Monday, February 12, 2024

HOMILY Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle B February 11, 2024

 HOMILY    Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time   Cycle B                                February 11, 2024

           LEPROSY held special terror and horror for people in the ancient world.  Not only was this disease disfiguring and fatal, worse, it cut its victims off from community, from family support and human interaction.  As we heard in the first reading from Leviticus, lepers had to rent their garments, they must cry out, "Unclean, unclean" and dwell apart ("outside the camp").   Ben Hur?

In this section of Mark’s Gospel we see Jesus performing a lot of healing miracles. We saw that in last Sunday’s Gospel.  St. Mark is showing us Jesus’ POWER.  And now Jesus tackles the difficult case of leprosy. 

          Our Gospel is somewhat confusing.  Scripture scholars believe that today’s passage from St Mark is a combination of two different stories that may have circulated about the same event.  At first in our Gospel Jesus is very gentle.  When the leper approaches and makes his request, Jesus is filled with pity.  The compassion of Jesus shows forth.  “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."    

          But then Jesus suddenly becomes rather stern and abrupt.  We hear “Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once.“  The poor guy just got healed of a terrible disease.  Why is Jesus so stern and impatient?   //   Scholars think this was part of an exorcism story, and Jesus is addressing, not the poor man who had leprosy, but rather the evil demon of leprosy, and casting it out.  In the Greek, to dismiss is to cast out.  This is exorcism language.  The order Jesus gives to keep silent is just like what Jesus tells the demons he casts out to not speak, to keep quiet.  So scholars believe it is with the demon of leprosy that Jesus is stern and abrupt.

The word translated as “warned him sternly” literally means to snort, like a warhorse in a battle.  It means to grunt with exertion.  The imagery is one of a fight.  Jesus groans, or grunts, in His struggle with the demon.  This is not a sham fight but a real struggle.  Jesus fights and overpowers the demon.  It sounds strange to our ears.  //

          God is angry at evil.  This is not a milk-toast God, but a champion who fights against oppression, death and evil.  God in Jesus is powerful.  As it is said of Aslan the lion in the wonderful book, The Chronicles of Narnia, “He is not a tame lion.”  


          The same is true for us.  Sin is very like leprosy.  It separates us from other people, puts us at conflict with others.  Sin destroys harmony and community.  Pride, greed, lying, selfishness, envy, licentiousness are all destructive of community.  Sin also eats away at us, destroying us.  Therefore, often in the Gospels leprosy is a symbol for sin.


          Just as Jesus approaches the leper in the Gospel today with compassion and pity, so Jesus also approaches us when we come to Him seeking healing, seeking forgiveness.  Jesus is also powerful enough to overcome the evil, to dismiss it, to cast it out.  Jesus both desires to heal us, and is strong enough to do so.  We sinners are the leper in the Gospel today.  

          Finally, there is a strange reversal of roles in the Gospel.  The leper begins the story separated from community.  He is condemned to “live apart”, outside of the towns.  

Jesus takes pity on him and heals him.  Now the leper is re-integrated into community.  He no longer has to live apart.  But Jesus, because of this healing, now is Himself forced apart.  St. Mark states: “ it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.  He remained outside in deserted places,…”   The roles are reversed.  Jesus must now dwell apart. 

          What had been the situation of the leper has now fallen on Jesus.  Is Mark alluding to the fact that Jesus saves us by taking on Himself our guilt?  I am not sure, but the shadow of the cross is always present, always lurking nearby in Mark’s Gospel. 


          What does all this say to us?  Well, the result of all this is: “God does not fit into our little categories.”  God is God, we are not. 

          However, unlike the evil demon of leprosy, we have not been told to keep silent.  Quite the opposite.  Jesus has now completed His salvific work and risen from the dead.  He has commissioned us to evangelize, to spread the Good News which is the Gospel.  By our words, and more importantly by our works, we are “to publicize the whole matter” of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  AMEN. 

Monday, February 5, 2024

Homily Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time February 4, 2024

 Homily    Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time      February 4, 2024


I’m sorry if you came to Mass today in a rather good mood, and feeling kind of up, because our first reading is sure to bring you down.  It is really a bummer.  It starts:Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of hirelings?”  Notice that verse 5 has been left out, skipped over.  It is pretty gross.  It says: “My skin is clothed with worms and scabs; my skin cracks and festers;  Ugggh!   And the reading ends on this ‘happy’ note: “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”   This reading makes Eeyore look like a sparkling bon vivant!     //

          I think this downer of a reading is given to us at the beginning of our liturgy today as a reality check.   Always in the back of our heads is the terrible violence and suffering in Ukraine, in Jesus’ own homeland, in so many shootings and killings and violence in our own cities and neighborhoods.  The scourge of fentanyl and illegal drugs.  And as the national election creeps nearer many of us fear an increase in division, hatred, and violence.   This bummer of a reading is a reminder of the depressing seriousness of sin, and our situation left to our own devices, without the intervention of a savior.    //

          Skip now to the Gospel. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and the result is “she waited on them.”   The healing not only saved her, but empowered her to be of service.  Salvation comes not just for our personal benefit, but so we can truly be of service to others.

          Then we are told something that I find interesting.  “When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.  The whole town was gathered at the door.  He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons…” 

          Obviously, Jesus is stronger and more powerful than illness and evil.  But notice the time.  When a Gospel writer tells you the time most often it means something.  And in this Gospel Mark tell us it was after the sun had set and it was dark.  It was dark.

          First century towns in Galilee were not lit up like Austin.  When the sun went down it was dark.  Very dark.  And that was the time of crimes, of evil.  It was the devils’ time.  

Jesus does not wait till it is dark to do His healings as a convenience to those who had day jobs and so waited until they were off of work.  No, Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, to show His complete power over evil, even in the night, in the domain of evil.   Jesus is, in a sense, showing off.  He is flexing His muscle.  He is making it abundantly clear that He is stronger than evil.  Jesus goes into the devil’s home turf, in enemy territory, in the dark, to show that He is even stronger than sickness and death.  //

          In the midst of all that pulls us down, of all the bad and depressing news, of increased polarization and fracturing of our society, a time of ignorance and anger and maliciousness, we are called, like Job, to be realistic, to not make light of the problems and reality we face, to look clear eyed and soberly at the truth of our predicament.  But we do not give up.  We do not collapse.  We do not despair.  

           Instead, we put our hopes and our faith in Jesus Christ.  Christ has rescued us from sin and from eternal death.  He is our hope, our Savior.  He saves us from a meaningless and pointless life, and He saves us for service, for love, for a life of value and meaning now, and for the fullness of life hereafter.

[[ Today at this Mass Colette Lily, daughter of Lauren and Nicholas, will be Baptized into Christ, to share in His wonderful life.  All of us who are Baptized likewise share in Christ’s life and glory. ]]

          Following His way to Life is not easy, but He gives us the help of the Holy Spirit.          All of us, by Baptism and Confirmation, are blessed and empowered to carry on the fight of Jesus against evil and against sin, both in our own hearts, and in our society and world, even after the sun has set and it has grown dark. 

          Jesus is Risen!   Alleluia! 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle B Called By Name Sunday

 Third Sunday of Ordinary Time    Cycle B    Called By Name Sunday

In the Gospel we just heard, Jesus calls Simon (also known as Peter), his brother Andrew, and John and his brother James, to come follow Him.  They became Apostles.  This is appropriately therefore “Called By Name Sunday” when we focus on the call to vocations, especially to vocations to the priesthood, permanent diaconate, and religious life as a religious Sister or Brother. 

This is really important, because we cannot do Church in the way we know it without people responding generously to the Lord’s call to serve the Church as priests, deacons, sisters and brothers. 

The Paulist Fathers, who have staffed this parish for over a century, have had a few men from St Austin’s respond to the Lord’s call to be a Paulist priest, but none for a very, very, VERY long time.  In the nearly 14 years that I have been here at St. Austin, we have had ZERO vocations from this parish. 

That is just not sustainable.  Next week I will be in New York City at a meeting of the Paulist General Council, and we will have to decide what foundations we need to withdraw from, because we simply do not have the manpower to staff all the commitments we currently have.  St. Austin’s, I am happy to say, is NOT on that list, at least for now.

Many religious communities and dioceses face the same reality.  For many diocese a solution has been to import priests from other countries, from the Philippines, India, Latin America and Africa.  This does help make concrete and real the sense that we all belong to a universal church, essentially the same throughout the world.   But it would be better if we could provide for ourselves the priests that we need.

 It is not clear to anyone why we have such a shortage of clergy in this country.  Certainly, the discipline of celibacy, and the very negative repercussions of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, play a large part in this.  But I suspect these are more surface issues, and that there is more that underlies these reasons.

And yet, having been an ordained priest for 45 years, I can truly say that I have been immensely blessed and truly happy as a priest.  And I hope that as you think about the Paulist priests you have known over the years at St. Austin’s, the Bob Scotts, the Stephen Bells, the Rene Constanzas, the Dick Sparks, the Bob Carys and the Rich Andres and Paolo Puccinis, the great majority of them seemed to you fulfilled and happy. 

Certainly, we all have our bad days and down times.  As Americans we cherish our God given right to complain and criticize.  But I hope that in the preaching, in the presiding, in the interactions you have had with Paulist priests, you have seen men with a sense of purpose, mission, and even contentment. 

For me it has been a truly wonderful life.  So, I am perplexed that more men are not drawn to this life of mission and significance.   A priestly vocation really does have great meaning and deep satisfaction.  I hope that shows.

So here is what I am asking you to do.   PRAY.  Pray for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and religious life.  The situation in the world is not getting better.  It is getting darker.  One of the few bright spots is Pope Francis.  We need priests and religious who can proclaim in action as well as word the Joy of the Gospel.

Secondly, there are cards either in your pew or in the foyer where you can write the name of someone who you think would make a good priest, either diocesan or as a Paulist.  Put down that name and as much information as you have, and put it in the collection basket this week or next, or mail it in.   Bishop Joe will contact that person.

Third, if you know of someone who would make a good Paulist or diocesan priest, mention it to that young man.  You may be God’s instrument to help that man begin thinking about a priestly vocation.  And that would be a wonderful gift to the Church.

The Church of the future in this country will not be what it has been in the past.  That is pretty obvious.  Things are changing much faster than most of us realize.   Those who bravely answer the call of the Lord to follow Him in service to the church as priests, deacons and religious will be in for quite an adventure.  You will NOT be bored.

God bless.