Homily for 4th Sunday of Advent 2008

glorycloudAfter the earlyyyyyyyyy morning 7am Mass a young woman asked if she could have my homily.  I had already preached last night, and had no other Masses today, so I gave it to her.  She was very interested in the shekinah, the cloud of God’s glory, that I discussed in the homily.  It’s pasted below:

Our God is a fantastic teacher.  He teaches His children with patience.  He makes things known to us gradually; and over time, we understand more complex concepts that build upon simpler things.

I think the readings today invite us to ponder the image of a cloud.

His physical manifestation to Moses came in the form of a cloud.  When Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s presence covered the mountain for seven days.  The people understood that something important was taking place within that cloud.

And when the Israelites moved around in the desert, the glory of the Lord accompanied them in the form of a cloud.

The cloud would hover over the Ark of the Covenant, the golden box that held the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments.  If the Lord wanted to move the clan by night – the cloud appeared as a pillar of fire to light their way.

If the Lord wanted to stay in one place for a time, the cloud would simply rest on the tent that contained the Ark.  The Israelites understood well.  They were content to dwell in a given place until the Lord urged them to move elsewhere.

After King David had built a palace, he pondered the appropriateness of living in his beautiful home compared to the simple tent that the Lord’s ark was kept in.  That’s what the first reading today is all about:

David had a good heart; he wanted the Lord’s ark to be more comfortable than himself.  He wanted the Lord to dwell in a building of more magnificence, more beauty.

But God tells David not to worry – if He wants a beautiful palace, He will have one built.  Rather, he teaches David that what He really wants is to fix a kingdom for His people Israel.  He wants them forever to have a line of kings to care for the people.

He reminds David that he was the most unlikely king.  David was a simple, young shepherd – content to care for the flock.  Protecting the sheep from predators, and ensuring they had sufficient grazing pastures and fresh water to drink.  God chose David because of his humility and because of his protective, loving care of those entrusted to him.  And that’s the kind of kingdom that God fixes through David’s successors for all time.  A firm kingdom of justice and peace and care.

David’s wish of a great temple for God was eventually fulfilled through Solomon, his son.  The temple was built to house the glory of the Lord.  And God was pleased with Solomon’s work.  When the temple was dedicated, the cloud of God’s presence entered it.  The cloud was so dense and thick that the priests couldn’t even see.  They left the inner sanctuary.

It’s important for us to realize that God made the Temple glorious not through cedar or gold or incense or burnt offerings.  He made it glorious because the cloud of his presence rested inside it.  He made it sacred and important because He chose to dwell within it.

You see, the cloud of the Lord’s glory, shekinah, in Hebrew, is the same whether it rests on a mountain, or over a tent in the desert, or inside the Holy of Holies in the Temple.  It was a physical reassurance to the people of the Lord’s favor with them; and his choice to be powerfully present in their midst.

But in today’s Gospel, there is a special shift in how God interacts with his chosen ones.  When Mary asks Gabriel, “how can this be?”  The Lord’s messenger tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”    the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

The cloud that interacted with the Israelites touched mountains, the desert floor, the canvas of a tent, and even the gold and acacia wood of the Temple.  But it never touched a person.

The shekinah cloud stayed for a time in this place or that, but it never made a permanent home anywhere.

You see, the cloud that overshadowed Mary was not temporary, it changed her forever.  The cloud wasn’t merely a representation of God’s presence; it was God Himself, the Holy Spirit, who rested upon her.

After moving about for 2,000 years, the eternal and most glorious home for God was found in a gracious, humble virgin named Mary.  The shekinah cloud would never again need to lead the people or reassure them of God’s closeness.  He would take flesh through Mary and walk among us as one of our own.

He would teach us and heal us and care for us and love us.

Above all else, he would save us by laying down his life for his friends.

During these last days of Advent, these days of preparation, I urge you to spend some time meditating on the entrance of Jesus into our world.

A great way to do that would be to read the eleventh chapter of Isaiah and ponder the mystery of God-made-man, Emmanuel.

Categories: Homiletics | 1 Comment

Christ the King

Jesus is a very special kind of king.  He doesn’t represent the opulence or extravagance that we associate with royalty.  He is not a king that is waited on by an entourage of servants.

 Our king Jesus is not vested in fancy garb — he wears the clothes of a simple man.  He’s a king without armies or soldiers.  He inhabits no castle on earth.  He gives to others rather than collecting taxes from his subjects.

He’s a king without a queen, and one that leaves no heirs.


So what kind of a king is he, anyway?  A king that brings peace.  A king that teaches us to love one another.  A king that calls as his court the most unlikely of members – fishermen, outcasts, even a hated tax collector.

Our Lord Jesus comes to create a new kind of kingdom — not one with geographic boundaries, but rather a kingdom of hearts.  This king wants your heart and he wants mine.  And he wants to gather every heart to himself.

You see, our King sees what is inside us — he sees who we are at the core.  He doesn’t notice the imperfections of our bodies.  He doesn’t care about squeaky voices or wrinkles or weight.  He loves each heart precisely the same — whether it’s wrapped in a tiny body still in the womb or in a frail body in a nursing home.

And even as Jesus seeks our hearts he gives each one of us a way to sing.  We can paint or write or sing or build or study or pray or care for others to make our song heard to the world around us.  And as each one of us shares our gift – it melds together into a beautiful symphony for our king.

Our king is unlike any earthly ruler – he doesn’t need anything from us, but he longs to bring our hearts to himself.  And that’s the essence of what heaven is all about – our hearts, our souls uniting with the person of Jesus for all time

Categories: Homiletics | 1 Comment

Persistance in Prayer – Orans Position

Here is an excerpt from the homily I delivered this weekend – many people commented on the information regarding the orans position. 


Have you ever wondered what’s so special about lifting up his arms, anyway?  I think it’s simply a method of Moses praying for his people.  One of the things Moses did a lot of, was to intercede before Yahweh for the people.

Raising your arms is an ancient posture of prayer.  If you visit the catacombs outside of Rome you can still see today images of the first Christians standing with their arms outstretched in prayer.  We call it the “orans” position. Because it symbolizes lifting our prayers up to heaven, up to our God.

In Psalm 140 David described this kind of prayer beautifully, “Let my prayer come before you like incense, the raising of my hands like the evening offering.”  So this ancient orans position is at the very least 3,000 years old, maybe even 4,000 years old.

And that’s why Fr. Gary uses the orans position so often during Mass.  He’s offering the collective prayers of each of us to the Father.

I mentioned earlier that prayer was the most valuable thing we have as Christians.  As Catholics we can go one step further, and say that the Eucharist is the most valuable prayer that we have, period.

You see, we take absolutely serious Jesus command on Holy Thursday, do this in memory of me.  Or to use the more precise words from First Corinthians, “This chalice is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Now Jews drink wine every day – and so we celebrate Mass every day.  And Jews drink wine in a more festive, ritualized way on the Sabbath – and so we celebrate Sunday Mass with greater festivity and solemnity, with music and an extra reading, and so forth.

What makes the Eucharist so valuable is its completeness – the Eucharist is a sacred way to transcend time and to actually be with Jesus at the Last Supper, to be with Him during His Passion and death, and to rejoice in His resurrection from the dead.  All three of those components packed into one continuous prayer.

The Eucharist is special in another way, too.  It is a prayer that is offered by the Son to the Father, through the Holy Spirit.  A prayer that shows the love and connectedness of the Holy Trinity each and every time we participate in it.

Much of what is pre-figured in the Old Testament is perfected in the New.  The Last Supper that Jesus celebrated with his Apostles on Holy Thursday was a perfection, a completion of the Passover.  The sacrifice of a lamb for each family was perfected by the offering of the Lamb of God to the Father.  The instruction to place blood on the door frames and lintels was perfected by the blood that fell from the arm and the tree of the cross.

And the ancient manner of prayer – the way in which Moses lifted up his hands to assist his army; the way in which David lifted his hands before the Ark of the Covenant; the way in which the earliest Christians offered their prayers in the catacombs – this very posture was perfected by Jesus as well when He turned his wrists and had them nailed to the cross.

Jesus lived out Psalm 140 in the most beautiful and complete way:  Not only was his prayer like incense, his whole life was lifted up to the Father; not only were His hands raised like the evening offering, they became the eternal offering – the offering that redeemed the entire world.

So the next time you raise your arms in prayer, thank our Lord Jesus for the unique way that He stretched out his hands for love of you.

Categories: Homiletics, Prayer | Leave a comment

Tim LaHaye missed Mass today

Today is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – and it’s a shame that Tim LaHaye wasn’t with me at Mass this morning.

You see, in the Epistle we hear St. Paul using the very language that LaHaye and his followers base their “rapture” theology on:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 italics mine)

But the solution to all of this rapture talk is foun in the words of Jesus from Matthew’s Gospel reading for today:

Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:10-13 italics mine)

Throughout the Gospels we hear the words of our Lord consistently urging us to be on guard, to be prepared for we know not when He will come again.

But the success of LaHaye’s Left Behind series shows that so many Christians do NOT heed these words of Jesus. They prefer to look for signs and clues – both in Sacred Scripture and in other places as well.

Tomorrow is promised to no one, folks – it’s as clear as that. Live each day of your life expecting and desiring that our Lord would return. Instead of waiting for the Kingdom – make it present by doing what Jesus commanded of you: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick & imprisoned.

Who wants to be a foolish virgin when the bridegroom arrives? Or worse yet, who wants to be a goat when they are separated from the sheep?

God bless you all that serve our Lord faithfully, diligently and quietly. Your reward in heaven will be great.

Categories: Catechetics, Homiletics, Theology | Leave a comment

Unless you aquire the ears of a child, you cannot understand this homily

Perhaps it’s a God-Incidence, but today’s Gospel account is one that I wrote a children’s homily for some time back.

In Robert Fulghum fashion (author of All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten), I think the message and content of the homily is timely today, too.

Here’s the Gospel text: (Luke 11:37-41)

After Jesus had spoken,
a Pharisee invited him to dine at his home.
He entered and reclined at table to eat.
The Pharisee was amazed to see
that he did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.
The Lord said to him, “Oh you Pharisees!
Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish,
inside you are filled with plunder and evil.
You fools!
Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?
But as to what is within, give alms,
and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

And here’s the homily I spoke about:

Sometimes it’s hard to keep clean. We might be working outside, or playing soccer, and it’s easy to get mud and grass stains on our clothes. It’s not a big deal, though, because our parents help us get those clothes clean again by running them through the washer and dryer. Today we learn about another way of cleaning ourselves from Luke’s gospel.

When Jesus goes to have dinner with the Pharisee, he teaches us an important lesson about being clean inside. The Pharisee is surprised that Jesus does not purify his hands before He sits down to eat. So Jesus takes the opportunity to teach the man that God is more interested in cleanliness of mind and heart than that of his hands.

The reason that the Pharisee was so surprised is because it was a Jewish custom that you had to ritually wash your hands before eating. The man belonged to a group that was obsessed with following all the rules and customs of the Jewish people. He wasn’t trying to trick Jesus; he was just caught off guard when Jesus sat down. He was too focused on the external sign of washing that he missed the whole point of learning what Jesus had to say. And we know that Jesus didn’t simply forget to wash his hands; rather he wanted to teach us a lesson about what makes us clean.

He teaches us today that God wants us to take care of our whole person, because he made every part of us, our bodies and our minds and our hearts, too.

And we all know how we clean our bodies; we take a shower or a bath each day, and we wash our hands before meals. But do we remember to keep our minds and hearts clean, too? Let’s think for a moment about how we can do that –

When we say a prayer for someone we keep our minds clean. When we help our parents with chores is another way. When we stick up for someone is one of the very best ways to keep our minds & hearts clean.

And Jesus today tells the Pharisee another good way to clean our hearts, by giving to the poor. Because when we are taking care of the needs of others we don’t concentrate only on what we want, but what they need, too.

So those are all great ways to help keep us clean, inside and out, just like the cup and dish that Jesus talked about today.

But the very best way to clean our minds and hearts is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we sin, our hearts and minds get cluttered with the things we have done. They distract us from doing what God wants of us. But through this sacrament, Jesus wipes away all of our sins and makes our hearts and minds completely clean. And when we keep ourselves clean, we have more opportunities to help others and to model our lives after Jesus.

So as we continue Mass let’s all think of one way that we can clean our heart by helping someone else this afternoon. That way we can show Jesus that we heard Him speak to each of us personally through the Gospel today.

Categories: Catechetics, Everyday Miracles, Homiletics | Leave a comment

Truth is Sent

For those fortunate enough to get to daily Mass today – there is a wonderful gem waiting in the Liturgy of the Word.

In the First Reading, Paul tells the Colossians about “the word of truth, the Gospel, that has come to you.” (cf. Col 1:1-8)

In the Gospel, Jesus teaches us that, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (cf. Lk 4:38-44)

Truth is sent – not passively sought after.

Paul equates the word of truth to the Gospel, Jesus tells the crowds that He has been sent to all the towns of Judea, not just theirs. Jesus is the truth (cf. Jn 14:6), and He is sent to all the nations. Even after He ascended to the Father, the truth continued to be sent – by the apostles and disciples, as witnessed in Paul’s epistle to the Colossians.

And the truth is sent even today. Through the marvels of technology we are sent the truth over radio waves, television signals and print media.

Receive the truth that is sent to you, not the lies of so many purveyors of violence, hatred and filth. The Internet is a perfect example of this – blogs such as this speak about the truth, while thousands of other web sites peddle pornography, get-rich-quick schemes and the like. Like a lighthouse in the dark, be a beacon of truth to a world starving for it.

Jesus, Paul, & Timothy were sent to deliver the truth – and so you must also be an emissary of truth!

Categories: Catechetics, Homiletics | Leave a comment

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