Our Homily this morning, by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
The Homily this morning - by Fr. Volker Futter:
Today’s homily by Prior Joel.
Nehemiah 8:2–4a, 5–6, 8–10
1 Corinthians 12:12–30
Luke 1:1–4; 4:14–21
Every image or symbol used to unpack a spiritual reality deserves our careful attention. Within that image there is a truth that cries out for our understanding. We are used to this with the parables of Jesus. Today it is Paul who offers us the clear metaphor of the human body. Our body is not something we can easily escape or set aside. Today Paul puts it forward as an image for our understanding the community. He unpacks for us the meaning of the human body in a way that invites us to move through and beyond our body to a related body, namely the community in Christ. Paul wants to have the Corinthian community understand itself better and so he chooses the physical body that each member of that community is aware of to stretch their understanding of life together in Christ. Paul links the human body to the body of the community to the Christ-Body. It is to the body that is Christ that the human body and its functioning points. We are meant to look beyond the material functioning of our human body to the profound working of the Body that is Christ himself and of which each of us is a member.
Paul draws out three aspects of the body that characterize the Christian community. The first aspect is that of unity. There is only one body not many bodies. The unity in the body of the community is based on baptism. We were all baptized into one body in the Spirit. It is the Spirit and baptism that all share and hence form a single body. This implies that distinctions that seem clearly visible before baptism are transformed into a common life through baptism. Paul chooses ethnic and religious distinctions like Jew and Greek to make his point; he also makes the point that social categories and classes like free and slave cannot be invoked for identity. While these categories may work in the society as a whole, they are not a defining factor in the Body into which members have been baptized. Baptism profoundly alters social categories as forms of distinction. Baptized Christians of all walks of life have a common basis in the one Body into which they have been incorporated. Each of us has something in common with a fellow Christian. Baptism creates a body, a community in Christ himself. Christ and the Spirit are the common denominator. All Christians belong to one another through the common Body of Christ in which all are members. This is the basis for the dialogue called ecumenism. It is not strangers somehow sheepishly talking with one another, rather it is members of one body through baptism seeking ways to acknowledge the gift that each member brings to the one body.
This leads to Paul’s second point. Just as the human body has diverse members which make up the body, so too does the community of the Body of Christ. There is a diversity among the members that is inherent in belonging to the body. No one member of the community can say they are the community to the exclusion of the other members. At the same time, there is no competition among members as though one member of the body is better or more indispensable than another. No one member of the community can say to another “I don’t need you.” In this body there is no inferiority nor is there a superiority. That way of thinking cannot be the mindset that operates this Body of the community, the Body that Paul reminds us is Christ. Pope St. John Paul II was very much aware of the need for all the members of the Body of Christ, the Church, to be recognized as needed for the Body to be whole. He often referred to the Church of the West as really a Church with one lung. We in the West forget that there is a Church in the East and carry on as though the West was the whole Body. He made it clear that we are not the whole Body until East and West are breathing together. When both lungs of the Body are functioning, then the community is manifesting its true fullness. If we were to translate Paul’s point into current events, we would have to say that when the Christians in Iraq, and their communities are among some of the oldest in the Body of Christ, are persecuted and forced into exile, then the whole Body is also suffering because one member is suffering.
The diversity in the Body of Christ that history and culture have given us is precisely the work of the Spirit. To believe in the Spirit is to acknowledge gifts that are given by God to the members of the Body. It is the Spirit that is at work bringing gifts needed for the whole into the one Body. In our small local communities it is good if we recognize the gifts that each one brings into the community. Each member carries a gift that allows the whole to be the Body. Whether it is a gift of visible leadership in the Church or lowly service of collecting clothes and food for those in need, it is all the work of the one Spirit and it is all for building a strong Body in Christ.A third point Paul makes is that of the interdependence of all members in the Body. We are a healthy Body in Christ when there is concern for the other member. The community is not made up of isolated members who happen to come together. We are an organic living whole that is activated when we turn to one another. We are a living Body of Christ when we can suffer with one another and also rejoice with one another. Such living demands humility, setting aside of self-importance, and seeing others as members in the same Body as myself. The interdependence of members in the Christian Body is a challenge in our culture which seems to lean in the opposite pole of individualism and self-reliance. But if we take our baptism into Christ seriously and the life in the Spirit that comes with it, then ours is a life far from walking it alone. The Body’s life does not come from looking away from other members but in interacting with them as a whole.
Paul was not talking idle talk. His Corinthian community was divided into cliques, its wealthier members brought food to the community meals but did not share it with those who had little or could bring nothing. There were members who thought their spiritual gifts were more important than ordinary service. There were those who used their past status to claim honors for themselves. He challenged them to be truly the Body of Christ-recognizing gifts as from the Spirit and being concerned for the weakest among them. …We will shortly be offered the Body of Christ. Let us once again say Amen to who we are and eat the Body that makes us one community in Christ, one Body in the Lord.
Prior Joel Macul, OSB
Our homily this morning, given by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand.
Mt 2:1-12 Is 60:1-6
focus: Jesus is the light, the Savior of all humankind.
function: We are invited to receive the light and to manifest it to others.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, 0. a. A symphony, according to Wikipedia, is “an extended musical composition in Western classical music most often written by composers for orchestra.” In the orchestra, the many different instruments come together in harmony—and the result can be a magnificent work like Beethoven’s Eroica! The word symphony in its ancient Greek origin combines the prefix syn, which means together, with the word phonein, which means tosound. Sounds in harmony. In a figurative sense, we speak of a symphony of colors among the fall leaves of a park,or the symphony of colors in a magnificent sunrise! Colors in harmony!
A synthesis is, so Merriam Webster, “the composition or combination of parts or elements so as to form a whole.” Out of many perhaps diverse parts a whole is created, which is more than the sum of the parts. Here we have again the Greek the prefix syn: syntithenai--to put or place together.
Finally, we speak of synergy when two or more distinct business participants or elements come together—and the result is beneficial for all! One common energy.
In today’s gospel the magi, in response to their scientific observation and the meditation of their Sacred Scriptures, embark upon a journey. They seek a special newborn king. They spend many days in the desert, in stillness. In stillness we can more easily hear God speaking to us. They do.
First they arrive in Jerusalem, where the king resides, Herod. There, however, they hear God’s revelation to the prophet Micah: “You, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah… from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.”
Thus the seekers reach Bethlehem. Because the eyes of their hearts are open they can recognize the wonder-full work of God in the poor child who hasn’t been born in a royal palace, but in a stable. They use their own knowledge; they are willing to learn from the Scribes in Jerusalem; and they are ready to be surprised by God!
In the stable, the magi kneel down at the manger in adoration and present their gifts to the child. – The experience transforms them. Their ways are different ones now. They return to their country by another way.
In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah presents us with a vision of God’s light, God’s glory, which, he says, will be granted to many nations. People from all-over come together. They walk by this shining radiance and joyfully bring their gifts and riches to praise and adore God. In Jesus Christ, we see this prophecy fulfilled: He is the Light of the nations!
Today’s solemnity of Epiphany, the word translated means ‘Manifestation,’ expounds for us in greater fullness the meaning of Christmas: Jesus is the Light for all, for the whole world. He is the Messiah, the shepherd and ruler of his people Israel and of all peoples. And in him, as the preface of the feast proclaims, God has renewed all humanity in God’s own immortal image. We, all of us, all humans, have a share in his divine nature.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul explains further what we celebrate today by witnessing to the Ephesians about the mystery of God’s grace that wasn’t known yet to people of previous generations. Now the Holy Spirit has revealed it to him: namely that the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
The Greek original text of the New Testament uses the prefix syn in three words: synkleroma, syssoma and symmetoxa: Jews and Gentiles, all people, are heirs together, one body together, partners together in the promise, meaning they are called to make the promise of unity in Christ a reality ever more fully.
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, Jesus is the light, the Savior, of all humankind. We, like the magi, are called upon to receive the light and to manifest it to others.
The magi are models for us. They are seekers. They travel in the quietness of the desert. Prayer and trusting faith in God have made them clear-sighted, as St. Bernard once remarked. They are humble enough to recognize the Son of God as he sucks milk, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in the poverty of the stable. Prayer, stillness, and humility are necessary also for us to see the presence and the work of God, the glory of God, in the people whom we encounter today!
If this is so, then we can also be co-partners in the promise and strengthen the unity that already exists between us and others. We will be able to reach out to, and be surprised by, people whose personality, background, language or nationality are different from ours.
The result will be synergy and synthesis, a symphony of the various gifts that God wants to make manifest in and through us—for His glory. AMEN.
Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB
Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul gave the homily this morning.
Samuel 1:20–22, 24–28
John 3:1–2, 21–24
This episode in the life of Jesus hits directly on the world of parenting in at least two ways. First and most terrifying is the loss of a child on the part of Mary and Joseph. Suddenly the parents realize that Jesus is not where they thought he was or even where they assumed he was supposed to be—with relatives and acquaintances. They thought he was with members of their extended family or others from their village. This child is now missing, not back home in the familiar territory of the village but on the road and in the throngs of people milling about in Jerusalem at Passover. It does not take much for a parent to identify with the feelings of losing a child, of finding a child gone off somewhere in a shopping mall. Mary says, “Your father and I have been searching for you with great anxiety.” That “anxiety” is a loaded word; it expresses everything about losing someone whom you are responsible for and who cannot fend for themselves. We sometimes label this story the lost child as though it were the child who is lost. But the story is really about about the parents’ experience of losing a child.
This leads to the second theme of parenting found in this Gospel story, namely the emerging adulthood of Jesus. The story does not say that Jesus wandered away from his parents or the pilgrimage group. Jesus chose to stay behind in Jerusalem. Jesus is 12 years old we are told. This is the age in his culture when he begins to assume responsibility for his own life. We can feel the tension that every parent knows when their child starts claiming life for themselves, when they begin the pull away from the parents and make it clear they want their own independence. The parents find themselves in the tension of holding on and yet needing to let go. The child thinks he is ready and the parents are not so sure. Mary seems to scold Jesus for causing them worry but Jesus responds that he has to be about his own life now so stop worrying. A short answer to a parent that perhaps makes us uncomfortable. At least for the moment, Jesus does go back home with them and remains there according to the Gospel. But something has happened. There is a shift in the relationship between Joseph and Mary and their child Jesus. A parent knows it when an adolescent claims adulthood and the separation from the parent begins. The parent feels the self-assurance of their child come forward. Perhaps, like Mary and Joseph, they no longer understand their child. In the end, they will have to find a new way of loving.
This Sunday after Christmas is called Holy Family Sunday. Perhaps the scene from today’s Gospel is meant to enlighten us about today’s family life from the example of the family of Nazareth. It is after all a nuclear family such as we might experience today. But when we look closer at the scene we find that the story is really a story about Jesus. It is clear that Jesus is not lost. In fact, as he says, he is in his father’s house. He is where he is supposed to be and doing what he is supposed to be doing. What we are hearing in the gospel is that Jesus’ life is guided by someone other than his parents of Joseph and Mary. Jesus speaks of his Father’s house. Jesus is at home in the temple among the teacher’s gathered there. The implication he is that he is among equals and yet learning from them and they from him. Jesus is at home in the very house where his story on earth is confirmed and recognized. It is in the temple that we hear about John the Baptist; it is in the temple that the old man Simeon recognizes Jesus as light and glory for the world and his own people and that the old woman Anna sees the redeemer of his people. And his own parents seem dumbfounded. Mary says nothing but keeps it all in mind as though someday she will remember and it will make sense.
Now, at the beginning of his life, Jesus sits with the teachers. And when he returns again for Passover some 30 years later where will he be but in the temple, this time teaching again. And where will his disciples go when Jesus ascends and leaves them; where will they gather but in the temple. There they will teach and there they will be challenged just as their master was challenged. Jesus is in line with a plan of God as well he should as he is God’s Son.
Jesus, says the Gospel, will be obedient to his parents and go back to Nazareth. Here he will grow in age, of course, but also in wisdom. And eventually he will leave Nazareth and we will hear that he will not be accepted there. Should we be surprised? Not really. Today we have heard that “home” and “house” are really not places but relationships. Jesus primary relationship is with God, his Father. And so he is at “home” with his Father. The story of Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel we heard earlier already hints at that. Hannah was desperate for a family, for a home, for a child. But when God gave her a child, she recognized that the child belonged to God. So she gives him to God in God’s house and leaves him there. Hannah contributed to God’s home.
Mary and Joseph have to come to realize the same thing. Jesus belongs to a family in which the primary relationship is with God. Their task is to recognize that and nurture it. Evidently they did that well. Jesus grew in wisdom in their home. And that wisdom led him to call others to form a family but not in Nazareth. He was to form a family around the Father with the Spirit as the binding force and love as the hallmark of the members of that family.
In the face of the fragility and brokenness that we experience in our human families, Jesus comes to call us to a new “home” found in a relationship with him and the Father. As Mary and Joseph discovered that their son was not theirs only but the Son of the Father and that he made home with him, so we too discover that in Jesus we too are children of God. Together we too make a home with God our Father. In that home we are brothers and sisters to one another. Jesus comes to heal and reconcile our broken human families by having us see another “house,” another “home.” In this house we are not lost but found in bonds of love that draw strength from the one who taught us how to be family by loving us to the end. And in this house where we live, the obedience we owe to one another is simply to wash each other’s feet as he once did to us and left as the new commandment.
Being faithful to the will of the Child Jesus will help us to grow in wisdom. That wisdom will guide us in listening to one another, putting the interests of others first, and having God’s mercy as the Spirit that rules our lives. Then we can be called a Holy Family, a home where God dwells.
Prior, Fr. Joel Macul, OSB
The Christmas Day homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
Homily by Fr. Joel Macul, Midnight Mass - 2018
In 2005 National Geographic launched its genographic project. You participated by submitting a sample of your DNA. When it was analyzed you could see how your ancestry followed the movements of humanity in the world; it traced an ancestral journey as it were, taking for granted that humanity began somewhere in today’s East Africa. I have to say the results can prove quite interesting, even surprising. It is a sort of roots project using your DNA. There is one journey for your mother and another for your father. The goal: to find out your ancestors and what part of humanity is in your DNA make up.
Well, today’s feast is about our human DNA. We could say it is about the completion of a DNA search. It will not be found under a microscope; it will be found through the eyes of faith. But what is found will be no less real. Today we acknowledge and celebrate that part of our human DNA, part of what makes up the essence of our humanity is the stuff of the divine. We acknowledge that our DNA has more than merely a trace of God in it; God has become a substantial and necessary component of the human person, the human story. We call that divine DNA trace the Spirit, the divine breath. It was there from the beginning. Today we acknowledge and marvel that we can see this divine DNA as it were face to face in a human being whom the angel announced to us as Savior, Lord and Christ. The Divine DNA has met the human DNA and been born today as one like us in all things but our sin. No sin, because our original DNA, our ancestry, does not lie in sin but in grace and love.
All of Advent we have been calling out “Come”! What we know about the one who is to come is that he concerns justice. We call out for someone to come who will make the world right again. We have been looking for and waiting for someone who can restore harmony among us human beings; we call out for someone who can remind us that harmony among ourselves means harmony with the earth, with the water, with the clouds, with other living creatures. We have kept before us this Advent the images of those who beat swords into ploughshares and children who can play with snakes and lions who will let a child pet them. The DNA of that picture is not false; it lies deep within us and our imagination because that world is part of who we are and what we want our world to be.
We have given this coming one grand names tonight: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. It looks like we expect a warrior to come and conquer the enemy and put things in order. But tonight, when God hears our cry for help in our distress, what does he give us: a baby, a new-born, an infant barely big enough to hold. Our pain is great, our wounds are festering, the enemy surrounds us, we feel overwhelmed, helpless even, worn out; we are in the dark, as the prophet says. And what does God send out into the dark cloak of night? A baby—a picture of innocence perhaps; certainly a picture of vulnerability, of total dependence, of weakness. But that is what the prophet calls our attention to: “a son has been born for us.” Or as the gospel describes it, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. But the angel makes it clear, in the baby lies the Savior, the Lord and the Christ---all that we have been waiting for and calling out to come, come!
God is full of surprises. No one can deny that we are desperate in our broken world and embittered humanity; it looks like we have lost the means to even speak words to one another. We rightfully call out and God hears. But his answer is on his terms not ours. After all, if it were on our terms, we would control it and be no better off than before. But tonight it is all grace, all gift. We think of might or power, of empire like that of Rome into which Jesus is born, or of some great country. That is what we need, so we might think. But what God gives is different. A child is held out to us. Not exactly the image of strength and victory; not a leader. But this is God’s child and God’s child will conquer through weakness; he will touch what is weak and find blessedness in what is lowly. He will bring justice by becoming the victim of injustice on a cross. But that is the surprise hidden in this child. He will conquer human pride, not by arrogance, but by humility and truth.
What is the surprise in this grace that appears to us this night? Is it perhaps that when I look at any human being, I am looking at someone who is made in the image and likeness of God? A light dawns in me and I realize that the other before me shares with me the same human flesh and the same divine Spirit from the creator God. Is that the surprise? Or is it that when I see a picture of a child standing at my country’s border looking frightened and lost, I suddenly become aware that I am looking at God’s own Son found in anyone really who is hungry, thirsty and without an inn in which to rest? ….Perhaps it is easy to believe in a God who creates the world with all its beauty. But maybe it is more difficult to believe that our God has embraced the world by becoming human in it, not in imagination or dream or some virtual reality but in flesh.
The surprise of Christmas, the grace of Christmas, is that the human person and the human family is of unsurpassable worth and value. To make sure that we realize that, God has joined our race and embraced its story as his own. He has become one with us humans to make sure that no one takes our graced dignity away from us. He has come to give us the story of his life so that we can be certain that any other story than the one he will live is incomplete. He joins us tonight so that we will learn how to be human. He will teach us that the essence of being human is to love, to love others even when their face is marred, scarred by violence and disfigured beyond human. To be human, he will say, is to stop and meet the other where they are on their journey.
Christmas is also about the birth of the first-born. It is clearly said Mary lays her first- born in a manager. Christ is beginning a new humanity; he is first. That is what the angels are singing about. If he is first-born, then where are those who are born after him? Perhaps that is you and I. That old insight is true: Unless Christ is born in you and me, then he is not born in Bethlehem either. Tonight’s birth is not for Christ alone, it is for you and me and all others that share with us a human face.
Tonight God has given us the grace of being able to see his face in that of his Son because it is of our flesh. We say yes to this grace when we turn to another human being and see there also the face of God reflected in that person, the person for whom God’s son identified with and gave his life. When we can see that face in others and approach in humility, then Bethlehem is not yesterday but today.
During Advent we frequently sing “O, Come!” For us, the one who is coming is from God. It is someone who will make the world right. As the prophets put it, it is one who will do justice; that is, put the world back in right order and restore harmony between members of the human family and between us and the rest of creation. The coming one is from God but we believe that the one who comes is human. The agent, the prophet, the apostle who will come from God to set things right will have a face like ours, breathe our air and know our pain and suffering.
It is the appearance of that human face of God that we celebrate at Christmas. God has come in his Son to re-establish creation, to do a new thing with our world. We have heard his grand titles: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. They sound overwhelming. Yet what God sends us at this time is a baby, an infant. Not grand or domineering, but weak, vulnerable, dependent and poor. That too is Christmas, to recognize God’s face in the infant who is to set things right with us. Perhaps not exactly our idea of how to deal with our broken world. But this is God’s work and it usually is a surprise for us humans.
Christmas celebrates our God not as distant, out of touch but as close, as near. Yes, as near as a child can be to our cheek. Our task is to look at this God-sent child and see his face and ours mingled together in a bond that can never be broken. It is love that moved our God to gift us with his presence in human flesh; may it be love that moves our arms to embrace this love and feel the world begin to be transformed into its original beauty.
Homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand
Homily given by Fr. Volker Futter
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
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
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.
Thanksgiving Blessings from the Monks of Christ the King Priory
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
Fr. Thomas Leitner shared his homily with us this morning.
Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand shares his homily and celebrated Holy Mass this morning.