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 26, 2009

For the Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr

Matthew 10:17-22
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

In the space of a day, we have gone from the beginning of Christ’s newborn life on earth, through the fullness of his manhood, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, past Pentecost, into the days of the first deacons and the first martyr.
We join St. Stephen who is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “who looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
The vision and its testimony, for which St. Stephen underwent martyrdom, echo in the Church’s profession of faith that the Lord Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
Stephen’s vision has four things in it.
First: he saw heaven opened up.
Second: he saw the glory of God in heaven.
Third: he saw the Lord Jesus as a man in heaven.
Fourth: he saw that the Son of Man is also God at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
St. Stephen had his vision in the presence of Israel’s high priest, other priests, scribes, and elders.
He dared to tell them what he was seeing.
Upon hearing it they dragged him out for death by stoning.
As he suffered the deadly hail, he dared to testify again with the words that are the first known prayer to the name of Jesus in heaven.
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus whom he knew to be at the right hand of the Father.
Was it the first time that a Christian prayed to the ascended Lord Jesus by name?
We don’t know.
The Lord Jesus had taught us to pray to his Father and ours, “Our Father who art in heaven….”
The Lord Jesus had also spoken of the Holy Spirit and of himself in terms of their both being our intercessors, our paracletes, our advocates at the throne of the Father.
If not in St. Stephen, then by his time, Christian prayer became peculiarly or properly Christian.
That is, it was not merely prayer to God, not only prayer to the heavenly Father, but also prayer to the person of Christ.
It became Christian in another sense.
Already to say, “Our Father,” is to pray as Christ prayed.
With the dying words of Stephen we see Christian prayer begin to imitate Christ in other ways as well.
On the cross the Lord Jesus prayed aloud to the Father.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
St. Stephen spoke his own dying prayers to the Lord Jesus.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
With that last prayer, St. Stephen, like all other saints in heaven, is also a paraclete, an advocate, an intercessor.
He seeks the salvation of sinners by the forgiveness of their sins.
The forgiveness of St. Stephen was not about ending the suffering of Stephen.
The forgiveness of the Lord Jesus was not about ending the suffering of Jesus.
Christian forgiveness seeks the everlasting welfare of sinners in reconciliation with God.
As the vision of Stephen upholds, Christian forgiveness is about heaven being opened in hope that sinners and unbelievers might receive reconciliation with God.
Finally, St. Stephen’s Christian prayer and forgiveness are Eucharistic.
Stephen made the deadly sacrifice of his own body and blood into a prayer that handed himself over to the Lord, and a prayer for the salvation of others.
You and I are here with faith’s vision, faith’s knowledge— St. Stephen’s vision and knowledge.
We too are called to Eucharistic sacrifice and Eucharistic intercession.
We are not here for ourselves alone, but for all who sin and all who do not believe.
Through the intercession of St. Stephen, may the Holy Spirit fill us that the Lord Jesus may receive us into the heavenly glory of God.
Lord Jesus, receive our spirits!
Lord, do not hold our sins against any of us!

That God Be Glorified in All

December 21, 2009

For December 21 in Advent II

Luke 1:39-45.

In the Gospel here at Mass today and tomorrow, the Blessed Virgin Mary, newly bearing our Lord in her womb, visits Elizabeth, John and us in the house of Zechariah.
The angel Gabriel has told Mary that old Elizabeth has been with child already six months.
Elizabeth knows an angelic secret of the Holy Spirit: that Mary herself is the Mother and the Ark of Elizabeth’s Lord.
Since when has Elizabeth known?
The Gospel does not say.
Nonetheless, at the sound of Mary’s greeting three persons spring into action.
First, the infant leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb.
Second, Holy Spirit floods Elizabeth.
Third, Elizabeth “cried out in a loud voice.”
The word in the original language is the same as “shout,” “yell,” or “scream.”
That’s what came from Elizabeth’s mouth.
Most blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

The infant jumping for joy in the womb of Elizabeth is John.
John and the Lord Jesus are the only two in all the Word of God who received their names from heaven even before their mothers begot them.
“John”— from the Hebrew Yochanan, meaning, “Yahweh is gracious.”
“Jesus”— from the Hebrew Yehoshua, meaning, “Yahweh is salvation.”
John’s birth is yet three months away, and his coming to the “age of reason” is years away.
Nonetheless, the Gospel has told us he is “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”
He already has speechless knowledge of the truth dwelling in his name and that of Jesus: God is gracious salvation.
That truth is the only cause of the real joy that alone lasts forever: God is gracious salvation.
When Mary greets us in the new heavens and the new earth, we may well outscream, outyell, and outshout old St. Elizabeth, and we may well outleap St. John the Baptist.
If that is to happen, then what St. Elizabeth has said of Mary will have to become true of us also.
“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
The Lord has spoken to us.
May it be done to us according to his word.
May the Holy Spirit bless and fill us that we may always choose to believe.

That God Be Glorified in All