vigilance that the terms of disengagement be implemented. The world seldom pursues such a journey to peace, but Jesus asks us, his followers, to promote it.

Homilette for Monday, April 21, 2008

Monday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

(John 14:21-26)

“’Heart of my heart’ meant friends were dearer then.” This is a line from an old song that we may still hear in barbershop quartet ensembles. Is it true? Were friends dearer, was life better, back then? Or is this kind of talk just nostalgia? Does time purify our memories of the rancor and bitterness of life without bachelor apartments, personal computers, and cellular telephones?

In the gospel Jesus promises that he and his Father will make a dwelling place with those who keep his word. His word, of course, is the commandment to love one another as he loves us. We find an answer to our question here. As much as friends truly loved one another back then, times were better. I suppose that many people really did love better when they were not so independent. All the conveniences at our disposal now tend to make us think more of ourselves than of one another.

Then what are we to do? Should we dump our computers and cell phones and move back to our parents’ home? Perhaps some simplifying of lifestyle is in order. But more helpful might be the formation of small groups or communities dedicated to spiritual reflection. One writer claims that he has lunched with the same three men every Friday for twenty-five years. They listen to one another explain how each has met Christ in study, prayer, and fellow humans during the past week. Could there be any doubt that these men grow in love for Christ and for one another?

Homilette for Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(John 14:1-6)

A university co-ed told her roommates in the middle of a blizzard that her father was coming to pick her up. “How could you be so sure?” the roommates marveled, “It’s impossible driving outside.” “Because he said so,” the young woman only replied. In the gospel today Jesus means to instill such confidence in his disciples.

The passage is taken from the beginning of the second part of John’s gospel, the so-called Book of Signs. Jesus is giving a kind of farewell speech to his disciples among whom we should see ourselves. He does not want us to worry that he is leaving or has left us. Rather, we should trust in him. “Why?” we may ask, with the same uncertainty as Thomas displays in the passage. He answers: because “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is the way, the one whose imitation will bring us to God. He is the truth whose words we can rely on because he knows the Father. And he is the life of which we partake in the Eucharist for strength on the journey.

We sometimes find ourselves in bleak situations. Perhaps we face job termination, mortgage foreclosure, or even terminal disease. We are not to cower but to be confident. Jesus sublimely demonstrates this trust on the cross. In John’s crucifixion Jesus reigns like a king over his court. He has drawn the whole world – friends, foes, even the Roman governor to the scene. He completes his work on earth by instituting the church with his mother and beloved disciple. And he dies when he is ready. We can face our trials with the same tranquility of spirit.

Homilette for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25)

Biblical students find three distinct “missionary journeys” of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Although the apostle himself did not likely divide his preaching so neatly, the three-journey arrangement helps us appreciate his great accomplishment. The section from Acts that we read today shows Paul shortly after commencing his first missionary expedition.

In the reading Paul typically goes to the Jewish synagogue of the town where he finds himself. When he has an opportunity to say something, he does not hesitate to stand up. His message conveys what is often called the kerygma, a Greek word meaning the proclamation of salvation in Jesus Christ. Today’s kerygmatic message summarizes the story of salvation from the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt to the preaching of John the Baptist. It continues tomorrow with Jesus’ death and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

As Paul proclaims the kerygma on his missionary journeys, the Church calls us to be missionaries. Last year the bishops of Latin America assembled in Aparecida, Brazil, issued a document formally describing Catholic Christians as “missionary disciples.” As disciples, we allow ourselves to be formed according to the word of God. As missionaries, we put that word into action. Some will have the role of proclaiming the word orally like Paul. All of us, however, are to proclaim it by loving service to family, neighbor, and world.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(John 12: 44-50)

Words are cheap, we say, because they are often mixed, like tainted water supplies, with falsehood. Really true words, on the other hand, are treasures to be heeded and savored. In the gospel Jesus claims that the words he speaks could not be truer because they come from the Father.

This week Pope Benedict XVI is preaching in the United States and at the United Nations. He is to proclaim Jesus Christ as the hope of the world. Different people will hear that message in different ways. For Christians Jesus is, above all, the hope of eternal life. Embracing him, as he urges in this gospel, we receive a share in the glory of his resurrection.

For people of other faiths or of no faith, Jesus is still part of the patrimony of history. His words convey the promise of fuller cooperation among peoples and nations. More than anything else, the pope will reiterate Jesus as saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” These words provide the key to human progress. Treating one another as we want to be treated assures personal freedom, provides the basis of justice, and advances the journey to peace.

Homilette for April 15, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(John 10:22-30)

Experts tell people unused to publicity never to joke with the press. In today’s media when journalists often make the news themselves, they are inclined to give the most controversial interpretation possible to anything a public person says. For this reason people of responsibility, if they talk with reporters at all, are very cautious and exact. In a similar way Jesus deftly answers his interrogators in the gospel today.

The Jews ask Jesus to state clearly whether or not he is the long-awaited Christ or Messiah. We may notice how this question is the exact one put to Jesus during his interrogation by the high priest in the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke which the Gospel of John treats very differently. Jesus gives a similarly indirect answer in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as he does here. He implies that he is the Christ and his works testify to it, but the Jews still do not believe.

Prudent and intelligent, Jesus outwits his enemies again. But his accomplishment just begins here. More importantly, the Father has given him the power not to lose any of his sheep. We can rest assured, therefore, that as long as we stay close to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, nothing will ever really harm us. Come cancer, fire, even murder, Jesus will save us from disaster.

Homilette for April 14, 2008

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Psalm 42:2-3; 43:3-4)

In October, 1995, approximately one million African-American men marched for justice in Washington, D.C. They were not primarily interested in social justice but in becoming more personally just. They walked as a pledge to themselves, their families, and society that they would become more responsible fathers and more involved citizens. Organized by religious leaders, the Million Man March demonstrated the thirst for God of which we hear today in the responsorial psalm.

As forest animals search for streams to refresh themselves, the human soul seeks not just truth but the doing of truth – justice. It begins with oneself. What is the truth we seek for ourselves? Because it is difficult to discern among the complexities of life, our soul asks God for light. And because following truth may challenge us more than finding it, the soul also petitions fidelity to its demands. Light and fidelity take us to God’s mountain – heaven -- where we meet God face-to-face.

Short of that anticipated full encounter, we experience God’s helping hand by participating in marches not completely different from the one on Washington a generation ago. When we join the line for the Sacrament of Penance or the march to Communion, we prepare ourselves for a meeting with the Lord. The sacraments, we know, are Christ’s presence guiding us to truth and justice.

Homilette for April 11, 2008

Memorial of Saint Stanislaus, bishop and martyr

(Acts 9:1-10)

With the jubilee year of St. Paul fast approaching, we can reflect for a few minutes on his conversion. Of course, the reading from Acts today tells its story. But today’s reading is just one of four accounts the New Testament gives of the event. Paul himself writes about it in the Letter to the Galatians which must be considered the most reliable source. The two other accounts are taken from speeches of Paul also recorded in Acts. One interesting note is that none of the four accounts mentions that Paul was knocked off a horse on the way to Damascus. That detail probably comes from a painter’s depiction of the conversion. A more curious element is the light which supposedly blinded Paul.

Did Paul actually see a light or is this reference a metaphor meaning that Paul came to know the truth? In Galatians Paul does not tell of any light. He only says that God revealed His Son to him. This reference indicates a vision of the resurrected Jesus which Paul twice claims he had in his first letter to the Corinthians. Perhaps Jesus appeared to Paul wrapped in light. Matthew describes Jesus in this way when he describes the Transfiguration which is traditionally interpreted as a glimpse of Jesus’ future resurrection.

At the Easter Vigil services this year Pope Benedict baptized Magdi Allam, a 55 year-old Italian journalist who was raised a Muslim. In a letter to the newspaper of which he is deputy director, Mr. Allam wrote of his conversion as “finally (seeing) the light.” The journalist went on to say that he received death threats for turning to Christ just as Paul did. Reading the letter, we get the idea that significant forces within Islam are intent on terrorizing people into accepting what they cannot in conscience believe. Paul, of course, never evangelized in this way although in history other men did so in the name of Christ. As Christians seeing the light have apologized for the sin of fanaticism among ancestors, we can pray that the light of respect and peace penetrate the consciousness of all Muslim brothers and sisters.

Homilette for April 10, 2008

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:26-40; John 6:44-51)

In the reading from Acts today we meet the deacon Philip on a mission. Like other Greek-speaking disciples, he has left Jerusalem to take the gospel to other places. On the way, he encounters the Ethiopian court official. The black man characterizes our society today. He is rich and successful, sincere in his desire to believe but not sure what faith is all about. So too are many among whom we live. As we commonly say, they have been “programmed” to seek riches and prestige. They want to love, but often mistake the authentic version seeking union with the beloved for mutual benefit with its cheap imitation desiring self-gratification. Like Philip our mission is to allow them to embrace true faith and love.

Of course, Jesus accompanies us as we go forth. He calls himself in today’s gospel “the bread of life.” These words are deeply meaningful. Bread is one of the most available and portable of foods. We can eat it wherever we find ourselves. Made with care, bread also can provide the body many of essential nutrients for life. Thus, we commonly call it “the staff of life.” The Eucharist – the bread transformed into the body of Christ and the wine changed into his blood – then not only embodies Jesus’ presence but signifies it. Participating in the Eucharist, we become the body of Christ with a mission to the world. We are to demonstrate to all that faith and humility, not riches and prestige, make a person good. We are to show how true love entails not only personal satisfaction but also self-sacrifice for the good of the beloved.

Homilette for April 9, 2008

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

(John 6:35-40)

People do not want to die. They seek the best medical care available to extend their lives as long as possible. For this reason every year American health care costs grow by almost 10 percent. Of course, this rate of increase cannot be sustained forever. People still have to buy groceries, pay the mortgage, and purchase gasoline. As a matter of fact, our society seems to be approaching the limit of what it can afford for medical treatment. Then what? Jesus offers us an alternative in the gospel today.

Jesus promises eternal life to those who believe in him. He does not say here that believers will not die but that he will raise them up on the last day. As we would inquire about a medical insurance policy, we have to ask what we must do to believe in him. The simple answer to this question is that we must follow his ways implicitly. We must love others as he has loved us. We must sacrifice our comforts and even our well-being if he calls us to do so.

Some people would undergo grueling and expensive treatment to squeeze a few more months out of their lives. This choice is not as wrong as it may be unwise. Christians believe that they are much better off to pay less attention to physical treatment and more to how they might follow Christ more closely. His promise, after all, is not just a short period of intense struggle as death closes in. No, he assures us that we will relive forever the best time of our life.

Homilette for April 8, 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 7:51-8:1a)

Cecil Post was a Benedictine priest and pastor in a small North Texan town near the Oklahoma border. He was a kind, gentle man and progressive in the best sense of the word. At about the age of retirement, a cancerous tumor invaded his brain to claim his life. As he was dying, he was asked if he was afraid. No, he said, he had counseled so many people to trust in God that he had to follow his own advice.

Fr. Cecil showed half of what it means to die a Christian death. By exhibiting trust on his deathbed he, like Stephen in the reading from Acts, was asking the Lord to receive his spirit. Of course, Stephen is only imitating Jesus who, in Luke’s gospel, prays from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The other half of a truly Christian death is to forgive one’s enemies. As Jesus asks his Father to forgive his crucifiers, Stephen asks Jesus to pardon those hurling stones at him.

Many people talk about the “quality of life” of those in their final months. They measure this characteristic in terms of communicating with loved ones, of living without excruciating pain, and of enjoying simple pleasures like ice cream. We might pray to maintain these standards as death closes in on us. But let our prayer include as well that God accept our spirit and that He forgive all who have offended us. These latter prayers will raise our quality of life to the highest level possible.

Homilette for April 7, 2008

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(John 6:1-15)

Once a woman came up to the altar to receive Holy Communion. She took the Eucharistic host and looked around for the cup. Not seeing it, she blurted, “You mean I’m not getting any wine?” She was finally offered the Precious Blood, but we may question whether she worthily received it. After all, she seemed to consider it as one might a free sample of cheese at the supermarket. In the gospel today Jesus notes that the crowd who follow him to Capernaum similarly have little appreciation for the Bread of Life that he provided.

The crowd saw the sign that Jesus just worked. He fed five thousand with just a five loaves and two fish on the other side of the sea. Sensitive people would have stopped to ponder what was at hand. They would have recognized that at least a prophet of God akin to Moses has visited them. And they would have adjusted their lives to be in accord with what the prophet was telling them. But the crowd here hardly gives what Jesus says a second thought. They search him out in order to receive more bread.

We must do better. The Church asks us to make a reverential sign – a simple bow is sufficient – before receiving Holy Communion. It is a way to recognize that what we are about to take is not bread and wine but the Lord himself. He will mold us from within to demonstrate his love for the world. He will also prime us for eternal life. The physical value of Holy Communion is negligible -- not worth climbing out of the pew. The spiritual value is infinite – worth climbing a mountain.