July 27, 2014

HOMILY for 17th Sun per annum (A)

1 Kg 3:5. 7-12; Ps 118; Rom 8:28-30; Matt 13:44-52

God marvels that Solomon, although he was “but a little child” (1 Kgs 3:7), did not ask for riches, or the other kinds of things that young men are wont to ask for. But I was a rather typical youth! For when I was a child my annual birthday wish until I stopped believing in birthday wishes was that I would become the richest man in the history of the world. It was a childish wish, but perhaps the kind that is still common today, and not just among the young. 

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But as St Paul says: “in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Rom 8:28), and so, God granted my juvenile prayer in the best way possible, that is, according to his wisdom, to bring about my greatest good. So, at the age of 16, I received baptism as a Catholic Christian. And then at the age of 28 I became a Dominican. On the day of my Solemn Profession in 2009, I recalled my childhood wish and I realized it had come true. Because, given who I am, there is no greater joy than loving and serving God in the consecrated life; no greater treasure than the Gospel of salvation – treasure both ever new and old (cf Mt 13:52) – which I am privileged to bring out and share with others through preaching; no riches better than the grace given to me at baptism and which makes every Christian a child of God, “conformed in the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28). All this sounds rather pious, but it isn’t thereby less true. When my parents and friends ask me if I am happy, I can honestly say I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, and I thank God for the grace of a Dominican vocation. And my friends often remark on how rare a joy it is in this life to have a ‘job’ you enjoy, which I evidently do. So, I am grateful for the joy I have found in having been consecrated to Jesus Christ as a Christian, a Dominican brother, and a priest. 

A few months before I entered the Order, people tried to warn me of the many sacrifices I’d have to make, and what a deprivation religious life was. In some sense this is true. There are things we give up, and many people focus on these, especially the giving up of the goods of marriage and family life, material wealth, and self-determination. Initially, I’d focussed on these losses too. And then, I saw the riches I’d gained. 

Hence in these parables of the treasure and the pearl the focus isn’t on what the treasure-hunter or the merchant had to sacrifice. What is emphasized is the worth of the Kingdom, that is, the supreme good that comes from knowing and loving Jesus Christ. Once we recognize the riches that Jesus brings we would give up all we owned – everything – to possess him. Or rather we do not possess Christ – it is he who embraces and possesses us with his love but first we have to let go of all the other things we cling on to so that we can hold to him. The key phrase in the Gospel which motivates this letting go of all else is this: “in his joy” (Mt 13:44). For without joy, the man would not have been motivated to sell all for the field and its treasure. So, too, without joy it’s hard to be a Christian, or a poor, chaste and obedient religious, a celibate priest. Without joy, the Christian life becomes drudgery, an obligation, and not worth living or, indeed, dying for. 

At this time, this truth becomes ever more apparent. For ours is a time when more Christians are being persecuted and killed for their Faith in Christ than ever before. While I had willingly dispossessed myself of goods, last weekend the Christians of Mosul were forcibly stripped of all they had, and many have lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice. And what motivates someone to offer their lives in Christian martyrdom if not the joy that comes from having been possessed by Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life? 

Thus Pope Francis has said, “those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (Evangelii Gaudium, 1). This joy comes from being held in God’s love, through a daily personal encounter with Jesus Christ who is our treasure and our pearl of great price. For him, we would joyfully give up all without counting the cost.  

The example of the martyrs inspires all Christians to seek this radical joy, and so, too, does the authentic witness of a consecrated life. For as Pope Francis said: “This is the beauty of consecration: it is joy!” Hence the Holy Father followed his letter on the Joy of the Gospel by calling for a Year for Consecrated Life from October 2014. So, today’s Gospel invites all peoples to find anew the joy of loving and serving Christ, but, in particular, perhaps he is calling some of you to the consecrated life, and so to especially enact through your vocation stories the Gospel parables we hear today. Is God calling you, too, to riches beyond your childhood wishes?

If you would like to find out more about the Dominican religious vocation, please visit our website, or email: vocations.director@english.op.org

January 6, 2013

HOMILY for the Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6; Ps 71; Eph 3:2-3,5-6; Matthew 2:1-12


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‘We Three Kings’ is such a popular carol, and so well-known that we’re probably quite accustomed to reading today’s Gospel through its lens. Firstly, that there were just three men from the East. Secondly, that these men were kings. But St Matthew’s gospel account only has one king - Herod. These men, he calls magoi, priestly astronomers from the Persian tribe of Medes, and appropriately enough, the word magoi means ‘bearers of the Gift’. But because there were three gifts in Luke’s gospel, we assume there were three men. St Matthew himself does not specify how many magoi  came to Bethlehem. Neither does he give the gifts any symbolic meaning; most likely he just wants to invoke the prophecy of Isaiah read as our First Reading, to indicate that Jesus Christ is God’s saving embrace being extended to all peoples, to the Gentiles too and not just to Israel. Nevertheless, our carol interprets the gifts as symbolic: Gold for Christ’s kingship, incense for his divinity, and myrrh for use in his passion and death. In the words of the carol, they point to Christ as “King and God and Sacrifice”. 

But I wonder if this interpretation has become too dominant, like the idea of there being Three Kings. Because if we look at the Gospel again, we’ll see that the Magi are said to open their “treasures” to Christ. Later in St Matthew’s Gospel, Christ says: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (6:21). So, in opening their treasures, the Magi may be said to open their hearts to Christ, offering him its secrets. And the Magi themselves, if we follow St Matthew’s reference to Isaiah, stand for us - the Gentile nations, the multitude of peoples, indeed, even humanity itself. Humanity, whose hearts are restlessly seeking God. For he has made us for himself, made us to long for Truth, Goodness, and Love, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

So, today’s Gospel invites us to lay bare our hearts to Christ, to our God who is present among us in all humility and meekness as a Child. And what might our hearts hold within them? Gold, frankincense, and myrrh… Gold, which stands for wealth, but also for our hard work and our earnings. Also, all our strivings - not just for material survival, but also our striving for respect, dignity, reputation, power, influence… or maybe, just striving for worth, for self-esteem. Frankincense, which is typically burnt as a sign of love and honour for God, could stand for those things we value most; those whom we love and honour, that which brings us joy and perfumes our lives with gladness. And myrrh? This bitter resin, used to relieve pain or embalm the dead, stands for our sufferings and wounds, our griefs and pains, all the bitter things, the pains which the human hearts endures and harbours. All these we hold, locked up like treasure, in our hearts. And all these, like the magoi, we bring to the Christ Child. With the wisdom of the Wise Men, we open our treasures before him, and offer to God our gold, frankincense, and our myrrh, that is, our strivings, our joys, and our sorrows. 

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June 22, 2012

HOMILY for Fri 11th Week OT (II)

2 Kgs 11:1-4. 9-18. 20; Ps 131; Matt 6:19-23

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”. 

A typical reading of this, I think, is fairly clear and somewhat moralistic: what we really value is shown by what we desire most, and the Lord tells us to value enduring things, to desires those, and so, to build them up. For money and material possessions cannot secure lasting happiness in the way that friendship, familial love, and virtue does. 

However, given that today is the Octave day of the Sacred Heart, it occurred to me that today’s Gospel can also be read from a different perspective, from Jesus’ viewpoint. For, Christ surely practices what he preaches. So, what is the treasure that he, God, lays up in his Sacred Heart? 

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