Homily - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Lk 3:1-6 Bar 5:1-9 Phil 1:4-6.8-11

Focus: Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us.

Function: However, we do not have to do everything alone.

Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, 0. a. Homing pigeons are fascinating birds that have long baffled ornithologists. They can be trained to return home swiftly without losing their way from even several thousand miles! It’s clear that they don’t do this by eyesight; the birds can be blindfolded and they still find their way home. Researchers generally agree that it’s probably no one faculty that enables the pigeons to find their home, but a combination of possibilities including magnetic fields of the earth, smells, “reading” the position of the sun and stars, or ultraviolet light patterns in the sky. A factor that has been considered more strongly in recent years is that they are guided by low frequency sound waves that emanate from just about everything, and that they use to map their environment. However they do it: these pigeons are masters at finding home!

At this time of the liturgical year when we consider the end times and our own true and ultimate home, we might well wonder what leads us just as swiftly and surely there.

In our first reading today, the Prophet Baruch describes what God promises to do for God’s people: God will lead them home. This is good news for Baruch’s contemporaries. His book, composed later than most of the other Old Testament writings, gives a vision of hope to a scattered people of Israel.

The Babylonian Exile had happened; and some fifty years later the Persian King Cyrus had given permission for the Israelites to return home and to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem. However, many over 200 years later still for various reasons lived scattered in a number of countries.

According to Baruch, the people’s return to their land and to their city, Jerusalem, will come as a gift from God. The Holy One will speak and Jerusalem’s children will be gathered from the east and from the west, from all directions. They will rejoice, because God remembers them.

They will be carried back as on royal thrones: they will experience their royal dignity. God will see to it that the lofty mountains be made low and that the age-old gorges will be filled to level ground. God will make sure that nobody gets lost on the journey guiding Israel by the light of his glory. As the merciful one God will show mercy as well as justice to God’s scattered people.

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist, the latest of the prophets of old, uses the prophetic image of preparing ways, of filling valleys and of making mountains and hills low in a different sense. His message is complementary to the one of Baruch. He makes the point that we humans necessarily have to cooperate with God’s movement of gathering.

Repentance is necessary; then, only then forgiveness of sins can and will happen. Then, only then, all flesh, human beings everywhere, will see the salvation of God.

Later, in his own public ministry, Jesus we become the great gatherer. He will carry out God’s gathering movement and so fulfill Baruch’s prophecy. However, an element of choice is always involved. Once we find Jesus sadly looking toward the great city and say:

“Jerusalem, …how many times I yearned to gather your children together
as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling.” (Lk 13:34)

At the beginning of today’s gospel, Luke places Jesus into the historical context of his time. Later it will become clear that certainly most political and religious leaders of Jesus’ time will “not recognize what makes for peace” (Lk 19:42). They will end up rejecting him.

Dear sisters and brothers in the faith, Like John the Baptist’ and Jesus’ contemporaries, we are called upon to repent and to prepare the way of the Lord, within us and around us. However, we do not have to do everything alone.

In today’s second reading, we find St. Paul filled with joy about the Philippians’ partnership for the gospel from the beginning. God has begun a good work in you, he says. What is the good work that God has begun in us? How has knowing the Christian faith, Jesus and his gospel, already made a difference in our lives? We can reflect about good choices that we have made according to the mind and heart of Jesus during the past days and weeks. These were the times when we cooperated with God’s great gathering movement.

Plus, we can ask ourselves: What are the gorges that we need to fill, and the mountains and hills that we need to make low with the help of God’s grace so that our journey home becomes more straight and direct? Homing pigeons follow their instinct to find their way home. We have to make choices in order for this to happen.

Let us pray today that our love may increase; this comes to us as a gift and it is a task at the same time.

Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB

Homily - 1st Sunday of Advent

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Jeremiah 33:14–16
1 Thessalonians 3:12–4:2
Luke 21:25–28, 34–36

Advent is the time for the prophets. There is no Advent without prophets, whether it be one of the great ones like Isaiah or Jeremiah, or the prophet Jesus of Nazareth whom also hear today. Make no mistake, prophets are not easy fellows. The times they live in are critical times. They seem to appear just when the world, society, the religious system is cracking.

Jeremiah is the first prophet we meet this Advent. His was the task to announce the collapse of Judah, its king and its temple. His was the sorrow to live through its dissolution and to be sent off to exile himself and to die away from the place that was the core of his ministry. He had to give the hard word and to be disbelieved though his word always the word of the Lord.

Today we hear Jeremiah speak out of the rubble, as it were. The monarchy had collapsed. And with it apparently the promise made to David that a son would always sit on his throne. Where was God and his promise? Today Jeremiah raises his voice and in the midst of the chaos of that time speaks a word of hope—not his word but God’s word. God had told Jeremiah to tell the people that Judah would collapse; now God says there is a new time coming. He will raise up a just shoot for David. I will keep my word, says the Lord. There will be a springtime for David’s heirs. A shoot, a branch will come up from the stump. And justice will be the key to this new leader. His actions will be right and just.

You and I can easily look out and see that leadership has failed. We can see and feel the world shaking because its leaders are not living up to their vocation. Leadership as a vocation is bringing about justice in and for the community. We can recognize when things are not in order in a society. We know when society needs strong leadership to bring about unity in the face of division. Leadership pulls people together around the signs of justice, freedom, stability and harmony.

We look around and are at a loss as to who can take up the momentous task of uniting Israel and Judah into one again. Who has the gift of bringing about the healing needed to bind the people of God into one. The people then easily despaired of living as one in harmony again. We can easily do the same today. We feel our own helplessness at the times today. But it is precisely when we might move to despair that the prophet raises his voice and speaks what God will do. And in his word lies hope.

The picture of hope that Jeremiah utters is one of justice. God will raise up the just shoot who will do justice. He will see that harmony and balance and human dignity and respect are the guiding principles of the community’s life together. When our God becomes involved in leadership and governance of people then his key word is justice or righteousness. His model will not necessarily be our model but his way will reflect that of the Advent psalm we had this morning: Yes, God’s way is one of kindness and constancy, of covenant and friendship with those who will risk to walk his ways, in his path. When God becomes involved in our human story, then the familiar name of our community changes. Jerusalem, the place of peace, now has a new name, “The Lord our justice.”

Remember, there is a new shoot coming up because the old tree died. There is a new community, a new Jerusalem, a people of justice because the stones of the old were torn down; they collapsed because they were no longer holding the truth of fidelity to the weak and the poor. But the prophet can see and say over the rubble: “The days are coming when…”

The situation is similar with the prophet Jesus who speaks to us today. For him, too, the temple will be torn down, Jerusalem will be desolate. Using cosmic images with the collapse of the sun, moon and stars, he describes for us that their weak light is no longer sufficient. It only cycles out into darkness again. It collapses because there is a new light coming through the clouds, the Son of Man. People are afraid because the old order is falling apart. But the point is not the collapse; the focus is on what is coming. The old is being cleared for a new world is on the horizon. Don’t cower in fear at the break up of what seems so familiar. Rather recognize that redemption is at hand and stand up to welcome it.

The end is not meant to cause fear, whether our individual end in death or the end of something larger, like a country, or a structure of society. We Christians have our eyes focused on what is beyond that. As Jeremiah could see a tiny shoot of a new type of leadership, so the Christian sees that the Son of Man comes to redeem and save not to condemn. Our vocation is not to hide and cower or to despair but to hope and trust in the God who makes anew.

Advent is a time for negotiating the collapse of what we humans have built up and thought we could do on our own. Then, it is the time to listen again to what the prophets say that God can do and will do and is doing: starting with the just shoot, building a community that lives in harmony with God’s justice, God’s way of binding us together in harmony and peace. Advent is the time to recognize that we cannot build a world by ourselves. But one is coming with light so that we can see how with him we can strengthen our hearts in ways that lead to true freedom beyond the slavery we have locked ourselves into. Advent is the time, Jesus the prophet says, when you stand up because you are about to be released from all the selfishness that binds you. Advent is the season to look and see: God is fulfilling his promises. Yes, each time we see some chains of addiction fall, we see shoots of justice, tender and fragile, as we call each other to human dignity. Yes, God is fulfilling his promises each time we recognize the face of the Son of Man in the one who sits across from us, walks beside us, calls us to healing and invites us to leave fear behind. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus, Come fulfill your promise.

Joel Macul, OSB

Advent Message from the Prior

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From Fr. Joel -

Advent is the season that seems to capture the space between waiting and coming. The refrain that Advent offers is one that the prophets, whose season Advent is par excellence, repeat over and over: “In the days to come…” What the prophet then speaks is a word about something marvelous, something just beyond what we believe can be but which deep down we know reflects a profound longing of the human spirit. But God says it can be and so hope surfaces again. The unbelievable that will be is a tree stump, a shoot, that will flourish again to blossom into a new king, a new leader for the people. It is a new age when weapons of war and destruction become farm tools that provide food for a famine plagued earth. It is a scene when God himself comes with his cloth to wipe away our tears in the face of death.

Yes, Advent is a time when we can join the prophets and indulge our imagination in all that we hope for our earth, its people and its future. We have had a true glimpse of what the future can be, of what is coming, in the Messiah we name Jesus. But we know only too well that the Messiah too must wait until time has run its course and we who live in time have drawn the lines in our hearts of what the new age will look like. Our Advent task is keeping the memory of the Messiah alive so that the light that dawned with him once keeps increasing till all is transformed into a world of unity and peace, the very things that keep our hearts awake and joyful as our God works everything for good.

A Message from Our Prior

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Gratitude and thanksgiving have always been understood as one of the most important elements of prayer. One could even go so far as to say that gratitude is the heart of prayer. It all begins with a deep sense of wonder. I am in the presence of someone or something greater than I. I have received something from another. It was a surprise, I had no expectation that it was to come my way. I am in a position of receiving and then wondering. What I experience may be as grand as nature or the smile and quiet word of a small child. In the end, it is a gift that has approached me. My heart wells up in thanksgiving.

There is something about an ungrateful person that makes us stop and step back. Something is missing. We feel uneasy. Gratitude is so much a part of being truly human that when it is lacking for some reason we tend to pull away. Communication and dialogue become difficult then. We feel a disharmony present; unhappiness brings a restlessness.

When things are not going so well, then it is time to look for something for which we can be grateful. There is a beautiful sunrise, there is the conversation that lifted me up, there is the neighbor who is always ready to help, there is the smile on someone’s face, there is my community of faith, there is the gift of my life. St. Paul tells us to rejoice always. And in the same breath, he says to give thanks in all circumstances. For those whose hearts are grounded in gratitude, there is an inner joy and a freedom. Life is then always lived in hope.

Fr. Joel Macul, OSB

Homily - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Isaiah 53:10–11
Hebrews 4:14–16
Mark 10:35–45

Let’s be honest. It is easy for us to criticize John and James for the request they make of Jesus this morning. How dare they be so bold to ask for places at his right and left? These two are part of the inner circle of the twelve along with Peter. But how often do we approach Jesus in prayer or our thoughts and lay out our self-centered demands rather than thinking and asking about his plans for us?

Before this request of James and John, Jesus has again made it clear that he is on a journey to Jerusalem. What awaits him is betrayal, a handover to religious then foreign powers, a cruel and violent death and then and only then after a sure death, resurrection. This is the third time in the gospel that Jesus has made it clear what is in store for him. Or put it in other terms: Jesus has made it clear what his Father’s plan is for his Son. It is also the third time that the disciples don’t seem to understand the implications of what Jesus is saying. A few weeks ago, we heard them arguing about who among them was the greatest. Today, two of the intimate circle are asking for seats of glory and honor. In reality it has to do with authority and power. If you sit next to the king, then you share his authority. They want the best seats in the glory time! They imagine Jesus to be about power and authority. They see Jesus as one who is in command. That is the aura they too want to bask and bathe in.

Jesus’ response is rather mild considering the frustration he must feel at their inability or their unwillingness to understand what he is about. He doesn’t really rebuke. His response is about a cup and a baptism. That, he says, is what he can offer them. In the Old Testament, cup is a rich but ambivalent symbol. It can mean blessings, joy and communion. Think of Psalm 23 with its table and overflowing cup. But it also refers to the cup of punishment and suffering. Think of the expulsion and exile of the community from their Land due to their failure to keep the covenant. They have to drink the cup of suffering. There is no doubt that Jesus is referring to the cup of his passion. In his passion he will drink the suffering of humankind, what Isaiah calls today bearing the guilt of the community, carrying our infirmities, bearing our sins, shouldering our weakness, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it.

The baptism of which Jesus speaks is another image of his walking into death. The original meaning of baptism is to be immersed in water. Jesus will be immersed in suffering; he will enter the whole process of dying, from betrayal, to being handed over, to an execution as a criminal and a form of death reserved for criminals and slaves. In other words, he will be immersed in violence; he will not be in control; instead he will be mocked for the good he has done and promised. All the while, he will be innocent.

Before we jump to criticize James and John, we might ask ourselves, what we have done with our baptismal commitment. We were told that in our baptism we died with Christ and only then could we talk about rising with him. But how are we doing with this dying with Christ. We renounced the ways of the world, the ways of Satan. But have we said the words but not changed our way of thinking and consequently our behavior?

Each Eucharist has a cup at its heart. We hear Jesus words again, the cup of my blood poured out for you and for all the others around you. Poured out, he says, so that the stronghold of sin may be broken. We drink that cup and so accept what Jesus offers the two disciples, the cup of his passion. But if we accept to hold and drink the cup, we are also accepting that the suffering of our lives is brought into the suffering of Christ so that he can bring healing and reconciliation to it. When we accept the cup, we are committing ourselves again to a way of life that culminates in a form of pouring out our lives for others as Jesus did. Jesus makes it clear that his willingness to die is in fact a willingness to pour out himself for us who are weak, broken and bound and determined to be focused on self. Can we drink from the cup and then walk away as if nothing has happened?

What about the other ten? Be assured they were not indignant at James and John because they were missing Jesus’ point. They were angry that the two of them had beaten them to making the request for sharing in power and glory. They were angry because it meant that they would not be sharers in authority and power over others. The motive was ambition and competition. We cannot have someone over us. As Jesus makes clear in his teaching, they were thinking like the world thinks and the world thinks in terms of ambition, competition and authority over others. These become the motive for getting ahead, usually by walking on and over others. That is the paradigm Jesus sees as operative in the world.

Jesus teaches us in his response. This is not the way it is to be among you, among those who follow me and the way of the cross. Instead, the foundation of your lives together is to be a self-sacrificing service that reflects the self-sacrificing love and service of Jesus. And that, Jesus says, is what it means to be great. Remember, the two wanted to be great sitting next to Jesus. But Jesus’ way of greatness is a new model. At the heart of greatness is service; being first means being for others. It is not power over, it is power for. It is not being in control or having authority over; it is how can I be of service, how can I carry your infirmity, how can I share your weakness so that your burden is lightened? That is greatness in the Kingdom. That is the greatness that the heavenly Father asks of his son. To give his life so that others can be free. This is the greatness that Jesus asks of those who follow him. This is the greatness that will come from sharing the cup and baptism of Jesus. Service is what makes one great in God’s eyes.

Let’s go back to the initial demand of the two: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Should it not be “Teacher, we want to do for you and for the many others whatever you ask of us?”

Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB

Homily - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Listen to our Prior, Fr. Joel, as he shares his thoughts during today’s homily:

Wisdom 2:12, 17–20
James 3:16–4:3
Mark 9:30—37

In Saint Benedict Center at the moment, there is a display of historical pianos mostly from the romantic period. Each piano comes with story about a composer or pianist who was around at the time or may have even played the piano. It reminds me of story I read about the composer Robert Schumann. It seems that on one occasion he played a rather difficult étude. Afterwards, one of the listeners asked him to explain the piece. Schumann thought a moment, then replied by sitting down at the piano and playing the piece a second time.

Today’s gospel seems to be a bit like the story from Schumann’s life. The disciples have already clearly heard Jesus’ announcement about the fact that he will be handed over, put to death and then rise on the third day. It seems they did not get it the first time so Jesus is repeating his piece a second time. In Mark’s Gospel today’s story is known as the second Passion prediction. I admit that Mark has added some variation to the theme but what has not changed is that the disciples just don’t get it. Unlike the man in Schumann’s audience, they are not about to ask for an explanation or a “would you play it again.”

Mark is blunt. The disciples do not understand and they are afraid to question Jesus. Yet, there is no need to be afraid because there is no crowd around; it is just Jesus and his disciples. What are they afraid of? Maybe it is the implications of following a Messiah who says point blankly that religious authorities and others will hand him over to be killed. If that is what will happen to the Master, what will happen to us? If he is headed for suffering, what are we headed for if we follow him? We know the temptation. In difficult times we are afraid to question, to go on seeking the truth. We don’t ask questions when our security in faith and life seem threatened. We probably hope the problem will go away. Maybe Jesus is just talking out loud and using his imagination. After all, the Son of Man he talks about is supposed to come in glory and judge us. We thought we could get in on that and have some seats next to him and share his glory. What is this about the Son of Man being handed over? Better not to ask. If we ask, then maybe our comfort zone will be challenged and we will have to rethink who this man is and what our discipleship is all about. If we ask him a question, maybe we will find out that being his follower is not what we thought it would be. Better not ask. Don’t disturb anything.

But the teacher was not talking to himself or playing music for his ears only. It is music that must course through the harmony of our lives as well. So when they are truly alone, “in the house,” he asks them bluntly what they were arguing about “on the way.” Now Jesus asks the disciples a direct question. What is their response? Silence. They say nothing. We find out that their arguing was about who was the greatest. They were more concerned about honor, status and rank among themselves than what it would mean that the master would be handed over and suffer death and then rise. The argument was all about power in the group or who was on top, the greatest, the most important. Can one blame them? This is the way the culture worked. You wanted to be as close as possible to any great and attractive figure such as Jesus was. Culture dictated that you would gain social status the closer you were to the Master, the more you were in his favor.

But their silence to Jesus’ question meant they were not repeating the piece they were playing on the way. Did they realize that what they were saying and what Jesus was saying did not match, that there was no harmony there? You cannot have Jesus speak about his being handed over to the power of men, killed and then rise and at the same time be arguing about who is the greatest, the most important, the powerful one in the group… That is not Kingdom logic…Jesus’ response? He does not default on his role as teacher. Interestingly, he does not reprimand them for what they were arguing about. He teaches by example, by a living parable.

They were interested in social status. So Jesus takes a child. Not that child whom we are to imitate and be like with all its innocence and trust. No, Jesus takes the child who has no standing in Palestinian culture, along with women and widows. Jesus takes the child who cannot offer anyone hospitality or put food on the table or wash your feet. Jesus takes the child as the least in the group and puts the child in the middle, yes in the middle. And he does what he never does to anyone else in the gospel, he puts his arms around the child; he embraces the child—something like the father does to his prodigal son. And then he says, welcome a child, the least among you, the one who cannot honor you in return because he or she has no honor. Welcome that child and you will be welcoming me and my Father. Welcome the one without honor and status and you will be welcoming the divine presence. Welcome the one without honor and serve them, then you will have honor by me.

You argue about status, jockeying for being on top no matter what your world is: business, politics, government, academics, the farm or factory. That is all about playing for power. That is not my way or the way of my Father. Our way is one of service, one of embracing the least, holding them in the middle of the community, surrounding them, honoring them.

Jesus is on a journey through Galilee; he is on the way, on the road, as we say. Eventually, his road will go to Jerusalem where the piece he is playing for his disciples today will be finished. We too are on the way, but what way is it? The disciples were on the way with Jesus, but after today, they find out that they were not really on the way of Jesus and the Father. They were on their own way, to the top, so they thought. But Jesus’ way is different from the world’s way. Our temptation is to be on Jesus way but see it in our terms. James says it well: when left to your way, it turns out to be a way of jealousy and ambition, grasping for power, which always seems to elude.

But that is not the wisdom we have from the Lord Jesus. His wisdom is a way that produces peace. It is grounded not in self, but in the good of others. The way of servanthood, the way that embraces the least, the vulnerable, those society easily pushes aside; that is the wise way according to our God’s standards……Oh yes, there is the temptation not to ask questions of this way because it means questioning my way.

We are in the house now. Jesus has pulled up his teacher’s chair. He is going to teach us. He can be trusted to teach us well. He knows how to give up status, he did not cling to equality with God but emptied himself and became a slave. And like many a slave, he was condemned to death. He said yes to our death, our helplessness. Such was his love for us weak ones who thought first was great. And for taking this road, for walking this way, he was raised up to new life. His way bore fruit.

Now he puts himself in front us in this house: his broken body in the food; his life blood poured out in the cup. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are embracing him, his way, and the Father who lifts us up, not to be first but to continue to serve in the world till all are honored and restored.

Fr. Joel Macul, OSB

A Message from the Prior

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St. Benedict is realistic about work. He assigns periods for it in the course of the day. But it is not a nine to five period. Rather work is part of the total rhythm of the day, the other elements being common prayer and lectio. Work is essential to human life, practically and transcendently. Part of its essential nature in Benedict’s perspective is that it is balanced. It is not all consuming, it is not the only identifying factor of being human. Work does not run our lives. It has its place in the life and spirituality of the human person. One is not less human because one works but it is possible that that the kind of work and the context and way in which it is carried out can dehumanize.

We are created to work. In fact our work is meant to be a contribution to the ongoing process of creation. If work is creative, then in its roots it is also sacred, it shares in what our God is doing and what Jesus is doing, for he says that he is doing the work of the Father.

If we follow God’s creative rhythm of work, then we know there are times when work ceases and rest begins. And it is that rest that creates the balance with work and can fill it with meaning. When we enter the prayer part of the rhythm of our lives, we are in touch with the Spirit that guides and directs our hands, our minds. We stand in wonder before our creator. Then when we turn and pick up our tools, whatever they may be, we are bringing that holy world we encountered in prayer to touch our everyday labor. Those tools, and Benedict calls them sacred, become part of that labor force by which God is making the world anew.

“In the beginning” we were created to care for the garden that God planted. That work of caring, in all its varied forms, goes on still.  It is at its best when it is part of the larger rhythm, the balance, that makes one world out of spirit and the humble matter of our planet and its peoples.

Homily - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Our Prior, Fr. Joel gave the homily this morning: 

Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The gospel we have heard introduces a theme that comes up time again in Jesus’ teaching and practice. But Jesus himself refers back to the prophet Isaiah. This makes the theme an old one that the prophetic tradition had to address also. With this reference to the prophets, Jesus reminds us that the theme is one that seems to be part of our human nature. The theme—the relationship between my inner self and my outer self. Or what is happening in my heart actually governs what I say and do.

The Pharisees function in the gospel as a negative example. The Pharisees were actually a very observant group of Jewish believers. One of their characteristics was meticulous observance of details in the Mosaic Law. Their observance went so far that they added prescriptions to the Law to preserve the Law in its purity; these became the traditions we hear about. According to Jesus, these meticulous demands of the Law made the Law a burden. The focus went from the heart of the Law to external observances. The result was that the purpose of the Law to make concrete love of God and love of neighbor got lost.

Jesus does not condemn the ritual observances, even the ritual purity laws that are mentioned today about the washing of cups and the body so as not to incur defilement. Admittedly, this is not something that Christians today immediately relate to. But what Jesus does do is make it very clear that limiting the law to external observances in fact destroys the Law. In our day, doing the religious observances could mean frequenting the sacraments and devotion to prayer. Jesus would not condemn our practice of these any more than he did in his own day. But he would challenge whether our prayers and our participation in the sacraments come from the heart or are just merely ritual actions that we do out of duty and mere habit. Do we share in the sacraments and say prayers without a thought as to what we are doing or what we are saying? To use the words of the prophet Isaiah, are we saying the words, using our lips, but in fact our minds are elsewhere?  Or do our religious observances come from the heart and do they in turn affect the heart? If we listen to Jesus and understand him, as he asks of us today, he is looking for changed hearts, a life of conversion. Are we members in his Body the Church who are other-centered? It is clear that God, let alone Jesus, is not looking for lip service followers.

As we listen to Jesus today, we hear him use many contrasts: clean and unclean; inside and outside; human tradition and teaching and God’s commandments, lips and heart, within and without. If we were to line them up, we would hear clearly the central thread: heart, clean, inside, God’s commandments. Each one of those is connected to the other. Together they form the whole and the perspective that Jesus is looking for. What matters is a heart that centers on and acts out of God’s commandments and in doing so is clean and undefiled.

It would seem that the scrupulous observance of the Pharisees has led them to kind of pride. They compare themselves with others and when they see that others do not observe as they do, they have a tendency to think of themselves as superior. The result is self-righteousness and an attitude of being judgmental toward others. This is a common trait of those who think their observance is the true and only valid one, back then and today. They have become the point of comparison. Gone is the very purpose of the commandment or ritual which is to align oneself with God’s love, concern and compassion for others. The critique of Isaiah and Jesus is that the religious rituals became an end in themselves. …We are not exempt today from making liturgical and ritual observances an end in themselves. If we do, we fail in fulfilling the very purpose of sacrament and common prayer. And that purpose is to remember and celebrate the overwhelming gift of God’s presence and love. Ritual observance is about enhancing the relationship with our God, who as Moses says today is so close to us. It is the awareness of God’s closeness that prompts us to a fullness of religious ritual and obedience to the commandments. Law and ritual give structure to the closeness of God.

Jesus wants us to avoid one of the great downfalls of religious observance, namely, forgetting that the commandment or the Torah is ultimately a gift from God. Observance of the commandments is meant to awaken in us the very love that motivates God to remain close to us. This love is felt and reflected on first of all in our hearts. And from there, it directs our external behavior. Our liturgical actions have their root in recognition of the supreme gift that is God’s presence. Meticulous observance, such as Jesus condemns, can end up placing the focus on me, on what I am doing. But observing and keeping the great commandments or even the ritual of sacraments should make me aware of others. Keeping the commandments is in fact maintaining and enhancing relationships, with fellow human beings, fellow Christians and God.

Jesus is about the heart of the matter, the center of the Law. And when asked what that is, he affirms that it is love, love of God with our whole self and love of neighbor as our self.  Those who see people living the commandments see wisdom, see God and how near he is. Jesus’ teaching today questions any disconnect between our religious ritual life and our inner moral life.  They are one. We cannot say “yes” on the outside but inside are saying and thinking “no.”

May it be that our hearts are clean and our thoughts are those of peace and our actions those of love.

Homily - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Today's Homily, by Fr. Thomas Leitner. 

Focus:  All that God has done for us in our lives can fill us with gratitude.  We are called upon to make good choices an, “to prefer nothing to Christ” in our lives.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, 0. a. The canonization of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, is scheduled for Oct. 14 this year.  At his beatification in 2015, Pope Francis stated, “His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized.”

Blessed Oscar Romero was truly a bishop of the people. Frequently he visited his parishes, even the remotest ones, which often involved hours of walking.  After celebrating the various sacraments with the people, he stood in line, plate in hand to receive his food, just like everyone else.  And he sat among the children, the young people, women, and the old folks; he also visited the people’s homes. 

Romero became archbishop in 1977, during the turbulent times leading up to El Salvador’s civil war.  Only at that he time he took full notice of the social injustices toward the poor, the assassinations and tortures that went on in his country.  And he began to speak out against them.  In his weekly sermons and radio talks, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders and much more, committed with the support of the government.  Death threats against him mounted; but Monseñor remained firm and faithful; he found his confidence, even his joy in Jesus Christ.

On March 24, 1980, Romero suffered his martyrdom.  He celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel, one day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.  As soon as he finished his sermon, Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment he was fatally shot.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus’ contemporary disciples involved in decision-making at a moment of crisis.  Some leave him, others remain with him.  The words that Jesus had spoken about himself were scandalizing to them.  Can this very human person from Nazareth in Galilee, be, at the same time, the One who came from God and who knows the Father as nobody else does?

As the Bread of Life discourse, whose conclusion we heard today, progresses, Jesus words became even more scandalous.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  What does this mean?  Many probably simply didn’t understand at this point.  Jesus, according to the account of John’s gospel, anticipated on that day after the multiplication of the loaves the institution of the Eucharist.  For Jews, blood was a symbol of life.  With his whole person, Jesus would become food for others.  He would give his life for them.

A Messiah who dies by shedding his blood?  This didn’t seem to make sense.  And being friends with one who will die a violent death might also be dangerous, to say the least.  Is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus too high?

Today’s first reading is taken from the concluding chapter of the OT book of Joshua.  Joshua, the successor of Moses, reminds the people of how God has gathered, liberated and guided them on all their ways, throughout their long journey.  And he gives them a choice: to serve the LORD or to venerate other gods.  He ends with the confession, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  The people also pledge their allegiance to God.

The equivalent of this commitment in the gospel is the response of Peter, who replies, in the name of the Twelve, in spite of all that is difficult and challenging,  to the question of Jesus, “Do you also want to leave?” with “Master, to whom shall we go?  You are the Holy One of God.”

For us Christians, there is a difference, however, between these two passages from the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The people of the Old Covenant experienced the persistent and insistent love and care of God for them in events.  Time and again they realized: God’s providence and God’s power was at work on their behalf. Jesus, over and above that, the Holy One of God, personifies God’s love.  In him it has become palpable and tangible.       

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, today’s Scripture texts can serve as a reminder for us of all that God has done for us in our lives.  This can fill us with gratitude.  And they call upon us, to make good choices, and as St. Benedict would put it, “to prefer nothing to Christ” in our lives.

It is in Holy Scripture, that we find nourishment and guidance.

The Eucharist invites us each time we attend it, to bring our lives to God, just the way they are.  Whatever we hold out to him is being transformed and deepens our oneness with him.

Sometimes it is right and necessary for us to speak out when around us and in our society injustice is committed, human life is destroyed or human dignity disregarded.

Blessed Oscar Romero ,who will soon be Saint Oscar Romero, prayed even in moments of darkness and fear and so was able to make good choices even in the most difficult circumstances. So he became the people’s great example of faithfulness.  Looking to him can inspire us, too, to make the right decisions, even when it’s not easy to do so and to say to Jesus as did Peter in the gospel, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”                                        

AMEN

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Prior Joel's homily from this mornings Mass. 

Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15
Ephesians 4:17, 20–24
John 6:24-35

Grumbling, complaining. That is the way the Exodus story starts today. Not very uplifting, but at least it is honest and reflects an attitude that is often our own. After we get what we want, we are still not satisfied. The people have passed through the Red Sea and are on their way to Mt Sinai. They are in the wilderness, i.e. the desert area. The food they packed with them on the night they left Egypt has run out. So they start complaining. It was better back in Egypt. At least we had plenty to eat; better to have died there well-fed than out here in the desert.

Strange isn’t it? In Egypt, the people cry out in their slavery. God hears them and then with Moses helping, he leads them into freedom with great power. And now, they want to go back to the old routine, even though it was painful and degrading. They would rather be slaves and well-fed, than free and on a journey following the one who gave them freedom. It is amazing what will change our view of the past, change our memories of what we experienced. We want to be free from many things: free from fears, from cravings, from bad habits, from being abused. But being free means that things will be different. Like the Israelites, we will be in a new place and the food will be different. But there will be a new life.

God is not without feelings toward the grumblers. Now he hears the grumbling. But going back into slavery is not an option. He will feed them on the way.  But then the community discovers that the new food is not like the food back home. It is different. “What is that?” they ask when they look at white stuff on the ground. It is the same question we ask ourselves when we see food from another culture, another people. We ask “What is that?” It is a question mixed with curiosity, reluctance and disdain all in one. We want food, we get food, but it is not like what we were used to. Living this new life of freedom is not easy.… We can recognize ourselves in the scene. We may have found ourselves in a dysfunctional situation or in addictive behavior, and suddenly, a door opens and we are free from the situation and it looks like a wide open space in front of us. But then, reality hits: this freedom is work, this freedom is new territory and I have never been here before. It is possible I cannot face the reality of freedom and so there is the temptation to go back to our old life caught in desires that are not satisfying. In our imagination that old life looks good. This new life comes with responsibility. Oh my, I’m not used to that.

Freedom means new life, but a new life with God who leads. With freedom comes a new self. But our freedom and our new self is not bought–it is a gift. So freedom means eating what someone else offers, what God offers. We don’t make it ourselves. Moses’ answer “This is the bread God gives you,” does not have to do with the content of the food, but rather where it comes from. It is bread which the Lord gives.  The food and the substance we hunger for are met not just by any bread or food, but only the food that God provides.  The bread the people are given is to lead them to the one who is giving it. The bread is God’s care for them along the journey. It is not just bread; it is God caring for the community in their new freedom. This is a new experience. Their memory of the past was focused on something physical, the stomach and good taste, but the freedom they now have opens them up to a relationship with the one who cares for them. The bread on the ground is communion with the God who liberates.

The scene in the desert is echoed in the gospel. The crowd in the gospel is following Jesus. But Jesus challenges the reason why they follow him. It seems they are only interested in another act of power, a miracle. Perhaps even another free meal. They seem to be focused on the bread that fills the stomach. They are interested in satisfying physical desires. But something more is needed for the journey. Jesus sees the bread as a sign, a sign of what? Of the Father’s care, the Father’s love, ultimately of the Father’s desire that his people live and not die. The crowd, like the people in the desert, seem to have a bad memory. They think Moses gave the bread. They forgot that Moses made it clear where the bread came from. The bread came from the Father not from Moses and certainly not from anyone of them.

Jesus is trying to have the crowd move from what is bread to who is giving the bread. The bread is not an end in itself. The bread, says Jesus is a sign, a sign of the giver. The giver is the Father and the gift, the bread, is the Son. Jesus is inviting the crowd to recognize the Father at work and to believe in the Son. Like the manna in the desert, the Son has come down from heaven. And like the desert manna he gives life and sustains us.

Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd makes clear what our work is. It is the work of believing in him. Jesus extends an invitation to us to leave behind all the allurements that promise satisfaction. Jesus invites us to leave the junk food behind and come to real bread, namely himself. That is a risk. Bread is a thing, we can control it, capture it, store it, throw it out. But if we come to the bread that the Father sends, then we are coming into a relationship, we are meeting someone deeply personal. Instead of our picking up bread, we meet a hand who will lead us, sustain us and comfort us. The bread the Father offers is a living person with whom we interact, who can speak and whose word is wisdom and love and comfort and, yes, challenge. When Jesus says that our work is believing in him, he is saying that our life’s task is listening to him, responding to him, living with him, eating his bread only and loving him from the depth of our heart. It is also accepting that he loves us and that this bread is truly a sign of that love.

When we are doing that kind of believing, then we are truly alive and all other bread matters little. With such a relationship with our bread, we can leave our slavery behind and move into new life and freedom in God. We can, as Paul says, put on the new self because we have learned Christ. Indeed he is living and moving in us and we in him. Then truly we will hunger and thirst no more.

Joel Macul OSB