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.

September 03, 2009

For the Feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, September 3

Luke 22:24-30

Several things in Pope St. Gregory’s life seem to have been foreshadowed in the various details of this particular Gospel.
In this Gospel, the Apostles argued “about which of them should be regarded as the greatest.”
In St. Gregory’s day, the bishop in Constantinople was trying to give himself a relatively new patriarchal status greater than that of older, Apostolic, patriarchal churches in the East.
St. Gregory, as the Patriarch of Rome, answered the controversy by coining the description of his own status as “The Servant of the Servants of God.”
Also in the Gospel today, Jesus tells the Apostles that the greatest, the leader, is to be as a table servant to others.
St. Gregory himself used to serve daily meals to the poor.
He did this even though he was both the pope and the civil administrator of the Roman empire in Italy.
By political title, by Church title, by example and hard work, St. Gregory was the greatest man in the Roman empire of his day.
On this day, the third of September, in the year of our Lord 590, Gregory, the prefect or viceroy of the Roman empire in Italy, became pope.
It was a troubled time.
The Roman emperor had abandoned Italy to go live across the sea in Constantinople.
The Lombard tribes were invading Italy from the North, bringing death, poverty, but also a falsified version of Christ and of the Christian faith.
St. Gregory spoke out constantly for the poor and the victims of violence.
St. Gregory— imperial viceroy, pope, soup kitchen worker, and international diplomat— also lived as a monk, scholar, and teacher.
He organized the evolving Roman Church ceremonies and liturgy of his day.
He promoted as part of the liturgy the form of chant that has come to be called Gregorian chant in his honor.
He sent a band of monks as missionaries to Britain.
He wrote the lives of saints, including the only biography we have of St. Benedict, who died when St. Gregory was a child.
St. Gregory was also a man of prayer and a man of Scripture.
One of his insights concerning devotion to and study of Scripture surely comes out of his own experience.
St. Gregory said, “Scripture grows with the reader.”
The Holy Spirit breathed within the hearts and minds of the human authors instrumental in revealing God through the words of the Scriptures.
As the reader himself grows in the Spirit, so too grows his recognition of the Spirit of revelation contained in the text of Scripture.
Such growth— all Christian growth— requires conversion, penance, prayer, charity, study and worship.
St. Gregory’s insight can serve us as we now celebrate God’s revelation of himself here in the liturgy.
The liturgy can grow for us, if we grow for it.
We must bring to the liturgy our daily and lifelong efforts of conversion, study, penance, worship, prayer and charity.
Together with St. Gregory, we turn to worship Christ our Lord and Master, who approaches now to serve at the table and altar of his Eucharist.
Here, the Most Holy One takes upon his innocent self the punishment for the sins of the twelve tribes of Israel and the sins of all the tribes of our human race.
The Great One serves up himself as the saving food and drink of eternal life for sinners and as a living sacrifice of praise to the honor and glory of the Father.
He is in our midst as one who serves— serving as the “Servant of the Servants of God His Father.”

That God Be Glorified in All

August 30, 2009

For the Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday of the Church Year

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

We witness today another conflict between Jesus on one side and the Pharisees and scribes on the other.
Jesus criticizes their hypocrisy and hollow lip service.
He quotes the prophet Isaiah.
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.

Then Jesus adds, “You disregard God’s commandment, but cling to human tradition.”
The Pharisees were clinging to “the tradition of the elders.”
The tradition dictated the careful washing of hands before eating.
It also ordered the purifying “of cups and jugs and kettles.”
It called for keeping beds clean.
It is not a bad tradition.
In fact, today we know it is necessary.
In the days of Jesus, people did not know as we do about the existence of germs, microbes, bacteria, or viruses.
Jesus did not tell the Pharisees or the crowd of ordinary people to stop washing, stop cleaning, stop sanitizing or purifying.
However, he took this occasion to challenge the Pharisees and all the people to keep God’s commandments and to work for purity inside themselves.
He said, “You disregard God’s commandment, but cling to human tradition.”
Disregard for God’s commandments keeps our hearts far from God.
Jesus sums up the breaking of God’s commandments as impurities that begin inside us and show up in our thoughts and actions.
He puts it this way today.
From within people,
from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within
and they defile.

Jesus forgave sinners.
He forgave prostitutes, robbers, adulterers and corrupt tax officials.
He forgave people whom he knew to be guilty of the evil things that he names today:
evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.

Jesus forgave and still forgives even before we are ready to seek forgiveness.
As he said from his cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
However, he does not want a one-way relationship.
Jesus is not satisfied to forgive us and then leave us alone where we are.
He wants us to leave sin behind and to be close to him.
He expresses his concern today:
their hearts are far from me

You disregard God’s commandment

He wants us close to him, he wants us pure, and the first step in that direction is to obey God’s commandments.
However, what if we find ourselves weak?
What if our struggle against sin is painful and full of repeated, lifelong failure?
What if we find ourselves so chained or hardened that it seems we are condemned to stay impure?
Let’s recall two lessons from Jesus that ought to give us courage.
The first lesson was about a corrupt official guilty of much public evil, and who knew it all too well and painfully.
All that he found himself able to do was visit the house of God, stand far away from the altar, look down at the floor, beat his chest, and say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”
Jesus said:
This man went home justified.
He who humbles himself will be exalted.

To confess honestly that we are sinners is already a lifting up of our hearts to God.
A second lesson for courage.
Two criminals were crucified together with Jesus.
One of the criminals ... mocked him, saying,
“Are you not the Anointed One?
Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal answered him, saying,
“Do you not fear God,
since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
You and I are justly condemned.
We are receiving what our actions deserve,
but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said to Jesus,
“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him,
“Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Jesus did not miraculously release that criminal from execution.
However, in answer to that man’s repentance, humility and faith, Jesus gave him Paradise that same afternoon.
He wants us to leave sin behind now.
He wants us to draw near to him.
For that we must obey God’s commandments, and we must challenge our thoughts, feelings, and choices to do battle against sin.
The death of Jesus shows that God spares himself nothing, not even the trampling of his own dignity, in offering us from out of his own sin-wounded heart the forgiveness of our sins.
Yet, in order to take hold of God’s gift, we must forgive those who sin against us, and we must ask God for what he has already offered.
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The merciful heart of God is handed over to us in the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ, “the new and everlasting covenant ... so that sins may be forgiven.”
Let us dare to offer ourselves to him, if not with purity yet, then with the honesty of committed ongoing repentance.
Repentance is the first step on the road to purity and the first step on the road to God.

That God Be Glorified in All