FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 26, 2020:
Each year, the Church invites us into a special week of prayer called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a time for all Christians of our various denominations to pray that one day we may find our way back to one another and make true Jesus desire as articulated in John’s Gospel, “That all may be one.” The week of prayer comes to its conclusion today, but its theme, I think, is one that is more needed in our country and in our world than ever before. We are a people who hunger for unity. And the challenges we face every day, it seems, are challenges that highlight our extreme disunity.
As we know, we are a people who are profoundly polarized at this moment in our history – and it is a polarization that effects our politics, our faith, our family lives, and virtually all aspects of our society.
Without diving into those fraught political waters, I think that we, as people of faith, can be the leaven that our society needs to find civility and unity even in the midst of disagreement. As JFK said in his famous inaugural speech, “Let us begin a new – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness.”
A few years ago, I came across an essay by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite in the Washington Post. Commenting on the divisions in our world, she made the simple but profound point that there is a missed lessons that we tend to overlook – the lesson is that we are actually all in this together. In other words, we are connected - what happens in Tokyo affects what happens in Paris and London and New York. What happens in one part of the world can affect the day-to-day life of someone a world away.
Reverend Thistlewaite also looked back at another moment in history when we were all united despite a tremendous crisis, The Great Depression. She looked at another famous inaugural address, that of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. This is the one that gave us the quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But, listen to what else FDR said, “The measure of our restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” Roosevelt reminded us that there was something greater than the economy binding us together. And we came out of The Great Depression primarily because America came to realize that were all in it together – with a shared sense of community and common purpose.
As we gather today, we find ourselves praying in a particular way for a similar sense of community and common purpose; praying for that unity that we all hunger for. And our Scriptures today speak to this. In the second reading, St. Paul cries out for unity among the people of Corinth. It was another moment in time when people – the early Church – were united by a crisis, and were struggling to survive. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. “I urge you …that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
And when we come to Matthew’s Gospel today we are struck by the way in which Christ Himself went about building the first Christian community. He walked along the sea one day, and called first one set of brothers, and then another. He called them two by two. Brother with brother. In other words, from the very beginning, the message was clear: being church is not a solitary endeavor. Remember that the next time someone asks you why you go to church. “Can’t I just pray on my own?” Christ built a community; a family; living, working, praying – together.
As Matthew tells us, Christ’s Church would be made up of people who didn’t work alone. They were fishermen, after all, casting large nets into the sea. We live here in a commercial fishing area, so we know that it takes more than one person to haul in a big catch. You need help. I think that’s one reason why Jesus chose His apostles from that particular line of work. They had stamina. They had strength. And they knew how to work together. The great work they would undertake would demand collaboration and compromise. There is a lesson here, I think, for all of us, as we pray for unity.
Some scripture scholars believe there may have been rivalry and tension between the followers of John the Baptist and those who would follow Jesus. You’ll notice that when Jesus begins His ministry, He uses the very same words as John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He isn’t trying to compete with the Baptist. Rather, He is continuing the work that John began – and enlarging and amplifying it. It’s a powerful example for all of us seeking to enlarge and amplify the Gospel and bring it into the world. And we should never forget that what unites us is greater than what divides us. As Paul put it, Christ is not divided – and we are His Body.
The last few years have reminded us that our world is smaller than ever. The global economy means all of us are inextricably linked, for better or for worse. Let us not simply mimic the division dictated daily to us by our world; but let us be what breaks that chain, breaks that cycle – let us become the very leaven that lifts our world out of its division and bring it back into unity. Now, more than ever, we need to bear with one another, listen to one another, hope with one another, and uplift one another -- as residents of the world, and as members of the Body of Christ
We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Ask not what Christ can do for you; ask what you can do for Christ. And together, bound by a common purpose, we can achieve great things, no matter what our differences and difficulties. To use a metaphor the first apostles would understand: the sea may at times be rough. But we’re all in the same boat.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Let us amplify and magnify that message for all our world to hear.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, January 5, 2020:
One morning three fruit farmers were engaged in a debate about the best way to know God – in prayer, in deed, or in Scripture. Samuel sat quietly listening to the debate. The others to him and asked, “Decide for us, Samuel. Which way is the best?” Samuel said thoughtfully, “Well, there are three ways to get from here to the marketplace when you bring your fruit to sell. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added, “But you know, when you get there with your fruit, the people don’t ask you how you came. All they ask is, ‘How good is your fruit?’”
We continue our celebration of Christmas today with the familiar story of the visit of the three wise men to the child Jesus. We call this the feast of the Epiphany. But, really each day of our Christmas celebration is a feast of epiphany. The word epiphany comes from the Greek meaning “manifestation.” In an epiphany, God’s divine nature is manifested and perhaps more importantly recognized. Just think of the many epiphanies we’ve celebrated throughout this season. When the baby leaped in the womb of Elizabeth at the arrival of the pregnant Mary, that was an epiphany, a manifestation and recognition of God’s presence. When the shepherds receive the message from the angels and rush to the manger to see the Lord, that was an epiphany. As we heard today, even Herod has searched the Scripture, consulted the scribes, and recognized the manifestation of the Lord’s presence.
Today’s Epiphany to the Magi ranks high among our recognition of Jesus’ divinity because the visit of the Magi is an eye-opener. Unlike the shepherds who learned of the birth of Jesus through a revelation from angels, or Herod’s scribes who learned through Scripture, the Magi learned of the birth of Jesus by observing a star – a star that did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. The Magi show us that God manifests Himself to us in numerous ways, all the time. The challenge put before us is: Do we see these signs of God around us? Are our eyes attuned to the divine or has our vision of God clouded?
The Christmas season asks us to do much more than recall this story of faith from long ago – it challenges us to see this story being realized again and again in our daily lives. We don’t look at Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and the rest and say, “Good for them.” We’re called to look at them and say, “Wait! I’ve had a similar experience of God’s manifestation in my life too!” Our epiphanies may not be that of angels speaking on a silent night or divining the message of a miraculous star. But, God is revealing Himself in our lives. To each one of us. Do we have the eyes, ears, hearts, minds and souls to recognize that Epiphany, that true presence of God speaking into the depths of your heart, your life?
The great tragedy of King Herod and so many others at the time of Jesus is that they received a great epiphany – God was in their midst. But their hearts were cold and their eyes were closed and they missed the very visitation of God before them. Let us pray that is never the case for you and for me.
Today we are reminded that God is not limited to any form of communication; God does not limit who He will reveal Himself to. God wants to manifest Himself to each of us. Notice how the people in our stories came to know that the Son of God was born. The shepherds came to know through a direct vision of angels. The Magi knew through a reading of the stars. And King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures -- different ways of arriving at the same Truth. Like the fruit farmers in the story, when you get to heaven, God won’t ask how you got there, but instead will ask, “How well have you lived? How well have you followed my commands? How have you shared My love with the world?” – in other words, “How good is your fruit?”
This Christmastime – and all the time – God is manifesting His divinity to us. God is inviting us into renewed and deeper relationship with Him through His Son. God is revealing Himself to us in Word, in our hearts – and so powerfully in the Eucharist.
Today, in this Holy Mass, we have already been witnesses to epiphany – God has already revealed Himself to us in His Word proclaimed and in just a few moments, there will be an Epiphany of the Lord on this very altar. God will reveal Himself to us in the Body and Blood of His Son. Will we at that moment “come and do him homage?” And He has also revealed Himself to us through the person on your left and on your right – “Wherever two or more are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them?”
Pope Francis has also reminded us that Jesus reveals Himself in those who are marginalized in our world and we can encounter that manifestation, that epiphany, when we “carry out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked because and humiliated, because they are in jail, or in the hospital.” God is revealing Himself always.
Are our eyes open to this amazing presence of God that surrounds us and binds us into the luminous beings He has created us to be? Let us all pray that we have hearts that can recognize the very revelation of God that surrounds us, and the strength to follow where He will lead us.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” My friends, open your eyes, He is right here in your midst.
May the Lord give you peace.
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