May 9, 2012

HOMILY for Wed 5 of Easter

Acts 15:1-6; Ps 121; John 15:1-8

The Scriptural image that most often comes to mind when we think of Christ and his Church is that of the Head and his Body, or the Bridegroom and the pure Bride. And yet, neither of these are images used by Christ himself. The one he does use is the one we repeat in today’s Gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”. So that the “me” in whom we must abide is not just the person of Jesus Christ in some spiritual way but also the visible person of the totus Christus, the entire Christ, which is his holy Church. As the Second Vatican Council put it: “the true vine is Christ who gives life and fruitfulness to the branches, that is, to us, who through the Church remain in Christ without whom we can do nothing”. 

As long as we are united to Christ through the Church, then we draw from his truth and love, and we are made fruitful with the sap of his life-giving grace; we share his nature and his divine life. But notice that we the branches also have such freedom that we can grow extraneous leaves, tendrils, and offshoots that restrict the fruitfulness of the vine. As such, the Church may develop ideas, customs, and practices that limit the fruitfulness of the true Vine, or the maturation of its fruit. So that those who come to taste its fruit find only small, unappealing, sour grapes. 

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May 7, 2012

HOMILY for Mon 5 of Easter

Acts 14:5-18; Ps 113; John 14:21-26

The Holy Spirit is called the parakletos, literally meaning, ‘called to one’s side’. And the Greek word was used in a legal context for a defence lawyer, someone who came to plead your case. Hence, it is often translated as Advocate, or Counselor, as in a legal counsel. The sense is that this is someone who can be called upon to help us, to defend you, to stand by me. And who does the Spirit defend us from? The diabolos, the one who hurls accusations at us, the Evil One who in the book of the Apocalypse is called the Accuser. It is the devil who accuses us of our sins, and finds us guilty and wants to keep us in that state of despair and shame. But that is not what God does. God is the parakletos, who comes to defend us, to help us, and so, to console us. 

But in fact, John’s Gospel (at 14:16) refers to the Spirit as “another Counselor”. Because the first parakletos is Jesus Christ who comes in to us in the Incarnation and stands by us in the flesh. He became Man, was like us in all things but sin, and so, knew our weaknesses and temptations. And he suffered and died for us. In this way Christ was called to the side of humanity and stands with sinners. But he was raised from the dead so that he could comfort and console us with the hope of resurrection, and to defend us from sin, death and evil. And the Holy Spirit, who is another parakletos continues this work, bringing Christ’s victory to perfection and uniting us to God, “the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3).

How, then, does the Spirit come to our aid, and help and comfort us?

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May 6, 2012

HOMILY for the 5th Sunday of Easter (B)

Acts 9:26-31; Ps 21; 1 John 3:18-21; John 15:1-8

In the Old Testament the prophets used the image of the vine to speak of Israel, whom God had lovingly tended and cultivated. But despite the careful and patient ministrations of the divine Vine-dresser, Israel is unfaithful and produces no fruit. So, when Jesus says he is the “true Vine” he is contrasting himself with the unfaithful people of God, ancient Israel. It’s noteworthy that Jesus compares himself to a group of people, rather than to the Person of the Vine-dresser, as one might expect. So, the image of Jesus as the true Vine suggests that he is the true Israel, the root and vine-stock of the faithful people of God. As such, the Vine and Branches is another image for the holy Church, of a faithful people (the branches) united to Christ (the true Vine). Again, this is slightly unexpected because one would think that Christ is the whole vine - root, stem, and branch - and we are the fruit. But Christ says: “I am the vine, you are the branches”. 

What this suggests is that Christ and those who make up his holy Church are essentially the same. Because a grape is, really, a different kind of matter from the stem and the branches and the roots which are all a woody kind of matter. So, we disciples share the same ‘woodiness’ as Christ. What this means is that, like Christ, we Christians are also both human and divine. We are human by our created nature but also divine by adoption, because we share in Christ’s divinity, drawing from the sap of grace that flows from him, running in the veins of his Church. But if we are cut off from Christ’s Church and his grace through mortal sin, then we would have no divine life in us, so that ultimately, we wither and die on the vine, fruitless and frustrated. For the wood of the vine has no use. It is only cultivated for its fruit; producing grapes is its purpose. 

However, if we abide in Christ and are attached to the true Vine, drawing on his grace through the sacraments of the Church and keeping his commandments, then we shall bear fruit. And the fruit of a grace-filled life in the communion of Christ’s Church is love; we should “love one another” as our Second Reading reminds us. But note that Christ says that the Vine-dresser will prune the fruitful branches so that they bear more fruit.

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March 31, 2012

HOMILY for Sat in Week 5 of Lent

Ezekiel 37:21-28; Jer 31:10-13; John 11:45-56 - preached at a Day of Renewal at the Gillis Centre, Edinburgh.

The chief priests and Pharisees are afraid. They’re afraid of drawing the unfavourable attention of the Roman forces. They’re afraid of losing everything they hold dear: the Temple and their nation. So, St Augustine said, “there is no cause for fear save the loss of what we love, when we possess it, or the failure to obtain what we hope for”. But, if we pay attention to St Augustine, we notice that we can only lose something we already possess; it is the loss of that something which we love, that induces fear. 

But did the Jewish authorities actually possess the Temple? Was there really a Jewish nation? Or, were these not already lost to the power of Rome? Ezekiel says that the sons of Israel had been scattered, and the people were divided and defiled by idolatrous practices. So, in fact, the Temple was already lost; defiled and in need of purification, as Jesus’ prophetic act of cleansing the Temple at the beginning of St John’s Gospel indicated. And the nation, too, was already lost; dispersed in many nations, and subject to foreign powers. Thus the chief priests and Pharisees had nothing to fear from this perspective, because, in fact, they had nothing to lose.

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March 29, 2012

HOMILY for Thu in Week 5 of Lent

Genesis 17:3-9; Psalm 104; John 8:51-59preached at a Mass with Baptism in St Albert’s Chaplaincy

NB: Names have been changed for the sake of the privacy of the family

Three things happen to Abraham in today’s First Reading. Firstly, God chooses him, and makes a covenant with him. The tendency is to think of a covenant as a contract, but contracts usually exchange property, goods, and services, not people. But what we have here is something personal and relational. For a covenant is an exchange of love between people. Marriage is a covenant, and so too is baptism, which is an exchange of love between God and his child. God says to us, the spiritual children of Abraham, that he will be our God; he gives himself to us. In exchange, we give ourselves to him in love, and so, we create a family bond with God. Relationship, love, and faith or trust, are all hallmarks of any family. Just as you, Laura and Mike, will help Rose to grow in your family, to form relationships with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and to increase in love and trust, so, too, you will need to help Rose to grow in love for God, introduce her to him through your own example, so that she too may have faith and trust in him; so that she will have a living relationship with him. 

Secondly, Abraham is given a new name by God. The gift of a name is a sign of a new state of life or vocation. Abram had been called by God to be the father of his people, and because he entered into a covenant with God, he was given a new name, a family name, you might say, to indicate this. So, too, Rose Elizabeth has been given names – family names, of course, but also names drawn from the wider family of the Church, from the saints. For, in baptism, she will share the universal Christian calling, which is to become a saint through openness to God’s grace. In particular, I am delighted that she is called Rose, which is the name of the first saint of the Americas, the Dominican St Rose of Lima. 

Finally, Abraham is given a royal dignity and the promise of land, a kingdom. So, too, Rose will be anointed just as the kings of Israel were anointed, just as Christ, the Anointed One was. And so, she will become another Christ, an anointed one, who shares in Christ’s royal, prophetic, and priestly dignity. But, moreover, through baptism, Rose will be adopted into God’s own family. So, she will have the dignity of a child of God, a divine dignity, as God enters into a covenant with her, and gives himself to her entirely so that, through grace, the Holy Trinity dwells within her soul, making her a temple of God’s holy presence, filled with his love. And this is the promise that he makes to her today. That she will inherit, not just any kingdom, but the kingdom of God. She will inherit eternal life with God. 

This is the greatest gift anyone can receive because union with God is the only thing that will satisfy the longings of the human heart. By bringing Rose here today, you, Laura and Mike, who have already co-operated with God in giving her the precious gift of life, are also rightly thinking of her deepest happiness, and so, labouring with God to plant the seed of eternal life. May what God has begun this day be brought to perfection through our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the working of all his saints – by which I mean not just those in heaven, but also us in the Church who all share in God’s covenant of love. 

March 28, 2012

HOMILY for Wed in Week 5 of Lent

Dan 3:14-20. 24f. 28; Dan 3:52-56; John 8:31-42

The First Reading on these first days of Passiontide have tended to by typological, that is, they are Old Testament incidents that point to the life of Christ, and specifically, the events of the Easter Triduum. So on Monday (although we didn’t have it this year because it was the Annunciation), we had the trial of Susanna. She was a righteous and innocent woman who was falsely accused and tried by the authorities. So, she prefigures the trial and condemnation of Christ. Yesterday, we heard of the bronze serpent raised up in the desert by Moses, and any who looked at it was healed and saved from death. This prefigures the Cross, on which Christ is lifted up for our salvation. And today, the sequence of typological readings concludes with the trial and rescue of the three young men in the furnace.

For this incident prefigures the Resurrection, and more specifically, its saving effect on us. So, the three young men stand for those who have faith in God, and because of their faith, they are saved from the fires of death by Christ, who appears in the story as a fourth man who looked like “a son of the gods”. In the third and fourth centuries, this scene was often depicted in the Roman catacombs or carved on the marble coffins of Christians, as a sign of their faith in Christ and their hope in the Resurrection. A number of the Fathers of the Church also thought that the three young men, having resisted the unjust command of the king, and been consigned to death for their resolute witness to their faith, were symbols of the martyrs. And in their sufferings, Christ, the king of Martyrs, is with them to comfort them, and, ultimately, to rescue them. 

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March 27, 2012

HOMILY for Tue in Week 5 of Lent

Numbers 21:4-9; Ps 101; John 8:21-30

When Moses first encountered the living God in the burning bush, he asked God: ‘If the people of Israel should ask what is the name of the God of their fathers, what shall I say?’ And God said to Moses: “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (cf Ex 3:13f). So, God makes himself known to his people as “I AM”, which in Greek is ‘Ego eimi’. 

So, in today’s Gospel, when the people of Israel again ask, ‘Who are you?’, the Lord replies, not through Moses, but for himself: “Ego eimi”, or, in our translation, “I AM He”. Jesus says: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM He…” But Jesus is not just making an assertion that he is God. He is revealing who he is, just as he once revealed himself to Moses, and this revelation will be seen and recognized as such when he is lifted up on the Cross. Why?

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March 25, 2012

MY FRIEND INDEED!

HOMILY for the 5th Sunday of Lent (B)

Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ps 50; Heb 5:7-9; John 12:20-33

Today’s Gospel begins with friendship, with something quite familiar, as some Greeks approach their friend Philip, and with his friend Andrew, they ask to be introduced to Jesus. And so, like those Greeks, perhaps we can approach Jesus in this Gospel through the lens of friendship, which is an important theme in St John’s Gospel.

The key sentence on friendship from St John’s Gospel is this: ”Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (15:13). So, a friend is one who loves by giving himself to others, and, ultimately, the greatest gift a friend can give is his own life. Hence, the philosopher Roger Scruton notes that “friendship is a form of generosity”, of giving. The fundamental idea of friendship as rooted in self-gift is found in Jesus’ image of the grain. Hence, Jesus proclaims that his “purpose” is to give himself, even his life, for the good of others. Thus, he is speaking about love, but a particular kind of love which he only makes explicit later on in the Gospel, namely friendship. So, Jesus, by dying for our sakes is the Friend of humanity. And Samuel Crossman puts it beautifully in his famous hymn: “But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed, Who at my need His life did spend”.

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