Saturday, November 14, 2009

33 Sunday of Ordinary Time

Here is the Homily for the 33rd Sunday.

When I was a kid I was fascinated by end of the world movies. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in which movies like “Earthquake” and “Asteroid” were hugely popular. These were the times of the Nuclear thread and the Russian empire so, as much as we were encouraged to have a “good outlook on life”, these movies took advantage of the fact that our future was a big mystery and that in our small little world; we were at the mercy of invisible and cosmic forces which could have affected our lives in the most unexpected ways.
And you know what? Things have not changed that much. The Russians have been replaced by the Islamic terrorist, the flu virus and Global warming; but we are all still trying to make our children grow with a sense of security. On the other hand, we are all still flocking to see movies like “2012” and “I am legend”.
Now do not think for a moment that is all new. The reality of an uncertain future and of the human helplessness against cosmic powers has been a topic of conversation since the beginning of recorded history. But it is only in the last 30 or 40 years that it has become a very profitable industry.
Even before Jesus times Jewish religious leaders and prophets used what is called “apocalyptic language”, prophetic language that spoke of great catastrophes and the end of the world as a way to encourage their listeners during times of great turmoil and suffering. Take for example today’s first reading from the book of Daniel, these words were written during a time in which the Jews were suffering a horrendous persecution by the Greek King, Antiochus. This man tried to eradicate the Jewish religion by murdering or enslaving the whole population of Jerusalem. He went as far as desecrating the Jewish Temple by slaughtering pigs in the main altar in honor of the god Zeus.
You can imagine effect these events had in the mind of the Jewish nation. So the author knowing the mental anguish his audience was suffering tried to reach them by taking his story to the next level. Not only the temple remains desecrated and the people were enslaved or dead, but the time will come in which God will bring a greater calamity not only to Israel but to the whole world. But do not despair!... This is the time in which God will reveal His glory to the nations and reward those who remained faithful to the end.
Jesus, been the master story teller he was, borrows this technique of apocalyptic storytelling, to make some very important points to his disciples. In today’s Gospel we hear echoes of the prophet Daniel. Jesus also talks about the tremendous cosmic events that will happen at the end of time, and he also mentions angels coming to gather those that have maintained the faith to the end. But unlike Daniel or any of the previous apocalyptic prophets, Jesus inserts himself into the story. This is not Daniel talking about some mysterious undetermined point in the future. This is Jesus returning in glory after His death and sending His angels to gather His flock.
By doing this, by becoming part of the apocalyptic prophesy Jesus accomplishes 3 things. First he makes the end of the world a reality. The world will end, Jesus will return, faithful will be rewarded. Heaven and earth will pass but His words will not pass away. Second he gives a mandate to His church: Be attentive to the signs of the times. Do not grow lax on the practice of the faith because no one knows the hour of His return. And third and I think this is the most important point. He shows us that He has authority over all of human history. From this point forward our faith will hold us even when our present is crumbling around us. True disciples believe that future belongs to our Lord, and there is no thread, or fear or calamity that will keep us away from our eternal destiny which is to be lifted with him into heaven.
There might be turmoil in the world, maybe today we might be feeling that there are forces outside of our control that are threatening to destroy us. Today’s message is this: Hold onto the hope that one day, the good Lord will send his angels to collect us and take us to his glory. Wars and catastrophes might come and go but His words will never pass away.

St Leo the Great

I preached this sermon during the daily mass at the Shrine of St Anthony in Elliott City, where I was leading a day of reflection on Spiritual renewal. One of my favorite topics for sermons is Church History, specially history of the first Christians and the early church. Enjoy.
Today we commemorate the life of Pope Leo the Great, a man who led the early Church during a crucial moment of its history. He was bishop of Rome around the year 440. This was a time in which the Church was experiencing a great transformation. The Roman persecution of Christians was over. Cities in which the apostles had founded churches such as Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem were the sees of important and powerful bishops that saw themselves as the successors of some of the apostles. Each church had developed with great doctrinal freedom, which inevitably led to disagreement and in some cases accusations of heresies.
As the bishop of the imperial city of Rome, Leo realized the importance of Church unity as well as the need for the Universal Church to speak with one voice. And as the successor of the Peter, the prince of the apostles, he saw his role as the one uniting force that would keep the Church together. So throughout His pontificate he labored to establish the primacy of the Bishop of Rome not by the sword but by reason, and by showing that this had been the plan of our Lord from the moment he told Peter “You are Rock and over this rock I will build my Church”.
During the Council of Chalcedon (451), Leo defended the two natures of Christ being attacked by heretics with so much wisdom that the bishops participating in the Council cried out: "This is the faith of the fathers ... Peter has spoken through Leo ..." Which is the first recorded example of the dogma of Papal Infallibility.
Throughout the history of our church only three popes have received the title of “the great” Leo, Gregory who led the Church during a time of liturgical reformation and now it seems that John Paul II will be given this title. These three men are called great not because of what they when they were Popes but because they understood the role given to them by God in their particular moment of history.
You might think that these men had some kind of special gift because of what they did for the Church but fact is, their gift is shared by all baptized Christians. This is the moment in which their careers and ours started this is the moment in which the Good Lord makes each one of us Great. By our common baptism we are all called to do great things. The lesson we can learn from them is that they understood what was required of them to make the best out of their gifts and were not afraid to follow their purpose to the end.
So in this day, through the prayers and intersection of St Leo 1st may we too learn what is that great task the Lords wants us to do, and may we too be willing to follow were the spirit of God wants to take us. Amen.