Sabbath Homily–with Compendium, too

Just in time for your summer vacation, if you are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy one…

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The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. (Matthew 12:8)

Whenever the Lord speaks about the sabbath, I try to take note.* [Scroll down or CLICK for a compendium of all the notes I have taken lately.]

Because I, for one, am not good at keeping the sabbath. I daresay that few of us really do it well.

One the seventh day, the Lord gazed upon all the good things He had made. He took delight in the grand spectacle. His work of creation complete, He rested in perfect contemplation.

DanielThe irony of sabbath rest is, of course, that for spiritually slothful people, it is simply impossible.

Sabbath resting comes from the interior peace of knowing that I have generously tackled the task entrusted to me for the past six days. Then, on the seventh, the Lord helps me to recognize that all that work is really His; the task is bigger than me alone

Because it is God Who truly brings about completion and fruition, sabbath resting in the power of God is the only real rest that a human soul can find.

Now, we know that the Lord Jesus spoke infrequently, and rather cryptically, about His identity. Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI has a chapter in his book Jesus of Nazareth about this fact, and he tries to explain the significance of Christ’s use of the phrase “Son of Man” to refer to Himself.

The prophet Daniel spoke of the coming of the Son of Man on the clouds, ushering in the everlasting sabbath of true peace and worship. And Christ referred to this Himself, during His night trial on Holy Thursday, before a few members of the Sanhedrin. “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” For these words, above all, the Lord was condemned—as He knew He would be.

Benedict Jesus of Nazareth InfancyThis mysterious “Son of Man,” the Christ—He is man ‘in full.’ He is man, having attained the full good and purpose of man’s existence. The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath not just because He is the Creator Who instituted the sabbath in the beginning—which He is—but also because He, Christ—and He alone—truly offers man a sabbath.

Who will give us rest from our weariness, besides Jesus Christ? Who else has come down from heaven, reconciled us as a race to the Father, and then returned to heaven, preparing a place for us there–a place with a perfectly human “shape,” a place to be filled by each of us as the men and women “in full” that we can be, by the grace of Christ?

The Son of Man is Lord of heaven. In heaven, may it please Him to get us there, we will find the true sabbath that our soul’s seek. And in the meantime, when we know that there is a heaven; when we know that, in the Heart of Christ, an eternal sabbath of peace opens up like an ocean—when we know all this above all the other things we know, including the contents of all our endless To-Do lists—when we know Jesus, we can find a way to rest a little and give it all over to God now.

Continue reading “Sabbath Homily–with Compendium, too”

The Divine Waiter

The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. (Matthew 20:28)

A good waiter loses himself in attending to the pleasure of the one he serves. The waiter watches; he anticipates. The skillful waiter attunes himself to his business so deftly that he himself vanishes. He produces results like an invisible man. Glasses don’t go empty; they get filled without anyone noticing. Time to eat? The food sits in front of you. When everyone’s finished, the plates are gone. Crumbs on the table vanish.

The Son of Man came not to sit at table and feast, with His servants waiting on Him. He came to be the waiter. He came to wait at our table.

Christ revealed the truth about God. The Almighty operates like the ultimate invisible waiter. Air to breathe? Sun in the sky? Roof over your head? He keeps the glasses full, and we don’t even see Him. Need a friend? An open door? He takes care of it.

None of this—the cosmos: the sky, the mountains, food, created beauty—none of it is an implement of service for Him. He had perfect happiness before there even was an earth. He offers us everything, without any thought of gaining anything for Himself. He already had it all. All of this is Him serving us.

And how did He reveal this invisible truth? The Creator came as a man to do not His own will, but the will of the One Who sent Him. The Son came not to luxuriate, but to suffer. He came not for His own benefit, but for ours.

Where did the Son of God, the manservant of the human race—where did He find His peace? “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how I am straitened until it is accomplished.” He found peace only on the Cross. He found peace only in offering Himself for us, in fulfillment of the Father’s plan for the reconciliation of His wayward children.

Now, we could never presume to imitate all of Almighty God’s consummate table-waiting skills. He waits on us better than we could ever wait on anyone else.

But we can take a cue from what He says and from how He does things. And, if we want to be of service as apostles of the Son of Man, trained and sent to serve our brothers and sisters in the world—if we want this, we can learn something from what a serving man is called.

A waiter. If we would serve well, we need first of all to have enough patience to stand and wait. We watch carefully, so as to see clearly what the brother or sister needs. Then we can take care of it quietly, invisibly.

“They will look upon Him” (Zechariah 12:10)

Homily for the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross

“As the serpent was lifted up in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”

In the first reading we heard the account of what happened to the Israelites in the desert. The Lord Jesus referred to this episode in order to explain the mystery of salvation.

The journey the freed slaves had to make from Egypt to the Promised Land was long and hard. It was a trial. The Lord had promised His people that He would provide for them and get them to the land of milk and honey, but He did not “beam” them there like Scottie on the Starship Enterprise—they had to make the long and arduous pilgrimage.

In this way, the journey of the Israelites is an image of human life. God starts us out on the journey to heaven, and He accompanies us the whole way. But most of us have to persevere and bear up under the strain of traveling a long distance. We don’t get beamed-up to heaven until we finish the work the Lord gives us to do here, whatever it may be.

The Israelites did not bear up well under the strain. They grew tired and impatient with God’s plan. Therefore, they were subjected to the attack of poisonous snakes. Many of the Israelites were bitten and died. The poison in these snakes is also an image for us: It represents the weakness of our human nature. The poison in us is our propensity to selfishness, pride, self-indulgence, cowardice, and malice. The snakes in the desert would have been harmless if they weren’t poisonous, just as our human nature would not be dangerous to us if Adam and Eve had never fallen. But as it is, our flesh does have poison in it. The poison can strike us and kill us spiritually, which is what happens when you or I commit a mortal sin.

As the Lord Jesus explained it, though, the imagery from the Old Testament reading does not end here by any means—thanks be to God. What did the Lord command Moses to do to heal His people who were poisoned? He ordered Moses to mount a bronze serpent on an upright pole for the people to gaze upon. But the serpent on the pole was not full of poison. It looked like the poisonous serpents which had stung the people. But the bronze serpent was itself perfectly pure and free of poison.

As the Lord Jesus explained to Nicodemus: The mounted bronze serpent–in the image of the poisonous beast but itself free from poison–is the image of the Son of Man sacrificed on the Cross. God hung on the Cross in the likeness of our sinful flesh, even though He was completely free from sin. Those who have looked upon Him without faith saw nothing but a criminal being executed in the notorious Roman way. But those who know Who the Crucified One truly is see something else: We see a perfectly pure and innocent man offering Himself to the Father on our behalf.

Dear brother, dear sister: you and I deserve to be on the cross. For forsaking the truth, for pouring contempt on the weak, for smiling at evil, for distracting ourselves from our duties, for running my brother down behind his back, for putting me, me, me in the center—for these and countless more faults, wrongs, and sins, you and I deserve agony and death. God owes us nothing; all we have is a gift. And we have not been grateful, submissive, and obedient like we should be.

But the man on the Cross was never ungrateful. He was never disobedient; He was never selfish. He was never petty or mean; He never lied or prevaricated—to anyone else or to Himself. He walked in this world with the gentleness of a doe, the deft strength of a lioness protecting her cubs, and the pure beauty of a lark singing.

There has never been one ounce of poison in the flesh of the Son of Man. On the contrary: His humanity oozes healthful medicine. When He walked the earth, it was as if His hands secreted aloes and balms that soothed every wound He touched. The same healing powers flow out from His heavenly Body which He makes present to us on the altar.

Christ made His pilgrimage on earth with perfect abandonment to the will of the Father. He preserved what the Israelites lost in the desert. God was leading them to the Promised Land, but their way there passed through the desert, and they ran out of trust. The Father was leading the Lord Jesus to the Promised Land, too. His way there passed through the Cross. He walked calmly to it. The Lord’s execution did not take Him unawares. He knew and accepted His mission with serenity from the beginning. He had come to suffer our punishment for us, so that we would not have to suffer it.

The purity and innocence of Christ’s obedience to the Father is reflected in the pure and innocent obedience of His saints. Today our Holy Father Pope Benedict has gone on pilgrimage to the place where St. Bernadette humbly and simply obeyed the orders of the heavenly Lady 150 years ago—Lourdes, France.

Pure water flows out from our Lady’s spring in the grotto there, water with the power to cleanse and heal. Lourdes water is an image, too—an image of the cleansing, invigorating spiritual water that flows from the Sacred Heart of the Crucified One. This spiritual water flows out onto all those who gaze upon Him in faith. Let us draw near to the holy altar of Calvary to bathe our souls.