Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My first homily

My formation for the priesthood of Jesus Christ has advanced far enough that they finally did it: they let me preach.  Not at Mass or any kind of liturgical reality; it was just for my fellow first-year theologians in our Introduction to Homiletics class.  Follows is the text of my homily (though it was a little different as delivered):—

HOMILY for the SIXTEENTH SUNDAY in ORDINARY TIME (A)

I. INTRODUCTION & PREMISE.

Jesus shows the way to Heaven: obedience, prayer, and the sacraments.  Now, Heaven is no longer a mystery! Jesus has shown us what it is like: a harvest of wheat amid tares; a mustard seed; a measure of leaven.  And it is being sown among the souls of good men and evil men as a way of humble repentance.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, it is working its way through all of human society, and it will yield a harvest of glory for all those who lay down their lives in obedience to Jesus and take up his Cross.

II. THE MYSTERY OF THE KINGDOM REVEALED.

Jesus shows us the way to Heaven through obedience.  Preaching to you on the Gospel today ought to be easy: after all, Jesus explains the parable for me! And in case you didn't catch it the first time through, here it is again: the Sower with good seed is Jesus. The good seed are the children of the Kingdom.  The weeds are the children of the evil  one.  The enemy who sows them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of the age; the harvesters are the angels.  The weeds? Gathered up and burned.   The wheat? Bundled into the Father's Barn.   Pretty straightforward:  be the wheat, not the tares.  The good seed, not the bad.  Goal is the barn, not the furnace.  But how do we get there?

To our ears, a kingdom sounds like a place to visit.  But it is more than that.  It is the βασιλεία in the Greek, literally the “king-thing.”  In the Latin? Regnum: the reign of God.   That's how the other two parables Jesus gives us make sense:  the Kingdom of Heaven is sown among men in their hearts.  That's where Jesus' reign starts.  In fact, it's happening right  now:  you have heard the word of God.   In St  Luke's version of the parable,  the seeds are not  the children of the kingdom,  as we heard in St  Matthew's Gospel, but the word of God itself.  Right now, then, the seed of God's word is being sown by the Holy Spirit in the heart of every man, woman, boy and girl who has heard the Word proclaimed this morning.  It's leavening your heart.  It's being mixed in and kneaded by holy Mother Church.  And, by God's grace, this tiny kernel of truth will take root and begin to grow, just like the mustard seed.  But to what end?

III. THE LITTLE WAY OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.

Jesus shows us the way to Heaven: through obedience, but also through prayer.  The Sower comes and sows the good seeds so that we, as the Book of Wisdom says,  will  be taught  by God that  there is good ground for  Hope.   The Kingdom of Heaven is attainable by God's mercy.   God will permit us to repent of our sins,  even though we stand justly condemned!   But  there's the rub:  the difference between the wheat and the tares is that the children of the kingdom, the wheat, admit their sins and weaknesses to God.  They do not stand holding their hands out demanding admittance to the Kingdom of Heaven.  They know God “rebukes temerity,” in the words of the Book of Wisdom.  Faced with a just God who has nothing to do with sin and evil, knowing that as hard as they try, they will still fall short of obedience, the children of the kingdom do not know how to pray as they ought.  But instead of despair,  they rely on the Spirit Himself, opening their hearts to Him: God comes and prays for them, prays for us, with the inexpressible groanings of a heart sorrowing over its sins.  Sorrowing over its rejection of the mercy and love of its own Creator.  Opening itself to the seed sown by the Sower of souls.

IV. EMBRACING THE LITTLE WAY OF THE KINGDOM.

But how does a soul embrace the word sown by Jesus?  Is it just “being a good person”?  Through obedience alone? No.  Not at all!  Jesus shows us the way to heaven: obedience, prayer, and the sacraments.  The cry of the Psalmist points the way: Hearken, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my pleading.  Our God is one who judges with clemency,  governing  us  with  mercy.   The  wheat-like  soul  gathers  its  courage  and approaches the Tribunal of the Kingdom with confidence, knowing that God has given good ground for hope that repentance is possible.  Where is Jesus' High Court?  It's not some edifice in the Vatican or  palace of justice in Jerusalem.   It's here,  in this very church: it's the confessional.  Having opened their hearts to the seeds of the Word sown by Christ  the Sower,  the children of  the kingdom know in the honesty of  their  own hearts that  they have turned away from obedience in that beautiful,  heavenly harvest  in pursuit  of some vile creature, a petty honor, a miserable pleasure, some vain interest; they know, with  the  Spirit's  help,  that  they  have  rejected  the  infinitely  beautiful,  perfect,  and harmonious communion with the Triune God: He who is Light, Love, and Life.

So full of prayer and taking up the burden of the Cross of their sins,  failings,  and weakness,  the children of  the kingdom take the Via Dolorosa to the foot  of  the Cross.   And with trusting confidence in the never-failing mercy of the One who has done all to prepare them for the harvest, they say with the Psalmist: Turn toward me, and have pity on me. Have  mercy  on  us,  O Lord,  for  we  have  sinned  against  you!   And  then— and then?  Jesus commands, through the words of absolution: Gather the wheat into my barn!  They will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father!

V. THE EUCHARIST: THE MUSTARD SEED OF THE KINGDOM.

Jesus shows us the way to heaven: obedience, prayer, and the sacraments.  It's the way of the Cross.  And we've seen that way, that highway to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Cross, in the sacraments before: and not just penance and reconciliation.  We will see it today.  In just a few moments, we will fall down in adoration before the Lord of the Harvest, as He comes among us on this altar.  Here, Jesus Christ the Sower has prepared a seed-crop even more bountiful than His holy Word.  Here, the once-for-all Sacrifice of Calvary will come among us and be made mystically present.  Jesus Christ will offer himself to his Father for our sins and those of the whole world on the hard wood of the Cross by the power of the Holy Spirit as we watch.  His Body, Blood, Soul, & Divinity will be broken and given to us as the True Seed of Eternal Life and forgiveness of sins so that the Kingdom of Heaven will be made manifest right here, right now!  We will taste the Bread of Heaven, the True Wheat & Manna that comes down and feeds the children of the kingdom.

VI. CONCLUSION.

Jesus shows us the way to heaven: obedience, prayer, and the sacraments.  A mystery, but also no longer a mystery!  For Jesus has taught us what Heaven, Eternal Life, is like: it is a harvest of wheat amid tares; a mustard seed; a measure of leaven.  And it is being sown among the souls of all those who turn to Jesus in prayer and open themselves to the Sacraments He gave us.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, and through this Heavenly Banquet, it will work its way from our hearts through all of  human society, and it will yield a harvest of glory: all those who lay down their lives in obedience to Jesus and take up his Cross.  Amen.