Thursday, February 27, 2014

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time

Sancti Estote

Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time
23rd of February, 2014

Parish of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (Rosa Road)
Rev. Michael Taylor

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
“Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel,
and thou shalt say to them: Be ye holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.[1]

            How many of you are horrified at today’s gospel? I know it horrifies me. The horrifying part is the last sentence of it, wherein Christ tells his disciples, be you perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.[2] It’s not a suggestion either. It’s a command.[3] How many of you are perfect? And yet this is the standard that Christ is giving us. As I contemplated on what that means, to be holy, as our first reading called the People of Israel to be, I kept thinking back to the words we confess every Sunday; Credo in unum, sanctam, Catholicam, apostolicam, particularly the one and holy part. There is a passage that I would like to read from the II Vatican Council, from its document on the Church, Lumen gentium:

This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism[4] and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.[5]
The Church is necessary for salvation. I remember when I heard that for the first time as a Protestant. My reaction was, “really? That group of people there? They’re the holy ones?” It seemed such huge claim to make. How could any denomination make such a claim. The way to understand that though is to at once understand both holiness and unity. If we can begin to understand the mark of holiness inherent of the Church, then we can begin to understand our own call to be holy.

Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece-1432
            First, allow me to express my indebtedness to Henri Cardinal de Lubac, whose works helped me to flesh out some of these concepts. Before setting off, we must understand what we mean by “the Church”. For we must understand that the Church is first and foremost a mystery. We cannot see her as a human invention. As de Lubac notes: the Church is not “a transcendent hypostasis which really existed before the work of Christ in the world. But neither is she a mere federation of local assemblies. Still less is she the simple gathering together of those who as individuals have accepted the Gospel and henceforward have shared their religious life, whether in accordance with a plan of their own or as the occasion demanded, or even by following the instructions of the Master. Neither is she an external organism brought into being or adopted after the event by the community of believers. It is impossible to maintain either of these two extreme theses, as it is impossible to keep them entirely separate. Yet that is the vain endeavor of most Protestant theology.” [6] The Church is a mystery because it is a part of Christ. As Saint Paul proclaims, he [Christ] is the head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold primacy.[7]
The Head
The Body

To understand the implications of this, it means that the icon of the Church has existed before all of time, because Christ himself has existed before all time.[8] Indeed, we can posit that when God said, Let us create man in our own image [9] it was the image of the Son of God, whom the Father knew would one day become Incarnate. Blessed John Ruysbroeck, a fourteenth century theologian, noted:
            “The heavenly Father created all men in his own image. His image is his Son, his eternal Wisdom…who was before all creation. It is in reference to this eternal image that we have all been created. It is to be found essentially and personally in all men…” [10]
However, because of sin, we find ourselves cast apart, and in that division we find ourselves fighting against one another, incapable of unity. The Greek word for devil is διαβαλειν (diabalein), meaning to “cast asunder.” This is ultimately what sin does. As Saint Maximus the Confessor noted on the effects of sin within a community, “and now we rend each other like wild beasts.” [11] Cyril of Alexandria noted that “Satan has broken us up” [12] as he went on to explain the need for unity within the Church. This is what the Unity of the Church comes to represent, the restoration of the unity that the human person had held before the fall. Christ’s prayer that they may be one, as Thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they may be one in us [13] looks like something concrete, a reality that is not an abstraction but has a defined appearance. It’s what the Apostle builds upon when he exhorts the Church in Ephesus, Be careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one Spirit; as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.[14] If it makes sense that there is one mediator between us and God (the Son),[15] then by logical, their ought to be one body. It’s what the Church Fathers have stressed from the beginning:
“There is but one God and Father, and one Logos (Word) the Son, and one Spirit, and one salvation only for all who believe in Him…There is but one salvation as there is but one God…There is only one Son who fulfills the will of the Father, and one only human race in which the mysteries of God are fulfilled.” [16]
This unity [17] is critical to the question of holiness because it removes from us the concept that we are merely a society of like minded individuals. Rather we are individuals are called into unity with Christ by conforming ourselves to him through his grace, and in doing that, we become holy, as he is holy. That being said, it cannot ever be held that this is an individual endeavor, but rather a movement towards union with Christ which brings us into communion with those others who also form up the one body of Christ.
Baptism makes us a part of the People of God.

            We can now shift our consideration towards the problem of when we look at the Church, we see people who are sinners. How do we reconcile that? How do we understand the call to be holy when we look at ourselves and do not see holiness? To help explain that, I offer for your contemplation a metaphor that I first came up with back in my first year of theology which has seemed to have held up over the years. Think of a lighthouse.

This will work
            Consider our lighthouse. Now, Christ is the light of the world [18] which subsists in [19] the lighthouse, which is the Church. Now Christ could leave the lighthouse if he wanted to, but he has promised to remain with it for all ages, even unto the end of the world, [20] and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it[21] (think of the sea surrounding the lighthouse). Now around the light, is the glass of a lighthouse. But it’s not just any glass, but rather a glass that has been shaped in such a way as to amplify the light coming from within the lighthouse. Consider this to be the saints. They have become so conformed to Christ, that you don’t necessarily see them but you see Christ through them. Indeed, they seem to amplify Christ, as Mary says in the Magnificat, my soul doth magnify the Lord.[22] That’s what Scripture calls the great cloud of witnesses over our head [23] which inspires to grow in holiness. Ultimately, we want to become the glass of the lighthouse.

It's so…pretty

            Consider again the lighthouse. You’ve seen the ones that are beautifully painted, perhaps white with red stripes. It’s the design which causes people to admire the lighthouse. It’s beautifully done and is a testament to the importance and esteem with which the lighthouse is held. There might be some paint chips or scuffs here or there, but for the most part there is a noble beauty to this part of the lighthouse. This part are like those Catholics who basically are good disciples of Christ. They attend mass weekly, give to the poor, forgive those who’ve wronged them, follow the Ten Commandments, and pray with sincere, humble prayer. You look at someone like that and say, “Yes, clearly this person belongs to the Church, they have many/most/all of the qualities of what the People of God should look like.”

Sometimes…the lighthouse isn't so pretty
            Consider the lighthouse again. When you get to its base, you find stones that are covered in slime, algae, barnacles, and just muck in general. How many of you have ever felt covered in muck before? Well, that’s where most of us have been at some point in our life or another. We might be struggling with hidden demons whether it be lust, anger, gossip, envy, licentiousness, gluttony or what have you. But we’re fighting the good fight. We practice our faith as best we can, we go to confession when we stumble, and we keep pressing on. This is part of the lighthouse that no one likes to see, but it’s still a part of the lighthouse. It’s why we can say that the Church belongs to both sinner and saint alike. This is the field hospital Pope Francis talked about.[24]

Sometimes we fall apart
            Now, when you look around the base of the lighthouse, you might see some stones and bricks lying around. You can tell that these pieces clearly belonged to the lighthouse at some point, but have fallen away. These are those people who might say, “I’m Catholic” but they haven’t been to mass in years. Or perhaps someone who’s living in a state of mortal sin. These are the people that often cause the greatest scandals, because they claim to be Catholic, they have the marks of having been Catholic (i.e. they’ve received baptism, first communion, confirmation etc.) but they have stopped living a Catholic life, or they’ve done something horrible, with no reconciliation. Yet it is always important to remember that just as mortar, plaster and paint can restore a fallen stone to a lighthouse, so too can God’s grace restore us to the Church.
For some reason google image search of mirror in the sand doesn't yield a lot of options

            Now, I want you to think of the beach around the lighthouse. Imagine that there are mirrors of various sizes at various distances to the lighthouse. These mirrors all reflect light…some of them brilliantly. They reflect the light so well that they can almost be mistaken for the source of light themselves, for the lighthouse itself. But they aren’t the lighthouse. That’s kind of how we view the other denominations. They all reflect Christ, some brilliantly well, and this grace which shines forth is efficacious in many ways. But they’re not the lighthouse itself. And all of these elements of grace, if they are authentic, should move all towards Catholic Unity.[25]
The Barque of Peter doesn't promise an easy ride…
…but it does guarantee the destination.

            So, now that I’ve gone at length about a great many things, what does that mean for us in our own lives? What’s the practical meaning behind all this? Well, the hope is that we begin to work our way up the lighthouse, so to speak. After all, we want to become the glass which amplifies the light into the world. We want to be holy. So how do we become holy? Three things to start with today.

I bet he's going to mention reading scripture….

            The first is, read scripture. Start with Matthew, then go to Mark, then Luke, then John and then rinse and repeat as necessary. Saint Paul said, All Scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, that the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.[26] If Christ told us to be perfect, then we need to know how. Christ started off the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes because that’s what holiness looks like. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are they that mourn, blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure of heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake.[27]  That’s what holiness looks like. The rest of the sermon is how to become holy. The beatitudes is where we’re we want to go, the rest of the sermon is how we’re going to get there. If we don’t know what’s in the sermon, then how can we get to where we want to be? It’s not about memorizing bible verses for the sake of memorizing bible verses. It’s about sitting at the feet of the Master and hearing his voice so that when we go out into the world, we can abound in true faith and good works, so that the world may glorify your Father who is in heaven.[28]
It doesn't even have to be a fancy bible…
although by all means…if you have it…use the fancy bible.

            The second bit of advice is go to confession. When I asked earlier how many of you were perfect, no one would have dared to say they were. Once you’ve learned from scripture where there’s room for improvement, then go to confession. You might be thinking, “I don’t have anything really major to confess.” But why let anything hold you back on the journey? Would a bride say of her wedding dress, “Well, it’s only a couple of black smudges?” Go to confession. If it’s been a while, don’t be afraid! Have courage and trust in Christ. As Pope Francis himself said just the other day, “If it has been a long time, don’t lose another day! Go, the priest will be good. And Jesus will be there, and Jesus better than the priests- Jesus receives you. He will receive you with so much love! Be courageous and go to confession.” [29]

See John 20.22-23
            The third bit of advice is pray. The Muslim prays five times a day. The Orthodox Jew will pray seven times a day. Saint Paul said, Pray without ceasing.[30] How many times in the day do you make time for prayer with Christ? And this isn’t about having a list where you can say to yourself, “well, check that off…I’ve prayed five times today!” But if we truly love God, then how could we possibly pass up the chance for frequent prayer? If you are wondering how to pray, turns towards the psalms. There is not a human emotion that has been felt that is not contained in those psalms. Plus, the psalms take us outside of ourselves, beyond our own concerns (not that we shouldn’t pray for those things as well). When I turn to the psalms, and it’s about someone who is sick, I might not have been thinking about sickness at all, as I have good health today. But that psalm reminds there are those who are sick, and that I should pray for them.

And now for your gratuitous monk shot…
because Carthusians are awesome…that's why

[1] Leviticus 19.1-2. Taken from the first reading of the day
[2] Matthew 5.48
[3] The Greek here provides the clarification; εσεσθε (esesthe) which is 2nd person plural, future middle indicative. The middle voice provides an interesting nuance. It is not the imperative mood as many other commandments are. The same word is used in the Septuagint’s translation of Leviticus as well as the Greek text of I Peter 1.16: Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy. The middle mood is neither active nor passive but contains elements of both. This shows the nuanced manner in which Christ offers the instruction. Of our own efforts, it would be possible to achieve perfection. So we must have God act within our lives, with men it would be impossible but with God all things are possible (Mt 19.26). So it is all God’s doing, lest any man should boast in himself (cf. Eph 2.8-9). That being said, we must cooperate with that grace, not taking it as a given, but disciplining the body, so that what has been given may not be taken away (cf. I Cor 9.27; Lk 19.26).
[4] cf. Mark 16.16 and John 3.5
[5] II Vatican Council. Lumen Gentium §14
[6] Henri de Lubac. Catholicisme: les aspects sociaux du dogme. Les Editions du Cerf. 1947. English translation as Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. Ignatius Press. 1950, p. 63
[7] Colossians 1.18
[8] Consider this exert from 2nd century work by Hermas called, The Shepherd [II vision, ch. 4] “Now a revelation was given to me my brethren, whilst I slept, by a young man of comely appearance, who said to me, “Who do you think that old woman is from whom you received the book?” “Who is it then?” say I. And he said. “It is the Church.” And I said to him, “Why then is she an old woman?” “Because,” said he, “She was created first of all. On this account is she old. And for her sake the world was made.” The footnote for de Lubac (p. 71) notes that this is the view of several “Russian Orthodox theologians, who like to see the divine Sophia spoken of by Wisdom and Ecclasiastes as a symbol of this Church. (S. Bulgakov, in Irénikon, 1931, pp. 693-694).  This is a correlation already made by Pseudo-Clement and Augustine.”
[9] Genesis 1.25-26
[10] Ruysbroeck. Mirror of Eternal Salvation. Ch. 8. And Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love, ch. 58. Quoted in de Lubac’s Catholicism, p. 30
[11] Maximus the Confessor. Quaestiones ad Thalassium, q. 2
[12] St. Cyril of Alexandria. Eskorpisen: In Ioan. Lib. 7
[13] John 17.21
[14] Ephesians 4.3-6
[15] cf. I Timothy 2.5
[16] Saint Irenaeus of Lyon (2nd century). Against Heresies. IV.6, 7; IV.9, 3. Consider the words of the II Vatican Council as affirmation of this ancient teaching, “For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the Apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God.” Unitatis Redintregratio §3 #5 [The Degree on Ecumenism] and also the Catechism of the Catholic Church §816
[17] cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church §§813-814
[18] John 8.12
[19] II Vatican Council. Lumen gentium §8: “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Savior, after his Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd (Jn 21.17), and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority (cf Mt 28.18f), which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (I Tm 3.15). This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward Catholic Unity.
[20] Matthew 28.20
[21] Matthew 16.18
[22] Luke 1.46
[23] Hebrews 12.1
[24] Pope Francis. “A Big Heart Open to God.” America Magazine.  30SEP2013
[25] cf. II Vatican Council. Unitatis Redintregratio §3 #5
[26] II Timothy 3.16-17
[27] cf. Matthew 5.1-12
[28] Matthew 5.16
[29] Pope Francis. Wednesday Audience for February 19, 2014. Accessed on the Catholic News Agency website:
[30] I Thessalonians 5.17 (WHOOOO!!! Thirty footnotes! Personal record for a homily…*bows* thank you, thank you)