More Than Any Big Name

•Sunday, December 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for the Second Sunday of Advent
Preached on December 9, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:4-6
 
Big names draw in big crowds. It is a marketing ploy that promoters have used for all sorts of gatherings: concerts, awards shows, holiday specials, even political campaigns. Those promoters know that people will flock to meet this movie star, they will congregate to cheer that celebrity, they will assemble to hear their favored candidate. Those big shots will get top billing because their names are the ones that people will recognize, because they are the “somebody” whom people will want to see.

Luke the evangelist seems to employ this tactic when he lists in the Gospel a veritable who’s who in government and religion: the emperor, the governor, the tetrarchs, and the high priests (cf. Lk. 3:1). These men are so important that events are marked according to the length of their reigns—“the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Lk. 3:1)—time is reckoned according to their terms of office. It seems logical that whoever follows this sort of introduction must be an even bigger name. Whoever follows this list must be a real crowd pleaser.

But John the Baptist is not. Compared to those personages, he is practically a nobody! He is a prophet whom no one has heard of before he came out from the desert (cf. Lk. 3:2). The historian Josephus only mentions John in passing in his Antiquities of the Jews (cf. Book 18, chapter 5:2). This man, whom Jesus says, is the greatest among those born of women (cf. Lk. 7:28) is basically his generation’s one-hit wonder. He preaches one message—a baptism of repentance—and prepares the way of the Lord (cf. Lk. 3:3-4). That is about it: he exits almost as soon as he enters the scene. But John does so because he knows that he is not the main attraction; he knows that he is just the opening act.

As far as opening acts go, John the Baptist is something else. He preaches like something else; he looks like something else; he smells like something else. We know this from the other Gospels (cf. Mt. 3:4; Mk. 1:6). It is interesting to note that Luke avoids mentioning John’s diet or dress. He deletes any description that may distract his reader from listening to this “voice crying out in the desert” (cf. Lk. 3:4). Luke does not let John chew up the scenery; instead, he lets him set up the stage for the One whom everyone has been waiting for: Jesus the Christ.

the pointer

Jesus: His is “the name that is above every name” (Ph. 2:9). But the name of Jesus has been exalted not because of prestige and power. It has been exalted not by celebrity or notoriety. It has been exalted not from position and privilege. His name has been greatly exalted because “He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Ph. 2:7-8).

Here the Lord teaches us what it means to be a real “big” name. He has allowed Himself to be so small—as small as infant—and that is what makes Him so big. He has made Himself so lowly—as lowly as a condemned man on a cross—and that is what makes Him so great.

Mary too teaches us this same lesson. She herself admits that she is but the Lord’s lowly handmaid (cf. Lk. 1:48). She does what the proud finds difficult to do: she chooses God’s will over her own whims (cf. Lk. 1:38). She lets herself be small so that God alone can be big. That is why all generations now call her blessed (cf. Lk. 1:48).

John the Baptist does the same. He divests himself of everything but his voice so that the Word of God can take center stage. He allows himself to decrease so that the Lord may increase (cf. Jn. 3:30).

Big names may draw in big crowds. But it has been these lowly names who have drawn us closer to Heaven.

Throughout this blessed season of Advent, the Church introduces us to these simple folks whose names their generations have ignored but whom God has exalted. God could have sent bulldozers to fill every valley and excavators to tear down every mountain and hill (cf. Lk. 3:5). He could have used any of those big names to get the job done and they would have done so in record time. Instead, He calls humble folk like the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist and ordinary people like us because it is more than just about getting the job done or drawing in a big crowd. It is about letting God make a big difference in our own lives. If “there is more rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15:7), the authentic conversion of all of us may just have the power to move mountains.

Our contrite hearts, more than any big name, may very well be the opening salvo that our Lord awaits before He comes again.

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A Visual of a Saint

•Thursday, September 27, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for the Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul
Preached on September 27, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-14, 17; Luke 9:7-9

DePaulMost saints I can identify based on an emblem that they are holding in their hands: an instrument of their martyrdom or an item that calls to mind an episode in their holy lives. But, such is not the case with today’s confessor, Saint Vincent de Paul, whose iconography is my favorite for two reasons.

First, Saint Vincent de Paul is almost always never portrayed alone. He is shown, just as he can be seen in the window here in the Archabbey Church, with an orphan or a beggar. This is a saint who always shares the stained-glass limelight with the nameless poor whom he had ministered to in life. It is the same with some of my other favorite saints: I always picture John of God carrying a plague victim, Damien de Veuster caring for a leper, and Mother Teresa comforting the poorest of the poor. They are so identified with those whom they had cared for here on earth, that I can still see them interceding for the same in Heaven.

Second, Saint Vincent de Paul is always portrayed in action, right in the midst of his ministry. As soon as I hear his name, I see him leading the orphan, tending the sick, and feeding the poor. For me, his stained-glass window is a great catechetical visual: it tells me that this is a saint and this is what a saint does and that is what makes him a saint.

Sometimes I wonder what sort of image pops in people’s minds when my own name is mentioned. As I look again at the window of today’s saint, I am challenged to reflect on how I am spending the life that has been given to me, with whom and for whom I am spending it. I think to myself, if I am not doing an act of charity or a work of mercy, if I am not fulfilling God’s will for my life, or, if as a monk, I am not following the Holy Rule, then what is it that I am doing?

Qoheleth would reply that it is probably not worth much, if it is worth anything at all (cf. Eccl. 1:2).

Not Moving In

•Wednesday, September 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on September 26, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119:29, 72, 89, 101, 104, 163; Luke 9:1-6

In one of our many road trips, Fr. Chris Clay and I were passing through Princeton, New Jersey. I was visiting my sister Ivy and her family in Hamilton, while Fr. Chris was spending the night at the home of his friend from high school, Pat Leger. As Pat and I helped Fr. Chris haul three large suitcases into his guest bedroom (there was still a fourth bag left in the trunk of the car), Pat could not help but ask, “Are you sure that you’re passing through, Clay? ‘Coz it sure looks like you’re moving in.”

baggage

In the Gospel, Jesus instructs the Twelve how to avoid giving that same impression (cf. Lk. 9:1-4). He shrinks their suitcases to nothing, going so far as to make suitcases utterly superfluous. “Take nothing for the journey,” Jesus tells them, “neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic” (Lk. 9:3).  He clearly does not want any of them to move in anywhere and get too comfortable (cf. Lk. 9:4); He wants them to keep moving and spread the Word.

For us monks, this admonition from Jesus against moving in seems contrary to our call to stability. But, that is why Saint Benedict also calls us to conversatio. Although we are rooted in a monastery, we are not allowed to stay stuck in a rut; we have to keep moving along the narrow way of the Gospel. Our daily conversatio demands that we continue to divest ourselves of all the baggage that is holding us up, so that, when it is time to move in to the celestial coenobium, nothing will be holding us back and we will be ready to move on.

God Comes First

•Tuesday, September 25, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on September 25, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Proverbs 21:1-6, 10-13; Psalm 119:1, 27, 30, 34-35, 44; Luke 8:19-21

Family comes first because family came first. This is the guiding principle of many traditional households including those in Nazareth. Anyone who rejects this principle risks losing everything that family provides: a name, an identity, a home, a support system, a past, a present, a future.

Jesus seems to reject this principle when He rebuffs His mother and His brothers in the Gospel (cf. Lk. 8:19-21). But, in fact, He offers a more important principle to the crowd and to His family: God comes first, even before family, because God came first, long before family.

Jesus risks losing everything that His earthly family provides by giving them the cold shoulder. Yet, in doing so, He reminds everyone that, in the end, no one, not even family, matters more than God, and nothing, not even what they have to offer, can ever outdo His grace.

luke8,21

Faith as a Beacon or a Weapon

•Monday, September 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on September 24, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Proverbs 3:27-34; Psalm 15:2-5; Luke 8:16-18

Most preachers consider light as a metaphor for faith and so, when Jesus speaks of setting a light on a lamp stand, they interpret Jesus’ words as a directive for us to put our faith out there for all to see. We hear that especially in the Alleluia verse: “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:16). Faith, like a lamp, should not be hidden away under a bed or concealed under a vessel (Lk. 8:16).

But, here is the problem with this analogy: a light does not just remain hidden under a vessel or a bed (Lk. 8:16); it also poses a fire hazard. It can damage the vessel and it can set that bed ablaze. The same flame that can illumine from a lamp stand (Lk. 16:8) can easily burn anything that gets too close to it.

burningbed

Now, when we extend this metaphor to faith, we realize something that we often forget: faith can be used as a beacon, but it can also be used as a weapon. Certainly the scandals in the Church stand witness to the times when faith has been used as a weapon and they give new meaning to the Lord’s warning in the Gospel: “For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Lk. 8:17). Those who have been burned by the Church behind closed doors have come out in the open and they offer all of us a sobering reminder: the same faith that has the power to heal also has the power to hurt.

Faith is still a gift from God, but, as with all other gifts from above, it up to us how we will use it. We can set it in on a lamp stand or hide it under a bed (Lk. 8:16). We can use it as a beacon to guide people closer to God or use it as weapon to lead them further astray. Hopefully we have learned to heed the Lord’s instruction and make the right choice.

The Perfect Poster Child

•Sunday, September 23, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for the Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on September 23, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; Psalm 54:3-6, 8; James 3:16-4:3; Mark 9:30-37

My mother claims that I was the perfect child and I for one do not want to argue with that woman. She looks back at my childhood and recalls that, as a little boy, after I have played with my trucks and my cars and my Fisher-Price toys, I would dutifully—with no reminder from her—put all my toys away in a box. Apparently, I was—and still am—the sort of kid who knows how to—make that: needs to—clean up after himself.

Perhaps it is her maternal pride or my own vanity that has me convinced that, if Jesus were to pick out a child from a preschool line-up to show off to the disciples who would be the greatest, I would have been that child (cf. Mk. 9:36-37). He would have placed me in their midst and He would have said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this” (Mk. 9:37), and there would not have been any complaint or argument from those disciples. They would have agreed that I would have been the perfect poster child for the Kingdom.

But, the older I get and the more I become aware of my own shortcomings, the more I realize how childish it is to think that way. I have come to recognize that Jesus would not have chosen me, an adult trapped in a boy’s body, as the example of who should come first in the Kingdom. Instead, Jesus would have picked my nephew Niko who is in every way not like me at all. My nephew is a three feet tall hurricane who leaves a mess of toys and books and crayons and scribbles in his path. He would have been the kid whom Jesus would have singled out, saying, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Mk. 9:37), and I would have been in the corner, rolling my eyes along with the other disciples, and muttering to myself, “He has got to be kidding!” Jesus does not sound as if He has ever babysat a toddler in his terrible twos at all, because spending an afternoon looking after one—which, honestly, is more like running after one—would have anyone convinced that little kids are not always that great.

niko

The poster child of the Kingdom: My nephew and godson Niko playing with LEGOs.

Then again, maybe Jesus has done some babysitting. After all, in his cuteness and craziness, Niko is like any other kid: he does not care about how proficient I am in school, how well I have performed at work, how popular I am among my peers, or how much money I get in my paycheck. He knows one thing: I am not mommy or daddy and right now those are the only two who really matter. Perhaps, that is why Jesus chooses a child like Niko as an example, because a child is disinterested in the games that adults play. He does not care whether I am the greatest or the least. All that he cares about is that I give him his snack and his sippy cup or that I get him that fifth box of LEGOs from the top shelf. I think that this is what Jesus means when He says, “If anyone wishes to be the first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35). That sounds a lot like babysitting alright, and, just like my sister, I am pretty sure that Jesus expects me to do it for free! Maybe Jesus does know a lot about kids, both big and small, after all.

It is difficult sometimes to accept what Jesus says because I have grown up thinking that I am supposed to make good in life. But, as He has reminded the disciples so Jesus chides me to beware that, in my efforts to get ahead of everybody, I risk leaving everyone behind. He is right; the Kingdom of God is not a competition to be the best and the greatest. The point is not to beat everyone to the Kingdom but to get everyone to the Kingdom.

The older I get the more I realize that my nephew Niko does not have to be as perfect or as neurotic as I once was—or am. The Kingdom of God is way bigger than what I think it is, because if it is only for the best, the greatest, and the perfect, then I might very well end up with a big box of toys, trophies, diplomas, and cash, and no one to play with. I would have to admit that, even on earth, that is no Heaven at all.

A Three Pronoun Plot

•Friday, September 21, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Homily for the Feast of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist
Preached on September 21, 2018 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meionrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; Psalm 19:2-3, 4-5; Matthew 9:9-13

The plot of the call of Matthew can be summed up in three pronouns: You. Me? Him?

Notice how two of those pronouns are posed as questions. This tells us three things.

call-of-matthew

First, it tells us that the call from Jesus comes as a surprise to Matthew: Me? Now, Matthew is used to being singled out for what he does. Because he is a tax collector, the Pharisees tell him all the time that he does nothing good and his fellow Jews mockingly say that he is good for nothing. This accountant expects that the popular preacher from Nazareth, like all the others, will demand that he renders an account of his wickedness. Instead, Jesus tells him that he is good enough to be His disciple (cf. Mt. 9:9) and that He has something really good for him to do. It is no wonder then that Matthew decides to throw a party (cf. Mt. 9:10). An operator like him knows that the mercy and the mission that Jesus is offering is a steal and that only a fool will pass on this incredible deal.

Second, this tells us that not everybody is happy about this deal. This whole business is a shocker for the Pharisees. They are convinced that Jesus has made a terrible mistake in calling the publican and his peers to penitence. Him? And his kind? Surely Jesus can do better with the company that He keeps (cf. Mt. 9:11). He cannot possibly waste His time or His ministry or His Father’s forgiveness on this crowd of crooks. These people have not only stolen everyone’s money, they have taken away everyone’s mercy, too. This does not seem fair at all.

This brings us to our third point: Jesus’ call is personal and deliberate and definitive. You. “Follow Me” (Mt. 9:9). Notice that there is no comma, semicolon, or ellipses. There is only a period at the end: You. There is no hesitation, no confusion, no question on the part of Jesus. He has singled out this sinner and He is going to make a saint out of Him, even if it kills Him, and it does.

The Pharisees are right and Matthew the tax collector knows it, too: none of this is fair. And thank God it isn’t because sinners like him, and me, and you can never pay the steep bill of our sin on our own. It takes a god—our God—to redeem that huge debt.