Homilette for Friday, July 25, 2008

Feast of St. James, Apostle

(Matthew 20:20-28)

According to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, St. James is one of Jesus’ first and most intimate disciples. Along with Peter and John, James accompanies Jesus to the mountaintop of transfiguration and to his place of agony in Gethsemane. He is also featured with John as the one of the brothers who (or, as we have it today, whose mother) make the pretentious bid for the seats of highest honor in Jesus’ kingdom. The Acts of the Apostles features James as the first of the twelve to be martyred. Despite these Scriptural references, Europe remembers St. James more as a legend than as a biblical figure. He is said to have visited Spain where, since the early Middle Ages, pilgrims have traveled to his supposed tomb in the city of Compostela.

A pilgrimage symbolizes the Christian journey to God. The destination of life’s pilgrimage is the heavenly city where the faithful find relaxation in the Lord. Pilgrims enjoy moments of companionship with one another and the hospitality of local people along the way. These experiences anticipate the end of the journey. We may have never been on a full-blown pilgrimage, but perhaps we have participated in a procession, which is a mini-pilgrimage. Processions, we remember, are filled with distractions – people greeting one another or complaining how their feet ache! -- even as they recite the rosary.

So we should not be too surprised at the shameless request of James and John’s mother as Jesus is finishing his journey to Jerusalem. She is part of a bigger movement given to a bit of recklessness. As we walk with the Lord on life’s journey, let us ask him to forgive our sins and to help us control inordinate desires. Like the mother of James and John let us boldly make our request.

Homilette for Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 13:10-17)

Flannery O’Connor has been called the greatest American Catholic novelist. Yet her novels are seldom about Catholics. Rather they concern the working of grace in often very peculiar country Protestants. Once she was asked why she wrote about such strange characters. She answered that when people are near deaf, you have to shout at them.

Jesus responds similarly to the question, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” We need such on-the-money stories to wake us up to God’s goodness. The parables tell us that God is so generous he will pay laborers who only work an hour a full day’s wage and that God’s kingdom is such a treasure that it is worth selling all we have to attain it. But in a world with so many diversions – from home entertainment systems to iPhones – Jesus’ message still does not always get through.

Some people see parables as make believe. Since they do not bring immediate gratification, they are not worth pondering, much less pursuing. But Jesus’ parables have been validated by Jesus’ own experience. He became the seed that dies in order to produce abundant life when he gave himself on the cross. He became the man who searches for the lost sheep when he ate with sinners and succored the poor. Because of Jesus’ life witness the parables not only entertain us, they also move us to follow him.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 1: 1;4-10)

No personage of the Old Testament reveals more of himself than the prophet Jeremiah. In the reading today we hear how he reluctantly answers the call to speak in God’s name. In the famous autobiographical passages of the Book of Jeremiah he will lament this vocation because it costs him peace of mind. God tells him, for example, that he cannot marry as a sign of the barrenness that the sins of the people have wrought. However, Jeremiah admits that he cannot do otherwise than speak on behalf of the Lord because God’s name burns within his heart.

Like all the prophets Jeremiah’s role is not primarily to predict the future. Rather, for the most part he is points out how the people swerve from the path of righteousness. Their wandering always leads them to idols, be they craven images or illusory values like excessive consumption of material goods. In our time prophets like Mother Teresa have spoken out regarding radical individualism that leads people from solidarity with the suffering to lives of lustful sterility.

Although prophets are famous for indicating the impending wrath of God, they also convey God’s tender love. In a passage of Jeremiah that has been called “the Gospel before the Gospel” the prophet predicts a new covenant which will be written not in stone but on the hearts of the people so that it may be readily obeyed. He says that when this happens, the Lord will be the only God of the people and they will truly be His people. Of course, we see this prophesy fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As Paul tells the Romans, Christ’s death has led to “the love of God (being) been poured into our hearts though the holy Spirit.”