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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