September 17, 2014

HOMILY for 24th Wed per annum (II)

1 Cor 12:31–13:13; Ps 32; Luke 7:31-35

Today’s first reading is probably one of the most well-known of St Paul’s writings; it’s often heard in weddings. And it is most appropriate for today as I offer this anniversary Mass in thanksgiving to God for the grace he’s given me, allowing me, though so unworthy, to serve as a priest of Jesus Christ for the past three years; and I thank you all for your forebearance. 

As St Thérèse of Lisieux said, “At last I have found my vocation. In the heart of the Church, I will be Love!” This vocation is common to every Christian who is called to become like Christ who is Love made flesh. Our universal Christian vocation is Love, to be conformed to Christ. But how this vocation is lived out differs according to the state of life to which we’re called. Hence, when St Paul’s words are read in a wedding, it aptly reminds the couple that they have chosen to learn Christ-like, self-giving love through marriage; husband and wife sanctify one another through patient, humble, hopeful, all-enduring love. 

The choice to take up the priestly vocation is also like this except that the priest is sanctified with those to whom he ministers, and as a religious he is sanctified with his brothers and sisters in the Order, particularised through the community in which he lives and serves. So, when I am impatient, unkind, boastful, envious, irritable and resentful, then I realize how poorly I love, and how much more I have to learn and grow in order to live my vocation; how much I am in need of God’s sanctifying grace. As St Josemaría Escrivá said: “Don’t say: ‘That person gets on my nerves.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me”.  

In a marriage, this loving gift of oneself to the other is expressed in the exchange of vows and in the sign of the wedding ring. In an ordination, this call for the priest to love the Church is expressed in the giving of the Chalice and Paten with the gifts of bread and wine for the Mass. At that point the bishop says to the new priest: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. Here, then, is the priest’s vocation to sacrificial love lived in service to the Church and to the preaching of the Gospel of salvation – and this call is a profound privilege and joy. Chief among my joys as a priest is the celebration of Holy Mass because it is here that I am conformed to Christ Crucified, here that I learn to love and am shaped by grace, and here that I renew my promise to love the people of God.  

So, please pray for me, and let us also pray for one another since we help each other to grow in Love. As Cardinal Merry del Val put it in his ‘Litany of Humility’, I pray that “others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should”. This, indeed, is my prayer at this and every Mass. So, when I return to the sacristy I always say this 9th-century prayer: “May the tribute of my humble ministry be pleasing to Thee, Holy Trinity. Grant that the sacrifice which I, unworthy as I am, have offered in the presence of Thy majesty may be acceptable to Thee. Through Thy mercy may it bring forgiveness to me and to all for whom I have offered it: through Christ our Lord. Amen”.

July 17, 2014

HOMILY for the 15th Thur per annum (II)

Isa 26:7-9. 12. 16-19; Ps 101; Mt 11:28-30

We’ve heard the words of today’s Gospel three times in the last month since the feast of the Sacred Heart. What more can be said? I would like to share with you reflections of a somewhat more personal nature on this Gospel, but I hope that they are no less relevant for you because of that. 

These words of Christ frame my life as a consecrated religious and as a priest. When I made simple profession in September 2006, this Gospel was read. It seemed to me, at the end of a novitiate year which can be trying and quite difficult at times, to be apt. Because whenever things seemed wearisome and I felt burdened by our life as Dominican friars, I turned to Christ in prayer; I went to him and felt rest. And often, I reflected, I felt weary because I had drifted away from Christ and relied mainly on my own efforts. So, together with Christ, lifted up by his grace, the yoke that is laid on us becomes sweeter and lighter. 

For the yoke that Jesus lays on us is the yoke of love. Religious life, insofar as it is a perfection of the baptismal life of every Christian, is about learning to love as Jesus does. It is, as the Collect for First Profession says, about offering to God “a perfect gift of loving service”. And this is only possible with Christ’s grace, if I go to him and rest in his mercy and goodness. 

In September 2011, when I was ordained a priest, I chose this same Gospel to remind myself of those thoughts that accompanied by Simple Profession five years earlier. But, this time, I reflected on the heart of Christ that I, as a priest of Jesus Christ, needed. Then, and now more than ever, I am still in need of a heart transplant so that my divided and often hard heart may become “gentle and lowly” like Christ’s. I had in my mind, the words of one of my brothers who examined me for the faculty to hear Confessions. He reminded me – not especially, I don’t think – to be gentle and kind. The grace of ordination, of course, doesn’t replace my heart with Christ’s heart immediately. As my Student Master said to me, we, with all our frailties and very human characteristics, are still the instrument cause of God’s grace, so the instrument must still be purified and improved by grace. 

So, this Gospel read at my Ordination reminded me that if I wanted a heart like Christ’s, I need to go to him again and again, to remain close to him. Pope Benedict XVI put it so well in 2007 when he said to priests: “Taking the Lord’s yoke upon us means first of all: learning from him. It means always being ready to go to his school. From him we must learn gentleness and meekness: the humility of God who shows himself in his being a man”. So, again, when I fail in humility and gentleness, when I feel burdened by Christ’s yoke, I know it is because I haven’t gone to Christ, haven’t prayed and relied on his grace enough. So, today’s Gospel reminds me to go to him. 

 And, in fact, every time I celebrate Mass I am reminded of this. As I prepare to go to Jesus in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, prayers are said to accompany every vestment we put on; they remind us of who we are and what we’re going to do at the Altar. So, when the chasuble is put on, I say this prayer: “O Lord, Who have said, ‘My yoke is sweet and My burden light’: grant that I may so carry Your yoke as to merit Your grace”. For the yoke of Christ, as Pope Benedict says, “is that of loving with [Christ]. And the more we love him and with him become loving people, the lighter becomes his seemingly burdensome yoke”. This is what comes to mind as I prepare to celebrate Mass, as I go to Christ in the Eucharist, and receive his Body and Blood. It is a prayer that he will give me rest by increasing my love for him and for his people, by transforming – not replacing – my heart with his grace, so that my heart will beat in tandem with his Sacred Heart. 

January 15, 2013

HOMILY for the 1st Tue per annum (I)

Dominican Martyrs of China

Heb 2:5-12; Ps 8; Mk 1:21-28

Today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews uses a rare term to describe Jesus Christ. He is the archegos, the fore-leader, which is translated as ‘pioneer’, or by others as ‘author’. The sense is that Jesus has gone before us into glory, and because of him, it is possible for us to follow the path he trod. So, Christ as fore-leader leads the way to salvation, but also, as St John would put it, Christ becomes the Way. 

The Dominican mystic and saint Catherine of Siena expressed this in a striking image. In one of her visions God the Father says: “I have made a Bridge of my Word, of my only-begotten Son, and this is the truth. I wish that you, my children, should know that the road was broken by the sin and disobedience of Adam, in such a way, that no one could arrive at Eternal Life…  And so, wishing to remedy your great evils, I have given you the Bridge of my Son, in order that, passing across the flood [of sin and evil], you may not be drowned”. Hence, we are invited to cross the Bridge that is Christ, to walk along his Way to salvation, to follow him. 

And what is Christ’s way? How does he win this glory? The writer of Hebrews says that God makes Christ “perfect through suffering”; Christ wins salvation for us and is glorified through suffering. How might we understand this? The Greek word translated as ‘to make perfect’ [teleioo] is also used elsewhere in the Greek translation of the Old Testament to refer to priestly consecration. So, what Hebrews may be saying (and this becomes a major theme later on in this letter) is that Christ was made a priest through suffering, through compassion. Indeed, Christ becomes most completely, most perfectly our priest and enters into glory through Love, by dying for us on the Cross. Hence, through sharing in our humanity and suffering with us and for us on the Cross, through this priestly act of sacrifice, Christ was glorified by God. He is raised from death, and ascends into glory, becoming the trail-blazer, the pioneer, the fore-leader of our salvation.

If we consider that a Latin word for a priest is pontifex, which means ‘bridge-builder’, then we can say that Christ is both our Bridge and the Bridge-builder. He leads the way to salvation, and through his self-sacrificial love on Calvary, he bridges the gap between sinful Mankind and God so that we can also share in his glory. 

So, we are invited to follow in his footsteps, crossing the Bridge by walking in his Way of love and sacrifice. Those who suffer martyrdom, such as today’s saints, the Dominican martyrs of China, most strikingly do this. Their death bears witness to their faith that Christ is the fore-leader, so that where he has gone, they followed, walking along his pioneering way. Thus, they endured torture and death for the sake of their faith, choosing to be made perfect through suffering, through a sacrificial love like Christ’s, so that they could share in Christ’s glory. This likeness between the martyrs and Christ is, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “fitting” because “in bringing many sons to glory, [God made] the pioneer of their salvation [i.e., Christ] perfect through suffering” (Heb 2:10).

May the martyrs pray for us that we may share their faith and courage. 

September 17, 2012

HOMILY for the 24th Mon (II)

1 Cor 11:17-26. 33; Ps 39; Luke 7:1-10

At the end of the Ordination rite of a priest, the bishop says these awesome and solemn words to the newly-ordained: “Accept from the holy people of God the gifts to be offered to him. Know what you are doing, and imitate the mystery you celebrate: model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. It’s been precisely one year since those words were said to me, and it seems fitting today to recall them in conjunction with today’s First Reading.

“Know what you are doing”. St Paul’s account of the Lord’s words which instituted the Eucharist tells us that what the priest is doing in the Mass is proclaiming the Lord’s death. So, in the words of the Ordination rite, the priest is said to celebrate “the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”. As such, the Mass makes present the one sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. It is, therefore, a visible sign of God’s sacrificial love for humankind, and of his total gift of himself to us in Jesus Christ. When the priest is told to “model [his] life on the mystery of the Lord’s Cross”, then, he is being told to fashion his life and ministry according to the sacrificial love of Christ. Thus, the priest is ordained to make Christ’s love visible to his people, not just in the Mass in which Christ’s Body and Blood is made present at his hands for us, but also in his own flesh. The priest’s own Body and Blood – his energies, efforts, whole self – is given up for the Church too. So, the priest is sometimes called ‘another Christ‘ because of what he does sacramentally for us, and in his own person.

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June 24, 2012

HOMILY for the Solemnity of St John the Baptist

Isa 49:1-6; Ps 138; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66. 80

“Behold the Lamb of God!” Every time we come to Mass, we hear these words, and today we celebrate the birthday of the man who first said this. We celebrate him who points to Christ; the Voice who announces the Word; the one whom God had prepared from the womb to prepare God’s people for the Lord’s coming, leading them to behold Jesus, the Lamb of God. 

It’s often remarked that apart from the birthdays of Jesus and Mary, St John’s is the only other birthday we celebrate in the Liturgy. It’s so important that it even trumps a Sunday. Why? Perhaps the importance we give to St John emphasizes the importance of preparation. All good things require preparation, whether it is a meal, a birthday celebration, a sporting event, or a concert. And the more special and momentous it is, the more preparation it deserves. Otherwise the event may become a disappointment; stressful and lacklustre. Even more important than occasions are relationships. These also need preparation. Marriage, for example, comes at the culmination of years of friendship which prepares the way for committed love, union, and family life. 

So, when God desires to enter into a personal relationship, and indeed, a marital covenant with his people, he first prepares the way. Before the event and the relationship of the Incarnation takes place, God sends St John to prepare and make ready his people for the coming of Christ. 

This preparatory task of gathering Israel to the Lord, as the First Reading put it, is essentially the task of a priest. Which is what St John was. Born of parents who were both descended from Aaron, from the Old Testament line of priests, John was also a priest. Thus we find that John washes – i.e., baptizes – the Lamb of sacrifice, and he ministers around the Temple who is Jesus Christ. As a priest, John ministers to the people of God by preparing them for the Lord’s coming, so that they are ready to “behold him who takes away the sins of the world”. And he does this by “preach[ing] a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel”, as our Second Reading says. 

But if preparing for the Lord’s coming is so important, what’s become of St John’s ministry?

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