Saturday, December 10, 2011
The title of my homily for this 2nd Saturday in Advent is, “Elijah Returns.”
We who come to a lot of Masses - weekdays and Sundays - know that the name Elijah shows up many times. To be exact I checked The New American Bible and Elijah’s name is used 114 times - and in the gospels mostly in the Christian Scriptures.
While living - in the mid 800’s B.C. - Elijah is famous for challenging Israelites who had lost sight of God - the God of their ancestors - the God who had saved them by leading them out of Egypt - but now they adapting to and following false Gods.
AFTER ELIJAH’S DEATH: RETURNS AND SIGHTINGS
In our day and in our culture, there are jokes about Elvis sightings. There are many stories about Elijah sightings in Israel after his death. They became legendary in Jewish history and culture. So is it any wonder that Elijah becomes part of the Christian story and culture? People wondered and questioned if John the Baptist - as well as Jesus - were Elijah returned.
We’re moving into the middle of Advent - Advent meaning, "coming" - so is it any wonder that Elijah is featured? We hear about whether John the Baptist who is pointing to the coming of the Lord - or Jesus is Elijah returned.
Last night I went through different books to get a take on Elijah for a short sermon for this morning. He’s mentioned in both readings. I like saying Mass - because if gives me an opportunity to take new looks at readings I hear year after year - and do some study for a homily.
Two things hit me.
First of all: the Elijah return stories and legends indicate and establish than many Jews believed that people exist after death.
Secondly, the several Elijah stories tell me that the Jewish people were waiting for Elijah to return.
ONE EXAMPLE: A STORY
Let me tell one example or legendary story of an Elijah sighting or an Elijah return that I found last night. There are many. Hearing this one, I hope you’ll understand why the Christian scriptures have people wondering if Jesus or John the Baptist was Elijah returning.
Here’s how this story goes. I found it in a big book entitled, The Book of Legends - Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Legends from the Talmud and Midrash. (1)
The story is told of a pious man whose wife was virtuous. He lost his possessions and became a hired farm worker. One day, as he was plowing in a field, Elijah, disguised as an Arab, and ever remembered on good occasions, met him and said, “You have 6 good years coming to you. When do you wish them, now or at the end of your days?”
The pious man replied, “You must be a sorcerer. I have nothing to give you. Leave me in peace.”
But Elijah returned three times and asked the same question.
Finally, the third time, the pious man said, “I will go and talk to my wife.”
He went to his wife and told her, “Someone came to me. He pestered me three times, saying, ‘You have 6 good years. When do you wish them? Now or near the end of your days?’ What do I say?”
She replied, “Go tell him, ‘Bring them now.’”
So the pious man went back and said to Elijah, “We’ll take them now.”
Elijah replied, “Go to your house, and before you reach the gate of the courtyard, you will find blessing spread upon your home.”
It so happened that his children were just then sitting outside and sifting dirt through their fingers. Suddenly they found enough money to sustain them for six years, so they called to their mother.
Even before the pious man reached the gate, his wife came out to meet and greet him with the good tidings.
He immediately thanked the Holy One, for he was greatly relieved.
Now what did his virtuous wife do? She said to him, “As things stand, the Holy One has already twinned our lives with the thread of mercy in that He has given us sustenance to last for 6 years, so let us practice deeds of loving kindness during these years. Perhaps the Holy One will continue to give us more out of His plentiful bounty.”
So that is what she did. Each and every day. whatever she gave to the poor, she told her youngest son, “Record every item we dispense,” and he did so.
At the end of six years Elijah, ever remembered on good occasions, came back and said to the pious man, “The time has come to take away what I gave you.”
The pious man replied, “When I took it, I took it only with my wife's advice. Now that I am to return it, I will return it only with my wife's advice.”
He went to her and said, “The old man has come back to take away what is his.”
The wife replied, “Go tell him, ‘If you find human beings more reliable than we are, give them what you left in trust with us.”
When the Holy One considered these words and the acts of charity they had performed, He gave them blessing after blessing to fulfill what is said: “Works of charity shall convey peace.” [Isaiah 32:17.”]
The title of my homily was, "Elijah Returns."
Hopefully by hearing that these stories were part of Jewish legends and traditions, we would expect them in Jesus’ times as well. And we do - as in these Advent readings in which we hear various references to Elijah.
Picture on top: The Prophet Elijah - first half or middle of the 15th centruy. The Karelian Fine Arts Museum - Petrozavodsk, Russia
(1) Hayim Hahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, The Book of Legends, Sefer Ha-Aggadah, Legends from the Talmud and Midrash, translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, New York, 1992.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Quote for Today
"When nobody around you seems to measure up, it's time to check your yardstick."
Check out Jesus comments on this issue in Luke 6: 37-39. Better check out Luke 6: 27-42.
If you have time, also check out the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20: 1-16.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Quote for this Thursday December 8, 2011
"There aint gonna be no whiskey;
there aint gona be no gin;
There aint gonna be no cigarettes
to make folks pale and thin;
But you can't take away the tendency
to sin, sin, sin."
Vaughan Miller, "There Ain't Gonna Be No Whiskey," 1919
Painting on top: Immaculate Conception by Bartolome Esteban Murillo [1617-1682]
The title of my homily for this 2nd Tuesday in Advent is, “Comfort As A Motive.”
Today’s first reading - Isaiah 40:1-11 - begins with the word, "Comfort”. It says, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
As I heard that, as far as I know, it hit me that I never thought about or preached on, the theme of comfort.
AT FIRST, IT SEEMS FAR FETCHED
When it comes to clothes, my first motive is comfort. Those who know me would jokingly say, “No kidding!”
After that, comfort as a motive seemed foreign to me. Yet I have not really thought about comfort, so I welcome this short homily as a chance to do just that.
For starters, the cross is the symbol of Christianity. I would assume that the cross - especially being nailed to the cross - is far from being comfortable.
And the call of the scriptures seems to be challenge more than comfort - to get up out of our Lazy Boy or Lazy Girl chairs and do things for others.
And these benches here at St. Mary’s are known for not being comfortable.
Yet, Isaiah begins today’s first text with these words, once again, “Comfort! Give comfort to my people.”
So there is a paradox here - a theme, an issue to consider.
YES - OF COURSE YES
Of course we can push the theme of comfort - to work to make visitors and strangers comfortable.
The Holy Spirit is described somewhere as the Comforter!
And as Christians we are told to comfort the sick!
And hospitality is all about making life sweet for the visitor or guest.
For the 8 ½ years before coming here to Annapolis, another priest and myself preached all over Ohio and various other places - usually for a week at a time in someone else’s rectory or parish house. A few times there was only 1 guest room - and the pastor would give us his room. I learned how hospitality worked - making sure the guest got a key. A good host would take us to the kitchen and show us where things were. Everyone in the refrigerator was ours - as well as the peanut butter in the cabinet. The really gracious and observant would show us where the extra toilet paper was, etc., etc., etc.
“Comfort! Give comfort to my people.”
I have fond memories of visiting my mom when she was alive. If I was lying on the couch watching TV and it was December or January and the heat wasn’t that up - she would go to the back of the house and come out with her big medium dark grey down comforter. If ever a something got the right name - it was “comforter”. The Holy Spirit got second place on that one.
Yet the scriptures also have the call to make the comfortable uncomfortable or guilty - if they were too comfortable - and someone is being neglected.
Prophets like Amos yells out at the fat cats - who are too smug - and he tries to pull the rug from out under their luxury - when down the street - or a few blocks away - the poor are starving - and nobody gives a care in the world about them. [Cf. Amos chapters 4 and 6]
The history of the United States and Canada - and any country with a strong middle class - is a message to the rest of the world - as the way to go. We have heard the numbers of some countries of the world that 97% or 98 % or 99% of the wealth of that country is in the hands of 1, 2 or 3% of the people.
And Jesus’ challenges to the Pharisees of his day when it comes to religious practices and life certainly challenges the priests and preachers - bishops and popes - about the comfortable life - and lording it over others. [Cf. Matthew 23 especially.]
I hear Jesus challenging the comfortable and if you want one more motive of why Jesus was killed and rejected. it’s uncomfortably there.
So those are a few opening thoughts about “Comfort As A Motive.”
I’m assuming that this message of comfort needs to cause us some non-comfort where that’s needed and for those who are uncomfortable, there is the need for a call to move to comfort zones. The Golden Rule is in here somewhere.
The Good Shepherd had to put the TV clicker down - get out of his easy chair and go in search of that one lost sheep and leave the 99 comfortable sheep at rest. [Check today’s gospel, Matthew 18:12-14]
So if the shoe fits and is comfortable, wear it - but walk in other’s shoes - even it they are of a different size - and they feel very uncomfortable - so as to be very aware of others - especially the uncomfortable.
Quote for Today December 6, 2011
A questioner: "To turn to the compositions, do you think Bernstein felt that he had failed as composer?"
The answer: "Ah but Mon Dieu, we are all frustrated in life, we all want to do something else than what we do. West Side Story or Candide, I think these are wonderful works, but maybe he only thought of them as a light music, operetta music. You know, I think with Bernstein, and with all of us, often the thing that we really can do, it's not so interesting. We always want to sing soemthing else, or compose something else, or whatever. Karajan also felt this. Before the died he said: 'I have still so much to do.'"
I found this quote on page 70 in a book entitled, The Education of The Heart, Readings and Sources For Care Of The Soul, Soul Mates, And The Re-Enchantment Of Everyday Life, Edited by Thomas Moore, Harper Perennial, New York, 1997
Monday, December 5, 2011
The title of my homily is, “Out There Or In Here?”
Today’s two readings for the Second Monday in Advent are rich in imagery, story, poetry and visualization.
We can picture what Isaiah 35:1-10 is talking about. We can picture a desert and parched land blooming with flowers.
It happens in Arizona every time after a rich rain fall. Surprise! All those flowers underneath it all were just waiting for the rain. If you haven’t been to Arizona - perhaps you’ve walked into a church near the end of Lent or Advent and surprise - the church sanctuary is blooming with lilies or Christmas trees!
We can picture today’s gospel from Luke 5:17-26. Jesus is standing there preaching in a house - surrounded by people. We’ve seen that scene on a dozen Catholic calendar pictures or in an art museum. Suddenly stuff starts falling from the ceiling. A small group of men have brought their friend to Jesus on a stretcher. Because of the crowd, they can’t get in to see Jesus. They had faith in Jesus that he would heal their friend. So they went up on the roof and opened it up to lower this paralyzed man down in front of Jesus.
I love babies to cry at Mass - especially during a sermon. It’s life. It challenges all of us to be patient and be pro life especially when we have the surround sound of screaming hungry babies. However, I think I would stop and be distracted if our roof and ceiling started to open up or if someone brought someone up in a wheelchair down the aisle during a sermon to be healed.
So it’s easy to picture today’s two readings.
TITLE OF MY HOMILY: OUT THERE OR IN HERE?
The title of my homily is, “Out There Or In Here?”
The catch would be to move these stories - these images into our being - into our soul - into our lives.
How many times have we heard or seen the saying, “Bloom where you are planted”?
How many times have we felt stuck, paralyzed?
How many times have we had friends who are frozen in the past - because of a death or a divorce or a disaster?
I was listening to David Brooks on the radio yesterday. He was talking about two kinds of people over 70. Those who are stuck in the past and they keep repeating what happened. They keep rehearsing it. They keep rehashing it. They keep reinforcing it. And then there are those who have moved on and moved up and out to new life.
Timing is everything. So if you’re paralyzed in the past or a friend is still there, at some point scream, “Enough already.”
Stand up and walk. Get in your car and take yourself or the paralyzed friend for a big milk shake at Chick and Ruth’s - supposedly they have the best milkshakes in this area. Or say, “Let’s go for a walk. I’ll carry your crutch and then toss them in a dumpster or the South River.”
If you’re a painter, when was the last time you painted a picture? Make a blank canvas bloom and splash with color. Or even if you’re not a painter buy a box of crayons or get some play dough and make out you’re Michelangelo.
If you’re a photographer, when was the last time you went to Quiet Waters Park for a photo shoot - or picture the leaves on the trees around your house - and shoot them. Have you stopped to look at all those beautiful leaves still on the trees or running around on sidewalks?
If you’re a poet, when was the last time you wrote a poem?
If you’re a book reader, when was the last time you read a book you couldn’t find enough time to get back to?
Both of today’s readings feature before and after. Both readings feature weakness and then healing. Both readings feature old life changing to new life.
How do people change?
Today’s readings give two answers: with a little help from my friends and with a lot of help from the Lord.
ADVENT PRAYER: MARANATHA
The advent prayer is Maranatha: Come Lord Jesus.
If you’re dry and dead, mad or sad, paralyzed and stuck, get ye to Jesus.
The title of my homily is, “Out There or In Here?”
Open up the roof your head and pour these readings into your life today? There not meant to be out there in a book or in the air around a pulpit - but in here. [POINT TO THE TOP OF ONE’S HEAD]
Picture on top: not sure of its origin.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
OF THE UNDERGLIMMER
The title of my homily for this Second Sunday in Advent B is, “A Glimpse of the Underglimmer.”
Those are words of the Japanese poet, Basho, which I found in a book entitled, “The Art of Pilgrimage” by Phil Cosineau. (1)
THE SOUND OF WORDS WITH L AND M IN THEM
That phrase, “A Glimpse of the Underglimmer,” with 2 neat words, “glimpse” and “underglimmer” grabbed me for two reasons.
First of all, I liked the sounds of the words - “glimpse” and “underglimmer”. Those of you who are poets know that the letters “L” and “M” - are liquid sounds - important sounds for poems. Back in high school, Father John Duffy - one of our English teachers and a poet once said that he considered the most beautiful word in the English language to be, “oleomargarine”. Notice the “L” and the “M” in “oleomargarine”. The word was shortened to “oleo” - and/ or was replaced by “I Can’t Believe Its Butter” butter.
Life. Things and people get replaced.
Yet, still hear those two letters, “L” and “M” in both those words “glimpse” and “glimmer.” They are onomatopoetic words - that is, words that suggest what they mean. In the meanwhile name your sons and daughters: Miriam and Marlon - Lorraine and Larry - and say they are lovely and marvelous. And what ever happened to L and M cigarettes?
And secondly, as priest I’m to be aware of and to preach about what’s underneath - the underneath realities of life and love.
What’s underneath you today - December 4, 2011?
What’s underneath you - what are the foundations of your life? Do you see any underglimmer in your life? Do you have glimpses of your lights?
As Catholics we are overwhelmed at times with what’s underneath the bread and the wine: Jesus Christ the Lord. So we come here to hear the call and desire to eat and drink Jesus up, so that He can become more underneath our life.
As Catholics we are overwhelmed at times with what’s underneath each of us: Jesus Christ the Lord. We are the Body and Blood of Christ - member with member - member in communion with each other - hopefully in holy communion with each other.
Faith is underneath stuff…. Faith is about glimpses of the underglimmer of God’s light - in the darkness - God’s reality in this vast universe that we are hanging onto at times for dear life.
At Christmas time I like to picture the universe as a gigantic Christmas tree with all these beautiful globes and stars hanging on its branches - and we’re just one small round earth in the midst of millions and billions of God’s round differing globes hanging and glimmering on this billions and billions of year old universe tree.
Advent is a time to become quiet - and to pause - and to sense the underneath presence of God in and with and through all that is around us - all that surrounds us.
Don’t you love George Eliot’s words in her novel, Middlemarch? I love to read and stick into homilies these words: “If we had a keen vision of all that is ordinary in human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which is the other side of silence.” (2)
Do you ever hear the roar of God’s silence?
Did you ever hear God described as Silent Music? (3)
We don’t listen enough? We fill our universe sometimes with too much noise, too much stuff, too much busy.
Yet God is still all around us.
Yet God is still so silent - in this revolving, spinning, expanding, contracting, pulsating, universe.
I just saw in the news yesterday that they have discovered 10 objects - that might be rogue Jupiters in the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way? That’s a stopper! Talk about busy. We are part of a busy universe and what seems a very silent God.
And so we pray, we speak, we ask, “God what are you doing - creating and spinning - and moving all these globes in this vast dark universe we’re a tiny, tiny, tiny part of? And how am I part of all this - tiny, tiny, tiny me?”
I love to go to my niece Patty’s house for Christmas. It’s just up in Reisterstown - so it’s not long a drive on Christmas afternoon. I love it because every Christmas she puts 5 new ornaments on her Christmas tree - something that symbolizes and signifies something from the life of the 5 in her family - mom, dad, Patrick, Michael, and Molly - from that year. I love going over to the tree and looking at the new ornaments as well as the history of their life together all these years with all those tiny figures hanging like planets on their tree. They scream out - they roar out - “Story!” “Story!” “Story!”
Tell me the story of each new ornament! And if you have time, tell me about some of the old ornaments - especially your favorites.
There is a roar behind the silence in all of us. What is our story? What are our ornaments? What have we collected? What has happened to us since last Christmas? Do we still have the Christmas looking forward attitude that we had as kids? Do we see all the Christmas gifts all around us each day - always ready to be unwrapped - because we get glimpses of the underglimmer underneath all of us? Stop and talk to each other? Take time to discover all these planets revolving all around us? Who are we? Where have we been? What are the most beautiful sounds in our soul? What are our roars and our cheers? Who claps for us? Whom do we clap for?
Do we pause to applaud each other?
During Lent we can look at our wounds - our hurts - as well as our crosses.
In Advent we can look at movement towards births and rebirths in our being - the times we moved from being unstable to becoming more stable.
What are our glimpses of the underglimmer of God in our lives?
In this homily, I’m saying, “That’s Advent stuff.”
Today’s readings contain prophetic stuff? What are the roars, the voices, we’re hearing?
What I’m saying is poetic. Yet it’s not too far fetched. Did you hear that comment in today’s second reading from Second Peter, “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day”?
God thinks big and God thinks small? God creates big - check out the night sky and the Milky Way. God creates small - check out with microscopes the inner workings of our cells, our DNA or simply see God’s glimmer in a baby’s fingers or a baby’s toes.
We are surrounded with glimpses of the underglimmers of God.
What are the places God is calling us to look at and move towards? Today’s first reading asks, “What are the roads to those places? What mountains have to be leveled to get there? What valleys need to be filled in to get there? What roads need to be straightened to get there?”
Today’s gospel calls us to head for the desert - to move towards quiet places - to find deserted spots for prayer - to hear God’s messengers and messages to us? Do we hear the John the Baptist inside us saying, “I am not enough. One mightier than myself is coming after me. Look for him!”
I’m being poetic in this homily, so to be practical, I would suggest in this homily to find a quiet spot - some silent chair - in some quiet spot in your house - at some quiet time to sit down before you go to bed - with a window in view to look at the vast dark night sky - and ponder the serious. See and sense the glimpses of the underglimmers of God that you experienced that day. Just 5 minutes each night.
I do this every night. I have one of those spiral pads. I put the date on the top of the page. Under that I put the time and place. My room - usually around 11:30. Then I make a list of what happened that day - short, quick descriptions, and then I look at that list and say, “Which one has the most energy?” Tonight I’ll ask - as a result of this homily - “Which one has the most glimmer?” Then I say a quick prayer. All this takes just five minutes. I’ve been doing this for years now - and I recommend it to everyone who wants more spiritual direction in their lives.
Advent time screams out the need to see light in our darkness. Christmas comes in December not by accident. Those Christmas lights in our windows and on our lawns are all about glimpses of the underglimmer of Christ the Light of the world - wanting to come into the life of each of us.
The crib beneath the tree - roars - Christ comes - when we are silent in the night.
When the crib is put up here in church - make sure you stop to watch parents this Christmas who bring their kids to the crib. Remember when your parents brought you to the crib as well. The straw is important - but Christ is the one we approach.
T.S. Eliot - another Eliot besides George Eliot - whom I mentioned earlier - in the quote about the roar on the other side of silence - described what happens to many of us in a 1925 poem called, “The Hollow Men.” To be P.C. correct it includes women as well. Listen:
“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw.” 
How do we move from being straw to person?
In a poem called, “Ash Wednesday” T. S. Eliot tells us how we become hollow and filled with straw.
“Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.” 
In that piece he is also telling us the solution: silence. To take time to become quiet.
December believe it or not - is a good time to become quiet and indoors and go underneath - not just under blankets and the comforters - but also underneath ourselves and each other. If the cold doesn’t do it, the snow of January will.
So Advent and Christmas is not about the rush. It’s also about the underneath it all - the stopping to look for and to listen to the roaring word of God - on the other side of silence - who comes as the Word made flesh - the baby - and that this Christ grows in us - underneath our lives - in our lives - this Christ who is Light and who gives us glimmers and glimpses of God every day. Amen.
The Shepherds will hear it - the Magi will search for it - hopefully we will catch the glimmers and glimpses of God again this Advent and this Christmas. Amen.
(1) The quote by Matsuo Basho [1644-1694] can be found on page xix in Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage, Conari Press, Berkeley, California, 1998.
(2) George Eliot - Marian Evans Cross [1819-1880] in Middlemarch [1871-1872], chapter 22.
(3) William Johnston, Silent Music, The Science of Meditation.
(4) Thomas Stearns Eliot [1888-1965], The Hollow Men, 1925, 1.
(5) Thomas Stearns Eliot [1888-1965], Ash Wednesday, 1930, V.
December 4, 2011
Quote for Today
"I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world."
Alfred Lord Tennyson [1809-1892] in Ulysses, 1842, part of line 13
Picture on top: a scene from Sagrada Familia church that I took at the end of September this year.