Sunday, August 20, 2017

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

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).

Why Does God Keep Silent?

It is rare that a Sunday Gospel reading naturally follows as a sequel to a previous Sunday Gospel reading. But that is what we have today. Our present Gospel reading is a natural follow up of last Sunday's Gospel reading.

Of course, a connection, even a logical connection, can always be made between Sunday Gospel readings. But it is rare that the connection follows naturally.

In last Sunday's Gospel we learned why Jesus went to a lonely place in order to pray. The basic reason was because he prayed aloud, not silently, as most of us are wont to do and he did not want to disturb others in their sleep and he also did not want to be disturbed during his prayer.

We also learned that that is how Jesus wants us to pray, aloud. He said to his disciples, "When you pray, say", that is, speak out.

A question that some of us may be thinking is: If we pray aloud, will we hear the reply of God? Or to put this question in another way: When we pray aloud why do we not hear the reply of God?

Most of us do not experience an audible reply from God. We do not usually hear with our ears God's reply.

Of course, there have been cases where God's reply is physically heard. Take the case of Moses. The Bible tells us that he spoke with God as a friend would talk to another, face to face (Exodus 33:11).

There have been saints who experienced what theologians call "locutions". These are verbal communications from God, sometimes audibly heard by the human ears, at other times heard spiritually, as was the case with St. Teresa of Avila.

But most of us do not experience locutions. Most of us do not hear a reply from God. And this is where our Gospel reading today helps us to understand how God replies to our prayer.

We are told in our Gospel reading that when the  Canaanite woman prayed to Jesus to help her about her daughter who was tormented by a demon, Jesus did not give any reply. Even when this woman was insistent to be heard by Jesus he still did not give any reply. It was the disciples who came to the rescue of the woman. They wanted Jesus to send her away because she was pestering them with her request. It was only then that Jesus made a reply, a reply that was a virtual denial of her request. In essence Jesus said that he had nothing to do with non-Israelites, like this Canaanite woman.

It was possible that Jesus kept his silence for more than 10 minutes, because this occasioned the irritation of his disciples. If it was less than 10 minutes the disciples would not have bothered about it. A ten-minute is a long time of silence.

In our experience God may be perceived by us as silent for more than 10 minutes. A husband prays for his wife who is sick with cancer. He prays for days, for weeks, for months and even years. And still he does not hear God's reply. God is silent for a long time.

An unemployed single mother of two little children desperately prays for a job that can give food to her children and herself. She prays for what she feels is a very long time and no such job is forthcoming. God is silent to her desperate prayers.

Our Gospel reading tells us why Jesus maintained his silence as a response to the request of the woman with a daughter tormented by a demon. He wanted to give that woman an opportunity to express and increase her faith. And he was right, for he heard the expression of that woman's faith and admired it for its greatness. He acknowledged that this woman had great faith. He said, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

The silence of Jesus evoked the great faith of this woman.

And that is the purpose of Jesus when he seems not to reply to our prayer, when he is silent about our request. He wants us to build up our faith. This was true when he was still physically present in our world. This is still true now that his presence with us is no longer in a physical manner but only sacramentally and spiritually. He wants to strengthen our faith by his silence.

The first reading tells us that God will bring to his holy mountain the foreigners, the non-Israelites who believe in him. He will make them pray in his house because this house is "a house of prayer for all peoples." There God will reply to their prayers as he builds up their faith.

In the second reading Paul the Apostle tells us that the Gentiles or non-Israelites are now accepted by God. They can now pray to God and God will give a reply.

This reply of God has been made in a person. Our Catechism says that God has said everything in his Word, that is, in Jesus. He has spoken to us by his Son. "In him (Jesus)  he (God) has said everything; there will be no other word than this one." Then it gets this idea from St. John of the Cross: "In giving us his son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word - and he has no more to say . . . because what he spoke before to the prophets in parts, he has now spoken all at once by giving us the All who is his Son." (65).

God has replied to all our prayers in Jesus. He can remain silent now because he has already given his reply and this reply is for the Jews and for the non-Jews like ourselves.

Jesus told us to pray aloud. We listen to God's reply. This reply is given in Jesus and through Jesus. And Jesus' reply is to build up our faith so that it will be done for us as we wish, just as it was done for the Canaanite woman as she wished.

Why does God keep silent when we pray to him? Because he has already given his reply in Jesus, through Jesus. We need only to look at Jesus and we will know the answer to our prayer. His Spirit bears witness with our spirit what this answer is. If we are attentive we hear his reply in the silence of our heart.

Let the man with a wife stricken with cancer look to Jesus. There a reply has been given to him. Let the single mother look to Jesus. Jesus' Spirit will lead that woman to the job she desperately needs to feed her two young children and herself. As the song goes, God will make a way when it seems there is no way. Jesus builds up our faith. And with this faith all things are possible for us.

Let us pray as we bow our heads. Lord Jesus, usually we do not hear God's reply to our prayers. Make us realize that God has already replied to our prayers in you and through you. Thank you for replying to our prayers by building up our faith. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle A

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).


Why We Need to Pray Aloud

We now return to the Sundays of the year in ordinary time after the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord last Sunday. This will continue without any interruption of any feast until the last Sunday of the year, which is the feast of Christ the King. That will end the Church's liturgical year. Then we enter into another year with Advent.

I had often asked myself why is it that Jesus had to go out alone to a lonely place in order to pray. For example, in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 1 verse 35 we read that Jesus rose early in the morning and went off to a lonely place in order to pray. Luke 5:16 tells us that Jesus "often retired to deserted places and prayed". It appears that that was the habit of Jesus, to pray in a lonely, isolated place. He himself advised us when we want to pray to go to our room, close the door and pray to our Father in private, in Matthew 6:6. But we have no record of Jesus doing this himself. Instead he would leave the house or a crowded place and go to an isolated, lonely place to pray.

So, I asked: Why did Jesus have to go to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray? Could he not just go to a corner in the house and there put himself in a position of prayer so that the others in the house would not disturb him?

I asked this question because I myself would do this. I would go to a private area of the house and there do my prayer. I would go to a church where there were so many people and there I would pray. Until I seriously thought about this matter of Jesus' going to a lonely place to pray I did not go to a lonely place in order to pray. I prayed in my room or in the church or in a classroom.

The Gospel reading today may give us an answer to my question about Jesus' going to a lonely place in order to pray. Matthew's record of how Jesus prayed highlights a detail that is not found in the other Gospels. Mark's record says that Jesus went to the mountain to pray but he did not write that Jesus was alone. John's record says that Jesus went up to the mountain alone, but he did not write that Jesus prayed there. This detail is not recorded by Luke. But Matthew highlights this detail. The reading says, "After doing so, he (Jesus) went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone." Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus went to that mountain by himself alone to pray.

Again we have a specific case where it is stated that Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place to pray.

Notice, we do not say that Jesus always did this. Luke says that Jesus did this often but not always. Jesus prayed in crowded places. He prayed in the room where he held his last supper. He prayed on the cross before a multitude. But his favorite place for payer was a lonely, isolated place either on a desert plain or on a mountain.

If we say we follow Jesus we follow him to the mountain to pray. But we have also to know the reason why Jesus did this. For him there must have been a great advantage in praying in a lonely, isolated place. If we know this advantage we too will follow him to pray in a lonely, isolated place.

The reason for this is found in the introduction to the prayer which we pray most often, The Our Father. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus replied: "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name." (Luke 11:2). Jesus did not say, When you pray, think. He said, Say. That is, we have to speak out our prayer.

This tells us that when Jesus prayed he did not do what we usually do. We pick out a prayer book and read a prayer with our lips silently. Or we meditate on some teachings and apply this to our life. We get out beads and pray our Rosary but if we are alone we pray in silence, our lips moving without any sound. Jesus did none of these.

When Jesus prayed he spoke out loud words. In fact the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus prayed with loud cries to God (5:7). That was the reason why the writers of the Gospel were able to record the prayers of Jesus because they were spoken out loud. The whole chapter 17 of John's Gospel is a prayer of Jesus. John was able to write this because he heard Jesus speaking out loud this prayer. This was also the case with his prayer in the garden of Gethsemani. We know what he prayed there and how many times he prayed that prayer because his prayer was audible to others.

So now we know some of the reasons why Jesus went to a lonely, isolated place in order to pray.

First, he did not want to disturb others with his prayers because his prayers were with loud words. So while others were asleep he would leave the house and go to a lonely place where no one was there so he could pray aloud.

Secondly, he did not also want to be disturbed in his prayers. He was concentrated in what he was praying about and did not want others to disturb him.

Thirdly, and perhaps this is a more important reason than the first two reasons: When he was alone with his Father he was able to feel more the warmth and love of his Father. There was closer bonding, as we would say now.

Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator, wrote, "Those are not Christ's followers who cannot enjoy being alone with God and their own hearts." In other words if we do not enjoy talking alone with the Father of Jesus Christ we really do not belong to Christ, we are not real Christians.

This manner of praying is illustrated by our First Reading. There we heard that God was in the mountain, but he was not in the strong and heavy wind, not in the crushing rocks, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a tiny whispering sound. This tells us we have to sound off our prayer, even if it is just a whisper.  God wants to hear the sound of our lips, even if it is just a whisper.

And what do we talk about with God? What should be the subject of our prayer? Many of us think that our prayer should be about our needs. Yes, but not primarily about our needs. The Second Reading tells us something different. The things that God is most interested in hearing from us are about his works, his people, the Israelites; their adoption by God, the glory God gave them, their covenant with God, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises he made; their patriarchs, and especially about Christ his son. These are the things God wants to converse about with us.

Prayer is a conversation with God. And we can only converse with God if we speak out our words aloud.

I had no desire to go to a mountain area in order to pray. But God gave me a job where I had to travel to a mountain area by myself. There I was able to see trees as tall as fifty meters and as large as ten feet in diameter. I could see no human being there, only the birds and the lizards and their companions. It was there I understood that God brought me there to speak with me. God still communicates with us on the mountain as he did with Moses and his son Jesus.

Let us bow down our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you often prayed alone in the mountain. There you had sweet conversations with your Father who is also our Father. Lead us to pray as you prayed so that we become like you, obedient children of our heavenly Father. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

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.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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).


A Different Kind of Sun

Today we do not continue the Sundays in the Ordinary Time of the year. Today is supposed to be the eighteenth Sunday of the year. But we do not celebrate it. The reason is because a feast comes along which is always celebrated on August 6. This feast takes over the Sunday celebration because it is a feast of great importance in the life of Jesus. So today we get our readings from the feast of the transfiguration of our Lord.

There is a detail in our Gospel reading which is not in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke. All the first three Gospels record the transfiguration of our Lord. But the record of Matthew which is our Gospel reading today has a detail which is not recorded by Mark and Luke. This detail is found in the second verse. It says, “And he (Jesus) was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun”. The clause “his face shone like the sun” is not found in the passages of Mark and Luke. Only Matthew has this clause, this description of Jesus.

In Malachi 3:20 which is 4:2 in the Authorized Version Jesus is described as the sun of justice. In the Authorized Version it is translated as sun of righteousness. Jesus himself said on two occasions before the Jews, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12 and 9:5). The physical sun is the light of our physical world. Jesus compares himself to this and claims that he is the light of the spiritual world.

Remember the story of Moses when he finished conversing with God on Mount Sinai? When he returned to the people below the mountain, Aaron his brother and the other Israelites noticed that his face was radiant and they were afraid to come near him. Because of this Moses put on a veil to cover this radiance when he spoke to the people. (Exodus 34:29-35) This was similar to what happened to Jesus’ face at the moment of the transfiguration. The difference is that Jesus’ face shone like the sun, while Moses’ was only radiant, was glowing with light.

This description of Jesus as the sun of justice which was physically shown at the time of the transfiguration by his face shining like the sun is very relevant for us today, as it has been in the course of history.

The physical sun gives light and energy. With this light and energy we are able to see things on earth with our physical eyes. Not only that, the physical sun by its energy maintains life on earth and enables us to use our brain so that we can think and perform mental tasks like studying and creating some things.

Jesus as the spiritual sun gives us also light and energy. With this spiritual light and energy we are enabled to see spiritual realities. Not only do we see spiritual realities. We are enabled by Jesus as the sun of justice to live justly and to give glory to God. We can reflect this glory of Jesus in our life. As the Second Book of Esdras says, "Their face shall shine as the sun". (Second Esdras is part of the Jewish writings but it is not part of our approved Bible.)

Jesus wanted to show to his disciples that he was indeed a sun, but a different kind of sun, a spiritual sun, the sun of justice. By the light of this spiritual sun we are able to see things differently from that of the ordinary person in the world who does not follow Jesus.

Thus it has happened that in history many followers of Jesus saw things differently and did things differently. They changed history.

We have the example of the monk Telemachus who saw the evil in the gladiatorial shows of Rome while other persons enjoyed these. It is related that he tried to stop a gladiatorial fight in a Roman amphitheater, and was stoned to death by the crowd. The Christian Emperor Honorius, however, was impressed by the monk's martyrdom and it spurred him to issue a historic ban on gladiatorial fights. The last known gladiatorial fight in Rome was on 1 January 404 AD, thirteen years after Telemachus’ death.

Or take the case of slavery. From ancient times this was an accepted practice and many well-meaning persons did not see anything evil with it as long as the slaves were treated well. But Pope John VIII saw otherwise. In 873 he commanded under penalty of sin that all Christians who hold other Christians as slaves must set them free. In 1537 Pope Paul III forbade the slavery of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and any other population to be discovered, establishing their right to freedom and property. This led to movements favoring the complete abolition of slavery.

In the nineteenth century William Wilberforce campaigned for the total abolition of slavery in England and its possessions. In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the English Parliament. William Wilberforce was an Anglican Christian who was enlightened by the Sun of Justice to abolish the injustice of slavery. He worked for the abolition of slavery in England for twenty long years. He succeeded and other nations followed by outlawing slavery in their dominions.

There are many other examples of practices which were accepted by people but on being exposed to the Sun of Justice were abolished or modified. Some of these are the elevation of the dignity of women, the humanization of working conditions in factories, the acknowledgement of human freedoms, and so forth.

One of the practices which I want to be scrutinized under the light of this Sun of Justice is boxing. It is an accepted sport by almost everybody and there are many apparently good Christians who engage in it and even promote it. But lately some Christians have been asking if Jesus would favor the sport of boxing.

So far the efforts to ban boxing are mainly in the medical field. Doctors object to boxing as harmful to the human body. While some Christians do object to boxing, I have not yet found someone who objected to it on the reason that what one is boxing is the temple of God, the human body.

Here is one comment about the stand of Jesus on boxing. “Though faith is fervent among modern-day gladiators (and championed by nationally known pastors like Mark Driscoll and Ryan Dobson), make no mistake about it: One would have to be a virtuoso of self-deception to imagine that our Lord Jesus would have been in a front-row seat at the klieg-lit den of voluntary human punishment.” (Kyle Roberts in patheos.com/blogs/unsystematictheology/2015/05.)

May the day come when more and more Christians be enlightened by Jesus the Sun of Justice to see the evils in boxing and put a definite stop to it, like what happened with the gladiatorial shows in Rome.

In our lives Jesus is shining as the Sun of Justice. He shows us practices or even habits we have which do not give glory to him. He sends us his Spirit to convict us of these attitudes or activities. And if we allow him, he will burn these attitudes or activities by the heat of his rays.

In the first Reading we heard that there was one like a Son of man who received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed. This is happening now. As the light of Jesus’ face shines on our world we see more and more of ourselves and of our world and are being persuaded to give him rule over all of us, even in the area of boxing and other sports.

In the second reading Peter who was an eyewitness of the transfiguration of Jesus tells us, “You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Peter uses here a very beautiful imagery. As we look closely, attentively to Jesus, the lamp shining in a dark place, our hearts are enlightened and a morning star rises in them. The morning star is a signal that the sun is about to shine. The morning star rising in our heart is a signal that Jesus, the Sun of Justice, is about to shine in our homes, our workplace and other areas of our life.   

Let us bow our heads in prayer.

Lord Jesus, you are the Sun of Righteousness, the Sun of Justice. You shine in our hearts. Continue to enlighten us and to purify us so that like you we will also shine like the stars. Amen.

- - - - - - - - - -

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.