16 September 201824 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
24 Ordinary Time
24 Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B - Mark 8:27-35

Napoleon Bonaparte was entertaining a number of his generals at dinner. The superb meal of pheasant and wines was done. Napoleon and his guests were drinking cognac and smoking cigars. A discussion began about Christ. Napoleon listened intently but said nothing. Most of the guests dismissed the Nazarene as merely a man. Then their emperor said, "Gentlemen, you are wrong. I know men. Jesus is more than a man." "The real voyage of discovery," wrote Marcel Proust, "is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." Many of us have the unhappy habit of looking at an object of beauty with gauze over our eyes. Perhaps we have looked at the piece or person too often. Its real essence goes right by us. Jesus can be one such person that we examine through a glass darkly. We must bring to Him Proust's "new eyes." We must say with ee cummings that the eyes of my eyes are opened.

We must be able to say with WH Auden that I believe because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could make Him according to my image. What follows in part comes from William Barclay. Fulton Sheen urged his listeners to buy Barclay's volumes on the Scriptures. Perhaps I can encourage you to give Barclay the attention he deserves. The setting of this Gospel is in the northeastern corner of Palestine. This was not Jesus' usual territory. He was running away from the crowds and the journalists. He needed quality classroom time with the twelve. They had many credits to get before receiving their bachelor degrees in theology. They needed time to work on their dissertations. And His own days were quickly racing to their conclusion. Also the Christ was deep in pagan country. The gods had first been worshipped here by the Syrians, then by the Greeks, and finally by the Romans. What a picture! Our Leader is exhausted, painfully thin, and badly needing sleep. He stands here in this pagan milieu. Surrounded by these forgotten gods, He asks His ragtag army of twelve whom they believe Him to be. And there is no doubt but that He wanted this motley crew to reply that He is the Messiah. Can you name any other passage in the Gospels where the Master is more aware of whom He Himself really is?

I cannot. Nor of course did Peter, the spokesman for his fellows, disappoint Him. His response still reverberates with crescendos after all these centuries, "You are the Messiah." It may have been the most momentous answer given to any question in history. Peter, unlearned though he was, had come to realize that their Leader could not be summed up in purely human terms no matter how flattering they might be. Others might call Him John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. But all of these titles, though clearly intended as compliments, fell far short of the mark. The Christ was a complete original. He one of a kind. The cliche that says, "They threw away the mold when they made him," may well have been first spoken about the Nazarene. Barclay observes that the Teacher began by asking the Apostles what others were saying about Him. But then He reversed His field and asked, "And you, who do you say I am?"

At some point, one must stop saying what others say about the Christ. There comes a time when each of us must confess whom we think Jesus to be. I have met a number of people who know far more Christology than I. Some write poetry and music about Him. Yet they would be the first to admit that they are not Christian. Many of them are good people, but they do not believe in the Galilean. Some of them concede that with deep regret. Pilate asked the prisoner before him whether He was indeed the King of the Jews. The most famous prisoner ever in captivity asked whether Mr Pilate was simply mouthing what others had said about him or whether he was speaking for himself. Our religion is not a matter of knowing about Jesus. It is one of knowing Him. Napoleon was one of those who intuitively knew that the Christ was more than human. His relationship to Him I do not pretend to know. However, our association with Jesus the Nazarene must be a most intimate and warm one. We must bring Proust's "new eyes" to examine Him. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
24 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Happiest Place on Earth

Hundreds of thousands of people travel to Florida every year to visit a place that calls itself the happiest place on earth. Yes, that's right, they come here to see Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck and a whole lot of Goofies at Disney World. Everywhere they go, they will find the smiling faces of the Disney cast, doing their best to convince us that they are in the happiest place on earth. It's interesting that Disney refers to its staff as cast members. They are just acting out a part. Life is not magical, like the Magic Kingdom. But life can be infinitely happier than the life portrayed in Orlando. A touch of union with God now and the certain hope of eternal union with Him in the hereafter brings a deep joy that doesn't end when the park closes. When a person is doing his or her best to reflect the wonder of God in the world, then that person enjoys a sense of fulfillment and completion. Fulfillment comes because the person has a reason for his or her existence. Completion comes because the person's joy is due to the integration of his or her full humanity, physical and spiritual. It is lovely to visit the Magic Kingdom.

There is nothing wrong with Fantasy Land, aside from the $15 burgers, that is. There is nothing wrong with any of us taking a break from reality and enjoying Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens, etc. Actually, I am convinced that a visit to these places helps our children develop their imaginations. It is good to have happy memories of family fun time. And you donâ??t have to be a child, it is good for us all to have take a few days away from our daily problems. It is lovely to visit Fantasy Land. But we have to realize that we can't live in Fantasy Land. We live in a real world with challenges and crises. We need to learn how to deal with the world where we live, not one where we wish we lived. We need to live with horses, not with unicorns. Peter was not ready for the real world. He wanted to live in a world where he could be happy and carefree. "God forbid, Lord, that anything should happen to you," Peter said in Matthew 16:22 when Jesus predicted his passion and death. "Get behind me, Satan," Jesus' rebuke must have stung Peter terribly. "You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Peter thought that happiness could come without a price. He was not ready to put up a fight against evil. He was not ready to suffer for something that was Infinitely greater than this life. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 50, this Sunday's first reading, was ready to embrace whatever humiliation and pain that following God might entail. He says that he willing offers his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard and his face to those who would hit him, and spit on him. Why? Because he is convinced that God will care for him. God is his help. Who could possibly prove him wrong? As committed followers of Christ, we know that those who attack us for living our faith may be able to hurt us physically, but they cannot hurt us spiritually. In fact, when the evil of the world attacks us, we can grow stronger in our commitment to Christ.

It is then that we grow in joy, true joy, as we realize that the pain we feel is just helping us purchase a ticket to what is truly the happiest place in reality, union with God. The world of Jesus Christ demands that we take up our cross and follow our Lord. Parents put up a struggle to raise their children to be strong members of the Kingdom of God. This often costs them a great number of upsetting conversations and many sleepless nights as they stand their ground before a child who wants to do what he or she says all the kids are doing. Some parents are told by little children that they are the meanest Mommy or Daddy in the world, or by teens, that they are the least understanding parents ever. Children's arguments may be reinforced by those who hold positions of respect but who suggest that the children behave in ways that are anything but respectful. But good parents hold their ground; stand for what is right, and, in time and with the Grace of God, see their sons and daughters grow into People of God assuming their own roles of leadership in the Church. And then these parents experience a deep, long lasting joy that comes from a life lived well. Many people deal with chronic sickness in their lives, or worse, in the lives of their loved ones. They hold on to their faith and unite their pain to the Cross of Christ.

Their suffering has value. When the crisis has subsided into a challenge, they realize that through it all they have come closer to the God who held them. There is a profound joy in knowing that we have been and always will be held. Last Tuesday we remembered the horrible events that took place on September 11, 2001. We pray for those who were killed. We pray for the families. We also pray for those who did these horrible deeds and those who continue to perpetrate violence in the world. We must defend ourselves, true. But we cannot allow hatred to be our motivation. We cannot allow hatred to chain us to the world. Friday, the 14th was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The cross is a sign of love. Only love can free us from allowing hatred to bind us to a world without God. "Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. But whoever will lose his life for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel will save it." Whoever wishes to limit his or her existence to the here and now, will have no existence that has any worth. Whoever is willing to sacrifice the ersatz happiness of the world for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will have a joy that is infinitely richer than Disney, a joy that is eternal. Our Dioceseâ??s theme for its 50th anniversary is â??Courageously Living the Gospel.â?? Today, as always, we pray for the strength and the courage to live our faith.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
24 Ordinary Time
Will you get in the wheelbarrow? (September 16, 2018)

Bottom line: Faith requires taking a risk - getting into the wheelbarrow.
The past two Sundays St. James has urged us to care for the afflicted and to show no partiality, that is, don't treat someone differently because he can do something for you. This leads into Jame's message for today: that faith, if it doesn't have works, is dead. We not only have to believe but to act on our faith. To illustrate this I'd like to share a story about the great tightrope walker, Charles Blondin. Once Blondin gathered a crowd at Niagara Falls. He asks them if they believe he can walk a tightrope stretched across the Falls. The crowd cheers their assent. The he asks if they believe he can do it blindfolded. Once again a booming cheer. Finally he asks if they believe he can do it pushing a wheelbarrow. They crowd goes wild. Blondin then approaches a man cheering loudest. "Do you really believe I can do it?" "Of course," the man says. "Then," says Blondin, "Will you get in the wheelbarrow?" That man is like you or at least me.

I do believe Jesus is God. He can do all. Still, I'm a little reluctant to get in the wheelbarrow. It's one thing to believe; it's something else to put your body on line. The wheelbarrow represents the Church. I admit it looks rickety, especially after our summer of shame. With all that I am grateful we have people brave enough to get into the wheelbarrow. Some remarkable people have come forward for our RCIA - Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In that course we will emphasize the basics: prayer, especially the Mass; the creed which really comes down to three questions - Does God exist? Is Jesus God? Did Jesus found the Church? And we will explore what it means to live that faith. This will tie in with Generations of Faith which this year focuses morality. As we see in James, morality involves care of the afflicted and avoiding traps (defilement) like adultery, greed, deceit, envy and arrogance.

Morality means we trust Jesus and don't go after illusions. In today's Gospel Jesus places the cross at the center of following him. Peter, however, takes Jesus aside and tries to dissuade him. Peter wants a messiah - a savior - but not a suffering messiah like the one Isaiah describes in today's first reading. Jesus minces no words. "Get behind me, Satan." Jesus knows how Satan works. He can orchestrate huge evils like the Nazi concentration camps - and the clergy abuse scandal. The devil can also work through basically good people - like St. Peter. He does it by getting us to turn away from the cross. Some of you remember The Lion King. Simba, fleeing his own guilt and shame, finds an apparently happy world. His new friends, Timon the Meercat, Pumbaa the warthog, teach him the philosophy of "hakuma matata" - no worries. When a lioness arrives to call him back to his true destiny, Simba balks. The lioness eventually convinces him that others need him. Simba, in a sense takes up his cross. In the movie he explicitly embraces his father's will. We'll see more about the Father's will when St. James addresses a sin that in our culture has become even more destructive that lust. That's for next week. Today we see that faith requires taking a risk - getting into the wheelbarrow. Or to put it more directly, take up your cross, that backpack whatever it is. "Whoever loses his life for my sake and the sake of the gospel will save it." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
24 Ordinary Time
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary 131

Today's Sunday scripture readings open with a passage from the prophet Isaiah, in which the prophet speaks of his fidelity to the Lord even in very difficult times, and of the way in which the Lord provided refuge for him in this time of testing. We read, "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced" (Isa 50:6-7). This part of Isaiah's prophecy is one of the four so-called "servant songs" contained in chapters 42 through 53 of this lengthy book. The servant songs can be read in a number of ways, but in Christian interpretation they have often been considered anticipations of the suffering of God's messiah Jesus Christ. Isaiah reminds us that the redemption which the "suffering servant" brought about would be established precisely through the suffering he freely accepted on behalf of his people.

Christ gave himself over for us in an act of love that every parent recognizes when they look at their children, every wife or husband understands when they think fondly of their spouse, and every true friend imitates when he or she makes a sacrifice for their alter ego. Christ's act of self-giving goes beyond our human inklings and attempts however, and reaches its perfection in his free acceptance even of death for the sake of our salvation. The same point is at work behind the scenes in today's reading from the Epistle of James. This great leader of the early Church writes "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" (James 2:14). James is telling us that if we truly believe in Jesus then our faith in him will naturally be followed by acts of self-giving love in imitation of him: these are the "works" of which James speaks. The self-giving witnessed in these works of Christian charity does not effect our salvation, but rather is an authentic sign of our faith in Christ and the redemption he accomplished through his perfect self-giving.

To bring this self-giving in imitation of Christ to its perfection means to be willing to suffer, and to do so, if necessary, on behalf of others. To be most like Jesus, to be his most faithful disciple, thus means to share in his resurrection and new life through a sharing in his cross. Our contemporary society firmly rejects this as the naiveté of religious belief, but then again the society of our Lord's own day did the same, as Saint Paul witnesses: "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God�. we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:18, 23-24). In today's gospel Jesus asks his followers "Who do people say that I am?" and then gives the first prediction of his passion and death, the ultimate example of self-giving love. Let it be our prayer that we may always "say" that he is the Lord and messiah who redeems us through his freely accepted suffering on our behalf, and may always find strength in his words: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it" (Mark 8:34-35). Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
24 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

There are high points and low points in everyone's life. We are all aware of this and if we take a look at ourselves we will surely be able to recall extremely difficult times as well as those intense moments of exhilaration. In the case of Peter, we see here in this Gospel extract a high point when he declares his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and then immediately afterwards a very low point when Jesus says to him, ?Get behind me Satan!' Peter must have been crestfallen at these harsh words of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, especially as they come so quickly after a moment of exaltation. However, if we look at Matthew's account of the same event we see that after Peter's confession of faith he is highly praised by Jesus who says to him, ?Simon, son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven.' Mark omits these particular words and instead has Jesus stressing the importance of the Apostles not saying anything about it to anyone because his time has not yet come. However, both Matthew and Mark then move immediately on to the prediction Jesus makes about his passion and death. And both of these Gospel writers tell us how Peter takes Jesus aside to remonstrate with him.

There is a similar passage in Luke but it omits Peter objecting to the need for Jesus to suffer. We note these differences in the Synoptic Gospels; but the fact that there are differences between them does not make us question their authenticity but rather strengthens our belief in the truths of the Gospels. If we were in a court listening to the accounts of various witnesses to, let us say, a car accident we would observe that they were all slightly different. The different witnesses would see different things; overall their accounts would be broadly the same but the details would be different. It is the same with the Gospels and we realise that the various discrepancies are actually a sign of their authenticity. In the case of Mark's Gospel, it is generally believed that Mark listened to Peter's teaching and from his words compiled his Gospel. As anyone would do, Peter does not want to put himself in a leading role but actually stresses his moments of shame. Peter unflinchingly tells of how on the night of Jesus' arrest he denied him three times. Likewise, here, after telling the people about his confession of faith, he does not neglect to tell them about his subsequent humiliation.

Mark records what Peter has explained and transmits it to us in his Gospel text. Something common to Matthew, Mark and Luke is that after Peter's declaration of faith Jesus warns his disciples about his imminent passion and death. It is important that he prepares them for what is to happen. But I think that when Peter expresses his incredulity he is surely speaking for all the disciples. To them Jesus must have appeared to be superhuman; after all, he had extraordinary miraculous powers and he was clearly someone sent by God into a troubled world. It is obvious that Jesus' followers had great difficulty coming to terms with this prophecy of his passion. Peter remonstrates with Jesus but the others say nothing. They probably just decide to ignore this prediction by Jesus and hope that this threat of violence will go away. None of them see that it is precisely through his suffering and death that salvation will be won for the whole human race. We cannot blame the Apostles; probably, if we were in their shoes we would have done just the same. And indeed, despite his several predictions of his passion and death the Apostles were unprepared for it when it did happen. As we know, all of them except John simply ran away. What these predictions did help with was the Apostles reflection on the events of Christ's death after the event.

They remembered that Jesus had told them several times that he was to suffer and then they understood that this suffering was undertaken on behalf of mankind and that Jesus' death was actually a victory over death itself. They realised that his death opened up for us all the way to eternal life. There is also a message for us in Jesus words. He says, ?If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.' If we want to call ourselves a true disciple of Jesus then we are invited not only to imitate him in his good deeds but we are expected to follow him in the manner of his passion and death. We are expected to see the deeper meaning of suffering and to realise that far from being something undesirable it is the very thing that brings healing for the whole human race. We do not seek out unnecessary suffering but we do not cringe from it when it does come along. We embrace the suffering we experience, and we realise that through it we can identify ourselves with Christ's passion. We realise that the suffering we experience is our small share of what Christ endured and actually becomes our modest contribution to the salvation of the world.

As you know, I recently spent a month in hospital and I was able to observe the other men on my ward coping with pain and injury. It was an orthopaedic ward and so the others there had experienced car accidents or serious falls. One man lost a foot and another had multiple injuries to his legs. What impressed me was how the suffering of these patients actually brought out a real nobility in them. They did not despair but they coped with the pain and the consequences of their injuries in a very positive way. Also, very evident was a real camaraderie and concern for each other. I found this to be rather impressive. We should not regard suffering as an unmitigated disaster or as an evil, even if we do realise that it is one of the consequences of sin in the world. We know that Jesus has won the victory, we know that he has won the battle with evil and we look forward to that great Day of Days when the whole universe will be brought under his dominion. In the meantime, we accept our sufferings and see them as salvific. We offer to God the pain we endure; whether it be physical pain or emotional agony. We see in our troubles the hand of God and know that through our experience of these torments the world is gradually being redeemed.

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