Friday, January 28, 2011

HOMILY – 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral 1/30/11
Zeph. 2:3,3:12–13 I Corinth. 1:26–31 Matthew 5:1-12a

*Emily Dickinson began one of her poems with the following lines:
“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”

In the second reading,
St. Paul is telling the Corinthians of their calling.
Most of them were common ordinary people,
not the wisest, by human standards
not many were very powerful,
not many were noble by birth.
Many were foolish, and they were being called
to put the wise to shame.
Many were weak, and they were to put the powerful to shame.
Many were lowly and despised, those who count for nothing,
the “nobodies” of Corinth.
Their call was to reduce the “somebodies” to “nobodies”,
So that no one could boast that they were better before God.

Paul went on the tell the Corinthians,
that it is through Jesus, the common criminal,
another who was seemingly good for nothing,
that they were now together as the Body of Christ,
sharing in the wisdom, the righteousness,
the sanctification and the redemption of God.
The call of those deemed to be worth nothing - the “nobodies.”


**Ben Hoper was born in the foot hills of East Tennessee
to an unwed mother
as were some other little boys and girls in that area.
Such children were often ostracized and treated badly.
By the time Ben was three years old,
the parents of other children would not allow their children
to play with Ben.
“We don’t want a boy like that playing with our children.”
On Saturday,
when Ben’s mother would take him to the grocery store,
other parents in the store would ask her
if she ever found out who Ben’s father was.
Ben had a tough childhood;
he and his mother certainly were “nobodies.”
There were the “somebodies,” the other parents,
who were sure that they were better.
In school no one associated with Ben;
At recess time, weak little Ben stayed at his desk
when the other “powerful somebodies” in his class
went out to play but not with him.
At lunch time Ben also remained at his desk
to eat his sack lunch by himself.
He was despised by the other students.

When Ben was twelve years old,
a new young preacher came to pastor
the little church in town.
Ben heard exciting things about this new pastor.
He was friendly, accepting of people where they were.
He had chrisma.
He caused peoples smiles to broaden, laughter to increase
and spirits to soar.
This new preacher had been sent by God.
Remind you of anyone? Initials J.C.?

Ben had never been to church,
but he decided to go on Sunday to hear the new preacher.
He came late and left early so as to not be exposed
to the crowd gathering at the beginning
and the crowd leaving at the end.
He liked what he heard in the sermon; it gave him hope –
hope that he would find peace in his dealings with others,
hope that he was not a “noboby”, worth nothing.

He went back on several consecutive Sundays
and his hope was strengthened.
On one Sunday people sat in his pew on either side of him
and he became so enthralled with the message of the sermon,
that he forgot to get up to leave early.
He was trapped in the crowd in the church at the end of the service.

As he was making his way through the crowd,
A hand grabbed his shoulder and he heard a voice say,
“Who’s boy are you?”
He thought, “Here we go again;
I’m about to be reminded that I am a ‘nobody’.”

It was the preacher who had asked the question.
The church crowd, all those wise and powerful people
grew very quiet, waiting for the answer they expexted.

A wide grin grew on the face of the young preacher and he said,
“Oh! I know whose boy you are.
Why the family resemblance is unmistakable!
You are a child of God.
That’s quite a heritage you’ve got there.
Now, go and see to it that you live up to it.”


“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”
The question is “Do we want to be the weak, foolish, lowly
and despised “nobody”
or the wise, powerful and noble “somebody.”
It was clear that the Christians in Corinth
were being called to be the “nobodies.”

And so are we,
although it seems to be the American way to strive
to be “somebody,” to be self-sufficient and independent,
to be wise and powerful.
We want the biographies of our lives to be success stories.
We are at our proudest and our best
when we have overcome the challenges on our own
with no help.
“I did it for myself, I did it my way!” Hey! I’m somebody!


While that may be the way things work
in the realm of human affairs,
it is not the way things work in the realm of God’s affairs.
In God’s realm, we are all called to give up the earthly wisdom,
that may lead to fame,
the earthly power that may lead to our accomplishments,
the earthly nobility that may lead to fortune,
and to learn the foolishness of God’s love for us,
the weakness we must have to accept God’s love
and the poverty that requires us to lean on God.
We are a sinful people,
and our sinfulness comes from a tendency
toward selfishness and pride.
Try as we might, alone we cannot overcome this tendency.

We must recognize that we are the "nobodies"
who can overcome sin only with God’s help.
The fact of the matter is
the type of the wisdom, nobility and power,
that we should be seeking,
reside with God.
We grasp for wisdom, power and nobility,
because we want to be a “somebody” in the worldly realm.
We want to be important.

For us, it doesn't make much sense that God is interested in us.
Yes, God reaching out to us, the weak and foolish sinners,
just doesn’t make sense, unless we truly know God.
Our loving God does reach out to us;
and all he asks in return is that we shrug off our desires
to be somebody in the world,
and that we embrace the love and self-sacrifice
of the dead criminal, Jesus, who died for our sins.
And all of this is true,
because each of us is truly “somebody” in God’s eyes.

“I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?
Good there are two of us.”
“Oh! I know who you belong to.
Why the family resemblance is unmistakable!
You are a child of God.
That’s quite a heritage you’ve got there.
Now, go and see to it that you live up to it.”

*Emily Dickinson poem #288 as found in "Lift Up Your Hearts", J. Wallace, R. Waznak, G. DeBona, Paulist Press, New York 2004 p 155
** Story by Zig Ziglar in “Stories for the Heart” compiled by Alice Gray, Questar Publishers, Sisters, OR 1971 pp 230-232
*** Some material in sections II and III based on “Live Letters” by Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, St Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, OH, 2002 pp 209-211.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Homily – Baptism of the Lord Year A January 9, 2005

Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 Acts 10:34-38 Matthew 3: 13-17

“Why was Jesus baptized?”
That question was posed to me some time ago.
I didn’t have a quick answer; I had to do a little research.
That question is now the beginning of a homily I have used
at many of the baptisms at which I have presided.
Some families have heard that homily more than once.
I have tweaked it but not changed the basic material.
I keep coming back to this same beginning,
because it is an effective way
to get to the heart of the matter about baptism.
Today’s homily will not be that homily,
But we will begin with the same question:
“Why was Jesus baptized?”


I see three aspects of Jesus’ baptism:
1. This is the time when Jesus is publicly proclaimed as the One,
the beloved Son of the Father.
2. Jesus begins his public ministry at this point.
3. This is the point at which the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus
to empower him for his ministry.
So in answer to the question, “Why was Jesus baptized?”
one might answer, “So that these three things could happen.”:
so that Jesus could be clearly identified as the Son of God,
so that the beginning of his ministry could be marked,
and so that the power of the Holy Spirit,
the third person of the Trinity, could be revealed.
Let’s look a bit deeper at each of these three.

1. First, Jesus is indeed the beloved Son of the Father,
but how do we understand the Father's declaration:
"This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."?
The Father "gives up" his most beloved Son
in order that he may gain us as his beloved sons and daughters.
The Father sent the Son
so that we might accept the forgiveness of the Father.
God is now well pleased that there is a way to heal the chasm
we have created by our attempts to make ourselves gods.
It pleases God that now there is a way to bring you and me
to become God’s sons and daughters,
with whom God is ALSO well pleased.
It pleases God that now there is a way for healing, restoring,
and transforming the lives of those
with foolish minds and fickle hearts.

2. Jesus’ baptism is indeed the beginning of his public ministry,
a ministry not of his own making,
but one he received from the Father.
Jesus responds to the call to save us on his Father's terms,
not on his own terms.
The Son of God comes to us out of love for us,
but also out of love for his Father.
If his ministry was of his own design,
Jesus could have opted to avoid Calvary.
Because he was dedicated to doing the will of his Father,
he drank from the cup his Father did not take away.
This was the character of the ministry that began
with Jesus’ baptism.

3. The Holy Spirit indeed empowers Jesus for ministry.
The Holy Spirit is often seen as the silent partner of the Trinity.
We often think that the Father sends, Jesus saves,
and, oh yes, the Holy Spirit is there too.
But the Holy Spirit is not a silent partner
who lets the Father and the Son act.
The Holy Spirit is the silent worker.


What do these three aspects of Jesus’ baptism mean for us?
How might they answer the question, “Why were we baptized?”

1. The declaration of the Father’s love for Jesus, “my beloved Son,”
is also a declaration of the Father's special love for us.
It is a love that we first experience at our Baptism.
Does this mean that God does not love the unbaptized? NO!
It just means that we are loved in a special way
as sons and daughters are loved by a forgiving parent.
We may be of the mind set that we obey God,
because we fear divine punishment.
We may come to church on Sunday
only out of fear of the pain of mortal sin.
We may remain chaste because we don’t want God to punish us.
We may drive carefully because we fear God and the police.
May our baptism be a reminder that,
instead of focusing on the punishment,
we are meant to revel in the love of God.

As children of God, we gather for Mass to love God
and the others in our community.
As children of God, we avoid sexual immorality,
because promiscuity truly shows our lack of love
for our God-given bodies and those of others.
An children of God, we drive carefully because our love for life,
our own and that of others, is God-like.
Acts performed out of love have about them a dignity
that acts performed out of fear do not.

2. Jesus’ ministry, which began with his Baptism,
is the model for our service as his sons and daughters.
The example that Jesus sets is one
that we all probably need to take to heart.
How often do we live our lives in such a way
that we try very hard to make the will of God fit
into our plans for life
instead of trying to determine
how our lives are to conform to the will of God?
How often are we resentful
because life (or God) has not dealt us the hand we want,
instead of asking what God wants us to do
with the hand we have been dealt?
We may wonder:
It would be so much better, if I had a higher paying job.
Why must I deal with a child with a behavioral problem?
What would it be like to live in a better neighborhood?

Jesus, who is the Son of God, was also the faithful servant,
the servant who prayed that not his will,
but rather his Father's will be done.
As sons and daughters of God,
we, in our ministry, in our service to the Father,
must do the same.
We must seek to know how God wants to use us in our jobs,
in our families and in our neighborhoods.

3. And where has the Holy Spirit descended into our lives?
Rarely is the Spirit overtly manifest to us,
yet the results of his work are splashed throughout our lives.
The Spirit is at work
when understanding puts an end to strife,
when vengeance gives way to forgiveness,
when those who were estranged join hands in friendship,
and when the work of justice and righteousness is performed.
When it seems we are doing quite well on our own,
we need to remember
that the Spirit is silently at work through us;
when it appears that God is not around,
we need to remember the Spirit is silently at work.


After an infant has been baptized with water,
the presider says to the newly baptized,
“The God of power and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
has freed you from sin and brought you to new life
by water and the Holy Spirit.
He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation so that,
united with his people,
you may remain for ever a member of Christ,
who is Priest, Prophet and King.”

As sons and daughters of God, we share in the divine life,
the life of Christ, the ministry of Christ,
the ministry that includes, priest, prophet and king.
We share as priest, one who makes holy
as prophet, one who teaches
as king, one who governs, who organizes, who serves.
So, why were we baptized?
We were baptized to share, with all other Christians,
in Christ in these three ways.
But we can do it only
if we know that no matter how badly we fail,
forgiveness is there for us;
we can do it only
if we emulate Christ in subordinating our will to God’s will;
and we can do it only
if we allow the Holy Spirit to be at work within us.