Homilette for Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 4:31-37)

In the gospel yesterday Jesus says that the Spirit anointed him to let the oppressed go free. Today we see what this means. Before we examine the story let us make a few notes about demons. We see demons as tempters that nudge us to make bad choices. The demons of the gospels, however, affect people physically and mentally, not morally. True, Satan tries to allure Jesus into sin, but he is the devil, not a demon. Today we seldom speak of demons possessing people as physical or mental torture. Rather, we use other terms like “cancer” and “bipolar condition” to describe these states. Still, we should remember that Jesus came to terminate all conditions of oppression

The man possessed by the demon in the gospel is already in the synagogue where Jesus is teaching. Evidently, the words of rabbis and prayers of the people have not been able to help him. But Jesus teaches with authority; that is, he both knows what he is talking about and has the power to execute what he says. Jesus’ words provoke the demon to try to intimidate him. The demon cries out, “’I know who you are – the Holy One of God.’” But Jesus is more than capable of the challenge. He speaks up even more forcefully (exorcism is often a duel of words), “`Be quiet! Come out of him!’” The demon succumbs to Jesus’ power by dispossessing the oppressed man.

With medicine’s amazing success over disease people today have difficulty considering Christ’s healing power. Of course, we can think of Jesus as working through medical professionals. But he also is at work beyond the profession’s capability to bring us from sickness to wholeness. He may decide not to remove the physical or mental malady affecting us. Still, as physician of souls, he will always strengthen us to accept it knowing that its harmful effects will dissolve in eternal life.

Homilette for Monday, September 1, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time (Labor Day)

(Luke 4:16-30)

Americans tend to rest or recreate on Labor Day. Unlike the other two summer holidays, Labor Day has always fallen on Monday to make a long weekend. Also, Labor Day marks the end of the vacation season – the last day of ease before the fall harvest of research papers and production quotas. Although political campaigns traditionally begin on Labor Day giving food for thought, the United States has deliberately avoided a May 1 holiday when most of the world meditates on the meaning of work.

An inveterate unionist once boasted that he would organize everyone that worked for a living; that is -- he explained -- everyone who worked except lawyers, bankers, and scabs! Prejudices against different types of labor still exist, but we might include all professions as falling under Adam’s curse that food for the table would be produced only with sweat from the brow. Although some work is certainly easier than other, almost always there is an element of stress, strain, or monotony involved. In the gospel today Jesus announces that he comes to announce a time that is acceptable to all. He is speaking of emancipation from the drudgery of work with a new form of jubilee year.

Jesus’ good news includes the message that work itself is a gift from God. Whether we are the architects of a new cathedral rendering glory to God or bricklayer’s apprentices who mostly mix cement, our work contributes to the improvement of society. It also provides bread for our bellies, roofs over our heads, and medical assistance for our bodily welfare. Finally, work disciplines us to be industrious, efficient, and considerate. We need work almost as much as we need to relax and to celebrate God's goodness.

Homilette for Friday, August 29, 2008

Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist

(Mark 6:17-29)

This curious sidebar in Mark’s gospel describing the martyrdom of John the Baptist resolves what happened to one of the first century’s greatest religious leaders. It also anticipates Jesus’ death.

John was an enormously popular religious prophet whom evidently even Jesus followed for awhile. His being executed like a dog shows how state power can wantonly lay aside human rights. More than the other evangelists Mark will describe Jesus’ death as similarly outrageous and gruesome. The Jewish leaders have false witnesses testify against Jesus. Pilate hardly gives him a hearing at all. And Jesus hangs on the cross for a full six agonizing hours in this gospel.

“Where is justice?” we want to cry out. It is with God, and He has introduced it into the world with the paschal mystery of Jesus. Just as Jesus’ brutal death ended in the glory of the resurrection so the lives of those who believe in him will be saved. For now we move under Jesus’ mandate to fortify the mechanisms of justice in our society. We also pray that when injustice strikes despites our efforts to keep it at bay, its victims will respond with the love of enemy which Jesus emphasized.

Homilette for Thursday, August 28, 2008

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

(I Corinthians 1:1-9)

It has been proposed that the three most important persons in early Christianity were Jesus, Paul, and Augustine. Some might wonder why Jesus’ name is put on this short list that does not include the Blessed Mother or St. Peter. But the proposition concerns the formation of a great religion. Jesus, of course, started it all. Paul propelled the Christian movement forward with his work among non-Jews. And Augustine gave Christianity, in the West at least, a solid theoretical basis.

There are many comparisons to be made between Paul and Augustine beyond enshrinement in Christianity’s hall of fame. Both experienced famous conversions. Paul, of course, was persecuting Christianity when the Lord turned his life upside down on the road to Damascus. Augustine’s conversion, on the other hand, was subtle and gradual. He had leaned for a long time toward a heretical Christian sect. Also, a promiscuous relationship hindered him from pursuing where his intellect was leading him. Finally, however, he could not deny God’s calling from within and was baptized by St. Ambrose of Milan. Another comparison is that both Paul and Augustine worked tirelessly for Christ after their conversions. Paul’s preaching extended beyond Asia Minor, throughout Greece as we note in the first reading today, and at least as far as Rome. Augustine’s enormous output of books and sermons eloquently testifies to his exhaustive work.

Perhaps most importantly both Paul and Augustine can be considered together for their work developing the concept of grace. Paul understood that we humans were doomed to sin when God sent His son to save us. Augustine made it clear that salvation is not a little bit God’s offer and a little bit our response. No, Augustine taught, even the inspiration to respond to God’s offer is a movement of divine grace within us.

Homilette for Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Memorial of St. Monica

(II Philippians 3:6-10;16-18)

The time of the “coming of the Lord” has preoccupied Christians from early on. Jesus said that he would come again and that his followers should be prepared for a sudden arrival. But, of course, the event has not yet taken place.

The first reading today indicates how a few Philippians misbehave under the expectation of Jesus’ imminent arrival. They consider the coming so close that they refuse to work! Rather they just use the supplies they have at hand. If Jesus does not appear before their provisions run out, they ask neighbors to share with them. After all, they speculate, the neighbors do not need much by way of excess since time is still short.

Of course, this kind of behavior is outrageous. No one can say when Jesus will come, but when he does, Christians should be found at work doing good for one another. In this way Christ will recognize them as his own.

Homilette for Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 23:23-26)

Matthew’s gospel shows Jesus beginning his first public discourse with eight beatitudes and his last discourse with seven woes. The beatitudes, of course, indicate the rewards Jesus’ followers will receive and the woes, the punishments his enemies will undergo. There are also contrasts among the beatitudes and the woes. Today’s gospel passage relates the fourth and fifth woes which we can contrast to the fourth and sixth beatitudes.

Where Jesus considered those who hunger and thirst for righteousness “happy” or “blessed,” he now sees those who neglect judgment and mercy and fidelity as deserving “woe.” The latter are the kind of people who attend to the letter of the law or, as he puts it, “tithes on mint and dill and cumin” but avoid keeping its spirit which is that they become fair and compassionate. A number of years ago a church finance officer, whose co-workers considered him the model of trustworthiness, embezzled hundred of thousands of dollars from the diocese he worked for. This thief exemplifies the hypocrisy that Jesus criticizes here.

While the scribes and Pharisee keep up a good fa├žade – “the outside of cup and dish,” what lies behind the scene – “the inside” -- is sheer wickedness. As much as this is the case, the perpetrators merit Jesus’ woe. His disciples, on the other hand, strive to be “pure of heart” which means to desire inwardly what is worthy of God, especially in sexual matters. It is a life-long struggle, to be sure, but worth the effort. It promises not only honest, caring relationships on earth life but the beatific vision in eternity.

Homilette for Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 23:13-22)

We meet Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has just cleansed the Temple and is waiting for the wrath of the religious leaders to fall upon him. In the meantime, he criticizes the Pharisees for their erroneous teaching. But we should not think that Jesus was historically as incensed with the Pharisees as today’s gospel indicates. The setting reflects the situation of the Church at the time of Matthew’s writing, perhaps fifty years after Jesus died. By then Judaism was reforming itself after the Romans demolished the Temple. Its religious leaders, predominantly Pharisees, had to draw lines in the sand to distinguish its full-fledged followers from those synagogue attendees who might be Christian at heart. They would persecute these Christians in a way similar to the Inquisition when the Church punished false Catholics. Matthew shows how Jesus might have defended his followers if he were present in the late first century. In any case we might listen to Jesus’ diatribe against the Pharisees as a critique of religious exploitation in general.

Jesus’ first charge is that Pharisees deprive people of access to the Kingdom. In other words the religious leaders actually prevent people from knowing God. Priest and ministers who have extravagant lifestyles or who have abused the faithful physically or mentally fall under this weighty condemnation. Then Jesus criticizes the Pharisees’ proselytism which makes fanatics of religious converts. We might find a contemporary example here in a convert from Islam or Buddhism who denies that the possibility of the Holy Spirit working within the hearts of their former religious associates. We know that the Holy Spirit works definitively through the Church and its sacraments, but we cannot deny the possibility of salvation to people outside the Church. Finally, Jesus condemns the way Pharisees manipulate the law by drawing meaningless distinctions between gold and Temple or between gift and altar. Catholic teachers who say that the unmarried may have sex as long as it is done “responsibly” or that one is free to miss mass on Sunday as long as he or she go once during the week make the same kind of wrongful distinction as the Pharisees here.

Homilette for Friday, August 22, 2008

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Matthew 22:34-40)

About ten years ago a Jesuit theologian wrote of a disturbing trend. He said that people today no longer talk about love of God. Rather they talk about love of neighbor and love of self as if these were contemporary ways to love God. The theologian did not approve of the trend and assured his readers that love of God is not only possible but necessary.

For Jesus to love God with all our heart means to have God as our first and foremost desire. It is to say with Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” To love God with all our soul is to desire everlasting life in His company. Although this may seem self-seeking, it is not selfishness. It is only taking delight in the beloved. A poem repeated every night on an old radio program put it well: “I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.”

Jesus wants us also to love God with all our mind. This requires that we read about, think about, and talk about God with others. Many people spend most of their free time watching television. Loving God may mean for them turning off the TV to reflect on God’s goodness. Helping others is a practical way to demonstrate our love for God. Although St. Paul writes that it is possible to give away everything and still lack love, most of us send contributions for emergency relief to people we do not know because God wills it. Those who love God generally respond quickly and effectively to the needs of other humans.

Homilette for Thursday, August 21, 2008

Memorial of St. Pius X, pope

(Ezekiel 36:23-28)

Edward Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory” tells the tragic story of a rich man with a hard heart. Richard Cory attracted the admiration of everyone with his fine dress and well-chosen words. As enviable as he was, however, Richard Cory was also miserable. He could not empathize with the poor that were everywhere in his locale. Unable to love, Richard Cory felt so desperate that he killed himself.

The reading from Ezekiel today promises redemption to a nation of Richard Coreys. Ezekiel says that God will replace the stony hearts of the people of Judah with tender hearts so that the people can love God and one another. He says that this will be done through the gathering of the people into a new land and with the sprinkling of cleansing water.

How can we Christians not see this prophecy completed through Jesus’ establishing the Church? In the Church men and women of every race, language, and land are gathered together to form a new, holy people. The waters of Baptism wash away our sins so that we may live without guilt. The Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, flushes our hearts with the love of God. Recreated in this way, we can count on God’s continued support as we practice His gracious will.

Homilette for Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

(Ezekiel 34:1-11)

Ezekiel’s scolding the shepherds of Israel will remind some of us of the grave scandals in the Catholic Church. Just as the princes of Israel exploited their authority to make themselves rich so some priests have abused children sexually for their own satisfaction. Almost as abhorrent is the way a few bishops, the Church’s primary shepherds, allowed abuses to continue by not taking proper disciplinary actions.

Defendants of those involved in clerical abuse have contributed to the understanding of the situation. They have pointed out that priest-abusers were often victimized sexually themselves as children. They have also indicated that bishops often transferred problematic priests to other parishes with the assurance of psychologists that the abusers had reformed. We cannot accept these reasons as excuses for all or even most of the errant behavior. But we should appreciate better how evil has roots buried deep into both society and the human psyche.

Ezekiel’s diatribe should move every Christian in position of authority over others to recourse to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He or she needs to note how Jesus outlined a demanding course of behavior, gave perfect example himself, steadfastly called deviants back to righteousness, and graciously forgave sins. Also, those in authority are wise to pray daily to Jesus for prudence and justice, the virtues of effective leadership.

Homilette for Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 19:23-30)

In the novel The Great Gatsby the consummate self-made man tries to woo the love of his life by showing off his expansive wardrobe. Of course, the woman, who is also wealthy, is not impressed. Neither the man nor the woman realizes the true purpose of wealth. It cannot buy happiness but allows people to assist others through investment, considerate spending, and generous giving.

The gospel today as well as the reading from Ezekiel conveys the folly of hankering after wealth. Jesus’ disciples seem astounded when he suggests that wealth cannot buy a place in the Kingdom of heaven. They think that since the wealthy appear to be blessed by God on earth, they will inherit choice places in heaven. No, Jesus advises them, the rich perhaps more than the poor need God’s mercy to be saved.

To follow Jesus we must come to terms with wealth. As he says, no person can serve two masters. We should show firm allegiance to the Lord. One man did this by using the maxim: for a successful life a person is to spend twenty years learning, twenty years earning, and twenty years serving.

Homilette for Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 19:16-22)

A team of psychologists recently analyzed data of surveys given to college students over the last twenty years. They report that there is an increasing amount of narcissism among American youth. Although a positive self image is desirable, the psychologists claim that narcissism, which is an exaggerated self-image, often results in social pathology. Difficulty forming meaningful relationships, materialism, and greater likelihood of infidelity, substance abuse, and violence are all associated with narcissism. Is it any wonder then that contemporary marriages often fail?

The young man in the gospel demonstrates a bit of narcissism. He appears both sincere and good-hearted as he confronts Jesus. No doubt he keeps all the commandments as he says. But eternal life means following Jesus through the cross to glory. For this earnest young man the journey requires dispossessing himself of his riches. It is a price too steep to pay because the young man enjoys his wealth.

Jesus’ words test all of us. Although he does not ask most people to sell everything for the sake of the poor, he does call everyone to follow him. He wants us to reflect over the words of the gospel and to effectively act on them. Is it hard? Perhaps. But, of course, we can count on Jesus to help us with the load.

Homilette for Friday, August 15, 2008

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

The biblical scholar Fr. Raymond E. Brown was concerned about ecumenical relations until his untimely death ten years ago. He used to reassure Protestants that what the Catholic Church claims about Mary is usually what is envisioned for all Christians. For example, the Church’s doctrine that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven is essentially no different from the destiny of all the faithful at the end of time. The reading from First Corinthians hints at this. Christ was raised as the first fruits of God’s redemption. Catholics see the “proper order” that St. Paul alludes to here as having Mary, the mother of Christ, raised after him but before others.

The glorious destiny of our bodies gives added reason for us to treat them well. St. Paul in the same letter to the Corinthians presents the primary reason. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we are not to profane them by lewd conduct. Nor should we abuse them with excessive food and drink. While we’re at it, we might also say that respect for our bodies includes frequent exercise, sufficient rest, and a balanced diet.

Psychologists have noted how having overweight friends induces many people to pile on the pounds. Of course, the resolution of this problem is not cutting ties with fat people but modeling for them healthy eating habits. One more thing: since we tend to emulate our friends, we might make special friends with Mary. Just following her in today’s gospel is an inspiration. She quickly goes to visit her relative Elizabeth when she hears of the latter’s unexpected pregnancy. She praises God for all the good that happens to her. And she announces the good news of salvation. Could we imagine a better person to have as a friend?

Homilette for Thursday, August 14, 2008

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, priest and martyr

(Ezekiel 12:1-12, Matthew 18:21-19:1)

Exile is a terrible experience. We only have to review the situations of the hostages in Darfur or of the other thirty-six million refugees and displaced persons in the world today to see what horrors people in exile live. The foreign cultures they inhabit lack familiar institutions that might provide some solace. They have trouble finding jobs which leads to their exploitation as slave labor. They are also exceptionally vulnerable to new diseases and to swindlers’ deceptions.

In the reading from Ezekiel today God wants the prophet to show the Jerusalemites that they are headed on a course of exile. Ezekiel is to act as a person uprooted from his native place to awaken the people that their sins are bringing them to ruin. The hope is that the people will reform their lives so God might spare them the trauma of exilic life. Sadly, however, they will refuse to repent.

We see Jesus as bringing us out of the exile that sin has caused. Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden was the prototype of exile from which Jesus has rescued us. He brought us to the Kingdom of God (or of heaven as Matthew’s gospel consistently calls it). This state is not so much a physical place as it is a renewed relationship with God in which we experience the fullness of peace. Acquiring the relationship, we will forgive others their offenses against us, as the gospel today recommends, because we realize how gracious God has been to us.

Homilette for Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 18:15-20)

Development has been a growth industry for thirty years. Of course, the development that I have in mind has nothing to do with land or cameras but with growing funds for a church or charitable organization. Development advisors make a mantra of the conventional wisdom that in order to receive you have to ask. Often churches and charities are reluctant to beg from individuals because they fear putting them on the spot. But, developers point out, most people want to be asked. Sure some will refuse a direct request, but more people than petitioners imagine are willing to make a contribution to a cause they can believe in.

In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples not to be shy about asking favors. He assures them that he is there to grant their requests. This assurance is juxtaposed to fraternal correction probably because he wants his disciples to give priority to community needs, especially the necessity of unity in truth and love.

Of course, sometimes the Lord does not grant what we request. “What went wrong?” we may then ask ourselves. Did we not pray hard enough? Perhaps we did not believe that God could grant our petition? Rather than accuse ourselves of ill will, we might remember how Jesus prayed and try to do likewise. In Gethsemane when he contemplated the terrible punishment that was about to befall him, he prayed, “...let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as you will.” Disposing ourselves to the divine will does not undercut our request. Rather, it recognizes that God knows best and will take care of us no matter what we have to face.

Homilette for Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 18:1-5;10;24)

Pope Benedict recently extended the possibilities of using the so-called Tridentine mass. Many Catholics still remember it as the form of the Eucharist in their youth. Of course, the language of the Tridentine mass is Latin which the priest speaks largely with his back to the congregation. In the old days, the people in the pews never responded to the celebrant’s periodic addresses to them. Rather, they just followed the prayers with a missal or said private prayers while the sacramental action was taking place inside the communion rail.

Some of us may ask why the pope would return to this old form of the mass. One reason is found in the gospel today. As Jesus exhorts his disciples to seek out the one in a hundred sheep who goes astray, so the pope is asking priests to accommodate the relatively small number of Catholics who prefer the old rite. He wants to keep religious-minded people within the Church fold by all legitimate means available.

Perhaps some observations on the Tridentine liturgy are in order. First, there has not been a rush to go back to the old form. Most masses are still celebrated in the now familiar way. Therefore, there is no need to fear that the pope intends to impose an antiquated rite on anyone. Second, some pastors, already overburdened with work, might find that adding a Tridentine mass burdensome. Thus, those who want to worship according to the Tridentine rite may have to find a parish where it is offered. In most American cities this should not prove too inconvenient. And third, all Catholics might experiment with the older rite. Perhaps now that they are familiar with all the parts of the Eucharist, the faithful can appreciate the phonetic beauty of Latin and the aesthetics of all the congregation facing in the direction of the rising sun while praying to God.

Homilette for Monday, August 11, 2008

Memorial of St. Clare, virgin

(Matthew 17:22-27)

Justice is the virtue by which we give to each person his or her due. It is absolutely essential for harmonious social life. Love is the virtue by which we join ourselves spiritually if not physically to others. Family life would be inconceivable without it. Both virtues have natural and supernatural dimensions. Natural justice, for example, assures that we compensate properly the person who works for us. Supernatural justice moves us to secure the rights of all people, whether or not we owe them anything personally. Pursuing supernatural justice, which is bestowed only through God’s grace, we merit everlasting life.

Parents, of course, love their children. Because they naturally identify their children’s welfare with their own, they make it a priority. Supernatural love moves people to identify with and to seek the good for God and others, beyond family and friends. We see supernatural love operative in the life of St. Clare of Assisi who exhausted herself in prayer and charitable works.

The gospel today presents a negative instance of natural justice and a positive instance of supernatural love. Jesus instructs Peter that justice does require him to pay the temple tax because he is the son of God for whom the temple is constructed. However, because supernatural love moves him not to give scandal to the tax collectors, Jesus provides for the paying of the tax. In paying the tax voluntarily, Jesus demonstrates in a rather banal way that he is indeed of divine origin.

Homilette for Friday, August 8, 2008

Memorial of St. Dominic, priest

(Matthew 16:24-28)

When William Jefferson Clinton was first inaugurated President of the United States, his wife Hillary was wearing a cross on a chain around her neck. Radio commentators asked whether the cross was an appropriate symbol on such a civic occasion. A more poignant question would have been whether Mrs. Clinton knew the significance of her jewelry.

In the gospel Jesus tells us that to be his disciples we must take up our cross and follow him. Wearing a cross signifies that we have accepted the terms. As his disciples, everyday we will encounter challenges because we are opting for self-denial which goes against our hard-wired fallen human nature. Sometimes – like when the cross demands that we give up the possibility of marriage to someone we are exceptionally fond of – it will seem too much to bear. But, of course, we can always count on Jesus himself to help us carry it.

It seems that St. Dominic never flinched in carrying his cross. His followers saw him as both austere and amiable. He would stay up all night praying on the floor of the Dominican basilica in Rome. However, such piety did not leave him too weary the next day to graciously encourage his brother friars. Several witnesses summed up Dominic’s virtue by testifying in his Acts of Canonization, “He spoke only of God or to God.”

Homilette for Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 16:13-23)

We have heard the central question of this gospel passage many times. Perhaps we remember Peter’s answer as if it were our telephone number. But can we appreciate its implications? “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” Jesus asks. Of course, he is talking about himself, the Son of Man; that is, the human who does God’s work. The question asks, “What more is Jesus?” Peter gives the answer that we all know. He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now what does this mean?

Peter thinks that being the son of God, Jesus will not have to suffer. Like the son of a king will never be served a lousy meal, Jesus -- in Peter’s mind -- will never suffer at human hands. Perhaps we, like Peter, cringe at the thought of God’s son undergoing one of the cruelest forms of execution in history! But Jesus must suffer or he would not be doing God’s work. Through Jesus’ suffering God extends to every human the offer of salvation.

Humans experience salvation by recognizing Jesus as the one who died for them. This recognition is not a simple “I believe” if asked about Christ. No, it entails suffering with Jesus when we are called to it as all humans are and no human likes. But now we can accept suffering calmly. It is something like primitive humans’ controlling fire. For a long time, humans reeled from fire’s intensity and feared its power. But then they saw that they might use it for cooking, farming, and keeping warm. We do not look for suffering and pray that the suffering that comes our way is not beyond our strength. But we accept it knowing that endured in solidarity with Jesus, it gives rise to our salvation.

Homilette for Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Feast of the Transfiguration

(Matthew 17:1-9)

In 1987, the first President George Bush sounded dismissive responding to a suggestion that he change focus from short to long-term objectives. With a phrase that has been much criticized, then Vice-President Bush reacted to the idea by saying, “Oh, the vision thing.” A hopeful vision, however, has carried different peoples through periods of suffering. African-Americans, for example, bore the often violent reciprocations to their quest for human dignity by “keep(ing) their eyes on the prize.” An often quoted proverb sums up the need for vision, “Without a vision, the people will perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

In the gospel today Jesus’ leading disciples see a vision of his resurrected glory. They shrink in awe as Jesus is transfigured from his usual visage to a heavenly figure. Together with the affirmation of Jesus’ favorable sonship by the voice from the cloud, the transfiguration assures the disciples of Jesus’ divine mission. This vision will sustain their faith in him as Jesus suffers crucifixion and then as they undergo persecution preaching his name.

It is critical for our salvation that we likewise keep in mind the vision of the transfiguration. Some people would leave Jesus as a wise and holy man to be admired. There is no doubt about his virtue. But Jesus, as the transfiguration demonstrates, is further the everlasting son of God to be followed to the end. As his unjust execution leads to a glorious resurrection, our suffering in communion with Jesus will serve as a gateway to eternal life.

Homilette for Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 30:1-2;12-15;18-22)

Society yearns for a savior. Not only religious people but, on a gut level, the common person know that humans cannot achieve happiness alone. For this reason “Hellboy II” has smashed box offices around the country this summer. The protagonist, who is deliberately portrayed as a Christ figure, saves humanity from Prince Nuada, the personification of evil. But Hellboy is an erratic savior. Although he performs heroic deeds, he also sets a poor example by cohabitating with his girlfriend. Even if Hellboy were historic, he would hardly be one to imitate.

Of course, humanity already has a savior – a historic person who has not only conquered sin and death but has left a legacy of wisdom. The world needs to turn to him and not be charmed by fantastic imitations conforming to contemporary social whims.

In the reading from Jeremiah today we hear again of the need for salvation. The prophet speaks on God’s behalf of the people’s egregious sins. They are completely incapable of repairing their fate. God, however, shows Himself as ever merciful. He will restore their peace and make them, once again, his people. We believe that God has fulfilled this prophecy in Jesus Christ. For this reason we devote ourselves to following Christ’s wisdom.

Homilette for Monday, August 4, 2008

Memorial of Saint John Mary Vianney, priest

(Matthew 14:22-36)

George Bernanos’ novel Diary of a Country Priest portrays the life of St. John Vianney. Toward its conclusion, when the priest knows that his death is imminent, he says, “What does it matter, grace is everywhere.” His sanctity assures him that death is no obstacle for the grace of Christ. Rather, that grace will lift him through death like an airplane soaring through a dark cloud into the light of the stratosphere.

Jesus’ disciples in the boat being tossed about by the tempest have not fully learned about grace. Without Jesus physically present they fear that they will perish in the sea. Jesus is never far away, however, and his saving grace surrounds them. They must only trust in him like the sick coming to him for a cure. He is ready to save them.

Matthew, the evangelist, seems to have a symbolic intent in relating this episode. The disciples in a boat without Jesus present may be the Church after the resurrection, now as well as 1950 years ago. The darkness of night has always been associated with evil, and along with the turbulent waters it appears as death-dealing. Church-members must grasp the lesson of grace. We have only to trust in Christ, and his grace will see us through any turmoil.