30 Apr Fourth Sunday in Easter
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit working through those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
On the 4th Sunday of the Easter Season we always hear the Good Shepherd Gospel from John chapter 10. “The Good Shepherd’s sheep hear his voice and they know him! and He lays down His life for his sheep. Thus, this a day set aside as the world Day of Prayer for Vocations. Today the Church throughout the world prays for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life.
I would encourage you to pray for the priests who have ministered to you throughout your life, both living and dead.
I would ask you to keep your parish priests in your prayers.
I would also ask you to encourage your children, grandchildren, or other young people to consider a vocation as a priest or religious brother or sister. I think many people think our lives are difficult or perhaps lonely. You know that I was a teacher for ten years before entering the seminary…and I can honestly say in my 17 years of priesthood I have known nothing but fulfillment and joy…It’s not always easy but it is so rewarding. I would never look back. God is so good!
This week I would also ask you to spend some time in prayer, perhaps pray a rosary for more young men and women in our archdiocese to respond to God’s call. I am convinced He is calling…sometimes the noise of the world gets in the way of us hearing his call.
Pope Francis has just released , what is called, an Apostolic Exhortation entitled Rejoice and be glad…it is focused on the basic vocation of each and every follower of Christ, the universal call to holiness. He doesn’t review with us how to pray he re-proposes the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time. (2). He reflects on the holiness in parents who raise their children with immense love, in the men and women who work hard to support their families. He reflects on the holiness of the sick and the elderly who persevere in their daily suffering without losing their smiles. It is often those around us, our next door neighbours, who reflect holiness, who reflect God’s presence in their lives.
The Holy Father in a very strong and direct way states that Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church (9). He emphatically reminds us, quoting the great French theologian Leon Bloys, that “the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint.” (34) (La femme pauvre, Paris, II, 27.); that in the Scriptures the Lord calls each of us personally to “Be Holy, for I (God) am holy” (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:16) The main thrust of the entire Second Vatican Council was to declare clearly that each and every one of us in our own way, whatever our condition or state is called to by the Lord to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect. (10) (Lumen Gentium 11)
At the Men’s Ministry yesterday morning we were discussing this and several asked: “What does it really mean to be holy?” The Hebrew word Qadhosh means completely other, completely set aside…thus, Holiness [N] [T] in the highest sense belongs to only to God ( Isaiah 6:3 ; Revelation 15:4 ). Christians are therefore holy in the degree to which we are conformed in all things to the will of God ( Romans 6:19 Romans 6:22 ; Ephesians 1:4 ; Titus 1:8 ; 1 Peter 1:15 ). As we gradually separate more and more of our thinking, our words and our actions from the ways of the world and align them more and more with the will of God for us… we gradually grow in holiness.
The pursuit of holiness faces numerous hindrances as we all know, hence the frequent Scriptural encouragement to watchfulness, prayer, and perseverance ( 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 co 7:1; Ephesians 4:23 Ephesians 4:24 ).
Pope Francis reminds us that we are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness to Jesus Christ in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. The Holy Father reminds us to let the grace of our baptism bear fruit in our path of holiness. We have the great gift of the sacraments, scripture, the witness of the saints, our personal prayer…meaning we have all the grace we need to overcome temptations to not set every aspect of our lives apart for God.
He says to work on the little things giving the example of a person at the grocery store who meets a neighbour who starts to gossip… and the person trying to grow in holiness says in their heart: “No, I will not speak badly of anyone”. Willfully cooperating with the grace of the Sacraments and prayer this becomes possible. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, a child wants to talk about his hopes and dreams, and even though tired, they sit down and listen with patience and love. This is another sacrifice that brings holiness. A mother, plagued with worry or anxiety, about her children or some matter,…recalls the love of the Virgin Mary and takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Someone encounters a poor person in the street and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step in the path of holiness. Through such small, self-sacrificial gestures, the holiness God wills for us slowly becomes a reality.
Holiness, great holiness, is possible…He reminds us…If we choose to cooperate with the graces given to us in the sacraments and our prayer…Pope Francis quotes Pope Benedict who said…“holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.” (Pope Benedict April 13, 2011) (21) It is only when we abandon the path of love that our growth in holiness ceases.
Pope Francis says that a Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness, as St. Paul tells us in first Thessalonians…“This is the will of God, your sanctification.” (1 Thes. 4:3)
The Holy Father says we often do not hear God’s voice because of the presence of constantly new gadgets and things in our lives. He says we need times of prayer and solitude so that we slowly become more and more self-sacrificial, more loving, in our lives.
He encourages us to not be afraid of holiness (32) In the pursuit of holiness we become what the Father had in mind for us when he created us. Thus, Pope Francis encourages, in pursuing holiness we are being true to our deepest self. (32)
In a major part of the Exhortation the Holy Father holds up for us the Beatitudes as Jesus strongest, clearest and most simple explanation of holiness (Matthew 5:3-12)
Blessed or Holy are the poor in spirit, the humble, those striving to do the will of God. Those open to allow God to work in their lives. Blessed/Holy are those who mourn who are sad when faced with their faults and failings, their sins…. when they have failed to do the will of God. Blessed/Holy are those who have compassion and are willing to be with others in their pain and sorrow. Blessed / Holy are the meek, the gentle…those who do not complain…those who regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority or judgment. (72). Blessed/Holy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Hungering and thirsting are intense experiences…true justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions; and only then can they pursue justice for the poor and the weak, the most vulnerable. (79) He strongly proclaims that “Our defence of the innocent unborn, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. He reminds us also that “equally sacred are all those who are rejected in any way, equally sacred are the lives of the poor, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, equally sacred are the victims of human trafficking which is one of the new forms of human slavery. (101) Blessed/Hungering and thirsting for Righteousness, that is holiness.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Mercy involves giving, helping and serving others and includes forgiveness and understanding (80). Pope Francis reminds us that we should never forget that the Gospel of Luke says “The measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38). The yardstick we use for understanding and forgiving others will measure the forgiveness we receive (81)
He dwells on Forgiveness reminding us Jesus does not say blessed are those who plot revenge or blessed are the arrogant…. but blessed are those who forgive not seven times but seventy times seven times. (Matthew 18:22) He says we should think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven because God has looked on each of us with divine compassion. Thus the Scriptures ask, “should we not have mercy on our fellows, as God has had mercy on us.” (Matthew 18:33)
Blessed/Holy are the pure in heart for they will see God. A pure heart is a heart focused on the one necessary thing, a heart that loves God and neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40) genuinely and not merely in words.
Blessed/Holy are the peace makers. The Holy Father points to our tendency to hear something and repeat it… even embellish it as we spread it. Those who gossip he states strongly are the enemies of peace and are in no way blessed. Peacemakers truly make peace. Every believer must work for peace. Unity is always preferable to conflict. As St. Augustine guided us: “Unity on essentials, Disunity is permitted on non-essentials. But Charity is required in all.” Sowing peace is holiness.
Blessed/Holy are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of him. Jesus, himself, knew that the path he proposes goes against the flow, (90) His followers must expect persecution, expect strong opposition from the world.
Pope Frances then zeroes in on Holiness as living the commandment of mercy. He says the clear criterion on which we will be judged is found in Matthew 25, the scene of the Last Judgement. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:35-36) Pope Francis says it is his duty to ask Christians to acknowledge this passage of the gospel in a spirit of genuine openness without any “ifs or buts” that could lessen the force of these teachings. (97)
He says: “If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a Christian! Can holiness come to be understood apart from this lively recognition of the dignity of each human being? (98) He reminds us that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. (104) He cites St. Thomas Aquinas who was once asked which actions of ours are noblest, which external works best show our love for God. St. Thomas answered unhesitatingly that they are the works of mercy towards our neighbour. (106)(Summa Theologieae, II-II, q. 30, a.4)
Pope Francis strongly recommends we reread these great biblical texts frequently praying with them, trying to embody them. The beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12 and Judgment of the Nations: Mathew 25: 31-46.
All of what the Holy Father teaches in this exhortation is based upon the principle of self-sacrificial love, what St. Bonaventure called the logic of the Cross. (174) Therein lies our joy, our blessedness, our holiness. Self-sacrificial love. The Beatitudes and the Judgment of the Nations are the blueprints of the authentic process of leaving ourselves behind to carry out the mission to which he has called each and every one of us for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The Holy Father ends by stating that it is his hope that this Exhortation will prove helpful by enabling the whole Church to devote herself anew to promoting the desire for holiness and he asks the Holy Spirit to pour out upon each of us a fervent longing to be saints, for God’s greater glory. (177)
And herein lies our vocations as followers of Christ: the universal call to Holiness. Pope Francis is asking us to take our call to holiness very seriously.
Herein lies a happiness/ blessedness/ holiness that the world cannot know nor can the world ever take away from us once we have obtained it.
Easier said than done.
As you well know…I’m not there yet. I would hazard to guess some of you are thinking that you’re not there yet either. At this point in history Pope Francis is zeroing in on the very essence of the gospel encouraging us that yes, with the grace of Jesus’ Suffering Death and Resurrection…what we receive in the Sacraments…yes, this is possible and reminding us that …The only real tragedy in this life is not to become a saint.