Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

The Source of Our Joy

How can a man like Amer, age 54 years old, experience and feel joy when he is dispossessed of all that he has and driven from his hometown Mosul, Iraq, where his family lived for many generations, by the militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS and forced to live in a cold, drafty United Nations camp for internally displaced peoples in Northern Iraq? And there are hundreds like him, Christians who suffer terrible pain and deprivations because of religious persecution, but are joyful and happy despite the sufferings they are going through. How can these people suffer and still be joyful?

They follow the advice of James who wrote, "My brothers, count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial" (1:2). They are our brothers and sisters in Christ suffering for their faith. Of course they do not enjoy these sufferings. Certainly it is very painful for them. But in the midst of these sufferings they find joy deep in their hearts.

They experience joy in their hearts because they are most acutely aware of the presence of Jesus in their midst. As the French novelist Leon Bloy once wrote to a friend, "Joy is the infallible sign of God's presence". They sense that despite their sufferings or on account of these sufferings God is most present to them.

Where God is present and where we are aware of this presence we experience joy no matter what is happening around us. This is what happened to Zaccheus in our Gospel reading today. We heard the words of Luke "And he came down quickly and received him with joy", that is, He (Zaccheus) came down quickly (from the tree he had climbed) and received him (Jesus) with joy." Zaccheus experienced joy in his heart in the awareness of Jesus' presence before him.

How does Jesus do this, injecting joy into the heart of Zaccheus?  He does this through his Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus awakens the spirit in the heart of Zaccheus. When the spirit of Zaccheus is wakened by Jesus' Spirit joy burst forth from his heart. For as the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians joy is a fruit of the Spirit along with love, peace, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity (5:22).

This is the reason why our Lady and Mother Mary exulted, "my spirit finds joy in God my savior" (Luke 1:47). It is our spirit that experiences joy when he comes into contact with the Spirit of Jesus.

Our first reading tells us that the Lord is the lover of souls, and his imperishable spirit is in all things. This spirit was in Zaccheus as he is also in us. This spirit of Zaccheus was touched by the Spirit of Jesus and he rejoiced like the Virigin Mary. When our spirit is touched by the Spirit of Jesus we also rejoice.

Our second reading tells us not to be alarmed by any spirit or by an oral statement. It is only the Spirit of Jesus who can truly guide us and we are sure that we are guided by this Spirit of Jesus when we experience this joy deep in our hearts.

Contact, real, experiential contact with Jesus produces joy. Some of you still remember the moment when you personally met Jesus in the sacrament or while reading the Bible, or while listening to a homily or preaching. You remember that joy, inexpressible joy was produced in your heart. This is what happened to Zaccheus when he personally met Jesus who invited himself into his home. His spirit was wakened up by Jesus as our spirit is also wakened up by the Word of God. Then we feel joy.

Jesus said that the Spirit gives life (John 6:63). We rejoice over the birth of a child because we know that new life is before us. That is why during Christmas time we sing, Joy to the world the Lord is come. It is only Jesus' coming into our hearts that produces this joy in us. This joy cannot be brought to reality by singing, acting or by any other trick. It is the result of the action of Jesus' Spirit in us.

At this very hour as our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East and elsewhere and even in our midst suffer a new humanity is being born. As Jesus said, humanity is undergoing the pangs of a new birth (Matthew 24:8). This new humanity is the mystical body of Jesus.

Fr. Vincent Rochford expresses this truth very beautifully and most appropriately. He wrote, ". . . God the Son is still present and active in the world of men in a body; now, in a body taken from the womb of all humanity, a body composed of human beings united with him by sharing his life. That body is the means by which Christ is inserted into a world to be saved. Through it he continues to teach, to bless, to heal, to feed, and to suffer." (Pattern of Scripture, 1958, pp. 55-56). This is the mystical body of Jesus.

Jesus is present among us through his mystical body. When we are aware of this presence we are filled with joy, as happened with Zaccheus.

Join me now as I prayerfully recite a stanza from the poem by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. This poem in Latin was entitled JESU, DULCIS MEMORIA. In English the title is JESUS THE VERY THOUGHT OF THEE. Incidentally the translator of this poem from Latin to English was the Anglican priest Edward Caswall who not only returned to the Catholic faith but also joined the group of the priests of St. Philip Neri, the Oratorians.

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Jesus, our only joy be thou,
as thou our prize wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now.
and through eternity. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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