Homily for 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time ©, January 27th, 2019:
Something should become very clear for us who have listened to the first reading from the Book of Nehemiah. It is the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. What I mean is the responses of the people to Ezra reading the Law.
First, consider their responses to Ezra reading the Law to them in public. They listen attentively and they see the scroll being read. “…and, as he opened it, all the people rose”(Nehemiah 8:5). The people also respond “Amen” when “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered “Amen, amen!”(Nehemiah 8:6). “Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the Lord, their faces to the ground”(Nehemiah 8:6). The people listened attentively to the words of the Law being read by Ezra (Nehemiah 8:3). They actively engaged themselves. We see here some connection, scripturally, to some of our actions during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. All kinds of bells should go off as we listen to this reading.
But this reading goes deeper. The author emphasizes the community-centeredness of this event, which occurred after the Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile. The community is described as “…men, women, and children old enough to understand”(Nehemiah 8:2-3). The author writes this in verse 2 and repeats it in verse 3. This reading is a community-centered event that the people actively participated in, from beginning to end. The writer shows that the Jewish community knowingly and willingly accepted the Law of Moses. So the people accepted the Law and wanted to obey it. They wanted to repent from any and all sinful disobedience of the Law. They wept when Ezra read them the Law (Nehemiah 8:9). They lifted up their hands and answered Amen. The raising up of their hands shows approval and solidarity by the community. They knowingly and willingly accept the Law of Moses.
Notice that it is the scribe/priest who reads and interprets the Law of Moses to the people. They do not do this on their own. That speaks volumes. To keep the community centered and unified in their worship, they need someone over them to read and explain the Law to them and to conduct and direct their liturgical worship. That is the priest. Otherwise you would have as many different worship ceremonies as you have Christian denominations today. The Law directed the community’s attention to the life of worship. “Today is holy to the Lord your God”(Nehemiah 8:9). But Ezra encouraged the community to view the liturgical reading of the Law as a source of life and strength, not condemnation (Nehemiah 8:9-10).
The one final point comes from verse one, which is not in today’s first reading. The people wanted Ezra the scribe to read them the Law. They sought this. They wanted to hear this; “…and they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded for Israel”(Nehemiah 8:1). They wanted this.
There are parallels for us here today who are here celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. First, we have our own physical gestures during various parts of the Mass, to show our acceptance of God’s Word and His Son Jesus Christ in Eucharist. Our praise and worship of Jesus Christ, really and truly present here in Eucharist and His presence in Sacred Scripture, should direct our attention to liturgical worship of Him. Second, this liturgical worship is meant to have a coagulating effect on us just as it did on the Jewish community in Nehemiah’s time. It is meant to unite us in one church and one faith to each other and to Jesus Himself, to His Mystical Body, the Church. Liturgy has a unifying effect for those who actively seek, find, and participate in, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Praise and worship of Jesus Christ at Mass unifies us, enlivens us, and gives us joy.
Third, nothing and no one is hidden from God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. The people wept as Ezra read the Law because they realized how they and their parents and grandparents had disobeyed the Law. God’s Word “is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart”(Hebrews 4:12). In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the part where God’s Word is read, reflected, prayed, read, and celebrated is called the Liturgy of the Word. We are in that portion of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass now. And fourth, may we seek this, just as the Jews did in Nehemiah’s time. Ezra encouraged the Jews of his time to view the liturgical reading of the Law as a source of life and strength, not condemnation. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is praise and worship of our Savior, Jesus Christ who loves us and saves us in His Own Blood. Notice that those who don’t attend Mass isolate themselves. That isolation harms them. Their isolation centers their souls on themselves. They say “I don’t get anything out of the Mass.” I get more out of a sunrise, a really big tree, or a really nice fishing lake. But they don’t receive Jesus Christ Himself. You can only receive Jesus in a liturgical event here, in church, at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. You contact Jesus here, in liturgy, not anywhere else in His wonderful creation. And Jesus’s contact with us is soul-to-soul contact. You can’t get any closer than that.
I’m preaching to the choir but I am asking you to evangelize this part of our beautiful Roman Catholic faith to others. Evangelize this to the many Catholics who don’t attend Mass anymore, for who knows what reason. Evangelize this to our brothers and sisters in other faiths. We have faith in Jesus. That’s why we are here, to listen to His word and to receive Him in Eucharist. We have faith in Jesus’s presence in both. So if we have that faith, may we share that and be fully confident that Jesus Christ will do His saving work for everyone who comes here, who seeks Jesus out in Sacred Scripture and in the Sacrament of Eucharist. May we seek Him out here just as the Jews did in Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time. We will find Him, or rather, He will find us.
Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time ©, January 20th, 2019:
This gospel reading is a happy one. It involves a wedding and Jesus’s presence and His Mother’s at it. It involves a happy ending to a problem. Jesus solves that problem by performing His very first miracle in public. He did it because His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, asked Him to. There are numerous directions one can go to discuss this gospel passage. But the obvious one is to discuss the Eucharistic image of this first public miracle of Jesus Christ. That Eucharistic image appears when Jesus changes water into wine. Jesus makes this change. Jesus rescues a bride and groom from peril. Their peril is the humiliating embarrassment of failing at hospitality. That is the immediate scene.
But St. John shows a bigger picture here. It is the sign of Jesus Christ, God’s Own Son, beginning a messianic age. It is the age of Himself and His salvation. Jesus changes the water used for Old Testament ceremonial washings into wine of the highest quality. This is the good stuff. Notice how big the stone jars are. There is a plentiful amount of this high-class wine, enough to serve everyone. Jesus changes the water into the wine. The old has passed into the new. Jesus’s first public miracle begins the new era of the Messiah, who has come in the identity of Jesus Christ, Savior. That is important for us today.
The second sign St. John shows in this gospel reading is the glory of God’s presence appearing to us. At the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee, God’s presence is manifested in His Own Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals God the Father’s presence, His love, His forgiveness, and His mercy for us, in His very self.
The third sign St. John shows is Jesus changing one substance completely into another, water to wine. It is a precursor of the great exchange. It is a scene of Jesus changing unleavened bread into His own Body and wine into His own Blood for us to consume for our eternal life. And the wedding feast is a precursor of the messianic banquet of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Those come together here. They come together in the Eucharistic theology that this Church expresses her faith in. When we enter the beautiful sacrament of confession to seek Jesus’s forgiveness of our sins, we are drawn here, to this messianic banquet of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is here that we receive Jesus Christ in the beautiful sacrament of Jesus’s Body and Jesus’s Blood, which gives us eternal life. He restores eternal life to us. Notice what He does for us. Jesus rescues us from danger and peril. Jesus rescues us from the death of sin. He does this. No one else does. Only Jesus saves. He saves us through His Own Body and Blood, shed on the Cross and now re-presented in reality and truth on the altar. We obey Jesus’s command to do this in remembrance of Him (Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:18). To do this in remembrance of Him means to remember all the way to the reality of Jesus’s once and for all sacrifice, the reality of His sacrifice as it affects us here today. If we don’t remember it to the reality of it, re-presented for us here today, then it becomes just a historical event on a page, nothing more. This makes His saving sacrifice real for us here today. He saves us. He also changes us. In Isaiah’s first reading, the prophet says he will continue to repeat the Lord’s prophecy of a restored Zion, until the Lord fulfills it and the people who will return from the Babylonian exile will believe it on faith. God wants the returned exiles to rebuild Jerusalem, to plant grain, to live again in the Promised Land. Isaiah will repeat this prophecy so that the returned exiles will be reinvigorated to rebuild. More importantly, they are being encouraged to rebuild their covenantal relationship with God who loves them. We do the same in conversion, confession, Holy Mass, Eucharist. We seek to rebuild our love for our Savior Jesus Christ, who rescues us from danger and peril. Isaiah describes the glory of the new Zion. Zion’s glory will be given a new name. Zion will be a beautiful crown in God’s hand. It will not be desolate or forsaken anymore. Isaiah prophesies that Zion will be called “Espoused” and “My delight in her.” These titles describe Zion’s changed state. That is a perfect mystic description of what happens to the Zion of our souls when Jesus comes to us in the beautiful sacraments of Confession and Eucharist and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, celebrated by Jesus Christ, in the miraculous change of the elements into Himself. Jesus forecasts this accurately at the wedding feast in Cana of Galilee.
With jesus's baptism, a new era of love, mercy, and forgiveness begins and continues until his second coming
Sunday, January 13th, 2019: The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Where we must go, Jesus has already gone before us. Jesus leads “The Way.” And the way for us to enter into Jesus Christ is through the sacrament of baptism. Holy Mother Church teaches wisely that we must be baptized, be born again of water and the Holy Spirit. We must be baptized in Jesus Christ, in His baptism. Jesus Christ was baptized into His own death, which leads to eternal life. That’s why Jesus insists that John the Baptist baptize Him.
John has a big message for those who think he might be the Christ, the anointed one. John says that “one mightier than I is coming”(Luke 3:16). John says his baptism is only in water. It is an outward sign signifying what the person inwardly must express. Jesus’s baptism will be definitive. It will be an act of God bringing salvation and judgement. St. Luke presents John baptizing Jesus last, after all of the people have been baptized. John’s mission climaxes here. Jesus receives the special anointing of the Holy Spirit as the Messiah in this baptism. Immediately, a new era begins. God opens the heavens and visits His people. This is the turning point in human history. God’s great salvation dawns at Jesus Christ’s birth and is achieved at Jesus’s death on the Cross. God gives a new revelation to His people. The Holy Spirit rests on Jesus to reside in Him bodily. The voice from heaven identifies Jesus as God’s Son and chosen one. Jesus is announced as the messianic king whose mission is humble self-sacrifice. God is good and lovingly kind and this is personified in His Own Son, Jesus Christ. If man gives himself totally to Jesus Christ, God will save him from eternal death. God will save him through the washing of regeneration in the waters of baptism. Christian baptism equals regeneration. Man is created anew. Baptism plants a new principal of supernatural life in man’s soul. Man begins to live on a new and higher plane. So in baptism, man is made into a new being. God in His mercy has brought about this change. No deed of man has any part in this new birth. God’s mercy alone saves us. In our rebirth, we have been pardoned and raised up to live a new and higher life. We are baptized into Christ’s death. In our sharing of Christ’s death and resurrection, God has enlivened us by putting a new and Holy Spirit in us, a Spirit which allows us to love and acknowledge God as “Abba”, “Father” and to walk blamelessly in our new lives. Our lives do not end in death. We have in God a hope for eternal life.
All of that happens in our baptism into Jesus Christ’s death and His resurrection. Our sinful selves are plunged into Christ’s death and our new selves rise in Christ’s resurrection.
Baptism is so essential that, in this church, infants and children are baptized. To not baptize a child would deny a child a priceless, essential grace of becoming a child of God. Read Acts 16:15 and verse 33. It does not say that children were baptized but it does say that the (whole) household had been baptized. That is a strong implication that children were baptized in the family household. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that one shall not baptize a child.
So this sacrament of Baptism is important, essential, and life-giving, eternal life-giving. It is so important that Jesus leads the way for each and every one of us. Baptism into His death, baptism into His resurrection, baptism into His eternal life because of His mercy and no merit of ours. How good, gracious, loving, and kind God is.
Homily for the Solemnity of Epiphany, ©, January 6th, 2019:
This Sunday is the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord. This solemnity outranks the Sunday Mass. This solemnity is equal to Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, and Easter. The reason is because foreigners, Gentiles, come to worship the Lord, God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. “Epiphany” means “an appearance or manifestation of a divine being.” In this case, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, is manifested to the Magi, who prostrate themselves and worship Him.
Isaiah’s reading prophesies that Jerusalem will be the focal point of all the nations. This vision of a new Zion is universal in the sense that foreigners and their kings will acknowledge and serve the Jews. These foreigners will be welcome in Jerusalem and their offerings will be accepted in the Temple, the place of God’s presence. The people will be transformed. They will be just. Yahweh will be divinely present and will enlighten the city. Remember in Matthew 23:37, Jesus looks over Jerusalem and says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing”(Matt 23:37). It is Yahweh who makes Zion the recipient of this homage from the Gentiles.
Psalm 72 explains who this king of the Jews is. This king of the Jews rules in Yahweh’s name. This king represents justice and peace to Israel and the world at-large. The king is an extension of Yahweh. The king exercises divine judgment. He upholds vigorously the rights of the oppressed and the poor. It is Jesus Christ who completely fulfills this messianic psalm, not Solomon. This ideal king’s reign of justice and peace is infinite. All kings will worship Him. This king will provide special care to the needy, oppressed, poor, and weak. All tribes and nations will bless His name.
You see in these Old Testament Scriptures the universality of this king and his headquarters in Jerusalem (Zion). That leads to St. Paul’s message to the Ephesian Christian Church. St. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit is active in the apostles and prophets, who are the foundation of this Church. The message that St. Paul and the others share (St. Peter in Acts 10:44-48) is that the Gentiles are co-heirs in the inheritance that God has promised to the Jews. They share it in Jesus Christ. They are part of Jesus Christ’s Body, the Church. This church is Jesus’s Church, founded on the rock of St. Peter and the gates of Hell will not prevail against her. The Gentiles will have the same benefits, same spirit, and the same body. It is the Gentiles who will receive eagerly this message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The Jews will not.
All of this sets the stage for St. Matthew’s gospel reading. The main message is “to do Him homage”(Matt 2:2,8,11). The contrast in doing Jesus homage is the eagerness of the Magi (Gentiles) to do this and King Herod’s outright refusal to worship Jesus. This story of Epiphany is exhilarating and disappointing at the same time. Herod intends to kill the newborn King of the Jews. The Gentiles will accept and worship Him. St. Matthew’s gospel says the Magi “were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother”(Matt 2:11). “They prostrated themselves and did Him homage”(Matt 2:11). They worshiped Jesus, joyfully. From there, they offer Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold is usually presented as a gift to a king, which Jesus is, the newborn king of the Jews. The frankincense is presented to a deity, in the Christian world and the pagan world too. This child “will be called Son of God”(Lk1:35). The Magi prostrate themselves and “did Him homage”(Matt 2:11). The Magi were aware of the divinity of this child. Their gift of myrrh is for the mortality of this child, this newborn King of the Jews. Myrrh is a narcotic when it is mixed with wine. It is given to treat someone who is wounded. Myrrh is also a deodorant which is applied to a dead body.
All of this comes together in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Mary, who is adopted by St. Joseph, the last in the bloodline of King David. Jesus Christ is priest, prophet, and king. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. He is a king who will be sacrificed on the Cross to forgive us of our sins. He is crowned in heaven and He is for all of us a savior who are included in His Church, this one. That includes both Jew and Gentile alike. I am saying all of this to remain faithful to the Sacred Scriptures which are part of this Epiphany. To do Him homage is the centerpiece. May we do Him homage eagerly like the Magi did and may we avoid the reaction of King Herod. That way, Jesus will enlighten us just as this ideal king would enlighten Jerusalem. Others will see us enlightened by Jesus when we conform ourselves to Him, crucify our sinful nature on His Cross, and invariably, show Jesus’s light and life in our own.
February 12, 2017
October 23, 2016
October 2, 2016