Sunday, April 24, 2011

Witnesses, not Spectators

Homily for Easter Sunday, Year A
Acts 10.34a, 37-43 Psalm 118 Colossians 3.1-4 Matthew 28.1-10

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) version of this homily.

If you believe the news these days, the most important thing going on in the world is the upcoming royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton. Now, I don’t always believe the news, and it seems to me that there are many more pressing issues in our world than a spectacularly planned display of pomp and circumstance in Westminster Abbey. But for whatever reasons, royal weddings have always captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world. And it’s hard to ignore all the hype.

One official this week talked about the attitude of people who watch or take part in the royal wedding. He said, “We have to be witnesses in an active sense: the kind of witnesses who really support what's going on. To be a witness is more than to be a spectator, and I hope that'll be part of people's experience at the time of the wedding.” (Archbishop Rowan Williams, quoted in Episcopal News Service, And believe it or not, today’s celebration of Easter should about the same thing.

It’s so easy for us Christians to be spectators. It’s so easy for us to look at things like the death and resurrection of Jesus, even saying that we believe in them, as if we’re watching TV or a movie; we think for a moment about Jesus, then we move on with our lives. It’s so easy for us to hear the commands to love one another and think, I really should do that, and sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It’s so easy for us to come to church, sit and stand and kneel, maybe sing along on some of the songs, watch what’s going on in the sanctuary, and then go back to our daily lives, and nothing’s changed. We’re spectators, not witnesses.

Think of what it would have been like if Peter and Mary Magdalene and all the others had only been spectators at the resurrection, watching what happened, and then getting back to their lives. We certainly wouldn’t be here today. But they weren’t spectators – they were witnesses. A witness tells other people what they saw. Peter and Mary Magdalene were so transformed by witnessing the resurrection of Jesus that they spread the good news – they ran to tell people about it. And those people told others, who told others, all the way to us today who heard about the resurrection through someone else.

It’s probably true that the royal wedding will get more news coverage this week than any Christian celebrations of Easter. But what really matters is what happens in personal relationships and in people’s hearts, not in the media. We can be witnesses to what we have seen and heard today – witnesses to new life through Jesus Christ – witnesses to a God who loves us more than we can imagine – witnesses to love and forgiveness and peace in a world desperately in need of God. And that witnessing will really transform the world.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Blood of Christ, Fill All My Veins

Homily for the Mass of the Lord's Supper, Holy Thursday
Exodus 12.1-8, 11-14 Psalm 116 1 Corinthians 11.23-26 John 13.1-15

Tonight’s Mass is one of the few times when the Church tells the priest specifically what he is supposed to preach on. It’s right in the Sacramentary – the official book of prayers used at the Mass. So you’d think that putting together a homily for Holy Thursday would be pretty easy and straightforward. Here’s what we – the priests – are supposed to do – and what you are supposed to hear: “The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass: the institution of the eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ’s commandment of brotherly love.” That’s all. No big deal. Just explain the greatest mysteries of the faith in one, brief homily. Pretty simple. But not really.

To help tie all this together, there’s an image that is woven throughout our Scripture readings tonight – and really all during this Holy Week. It’s the image of blood.

Think back to tonight’s first reading from the Book of Exodus. The Israelites are told to take the blood of the Passover lamb and put it on the lintel of their doors and their doorposts. The Israelites were familiar with using blood in ritual ceremonies; animal blood was used to cleanse and purify people or things, to set them aside as holy – claimed by God. And so the blood on their doorposts also marked them – set them apart – as God’s children.

Then think of the Responsorial Psalm; it too talks about blood, but in a different way. We sang that the cup we drink is a sharing – a communion – in the blood of Christ. This Eucharist, this meal unites us to Jesus Christ himself through his blood. It’s the same in the second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians – Jesus speaks of the blood of a new covenant, a covenant that God has made with us, his people; a covenant that establishes a relationship between us and God, a relationship that is based in the blood of Christ.

But now think back to a passage we heard earlier this week, on Palm Sunday, from the Passion Narrative according to St. Matthew. Here, too, we hear about blood – Christ’s blood – but in a way that is often misunderstood. There is a line in Matthew’s Passion Narrative, when Jesus is on trial before Pilate, and certain representatives of the Jewish people cry out: “His blood be upon us and our children” (Mt. 27.25). This verse has been used by some people to put responsibility for the death of Jesus on the Jewish people. But that’s really a misunderstanding of what is being said. Remember how the Jewish people thought of blood – it was not used for vengeance or punishment, it was a sign of purification and cleansing. It was a sign of being set apart – claimed by God. And in the light of the gospel, the blood of Christ takes on an even deeper meaning.

Pope Benedict reminds us that the blood of Christ is a sign of love; the blood of Christ has been poured out for us in love and has marked us a children of God. (See Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II: Holy Week, Ignatius Press 2011, p. 187-188) Jesus was handed over to death for our sake. His blood is more precious than anything else in the whole world because it shows how much he loves us. And we all need that love; we cannot cleanse ourselves; we cannot purify ourselves; we cannot save ourselves – Christ must do it for us. As followers of Christ, we are proud to say that the Blood of Christ is upon us, and we hope and pray that it will be upon our children as well; because it is only through the Blood of Christ that we are saved.

So think now of those things we remember on Holy Thursday. Tonight, we remember the institution of the Eucharist – the gift of sharing in the blood of Christ. When we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood, we share in his life; Jesus’ blood runs in our veins. The more we receive the Eucharist, the more Christ lives in us and we live in him. Tonight we remember the institution of the Priesthood. As priests we have the humble privilege of bringing the Eucharist to the world. By a power not our own, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we make the Blood of Christ present today. And everything that we do reminds the world that we cannot save ourselves; only the Blood of Christ can save us. And tonight we remember the command to love one another as Christ loves us. And how does he love us? – to the point of death. True Christ-like love is being willing to lay down your life for another. True Christ-like love is being willing to shed our blood for our fellow human beings, because Christ has shed his blood for us.

That’s who we are as Christians – men and women saved by the Blood of Christ, gathered together around a table to share a meal through which that same blood runs in our veins, giving us the strength and the courage to love all people so much that we are willing to shed our blood for them, because Christ has already shed his blood for us.

A 14th Century prayer says it well. It’s called the Anima Christi and was translated by Blessed John Henry Newman into English.

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ's side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesus, listen to me;
In Thy wounds I fain would hide;
Ne'er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love.

May the Blood of Christ – this night and always – be upon us, upon our children, and upon the whole world.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Who are you in the Passion Narrative?

Click here to listen to or download an audio recording of the Proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Matthew.

From a Homily by St. Gregory Nazianzan
"If you are a Simon of Cyrene, take up your cross and follow Christ. If you are crucified beside him like one of the thieves, now, like the good thief, acknowledge your God. For your sake, and because of your sin, Christ himself was regarded as a sinner; for his sake, therefore, you must cease to sin. Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself. Derive some benefit from the very shame; purchase salvation with your death. Enter paradise with Jesus, and discover how far you have fallen. Contemplate the glories there, and leave the other scoffing thief to die outside in his blasphemy.

"If you are a Joseph of Arimathea, go to the one who ordered his crucifixion, and ask for Christ’s body. Make your own the expiation for the sins of the whole world. If you are a Nicodemus, like the man who worshipped God by night, bring spices and prepare Christ’s body for burial. If you are one of the Marys, or Salome, or Joanna, weep in the early morning. Be the first to see the stone rolled back, and even the angels perhaps, and Jesus himself."

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Miracle of the Seeds

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A
Ezekiel 37.12-14 Psalm 130 Romans 8.8-11 John 11.1-45

Click here to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

No matter how long our hearts have been dormant – God can breathe new life into us and give us the grace we need to be loving and compassionate to everyone we meet. No matter how much time we have spent gratifying our own desires and turning away from our faith, God can set us on the right path and give us the guidance and strength we need to trust in him. Miracles happen every day. And there is nothing more miraculous than life coming from death.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Liturgical Hospitality

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
1 Samuel 16.1b, 6-7, 10-13a Psalm 23 Ephesians 5.8-14 John 9.1-41

Click here
to listen to or download an audio (mp3) file of this homily.

I wonder today, how can we be more inclusive? How can we open our eyes to see Christ in all people, not just the people we’re used to? How can we remove our blindness to people who will look to us for a reflection of God’s love?