Sunday, July 10, 2011

Homily for the Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Qui Habet Aures Audiendi, Audiat.[1]

Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordered Time
10th of July, 2011 Ano Domini

Parish of Corpus Christi
Round Lake, NY
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

Thus says the Lord: Just as from the heavens the rain and the snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to the one who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. [2]

            How many of you love Jesus? Now, how many of you read scripture every day? I would be so bold as to say that if you are not reading scripture regularly, than you do not know the one whom you love. Saint Jerome noted that ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ, and this is surely so. Now I know what many of you are thinking. But deacon, Catholics don’t do scripture! We leave that for the Protestants. We know this, Protestants know this, everybody knows that Catholics don’t do scripture.
            Now this is a problem. In our first reading, the prophet Isaiah writes that the Lord will send out His word and it shall not return to me void. So many times however, Protestants will come along, and start quoting chapter and verse, and Catholics will feel overwhelmed. Many will be like, well, if it’s in the bible, then it must be correct. But we should not just throw up the white flag and say “you win!” During my senior year of college at the University of Georgia, some army friends and I were about to do some grilling. A friend of mine and I needed to pick things up at the local store for the cookout. Now, we’re walking through this store, and we come across a man in his forties handing out some samples. His name tag indicates that he’s an associate manager for the store, and in the course with talking with him, it comes out that he’s a minister at a nearby non-denominational church nearby. Now, by this point I had already been accepted to the diocese to begin seminary the next year. When my friend heard that this man was a minister, she, mistakenly believing that all Christian clergy members get along with one another, said, “Oh, my friend here is about to go study to become a Catholic priest!”
            The next words out of this man’s mouth were words which I have come to dread. “Oh, I used to be Catholic.” Now at this point, I know that I’m going to be subjected to his litany of problems with the Church. So, I decide to pre-empt him. He says, “Oh, I used to be Catholic” I interrupt him and said, “that’s okay, I used to be Protestant.” This throws him off guard. People don’t become Catholic. People grow up Catholic. Then when they find out better, they become Evangelical (remember this is the South). But the man recovers and begins to challenge me on my faith, assuming that I don’t know the scriptures. So he mentions the Eucharist, to which I respond with John 6, where it says, For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.[3] He then quickly alters course and tries going on about how it’s faith alone, to which I point towards James 2, in which it says, faith without works is dead.[4] So then he tries for the trump card, the papacy. He starts going on about how the Pope is the antichrist and there is no biblical foundation for it. I ask him about Matthew 16, where Jesus gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven.[5] At this, the man says, “Oh, now. You see when Jesus said, ‘upon this rock I will build my church’ he was talking about himself. Jesus is the rock.” Now, it was for this reason that I had decided to take two years of Greek in college. I wanted to know what the actual text of the New Testament said. And I had read Matthew 16 in Greek. So I was able to tell the man, “I’m terribly sorry sir. You see, in the original text, Jesus says, συ ει Πετρος [nominative], και επι ταυτῃ πετρᾳ [dative] οικοδομησω μου την εκκλεσιαν.[6] Now any Greek scholar will tell you that when a nominative is later used alongside a dative form, that dative becomes a dative of instrument, meaning that Peter (meaning rock) is the instrument upon which Jesus will build His Church.” The man’s eyes got really big. He just looked at me as if thinking, “Oh my God! I picked the wrong Catholic to mess with! He knows his bible!” Our conversation quickly ended after that.
            You see, I didn’t become Catholic because I didn’t know the bible. I became Catholic because I did know the bible. You see, when I had started looking into the Catholic faith, I began reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You would probably be surprised to see how much scripture is quoted throughout the Catechism on all sorts of things. But when I came to looking into these things called “sacraments,” I began to notice something odd. You see, in James 5.14, it says, Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders [priests][7] of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. I looked around my church at the time, and said to myself, ‘I don’t see any priests and I don’t see any anointings.’ Then I kept reading, and in James 5.16 it says, Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. I then went and looked at John 20.22-23 where Jesus Christ himself says to the Apostles, Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained. And I looked around my church, and I didn’t see anyone confessing anything, and certainly not being forgiven of anything. And speaking of Apostles, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he speaks of bishops and deacons,[8] and I didn’t see any bishops and deacons running around. Come to think of it, in the Acts of the Apostles, it talks about the first deacons having the apostles lay hands on them,[9] as an ordination, and I didn’t see any ordinations going on. Then there is of course the whole thing about the Eucharist being the actual body and blood of Christ as mentioned in Matthew,[10] Mark,[11] Luke,[12] John,[13] I Corinthians[14] and I John,[15] and I knew we didn’t have that. Now for Protestants, the battle cry so to speak is, “we’ve got to go back to the early church. We’ve got to go back to the church of the apostles. We’ve got to go back to how it was in the bible!” Well my brothers and sisters, if you want a bible believing Church, look around! You’ve found it! Look and see the anointing of the sick and the sacrament of confession as mentioned in James and John. Look and see the bishops and deacons mentioned by Paul. Look and see the priests spoken of by Peter. Look and see the body and blood promised by Jesus Christ Himself!
            You see, this book, this bible, cannot be used against us. It is our book. We put it together! The first record of the books of the bible being composed together into one volume occurs with the Council of Rome in 382 AD.[16] Yet this is not to say that these books were randomly assigned. Saint Paul writes to Timothy saying, I know the one in whom I have believed.[17] The Church fathers looked at the various letters, gospels and writings being used in the Church at the time, and saw the one whom they knew, the Christ who was made present every time they gathered. In the second letter of Saint Peter, the Prince of the Apostles writes, First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophesy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoken from God.[18] If we believe the words of Jesus that the Holy Spirit will be with His Church,[19] then the same Holy Spirit which inspired these Sacred Scriptures is also able to inspire the Church to speak about these Scriptures.[20] Without the Sacred Scriptures, the Church has no authority, yet without the Church, the Scriptures have no meaning.[21] Without the Scriptures, the Church has no story, yet without the Church, the Scripture has no community within which life is breathed into it. The bible becomes just an ancient collection of texts.[22] We are not a people of the words of God, but of the Word of God made flesh,[23] within whom all divine revelation was pleased to dwell.[24]
            Yet there is more to be learned here, and that is found in today’s gospel. Notice what Jesus is saying. It is one thing to hear the words of God. The seed of the parable is the Word of God. It is another thing altogether to have them give life to you. Consider the parable. Jesus says, when anyone heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side.[25] Now this has two meanings. The first is for us. How many of us hear a message on any given Sunday, and then walk out, having forgotten what just happened. It would be like going to a doctor every month, but then forgetting what medicine he told you take. What good then is your going? The second meaning is for those who are not part of our faith. How many of them hear that Jesus is God,[26] that He has come to forgive sins,[27] and that Christians are to live holy lives,[28] and then that same person sees us living just like the rest of the world? That person would conclude that there is no life to this faith, and that good news that was planted there now has no ground in which to grow. Woe to us who do not show the fruits of our faith, for Jesus Himself said, whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.[29]
            The second example Jesus gives is him who received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word and immediately receiveth it with joy. Yet he hath not root in himself, but is only for a time; and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the Word, He is presently scandalized.[30] Again, there are two meanings. The first is for us. How many of you have gardens? If you spent only one hour a week on your garden, would it thrive? Then why should we expect that our faith will thrive with only one hour of prayer a week? If we would but read the scriptures, we would be prepared for the tribulations. Now, there are two reasons for all tribulations. The first is that a man has done something evil and evil begets evil, sin begets sin. It is as David says to God in I Chronicles, Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done very wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Let thy hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be against me and my father’s house; but let not the plague be upon thy people.[31] Again in the Letter to the Hebrews, it is written, For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom His father does not discipline? [32] And yet, there is another type of tribulation, that which is gained because of our faith. Did not Jesus Himself say, Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets before you.[33] If we do not know the scriptures, then when we come to a time of tribulation, we will be left wondering what has happened, what is the meaning of all this. Yet if we know that suffering will occur because of our faith, then we can say with Saint Paul, now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the, Church.[34] Now if we are assured of our faith, knowing the promises contained from Christ in His Word, why do we act as if we have no hope? Because the rest of the world looks and sees us acting with the same anxiety and despair at the experience of suffering and the approach of death. Either we are a people of hope or we are not?
            This leads to the third patch of seed, which was thrown into the patch of thorns. Jesus says, he that received the seed among thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches chocketh up the word, and he becomes fruitless.[35] How many of you have ever tried to quit smoking? Did it not seem that first week you could smell a cigarette a mile away? Or how many of you gave up chocolate for Lent and it seemed like everyone and their grandmother started offering you chocolate? That’s how temptation works, and that’s how the spiritual life works. In the first letter of Peter, Saint Peter warns, be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[36] The devil does not want you to succeed. He will throw every temptation at you. But if we know scripture, we can fight these temptations. Notice how when the devil comes to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, the only words Jesus says to him are from scripture. When the devil tries to get Jesus to turn the rocks into bread, Jesus says, No, For it is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.[37] When the devil tries to get Jesus to leap off the temple to see if God will protect Him, Jesus says, Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord thy God to the test.[38] Finally, when the devil tries to get Jesus to worship him, Jesus responds, Get away Satan! For it is written; The Lord thy God shall you worship, and Him alone shall you serve.[39]
Often time, the temptation will seem like something good. If you have a good friend whose doing something wrong, but you’re afraid if you say something you’ll lose them, so that when they ask you what you think you say, “oh, I think you’re doing the right thing.” Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.[40] Or when the kids are offered the chance to go to a weekend tournament but they’ll have to miss mass. And you’ll think, “Oh, but they’ve worked so hard. Surely once won’t matter.” Thou shalt remember the Lord’s day, and keep it holy.[41] Or if we’ve been fighting with a family member for years, for a legitimate reason, and you would rather chew broken glass than to talk to them, remember that it is written that Jesus said, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.[42]
            We must understand that to create good soil, soil which is deep enough to sustain roots of faith takes time. We need to have the scriptures wash over us, to sink into our hearts where it will dwell, to grow when the time is right. But this is hard. You don’t just crack open the bible at Genesis 1.1 and start reading. I guarantee you, you’ll hit I Chronicles with its these are their genealogies: the first-born of Ishmael, Neba’ioth; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Ked’emah. These are the sons of Ish’mael. The sons of Ketu’rah… and you’ll call it a good day ne’er to pick up the bible again. The bible is a collection of books, meant to be taken in its respective parts, each with a style and form of their own. Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes) is not the same as a history (I-II Samuel, Ruth, I-II Maccabees) which are not the same as gospels (Matthew, John) which in turn are different from letters (Romans, I Timothy, Hebrews).  So to help, there are some verses I’ve made available (to follow this post) which will help get the ball rolling. They’re some of the most important verses in scriptures, verses that help put our faith into perspective.
            Secondly, we don’t read scriptures by ourselves. Scriptures get their life from the Church and the faith community which passes along these treasures from generation to generation. My favorite gospel is John. I’m a huge nerd, and the Greek used in combination with the theological and philosophical implications are right up my alley. But in seminary, one of my classmate’s favorite gospel is Mark. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus sees a problem, and He fixes it. You’re sick, now you’re healed.[43] You’ve got sins, they’re now forgiven.[44] What’s next? What problem do you have? I got this. I would not have gotten that insight if I had not talked scriptures with a brother in faith. So let’s gather together and spend time learning the scriptures. Let us begin to study the scriptures so that when Protestants start quoting chapter and verse, we’re not afraid. Let us come to see in these words of God the Word of God made flesh.

[1] Matthew 13.9: He that has ears to hear, let him hear.
[2] Isaiah 55.10-11 [The First Reading of the Day]
[3] John 6.55
[4] James 2.24: You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
[5] Matthew 16.19
[6] Matthew 16.18
[7] In the Greek, the term is πρεσβυτερους/presbuterous which is where the Church gets the term “Presbyterate” which is the order all priests are ordained into in the Catholic Church.
[8] Cf. I Timothy 3; see also I Peter 5.1-5
[9] Acts 6.6: “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them.”
[10] Matthew 26.26-28
[11] Mark 14.22-24
[12] Luke 22.19-20
[13] John 6.53-69
[14] I Corinthians 10.16; I Corinthians 11.23-30, especially vv29-30: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
[15] I John 5.6-8
[16] Incidentally, this list contains all the books [Judith, Tobit, I-II Maccabees, Sirach, Wisdom, and Baruch] that the Protestants would later remove saying they’d be added at the Council of Florence in the 13th century, some nine centuries after they’d already been accepted by the Council Fathers as well as saints such as Jerome and Augustine.
[17] II Timothy 1.12
[18] II Peter 1.20-21
[19] Cf. John 14.16-18
[20] Council of Toledo (400 AD) §32: If anyone either believes that any scriptures, except those which the Catholic Church has received, ought to be held in authority or venerates them, let him be anathema (cursed).
[21] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §80: “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” [II Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, §9] Each of them makes present and fruitful the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with His own always, to the close of the age [Mt. 28.20].
[22] Catechism of the Catholic Church, §82: As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from Scripture alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” [II Vatican Council, Dei Verbum, §9].
[23] Cf. John 1.1-14; Cf. Pope Benedict, Address to Regensburg University, 2006.
[24] Cf. Colossians 1.17-19: He [Jesus] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; He is the beginning, the first-born of the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
[25] Matthew 13.19
[26] Cf. John 1.1
[27] Cf. John 3.16-19
[28] Cf. Leviticus 19.2; Matthew 5.48; I Peter 1.14-16
[29] Matthew 18.6
[30] Matthew 13.20-21
[31] I Chronicles 21.17
[32] Hebrews 12.6-7; cf. Judith 8.25-27
[33] Matthew 5.11-12
[34] Colossians 1.24
[35] Matthew 13.23
[36] I Peter 5.8
[37] Matthew 4.4; Deuteronomy 8.3
[38] Matthew 4.7; Deuteronomy 6.16
[39] Matthew 4.10; Deuteronomy 6.13
[40] Exodus 20.16; Deuteronomy 5.20
[41] Exodus 20.8-11 ; Deuteronomy 5.12-14
[42] Matthew 22.5
[43] Cf. Mark 5.25-30
[44]Cf. Mark 2.1-9

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