Vineyards of En-Gedi | 2020 January
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Homiletics Notes / 31.01.2020

The Gospel story of the presentation and its cast of char actions is imbued with a profound joy underlying each encounter in the story. Mary and Joseph were obviously filled with joy at presenting their son just as much as any parents today coming for baptism. The Church greets them with finger pointing admonitions and tests of their worthiness. Simeon takes the child in his arms and blesses God in thanksgiving. His prayer at the end of his life is infused with joy; he sees that God answered his prayers. He speaks and light and glory -- things of joy! The parents were amazed, not frightened. Mary is possibly so filled with this joy and excitement that she does not respond to the prophecy of the Messianic infant about her heart being pierced. \ Anna thanks God, again in an expession of joy. Even in their return to Nazareth, the gospel tells of the joy of Mary and Joseph, seeing their son grow in wisdom and the favor (grace) of God. The homilist, having shared the joy of the readings and the Gospel, then turns the homily toward the local joy within the parish and our own causes for joy which then leads to the Eucharist. ...

Homiletics Notes / 30.01.2020

Someone recently observed in a conversation about religious life, that the only qualification for leaders is that they have suffered. The did not mean that sort of American whining about how hard one's life is. He meant deep and scaring human suffering. A day in a Sudanese refugee camp might clarify this for an American. In light of this the second reading this Sunday makes a lot of sense as part of God's plan by sending his Son, like ourselves, in order that as this unique high priest, Jesus might expiate through a perfect sacrifice, sins and restore at the same time and act, the original relationship between God and the human person. Notice that sin is just not compared to death, but in this passage is death itself. Sin kills us, and the Lord of Death is the Lord of the Flies -- the Devil. Notice that the action doing this is named: expiation. Expiation if a freely offered sacrifice expecting nothing in return as an act of reparation and adoration. It is as far on the spectrum from "do ut des" religion that you can get; it is not any kind of offering aimed at obtaining the divine gaze in one's favor. This is an extremely important point tied very closed to the kenotic self emptying of Jesus. In this sense then, his presentation sets his life on the way to the cross where the expiation is made complete. That's why this second reading was chosen. ...

Homiletics Notes / 29.01.2020

Malachi is at once both ominous and utterly hopeful that God will visit His people. For those who have always wanted at hell fire and brimstone homily, Malachi 3, 2-3 is your verse. For those who are waiting joyfully for God's visitation, then look to the first and last verse of this prophecy. The refining fire has been transposed into an image of hell, or purgatory at best. It is read since the early Middle Ages as dark and negative and fearful. It is a passage that is used to justify the teaching about purgatory, and it will be too easy for the self-righteous to get lost and caught up into the rhetoric of a fear based religion. This is arguably not the intention of the prophet to scare and create a fear based religious view of God. Here the prophet is using images of hope. The refiner of metals gets all excited at this stage in the process of turning raw ores into things of valuable. It is an awesome experience filled with excitement to watch the valuable end product emerge from the intense heat and fills the refiner with satisfaction. The same is true of the fuller turning wool filled with the grit of the pasture into the purest white material for proper robes, because the whiter the more valuable. IN addition to the imagery are the verbs that express both excitement, anticipation, and joy. "Suddenly", "desire", "refining", "will please" is not the language of the full religious experience. This ought to be the focus of the homily. ...

Homiletics Notes / 28.01.2020

There's this ancient understanding of medicine that the healing of a wound is both in the would itself and in what ever caused the wound. This is sort of the background thinking for the second reading from Hebrews. For example the twisted serpents made by Moses for the healing of snakebite is how the ancients thought. Death is destroyed by entering into death, giving one the power to overcome it. The key word is "Expiation" a very heavily loaded theological word; it is the same word used for the ark of the covenant. Unlike propitiation, expiation is a free gift with the expectation of nothing in return. It is not "do ut des" religion, a common heresy among Catholics. The wound of the world is sin, brought about by us humans ourselves. By becoming like us, Jesus enters into the suffering caused by Sin and death. The last big word in the text is "tested." This test is the great temptation of Adam and Eve, and all of us who follow. This is the temptation to rebel against God and replace God with ourselves. This reading fits the Presentation theme because it desires the mission of Jesus that is universal and that saves the world. It is a very difficult short passage to translate into short homily. Focus on the mission and its effects is really the point. ...

Homiletics Notes / 27.01.2020

February 2, Presentation of the Lord. A day for blessing of candles, an old tradition. Of course everyone loves to carry a lit candle in a procession, even though some of the technicalities present problems. The second antiphon for the procession is very evocative. here the bridal chamber is the inmost sanctuary of the Temple, which the community prepares to meet the groom, Christ the King. Mary is called "the gate of heaven," for she carries the infant Jesus. She encourages the Church to make an announcement "to all the peoples." This orients the feast toward evangelization and toward the whole world. The gospel relates the presentation narrative from the gospel of Luke. The focus is on the speeches of Simeon and Anna announcing salvation. Another theme is the faithfulness of all present there to the covenant, acting according to the Law of Moses. The story follows Luke's thematic pattern of reversal; here is this infant among many others no doubt being presented on any given day, but suddenly with this child, everything changes in the direction of their lives, accepting this surprising new thing from God. So, we ask ourselves this question: in what way has Christ changed the direction of our own lives? Is the bridal chamber of our hearts prepared for such a groom as Christ? What does it mean the Mary is "the gate of heaven?" ...

Homiletics Notes / 25.01.2020

First reading: "a great light", "abundant joy", "great rejoicing". Psalm: "the Lord is my light", "to dwell in the house of the Lord", and "the loveliness the Lord". Second reading: "agree in what you say", "to preach the gospel", and "not with the wisdom of human eloquence". Gospel: "the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light", "repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand", and "Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men". Stringing these phrases from the readings together points the homilist in the diction of evangelization. They contrast our former state with our new call through baptism to witness to the Gospel. One cannot actually say too much about evangelization for the contemporary North American church. The falling away of members, often into the uniquely American phenomenon of evangelism, and final removing religion altogether from one's life, is the cultural situation most needing attention in our time. Evangelization, which some have created workbooks and processes for (!), is practically unknown to the Catholic Church. All w do is within structures and roles formed since the 1970's, none of it creating an environment fixed on evangelization. These 1970's methods ar already beginning to show the cracks of failure. The readings cry out for the light of the gospel to be shed upon our lives. ...

Homiletics Notes / 24.01.2020

The Isaiah passage has a history of use in the social justice and peace movement within the Catholic Church. The liberation from oppression is poetically described as the smashing of yoke, pole, and rod. I'm going to risk a slightly different interpretation: the yoke is the way we allow ourselves to be bound to a white, capitalistic and narcissistic culture, the pole signifies all the burdens we carry because of our attachment, and the rod is the cultural compromises we make and the risk of moving toward a police state to keep us in line. Indeed we live in Aland of gloom. Often I hear talk of the end of civilization if not the whole world. Our tribalization tricks us into a false security of thinking we can take care of ourselves, everyone else be damned. Psalm 27 this Sunday is a good antidote to all that foolish talk. Here is an opportunity to lift up the hearts of the congregation, and not contribute to their fears and gloom. ...

Homiletics Notes / 23.01.2020

Capernaum, a small fishing village on the northern shores of Galilee, becomes the central location for Jesus' ministry before his journey to Jerusalem. Far from the the temple, and all its theological and social politics, Jesus works among the people. Capernaum is close to the Decapolis, the Hellenized north east. Religious politics are different in this northern region; for one thing the exposure to Hellenzation is a daily feature of life. This proximity allows Jesus' ministry to take on a broader scope than mere attention to his own Jewish people. The opening verse serves as a grand notice of this ministry, supported by the quote from Isaiah, validating Jesus' approach. d His preaching is reduced here to a single word with its rationalization. "Repent." "Μετανοιετε." One ought to do this because the kingdom of heaven is at hand, although "drawn neat" is more precise. The kingdom of heaven is a time when the fullness of God's dominion manifests itself in reality; that it "draws near" indicates that it is perceptible to those tuned in and has a characteristic of immediacy. Metanoia is more in the linguistic range of conversion that repentance, both a part of a larger and longer process toward full discipleship. This miniature an dcondensed proclamation, the calling of the disciples, the location in Galilee are all a set up for the gathering of crowds for the great Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5. ...

Homiletics Notes / 22.01.2020

A concern in every parish is its unity. Yet, in every parish there is often disunity. The differences appear over the liturgy, over some obscure point of philosophy, over personalities, rivalries. Parishes and pastors often can resolve this through a shared vision and mission statement. Sometimes it might result from a building project, focus on a mission or sister parish somewhere, and shared opportunities for prayer. I have found that one major way to this unity that St. Paul speaks of to the Corinthians was engagement in some project external or outside of the community, and the most supreme way to this unity is to preach the Eucharist in every sermon..St. Paul says it best and most simply, "I belong to Christ." We may laugh now over such obscurities as the aphthartodocetai or the problem of apokatastasis. You may be amazed to learn that people gave their lives or were imprisoned over such issues. There are those today who would die for the Latin Mass, for example. It is not just the bishop or the pastor who must strive to preserve the unity of the church. It is the responsibility of every single member of the church not only preserve this unity but orient this unity toward Eucharist and the sharing of some common outreach. St. Paul offers an interesting rational. "So that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of it meaning. Or in the original, "might not be emptied," the "of its meaning" has to be added by the English to clarify what the emptying results in. The cross is then a sign that points to the sacrifice of the Eucharist and in itself embodies the union of heaven and earth. ...

Homiletics Notes / 20.01.2020

Sunday, Ordinary Time 3 A The Gospel this coming Sunday has four parts: the rationale of Jesus' withdrawal to Galilee, Jesus' core message, Jesus' calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John, and a final verse about Jesus' ministry in Galilee. The references to the ancient tribal territories of Zebulon and Naphtali seem a bit obscure. Perhaps the point is that Jesus' work in these two northern most areas foretell Jesus' command to go the Gentiles. Living closest to and among the Gentiles, these two lands were seen as at risk to lose their Jewish religion. The prophet Isaiah's description of their culture is not pretty; they are at the way to the sea, a poetic way referencing their access to the rest of the world and all its lures, a land overshadowed by death, poetically speaking again of the dying to one's faith. The passage also reflects the extent of Jesus' northern ministry. Then suddenly Jesus' simplified message is added to show what Jesus did, then suddenly he is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum. Jesus got around. The last verse in this passage picks this up again after the call of the sons of Simon and Zebedee; Jesus' travels through "all of Galilee". Jesus message is universal, not just meant for some elite privileged core group of the righteous. How does this narrative match up with the modern North American Catholic Church today? ...