January 31, 2015

Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 1, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ casting out demons

At the end of this Gospel passage it would appear that Jesus is now poised to embark on a great career. He is rapidly becoming a celebrity.

There are lots and lots of famous people in the world, from the international to the local scene, in every field you can imagine. A few, commonly called “personalities,” may simply be “famous for being famous.” Most have caught people’s attention by doing something never (or rarely) done before (like medical miracles, sports records, technology, etc.), or by doing something in a totally new, interesting or exciting way (as in literature, music, and the arts in general).

It also helps to be in the right place at the right time and to be noticed by the right people. But you still have to be the “right person” with the “right stuff.” Then you can make a big impression, and have people “astonished” and “amazed,” as we read in the Gospel.

Fame, of course, comes and goes. Persons and things popular in one generation are ignored or even mocked in the next. Yesterday’s stars are often today’s has-beens; how many child actors, for example, have a great career in their adult life? We are more likely to see them on a “Where are They Now?” segment on the news.

Jesus, then, is poised to become a Superstar. You may remember the controversy surrounding the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, sparked in particular by a comment attributed to lyricist Tim Rice: "It happens that we don't see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Therein, precisely, lies the problem of seeing Jesus as a Superstar.

What’s missing? Faith.

No one in today’s Gospel story expresses faith in Jesus. People express astonishment at the authority with which he teaches. They are amazed at his power to cast out an unclean spirit. But that’s all, so far at least. Not even the unclean spirit has faith; it already knows who Jesus is.

Fame and faith are very different things. I may be astonished and amazed at a magician’s tricks, but the only faith I place in him is in his ability to trick people. I may be astonished and amazed at a politician’s oratorical skills, but I might have faith only in his ability to persuade.

But only faith makes sense of the whole life and ministry of Jesus. Only faith makes sense of St. Paul’s recommendation that it would be better not to marry, just as only faith makes sense of the vow of celibacy in Religious Life and Priesthood. Otherwise, why would anyone make such an astonishing choice?

Only faith recognizes the prophet not only as an astonishing speaker and amazing wonder-worker, but also as an astonishing and amazing man of God.

Look at the saints. Some were astonishing and amazing nuns and monks hidden away in their cloisters, with a vow of silence. Others were astonishing and amazing advocates and servants of the poor, speaking out in the cause of justice and peace.

Many such contrasts could be drawn. They have only one thing in common, and that is faith. Everything else in a saint’s life flows from that relationship with the Lord.

Fame is not a bad start. The danger of fame, however, is that it can lead us to place our faith in ourselves, and that is a kind of hardening of the heart. Once we have people’s attention, it can be really hard to remember that it’s not about us!

In another place Jesus tells us to let our light shine. The challenge is to help people see where that light really comes from, that it isn’t really our light at all.

January 24, 2015

Homily for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 25, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Christ calling Simon Peter
(Click here for today’s readings)

All three readings today contain a proclamation.

Jonah: “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed.“ St. Paul: “The time is running out.” Jesus: “The kingdom of God is at hand.”

The kingdom of God is a major recurring theme in the New Testament, making its appearance well over fifty times. Its equivalent, “the kingdom of heaven,” occurs over thirty times. There are several other variants as well, such as: “Of his kingdom there shall be no end,” near the beginning of Luke’s Gospel and, near the end of the same Gospel: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

A very famous instance, of course, is in the Our Father, where Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” We might ask ourselves two questions. 1) What does this petition in the Lord’s Prayer mean in general? 2) What does it mean to me, to each of us? (There is presumably some overlap in the two responses.)

St. Jerome, who died in the year 420, wrote of this part of the Our Father that, “Either it is a general prayer for the kingdom of the whole world that the reign of the Devil may cease; or for the kingdom in each of us that God may reign there, and that sin may not reign in our mortal body.”

St. Augustine, a contemporary of St. Jerome, wrote a letter to a woman named Proba, in which he stated: “As for our saying: ‘Your kingdom come,’ it will surely come whether we will it or not. But we are stirring up our desires for the kingdom so that it can come to us and we can deserve to reign there.”

In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, St. Augustine expanded further. “Just as the Lord Himself teaches in the Gospel that the day of judgment will take place at the very time when the gospel shall have been preached among all nations, ... here also the expressionYour kingdom come’ is not used in such a way as if God were not now reigning. ‘Come,’ therefore, is to be understood in the sense of manifested. For in the same way also as a light which is present is absent to the blind, and to those who shut their eyes; so the kingdom of God, though it never departs from the earth, is yet absent to those who are ignorant of it.”

At the conclusion of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it might not be inappropriate to quote the Reformer, John Calvin, who in the 1500s wrote: “The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word,—would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world.”

So much for the scholars. What about us?

The response is not so different, really, but another, more personal element enters in. To pray “Thy kingdom come” could easily represent a passive stance, simply calling on God for the kingdom to come to me/us, or happen around me/us, while sitting back and waiting for God to do something.

But in fact this prayer comes back to us as an echo. It is a call for commitment, involvement, a change in our way of life. This is summed up in the other parts of Jesus’ opening proclamation.

“Repent!” he says. It’s not just for Lent any more.

“Believe in the gospel (= good news).” Really and truly believe, not just intellectually (“Yeah, that makes sense”), not just emotionally (“Jesus’ teaching is so beautiful”), but in our life, practically. I think this is what St. Paul means when he tells us to live as though things were not as they are, because the world as we know it is passing away, and we will inherit the Kingdom.

“Thy kingdom come,” applies also and especially to relationships: even with enemies, rejects, the poor, etc. No one is excluded.

If that’s the kingdom we really want, then let’s pray for it—and work for it— with all our heart.

January 17, 2015

Homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 18, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

Well, that was quick! In under twelve hours Andrew and his companion had decided that the man they had just met was the Messiah!

No one knows what they talked about, so we may give free rein to our imagination.
Maybe they discussed Jesus’ vision of a world of peace and justice and of outreach to the poor. We have seen in our own time that this is one of the most attractive features of Pope Francis. Why not something like that in this case?

Or they might have had a free-ranging conversation on the Scriptures in general. They did call him “Rabbi,” after all. Or maybe such an exchange might have been more like the one Jesus would have three years later, after his Resurrection, with two other disciples, on the road to Emmaus when, we are told: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to himself in all the scriptures.”

The most obvious but, I think, least likely scenario would be this:

     Disciple: “Excuse me, Rabbi, but why did John call you Lamb of God?”
     Jesus: “Oh, that. It means I’m the Messiah.”

Now the scene that follows is absolutely typical of the first centuries of the Church. Andrew can’t wait to tell his brother Simon about this man he has met. Shortly afterward, another disciple, Philip, invites his friend Nathanael to come and see this Jesus, of whom he says, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.” And so the Christian community began to grow, by word of mouth. It’s easy to imagine people saying to their relatives and friends, “You gotta hear this guy!” (Evangelicals typically do so to this day, the same way people who visit a Shrine might say to their friends, “You gotta see this place.”)

Whatever Jesus said that day to just two disciples led to his saying other things to more disciples, having more encounters. Some of these encounters were friendly—with the sick he healed, the outcasts he included, the sinners to whom he said, “sin no more,” a saying that finds its echo in today’s second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Other encounters were unfriendly—with the scribes and Pharisees who challenged him at every turn, not to mention the demons he cast out.

And so the Community of Believers, the Church, continued to grow as more and more persons became disciples of Jesus the Messiah, and invited others to join them.

What is the ideal attitude of a disciple toward the “Rabbi” or “Teacher” or “Master”? We find it stated in all simplicity in the story of Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Disciples need to know, and want to know, what the Lord has to say to them.

Disciples need to know, and want to know, what the Master expects of them. The answer the young Samuel received must have caught him completely off guard. The story goes on as follows:

The Lord said to Samuel: “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it ring. On that day I will carry out against Eli everything I have said about his house, beginning to end. I announce to him that I am condemning his house once and for all, because of this crime: though he knew his sons were blaspheming God, he did not reprove them. Therefore, I swear to Eli’s house: No sacrifice or offering will ever expiate its crime.” Samuel then slept until morning, when he got up early and opened the doors of the temple of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision... Eli answered, “It is the Lord. What is pleasing in the Lord’s sight, the Lord will do.”

Above all, disciples need to know, and want to know, that the Lord is with us, walking at our side. How else could someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. have accomplished what he did? How else would any of us ever have the courage to follow the Lord in a world that often feels no need for him, to speak his word in a world often hostile to him and to us, and to live the Christian and Catholic way of life in a world that often holds it up to ridicule?

I conclude with a short poem (by Helen Parker), that seems to me to sum up nicely this last and most essential need.

Walk with me, Oh Lord I pray.
Give me strength throughout the day.
Take my problems big and small.
Lift me when I tend to fall.

Walk with me, Oh Lord I pray.
Prompt me what to do and say.
Let me feel you always there.
Lift me when I feel despair.

January 10, 2015

Homily for the Baptism of the Lord, January 11, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

There are at least four major scenes in the Bible involving water.

At the very beginning of creation, even before God utters the words, “Let there be light!” we find the Spirit of God hovering over the waters.

In Noah’s time water became a great flood. It marked the end of vice and a new beginning of virtue. It was also then that the dove became a significant symbol of peace.

In the book of Exodus the descendants of Abraham passed dry-shod through the waters of the Red Sea. The time of slavery was over. A new time of freedom had begun.

All four Gospels mention the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan. This marked the end of Jesus’ private life and the beginning of his public ministry. Again, we find the Holy Spirit present at the event.

Jesus’ appearance on the public scene can hardly be called a “grand entrance.” No one in the crowd, except maybe John the Baptist, seems to have noticed anything out of the ordinary. It’s all over in three verses. And yet it is one of the most important moments in the Gospels.

Water continues to have special meaning. In baptism it marks a new creation, a beginning of virtue, and liberation from the enslaving power of sin. It isn’t just the water, of course, but also and especially the Holy Spirit as work through the water. At the end of the blessing of baptismal water, the priest prays to the Father in these words:

May this water receive by the Holy Spirit
the grace of your Only Begotten Son,
so that human nature, created in your image
and washed clean through the Sacrament of Baptism
from all the squalor of the life of old,
may be found worthy to rise to the life of newborn children
through water and the Holy Spirit.
May the power of the Holy Spirit,
O Lord, we pray,
come down through your Son
into the fullness of this font,
so that all who have been buried with Christ
by Baptism into death
may rise again to life with him.”

All churches have water at the entrance of the church. People dip their finger in it and make the Sign of the Cross as they enter and leave. We call it Holy Water, but ideally it is Baptismal Water, blessed with the same prayer as at the Easter Vigil, which I have quoted in part above.

It’s purpose is precisely to remind us of our baptism. When you sign yourself with baptismal water as you enter or leave the Church, remember: you came here as a disciple of Jesus, a member of the Body of Christ, a member of the community of believers. And you leave, hopefully, as a more committed disciple, more intimately attached to the Body of Christ, more deeply connected to the community of believers.

The gesture of signing yourself with baptismal water is not to be taken lightly. Baptism includes certain commitments, imposes certain expectations. In the rite of baptism, the celebrant says at one point to the one being baptized: “I claim you for Christ.”

Christ has a claim on you, because you were baptized in his name. 

But don’t forget: because you were baptized in his name, you have a claim on Christ!

January 3, 2015

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord, January 4, 2015, Year B

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

I always hesitate to announce that the homily that I am about to give will be short, but I’ll risk it. This will be a short homily. I hope you will fill in the blanks by pausing to ponder the questions raised along the way.

All of us Christians are disciples of Christ. Even those of us who are cradle Catholics at some point “became” disciples in a personal way. Something led us to that moment. That was our star of Bethlehem. Or, to compare our experience to that of St. Paul, that was our road to Damascus. Can you remember what that was? A person? A place? A thing? An event?

The Magi found him, rejoiced, and laid their gifts before him. Paul rejoiced and gave his life to Christ. At some point, we found him, and rejoiced. What gifts did we bring then? What gifts do we bring now?

The Magi came to “do him homage.” (The word “homage” occurs three times in this Gospel.) Paying homage to the Lord was their desire, but also their need. So, too, for us. At some point we made that same act of humility, of recognition of the Lord’s place in our life. That was our homage. Do you remember when that was? What form did it take then? What form does it take now?

It’s a good thing to review these things from time to time,
            to renew our discipleship.
                        to deepen our homage.
                                    to make a fuller gift of ourselves.
                                                to continue to discover him,
                                                            wherever he encounters us,                                              with the help of whatever star he sends us.

January 1, 2015

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, January 1st, 2015, Year B

Guest homily by Father Steve Grunow

January 1st is celebrated as not only the first date of the calendar’s new year, but also by the Church as the Solemnity of the Mother of God.

The Solemnity of the Mother of God refers to one of the great dogmas of the Church’s formal profession of Faith- the child of the Blessed Virgin Mary is God.
Not only is January 1st considered to be New Year’s Day AND the Solemnity of the Mother of God, but it is also acclaimed by the Church to be the World Day of Peace, when prayers for peace are to be offered by the Christian faithful.
As if this all wasn’t enough, January 1st was formally the day on which the Church commemorated the Circumcision of the Lord Jesus. In fact, the Gospel for today mentions that the Lord Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth, thus the Church’s commemoration of this event on the eighth day after the celebration of Christ’s birth.
Both the Old and New Testament testify that it is circumcision that sets one apart as a true Israelite. All Israelite males from time immemorial have been circumcised as a sign, cut into their own flesh, of the covenant that God makes with his people. Thus the practice has divine sanction and bears the weight of divine law.
It is clear from the testimony of the Gospel, that God did not exempt himself from conformity to his own law, and submitted himself to the experience. Testimony that God does not ask us to undergo things that he himself is not willing to experience for himself.
The significance of Christ’s circumcision is actually of great importance.
Remember, the central claim of the Church’s profession of Faith is that God in Christ accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life.
Born into our world, God accepts a particular family and culture as his own and God binds himself to this family and culture in his body and with his blood. God’s identification with Israel is literally cut into the body of his human nature and it goes deeper than the wound of his circumcision and penetrate to the cellular level of his body.
The glorified Body of Christ that we will one see revealed in heaven is the body of an Israelite. Thus, Israel is not rejected or refused by God, but brought to its fulfillment and we see the fulfillment of Israel in the body of the Lord Jesus. God chooses Israel in a way that exceeds all expectations.
Further, resisting our tendencies to reduce Christ to an idea or feeling or story, the circumcision of Christ indicates that the Body of Christ’s human nature is very real indeed. The baby bleeds real human blood. The man would bleed real blood too. The humanity of God in Christ is not a simulation.
And, also, while we might prefer to keep both the Holy Child and the adult Jesus covered up and free of sexuality, Christ, inasmuch as he is fully human, is also fully a man.
Some insist that all this body and blood stuff is a scandal, impossible for God to do and beneath his dignity. The Church insists that this is all in fact what God has done.
The once renowned commentator on the Church’s worship, a man by the name of Pius Parsch, noted that the Circumcision of the Lord is the first sacrifice of our redemption. This is an illuminating way to consider the mystery of Christ, and our relationship to his mysterious revelation.
There is no love in this world without a sacrifice, and it is through sacrifice that our love is proven to be true or false.
We live in a culture that pretends that we can have love without sacrifice, but in this distortion of reality, the risk and reward of true love is extinguished, as well as its power to redeem...
Go to Father Steve Grunow's website to read the homily in full