One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

December 20, 2007

For December 20 in Advent II

Luke 1:26-38

“Hail, Full-of-Grace!”
We are too familiar with those words.
The Bible is not familiar with those words, “Full-of-Grace.”
In the ancient Greek Bible, the word for “Full-of-Grace” turns up only this once as a God-given title for Mary.
In the original Greek, “Full-of-Grace” is one word that means graced through and through, graced over the top, graced all the way, completely graced, thoroughly graced, brimming with grace.
It would seem to be a title worthy of heaven itself— immaculate, with no room at all for sin.
Had a human being said such a thing to Mary, a daughter of Israel, she likely would have thought it blasphemous.
Indeed, the Gospel tells us “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
Oddly, the Gospel does not tell us Mary is troubled at having an ANGEL come to her.
Rather, she is greatly troubled that the angel gives her a name befitting heaven.
The Son of Heaven is to receive his own immaculate flesh and blood from the flesh and blood of the immaculate Mary brimming with grace.
Some say that to acknowledge Mary as immaculately preserved against original sin from the first moment of her being is to remove Mary to so high a rank that she is no longer relevant to our real human condition, and no longer available for a real human relationship with us.
I have two answers to that.
First: Mary is not removed from the human race; rather, she is the human race made most noble and most worthy of heaven.
Second: the root cause of unreality and distance in relationships among us is sin.
A woman without sin brings no unreality and no distance into any of her relationships.
She can relate to us more closely and more truly than can any other human person.
What is true of Mary by gracious gift from God is true of Christ Jesus as True God himself and True Man.
Surpassingly exalted and sinless as a man, Christ is the contradiction of all distance and unreality in our relationships.
St. Augustine recognized that, and [in his “Confessions”] wrote to God:
You were within me,
but I was outside....
You were with me,
but I was not with you.

Like her son, Mary is closer to the heart of our own humanity than we are, precisely because she is immaculate and brimming with grace.
She is free of every barrier of sin that could get in the way of the truth and reality of the humanity she shares with us.
She remains a virgin, while also being a mother even in body.
Mary, immaculate and brimming with grace, is made into the overcoming of human contradictions: virginity and motherhood come together in Mary.
It happened with her under the power of God the Holy Spirit.
Nothing is impossible for God.
By the power of God the Holy Spirit, it is possible for a virgin to be a mother.
By the power of God the Holy Spirit, it is possible for God the Eternal Son to be born as the flesh and blood son of the Virgin Mary.
By the power of God the Holy Spirit at Baptism, it is possible for sinners to be royal sons and daughters of God. By the power of God the Holy Spirit, it is possible for the Body and Blood of Christ to be real food and real drink.
By the power of God the Holy Spirit in the flesh and blood that Christ has in common with Mary and us, it is possible for us to rise from the dead, sinless, immaculate, brimming with grace.
The Word of the Lord [2 Pt. 1:3-4] says that by the power of God we can become communicants of divine nature.
The power of God only waits for our lives to give the same answer as Mary.
Behold, the servant of the Lord am I.
According to your word so be it to me.

That God Be Glorified in All

December 18, 2007

For December 18 in Advent

Matthew 1:18-25

The Virgin Mary has in her womb a son begotten of the Holy Spirit to save his people from their sins
His name, “Jesus,” is from the Hebrew words meaning, “Yahweh is salvation.”
In the person of Jesus, God is with us to save us from our sins.
The Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus, plus a fourth person, an angel of the Lord, enter the life and dreams of righteous Joseph of Bethlehem.
Joseph is already vowed to marriage with Mary.
Joseph has fathered no child, but his wife is now carrying one.
An angel of the Lord tells Joseph in a dream that his pregnant wife Mary is still a virgin— the very one whom God’s prophecy had said would conceive a son.
A son, his virgin mother, an angel of the Lord!
However, Joseph of Bethlehem, righteous man of ancient Israel, learns of another great mystery— and it is mysterious news for ancient Israel.
Joseph learns of one called the HOLY SPIRIT.
Up to now, Joseph and all Israel know only what they have heard and prayed several times a day for many centuries:
Shema, Israel!
Adonai Elohenu!
Adonai eha!

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God! The Lord alone!”
Joseph undoubtedly has questions about this HOLY SPIRIT.
“Who or what is this HOLY SPIRIT that has begotten the son Mary carries, leaving her still a virgin?”
Two thousand years later, for you and me THE DIVINE TRINITY OF THE FATHER AND THE SON AND THE HOLY SPIRIT is old news, and we take it for granted.
It was not so for Joseph of Bethlehem.
Yet, the ancient writings of Israel, even the book of beginnings, told of God’s Spirit— though the word for “spirit” in Israel’s language is the same as “breath” and “wind.”
Yahweh God formed man’s body of the virgin earth, and breathed— spirited— into his nostrils the breath— the spirit— of life; and man became a living being. [See Gen. 2:7.]
In the beginning, the immaculate and virgin earth knew no man, but by the Holy Spirit-Breath of God the immaculate, virgin earth conceived and bore a son, the first man.
As Joseph dreams and learns from an angel, he hears, perhaps in some deep and hidden way, an echo of the book of beginnings.
In the beginning the Holy Spirit of God filling the immaculate earth’s virginity gave birth to all the living.
Now the Living God repeats the pattern for a new beginning.
In the person of the Virgin Mary the earth is once again immaculate and overshadowed by the Spirit-power of God Most High, begetting the man Jesus, God-with-Us, who saves his people from their sins, giving them a new beginning.
In bread and wine, we again bring the earth under the shadow of the Spirit.
Here in his Eucharist, Emmanuel gives us his flesh and blood, begotten of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, entrusted to righteous Joseph, who took the entire mystery into his home.
Jesus God in his Eucharist is still saving his people from their sins.
With righteous Joseph let us awaken, obey and work to take this new beginning into our homes and all the moments of our lives.

That God Be Glorified in All

December 16, 2007

For the Third Sunday of Advent

Matthew 11:2-11

John the Baptist had spoken out publicly about the infamous sins of King Herod.
That was not unusual for John, since he always told everyone in the land to repent.
The king had him arrested and imprisoned.
Someone has told John in prison about the things Christ has been doing and saying.
Christ gathered the crowds on a mountain, and began to teach like Moses— but with wondrous newness, creativity and depth.
Then, as if to signal that a new promise was coming from God— a promise greater than a land flowing with milk and honey— Christ began to work great miracles.
He once scolded the storm wind and the tossing sea; and they fell dead silent.
Then, he brought a dead girl back to life.
John in prison has heard these things about Christ.
To John and to many, Christ had begun to seem the promised one of God, the one to whom God would give a royal anointing to save and sanctify the country, and to teach all the nations.
Then, the latest news comes to John in prison.
The possible Messiah has just taught his disciples that for their loyalty and faith, they will be persecuted, cut off from their relatives, and even killed.
How can a savior sent by God say this?
John now sends his own followers with a message for Christ.
Are you the one who is to come,
or shall we look for someone else?

You and I have something in common with John the Baptist.
We also have something in common with the disciples of John the Baptist.
Somewhat like John the Baptist, you and I have been arrested and locked up by our inherited and universally shared human tendency to sin.
From within our prison, we, like John the Baptist, receive the news that Christ has bottomless wisdom, that he has power higher than the stormy sky, and that he has authority over life and death.
Could he be God’s promise in person?
Like the disciples of John the Baptist, we are entirely free to go to Christ and ask him, “Are you the PROMISE-IN-PERSON, or shall we go somewhere else?”
Christ still tells us the same thing he once told the disciples of John the Baptist.
Go and tell what YOU hear and YOU see:
I make disabled bodies whole again,
I raise up the dead,
and I preach good news to the poor.

From within our prison of sinful tendencies, and from behind the bars of human suffering, the Gospel of Christ may seem too good to be true.
Perhaps, at times, in the midst of sadness, fear or anger, we may feel like saying to Christ, “So what?”
“First work some miracles for me, then I’ll believe in you.”
Perhaps at times we may want to say to him, “Set me free from my prison, then I’ll know you are the promised one of God.”
“Why does following you involve the cross?”
Knowing the questions in the mind of John the Baptist, and knowing the shadows in our minds, Christ adds a mysterious beatitude to the answer he gives to the disciples of John and to us.
Blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

Christ knows we may find his Gospel difficult to believe, difficult to swallow, difficult to follow.
His Gospel is a scandal not only to those who do not believe.
We also stumble, because while Christ promises God’s undying love, yet he also declares our share in the cross.
Christ knows his own contradiction.
So, in his Gospel today, he deliberately points to the challenging nature of his Gospel from a different direction.
He begins to speak to the crowd about John the Baptist.
He tells them God sent John as a messenger to prepare the way for God’s promise to come true in Christ and his Gospel.
Christ says that the preparation for the Gospel is no limp reed flopping in the breeze.
The preparation for the Gospel is out in wild and deserted places— not in the comfort of a royal palace.
The preparation for God’s promise to come true is a penitential prophet.
What is the message of this prophet?
Confession of sins.
Reformation of life.

How many of us have been preparing in THAT WAY for Christmas Day?
How many of us have prepared in THAT WAY for Christ-in-the-Mass TODAY?
John’s way and John’s work opened up the people for Christ.
That is why Christ said of John:
Truly, I say to you,
among those born of women
there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist.

John is the greatest person ever born because he prepared the way for Christ to begin his saving work.
Still, Christ adds that the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist.
Who, then, is this “least one” in the kingdom of heaven?
Christ made himself the least one in the kingdom of heaven.
He chose to be the servant of sinners, as well as the food and drink of sinners.
Christ will come to us in a special way by our celebration of his birth at Christmas.
However, Christ is coming right now and right here in his Eucharist.
John the Baptist shows us the supreme greatness of being prepared for Christ now and always.
Confession of sins.
Reformation of life.

Are we ready to receive Christ?
Or are we looking elsewhere?

That God Be Glorified in All