Saturday, January 30, 2016

Homily for 31 Jan 2016

31 January 2016
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

The two friends sat down opposite one another.  They were still relatively new at getting to know each other, but a line had been crossed, and so they needed to sit down and talk about it.  And the one friend said to other, “I can’t put up with this anymore.  I think you’re a good person; but you have to stop doing this.”  And the friend said, “Ok, I’ll try.”  To which the other replied, “Thank you; because the way things are now, we couldn’t be friends for very long.”  And, as it happened, the warning went unheeded.  The friendship ended.

Now, right in the middle of this story is the idea of “prophecy.”  A prophet isn’t necessarily a mystical person who sees into the future, and has all sorts of hidden knowledge of things.  Most often, a prophet is just somebody who’s able to look at a situation and interject the truth of things into that situation.  A prophet is somebody who “speaks the truth in love.”

We see that happen in this story of the two friends.  The one friend said: “The way things are now, we couldn’t be friends for very long.”  There’s a situation they’re in, and that one friend is able to see the obvious truth of things . . . that if the relationship didn’t change, it would necessarily come to an end.  Just then, that friend was a prophet to the other; speaking the truth in love.

And that’s a characteristic of all the prophets we encounter in Scripture.  There’s Jeremiah, whom we heard from today; and Isaiah and Ezekiel, Moses, Elijah and Elisha, Zechariah, and a whole bunch of them.  Jesus was a prophet; he spoke the truth in love; he could look at the situation of humanity and see where it was going.  No magic involved.  And it’s a characteristic of all prophecies that they can be accepted or rejected.      

When God sent the prophets out, he told them straightaway: Expect resistance.  The Lord said it very clearly to Jeremiah: “They will fight against you.”  And, of course, Jesus knew that his words of truth and love would be resisted.  I don’t imagine it surprised him in the least to be rejected there in the synagogue at Nazareth.  There’s always the risk of rejection and ridicule when we try “to speak the truth with love;” when we try to be a prophet.  But it’s a risk the prophet takes because he or she speaks with love.

Christ calls us to love God, and to love another.  And so, the idea of “prophecy” is just part of life for us, because love is a part of life for us—it’s the greatest thing, according to St Paul.  Sometimes, the best way to love somebody is to take the risk and speak the truth to them (and for them).  You know, if we see a friend or a loved one who’s making some poor choices in life (let’s say, with drugs), it’s prophetic of us to say, “Hey, if you keep doing drugs, you’re going to fry your brain or end up dead—I’m just telling you (because I care about you).” 

Or, say somebody is being a grouch at work, and it’s affecting others, it’s prophetic of us to say, “You know, I see you’re grouchy all the time—what’s up?”  They may not even know it.  But a little bit of prophetic truth and love might snap them out of it.  Of course, the flip side of being a prophet for others, is to let others be a prophet to us.  And that’s maybe just as a hard as speaking the truth with love, because hearing the truth with humility isn’t something that’s easy.

You know, in the Church, there are dwindling numbers of priests.  And there dwindling numbers of parishioners.  Things are kind of on a downward trend.  And that’s just the truth of the situation.  And that prophetic word is hard to hear.  It’s hard to hear.  But it’s spoken with love so that the Christian people will wake up and realize that a new course must be taken.  Prophecy nudges us (and even pushes us) onto another path.

But there’s always the question: “Who do you listen to?”  There are prophets all around us, on the internet, in the news, in politics, in the Church who are trying to “read the signs of the times” and offer direction.  “Who do you listen to?”  That’s always a good question.

Now, I’ve always found libraries to be neat places.  And one day when I was going into the library, it hit me that: I don’t have to agree with everything that’s in these books.  And that sounds so obvious, but it was like a revelation at the time.  Not everything in a book (not everything on the internet) was necessarily true.  And that just opened the world up; of course, it made things more confusing, too, because I had to answer that question: “Who do you listen to?  Who has the truth?  Who is really speaking prophetic words?”

And to help with that, it’s important to have teachers in our life; people we really trust—because they’re good, loving, honest, humble.  Even as adults, we need teachers.  Hopefully, you can trust the Church to be a teacher about who’s a good person to listen to, and who’s maybe not the best person to listen to.

Besides that, check other people out.  If you hear a politician say something that sounds prophetic, see what his or her background is.  Are they qualified to make such a statement about “the signs of the times?”  Do they genuinely have the best interests of the common good at heart?  Are they humble?  Are they themselves open to correction?  If somebody’s trying to be a prophet to you, check ‘em out.

But, of course, that also requires us to do our homework.  Now, this is the start of Catholic Schools Week, and one of the tools we’re hopefully teaching ourselves and our youth is the skill of critical thinking.  For example, study history; look at the big over-arching themes and movements of ages past, and see if history is repeating itself today.  If it is, then we can interject some truth where maybe there needs to be some.

Study logic.  Learn about the ways arguments are formed, and what (objectively) makes for a solid argument, and what makes for shaky arguments.  Some truths people might try to sell us look good.  But if we see their argument is full of holes, the whole thing falls apart—that’s a clue: “Don’t listen to that person.”

Study human nature.  You know, it’s one thing to see the truth about something.  And it’s another to prophesy that truth to someone with love.  Study human nature to see how people react when something they don’t want to hear is brought to their attention.  It helps when you’re trying to be a prophet to someone else with love.

There’s no quick answer (that I know of) to that question: “Who do you listen to?  Or which prophets in the world should I pay attention to?”  There’s no one-size-fits-all answer.  But, as I said, it’s important to have a teacher we can trust.  And we have that in the person of Jesus Christ.

Even though the Jews there in the synagogue couldn’t appreciate the prophetic word of Jesus, hopefully we can.  After all, he speaks the truth to us with love.  We know that in faith.  He and we are, perhaps, like those two friends sitting across from one another.  A prophetic word is spoken in love.  But will we listen?  Will we listen . . . and respond?  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Homily for 30 Jan 2016

30 January 2016

Catholics have a long history of learning.  We’re usually pretty good students of Jesus: learning about morality and social justice, what’s right and what’s wrong, keeping track of the Ten Commandments and just generally trying to figure out how to live a good Christian life.  And, in that respect, we’re very much like the disciples in the boat with Jesus.

The boat starts to rock on the sea, while Jesus is sleeping there.  And they say, “Teacher!”  Teacher!  And our lives start to rock a little bit, and Jesus seems far away.  And we say the same thing: “Teacher!”  After all, we want to know how to overcome the storms in our life.  We try to wrestle life with knowledge.  And, certainly, that’s an important tool.

But Jesus is trying to teach his disciples (and that includes us) that most basic tool of the Christian life—and that is . . . faith.  Not faith in the head, not even faith in the heart.  But living faith in the here and now; no matter what’s happening.  And that’s a hard lesson to learn, because we’re always trying to be “awake” in the boat; we’re always trying to be alert to the ups and downs of life.

Instead, Jesus asks us to see him not only as our Teacher, but as our Divine Cushion.  And he says: Don’t worry . . . just come and rest with me.  Have faith in me . . . come, and rest. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Homily for 29 Jan 2016

29 January 2016

Psalm 51 is an honest psalm: “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness . . . I have done such evil in your sight.”  And what else would we feel in our heart but that one line: “Turn away your face from my sins” . . . turn away, don’t look!  I’m too ashamed; I’m too embarrassed of my mistakes.

But, of course, that was part of David’s problem after he committed adultery; he didn’t want his sin to be known.  He kept it from the Lord.  And so, it only compounded and got worse . . . kind of like a sliver that gets in your finger—a sliver that hurts too much to pull out, and so just leave it there.

But, to that situation, Jesus says: “Pull the splinter out, even if it hurts.  Get it out so you can heal.”  And that’s what he tells us when it comes to our sins.  He says, “Let me see what you’ve done.  Tell me what you’ve done.”  Of course, what we want to say is: “Turn away your face from my sins, Lord . . . turn away, don’t look!”  But Jesus, like the loving person he is, will keep on saying: “Let me see.”

And then there, when we open ourselves to the Lord and just tell him whatever’s weighing on our hearts and mind—there, in that intimate sharing and trust between two friends, life is renewed.  Integrity of spirit is renewed.  Peace of mind and joy in the soul are refreshed.

All because we said: “Lord, look what I’ve done.  Lookit!  Have mercy on me Lord, have mercy.”  And he does.  Thanks be to God, he does.          

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Homily for 28 Jan 2016

28 January 2016

God’s voice is like a whisper.  You’d think it would be loud and brilliant—all that glorious truth and wisdom and love God has to share.  But, no.  God’s voice is like . . . a whisper.

And Jesus says (again): “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”  And those “ears for hearing” don’t happen by accident.  It takes practice to catch the whisper of God and then hold it in our minds and hearts.  Kind of like blowing bubbles and trying to catch one of them on your finger . . . it takes practice, patience, and a gentle touch.

Now, St Thomas Aquinas wrote volumes and volumes of books and other theological writings in the 13th Century.  His output was enormous.  And his work had a very great impact on the mind of the Church.  But all that writing, all that thinking about what is true and good and beautiful began always in the quiet of prayer.

Today, of course, it’s not a terribly popular thing to be still, to be quiet—even in the Church.  And daily life can make it near impossible.  But if we want to really hear God and follow him, we have to make some time in our life to be quiet with him.  And that’s because God’s voice is like a whisper.  And quietness of mind and heart give us those “ears to hear” that all-important whisper of God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Homily for 27 Jan 2016

27 January 2016

This doesn’t sound like the Jesus we know and love . . . He sounds kind of exclusive here, talking about people “in the know” and other people being on the “outside.”  And not only that, he says he speaks in parables “so that [the outsiders] may not be converted and be forgiven.”  Whatever happened to: “Jesus loves you”?

Of course, Jesus the Lord of Love and Prince of Peace is still there.  Jesus does love us and everybody.  And yet, he throws a curve-ball in here: why would Jesus make it difficult—if not impossible—for some people to know and enter the Kingdom of God?  That just doesn’t sound like Jesus.  But, in another sense, it’s exactly what Jesus would say.

After all, he speaks in parables.  And this is a parable within a parable: the “Parable of the Outsiders” (let’s call it) hidden within the “Parable of the Sower and the Seed.”  And the Parable of the Sower and the Seed gives us the answer to our questions why Jesus talks about “outsiders” and why he speaks in riddles “so that they may not be converted and be forgiven.”

The “outsiders” are those whose hearts and souls are like “ground choked by thorns.”  “Worldly anxiety, the lure of riches, and the craving for other things” makes Jesus and the Kingdom foreign to them.  And so, whatever Jesus says to them is going to sound like a riddle to their ears.  Jesus says: “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”  Well, the “outsiders” don’t have the ears . . . they refuse to listen to Jesus, and so they put themselves “on the outside.”

And we might object (or others might) and say that Jesus would still welcome them, and not work to keep them out.  And, no doubt, that’s true.  Jesus calls everybody to himself.  But he and the Kingdom have to be freely accepted and sought after—with all humility, trust, and faith in Christ.  There’s no other way to enter the Kingdom, and God will not compromise the very nature of the Kingdom . . . even if it means that those whose hearts and minds are filled with thorns and rocks are left . . . unconverted and unforgiven.

God will not compromise on his expectations of humanity—the expectation to love God and love our neighbor; the expectation to meet him with the same humility, love and faith he shows us.  Our God expects good things from us—for his glory and for our good.  Jesus will never compromise on whatever is for the good for his people.  And that sounds like the Jesus we know and love; the Jesus who speaks words of wisdom, and leaves the choice to follow him . . . up to us.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Homily for 26 Jan 2016

26 January 2016

God makes himself known through the community; there isn’t any one person who can say, “I have it all figured out!  I know the Will of God!”  God doesn’t work that way.  And that’s a unique and beautiful aspect of the Judeo-Christian faith. 

We have all the prophets of the Old Testament, all the Patriarchs, a succession of Judges and Kings.  Even Moses had Aaron and Joshua by his side; he didn’t go it alone.  Of course, we have the Twelve Apostles, Mary and Joseph, and those first leaders of the infant Church who were appointed by the Apostles—among them, Timothy and Titus, whom we celebrate today.

God works through the community of believers, and through the generations of believers and converts to the faith.  St Paul praises the faith of Timothy’s mother and grandmother.  And he calls Timothy and Titus his “children” in the faith; the revelation of Jesus Christ was passed on through Paul, through Timothy and Titus, and onto all the future generations of Christ’s disciples, up to the present day.

And just think of all the spiritual writers and examples through the centuries: St Theresa of Avila, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, St Francis, St Benedict . . . and even more contemporary examples: Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, the Second Vatican Council, bishops, priests, deacons, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

God reveals himself through the community (and we could extend that community to include the whole of Creation).  Our spiritual life isn’t just: “God and me.”  It’s always: “God and me, God and us.”  We always try to live as brothers and sisters in Christ, for our own sake and for the generations to come.

Thanks be to God for the Church, for the community of believers.  Because through it, our God comes to us, and we come to know God.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Homily for 24 Jan 2016

24 January 2016
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

For a little over a century now, there’s been a push in the Church toward “active participation.”  We first hear that phrase in 1903 with Saint Pius X.  And it’s been repeated by every pope ever since, especially Pius XII in 1947, and also the Second Vatican Council in 1963.  And this call for “active participation” has something to do with this very familiar image St Paul gives us: the Church—the community of the faithful—as “many parts of the one body.”

What Pius X saw was a bunch of people gathered for worship, but they didn’t worship or live or act as a “body.”  Everybody was doing their own thing.  The clergy were doing their thing; the laity were doing their thing; and there wasn’t a lot of conscious attention given by either of them to what they were doing.  Pius XII characterized the people in the pew as “unthinking, silent spectators.”  That’s not who they were supposed to be; it’s who they were in reality.  The functioning of all the “many parts of the one body” of the faithful just wasn’t there.

And so, with the Second Vatican Council, we hear (again) the idea that all the faithful are called to “fully conscious and active participation.”  And we could talk for days about exactly what that means, but in the context of St Paul’s letter today, we might say that “fully conscious and active participation” means: “each doing his or her own part as members of the one Body of the Faithful;” each doing his or her own part as citizens of an intentional society of Christians.

There are a lot of parallels we can make, of course, between the idea of a “body” and the idea of a “society,” or “civilization.”  At some point in our schooling, we learn about all the parts of a body: the head, the heart, the bones, the muscles—and how they all work together as one.  They have a common goal in mind, and they each affect the other.  The human body is a “system,” or rather, it’s a “system of systems.”  It’s very complex in how it all works together.

But we can say the same about a society or a civilization.  If we look at any city, what do we have?  The Mayor, the City Council, laws and regulations, public works departments, business districts, residential districts, infrastructure, people, tradition and customs, history . . . a lot of parts in that one city.  Of course, a city is also a “system of systems;” it’s a “society of many societies.” 

We, as the “many parts of the one body” of the faithful, are like a city; we’re like a society.  We have our leaders: Jesus, Mary, the whole body of the angels and saints.  We have laws and regulations and teachings: Canon Law, the Catechism, our Liturgical Rites, the words of Scripture.  And there’s the local districts (the diocese) and neighborhoods (parishes) within that diocese.  We have our traditions, customs, values, beliefs, and practices.  And, most importantly, we have the one Holy Spirit who binds everybody together under a common vision of salvation, and the bonds of peace and charity.

And that’s a beautiful thing—this “body” we’re each a part of; this “society of Christians” that we each have a role to play in.  Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way.  Some of us are more-or-less “actively participating” in the life of this sacred body.  And the reasons are many: here’s some reasons why there might be less participation:

Perhaps, there’s the impression that God has failed them in some way.  Or maybe there are problems with the Church herself: the community itself can be a reason to pull away.  You know, there can be issues with others’ personalities, issues with Church teachings, poor preaching, poor pastoral care . . . all sorts of reasons why the body of the faithful itself can be a deterrent to “fully conscious and active participation.”

One reason for less participation in the body of the faithful that I find especially interesting is the tension between “mystery” and “familiarity.”  If the image of the Church and God and humanity is so esoteric and mysterious, so as to be totally foreign, well, that’s a reason to not be an active member of the body.  On the flip side, if the image of the Church and God and humanity is so ordinary and everyday, so as to be too familiar, well, that’s also a reason not to be an active member of the body—there’s no challenge; it’s just another gathering of people of Sunday . . . which we could easily do at the mall or somewhere else where it’s more fun and interesting.

There are a lot of reasons why we might be less than “consciously and actively participating” as members of the “one body.”  And those are things we can each wonder about for ourselves.  But two other reasons are especially important, and they’re reasons which we have a lot of control over.

The first is that, you know, we don’t live in monasteries.  We don’t live in physical communities where everybody’s basically on the same page, and we’re all moving together toward a common vision of humanity.  That’s not how we live . . . here in the parish.   We live out in the world; we’re scattered around, and we’re exposed to a lot of other bodies, other cultures, other value systems and other ways of thinking and believing.

Ever since about the 16th Century, people have begun to question the very idea of religion.  One philosophy (which is still very much alive today) is Rationalism.  And it says that religion is just a human concept; that there is no foundation in truth.  In other words, “There is no God.  Don’t waste your time.”  I encountered that in college.  There was a room of a couple hundred students and the professor said: “When it comes to Christianity, don’t get suckered by it.”  Of course, I’m sure we all know skeptics who try to undercut our Catholic values and principles and customs—and that affects us; we don’t live in a bubble, after all.

But we have some control with that.  What we let into our minds and our hearts is up to us.  We have a choice to say: “Yea, this other person is right and the Church, the body of the faithful is wrong.”  We could say that.   But then we probably shouldn’t be professing faith in the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”  Our faith in the Church—our faith in the community of believers—means that we live in the world, but always as a “conscious and active” member of that community.    

And a second reason for us to be less-than active is that all that we do as a part of the community of the faithful is done in response to an encounter with God.  Our Christian life, our worship is a response.  Of course, if we haven’t encountered God (at least, knowingly), what is there to respond to?  That’s a reason why some might pull away from the body: they’re not connected to the heart of the body, Jesus Christ.

And here’s where the wisdom of the Prophet Nehemiah comes in.  He says: “Rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!”  That’s our source of eternal health and vitality as the Body of the Faithful.  And not just in the fact that there is a Lord, but in our personal response to him.  You know, our relationship with Jesus—our trust in him, our faith and hope in him, our love for him—it isn’t just a nice thing to have.  It’s the thing we all have in common . . . it’s the glue, it’s the mortar in between the bricks, it’s what makes us the many parts of the one living body of the faithful.

And, ultimately, that’s what Pius X and Pius XII and the Second Vatican Council were talking about when they renewed that call from Christ to be “fully conscious and actively participating.”  To be aware of God; to actively love the Lord in heart, mind, and body; and to participate as a living member of God’s body at work on earth.  The popes were right: it isn’t enough to be an “unthinking, silent spectator.”  We’re called to something more; we’re called—each of us—to be one of those many parts of the one, living Body—the Body of believers . . . here and in the world.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Homily for 22 Jan 2016

22 January 2016

Sometimes you have to step back and see the big picture.  All this week we’ve seen in Scripture that God is at work, gradually shifting the lives and the fortunes of his people.

King Saul—disobedient, obstinate, and even selfish—has been replaced by King David, a king from whom would come the Messiah.  And the Pharisees and scribes who were trying to trip Jesus up at the start of the week have been replaced by the Apostles.

The bad have been replaced by the better.  And it was all the work of God who cares for the welfare of his people.  But we won’t see this if we don’t step back and take in the big picture.  However, the Word invites us to do just that . . . to see how God is changing our lives and fortunes—maybe not day-to-day, but in the course of months, in the course of years.

It takes a lot of time, faith, and hope to change the course of human lives.  Rest assured, though, God is always at work, steering the ship, leading us to a better life with him and one another.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Homily for 21 Jan 2016

21 January 2016

The crowds loved Jesus; they followed him everywhere, it seems.  And Jonathan was very much devoted to David; he was David’s most faithful companion.  But, whereas the crowds were really focused on what Jesus could do for them, Jonathan was interested in what he could do for David.

Of course, it’s good to rely on the Lord; it’s good and it’s necessary.  But something in our relationship with the Lord changes when we can say to him: “How can I help you?  What can I do for you?”  And that’s the question Jonathan was always wondering about when it came to David.

As much as Jesus is God and he is there for us, he still needs our help to see his mission accomplished.  We might not be called on to shed our blood, like St Agnes and all the martyrs.  But there’s something each of us can do to show our devotion to Christ and his mission.  Maybe it’s giving some canned goods to the food pantry.  Maybe it’s reaching out to a fellow parishioner and saying “hello,” just to let them know that they matter.  Maybe it’s by being quiet and not gossiping.

We can and we should go to Jesus when we’re in need.  But, today, perhaps we can deepen our relationship with him even more, by saying: “Lord, what can I do for you?  What do you need from me?”       

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Homily for 20 Jan 2016

20 January 2016

Young David is right: “The battle is the Lord’s.”  As we struggle to proclaim the gospel and to reconnect humanity with its God, it’s good to repeat the wisdom of David: The battle is the Lord’s.  And it’s a battle the Lord does not shy away from.

He didn’t tiptoe around the Pharisees.  He went right up to them, and did good things right in front of them in order to test their hearts.  He never did (and never does) shrink from the worthy fight.  And the struggle to transform culture from the inside out is a worthy one.

As we Catholics go up against commercialism, consumerism, atheism . . . all those “isms” that infect our culture, we remember that the battle is the Lord’s.  He alone is our strength, our rock, our inspiration.

With him by our side—or, rather, with us by his side—we needn’t fear the Goliaths of our time.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Homily for 19 Jan 2016

19 January 2016

Appearances can be deceiving.  They aren’t always; they don’t have to be; but often times they can be.  And so, it’s important to dig deeper—to use our heads and our hearts as we go through life. 

Now, today, we heard that young David was “ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.”  But, you know, the king (Saul) whom David replaced had also been described as “handsome.”  It was said that: “There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul; he stood head and shoulders above the people.” 

But appearances can be deceiving.  Even though he was attractive, King Saul was a terrible leader; he was bad for the people.  And so, when David came along and people said, “Oh, he’s handsome,” God said: “Don’t judge him on his appearance.”  God chose David because of who and what David was in his soul.

And this little story about the shift of power from King Saul to King David is important.  And it’s important to us because we’ll have people leading us throughout our whole life; the question is: Who do we follow?  Who are the people we look to as an example?  Who do we hold up as our heroes, our champions, our mentors and teachers? 

Now, with some people we simply have faith that they’re an okay person to follow: you know, our teachers in school, our pastors, the bishops, the pope, our parents, doctors.  But with a lot of people we have to stop and think: Should I be listening to this person?  Is he or she a good example?  Is this person good for me, or is this person bad for me?

And to answer those questions, we have to look more deeply . . . because appearances can be deceiving.  Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust others; on the contrary.  But it does mean we should live life intelligently, using our mind and our heart.  We’re always going to have examples and leaders and mentors in life: and we need to follow them with trust and with intelligence, looking deeply to see who they are . . . because we’re going to become like them.

Jesus’ disciples followed him because they saw that he was (and is) a genuine person.  He has a genuine heart of mercy, and he’s always interested in the good of others—in our good.  There’s nothing but truth and goodness and beauty in him.  That’s why they followed him: to be like him.  They knew they would be like their teacher.  And so, when we choose our leaders, our examples and heroes, God reminds us to look deeply . . . because appearances can be deceiving. 

Homily for 18 Jan 2016

18 January 2016

There’s something appealing about a fresh start.  Just imagine if you could wake up tomorrow without any resentments, without any lingering hurts from the past, without any negative influences in life.  That sounds pretty good—to completely forget about the mistakes we’ve made and just get on with living life.  The vision of a fresh start is appealing.  And yet, it seems like such an impossibility.

After all, we have very good memories; we remember the stupid things we’ve done or said.  We remember how we’ve hurt others and how they’ve hurt us.  We remember all those friendships that went sour.  We’re still under the bad influences of others; we still have our destructive habits.  In spite of our desire for a fresh start, we can’t help but hang onto the sins of the past.

Now, God had ordered the complete destruction of the Amalekites: all their men, women, children, animals, crops . . . everything.  God had said (in effect): “Get rid of the Amalekites—get rid of everything having to do with them; they’re nothing but a bad influence on you, my people.  Make a fresh start for yourself, Israel.”  But Saul said: “Ok, but there’s good stuff here we can use.  I mean, the Amalekites’ animals are good for sacrifice (we can save our own animals), and I can keep their king as a war trophy.”

In a symbolic sort of way, Saul was saying there’s some value to sin.  Of course, that’s a way of thinking he picked up (maybe) through the generations of Amalekites influencing God’s people.  As much as Saul fought to destroy sin, he couldn’t completely separate himself from sin.  He was supposed to bring about a fresh start for God’s people, but he couldn’t.  His habits of thought, like “old wineskins,” just couldn’t hold the “new wine” of a fresh start in God.

And we can relate.  Sometimes it feels good to nurture self-pity.  Sometimes we can’t help but ruminate about things we’ve said or done.  Sometimes we can look at the troubles of our past and say: “There’s some stuff here I can use.  There’re some things I don’t want to get rid of.”  And yet, how much do we want that fresh start. 

All this week in Scripture, we hear about the drama of a shift in power.  The shift from sin to virtue; from the letter of the law to the spirit of the law; from worn out habits to new and fresh habits . . . a shift away from letting the sins of the past have power over us, and a shift toward letting the vision of a fresh start have power over us.  We’ll always have our memories, both the good and the bad.

But Jesus comes to us to remind us of our foundation and to call us to our future.  We began in the Garden of Eden, and we’re called to life with the Bridegroom of Heaven.  May that vision of a fresh start in Christ be our strength and our joy—today and forever.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Homily for 17 Jan 2016

17 January 2016
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

There’s more happening here in the gospel than a magic trick.  There’s more going on than Jesus simply turning water into wine.  As we heard, he did this to “reveal his glory;” that’s what’s happening.  Jesus revealed his “glory.”  And that’s great, but what in the world does that mean?

You know, we use the word “glory” all the time.  There’s the obvious: “Glory to God in the highest.”  “We glorify you; we give you thanks for your great glory.”  There’s the Glory Be: “Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  And before the Gospel, we make the Sign of the Cross and say: “Glory to you, O Lord.”  And we sing: “Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”  Glory, glory, glory!  We heard it in the gospel today: Jesus revealed his glory.

Of course, we use it in everyday life, too.  You know, we might talk about the “glory days:” the glory days of the Packers, the glory days of youth, the glory days of the parish.  We use the word “glory” a lot, and we do have some sense of what it means.  It’s something good.  It’s something brilliant and full.  It’s something full of life; something at the height of greatness

When Jesus turned water into wine at that wedding feast, he revealed his glory.  But, you know, there was no flash of brilliance.  There was no show of majesty and splendor.  It just happened that, sometime when it was being moved, the water became wine.  That’s all.  And so, maybe our understanding of “glory” is . . . inadequate.

Now, in the Gospel of John—and this is very important—in the Gospel of John, the high point is not the Resurrection.  The high point is the crucifixion and the death of Jesus.  That’s the pinnacle; that’s where the glory of God is most revealed to us.  And so, our definition of “glory” needs to be broadened; because something else is at work there in the crucifixion besides “brilliance and illumination,” “splendor and wonder.”

Maybe “glory” is more like: The revelation (or appearance) of something as it is in its true (and complete) form.  The revelation (or appearance) of something as it is in its true (and complete) form.  You know, when we talk about “growing up” and “maturing,” sometimes we say that we’re “coming into our own;” we’re becoming who and what we were created to be.  Or, we might say that somebody is “showing their true colors;” you know, that somebody’s true self is being revealed. 

“Glory” isn’t necessarily “brilliance and splendor.”  It’s more like: The revelation (or appearance) of something as it is in its true (and complete) form—regardless of how it looks to us.  At least, that’s what the Gospel of John is (maybe) asking us to consider as a definition of “glory.”  Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding banquet as a revelation of his glory.  The crucifixion is the high point of the revelation of God’s glory.

St John is trying to get us to see God’s glory as “an abundance of giving;” “a super-abundance of giving.”  The very fact of that is the “glory of God;” that’s who God is revealed to be; “showing his true colors,” “coming into his own” there on the Cross, there at the wedding in Cana.  Good wine in abundance; love in abundance; sacrifice in abundance; life in abundance.  The overflowing abundance of God’s giving is his glory.  It’s who he is in his true and complete form. 

But, you know, that’s who God is.  The question is: Who are we? . . . because whoever and whatever we are, that’s the way we give glory back to God.  In his letter to the Romans, St Paul says: “The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared to the glory that is be revealed in us. . . . All of creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the children of God.”  There’s something in us that has the potential to be glorious.  And that something is what St Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians today.

“There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit; . . . to each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.”  We could easily say the same thing about every aspect of creation.  A tulip is created to be what it is.  The sun is created to be what it is.  The rain and the snow are created to be what they are.  And they give glory to God by being fully and completely what they are. 

Again, what is “glory?”  It’s the revelation (or appearance) of something as it is in its true (and complete) form.  If you want to see something glorious, go outside in the Spring and admire a tulip for what it is.  Go and admire the sun for what it is, or the moon, or a river.  Go and watch how the squirrels gather up nuts before Winter.  They just are what they are—fully and completely.  And because of that, they’re all glorious.

But, you know, the tulip and the sun and the squirrels—they all have a lifespan.  They’re born and they die; it’s part and parcel of what they are.  And so, after you admire the blossom of the tulip, come back and admire those brown, dried up stems and leaves that are left behind.  When you come upon a dead squirrel, go ahead and see it for what it is—because death is just as much a part of that squirrel’s glory as is its running around, collecting nuts. 

“Glory” is about the revelation of the “whole package.”  And that’s where our glory is found.  You know, we sing: “Glory to God in the highest,” or “Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” or the priest says: “Through him, with him, and in him, O God almighty Father, all glory and honor is yours . . .”  But here, we’re not talking about God’s glory; we’re talking about our glory. 

“Give God the glory!”  What glory?  Well, the glory of the human person being fully alive.  Whatever gifts and talents God has given each of us, they are (as St Paul says): “Given for some benefit.”  And the benefit they’re given for is . . . glory. 

If you have the gift of, say, critical thinking . . . then use it.  If you’re good in math, then do it.  If have a talent for advertising . . . then use it.  Music, art, athleticism, woodworking, creativity—use those gifts.  Some people are good at listening, or praying, or reading . . . the possibilities are endless.  The gifts from God are endless.  And it doesn’t matter if somebody else thinks they’re worth anything . . . they’re worth something to God and they’re worth something to people who know you.

And by being fully and completely who and what we are—male, female, tall, short, skinny, “fluffy,” loud, quiet, whatever . . . by being fully and completely who and what we are, we give glory to God . . . just like that tulip, or the sun or the moon, or that squirrel.

And don’t forget about the “glory of death.”  You know, in our humanness, we’re born, we grow up, we learn, we mature, we forget things, we grow older, we die, and we fall into the arms of God and all the angels and saints.  All it from—from birth to death to resurrection—all of it (the “whole package”) is who we are . . . it’s all part of the glory we give to God.

And it’s what we bring here to Mass.  God’s true self is revealed to us on the Cross, on the Altar.  And our true self is shared with him in the life we live, and in the prayers we make.  May we live a life of truth and fullness—a life of glory, and then come here to give our true selvesour glory—to God.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

Homily for 16 Jan 2016

16 January 2016

Part of the “good news” of the Lord is that he'll work with the decisions we make.  Even if we don’t make the best decisions and get ourselves lost, God will still make the best of it.

Yesterday, we saw how the Israelites wanted a king.  They loved God, but they wanted an earthly king.  And so we hear today that God gave them a king; he gave them Saul.  And he seems to have been a good choice: “There was no other child of Israel more handsome than Saul; he stood head and shoulders above the people.”  And Saul did many good things for the nation.

Even though God would’ve preferred that his people just let he himself be their king, he nonetheless gave them a decent king, according to their wishes.  Of course, Saul eventually failed the people.  And every earthly king that followed him failed in some way.  But it was the best God could do, working with what his people wanted.

The Lord will work with the decisions we make in life.  He’ll always be trying to make it turn out the best for us.  And that is good news, because we’re all sinners.  We make good decisions in life, and we make bad ones.  But, regardless, the Lord has our back.

After all, he is the Good Shepherd who never leaves his flock.  He makes the best of our wandering ways.  He works with the decisions we make in order to lead us home.  And thanks be to God for that good news.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Homily for 15 Jan 2016

15 January 2016

It isn’t that they didn’t love and adore God; they did.  It’s just that they wanted to have a king . . . like every other nation.  It was great that God was with them . . . but they had other needs, too—those Israelites.  And it’s something we can relate to.

I’ve often heard it said that the perfect parish priest would be “Jesus with an MBA.”  It’s great that Jesus is with us . . . but we have other needs, too, you know—living in the world we live in.  Not just in the parish, but in our everyday lives, too.  We have to be realistic about things, and we want to be successful, too, in what we’re doing here.  So, it isn’t enough to be holy; we have to be able to play the game.  Jesus isn’t enough; we need Jesus . . . but with an MBA.

And, to that, God simply says what he told Samuel: “Grant the people’s every request.”  Of course, he’s doing what many parents do . . . he’s just letting the kids see how far their plans take them.  God knows it’s not going to turn out well when we think that he himself isn’t enough.  He also knows we need to find that out for ourselves.

“Grant the people’s every request,” God says.  In the meantime, he simply waits for his people to realize that we don’t need “Jesus with an MBA;” we don’t need the latest and greatest thing; we just need . . . Jesus.  Of course, it takes faith to believe it.  And it takes courage to say: “You are enough, God.  You are enough.”       

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Homily for 14 Jan 2016

14 January 2016

“If” is such a little word, but in a life of faith, it’s pretty important.  We heard how the Israelites had the ark of the Lord—the “power of God”—right there in their hands.  But instead of asking Yahweh how to deal with the Philistines, they just took the ark into battle; perhaps, over-confident that God’s will was the same as theirs.  They didn’t think about that little word: “if.”

But we do hear it on the lips of the man with leprosy: “If you wish, you can make me clean,” he said to Jesus.  “If you wish;” if you will it, Lord.  Jesus is very much like the ark—he is the vessel of the “power of God;” certainly not someone to be ordered around as though we were the Lord.  And so, the word “if” is very important when we call upon the power of God.

God’s going to do what God’s going to do.  As much as we want him to be on our side; it’s more important to be on his side.  You know, it’s fine and good to say: “Lord, I need help with this; Lord, would you come with your power and heal this disease or illness; Lord, can you do this or that for me?”  We should tell Jesus what our needs and our desires are.  But, our prayers always have to be made in the spirit of that little word, “if.” 

If it is your will, Lord.”  And that can be a hard word to say, but it’s the right word to say.  And that’s because the power of God we’re asking for is just that—it’s powerful.  We want to leave it in the hands of somebody who’ll use it wisely and well.  And that somebody is the Lord.

Of course, we don’t have to worry about not being in control; God’s power is in good hands.  If we just remember that little word, “if.”  If you wish, you can make us clean.  And, as we know, he does will it.  So let him take care of it, and we’ll be living a life of faith.    

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Homily for 13 Jan 2016

13 January 2016

There’s something wonderful about winter—when it snows everything gets really quiet outside, especially at night.  Whether you’re just taking the dog out, or going for a little walk from here to there, it can seem like it’s just you and the stars (especially on these clear nights we’ve been having).  

Maybe that’s why Jesus got up “very early before dawn” and went “to a deserted place, where he prayed.”  As much as he loved the people and his disciples, he needed time away to just be with his Father.  And there, in the quiet of the darkness, he could more easily hear the Father speak with him.  Maybe that’s why Samuel could hear the Lord speak to him, too.  After all, he was spending his nights sleeping there in the temple; just he and the Lord.

Wonderful things can happen in those times of quiet.  Somehow, God seems to be closer.  His calling to us (when we hear it) seems to be more intimate and personal.  As we continue on here in winter, and the snow makes everything a little quieter, maybe it’s a good time to be quiet with the Lord; alone with him, just listening, just being in his presence.  Who knows what God may want to tell you, there in the dark, there in the quiet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Homily for 12 Jan 2016

12 Jan 2016

It has all the makings of a good movie: a desperate woman at her wits’ end, pleading for help from the mysterious unseen world of spirits; and a man caught in the middle of this world and the invisible world of demons.  Of course, we don’t have to wait to see this unfold in a movie; the drama is right here in Scripture, and it’s in our lives, too:

Maybe somebody in the family is going through some tough times.  Maybe it’s a physical or mental illness.  Maybe there’s a financial strain.  Maybe there’s an addiction somebody’s dealing with.  And what do we but turn for help from that “other world;” the realm of the angels and the saints, and God. 

We see how Hannah prayed.  She invited the unseen and mysterious life of God into her life.  And, even though others thought she was drunk and even crazy for her belief, she kept up her prayers.  And her prayers were answered; the divine life of God mingled with her human life and she gave birth to her son, Samuel. 

Of course, the invisible world of angels and demons can also impact us negatively, as we see in the man possessed by an “unclean spirit.”  But, there again, help came also from that invisible world, through the mysterious and more powerful working of God through Christ.

If we only got one thing out of the Christmas season, it’s the reminder that there is an unseen world: after all, the invisible Word of God became visible flesh.  And in that invisible world of angels and saints and God and divinity, we have a tremendous help in our life here on earth.  Why leave it untapped?   Prayer matters.  Faith and belief matter.  They do make a difference.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What Did Mary Know and When Did She Know It?

Posted by Steven D. Greydanus on Thursday Dec 24th, 2015 at 12:52 PM
Your ultimate resource on the “Mary, Did You Know?” controversy!

[Original text by Greydanus in black.  Feedback and response in blue.]

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

’Tis the season of social media memes of Saint Nicholas punching Arius in the face, outrage over the latest corporate disses to the season, and another round of controversy over the lyrics of “Mary, Did You Know?”

I kid, I kid. I shared a Saint Nicholas punching Arius meme myself this year (although the zeal some seem to have for theological punching does give me pause). As for “Mary, Did You Know?”, I have no brief one way or the other. I’m not a fan or a non-fan; I can’t even say I’ve so much as heard the song one time.

Out of curiosity, I did Google the lyrics. I understand the controversy. The song is typically Protestant in sensibility, without the Marian piety of Catholic hymnody and spirituality, emphasizing Mary’s ordinariness rather than her extraordinariness. 

That’s not necessarily a problem — Mary was both ordinary and extraordinary, as was her Son — but the song rubs many Catholics the wrong way less because of any particular line than the general feeling that it seems to be essentially asking, “Hey, Mary, did you know your Son wasn’t just some random kid?” On the most hostile reading, some have even accused the song of heresy, though that’s clearly a bridge too far.

Obviously, the idea that Mary was simply in the dark about her Son’s identity and mission is obviously a nonstarter. Among other things, Mary knew not only
1.what she heard from Gabriel at the Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38), but also
2.what the angel told Joseph in his dream, presumably (Matthew 1:18–25);
3.what Elizabeth told Mary by the Holy Spirit at the Visitation (Luke 1:39–56);
4.what Gabriel told Zechariah about his own son John, presumably (Luke 1:5–23);
5.what the shepherds told Mary at the Nativity they heard from the heavenly host (Luke 2:8–20); and
6.what Simeon and Anna told Mary at the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22–38).

That’s before Jesus was two months old, before we even get to the Magi and Joseph’s dreams that save Jesus from Herod and bring the Holy Family to live in Nazareth.  Yes, the idea that Mary was in the dark in a “nonstarter.”  She obviously knew something of the nature and mission of her child.

We are also told that Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and are twice told that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). She thought about them long and deeply — and her Magnificat shows that she had deep insight into what God was doing in her.  Yes, her Magnificat reveals that she knew very well that God was doing “great things” for her and through her for the good of the world.

On the other hand, nothing in divine revelation or Catholic tradition obliges us to believe that the Virgin Mary could have given a precise account of Trinitarian theology, the Hypostatic Union, and so forth, [such terminology and understanding didn’t even come to humanity until the 3rd Century, with the theologian/philosopher Tertullian] much less that she had complete and exact foreknowledge of his entire ministry, including his passion, death and resurrection. (She did know, via Simeon, that “a sword” would pierce through her own soul.)

We do know that Mary and Jesus weren’t always on exactly the same page; their exchange at the finding in the Temple shows that much.  Good and true insight from a reading of Scripture.

Avoiding both extremes, then, I see no reason why we can’t wonder, within limits, what Mary knew and when she knew it. Since the lyrics of “Mary, Did You Know?” are mostly posed as questions rather than declarations, I’m generally inclined to give it the benefit of the doubt. This doesn’t mean I’m a huge fan of the song — obviously I’m not — but I don’t see a reason to consider it offensive either.

But let’s look a bit more closely at what the song actually asks. The first line asks:  Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?  Later lines ask similar questions:

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?

Is there any reason to suppose that Mary had specific foreknowledge of miracles like Jesus’ walking on water and calming of the storm? I see no reason to make a point of contention over this.

We might possibly put giving sight to the blind in a different category, along with the miracles referenced in these lines:

The blind will see
The deaf will hear
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

This is a paraphrase of Isaiah 35:5–6 (though Isaiah doesn’t mention the dead living again). Isaiah also speaks about “opening the eyes that are blind” in chapter 42, which begins, “Behold my servant, whom “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him, he will bring forth justice to the nations…”

When Jesus began his ministry, he read from Isaiah 61, which, as Luke renders it from the Septuagint, says,

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
 because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
 He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
 and recovering of sight to the blind,
 to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18–19)

The Jewish people of Jesus’ day looked forward to the coming of the kingdom of God, when all would be set right. The oppressed would be liberated, the blind would see, the dead would live again, and the Lord would rule over all the nations, which would turn from their idols to serve the God of Israel.  The Jews were, specifically, expecting a military and political messiah who would be strong and powerful, able to cast out the enemies of Israel.  As we know, they’re still waiting for such a messiah today.

Did Mary have reason to believe that her Son would usher in the kingdom of God? The song asks this too:  Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?

Here the answer is clearer. At the Annunciation Mary was told of her Son:
“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
 and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
 and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
 and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32–33)

This seems clear enough — even before Mary learned from the shepherds that the angels had acclaimed her son “Christ the Lord,” and from Simeon that not only was Jesus “set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,” but also that in him God had prepared “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”

All of this is clearly messianic, kingdom-of-God language. To be the Son of the Most High, to reign forever in a kingdom without end, is to be the Messiah and to usher in the kingdom of God.  But—and this is important—the Jews did not expect God himself to be the Messiah.  And so, talk of Jesus as “the Christ, the Messiah” does not necessarily mean that Mary (or any other Jew at the time) knew Jesus to be God himself.  Today we equate “Messiah/Christ” with “God.”  Such a thought at the time of Mary would have been quite foreign. 

This, in turn, might be reason enough for Mary to link passages like Isaiah 35 and 61 to her Son, and to suspect that the promise of the blind seeing and the lame walking would indeed be fulfilled in him.  Again, in the time of the birth of Christ, the prophesied messiah who heals was not equated with God himself.  On a side note, “healing” and “the kingdom” are meshed together in the words and public ministry of Jesus.  Never, in the whole of the Gospel of Luke, does Jesus speak about “the kingdom” without also speaking about “healing.”  The two are clearly related, but this wasn’t brought out so clearly and firmly until Jesus was in his 30s.   

But that’s not all Mary knew.

Things are clearer still when we come to the second line of the song:
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?

Here the answer is definitely yes. Mary knew her Son would bring salvation.

To begin with, Joseph knew. The angel told him in his dream that he would “save his people from their sins.” Presumably Joseph told Mary about his dream (at least, I can’t think why he wouldn’t, or how else the story would be likely to have survived for Matthew to hear it).  Regardless of whether or not Joseph told her, Mary knew that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” simply on the basis of Jesus’ name, which means “God saves.”  This was a further expectation of the Jews of the Messiah—that he would “save the people from their sins.”  But, again, was Mary equating in her mind and heart “the Messiah” and “God himself?”  Again, Jews were not expecting the Messiah to be God himself—not even the Messiah who saves the people from their sins. 

Mary also heard from the shepherds that her Son had been acclaimed “Savior” as well as “Christ the Lord” by a multitude of the heavenly host. From Simeon she heard “mine eyes have seen thy salvation.”  See above. 

Did Mary know that Jesus would be her own Savior?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Catholics believe that Mary was preserved from all sin from the first moment of her conception. This — and not the virginal conception of Jesus — is the Immaculate Conception. But we also believe that Jesus is Mary’s Savior, and that the Immaculate Conception is not an exception to Christ’s work of redemption, but its greatest fruit. (N.b. The line “This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you” does not contradict the Immaculate Conception; see the combox for more.)  Yes, Catholics believe that Mary’s Immaculate Conception is a sign of her having been “saved” by Christ even before he came in the flesh. 

Did Mary understand that her Son would be her own Savior? Certainly she connected what God was doing in her with her own salvation. At the Visitation, responding to Elizabeth’s joyful greeting and hailing her as “the mother of my Lord,” Mary sings in the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

Clearly, she (and all good Jews) knew God to be her one and only Savior.  And she saw her “lowliness” and the child in her womb as the means of her own (and others’) salvation.  But her Magnificat doesn’t reveal that she knew God himself to be the means of salvation.  There is an unwarranted leap in the argument that says: God is the Savior; Jesus saves; therefore, Jesus is God.  Obviously, I believe firmly that Jesus is the Son of God, Second Person of the Trinity.  But, from the standpoint of logical argument, the question is open: Is Jesus the one who saves (i.e., God), or the means of salvation?  (As we know, he is both.  But did Mary know that?)   

Perhaps the most important and mysterious question is what Mary understood regarding Jesus’ divinity.

Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great I Am.

At the Annunciation Mary was told — twice — that he would be “the Son of the Most High,” “the Son of God.” By itself, though, this doesn’t settle the question. “Son of God” in the Old Testament had many meanings, one of them including “messiah” or “Davidic king.”  Very true.  There were many “sons of God” and “sons of god” running around at the time, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  It’s not a unique title.

Gabriel does develop the idea of Jesus’ divine Sonship in another direction: Mary’s Son will be called “Son of God” precisely because he will be conceived by the Holy Spirit, without the involvement of a human father. That’s still not an affirmation of Jesus’ eternal, divine Sonship, but it gets us closer.  Two things to keep in mind here.  First, the Jewish monotheistic view of God was such that the idea of a “Second Person of a Trinity” would’ve been nonsensical; God was God—one and only.  And, second, at this time in history, the idea of a human mother and a divine father (or vice versa) wasn’t new; just consider all the Greek, Roman, and Egyptian gods and their half-human, half-divine children (e.g., Pharaoh, Apollo, Achilles, Helen, Hercules, etc).  Likewise, the eternity of Jesus’ reign is not ordinary messiah-language, but doesn’t automatically make Jesus God.  The Davidic line was supposed to be forever, but that didn’t make King David divine either.

After Gabriel’s words to Mary, the next most important are those spoken by Elizabeth under the Holy Spirit:

Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!
And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

“Mother of my Lord” is widely understood to anticipate Mary’s title Theotokos or Mother of God.  The Greek “μήτηρ τοῦ Κυρίου μου” means, literally, “mother of the Lord of me.”  “Mother” is in the sense of a human mother.  And “Lord” [τοῦ Κυρίου] is the standard word in Greek for “Lord” (this is akin to Spanish-speakers today using “Señor” in reference to both the Lord God and the male head of a household).  The Greek “Θεοτόκος” [Theotokos] means, “God-bearer.”  “Mother of my Lord” and “God-bearer” are not synonymous; not in English nor Greek.  While it may not be impossible to interpret “my Lord” here as a reference to Jesus’ messianic status and human kingship, I see no reason to limit Elizabeth’s insight in this way if we wish to take seriously not only the inspiration of sacred scripture, but also the Holy Spirit on Elizabeth herself.  According to the inspired words of Sacred Scripture (and not our human assumptions and the benefit of hindsight), Elizabeth’s insight is precisely that Mary is “μήτηρ τοῦ Κυρίου μου” [mother of my Lord].  Clearly, Elizabeth’s words show that that she understands the infant in Mary’s womb to be singularly unique (after all, an unborn baby as a “Lord”?).  Elizabeth’s words anticipate Mary’s eventual title of “Mother of God.”  And that’s just it: the words anticipate.  The “reason to limit Elizabeth’s insight” is because she is a limited human being.  For all human beings there is a limit to our wisdom; we are not the omniscient God, even with the generous help of the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth anticipates.

And if Elizabeth had an intimation of Mary as Theotokos, surely Mary did also.  This is a factually false statement, in comparison to Sacred Scripture.  Elizabeth had an intimation of Mary as “μήτηρ τοῦ Κυρίου μου” [mother of my Lord], not of Mary as “Θεοτόκος” [Theotokos, or “God-bearer”].  These two descriptions of Mary are not synonymous; nor is “Θεοτόκος” ever heard on the lips of Elizabeth in Scripture.  Mary knew she was “μήτηρ τοῦ Κυρίου μου,” mother of [the] Lord, which is not to say she knew herself as “Θεοτόκος,” the bearer of God.  Of course, this is not to say that Mary didn’t know her child was to be unique in the world.  The circumstances of the child’s conception, birth, and youth indicate as much; Mary knew Jesus was unique, but how so?    

The divinity of Christ is a mystery, and exactly how Mary understood or would have articulated that mystery is a question the New Testament doesn’t fully answer.  Absolutely correct.  The New Testament does not fully answer the question of Mary’s understanding.  It remains a question.  Although, it’s clear that she grows in understanding (and far surpassed our own understanding today of Jesus as God).  On some level, though, I think we have to say Mary knew who Jesus was.  On some level, clearly.  But on what level?

She carried him for nine months, and she alone knew beyond any possibility of doubt that there was no human father.  True, and she knew as much even at the annunciation by Gabriel.

Her Fiat, her “Yes” to God, was a moment of singular grace. Without Mary’s “Yes,” the Incarnation would not have taken place. Mary would not unwillingly become the mother of God, nor would Mary’s Fiat have been meaningful if she hadn’t understood what she was consenting to.  On the contrary, if Mary’s fiat was based on full knowledge and understanding of who her child was, then her fiat would have been precisely emptied of its meaning.  Her “yes” to God was, indeed, a moment of singular grace.  But her fiat is a statement of perfect faith in the unknown Will of God, not a statement of perfect confidence in her own understanding of the Will and Plan of God—even if her understanding was a grace from God.  If we say “yes” to something—the details and outcome of which we already know perfectly, no faith is required.  The “yes,” therefore, is not especially outstanding or meaningful. 

On an important side note, this is why we don’t say Jesus “had faith” (even though some hymns mention “the faith of Jesus;” they’re theology incorrect).  Jesus the Son of God knew and understood fully what the Will and Plan of God the Father was; he knew the Cross would come.  But because he knew, that doesn’t mean his “yes” to the Father’s Will was meaningless; in just means he didn’t act in faith; rather, he acted in loveIn spite of his knowledge of the truth, he acted in love.  And so, with Jesus’ “yes,” we celebrate the triumph of love.  With Mary’s “yes,” we celebrate the triumph of faith and hope.  Mary didn’t know fully what she was consenting to, nor did she know fully (to begin with) who the child in her womb was—that’s why her fiat is a triumph of faith and hope.  And that’s why we celebrate and venerate her.    

When Mary said “Yes,” she knew what it meant.  See the comment above.  She knew that she had been chosen for an ineffable privilege [Yes, very definitely.  That’s why in her Magnificat she recognizes herself as “blessed,” and knows that generations will sing of her blessedness]; she also knew, I suspect, that she was consenting to unsupportable sorrow.  God did not foist that on her either; when Simeon told her of the sword that would pierce her soul, I doubt he was telling her anything she didn’t already know.  The notion that Mary knew of her future suffering even before Simeon told her goes directly contrary to what is revealed in Sacred Scripture.  When Simeon speaks, Mary and Joseph are “θαυμάζοντες” [Greek translated as “amazed” in the NABRE].  The word “θαυμάζοντες” means “to wonder, to marvel, to be awestruck,” and especially has the connotation of “beginning to speculate.”  Scripture reveals that Mary and Joseph are struck with information and wisdom about Jesus (and Mary) which they need to digest.  The author of the article makes an unwarranted and even false claim when he says, “I doubt [Simeon] was telling [Mary] anything she didn’t already know.”  The revelation of Scripture, and a reading of the Greek, says otherwise.

Of course, this is not to deflate the good and just veneration of our Blessed Mother.  On the contrary, her perfect fiat—given in faith and hope in an unknown plan—is the very reason we venerate her.  It’s the kind of faith and hope we want to emulate.        

She knew. [. . . something of the nature of her son, very definitely.]  She knew everything that others had told her.  And she had perfect faith and hope given her by God.  She most definitely knew that the birth of her son would be world-changing.  But did she grasp that Jesus was God himself?  Scripture leaves that question open; although, it would be safe to say that, in time, she came to know her son Jesus as the Son of God.  Perhaps this was at the foot of the Cross, or at Pentecost, or when she was assumed in Heaven.  Whenever it was, she came to know.

The point of the homily, however, is not to answer a theological question about Mary; the point is to ask ourselves if we really know who Jesus is?  If we really do, then why don’t we give him more attention, more love, more of our faith and hope?  If we really know who Jesus is, then why can our celebrations of Mass be so uninspired and flat?  If we really know who Jesus is, then why are we not amazed at the very thought that we—limited and faulty human beings—can speak directly with God himself?  Do we really know who Jesus is?