Homily: I Want to See


It might be obvious what a blind man would ask for, when Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And so we aren’t surprised when the blind man answers, “I want to see.” Certainly Jesus knew what he was going to ask for, before he asked. God always knows what we want, and what we need, before we ask.

But he doesn’t always give it to us right away. St. Augustine says that God will often delay answering our prayers because he wants to give us more than we ask for, but our hearts need to grow with longing to be large enough to receive the abundance of what God wants to give us. Jesus didn’t just walk past Bartimaeus and wave his hand to heal his blindness. He waited until Bartimaeus had cried out for him, had formulated in his mind and heart what he wanted most, and had called out again, against the pressure of the crowd. Then, Jesus knew Bartimaeus was ready to receive his gift.

Jesus did not just heal Bartimaeus’ eyes to just be like our eyes. Jesus healed Bartimaeus so he could truly see. And he saw his healing, and everything he saw by it, as a gracious gift of God. And he saw Jesus.

It reminds me of how they used the phrase, “I see you” in the movie Avatar. It was said with a sense of reverence of the true nature of the person. Bartimaeus, with his eyes truly healed, saw the truth of his healer, the Messiah, the Son of David. What he saw first only with the desperate faith of his heart, he was now able to see with the healed eyes of his body. St. Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

As a blind man, Bartimaeus called out, “Jesus, son of David.” Son of David was a royal title, a very brazen thing to call out in Roman-occupied Israel. But it also was an acknowledgement of Jesus as the Messiah, the eternal king, who would come as a son of David. David had been the great King of Jerusalem. It is believed by many biblical scholars that Jerusalem had earlier been called Salem (a variation of the word “peace”, shalom). And long before David was King in Jerusalem, Melchizedek (whose name means “king of” + “righteousness”) was the priest-king of Salem, who was encountered by Abram way back in the Book of Genesis; Melchizedek, the priest-king of Salem, who offered bread and wine as the sacrifice to the Most High God:

Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine. He was a priest of God Most High. He blessed Abram with these words: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, the creator of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who delivered your foes into your hand.” Then [he] gave him a tenth of everything.

That comes up in our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, and in the Book of Psalms, and in Eucharistic Prayer I:

Be pleased to look upon these offerings with a serene and kindly countenance,
and to accept them, as once you were pleased to accept
the gifts of your servant Abel the just,
the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith,
and the offering of your high priest Melchizedek,
a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim.

After his first appearance in Genesis 14, Melchizedek makes one more appearance in the Old Testament: Psalm 110:

The LORD says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
while I make your enemies your footstool.”
The scepter of your might:
the LORD extends your strong scepter from Zion.
Have dominion over your enemies!
Yours is princely power from the day of your birth.
In holy splendor before the daystar,
like dew I begot you.
The LORD has sworn and will not waver:
“You are a priest forever in the manner of Melchizedek.”

The Letter to the Hebrews was written for the sake of Jewish Christians feeling the pressure to revert back to Judaism. The author is affirming for them that what they have in Christianity fulfills and surpasses what Judaism offers. In today’s second reading, the author presents three ideas: (1) high priests (of the Levitical priesthood) offer gifts for the atonement of sins, and since they too are sinners, they have to atone for their own sins as well as those of the people; (2) those who are priests do not claim that role for themselves, but are called by God to that vocation; and (3) Christ was also called by God to be high priest, and his sharing in our humanity (but without sin) makes him even more capable as high priest, because in his humanity he can sympathize with our human weakness, and in his divine perfection his offering is purely for the people, not in anyway for himself who needs no atonement; and the high priesthood of Christ is not a succession like that of the Levites, but unique, as God said to him, “You are my son; this day I have begotten you” (from Psalm 2) and “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (from Psalm 110). Long before Christianity, these quotes from the psalms were considered to apply to the long-awaited Messiah.

Catholic priests are not priests in succession after Jesus, but in the person of Jesus (in persona Christi). Jesus is the eternal high priest who once and for all offered/offers the perfect sacrifice of himself, the lamb without blemish, the bread and wine to the Most High God (a holy sacrifice, a spotless victim). Catholic priests are priests in the priesthood of Christ. Priests offer the Mass, but it is Christ who offers (and is) the sacrifice, who effects (makes effective) the sacrament. That is why priests offer the sacrifice of the Mass (the lamb of God who is made present by the transubstantiated offering of the bread and wine) in persona Christi – in the person of Christ, who is the one eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek, the righteous priest-king of peace.

“Son of David,” while a noble title, is impersonal, it does not communicate a relationship. When Jesus was passing by, Bartimaeus called out, “Jesus, son of David.” But when Jesus calls him to himself and speaks with him, Bartimaeus called Jesus, “Rabbouni,” the same title used by Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter morning. It means, “My teacher.” It’s possessive; it’s intimate, trusting, and humble. It is a personal relationship. (In the translation of the Lectionary, it’s unfortunately rendered simply as “Master.”) Jesus heals Bartimaeus, and tells him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” But Bartimaeus didn’t go his way, it says “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” “The Way” was an early reference to the Church, the followers of Christ.

Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life.” There is a neat little phrase from St. Catherine of Siena, that since Jesus is God, and heaven is to be with God, and Jesus is the way to heaven, that “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

Related image(shameless plug) “The Way” is also a good movie about the Camino de Santiago, the “Way of St. James,” the 500-mile pilgrimage from southern France through northern Spain, ending at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The movie was directed by Emilio Estevez, starring himself and his father, Martin Sheen. 

But there is another “way” mentioned in our first reading–well, not another way, but another mention of “the way.” Jeremiah had prophesied to the Israelites in Exile that there would be a grand procession (the level way through the desert leading them to the restoration of the Promised Land) in return to Jerusalem when they were freed. It would not just be the restoration of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, but also include Israel, the long-lost Northern Kingdom (whose leading tribe was Ephraim). And it would not just be the strong and the proud, but even the least and most vulnerable of Israel would share in the jubilant restoration: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.” Of course it makes sense why this would be the first reading for today: the blind and the lame in their midst, on the way to restoration, led by the King, the Messiah, who was long prophesied as the fulfillment of Psalm 110’s “priest in the line of Melchizedek.” Jesus’ Messianic mission, as we’ve said before, was to bring all the nations of the world (where the lost northern tribes had dispersed to) into the new covenant, reconciling all (the many) with the grace of the Father, leading them into the Promised Land.

Bartimaeus was not simply healed to go his own way, but healed to be able to see Jesus as the Way. Why? Because he had called out to Jesus persistently, with everything he had. And when Jesus called him to come, Bartimaeus threw aside his cloak, anything that would be an encumbrance to him, and came to Jesus. The perfect response of faith. “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”

Remember a few weeks ago when Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, and Jesus said in a loud groan, “Ephphatha,” which means, ‘Be opened,’ “and immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly.” A Lutheran pastor friend made the point that the verb in “Be opened” is singular, not plural. It doesn’t refer to the man’s ears, it means the man himself. Jesus heals not by fixing our parts, but by healing us in the depth of our woundedness, our being closed off to the living grace of God. Jesus didn’t heal Bartimaeus’ eyes. He healed Bartimaeus’ fallen humanity, his separation from God, because his faith had made him able to receive Jesus’ gift of gracious healing. Even as a blind man, he had seen who Jesus truly was. Then as a healed man, he could follow Jesus on his way, beholding with joy his teacher, his God who had healed him. He had taken the risk of putting all his eggs in the basket that Jesus was truly the Son of David, the Messiah, who could heal him of his blindness. And when his faith proved well-founded, he used his healing to follow Jesus.

Bartimaeus was totally committed to Jesus. Jesus is totally committed to us. With regards to us, Jesus is a maximalist: He couldn’t have given more than the everything he gave. With regard to Jesus, we are often minimalists: what’s the least we have to do. What’s the minimum participation in the Mass? How far away can I sit? How early can I leave? What’s the minimum to just make it into the purgatory? Do I have to go to church? It’s boring. And cold. They’re asking for volunteers, or offering opportunities for more involvement. That’s more than the minimum. What, a holy day of obligation not on a Sunday? You’re lucky I’m here on Sunday (some Sundays anyway).

When you plan your vacations, do you find out what Catholic Churches are nearby and when their masses are? Do you invite your weekend visitors to church with you on Sunday? When you’re signing up for your children’s sports league, are you letting the coach know at the beginning of the season that you’ll miss events on Sunday mornings, even if that means sacrificing playing time? Have you told your manager that you’d prefer to start later on Sundays so you can take your family to church? Do you fit your Catholic identity somewhere, sometimes, into your life, or do you build your life around your Catholic identity? Are you putting first things first?

Image result for fr. michael schmitz baptismTo borrow from Fr. Michael Schmitz (famed youth pastor and speaker for Ascension Presents), if Jesus is not your Rabbouni, your teacher, your Lord, then every time he asks you to do something, you’re going to resist it, resent it. And you’re going to look at Jesus like you look at the IRS. You say, “Ok, I’ll do what you want, I’ll pay. But don’t ask for anything more. And if I can find some loopholes, then good for me.” A lot of times we look at Jesus like the tax man. We don’t want him to get too into the details of our life, or he’ll ask us to give more. We give him just enough to stay at a comfortable distance. But Jesus doesn’t want to be at a distance. No one says to the IRS, “Here’s access to everything, take what you want.” Are we really making ourselves fully available to God to heal us, as Bartimaeus did, so that we can truly see? Are we persistent and patient in our prayers to be healed, allowing God to grow our hearts in trusting anticipation? Are we surrendering to his will to heal us?

Are we guilty of being Christian minimalists, resisting and resenting when our faith in Jesus makes demands, making sure Jesus stays at a “safe distance” so we can live our life (remember the convenient-but-not-too-personal road-side assistance god of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism!)? Or are we Christian maximalists, who give everything so that we might truly receive our life from God—to be healed, be reconciled, have life, and have it abundantly? To see God’s work in our lives, to see ourselves and others as the miracles that we are, to see God’s glorious plan for our flourishing (and that of our children). “Jesus, Son of David! Rabbouni! I want to see!”

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Reflection: The Cup and Baptism

cross and baptism

I have a guest priest from Cross Catholic International coming to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and all the Masses this weekend, so I have a reprieve from preparing a Sunday homily this week. So I thought, rather than skipping my blog for this weekend (which was very tempting!), I decided to read through my usual commentaries and sources, and put something together. As it happens, there were some interesting thoughts I wanted to comment on. So rather than offer a homily for the Sunday Mass, I would like to share my thoughts about our Gospel Reading. 

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” 
They answered him, “Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 
Jesus said to them,
“You do not know what you are asking. 

Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 
They said to him, “We can.” 
Jesus said to them,
“The cup that I drink, you will drink,

and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This reading for Sunday follows immediately upon Jesus giving his third prediction of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which fell in the gap between last Sunday’s reading and today’s reading. In today’s reading, Jesus asks James and John, Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Jesus brings together two images very important in Christian Tradition.

Can you drink the cup that I drink…

When does a cup come up? Well, it came up the night before the crucifixion at the Last Supper, when Jesus took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, and said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Dr. Scott Hahn has an excellent reflection on the concept of “The Fourth Cup.”

Image result for fourth cup

“There are four cups that represent the structure of the Passover. The first cup is the blessing of the festival day, it’s the kiddush cup. The second cup of wine occurs really at the beginning of the Passover liturgy itself, and that involves the singing of psalm 113. And then there’s the third cup, the cup of blessing which involves the actual meal, the unleavened bread and so on. And then, before the fourth cup, you sing the great hil-el psalms: 114, 115, 116, 117 and 118. And having sung those psalms you proceed to the fourth cup which for all practical purposes climaxed and consummated the Passover. Now what’s the problem? The problem is that gospel account says that after the third cup, Jesus says, “I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until I am entering into the kingdom of God.” And it says, “Then they sang the psalms.” 

So what happens with the fourth cup? First, look at Gethsemane:

He fell to the ground and three times said to the Father, “Abba, Father… All things are possible to Thee. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt.” Remove this cup. What is this cup? 

And then:

Jesus, on the cross, knowing that all was now finished said, in order to fulfill the scriptures, “I thirst.” Now, he’s been on the cross for hours. Is this the first moment of thirst? No, he’d been wracked with pain and dying of thirst for hours. But he says, in order to fulfill the scripture, “I thirst.” “They put a sponge full of the sour wine on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine he said the words that are spoken of in the fourth cup consummation, “It is finished.” In Latin, “Consummatum est.” What is the “it” referring to? The “it” is the Passover sacrifice. 

The Passover Sacrifice is now the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The Last Supper and the Crucifixion are joined by the Fourth Cup into the single event of Christ’s self-sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. I said in an earlier post that Christ always predicted his crucifixion joined to his resurrection, as a single event. And so we have a triptych: Last Supper, Crucifixion, Resurrection. And every Mass is all three, the entryway for Christians of all generations to participate in this singular triptych event of the Bridegroom’s consummation once for all with His Bride. And it is at the celebration of the Mass that the Bride consummates throughout time with her Bridegroom, uniting herself to Him.

In the case of Jesus, the Fourth Cup, the “Cup of Consummation” is the consummation of the nuptial covenant of the Bridegroom with his Bride. There is an image of the cup of God’s wrath that Isaiah’s Suffering Servant must drink. By “drinking this cup,” Christ pays the price for the redemption of his Bride, winning her from Satan’s claim on her for her sins, so that she is free. She now belongs to Christ. For Christians, the question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink” is the “bitter cup” of suffering, of sacrifice, of persecution and rejection, the cup of the consequence of sin (ours and others’).

…or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

In the blessing of the baptismal font, the priest or deacon recounts the many ways in which water was a sign of baptism throughout Salvation History. At the end of the blessing, he puts his hand into the water, and says, “We ask you, Father, with your Son to send the Holy Spirit upon the waters of this font. May all who are buried with Christ in the death of baptism rise also with him to newness of life. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.” That’s a striking image: “buried with Christ in the death of baptism.” What is the “death of baptism”?

Adam and Eve had the vocation to be the parents of all the living, and to pass on to all humanity their relationship of peace and one-ness with themselves, with each other, with God, and with all Creation. But because of their sin, their vocation was corrupted, and instead they handed on to all humanity their broken relationship within themselves, and with each other, with God, and with all Creation.

Jesus came to give us life, and life abundant, by giving us participation in his life, and his relationship with the Father: to restore to us what we lost, and more. We always have to remember that uniting ourselves to the life of Jesus is not just the resurrection, but the cross as well. So Christian baptism is the death of that disordered spiritual life we inherited from Adam and Eve, the death of sinful habits, disorders, desires, attachments, and scripts of reacting to circumstances sinfully, to be replaced by new ways of living, seeking first the Kingdom of God, and responding to circumstances with grace. It is the death of the broken communion within ourselves, and in our relationships. So the “death of baptism” is the death of all that is from Satan, through Adam and Eve, that is not from God.

So when Jesus asked James and John, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” he was asking them if they were prepared to even pay the price to enter the Kingdom–to accept the bitter cup of suffering and the death of baptism–much less be seated at places of honor. Were they prepared to endure their passion and death, spiritually for certain, and physically perhaps, that is part of the Christian vocation, and required for being part of the Kingdom?

“They said to him, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.'”

Jesus just before this told of his own Passion. Here, probably not understood by James and John, he foretold of theirs! Of course, it is held by Tradition that John was not martyred as were the other disciples, but he was exiled, a “living death” as his share of persecution, a “white martyrdom.”

So who sits at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom? We’ll have to wait until we get there to see. But here are two thoughts to consider. First, in the ancient Kingdom of God under King Solomon, the Queen Mother sat enthroned to the right of her son, to carry out her privileged role of interceding with her royal son on behalf of his humble people who implored her help to receive his grace. So perhaps we know who sits to Jesus’ right. But here’s another thought. When Jesus entered into his glory–his “hour of glory”–who were at his right and at his left? Two criminals, who were paying the debt for their crimes. I’m not presuming to say that these two are at the right and left of Jesus at his heavenly throne. But while St. Dismas—the name Tradition gives to the “repentant thief,—is traditionally portrayed as being on Jesus’ right (because good was on the right, and bad on the left), the Scriptures don’t say which side was which. Perhaps St. Dismas is on the left, and the Blessed Mother is on the right. Or perhaps you will be on the left! St. Chrysostom drops the whole question: “No one sits on His right hand or on His left, for that throne is inaccessible to a creature.” Again, we’ll just have to wait and see!

Before I leave the subject of the (Eucharistic) cup and Baptism and move on with the rest of the Gospel reading, I want to note that there is a tradition of another association between them.

Before the Jewish wedding ceremony, there was the tradition of the ritual bridal (or nuptial) bath, in which the bride would cleanse herself in preparation for the wedding feast (which ended with the wedding consummation!).

Image result for jesus the bridegroom pitre

In Brant Pitre’s Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, he describes each new member of the Church being incorporated into the person of the Bride as she enters into the nuptial bath of baptism, which cleanses her of her sins, to prepare her for her consummation with her Bridegroom in the wedding feast of the Eucharist. So in baptism, we receive the washing of forgiveness of sins, and become members of the Church, the Bride of Christ, and we are prepared to participate in the Eucharist, the communion of the Bride and the Bridegroom.

And of course, the Church fathers were quick to draw the connection between the blood and water that flowed from the pierced heart of the crucified Christ and the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. The Book of Revelation introduces the saints as they who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” The Baptismal water is both a nuptial bath and the forgiveness of sins. The Blood of Christ both cleanses us of our sins and is the cup of salvation of the wedding feast of the Lamb and the Bride.

“The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Christ drinks the cup of suffering that becomes the cup of our salvation. Christ is baptized into death, which becomes our baptism into new life. We do drink the cup that he drinks, and we are baptized with his baptism, because through Christ, his suffering and death become our communion with him and the life of grace!

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…”

No doubt most people have had to suffer under someone in authority who was all about themselves and their exercise of power and will. History, including the present, has more than a few tyrants and despots and dictators and corrupt leaders. But Christian leaders are called to be leaders who act in accord with Christ, who have both Christian conduct in their person and in their exercise of authority. And the greatest of these, of course, is love. There is an old maxim that a rich man should think of himself as a father of a large family, in terms of his generous, responsible stewardship of his wealth. Likewise, a Christian leader should think of himself as the father of a large, complex family, where the goal is the common good, the flourishing of every individual, and of the whole community, both at the same time. There may be times when the good of the many is stacked against the good of the one, but the one still has certain inviolable rights that must be regarded and protected.

After the minister (deacon or priest) baptizes a child, and as he prepares to anoint the child with chrism on the crown of his or her head, the minister says, “The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.

When we are baptized into his life, and into his relationship with the Father, we are also baptized into his job. I mentioned a few weeks ago about Christ in the role of Priest, Prophet, and King. What does he show us about living out these roles?

  • As priest, He offers prayer and sacrifice, He glorifies the Lord and intercedes for the needs of the people, He blesses the world by His example of virtue and wisdom, and He calls the world to repentance and conversion.
  • As prophet, He speaks the divine truth, in season and out of season, He invites others into life in the Truth, into life in relationship with the Father; He suffers, He endures ridicule and shame, He turns the other cheek to those who insult Him.
  • As king, He shows us that divine power becomes poor that we might become rich; as One who is great He becomes the least and the servant of all; He lifts up the lowly, He feeds the hungry, He welcomes the stranger, He clothes the naked, He cares for the sick, He gives to the poor; as the greatest He becomes the smallest, and concerned about the smallest, the weakest, and most vulnerable.

Today’s gospel has to do with that last part. We are sons and daughters of the most high God, we are princes and princesses of all of Creation, our father’s realm. And we are expected to carry out our royal duties with diligence and grace. Christ gave us the example of what it means to exercise divine power… from his throne of the cross. This is where he showed his great love for creation, and humanity in particular. He didn’t need to have a heavy hand, because divine power is merciful. He didn’t need weapons and violence, because divine power is gentle. He didn’t need to defend his rights or shout his commands, because divine power is humble. He prayed for the forgiveness of his persecutors, and laid down his life for his friends, because divine power is love.

“…and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The Greek word at the end of that sentence is pollōn. It’s the same word as in the phrase, “you are more valuable than many sparrows,” and “I wrote to you with many tears.” It is literally and truly the word for “many,” and not the word for “all.”  In Latin, it is translated the same: “pro multis.” It is the same word in the Institution narrative: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” And now, as of the 2011 updated English translation of the Roman Missal, it is the same translation in the consecration of the Precious Blood on the altar in the Mass, “…poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.

You might remember that there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at the correction of the translation from the earlier version, “poured out for you and for all.” That might sound wonderfully inclusive, but it’s not what Jesus said in the Gospel. But there are two good and valid ways to handle this.

First, the scriptural and linguistic way. It is unfortunate that the attention was on the contrast between “many” and “all,” because that really was the wrong question. The contrast is between the one and the many. The commentary in the New American Bible (the translation that is the basis for the Lectionary), has a note that says, “Many does not mean that some are excluded, but is a Semitism designating the collectivity who benefit from the service of the one, and is equivalent to ‘all.’” The Catechism says in paragraph 605,

“He affirms that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many”; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us. The Church, following the apostles, teaches that Christ died for all men without exception: “There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”

Second, the consequential and free-will way. While it is true that Christ died for all, not all will choose to benefit by this gift. Some will refuse the gift, and choose hell. Some will not be saved. Not because Christ’s sacrifice was restrictive and not meant for them, but because they restricted themselves out of being saved by Christ’s sacrifice by their own choice. God wants that all be saved. But not all want themselves to be saved. And so we have in the preface of the fourth Eucharistic Prayer, “yet you, who alone are good, the source of life, have made all that is, so that you might fill your creatures with blessings and bring joy to many of them by the glory of your light.” That sounds much more like a restrictive use of the word “many”—as opposed to “all.”

So before I sign off, I wanted to make a little announcement, particularly because I evidently have a little audience. Last weekend I wanted to reference at dinner something I wrote, and accessed my site for the first time using a cell phone, which wasn’t logged into WordPress, and I was appalled by how it looks to a viewer, to you. Shocked, I tell you.

So I went ahead and paid for the subscription service that knocks out all the ads, and opens up some new options. I explored every one of the free themes they offer, and I didn’t really like any of them enough to change the layout. I would prefer a side bar of widgets, but I’m not willing to give up what I have to get it (or pay more to be able to modify the current theme).

Also, you might notice that the website changed. I have my own domain!! How cool is that!? You might not have noticed, but you are now at http://www.snarkyvicar.com! And if that weren’t the bees knees, I got a new email address: steve@snarkyvicar.com (which works like a gmail suite pseudo-business account, with half the bells and whistles). So I’m pretty excited, and I want to thank YOU for the likes, the loves, the shares, the comments, and the support and encouragement. And of course, the friendship!


Homily: Love of Wisdom


The word “Philosophy” comes from two Greek words. “Philios” or “Philia” means “loving, fond of, tending to.” “Sophia” means “wisdom.” Philosophia, or Philosophy, literally means, the “love of wisdom.” The wisdom literature in the bible, we could say, also speaks of the “wisdom of love.” The Wisdom books in the bible personify Philosophia as “Lady Wisdom,” who man should pursue and court as a lover, as the way to living the virtuous life. Our first reading says, “I… deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand… Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.”

The Book of Wisdom, or Book of the Wisdom of Solomon, was originally written in Greek in the Jewish diaspora, the Jews living in the context of the greater Greek culture. Because it did not belong to the Hebrew Pharasaic canon, it was excluded from the Jerusalem canon of the holy scriptures, and thus also from Martin Luther’s version of the Old Testament. But the Book of Wisdom, and the other Old Testament books of Greek origin, were well-known to the Christians outside of Israel, and were well-quoted by the Church Fathers.

In the Incarnation of the Son of God—the perfect self-expression of God—the divine Word of the Father—many aspects of biblical wisdom (of biblical philosophy) are met in the person of Jesus. Our second reading easily substitutes the Wisdom of God with the Word of God: “Indeed the Word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” God’s wisdom penetrates deep below the appearances, the flesh, the temporal order, and penetrates into the spirit, the true person, the heart and soul. “Everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account.” And Jesus in the Gospel says the same thing as Lady Wisdom in the Old Testament: beware of the temporal trap of appearances and wealth; seek instead the way of wisdom and holiness.

Jesus and his disciples were walking and “a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.’” Skeptics often point to this verse, Mark 10:18, to say Jesus himself here denies he is God. But it’s bad biblical interpretation to take one verse out of context and use it as a proof-text. If you look at the verse in context, Jesus is speaking to a man who is bowed, face-down at his feet—an act of worship—who just called him good—an attribute of the one true God of Israel. What does Jesus then do? He gives the man the law of God—actually, the second tablet of the law, having to do with love of others. And then what does Jesus do? He adds a particular commandment for this man, and by analogy, for us. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” Jesus is not denying that he is good, he is saying that he is good. So if Jesus is good, and only God alone is good… then… Jesus is acknowledging that he is God, that he is divine. He’s trying to help this man unpack the faith he already demonstrates by his act of worship.

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Jesus, looking at him, loved him.” Jesus emblepsas him… beheld him, considered him, gazed at him with special concern… and ēgapēsen him… loved him with agape, self-giving, selfless love. “At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” God does not hate sinners; God can only love. God loves those who walk away from him, who persecute him, who reject him. He is always calling everyone into a deeper participation in his own divine life, whether a person is a politician on the world stage, or a Sister of Mercy ministering to the needy in the streets, or a convicted murderer on death row, or a suburban parent trying to take care of his or her family. All are called to conversion, to repentance, to divine love, and all have the choice between surrendering themselves more to God’s love in their life, or to go away sad, unwilling to surrender the many things they are concerned about for the sake of the one thing necessary.

Three times in this year’s readings, Jesus says something bold, which people question, and then he affirms his teaching with stronger words. In John 6, Jesus was teaching about eating and drinking his flesh and blood. The Pharisees murmured against him. And Jesus then said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Last week, Jesus was teaching that marriage is until death. “In the house the disciples again questioned Jesus about this. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’” In today’s reading, “Jesus… said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’ The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus again said to them in reply, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Before I go into Jesus’ strong words today, I want to go back and revisit Jesus’ strong words from last week.

I spoke last week about the Theology of the Body—that each person is body and soul united, and that man and woman together in the nuptial consummation, the complementarity of their bodily personhood, is a share in (and revelation of) the self-giving love of the inner life of God. I was told that while the Theology of the Body was appreciated, that I should have said something to comfort the divorced.

Image result for chesterton i don't need a churchWe do want to be comforted… we also want approval for all the choices we make that we see as good, that God call them good, too. Because that’s God’s job—to approve of what we approve of, and condemn what we condemn. Well, not really, no. Our job is to approve of what God approves of, and to condemn what God condemns. Jesus says that divorce-and-remarriage is adultery, and I am not going to correct Jesus.

But I concede the point that I knew that there were many in the congregation who were divorced, and I missed the opportunity to help them interpret their experience in light of Jesus’ words of Truth. The truth is that I presumed that everyone already knew that divorce is contrary to the Catholic Faith, that marriage is until death, and that annulments are possible for those who can prove that their marriage was sacramentally invalid. And so rather than harp on that point for another year, my choice was, instead of making the divorced feel bad, I wanted to point forward to the beauty of God’s truth of marriage, to build up those who are already married, and inspire those who look forward to marriage. So here is the bit about annulments that I elected to forsake last week to allow time to present the splendor of the Theology of the Body.

Marriage is a public event in the Christian community, not a clandestine arrangement made in secret. Catholics must be married in view of the community of the Church, which validates that the couple is potentially able to enter into marriage, prepares them to live out their marriage promises, and publicly blesses their marriage promises with sacramental grace. So when two people promise before God and the Christian community that they are uniting until death do they part, come what may, it is not God’s plan that they divorce. Like all Christian life, marriage is the call to be selfless, humble, forgiving, and holy. It’s the cross. It demands unconditional commitment. We are not promised a happy life; we are promised the paradoxical joy of the cross, which, if persevered through, will lead us to salvation. That’s why you promise to be faithful: because there’s a lot of times and situations tempting married couples to give up.

Now, the exception. First, no one has an obligation to be a punching bag, physically or emotionally. The Church tells spouses who are being abused to separate to safety. Separation is fine—as long as separation is oriented toward healing and reconciliation, if possible. The second exception rests on Jesus’ words, “What God has joined together,” and the exception in Matthew’s gospel, which is, “unless the marriage is unlawful/sinful.” God joins together those who worthily exchange their promises of life-long fidelity (remember… the effective reception of a sacrament requires the “necessary disposition” to receive it). But… if, at the time of that exchange of promises, one or both of the persons are too emotionally or spiritually immature; if they lack the intention or ability to make and keep their promises; or due to other obstacles to the sacrament of marriage, then one or the other can take their exchange of promises to the Church to say that God did not join this union together. And if the Church agrees, the couple is given a declaration of nullity (an annulment). But this is not divorce. Divorce says that a contract of marriage existed for a time, and then ended. An annulment says that the covenant of marriage had never been formed, and the persons were not (and are not) sacramentally married. God does not will divorce—he says “Let your yes be yes.” But God’s plan accommodates human sinfulness and weakness, and He can and does bring good out of it. I know of many good marriages that abound with free, total, faithful, and fruitful love, which followed after earlier failed marriages that had been annulled.

So that’s the second ending of last week’s homily. Just a few sentences to finish up this week’s homily. A few weeks ago, the second reading from Saint James said, “Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries…you have stored up treasure for the last days.” That’s the key to the biblical teaching on wealth… not that it is intrinsically evil or in opposition to the Christian life, but the sin of trusting that one’s wealth will matter on judgment day. Jesus, and his Church, have relied on the generosity of the faithful who have wealth. It is not a sin to be wealthy. camelgateBut one must also answer on judgment day for their Christian use of their wealth.

St. Augustine in the 5th century tells of a tradition that there was a small door next to the main city gate of Jerusalem called the “Eye of the Needle.” A camel was too large to enter, especially carrying a load, unless the camel was first unburdened, and then passed through the gate kneeling. A rich person cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven unless he strips himself of the burden of his wealth, and humbles himself on his knees. The rich person investing his wealth in the needs of the Christian community, humbling himself to enter the gate, understands the spiritual dangers that comfort and reliance on wealth fosters. St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and a trap…The love of money is the root of all evil. Some men in their passion for it have strayed from the faith, and have come to grief amid great pain.” It is King Solomon, clothed in royal splendor, who wrote, “I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her.” It is not the love of money, nor even the love of wisdom, but the wisdom of love, that leads us to salvation.

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Homily: The Two Become One


With gratitude to Christopher West, and his talk, “Marriage and the Eucharist.”

The question is asked, “Is there anything more beautiful in life than a boy and a girl clasping clean hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage? Can there be any thing more beautiful than young love?” And the answer is given. “Yes, there is a more beautiful thing. It is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey together on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped; their faces are seamed but still radiant; their hearts are physically bowed and tired, but still strong with love and devotion for one another. Yes, there is a more beautiful thing than young love: Old love.”

The crowds flocked to Jesus to be given healing and saving truth. The Pharisees made sure that they were there, too, to challenge Jesus’s credibility in the eyes of the people. John the Baptist had been imprisoned for criticizing Herod for his invalid marriage to his wife, and the Pharisees set up Jesus with a trap: either conflict with the Law of Moses or conflict with John the Baptist. “The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, ‘Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?’ They were testing him.So Jesus, knowing the point he was going to make, played them into the position of the losing side: “He said to them in reply, ‘what did Moses command you?’ They replied, ‘Moses permitted a husband to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.’”

“For when Moses brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, they were indeed Hebrews in race, but Egyptians in manners. And it was caused by the Gentile manners that the husband hated the wife; and if he was not permitted to put her away, he was ready either to kill her or ill-treat her. Moses therefore suffered the bill of divorcement, not because it was a good practice in itself, but was the prevention of a worse evil.” (Pseudo-Chrysostom)

“Moses, however, was against a man’s dismissing his wife, for he interposed this delay, that a person whose mind was bent on separation, might be deterred by the writing of the bill, and desist; particularly, since, as is related, among the Hebrews, no one was allowed to write Hebrew characters but the scribes. The law therefore wished to send him, whom it ordered to give a bill of divorcement, before he dismissed his wife, to them, who ought to be wise interpreters of the law, and just opponents of quarrel. For a bill could only be written for him by men, who by their good advice might overrule him, since his circumstances and necessity had put him into their hands, and so by treating between him and his wife they might persuade them to love and concord. But if a hatred so great had arisen that it could not be extinguished and corrected, then indeed a bill was to be written, that he might not lightly put away her who was the object of his hate, in such a way as to prevent his being recalled to the love, which he owed her by marriage, through the persuasion of the wise. For this reason it is added, For the hardness of your heart, he wrote this precept; for great was the hardness of heart which could not be melted or bent to the taking back and recalling the love of marriage, even by the interposition of a bill in a way which gave room for the just and wise to dissuade them.” (St. Augustine)

So Jesus then plays his hand, which was to trump Moses’ concession to the hardheartedness of the Israelites with God’s revealed plan from the beginning: “Jesus told them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.‘”

Jesus is quoting from Genesis Chapter 2, which was our first reading. God formed Adam from the earth, and blew the breath of life into him. Adam, in his original solitude as the first human, recognized his existence, and his human dignity, and his relationship with God, all as gratuitous gift. However, he also recognized that, sharing in the image of God, his desire for love—to fully give himself and receive the other in return—could not be had with God, because God is infinitely more than Adam. And he also recognized that he could not completely give himself to any of the animals and receive all of themselves to him, because they were less than him. So when he awoke from his sleep and beheld Eve, he finally recognized another person like himself, with whom he could enjoy a true union of love—one whose nature and dignity and even physical form matched and complemented his own, and to whom he could give all of himself as a gift, and she could reciprocate and give all of herself as gift in return. Adam and Eve enjoyed the primordial nuptial relationship of pure selfless love, seeing each other as gift, naked and unashamed, because their hearts and eyes were pure. “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” They saw each other not as someone to possess, but as God’s gift of someone to give themselves to and receive the other in pure love.

It would be easy here to go into expounding on the Church’s rejection of divorce, which is rooted in the words of scripture—in this gospel, and in Luke, and Paul—and then soften that with the Church’s teaching on annulments, which is based on the exception found in the parallel sections in Matthew. The Church’s rejection of divorce is well-known, even if not well-followed. Instead of talking about what the Church is against, I want to explore what the Church is for—what is often called the Theology of the Body, based on the 5-year series of 129 homilies by Pope Saint John Paul II. The Theology of the Body is sometimes called the Church’s answer to the sexual revolution—the Church’s affirmation of the human person’s call to (and need for) profound love and affirmation and self-gift in the depths of his or her being.

Note: there is debate as to whether John Paul II was teaching the Theology of the Body magisterially—whether he was giving a reflection on Church teaching in his expertise as a theologian, or imparting this teaching as the office of pope. You will often see it presented as the teaching of John Paul II, but will stop short of calling it the teaching of the Church. Because it was presented in the usual place where all the faithful gather to hear the pope—the Wednesday audiences and Sunday angelus at St. Peter’s Plaza—and the audience that the pope had intended to receive these homilies was gatherings of the faithful from all over the world—it is reasonable to hold that Pope John Paul II intended to impart the Theology of the Body as a magisterial teaching of the Church. 

Human beings have a physical and spiritual nature. God and angels are not by their nature corporeal (having a physical body). Animals and plants are not by their nature rational and transcendent. We are the link between the physical world and the spiritual world. Our human nature is, in the general sense, sacramental—visible, physical signs of invisible spiritual realities. The human body makes visible the invisible mystery of who we are as persons, but because we are made in the image of God, our bodies also make visible something of the invisible mystery of God. What is the invisible mystery of God? God… is… LOVE. We often think that God is love because he loves us. That’s part of it. But God is love in the very relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is the living eternal exchange of love. We image God as individuals, through our rational soul, our understanding, our free will. But the union of man and woman in the intimacy of the marital embrace itself is the image of the eternal exchange of the Holy Trinity. The sexual union itself, properly understood, is an icon of the inner life of God.

The most widely used image the bible uses to help us make sense of God’s love for us, the favorite analogy of the great mystics of the Church? Not father and son, or shepherd and sheep, but as husband and wife—the bridegroom and bride. It begins with the creation of man and woman and their nuptial call to become one flesh. Throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of his love for his people as the love of a husband for his bride. In the New Testament, the love of the eternal bridegroom is literally embodied when the Word became flesh. Christ comes as the eternal bridegroom to give up his body for his bride, so that we might become one flesh with him. St. Paul, in Ephesians Ch. 5, quotes from our first reading, “For this reason a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh.” And then he adds, “This is a profound mystery, and it refers to Christ and the Church.” Christ left his heavenly Father, he left his earthly mother, to give his body for his bride, so that we, his bride, might become one flesh him. Where do we become one flesh with Christ? In the Eucharist. “Take this and eat of it, this is my body.” Pope John Paul II says that “Christ in instituting the Eucharist, in some way wished to demonstrate to us the meaning of masculinity and femininity.” A guy’s masculine body—which is not merely a biological, incidental thing—it concerns the innermost being of his person—doesn’t make sense by itself. A woman’s feminine body doesn’t make sense by itself. But seen in the light of each other, we see a call to Holy Communion. What is the Eucharist? It is the Holy Communion of the Bride with Christ the bridegroom. It is the sacrament of the bridegroom and the bride.

“The Liturgy of the Eucharist has three important parts: the Offertory, the Consecration, and the Communion. In the order of human love, these correspond to the Engagement, the Wedding, and the Consummation of the marriage.” (adapted from Ven. Fulton Sheen)

Every time we worthily receive the Eucharist, we are given an invitation to unite ourselves to Christ. The minister of communion says, “the body/blood of Christ”, and we make our free consent, “amen.” We are consummating the nuptial union of the Bride and the Bridegroom! The consummation of that union by Christ was on the cross, when he said, “Consummatum est,” “It is consummated/accomplished/finished,” and fulfilled his words, “This is my body given up for you.” We receive and accept Christ’s offer of consummation in receiving communion in the Mass—when we unite ourselves to His body; when we consummate our participation (as bodily members of the Bride) and unite ourselves to the temporal, earthly celebration of the eternal, heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb and the Bride! 

Sexual union itself is meant to express the very love of God. How does God love? God’s love has 4 markers: It’s on the Cross, and it’s in the Eucharist.

  1. It is FREE. Jesus says, “no one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord.” We know for love to be love it has to be free. One who is bound by sexual addiction, one whose consent is forced by circumstances, these are not free. If love is to be love and image God, it must be freely given.
  2. It must be TOTAL, unconditional. Jesus gives us everything that he is. He says to his disciples, “all that the father has given to me I have given to you.” Love requires trust, transparency, honesty, and selfless generosity.
  3. It must be FAITHFUL. I am with you to the end of the age.” “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” “The Lord says to his people, I have espoused myself to you forever.” The true freedom to be trustingly vulnerable—naked without shame—requires confidence in the unbreakable promise of the unconditional love of the other. Then the flower of deepest personal love has the security to blossom.
  4. FRUITFUL. Christ said, “I came into the world that my bride might have life, and have it abundantly.” Not every conjugal act, nor even every marriage, will necessarily be blessed with procreation, but the nuptial embrace itself as a total exchange between spouses is oriented toward the procreation of new life.

The nuptial union is not the only way to live the call to free, total, faithful, fruitful love. Priests and consecrated religious live this out in a more sublime but less visible way. Human marriage points as an icon to the heavenly reality of marriage—the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride—which itself is an outward expression of the inner exchange of love in the Trinity. Priests and consecrated religious don’t witness to us that marriage isn’t necessary—they witness to us that by forsaking the good of marriage in this life, by their ordination or consecration, they are living in this life the ultimate spiritual union of the saints in heaven. The heavenly communion of saints, a communion bound by the nuptial love of the Lamb (Christ) and his Bride (the communion of saints) is more perfectly united than even the most heroic human married couple on earth. Priests and religious strive to live that perfect spiritual communion out in this life, by the commitment and grace of their ordination or consecration. 

And if you know priests or consecrated religious, you can see those marks of divine love! They freely chose to respond to their vocation, and their vocation allows them to be radically free to follow the spirit unencumbered by duties to an earthly family. They live a total commitment to divine love, a life of profound prayer and service and availability to God. They remain steadfast in their promises and vows, bearing the cross of sexual abstinence and not having a human spouse, but glorying in their rich spiritual union with God, which has its own graces. And they are spiritually fruitful, pouring themselves out in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, inspiring holiness and generosity, and inspiring in others a desire for the joy of their life, to those also called to priesthood and religious life.

Note: There is much more that can be said about the theology of the body, and about the nature of marriage and sexuality. With every homily, I get tormented with the question, “Of course you can’t say everything, but how could you fail to talk about  _______.”  In this broad topic, there is much that could culpably be put in that blank. But this is a homily in the Mass, it’s already too long, and some things are less appropriate to the Mass and more appropriate to a classroom setting, where the faithful may grow more intensely of their knowledge in a particular area of God’s Truth. 

The wedding vows are the commitment to love your spouse as God loves. This spousal love, this participation in divine love by the spouses, is meant to be expressed most concretely when the two become one flesh in celebrating their spousal covenant. If someone engages in sexual activity not in the spousal covenant (not in the sacrament of marriage)—or with artificial barriers to the full nature of the spousal exchange—then the act is to use the language of the body to speak a lie. The unitive faculty of the human body is designed to say to another, “I renew my love and my vow to give myself as gift to you, freely, totally, faithfully, fruitfully.” This is what the Church’s teaching of sexual morality is all about: speaking the divine truth through the language of the body: participating in the mystery of God’s love. Not only in the individual person, but in the union of husband and wife. The meaning of the human body is theological—it speaks of God, it makes visible the invisible mystery of God.

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