Homily for Fifth Sunday of Lent

I’m finally catching up. Not on Netflix. Honestly, I’m so overwhelmed by the selections of that service that by the time I’ve selected something, I don’t have time to watch it before the hour that I want to get to bed. So I’mvcatching up on: rest, books, my bike, yard work. I hope that you’re finding blessings in this difficulty.

A difficulty it is, yet such trials are not far from God’s generous mercy. “ThevLord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy; his wrath will come to an end: he will not be angry for ever. As a father has compassion onvhis children, the Lord has pity on those who fear him.” (Ps 103:8-9)

May be we don’t see the firm hand of a loving Father in all this. I think thatvthis pandemic has His signature. We can take a clue from God’s first reaction to His people’s lack of faith, “How long will they refuse to believe in me despite the signs I have worked among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disown them.” (Numbers 14:11-12) Moses intervenes and wins a reprieve. Yet throughout the course of their history, their infidelity is met by various calamities sent by God to bring them back to their senses and once more to His protective care from worse things and blessings.

Also it is interesting to me that in the Old Testament, the object of God’s wrath that most poignantly gets Israel’s attention is anything to do with the Temple. The Temple was built by King Solomon to house the Ark of the Covenant. It replaced the tabernacle or tent that was the Ark’s home during the years of wandering in the desert. It became the center of Jewish identity and practice of the faith. Before this permanent abode for the Ark, the Ark was the source of Israel’s confidence. They would win battles with the Ark in their midst. (This why the Nazi’s wanted it in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.) As time progressed Israel began to get complacent. Instead of reforming their lives according to the covenant that the Ark represented, they began to think that as long as they had the Ark, they would be o.k. So in the First Book of Samuel we see how God lets the Ark fall into the hands of the enemy in a lost battle with the Philistines. It doesn’t remain with the Philistines for long. They hand it back to Israel after they are plagued by a strange pestilence. (1Sm 6) (I don’t why the Nazi’s didn’t read that part of the story.)

Because of this, David who succeeds the first king, Saul, was rather uneasy about bringing the Ark into his city. “David feared the LORD that day and said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” So David would not have the ark of the LORD brought to him in the City of David, but diverted it to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.” (2Sm 6:9-10) Later it was revealed to David that his son, Solomon, would build the Temple for the Ark.

History continues another thousand years for God’s People. We see a familiar pattern emerge. “Judah did evil in the sight of the LORD, and by their sins angered him even more than their fathers had done. They, too, built for themselves high places, pillars, and sacred poles, upon every high hill and under every green tree. There were also cult prostitutes in the land. Judah imitated all the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD had cleared out of the Israelites’ way. In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem. He took everything, including the treasures of the temple of the LORD….” (1Kg 14:22-26)

Two hundred and twenty-six years after this sack, for their infidelity, the Assyrians carry off the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity. The faithful king, Hesekiah of the Kingdom of Judah, must then use the Temple wealth to ransom his own people. (2Kg 18:16)

One hundred and fifteen years after that the Temple is destroyed by the Babylonians, the remaining kingdom of Israel, Judah, is led off to exile. Scripture telegraphs the message that infidelity to God equals captivity and that faithful union with Him liberates. So as He liberate the Hebrew people from the slavery of Egypt, He works the miracle of liberation again when He calls the Persian Emperor, Cyrus, “His anointed”, and through this gentile, the Jews are liberated and restored to Jerusalem and the Temple is rebuilt.

Nearly two hundred years afterwards, the Greeks role into town. As you can imagine this brought a very attractive culture that valued many of things that we make a priority. And like Israel we too share in the guilt of compromising our faith for some of these same things. The Greeks emphasize wisdom, reason and athleticism. They brought to their conquered lands libraries and gymnasiums. The Book of Maccabees tells us, “they (sympathetic Jews) built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom. They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.” (1Mc 1:14-15) Consequently this eventually leads to a statue of Zeus in the Temple. This is not a good omen. God is clear. It is the First Commandment. He is a jealous God. He doesn’t suffer idolatry well. Nevertheless the story of how the people of the Old Testament go their temple back and the origin of the feast of Chanukah is an exciting read.

One hundred and sixty-fives years from that moment we go from BC to AD. In Jesus lifetime on earth Herod the Great would reconstruct the Temple. This is the reference that we hear in the gospel, “The Jews said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?” (Jn 2:20)

Jesus establishes a new temple in His very person. Similarly as the Temple of Jerusalem housed the Ark of the Covenant and was the sign of God’s presence with His people, Jesus is God among His people. In addition the Temple functioned as the place for the obligatory sacrifices for sins, so Jesus took on these roles in the New Testament. He is the priest and victim of the sacrifice that would expiate sin and redeem the world.

The Temple of the Old Testament is no more. Jesus predicted its demise by the Romans. “When his disciples approached him to point out the temple buildings. He said to them in reply, ‘You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’” (Mt 24:1-2)

Christ is the Temple of the New Testament. The sacrifice of this temple is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Each church is a unique location of God’s presence and propitiatory sacrifice. But may be we don’t know this? Just this summer it was revealed that over 70% Catholics don’t believe this. As God would strike the Temple to get His people Israel’s attention, is it just a coincidence that we of the New Covenant should have our Temple shut down, worldwide? Is it also coincidental that it happens to be the first Holy Week since this incredulity was revealed?

A good and loving father disciplines his children. Scripture says, “My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.”” The Book of Hebrews says that this is how you can identify legitimate children. “Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?” (Heb 12:5-7)

Our gospel passage today is a foreshadowing of things to come. Throughout the gospels, we read of Jesus bringing life back to the dead more than once. Even Elijah and Elisha the prophets did as much. But the resuscitation of Lazarus differs from these. In these others the prophets or Jesus forestalls the burial, they arrest the onset of physical decay. The life restored had not completely fallen into the power of death. Where as Lazarus had been in the grave for four days. Death had exerted its full power over him. Jesus deliberately orchestrates this sign for the people of Bethany and for all of us. His own friend pleaded for friendship sake that He come to help Lazarus, “Master, the one you love is ill.” “But for Christ it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. He showed his love for his friend not by healing him but by calling him back from the grave. Instead of a remedy for his illness, he offered him the glory or rising from the dead.” (St. Peter Chrysologus)

To make this point even clearer, when Jesus heard the news of his friend’s illness we are told, he remained for two days in the place where he was. “He acts like this so that human hope may perish entirely and human despair reach it lowest depths. The deed he is about to accomplish may then clearly be seen to be the work of God not of man.” (Chrysologus)

He wanted a bigger miracle, a better gift, for His friends and for us. The death of Lazarus reveals Christ’s power. He’s not toying with His friends or us, because read that when Jesus was brought to His friend’s tomb, He wept. “So the Jews said, “See how he loved him.”” (Jn 11:36) Our Lord is most compassionate to our difficulty and suffering. He knows the stuff we are made of, “he remembers that we are dust. As a father has compassion on his children, the Lord has pity on those who fear him.” (Ps 103:13-14) Our pious acts in this time of anxiety will go a long way to helping our world reform. This is the end game and we are privileged to know it.

Annunciation – 2020

It was a most propitious sign that the ships The Ark and The Dove, transporting the Jesuit, Fr. Andrew White and the first governor of the Maryland Colony, Leonard Calvert et al. landed on the north shore of the Potomac, St. Clement’s Island, March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation), 1634. The occasion was the fruit of much sacrifice. Over a hundred years of religious persecution, a failed colony in Newfoundland, many rancorous negotiations with the Crown and the Virginia Colony, a three month daring trip across the Atlantic that included surviving storms which separated the ships for weeks, finally the English speaking Catholics would have a place to call “home” in the New World, Maryland. They would be able to build churches and openly receive the sacraments. Various historical circumstances would quickly arrive to challenge this plan, but through a War of Independence, religious freedom would be established in our land.

Interestingly the man who brought about a Catholic Colony in America was the first Lord Baltimore, George Calvert (Leonard’s father). He would not live to see this dream realized. He died in 1632 from lingering complications of the plague that he had survived two years prior. The point that we can take from that interesting factoid is that a virus didn’t stop the dream.

Sacrifice may have been required but nevertheless the goal was accomplished.

The prophet Ezekiel had a vision of a temple from which blessings flow. The symbol for these blessings is water. The water comes from the temple and fills the earth distributing manifold blessings of life and healing. It makes barren lands, verdant, salt waters, fresh, trees ripe with year-round fruit and medicinal leaves. This same temple that Ezekiel describes has an east gate that he curiously mentions will remain shut. (Ez 47)

“Then He brought me back to the outer gate of the Sanctuary, which faces East; and it was shut. And He said to me, “This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut. Only the Prince may sit in it to eat bread before the Lord; He shall enter by way of the vestibule of the gate, and shall go out the same way” (Ez 44:1-3).

Many Church Fathers have taught that this eastern gate of the prophecy is the virgin birth of Christ. As our Catholic faith teaches, “the Blessed Virgin Mary is perpetually a virgin – she did not have relations with Joseph after Christ’s birth.” So according to Ezekiel’s prophecy, “God entered creation through her womb…. The “Prince” is Jesus. He “sits in it to eat bread before the Lord.” Christ was nourished in the darkness of her womb. He gained the flesh and blood that He would offer on the cross to His Father. The “bread” reference refers to Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”). It also points forward to the super-substantial bread of the Holy Eucharist which is His flesh and blood.” (https://taylormarshall.com/2009/12/virgin-marys-womb-as-ezekiels-closed.html)

The prophecy of Ezekiel has been fulfilled with the coming of the Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary fulfilled the role of a gate that nobody but the Christ was to pass through. So she is that singular instrument through which all blessings flow. So she has been rightly heralded as the Mediatrix of All Grace.

God has chosen His Son to be the means of salvation for all. “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” (Act 4:12) God the Son chose no other means to enter the world than through the womb of the Virgin Mary. As unique as she is, her role was entrusted to another. The role of the Mother of God was given to the Church. E.g: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)

Jesus is uniquely manifest in the Church. “As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. She is taken up by him also as the instrument for the salvation of all, the universal sacrament of salvation, by which Christ is at once manifesting and actualizing the mystery of God’s love for men. The Church is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity, because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 776)

The temple of the New Jerusalem is the Catholic Church. Interestingly outside one of the eastern gates of the Old Jerusalem is the traditional childhood home of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is also the scene of one of our gospel passages set at a place called Bethesda. It means House of Mercy. It was the name of a healing pool. The House of Mercy that Jesus established takes His flesh and blood, His DNA, from the Blessed Virgin Mary. For a man who never married, how does this lineage continue?

The bloodline continues in the faithful. In English we might say that the House of Windsor has a branch in Canada, now that Prince Harry has moved out of Windsor Castle. The word “house” is synonymous with family. This is especially true for ancient tongues like Hebrew. The House of Mercy that Jesus established is generated from the blood and water that flowed from His side at Calvary. “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (Jn 3:5) “For this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28)

This House of Mercy, the Church, is up and running, yet many ignore it, are ignorant of it, or are bothered by it. The world, and we too, need a reminder of our precious and unique mandate. This doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is condemned, but it does mean that without us (the Church) their chances are greatly diminished.

God has a goal for the world and it is nothing less than many blessings, including salvation. I pray that our time away from familiar routines may reinvigorate our resolve to fight forces that impinge upon the source of happiness.

Bethesda, the healing pool that lies just outside of one of the eastern gates of Jerusalem, is presently owned by the White Fathers. The gate has had a few different names is history, but there is one that gets our attention, St. Stephen’s Gate. There is a stylized rendering of this gate in the floor of our church. This is the scene of the crime (Act 7:54) is where Saul (St. Paul) organized the stoning of the deacon Stephen.

Our forefathers, like Fr. White, won for us access to God’s many blessings through religious freedom. The challenge for us today is to combat the circumstances that demand freedom from religion. On this March 25, remember the blessings of Christmas, the feast of Emmanuel, God-with-us. The Annunciation, Mary’s, “Yes”, to God is where that begins. We ask her to help us say, “Yes” to God in all circumstances, and be open to receive His many blessings.

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent

IV SUNDAY OF LENT – A – 2017 Laetare Sunday
Father Christopher Murphy, Pastor

As sung by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith in the 1993 hit song Livin’ on the Edge, “There’s somethin’ wrong with the world today I don’t know what it is Something’s wrong with our eyes

We’re seein’ things in a different way And God knows it ain’t his It sure ain’t no surprise”

This rock band is not your usual prophetic voice. In fact it is usually a voice of vice. Nevertheless they are on to something. As they say, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion.” We have lost sight of the way that God sees things. A personal loving God, as He has revealed Himself, must be saddened by the state of disbelief today. Cardinal Sarah, in his latest book, The Day is Now Far Spent, makes a point from his perspective as a man from Guinea. “African man cannot understand a world without God. The river would no longer have sources, and the houses would be without foundations. A world without God and without morality is like a stillborn infant. The Sea of Galilee cannot exist without its source in the Jordan River. A world without God and without moral and religious values is a deadly illusion. Technological advances try to anesthetize man in an ever deeper sleep.” (p. 224)

I hope that as life slows down for most of us that we don’t squander this opportunity to get back to more of how God sees things. The confused may raise a fist to God and cry, ‘If there is a God, how could He let this happen?’

Firstly, His concern is our eternal happiness. Because so many of us have lost sight of that perspective a deadly epidemic that shuts down business such as Planned Parent for two weeks could actually save about 2,000 lives. (According to their statistics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_Parenthood) We must try to see things through God’s eyes. He gives us faith in order to do so, and blessedly it appears that He is giving us some time to get back to it.

We may find these times anxious, frustrating and unnerving, but we are all called to get back to basics. The basics of our own home, our family, our neighborhood, our next-door neighbors… One parishioner commented that she didn’t even recognize the neighborhood children out playing. We are getting back to the basics of free time. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics speaks of leisure as necessary for the good-life, that is, in order to pursue the good. Josef Pieper “points out that religion can be born only in leisure — a leisure that allows time for the
contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.” He warns, “Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture — and ourselves.” (https://www.amazon.com/Leisure-Basis-Culture-Josef-Pieper/dp/1586172565) And so I hope that we’re finding time for some fruitful pursuits, such as parents educating your own children, or those without children in the home – the basics that might include some needed exercise and reading. For all of you, I hope that this might be that needed opportunity for prayer. You parents might be faced with the challenging task of keeping the Lord’s Day holy by leading your family in communal prayer for the first time.

One of the common devotions from the treasury of our tradition is Spiritual Communion. Pope Francis and Bishop Burbidge have been encouraging us to put it to good use in this time that Holy Communion isn’t available for the most part. What is it?

Have you ever been confronted by your fundamentalist Protestant neighbor, “Have you invited Jesus into your heart?” I can’t help but think that Christ has instilled in these baptized separated brethren, that is, those who are separated from Holy Communion, a means to communion with Him. We find ourselves is a similar situation and sure enough we have a spiritual tool for this. We Catholics have a way of inviting Jesus into our lives, even if we can’t get to church.

“The basis of this practice was explained by John Paul II in his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: In the Eucharist, “unlike any other sacrament … God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.” Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. … St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.].1 .” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Communion) Of course, allow me to explain that St. John Paul II and St. Theresa of Avila are not speaking of blowing off Mass for a soccer game, but rather the opportunity to regularly get into the habit of seeking communion with the Lord, especially if we are prevented from going to Mass for a legitimate reason.

The Council of Trent teaches that the Eucharist is received three different ways: 1. In sacrament only by those who come to Holy Communion with unrepentant sins. 2. Spiritually only by those who can’t receive, like most of you this Sunday, but desire to.
3. Sacramentally and spiritually, that is, those who are prepared beforehand and come to Holy Communion with a clean conscience.
Dr. Taylor Marshall explains: “So then, if a person is in mortal sin and receives the Eucharist, he receives it only sacramentally but receives no grace, but rather condemnation (1Cor 11:29-30). Now a person in a state of grace who eagerly seeks union with Christ and makes an act of the will (i.e. an Act of Spiritual Communion), this person does receive the grace and presence of Christ. Now then, the best way is to combine both the sacramental reception with the earnest desire of a spiritual communion. This is what spiritual authors call “making a good communion,” which requires preparation (sacramental confession or at least an act of contrition) and an openness to receiving the Divine Savior into a the palace of one’s heart.” (https://taylormarshall.com/2011/11/difference-between-spirtual-and.html)

It is my sincere hope that as absence makes the heart grow fonder, our forced absence from Mass will instill a longing and appreciation for that which we take for granted. I am reminded of the many communities that I served in the Dominican Republic who went weeks and sometimes months without the sacramental presence of the Lord. When I would finally arrived there were many souls who edified me with their gratitude. But in all honesty there were many who fell away from the practice of the faith, or who had been away so long that they had no idea what I was offering. This is a real danger.

If we should have the Mass suspended till May, how many might get plenty accustomed to the weekend and overlook the Lord’s Day. Even before this crisis (may be it’s the reason for the crisis) many of our parish had fallen into such bad habits. They sacrifice the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to seek the pursuits of the Massless masses. This is the blindness of our age.

Our Gospel passage today is an example of our how Our Lord heals blindness. This is not always welcomed as the Pharisees object. They’re upset because in their eyes Jesus isn’t respecting God’s law regarding the Sabbath. He is sinning. Furthermore, upon investigating the blind man’s healing, they object to his testimony because he is a sinner.

They are wrong about Jesus’ sin, but they are spot on about the sin of the blind man. His blindness is because of sin. “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” The Pharisees are correct. Sin is why there is blindness. This is why the blind man cannot see. They are correct that he is born in sin, because his parents are sinners. We too have Adam and Eve as our parents and hence the world suffers from diseases such as, blindness. What is the answer to the great problem of our sin and blindness?

I hope that you all said, “Christ”. He provides us with faith. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) With it we can see the hand of God in creation. We can see His image and likeness in our neighbor. We can see the help of God in our troubles, but the greatest gift is that we can see the Cross in our lives. We can know how God is using bad times, sacrifices or difficulties to make us holy, i.e. saints. From our own Way of the Cross, He is leading us to heaven.

How does the blind man of the gospel see? Jesus puts mud on his eyes and commands him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Was it the mud or the waters of the pool that restored the man’s sight? No. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus heals and cures in many different ways. The common element in all of our Lord’s miracles is not mud or a pool, but rather the person who follows our Lord’s instructions, or if you will, blind obedience.

Look how blind faith grows through obedience. At first, the man called Jesus a “man”, then he saw Him as a “prophet”, as “a man sent from God” and finally as “Lord”, i.e. Divine. The scriptures say that no one can call Jesus, “Lord”, without the Holy Spirit, i.e. the power of faith.

Faith provides us the necessary grace to see how to cooperate with God’s plan for our salvation. This insight is diminished by our sin. “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1855) The Pharisees were right. Sin is the reason for blindness. Ironically, they forget their own sins and in turn are blinded to the work of God before them. How do we restore the vision that sin diminishes? “Mortal sin … necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:” (CCC 1856) By Confession, the baptized have a sacrament that Christ uses to wash away the mud. We can be restored to the light of faith regardless of how simple the instruments may seem. As mud didn’t restore sight to the blind man, but rather it was humble obedience to Christ, likewise, our participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, despite the lowly priest that ministers it, restores the sight of those already washed in the pool of the Baptismal Font.

Please, note that our regular Confession schedule has changed very little. You may find me in the box ready to assist you Wednesday and Friday nights from 6:307:30, and Saturday afternoon 3:45-4:45. If you are concerned about social distancing, the Confession Line at St. Stephen’s has been the safest place to be for years.