Sunday, January 31, 2016

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

Icon of Christ Pantocrator,
c. 6th century
Today's Gospel is a continuation of last Sunday's. Jesus has just read the passage from Isaiah:
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
He now addresses the synagogue and says,"Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

St. Cyril of Alexandria, the great Bishop and Doctor of the Church, commenting on Isaiah, writes about blindness, poverty, and the Lord's healing power:
Desiring to win over the whole world and bring its inhabitants to God the Father, raising all things to a higher condition and, in a sense, renewing the face of the earth, the Lord of the universe took the form of a servant and brought the good news to the poor. This, he said, was why he had been sent.
Now by the poor we may understand those who were then deprived of all spiritual blessings and who lived in the world without hope and without God, as scripture says....
To the brokenhearted Christ promises healing and release, and to the blind he gives sight. For those who worship created things, and say to a piece of wood, “You are my father,” and to a stone, “You gave me birth,” thus failing to recognize him who is really and truly God, are they not blind? Are not their hearts devoid of the spiritual and divine light?
To these the Father sends the light of true knowledge of God. Having been called by faith, they know God, or rather, they are known by him. They were children of night and of darkness, but they have become children of light. The Day has shone upon them, the Sun of Righteousness has risen, the Morning Star has appeared in all its brilliance.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

In this Sunday's Gospel, when Jesus returns to Galilee and teaches in the synagogues there, "Everyone sang his praises," says St. Luke. How often we can think, "If only I could have sat at his feet and heard him speak." Yet the early Christian writer Origen (183-253), who commented on this passage, assures us that we are not at a disadvantage:
When you read about Jesus teaching in the synagogues of Galilee and everyone there praising him, take care not to regard those people as uniquely privileged, and yourselves as deprived of his teaching....Throughout the world Jesus looks for instruments through which he can continue his teaching....
When Jesus had read this prophecy, “he rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed upon him.”
Jesus teaches in the synagogue, Caldarusani Monastery, Romania
Here too in this synagogue, that is in this present assembly, you can at this very moment fix your eyes upon your Savior if you wish. Whenever you direct your inward gaze toward wisdom and truth and the contemplation of God’s only Son, then your eyes are fixed upon Jesus.
Blessed was that congregation of which the Gospel says, “All eyes in the synagogue were fixed upon him!” How I long for our own assembly to deserve the same testimony; for all of you, catechumens as well as the faithful, women, men, and children, to have your eyes, not those of the body but of the soul, turned toward Jesus!
When you look at Jesus your own faces will become radiant with his reflected glory, and you will be able to say: “The light of your face has shed its brightness upon us, O Lord!” To you be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

This Sunday's Gospel tells of the miracle of the wedding feast at Cana. Mary noticed that the hosts were running out of wine, and she tells Jesus. On July 6 2015, Pope Francis gave a homily on the wedding feast at a Mass for families at Guayaquil, Ecuador. His words are so meaningful that it's worth reading the full text.

Wedding Feast at Cana, Giotto, 1304-1306.
(Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy)
Here is a portion of his homily:
The wedding at Cana is repeated in every generation, in every family, in every one of us and our efforts to let our hearts find rest in strong love, fruitful love and joyful love. Let us make room for Mary, 'the Mother' as the evangelist calls her. Let us journey with her now to Cana.
Mary is attentive, she is attentive in the course of this wedding feast, she is concerned for the needs of the newlyweds. She is not closed in on herself, worried only about her little world. Her love makes her 'outgoing' towards others. She does not seek her friends to say what is happening, to criticise the poor organisation of the wedding feast. And since she is attentive, she discretely notices that the wine has run out....
But Mary, at the very moment she perceives that there is no wine, approaches Jesus with confidence: this means that Mary prays. She goes to Jesus, she prays. She does not go to the steward, she immediately tells her Son of the newlyweds' problem.... She teaches us to put our families in God’s hands; she teaches us to pray, to kindle the hope which shows us that our concerns are also God’s concerns.
Praying always lifts us out of our worries and concerns. It makes us rise above everything that hurts, upsets or disappoints us, and helps to put ourselves in the place of others, in their shoes. The family is a school where prayer also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals; we are one and we have a neighbor close at hand: he or she is living under the same roof, is a part of our life, and is in need.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Baptism of the Lord, Year C

Baptism of Christ, British Library
(ms. illumination, England, 13th century)
Today is the feast of the Baptism of the Lord today, and the last day of the Christmas season. This feast is marked with the Father speaking his love for his own beloved Son at his baptism by St. John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Originally part of the feast of Epiphany, it was only in 1955 that Pope Pius XII instituted a separate liturgical celebration of the Baptism. 

In Rome a new custom was started by St. (Pope) John Paul II for the Pope to baptize babies in the Sistine Chapel on this day. Here's part of a homily that his successor, Pope Benedict, gave to the parents at this ceremony in 2007:
These children of yours, whom we will now baptize, are not yet able to collaborate, to manifest their faith. For this reason, your presence, dear fathers and mothers, and yours, dear godfathers and godmothers, acquires a special value and significance. Always watch over your little ones, so that they may learn to know God as they grow up, love him with all their strength and serve him faithfully. May you be their first educators in faith, offering together with your teaching also the examples of a coherent Christian life. Teach them to pray and to feel as living members of the concrete family of God, of the Ecclesial Community. 
... Above all, do not forget that it is your witness, it is your example, that has the greatest effect on the human and spiritual maturation of your children's freedom. Even caught up in the sometimes frenetic daily activities, do not neglect to foster prayer, personally and in the family, which is the secret of Christian perseverance.
Let us entrust these children and their families to the Virgin Mother of Jesus, Our Savior, presented in today's liturgy as the beloved Son of God: may Mary watch over them and accompany them always, so that they can fully carry out the project of salvation which God has for each one. Amen.




Sunday, January 3, 2016

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Year C


Three Kings (detail), Chartres Cathedral
Blessed Feast of the Epiphany! On this feast last year, Pope Francis gave a homily at Mass in St. Peter's in Rome. His words are so meaningful, we're posting them all:
That child, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, came not only for the people of Israel, represented by the shepherds of Bethlehem, but also for all humanity, represented today by the wise men from the East. It is on the Magi and their journey in search of the Messiah that the Church today invites us to meditate and to pray.
These wise men from the East were the first in that great procession of which the prophet Isaiah spoke in today’s first reading (cf. 60:1-6): a procession which from that time on has continued uninterrupted; in every age it hears the message of the star and finds the Child who reveals the tenderness of God. New persons are always being enlightened by that star; they find the way and come into his presence.
According to tradition, the wise men were sages, watchers of the constellations, observers of the heavens, in a cultural and religious context which saw the stars as having significance and power over human affairs. The wise men represent men and woman who seek God in the world’s religions and philosophies: an unending quest.
The wise men point out to us the path of our journey through life. They sought the true Light. As a liturgical hymn of Epiphany which speaks of their experience puts it: “Lumen requirunt lumine”; by following a light, they sought the light. They set out in search of God. Having seen the sign of the star, they grasped its message and set off on a long journey.
It is the Holy Spirit who called them and prompted them to set out; during their journey they were also to have a personal encounter with the true God.
Along the way, the wise men encountered many difficulties. Once they reached Jerusalem, they went to the palace of the king, for they thought it obvious that the new king would be born in the royal palace. There they lost sight of the star and met with a temptation, placed there by the devil: it was the deception of Herod. King Herod was interested in the child, not to worship him but to eliminate him. Herod is the powerful man who sees others only as rivals. Deep down, he also considers God a rival, indeed the most dangerous rival of all. In Herod’s palace the wise men experience a moment of obscurity, of desolation, which they manage to overcome thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who speaks through the prophecies of sacred Scripture. These indicate that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David.
At that point they resume their journey, and once more they see the star; the evangelist says that they “rejoiced exceedingly” (Mt 2:10). Coming to Bethlehem, they found “the child with Mary his mother” (Mt 2:11). After that of Jerusalem, this was their second great temptation: to reject this smallness. But instead, “they fell down and worshiped him”, offering him their precious symbolic gifts. Again, it is the grace of the Holy Spirit which assists them. That grace, which through the star had called them and led them along the way, now lets them enter into the mystery. Led by the Spirit, they come to realize that God’s criteria are quite different from those of men, that God does not manifest himself in the power of this world, but speaks to us in the humbleness of his love. The wise men are thus models of conversion to the true faith, since they believed more in the goodness of God than in the apparent splendour of power.
And so we can ask ourselves: what is the mystery in which God is hidden? Where can I find him? All around us we see wars, the exploitation of children, torture, trafficking in arms, trafficking in persons… In all these realities, in these, the least of our brothers and sisters who are enduring these difficult situations, there is Jesus (cf. Mt 25:40,45). The crib points us to a different path from the one cherished by the thinking of this world: it is the path of God’s self-abasement, his glory concealed in the manger of Bethlehem, on the cross upon Calvary, in each of our suffering brothers and sisters. 
The wise men entered into the mystery. They passed from human calculations to the mystery: this was their conversion. And our own? Let us ask the Lord to let us undergo that same journey of conversion experienced by the wise men. Let us ask him to protect us and to set us free from the temptations which hide the star. To let us always feel the troubling question: “Where is the star?”, whenever – amid the deceptions of this world – we lose sight of it. To let us know ever anew God’s mystery, and not to be scandalized by the “sign” which points to “a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12), and to have the humility to ask the Mother, our Mother, to show him to us. To find the courage to be liberated from our illusions, our presumptions, our “lights”, and to seek this courage in the humility of faith and in this way to encounter the Light, Lumen, like the holy wise men. Amen.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Octave of Christmas: Mary Mother of God Year C

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It is a special day for our community, as our church is dedicated to Our Lady under this title.

Basil of Seleucia was a bishop and ecclesiastical writer, who probably died between 458 and 460 AD. Forty-one extant sermons are attributed to him. This excerpt from one of his homilies is a beautiful meditation on the Incarnation:
Emmanuel came into the world he had made long before. God from all eternity, he came as a newborn infant. He who had prepared eternal dwellings lay in a manger, for there was no room for him at the inn. He who was made known by a star came to birth in a cave. He who was offered as a ransom for sin received gifts from the wise men. He who as God enfolds the whole world in his embrace was taken into the arms of Simeon. The shepherds gazed upon this baby; the angelic host, knowing he was God, sang of his glory in heaven and of peace to his people on earth.
And all these things together with other marvels concerning him, the holy mother of the Lord of all creation, the mother in very truth of God, pondered in her heart, and her heart was filled with great gladness. She was radiant with joy and amazed when she thought of the majesty of her Son who was also God. As her gaze rested upon that divine child I think she must have been overwhelmed by awe and longing. She was alone conversing with the Alone. 
Nativity, Giotto, 1304-1306 (Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy)