Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:14-20

What a great consolation today's readings are for those who seek to proclaim the Gospel of Life! How easy it is to become discouraged: to despair that those who espouse abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment will ever heed the consumate value of life from conception to natural death. How hard it is, sometimes, to believe that they will change.

Jonah had the same problem. "Go to the Ninevites," God told him. "Tell them to repent." But Jonah would not believe they could repent. He ran as far away as he could from God's call. He ran all the way to the belly of a whale. But when, after running away for as long as he was able, he finally gave in to God's will, he entered the city of Ninenveh. I wonder how much confidence this reluctant prophet put behind his proclamation in the streets: "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed."? Yet after only one day, we are told "the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth." If the people of Nineveh "turned from their evil ways," why do we doubt that God cannot turn the hearts of abortionists and those who oppose the Gospel of life today?

The proclamation of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark today is at the heart of the Gospel message: "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." Pope John Paul II has told us how this Gospel is a Gospel of Life. A Gospel of infinite love incarnate, of pure love which sacrifices unto death, of risen love which not even death can destroy. Simon and Andrew and James and John were all standing in their boats when the Lord called them to be fishers of men. They left all they knew and followed him to live this Gospel of Life. Will we do the same?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Homily for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time on John 1, 35-42 by St. Basil of Seleucia

Spurred on by the testimony of John the Baptist, the glorious apostle Andrew left his teacher and ran to the one pointed out by him. John’s words were his signal, and, moving more swiftly than John could speak, he approached the master with obvious longing, his companion, John the Evangelist, running beside him. Both had left the lamp to come to the Sun.

Andrew was the first to become an apostle. It was he who opened the gates of Christ’s teaching. He was the first to gather the fruits cultivated by the prophets, and he surpassed the hopes of all by being the first to embrace the one awaited by all. He was the first to show that the precepts of the law were in force only for a limited time. He was the first to restrain the tongue of Moses, for he would not allow it to speak after Christ had come. Yet he was not rebuked for this because he did not dishonor the teacher of the Jews, but honored more the Sender than the one sent. It fact Andrew was seen to be the first to honor Moses, because he was the first to recognize the one he foretold when he said: The Lord will raise up for you from among your kindred a prophet like myself. Listen to him. Andrew set the law aside in obedience to the law. He listened to Moses who said: Listen to him. He listened to John who cried out: Behold the Lamb of God, and of his own accord went to the one pointed out to him.

Having recognized the Prophet foretold by the prophets, Andrew led his brother to the one he had found. To Peter, who was still in ignorance, he revealed the treasure: We have found the Messiah for whom we were longing. How many sleepless nights we spent beside the waters of the Jordan, and now we have found the One for whom we longed! Nor was Peter slow when he heard these words, for he was Andrew’s brother. He listened attentively, then hastened with great eagerness.

Taking Peter with him, Andrew brought his brother to the Lord, thus making him his fellow disciple. This was Andrew’s first achievement: he increased the number of apostles by bringing Peter to Christ, so that Christ may find in him the disciples’ leader. When later on Peter won approval, it was thanks to the seed sown by Andrew. But the commendation given to the one redounded to the other, for the virtues of each belonged to both, and each was proud of the other’s merits. Indeed, when Peter promptly answered the Master’s question, how much joy he gave to all the disciples by breaking their embarrassed silence! Peter alone acted as the mouthpiece of those to whom the question was addressed. As though all spoke through him, he replied clearly on their behalf: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. In one sentence he acknowledged both the Savior and his saving plan.

Notice how these words echo Andrew’s. By prompting Peter the Father endorsed from above the words Andrew used when he led Peter to Christ. Andrew had said: We have found the Messiah. The Father said, prompting Peter: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, almost forcing these words on Peter: “Peter,” he said, “when you are questioned, use Andrew’s words in reply. Show yourself very prompt in answering your Master. Andrew did not lie to you when he said: We have found the Messiah. Turn the Hebrew words into Greek and cry out: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Monday, January 09, 2006

Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by Pope John Paul II January 11, 1998



Sunday, 11 January 1998

1. “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:22).

With these words, repeated in today’s liturgy, the Father shows his Son to men and reveals his mission as one consecrated to God, as the Messiah.

At Christmas we contemplated with wonder and interior joy the appearance of “the grace of God ... for the salvation of all men” (Ti 2:11), a grace that took the physical features of the Child Jesus, the Son of God born as man of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. And then we discovered the first manifestations of Christ, “the true light that enlightens every man” (Jn 1:9), which first shone for the shepherds on the holy night and then for the Magi, the first of the peoples called to faith, who set out by the light of the star that they had seen in the sky and who came to Bethlehem to adore the newborn Child (cf. Mt 2:2).

At the Jordan, together with the manifestation of Jesus we also see the first manifestation of the Trinitarian nature of God: Jesus, indicated by the Father as his beloved Son, and the Holy Spirit who descends and remains over him.

2. Dear brothers and sisters, today I again have the joy of welcoming some infants to administer the sacrament of Baptism to them. This year there are 10 boys and nine girls, who come from Italy, Brazil, Mexico and Poland.

To you, dear parents and godparents, I extend a cordial greeting and warm congratulations. You know how this sacrament, institued by the risen Christ (cf. Mt 28:18-19), is the first sacrament of Christian initiation and serves as the entrance way to the life of the Spirit. In it the baptized person is consecrated to the Father in the Holy Spirit, in the image of Christ, the new Man, and made a member of the Church, his Mystical Body.

Baptism is called the “washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit” (Ti 3:5), the birth by water and the Spirit without which no one “can enter the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). It is also called enlightenment, because those who receive it “are enlightened in their minds” (St Justin, Apology, I, 61:12: PG 6:344).

According to St Gregory Nazianzen, “Baptism is the most beautiful and marvellous of the gifts of God.... We call it ... gift, because it is given to those who do not bring anything; grace, because it is bestowed even on the guilty; baptism, because sin is buried in the water; anointing, because it is sacred and royal (as are those who are anointed); enlightenment, because it is radiant light; garment, because it covers our shame; bath, because it washes us; seal, because it preserves us and is a sign of the lordship of God” (Orations 40:3-4; PG 36:361C).

3. I look with pleasure on these children on whom the sacrament of Baptism will be conferred today, here in the Sistine Chapel. Their membership in the Christian communities of various countries highlights the universality of the call to the faith.

They are, as St Augustine says, “the Church's offspring: grace of the Father, fruitfulness of the Mother, devout shoot, new swarm, flower of our heart ... my joy and my crown” (Orations VIII: 1, 4; PL 46:838).

Today’s celebration invites us all to reflect on the commitments made at Baptism, to renew our decision to keep the flame of faith always alive, in order to become more and more the Father’s beloved children.

It is especially you, dear parents, whom I am addressing: with the support of the Christian community and with the help of the godparents, you will educate these children of yours in the faith and you will guide them on their way to the fullness of Christian maturity. May you always be assisted in this great mission by the Holy Family of Nazareth.

4. We call upon the Holy Spirit, to whom this second year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 is dedicated. As he descended on Jesus near the Jordan River, so may he rest today upon each of these children and lead them, with his light and strength, to relive the stages of Christ's life.

We entrust these infants and their families to Mary, the Sanctuary of the Holy Spirit. May they be able to hear and follow the Word of the Lord; nourished by the Eucharistic Bread, may they learn to love God and their neighbour as the divine Master has taught us and thus become heirs to the kingdom of heaven.

Homily on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord by St. John Chrysostom

Discourse On the Day of the Baptism of Christ
St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople

We shall now say something about the present feast. Many celebrate the feastdays and know their designations, but the cause for which they were established they know not. Thus concerning this, that the present feast is called Theophany -- everyone knows; but what this is -- Theophany, and whether it be one thing or another, they know not. And this is shameful -- every year to celebrate the feastday and not know its reason.

First of all therefore, it is necessary to say that there is not one Theophany, but two: the one actual, which already has occurred, and the second in future, which will happen with glory at the end of the world. About this one and about the other you will hear today from Paul, who in conversing with Titus, speaks thus about the present: "The grace of God hath revealed itself, having saved all mankind, decreeing, that we reject iniquity and worldly desires, and dwell in the present age in prudence and in righteousness and piety" -- and about the future: "awaiting the blessed hope and glorious appearance of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:11-13). And a prophet speaks thus about this latter: "the sun shalt turn to darkness, and the moon to blood at first, then shalt come the great and illuminating Day of the Lord" (Joel 2:31). Why is not that day, on which the Lord was born, considered Theophany -- but rather this day on which He was baptised? This present day it is, on which He was baptised and sanctified the nature of water. Because on this day all, having obtained the waters, do carry it home and keep it all year, since today the waters are sanctified; and an obvious phenomenon occurs: these waters in their essence do not spoil with the passage of time, but obtained today, for one whole year and often for two or three years, they remain unharmed and fresh, and afterwards for a long time do not stop being water, just as that obtained from the fountains.

Why then is this day called Theophany? Because Christ made Himself known to all -- not then when He was born -- but then when He was baptised. Until this time He was not known to the people. And that the people did not know Him, Who He was, listen about this to John the Baptist, who says: "Amidst you standeth, Him Whom ye know not of" (Jn.1:26). And is it surprising that others did not know Him, when even the Baptist did not know Him until that day? "And I -- said he -- knew Him not: but He that did send me to baptise with water, about This One did tell unto me: over Him that shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, This One it is Who baptiseth in the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 1:33). Thus from this it is evident, that -- there are two Theophanies, and why Christ comes at baptism and on whichever baptism He comes, about this it is necessary to say: it is therefore necessary to know both the one and equally the other. And first it is necessary to speak your love about the latter, so that we might learn about the former. There was a Jewish baptism, which cleansed from bodily impurities, but not to remove sins. Thus, whoever committed adultery, or decided on thievery, or who did some other kind of misdeed, it did not free him from guilt. But whoever touched the bones of the dead, whoever tasted food forbidden by the law, whoever approached from contamination, whoever consorted with lepers -- that one washed, and until evening was impure, and then cleansed. "Let one wash his body in pure water -- it says in the Scriptures, -- and he will be unclean until evening, and then he will be clean" (Lev 15:5, 22:4). This was not truly of sins or impurities, but since the Jews lacked perfection, then God, accomplishing it by means of this greater piety, prepared them by their beginnings for a precise observance of important things.

Thus, Jewish cleansings did not free from sins, but only from bodily impurities. Not so with ours: it is far more sublime and it manifests a great grace, whereby it sets free from sin, it cleanses the spirit and bestows the gifts of the Spirit. And the baptism of John was far more sublime than the Jewish, but less so than ours: it was like a bridge between both baptisms, leading across itself from the first to the last. Wherefore John did not give guidance for observance of bodily purifications, but together with them he exhorted and advised to be converted from vice to good deeds and to trust in the hope of salvation and the accomplishing of good deeds, rather than in different washings and purifications by water. John did not say: wash your clothes, wash your body, and ye will be pure, but what? -- "bear ye fruits worthy of repentance" (Mt 3:8). Since it was more than of the Jews, but less than ours: the baptism of John did not impart the Holy Spirit and it did not grant forgiveness by grace: it gave the commandment to repent, but it was powerless to absolve sins. Wherefore John did also say: "I baptise you with water...That One however will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Mt 3:11). Obviously, he did not baptise with the Spirit. But what does this mean: "with the Holy Spirit and with fire?" Call to mind that day, on which for the Apostles "there appeared disparate tongues like fire, and sat over each one of them" (Acts 2:3). And that the baptism of John did not impart the Spirit and remission of sins is evident from the following: Paul "found certain disciples, and said to them: received ye the Holy Spirit since ye have believed? They said to him: but furthermore whether it be of the Holy Spirit, we shall hear. He said to them: into what were ye baptised? They answered: into the baptism of John. Paul then said: John indeed baptised with the baptism of repentance," -- repentance, but not remission of sins; for whom did he baptise? "Having proclaimed to the people, that they should believe in the One coming after him, namely, Christ Jesus. Having heard this, they were baptised in the Name of the Lord Jesus: and Paul laying his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them" (Acts 19:1-6). Do you see, how incomplete was the baptism of John? If the one were not incomplete, would then Paul have baptised them again, and placed his hands on them; having performed also the second, he shew the superiority of the apostolic Baptism and that the baptism of John was far less than his. Thus, from this we recognise the difference of the baptisms.

Now it is necessary to say, for whom was Christ baptised and by which baptism? Neither the former the Jewish, nor the last -- ours. Whence hath He need for remission of sins, how is this possible for Him, Who hath not any sins? "Of sin, -- it says in the Scriptures, -- worked He not, nor was there deceit found in His mouth" (1 Pet 2:22); and further, "who of you convicteth Me of Sin?" (Jn 8:46). And His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit; how might this be possible, when it in the beginning was fashioned by the Holy Spirit? And so, if His flesh was privy to the Holy Spirit, and He was not subject to sins, then for whom was He baptised? But first of all it is necessary for us to recognise, by which baptism He was baptised, and then it will be clear for us. By which baptism indeed was He baptised? -- Not the Jewish, nor ours, nor John's. For whom, since thou from thine own aspect of baptism dost perceive, that He was baptised not by reason of sin and not having need of the gift of the Spirit; therefore, as we have demonstrated, this baptism was alien to the one and to the other. Hence it is evident, that He came to Jordan not for the forgiveness of sins and not for receiving the gifts of the Spirit. But so that some from those present then should not think, that He came for repentance like others, listen to how John precluded this. What he then spoke to the others then was: "Bear ye fruits worthy of repentance"; but listen what he said to Him: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" (Mt 3:8, 14). With these words he demonstrated, that Christ came to him not through that need with which people came, and that He was so far from the need to be baptised for this reason -- so much more sublime and perfectly purer than Baptism itself. For whom was He baptised, if this was done not for repentance, nor for the remission of sins, nor for receiving the gifts of the Spirit? Through the other two reasons, of which about the one the disciple speaks, and about the other He Himself spoke to John. Which reason of this baptism did John declare? Namely, that Christ should become known to the people, as Paul also mentions: "John therefore baptised with the baptism of repentance, so that through him they should believe on Him that cometh" (Acts 19:4); this was the consequence of the baptism. If John had gone to the home of each and, standing at the door, had spoken out for Christ and said: "He is the Son of God," such a testimony would have been suspicious, and this deed would have been extremely perplexing. So too, if he in advocating Christ had gone into the synagogues and witnessed to Him, this testimony of his might be suspiciously fabricated. But when all the people thronged out from all the cities to Jordan and remained on the banks of the river, and when He Himself came to be baptised and received the testimony of the Father by a voice from above and by the coming-upon of the Spirit in the form of a dove, then the testimony of John about Him was made beyond all questioning. And since he said: "and I knew Him not" (Jn 1:31), his testimony put forth is trustworthy. They were kindred after the flesh between themselves "wherefore Elizabeth, thy kinswoman, hath also conceived a son" -- said the Angel to Mary about the mother of John (Lk. 1: 36); if however the mothers were relatives, then obviously so also were the children. Thus, since they were kinsmen -- in order that it should not seem that John would testify concerning Christ because of kinship, the grace of the Spirit organised it such, that John spent all his early years in the wilderness, so that it should not seem that John had declared his testimony out of friendship or some similar reason. But John, as he was instructed of God, thus also announced about Him, wherein also he did say: "and I knew Him not." From whence didst thou find out? "He having sent me that sayeth to baptise with water, That One did tell me" What did He tell thee? "Over Him thou shalt see the Spirit descending, like to a dove, and abiding over Him, That One is baptised by the Holy Spirit" (Jn 1:32-33). Dost thou see, that the Holy Spirit did not descend as in a first time then coming down upon Him, but in order to point out that preached by His inspiration -- as though by a finger, it pointed Him out to all. For this reason He came to baptism.

And there is a second reason, about which He Himself spoke -- what exactly is it? When John said: "I have need to be baptised of Thee, and Thou art come to me?" -- He answered thus: "stay now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill every righteousness" (Mt 3:14-15). Dost thou see the meekness of the servant? Dost thou see the humility of the Master? What does He mean: "to fulfill every righteousness?" By righteousness is meant the fulfillment of all the commandments, as is said: "both were righteous, walking faultlessly in the commandments of the Lord" (Lk 1:6). Since fulfilling this righteousness was necessary for all people -- but no one of them kept it or fulfilled it -- Christ came then and fulfilled this righteousness.

And what righteousness is there, someone will say, in being baptised? Obedience for a prophet was righteous. As Christ was circumcised, offered sacrifice, kept the sabbath and observed the Jewish feasts, so also He added this remaining thing, that He was obedient to having been baptised by a prophet. It was the will of God then, that all should be baptised -- about which listen, as John speaks: "He having sent me to baptise with water" (Jn 1:33); so also Christ: "the publicans and the people do justify God, having been baptised with the baptism of John; the pharisees and the lawyers reject the counsel of God concerning themselves, not having been baptised by him" (Lk 7:29-30). Thus, if obedience to God constitutes righteousness, and God sent John to baptise the nation, then Christ has also fulfilled this along with all the other commandments.

Consider, that the commandments of the law is the main point of the two denarii: this -- debt, which our race has needed to pay; but we did not pay it, and we, falling under such an accusation, are embraced by death. Christ came, and finding us afflicted by it -- He paid the debt, fulfilled the necessary and seized from it those, who were not able to pay. Wherefore He does not say: "it is necessary for us to do this or that," but rather "to fulfill every righteousness." "It is for Me, being the Master, -- says He, -- proper to make payment for the needy." Such was the reason for His baptism -- wherefore they should see, that He had fulfilled all the law -- both this reason and also that, about which was spoken of before. Wherefore also the Spirit did descend as a dove: because where there is reconciliation with God -- there also is the dove. So also in the ark of Noah the dove did bring the branch of olive -- a sign of God's love of mankind and of the cessation of the flood. And now in the form of a dove, and not in a body -- this particularly deserves to be noted -- the Spirit descended, announcing the universal mercy of God and showing with it, that the spiritual man needs to be gentle, simple and innocent, as Christ also says: "Except ye be converted and become as children, ye shalt not enter into the Heavenly Kingdom" (Mt 18:3). But that ark, after the cessation of the flood, remained upon the earth; this ark, after the cessation of wrath, is taken to heaven, and now this Immaculate and Imperishable Body is situated at the right hand of the Father.

Having made mention about the Body of the Lord, I shall also say a little about this, and then the conclusion of the talk. Many now will approach the Holy Table on the occasion of the feast. But some approach not with trembling, but shoving, hitting others, blazing with anger, shouting, cursing, roughing it up with their fellows with great confusion. What, tell me, art thou troubled by, my fellow? What disturbeth thee? Do urgent affairs, for certain, summon thee? At this hour art thou particularly aware, that these affairs of thine that thou particularly rememberest, that thou art situated upon the earth, and dost thou think to mix about with people? But is it not with a soul of stone naturally to think, that in such a time thou stand upon the earth, and not exult with the Angels with whom to raise up victorious song to God? For this Christ also did describe us with eagles, saying: "where the corpse is, there are the eagles gathered" (Mt 24:28) -- so that we might have risen to heaven and soared to the heights, having ascended on the wings of the spirit; but we, like snakes, crawl upon the earth and eat dirt. Having been invited to supper, thou, although satiated before others, would not dare to leave before others while others are still reclining. But here, when the sacred doings are going on, thou at the very middle would pass by everything and leave? Is it for a worthy excuse? What excuse might it be? Judas, having communed that last evening on that final night, left hastily then as all the others were still reclining. Here these also are in imitation of him, who leave before the final blessing! If he had not gone, then he would not have made the betrayal; if he did not leave his co-disciples, then he would not have perished; if he had not removed himself from the flock, then the wolf would not have seized and devoured him alone; if he had separated himself from the Pastor, then he would not have made himself the prey of wild beasts. Wherefore he (Judas) was with the Jews, and those (the apostles) went out with the Lord. Dost thou see, by what manner the final prayer after the offering of the sacrifice is accomplished? We should, beloved, stand forth for this, we should ponder this, fearful of the coming judgement for this. We should approach the Holy Sacrifice with great decorum, with proper piety, so as to merit us more of God's benevolence, to cleanse one's soul and to receive eternal blessings, of which may we all be worthy by the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, to with Whom the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, power, and worship now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany by St. Odilo of Cluny

This is the day on which Christ was clearly revealed to the world, the day on which he consecrated the sacrament of baptism by receiving it in person, and also the day, according to the belief of the faithful, on which he changed water into wine at the wedding feast. On this day too water became wine in a spiritual sense, the letter of the law ceased to apply, and the grace of the Gospel shone out through Christ.
Christ was baptized, and the world was renewed. At his baptism the world put off the old man and put on the new. The earth cast off the first man who is earthly by nature and put on the second man who comes from heaven. When Christ was baptized the mystery of holy baptism was consecrated by the presence of the whole Trinity. The Father’s voice thundered: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. The Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. But it was the divine will that only the Son should be baptized by blessed John. Although the whole Trinity was at work in the incarnation of the Word and the mystery of his baptism, the Son alone was baptized by John, just as he alone was born of the Virgin. With the exception of sin, he experienced all the sufferings of the humanity he had assumed, yet in his divinity he remained untouched by suffering.

Today is festive enough in its own right, but it stands out all the more clearly because of its proximity to Christmas. When God is worshiped in the Child, the honor of the virgin birth is revered. When gifts are brought to the God-man, the dignity of the divine motherhood is exalted. When Mary is found with her child, Christ’s true manhood is proclaimed, together with the inviolate chastity of the Mother of God. All this is contained in the evangelist’s statement: And entering the house they found the child with Mary his mother, and bowing down they worshiped him. Then, opening their treasurers, they offered him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The gifts brought by the wise men reveal hidden mysteries concerning Christ. To offer gold is to proclaim his kingship, to offer incense is to adore his godhead, and to offer myrrh is to acknowledge is mortality. We too must have faith in Christ’s assumption of our mortal nature. Then we shall realize that our two-fold death has been abrogated by the death he died once for all. You will find a description in Isaiah of how Christ appeared as a mortal man and freed us from our death. It is written: He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

The necessity of faith in the kingship of Christ can be demonstrated on divine authority, since he says of himself in one of the psalms: I have been appointed king by him, that is, by God the father. And speaking as Wisdom personified he claims to be the King of kings, saying: It is through me that kings reign and princes pronounce judgment.

As to Christ’s divinity, the whole world created by him testifies that he is the Lord. He himself says in the gospel: All power has been given me in heaven and on earth, and the blessed evangelist declares: All things were made through him, and without him nothing came into being. If we know, then, that everything was created through him and subsists in him, it follows that all creation must have been aware of his coming.

Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany by St. Basil the Great

The star came to rest above the place where the child was. At the sight of it the wise were filled with great joy and that great joy should fill our hearts as well. It is the same as the joy the shepherds received from the glad tidings brought by the angels. Let us join the wise men in worship and the shepherds in giving glory to God. Let us dance with angels and sing: To us is born this a savior who is Christ the Lord. The Lord is God and he has appeared to us, not as God which would have terrified us in our weakness, but as a slave in order to free those living in slavery. Could anyone be so lacking in sensibility and so ungrateful as not to join us all in our gladness, exultation, and radiant joy? This feast belongs to the whole universe. It gives heavenly gifts to the earth, it sends archangels to Zechariah and to Mary, it assembles a choir of angels to sing, Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

Stars across the sky, wise men journey from pagan lands, earth receives its savior in a cave. Let there be no one without a gift to offer, no one without gratitude as we celebrate the salvation of the world, the birthday of the human race. Now it is no longer, Dust you are and to dust you shall return, but “You are joined to heaven and into heaven you shall be taken up.” It is no longer, In sorrow you shall bring forth children, but, “Blessed is she who has borne Emmanuel and blessed the breast that nursed him.” For a child is born to us, a son is given to us, and dominion is laid upon his shoulder.

Come, join the company of those who merrily welcome the Lord from heaven. Think of shepherds receiving wisdom, of priests prophesying, of women who are glad of heart, as Mary was when told by the angels to rejoice ans as Elizabeth was when John leapt in her womb. Anna announced the good news; Simeon took the child in his arms. They worshiped the mighty God in a tiny baby, not despising what they beheld but praising his divine majesty. Like light through clear glass the power of the Godhead shone through that human body for those whose inner eye was pure. Among such may we also be numbered, so that beholding his radiance with unveiled face we too may be transformed from glory to glory by the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be honor and power for endless ages. Amen.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany with Poem Journey of the Magi by T.S. Elliot

The Feast of the Epiphany
The following homily was given by Fr. Shawn Hughes at Dunning Auditorium, Queen's University on Sunday, January 4, 2004.

Our spiritual lives can never be stagnant, they must always be moving, always be seeking, always striving for that more intimate experience of Christ.This story is so familiar to each of us. We have heard it on this feast day every year of our lives. Sometimes we need to look at it from a slightly different perspective. T.S. Eliot's Journey of a Magi looks at the effect the experience of the journey had on one of the kings. Many, many years later one of the magi looks back at the experience they had on that journey following that star.

A Journey of the Magi
'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears,
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a
temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in
away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with
vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for
pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no imformation, and so
we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment
too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
But no longer at ease here, in the old
With an alien people clutching their
I should be glad of another death.
- T.S. Elliot (1888-1965)

T. S. Eliot first published this piece in 1927, the same year that he abandoned agnosticism embracing Christianity receiving the Sacrament of baptism. As Elliot reflected on the Journey of the Magi he reflects to us his own personal experience of his spiritual conversion.

On this feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Christ child to the non Jewish world, I think that Elliot's personal conversion as depicted in the imagery of the magi provides some beautiful points for our contemplation. The essence of a religious conversion in Eliot's poetry is change; almost tortuous intellectual and spiritual growth that pushes the soul into a conflict between its old life of sin and its new life of grace.

This is exactly what this feast day is about…..change….transformation. Our spiritual lives can never be stagnant, they must always be moving, always be seeking, always striving for that more intimate experience of Christ. As Elliot depicts it it is not easy. There is the constant struggle between our old life and our new life. The old constantly pulls us back, the new constantly pulling us forward.

Elliot's poem emphasises just how difficult this striving is, this seeking, this journey. It is not easy. Each of us know this. The imagery suggests that a difficulty arises from the mixing of the old and new dispensations. The Magi are transformed by the revelation at the end of their journey, live on uncomfortably as a men of the new dispensation among people of the old. So true of each of us as we try to live our deep faith in Christ here on campus. There is a unease, a conflict of transformed faith existing in the unconverted environment. That is a life long spiritual tension with which we must all learn to live.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if each of our New Year's resolutions would be to be transformed in Christ? ... That we walk through this year with the adoration of Christ as the centre of our lives. At this time of year many customarily make solemn New Year's resolutions which have probably all been broken by this fourth day of January. These resolutions are usually pretty superficial. Losing weight, exercising more, studying a little more, giving a little more time to a particular course etc.,….each good in themselves but usually motivated by what Elliot would refer to as the old dispensation. Wouldn't it be wonderful if each of our New Year's resolutions would be to be transformed in Christ? To set out on a spiritual journey this year that ends in such a deep experience of Christ that like the Magi we go away transformed. That we walk through this year with the adoration of Christ as the centre of our lives.

This requires serious change….New Year's resolutions are about change, but are we really serious about them? Usually we don't really want to change and therefore we don't. This year I am asking you to make it your New Year's resolution to want to change, to grow spiritually. Transform the spiritual aspects of your life this year.

Spend more time in prayer. A quick hello as you climb out of bed and a quick good night as your head hits the pillow, with never another thought of Him throughout the day, just doesn't cut it Imagine if those few minutes were all the time you gave to other relationships in your life. They wouldn't last very long. It's true of our relationship with God. We need to spend some time with Him, in both formal and personal prayer every day.
Perhaps your New Year's resolution could be to commit yourself to praying part or all of the rosary each day.
Maybe your spiritual resolution would be to commit yourself to praying with Scripture each day through a disciplined daily reading of a paragraph, or a chapter of the Bible, especially books of the New Testament. Archbishop Meagher has challenged each of us to take the Gospel of Luke, because this is the Gospel we are following this year in our Sunday liturgies, and to study it and pray with it throughout this year.

Maybe your New Years resolution could be to commit yourself to learning more about the faith. Perhaps you might want to take one topic from the catechism and read that section over a period of time. It's divided into paragraphs that might take only a few minutes each.

Commit yourself to some spiritual re---ading to deepen your understanding of prayer, scripture and the teachings of the faith. Father Raymond and I would be delighted to help with some suggestions. We are here on campus as resources to be used by you. Don't hesitate to email one of us and we can get together or discuss the issue by email.

Is there that one nagging question that you have always wondered why the Church teaches what it does about it? Commit yourself to finding out the answer by either seeing Father Raymond or myself or by looking it up yourself. Don't have a rosary, a bible, a catechism? All of these can be found on the Internet. There are many links to various sites on our website www.newmanhouse.ca.
Like the Magi. The spiritual journey is long. The Journey is difficult. But, like the Magi the reward is so great we leave completely transformed. The reward is not possible without the journey. I would like to challenge each of you to set out on a spiritual journey this year that ends in such a deep experience of Christ that you will walk through this year with the adoration of Christ as the centre of your life. This New Year resolve that in 2004 you are going to be TRANSFORMED IN CHRIST.

Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany by St. John Chrysostom


When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying: Where is that is born king of the Jews. For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him.

Isaias had foretold that this would come to pass, saying: The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Madian and Apha: all they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and showing forth praise to the Lord.[Isa. 60: 6] This is He, Christ the Lord, Whom the Magi, having seen the sign of the star, announce as the King of the Jews.

Things unheard of, and exceeding the measure of human astonishment, all took place together at the Birth of Our Lord. An angel appears and speaks to Zachary, promising that to Elizabeth, his wife, a son will be born, and he, not believing the angel, is stricken dumb: she that was sterile conceives: in the womb of a Virgin a Child takes life. John, inspired in his mother's womb, leaps for joy: Christ the Lord New-Born is announced by an angel. He is proclaimed by the shepherds as the salvation of the world. Angels exult, the shepherds rejoice. Upon this glorious nativity joy and gladness rise up both in heaven and on earth.

The new sign of a star in the heavens is pointed out to the Magi; through this sign it is made known to them that the Lord of the heavens is born King of the Jews; He of Whom it was written: A star shall rise out of Jacob and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel[Numbers 24: 17], so that from the symbol of a star the union of man with the Son of God, of human nature with the divine, might become known.

Thus it was the Lord spoke of Himself in the Apocalypse: I am the root and stock of David, the bright and morning star[Apoc. 22: 16] for in the rising of His own Nativity, the night of ignorance being scattered, He shines forth, the bright and morning star, unto the salvation of the world; the splendour of Whose light reaching also to the hearts of the Magi, filled them with spiritual light, so that by the sign of the new-risen star they know the Creator of heaven as the King of the Jews.

The Magi, teachers of a false faith, could never have come to know Christ Our Lord, had they not been illumined by the grace of this divine condescension. Indeed the grace of God overflowed at the Birth of Christ, so that each single soul might be enlightened by His Truth. The Magi are enlightened so that the goodness of God may be made manifest: so that no one need despair, doubting that salvation through faith will be given to him, seeing He bestowed it on the Magi. The Magi therefore were the first from the Gentiles chosen for salvation, so that through them a door might be opened to all the Gentiles.

But perhaps someone will wonder how it was that the Magi knew of the Lord's Nativity from the sign of a star? In the first place we say that this was a gift of the divine goodness. Then we read in the books of Moses that there was a certain prophet of the Gentiles, Balaam, who foretold in definite words the coming of Christ and His incarnation from a virgin. For among other things he said: A star shall rise out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall spring up from Israel. The Wise men, who saw the new star in the East, are said to be descendants of this Balaam, a prophet from the Gentiles. And seeing the sign of the new star they accordingly believed, knowing that the prophecy of their ancestor was fulfilled: in this showing themselves to be not alone his descendants in the flesh, but the heirs also to his faith. Balaam their prophet beheld the Star in spirit; with their eyes they saw It, and believed. He by prophecy foretold that Christ would come, they with the vision of faith knew that He had come.

Then they came straightaway to Herod, saying: Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and have come to adore Him. They sought the Lord Christ, born King of the Jews, among those from whose race they knew that Balaam had prophesied He would come. But the faith of the Magi is the condemnation of the Jews. They believed on the authority of their one prophet, these others refused to believe many prophets. The former knew that through the Coming of Christ their magic arts were ended, the latter refused to accept the mysteries of the divine dispensation. They confessed a Stranger; the Jews rejected their own. He came unto His own, and his own received Him not. And this same star was seen by all, but not by all understood. As Our Lord and Saviour was truly born for all, as Man He was born for all men, not by all was He received, nor understood by all. He was understood by the Gentiles, He was not understood by the Jews; acknowledged by the Church, He was denied by the Synagogue.

When therefore the Magi, after the splendid toil of their long journey, had come to Jerusalem seeking the King of the Jews, immediately, says the Evangelist, King Herod, and with him all Jerusalem, was disturbed by the fervent faith of the Magi. The Chiefs of the Priests and the Scribes of the people are gathered together. They are asked: where Christ should be born. They answer: in Bethlehem of Juda, for so it is written by the prophet: And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda are not the least among the princes of Juda. For out of thee shall come forth etc. Herod therefore, and the men of Jerusalem, knowingly, they were not ignorant, reject Christ the Lord. For they sought the testimony of the prophets, when they searched out where Christ would be born.

This place, Bethlehem, where the Lord was born, had received a name of prophecy. For Bethlehem is interpreted: House of Bread; because the Son of God Who was to be born here is the Bread of Life, as He himself said in His Gospel: I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. This too is the place that is spoken of elsewhere by the prophet: God will come from the south, and the Holy One from Mount Pharan.[Habacuc 3: 3] These words describe the site and aspect of the place. The words of this prophet agree with the previous prophecy for, after the words of Micheas saying: Out of thee He shall go forth the ruler in Israel, there is added: And his going forth is from the beginning, from the days of eternity;[Micheas 5: 2] so that, contrary to Photinus, it is not to be supposed that the Lord had a beginning only from the moment in which He was born of the Virgin. For it is clearly shown that He is from the beginning of days, and that He is the Lord, Who was born in Bethlehem.

Then the Evangelist continues: Herod calling etc.

Herod the evil king, while he feared for the kingdom which he unjustly held, became the betrayer of the eternal King. For this Herod was neither of the Tribe of Juda, nor the House of David, and occupied the kingdom of the Jews by guile; and, by favour of the Romans, ruled it as tyrant. Accordingly he began to lie in wait for the Lord, Whom he now learns from the Jews is born King of the Jews. He inquires of them the time of the star's appearance, then sends them on their way to Bethlehem, as if he too desired to come and adore. He pretends solicitude to conceal his treachery. For he had in mind, not to adore, but to slay the Lord.

The Magi meanwhile, guided by the star, arrive at the place where the Child was, and there they knew the Creator of heaven. They sought not the guidance of a man because they had received from heaven the guidance of a star. Neither could they go astray, who were inquiring for the True Way, which is Christ the Lord Who has said: I am the way, the truth, the life. With ever new wonder the star travels in the sky above them, and for the whole journey does not leave them, and at an equal pace they come together to Bethlehem, and there the star, standing still points out the Lord Our Saviour, the Only Son of God.

The Evangelist relates: And seeing the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And entering in to the house ....

Let us now see, after the star had come to rest, after the journey of the Magi, what wondrous dignity accompanies the Newborn King. For immediately the Magi, falling down before the Lord, adore Him Newlyborn, and lying in a Manger, and offering gifts they venerate the Infancy of a weeping Babe. With the eyes of their body they saw one thing, another with the eyes of the mind. The lowliness of the assumed Body is before their eyes, yet the glory of the Divinity is not concealed. It is a Child that is adored. And together with it the unspeakable mystery of the divine condescension! That invisible and eternal nature has not disdained, for our sakes, to take to Itself the infirmities of our flesh.

The Son of God, Who is the God of all things, is born a Man in body. He permits Himself to be placed in a crib, Who holds the heavens in His Hand. He is confined in a Manger whom the world cannot contain; He is heard in the voice of a wailing Infant, at Whose voice in the hour of His passion the whole earth trembled. The Magi, beholding a Child, profess that this is the Lord of Glory, the Lord of Majesty, Whom Isaias has shown was both Child and God, and King Eternal, saying: for a CHILD is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the World to come, the Prince of Peace.[Isa. 9: 6]

To Him the Magi offer gifts, that is: gold, frankincense and myrrh; as the Holy Spirit had in time past testified concerning them: All they from Saba shall come, bringing gold and frankincense: and showing forth praise to the Lord. This prophecy is manifestly fulfilled by the Magi, who both announce the salvation of the Lord, born Christ the Son of God, and by their gifts proclaim Him Christ and God, and King of Man. For by gold the power of a king is signified, by frankincense the honour of God, by myrrh the burial of the body; and accordingly they offer Him gold as King, frankincense as God, myrrh as Man.

David also has testified concerning these things, in this way: The Kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents: the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts. And all kings of the earth shall adore Him: all nations shall serve Him.[Ps. 71: 10] And that he might show especially to whom these gifts would be offered, he adds: And to him shall be given of the gold of Arabia. The same David in another psalm is not silent regarding myrrh, as when speaking of the passion of the Lord, he says: Myrrh and stacte and cassia perfume thy garments.[Ps. 44: 9] Of myrrh Solomon, in the person of Christ, also speaks: I yielded a sweet odour like the best myrrh,[Ecclus. 24: 20] in which he evidently testifies concerning the sepulture of His Body, which by its most sweet and divine odour has made the whole earth fragrant. Lastly David also is seen to have foretold the Magi in figure, when he said: Ambassador's shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopa shall soon stretch out her hand to God.[Ps. 67: 32] For since holy Scripture often speaks of this world as Egypt, rightly may we regard the Magi as the ambassadors from Egypt, who being chosen as legates for the whole world, dedicate, in the gifts they offer, the will to believe of all mankind, and the beginnings of the faith.

And after they had offered their gifts the Magi were warned that they should not return to Herod, and they went back another way into their country. In this they give us an example of virtue and faith, so that we too, having once known and adored Christ our King, and having forsaken the road that we formerly traveled, that is the way of our past errors, and travelling now another road with Christ as Guide, may return to our true country, which is Paradise, from which Adam was driven forth. Of this country the psalmist says: I will please the Lord in the land of the living.[Ps. 114: 9]

The Magi being warned return home another way, frustrating the cruelty of the tyrant; and thus the Child born King is, by the Magi, made known to men, and the treachery of the tyrant Herod is brought to nothing. That Our Lord and Saviour as a Child would thus triumph, and in the very beginning of His Infancy, Isaias had of old made prophecy: For before the Child know to call his father and mother, the strength of Damascus, and the spoils of Samaria shall be taken away before the king of the Assyrians.[Isa. 8: 4] The gold that was offered by the Magi, and which the Son of God Born a Child has received, is interpreted as the strength of Damascus; the spoils of Samaria are the Magi themselves, whom He has drawn out of the error of the superstitions of Samaria, that is, the worship of idols; and who formerly because of their false religion were the spoil of the devil, now through the knowledge of Christ have become the spoil of God. The kings of the Assyrians means Herod, or at all events the devil, against whom the Magi stood forth as adversaries, namely, by adoring the Son of God, Our Lord and Saviour, Who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.