A Prophet is Not Without Honour, Except in His Own Country: a Homily Thread

Fr. Allen tweeted a portion of this morning's homily, for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B), the Gospel reading for which is Mark 6.1-6. 

Jesus came to his own country; and his disciples followed him.  And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this?  What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”  And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief.  And he went about among the villages teaching.

Homily thread (Trinity 6; OT 14b):

We have to acknowledge that the people of Nazareth were right; or, their expectations wrong but - kind of - justified.

After all, Jesus was fully human. He was a man like other men. He really was the carpenter from Nazareth, whose mother and half-brothers and sisters and cousins they all knew. St. Paul, writing to the Thessalonians said, “Make it your ambition to live a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands,” and it seems that is exactly how our Lord lived in Nazareth, before he went down to present himself to John for baptism in the river Jordan.

In other words, he was normal, not that impressive; indeed, in some sense even unimpressive. As the prophet Isaiah had said, “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”

That is how he came, and that is how he comes among us still. St. Augustine said, “I am afraid of Jesus passing,” because he might pass without my realizing it, without my being ready to receive him. He comes to us still in ways that are familiar, normal, even unimpressive.

A carpenter, who constructed the world. A poor Nazarene, but King of the Universe. A crust of bread, but his sacred Body. A sip of wine, but his precious Blood.

And the poor who, as he Jesus said, “are always with us,” and in whom he presents himself, wounded and in need, for our love and adoration. We have a great addiction to “new and improved” - in our technology, in our vehicles, in our toys, sometimes in theology and liturgy.

We want to be impressed. But our Lord comes to us along old and familiar pathways: the Bible; Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be; the 10 Commandments; Confession and penance; as we visit the sick and help our neighbor in need.

But, you know, that itself is an expression of his love for us, his respect for our freedom. He does not trick us, does not manipulate our feelings and energy with novelty, but invites our love.

In a sense, he is still among us leading a quiet life and working with his hands, and does not want us so much to be dazzled by him, as to know him, to seek friendship with him.

And friendship grows from companionship, from shared work, from conversation, from the patterns of relationship that are, in a sense, old and familiar, but - in a living relationship animated by love, are always new.

And this morning, on this Altar, across this rail, Jesus returns to his own country, to you and me, clothed in the humble and familiar robes of bread and wine, and presents himself to us - Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

Let us learn the lesson of the people of Nazareth, and give him honor, and receive him when comes.

[Leaned on this homily by Fr Cantalamessa: https://zenit.org/articles/father-cantalamessa-on-a-prophet-without-honor/ ]

 

A Homily Thread for the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Homily tweeting for the Feast of the Nativity of St John Baptist:

The Nativity of St John Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, who prepares the way for Christ, who is in himself the hinge between the Old Testament and the New, culminating the ministries of the prophets by introducing to the world the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, feast of any saint in the Church’s calendar.  

But why today, June 24th? Well, for starters, we may work out the date by the information St Luke gives to us in his Gospel. Remember that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to invite her to become the Mother of God’s Only-Begotten, after Mary had given her assent, her fiat, Gabriel told her also of John’s coming birth: “And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.” 

“It is the sixth month with her.” So John, we may infer, was born six months before Jesus. And the Church kept the feast of the Annunciation on March the 25th, and so of course also kept the feast of the Lord’s Nativity, Christmas, nine months later, on December 25th. 

And if Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John when our Lord was conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, then that would put the birth of John in late June, and so the Church already in the 5th century was keeping this great feast of John’s Nativity on June 24th. 

But again, the ancients were much closer to nature and her cycles than are we, and so they saw another significance in these dates. The Lord’s Nativity is, they knew, celebrated on - or about, close to - the Winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere, after which the days slowly get longer; the light increases. And John’s nativity is celebrated on - or about, close to - the Summer solstice, technically this past Thursday, the longest day and shortest night of the year after which, after today, the days slowly grow shorter and the nights longer; the darkness increases and will do so all the way until, well, Christmastime, when the light will grow. 

So we keep John’s feast today because of the Biblical timeline, but liturgically, these feasts have a kind of cosmic significance. 

The change in the seasons, the growing darkness followed by the growing light, proclaim the Baptist’s own words to his disciples as he directed them to Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” 

Again, we don’t live so close to nature any more. Solstice and equinox pass without notice. We live in an electrified world; if it’s dark, we flip a switch and - hey, presto - it’s light again. 

But our forefathers and mothers in the faith were very much aware that each day, beginning today, would have a little less light and a little more darkness. 

For them, keeping St John the Baptist’s feast on this day, at the Summer solstice, was itself the beginning of an eloquent, year-long sermon. 

It was John the Baptist again preaching to us from the heavens, directing our attention, directing or hope, to the coming of Christ, the light of Christ coming in to the darkness of this world, and overcoming it. 

“He must increase, and I must decrease,” John is saying to us still, and so setting out the program for every Christian life, every year, every day.

By the example and at the intercession of St John the Baptist, and beginning this very day, may the light of Christ increase in each one of us, overcoming the darkness of pride and selfishness in our own hearts, so that we, like John, may become beacons of God love and mercy.

A Homily Thread on the Parable of the Mustard Seed

 Parable of the Mustard Seed etching by Jan Luyken 

Parable of the Mustard Seed etching by Jan Luyken 

Homily thread [on the Parable of the Mustard Seed for the Third Sunday after Trinity]:

It is easy to lose patience, to become frustrated with injustice in the world, frustrated with sin and corruption and ineffectual leadership in the Church, frustrated with the slow-to-the-point-of backing up growth of holiness in our own lives.

It's really easy to be impatient with the impatience of others. We want it all to happen now. But listen to our Lord's parables of the Kingdom. God is doing the building, not us.

Even in the natural world, he takes the tiny, insignificant mustard seed and he turns it into a plant that becomes a home for birds. Our Lord dies, his battered body is planted in the grave, and his body, and with it our frail humanity, is raised to new and eternal life.

And he takes twelve insignificant, often fearful, often doubting men in an insignificant backwater outpost of the Roman empire and builds a Church that fills the whole world, and so many of us have found rest in its shade.

So, patience. We must never look at the world, or at the Church, or at our neighbor, or in the mirror, and lose hope. And no cup of water given in Jesus' Name, no word of encouragement spoken, no act of love, no matter how small, is given in vain.

These are seeds scattered in the Lord's garden, and he will give the increase. He who began this good work, this Kingdom of righteousness, will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.

And God, as he always has, will use the most unlikely-seeming, the most insignificant-appearing, means to do it: a splash of water, hands laid upon a head and smudge of oil, a bit of bread and a sip of wine; a kind word; a sign held on a sidewalk; a whispered prayer.

He will use even you and me. /Amen.

Candlemas!

CANDLEMAS / 2 : II : 2013 / Lk 2.22-40

Fr Patrick Allen

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On my parents' bookshelves when I was growing up was an old book of cartoons collected from Punch, the English magazine of humor and satire. There's one I remember very well. It was from the 1920's: a drawing of young Lord Somebody-or-other who had gone up to Oxford for college, and had had his two-seater car painted red down one side and blue down the other in order to "confuse witnesses," the caption said, "in the event of an accident."

Today's feast, which this year happens to fall on a Sunday, always reminds me of that cartoon - this feast which travels under three different names as if to confuse worshipers in the event of a liturgy.  In the old calendar it was called, and many still think of it as, the feast of “the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  In the current calendar it is called the feast of “the Presentation of the Lord.”  And since very early days and still it is most commonly called “Candlemas.”

I know this will be review, but since the feast does fall on Sunday this year, maybe we ought to think about it, consider its meaning, under those three titles.

So, “The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”  Mosaic law as it is stated in the book of Leviticus stipulated that a woman was ritually - not morally, but ritually, ceremonially - unclean for seven days after giving birth to a child.  If the child were male, he would be circumcised on the eighth day (and that happens in the verse immediately preceding the point at which our Gospel lesson began), and then she was required to remain at home for a further thirty-three days for the purification of her blood.  I realize you may be curious about the religious or even medical significance of this period of “uncleanness” and purification of blood, but I would just point out that the practical effect for the woman in question is that she is exempted from all her normal religious, social, and economic duties  - it amounts to six weeks of enforced maternity leave.  Actually, 40 days to be precise, and today of course is the fortieth day after Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord.

After this, she is to present a purification sacrifice - a lamb and a turtle-dove or pigeon being the norm, though there was a provision, in the case of the very poor, for the offering only of two turtle-doves or pigeons, which is what the Holy Family did, for they were poor, and we cannot remind ourselves of that too often.

Mary of course is the Immaculate.  She is ever-Virgin - before, during, and after birth.  She has no need for purification of any kind.  This child she bears to the Temple has come for the purification of the whole world.  And yet humbly she submits to the law, to the will of the Father there expressed, and so ever the Lord’s handmaiden, she serves by her obedience the fulfillment of his promises of grace, and you and I are purified, made clean and new by the self-offering of Mary’s Son and Savior, our robes washed and made “white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7.14).

So today is the Purification, but it’s also the Presentation.  We read that when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.  Again, the Mosaic Law stated - and Luke quotes it in our lesson - that the firstborn son is sacred to the Lord, consecrated to the Lord’s service.  However, the child could be “redeemed”, bought back, for five shekels, payable to any priest in the land.  St. Luke is vague about the details, but apparently rather than being redeemed and restored to his parents,  Mary and Joseph actually brought the child to Jerusalem and handed him over completely to God in the Temple.  The word we have translated here as “to present” is the normal word for “to offer” - the same word used to describe the offering of sacrifices in the Temple.

So, you see, in the Presentation, in the offering of the Lord, in the Temple, we see already the shadow of the cross falling across the infant Jesus.  This is why he has come after all, “the firstborn of all creation” as St. Paul describes him, to offer himself, to offer a perfect and pure life of love up to the Father on our behalf, as one of us, the right response to God’s act of love in creation.

Purification, Presentation, and now “Candlemas.”  When the Holy Family comes to the Temple, they are met by aged Simeon, righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  And also the octogenarian prophetess Anna, who did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  

Simeon makes his song - the Nunc dimittis - as he takes the child into his arms, whom he recognizes as the Lord’s salvation: a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.  This child is the coming of God’s light into the darkness of this world, and so from ancient times it has been the Church’s custom on this day to bless the candles to be used in the liturgy for the coming year - it’s the Candle Mass.  

“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all,” St. John proclaims in his first epistle, and Jesus, this child resting in Mary’s arms, is “the pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,” through our humanity.  Today is really the last day of Christmas, and so we behold again today this tiny child, crying for his Mother’s warm embrace, crying to be fed - this Son of Mary who is God the Son, God giving himself to us, God becoming small and vulnerable for us - in other words, God come to set the world to rights, not by the power of his might, but by the simple invitation to love.   In this Mass, on this Altar, he makes that invitation again, presenting himself offering himself to the Father, for our purification and salvation - a perfect gift of love.  That light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

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