Holy Flesh

This homily is based on two paragraphs in St Cyril of Alexandria’s commentary on Luke 4.

John 6.1-15

Dearly Beloved:

Observe the efficacy of Our Lord’s holy flesh. Notice how revitalizing and restorative is His blood. For It drives away diseases and a crowd of demons. Christ’s flesh overthrows the power of devils and is capable of healing a great multitude in one instance.

This is why the crowd followed Christ Jesus into the wilderness. And why they camped out at the bottom of the hill.

They followed Him because they had seen His miracles which He did on the diseased;

  • how He had healed the sick,
  • restored sight to the blind,
  • opened the ears of the deaf, and
  • chased away those whose addictions had made an opening for demon possession.

The crowd followed Jesus because they sought relief. For themselves and for their loved ones.

The crowd was camped out because they were desperate. They wanted help. Not a show, but real healing.

Since He is God, Jesus might have said to the crowd, “Fly away, every disease. Be gone, every affliction. Depart and leave, every sorrow.” But he adopted a different approach.

  • To show that His flesh possessed the power of healing,
  • to demonstrate that Our Lord’s human hand is actually the hand of God Himself,
  • to let us know without a shadow of doubt that His skin and bones are infused and interpenetrated with His Godhead so that it is impossible to separate, mentally or actually, His humanity from His divinity—

this is why Our Lord Jesus often reaches out His hand and touches those who are sick, even sometimes without words.

And so when He saw the great company of people, Jesus had compassion. Not just on their bodies destined for the grave. He saw their yearning for God, their desire to believe in Him, and most of all their soul-sickness.

So Jesus comes down to restore. And not just humans, but all creation—the entire universe. His mission is grand. And so it is not limited to human bodies. But it begins there—in a body like ours. A body that He does not put on as a persona, or some identity. But a body which He completely deifies—even as He desires to deify our bodies and souls but His touch, by His word, by His own flesh and blood.

By coming down to meet the crowd, to feed the crowd, to feed us—our Lord shows that His mercy is not just for the body, but also for the soul. His desire is not merely to relieve slight momentary afflictions, but also to seat us together at the table with His Father and the Holy Spirit, and in their fellowship, to also banquet with the saints and angels.

And so, in a precursor of His Supper, Our Lord took the loaves, gave thanks, and gave them to His disciples, who then ministered this miraculous life-sustaining bread to those who desired it.

Yet the crowd, like us, have a hard time believing that God is in their midst; that the Son of God is feeding them. They simply thought that a godly human was helping them; and they saw God as a quick fix to their troubles. And because of this, the crowd sees Jesus as a politician, a lottery ticket, one of the superrich who could lower their prices and make easier this temporary life. And so they chased. They did not give thanks. They wanted to force Him to be their king. They did not receive the Lord and His gifts as the Eucharist that He is.

But consider this: If Jesus’ hand can heal the sick and multiply bread and fishes, think of what happens when we receive our Blessed Lord’s flesh and blood, His humanity and divinity, His body and soul, into our own flesh in the Holy Mystery of Communion. For when He enters us and we receive Him with a sincere and true heart, confident that the bread and wine have been changed and transubstantiated by the Holy Spirit into His life-saving body and blood—then He will quench the fever of unbefitting and distorted pleasures; He will raise us up to newness of life; and He will strengthen our minds and hearts, as well as our bodies, to see us through life’s hardness and sorrows.

Just as that human hand by which Christ heals the sick is, in truth, the hand of God—in the same way, by His Spirit, the bread which we consume and the cup from which we drink, is now the body and blood of that same Jesus whose hand absorbed diseases, whose feet walked on water, whose touch soothed the anxious and disturbed, whose mouth spoke mercy deep into the hearts of the troubled.

His same flesh and blood is the Living Bread which came down from heaven. His flesh is actually what fulfilling food is. His blood is actually what refreshing drink is. For when we receive it, we receive God Himself.

Let us then take hold not of this rite. Let us take hold of Christ in the way He gives Himself to us. Let us take Him at His word, firmly and devoutly believing that the Son of God, in His human flesh inseparable from His divine self, is being placed into our mouths.

And then let us live from this food. For that is why we limit how much we eat during Lent; and why we deny ourselves certain pleasures; and why we spend more time in church and in prayer; and why we give away what we have and work for. We do these things because we see that the Holy Communion is the food of all foods. And that we will never go hungry, if we have nothing else to eat except the bread with His Christ’s flesh and the wine which is His blood.

Let Christ’s hand, then, hold us. And let us take hold of Him in this place by means of the mystical Eucharist, giving thanks to God for this holy food. For it can free us from sickness of the soul, from the despair of the mind, from heartache and sorrow, and from the assaults of demons. The flesh and blood of Christ can free us—just as His touch helped the diseased. And, more than that, Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist will raise us up on the last day. For this is His promise: “Everyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life; and I will raise them up at the last day.”

To whom, with His Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Into the Temple

A Candlemas Homily

Dearly Beloved:

The holy prophet Malachi urges us to be ready when “the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple.” But that day is not today. That day will come, but not today. Today Our Lord comes into His temple quietly, without fanfare, as an infant. To fulfill a law that does not apply to Him. And it does not apply to the Virgin Mother. Because Our Lord’s birth was not a cursed birth where the womb was opened with bloodshed. And so, both boy and mother do not need to be purified and sanctified. Our Lord with His holy mother enter the temple, then, not because they must, but because He wants to be seen as the light of God living in all humanity; that is, the salvation prepared for all peoples, languages, ethnicities, and nations.

So today, exactly forty days after His birth, the Blessed Virgin and Joseph bring the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord. It is a joyful day, a day of thanksgiving. For Mary especially, the joy and thanksgiving exceeds the joy and thanksgiving of any other mother. For she holds in her arms God Himself in the flesh. She carries the One who will carry and bear and take away the sin of the world.

Yet notice how they celebrate—by killing animals, by sacrificing pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons. What a strange way to show joy and give thanks! Yet the sacrifice is not just some ancient custom they mindlessly do. These sacrifices point forward to the way the Lord’s mercy, help, and salvation comes. By His later sacrifice and death, coupled with the putting to death and sacrificing of our ungodly desires, our fears and self-serving ambitions, everything that we think matters more than this tiny Christ Child—that is the path of our salvation; the way we will gain what we lost.

Into the temple, then, the Holy Family goes to perform a duty that is not required for them; a sacrifice that does not purify but that anticipates the purification of the entire world; a sacrifice that makes holy everyone washed in this Child’s blood. Truly, then, this is for us a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

And who is there waiting for Jesus and His parents? It is Simeon, a just and devout man. He was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Simeon is there because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

Notice the juxtaposition of the old man and the divine Child. Just as Our Lord Jesus comes to the temple, Simeon comes by the Spirit into the temple. God comes to the old man, and the old man goes to greet God. The old man will cradle God in His arms, just as God will embrace and hold fast the old man.

As Simeon enters, he is full of anticipation and expectation. For He eagerly looks forward to beholding not simply the fulfillment of some ancient promise, but the actual salvation and mercy of God embodied in this nursing infant.

Learn from old St. Simeon. He not only knows that the Lord sticks to His Word. Simeon also knows where that promise is kept, where his heart’s desire is given, where his longings and expectations come true, and where he can latch onto and cling to the God and Savior that he so desperately desires.

But don’t just learn from Simeon. Imitate his faith and confidence. For what Simeon hopes for and sees comes true today, right in front of your eyes. By entering His temple in this place, the same Christ Jesus stands before your eyes. Here, in this place, you also Behold the Lamb of God, you also behold Him that takest away the sins of the world. And so also, if you can believe it, if your mind’s eyes are opened to see this Light of the world—you also get to cradle here, in this place, that same Christ Child, that same God and Savior, not only mentally or emotionally, but really and truly as He speaks through His ministers, and even more so as His flesh and blood are placed in your mouth.

Imitate the eagerness, the longing and the joy of Simeon. He is moved to take the baby Jesus in his arms and bless God. Yet what a strange blessing Simeon speaks to God. He says, “Lord, now I can die in peace. For just as You said, my eyes now see Your salvation.” What does this mean? It is as Simeon is saying this:

“O Lord, no longer do I pin my hopes to a promise I cannot see or a wish I hope for. Salvation is now alive and real, before my eyes, in my arms, ready for me to partake. For salvation is this Child who is the only-begotten Son of God. And just as the priests prepare the Lamb for sacrifice, in this way Thou hast prepared Him before the face of all people. For He comes to the temple, the place of Holy Sacrifice, to be, for our salvation, ‘a pure victim, a holy victim, a spotless victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation.’ So now I can rejoice that our Lord is here and that His sacrifice is eminent. And in His sacrifice, this Jesus is the light that reveals Thy grace and kindness to all nations. And in His blood, He shows that is the glory of Thy Israel, Thy Church. In Him, then, I greatly rejoice. For He is everything I hoped He would be, the salvation I have desired.”

What a blessing Simeon speaks. And in it, we see true worship. For Simeon takes the Lord at His Word. The old man does not know how it will all play out, but he is confident that this Child is the Father’s sacrifice prepared for the salvation of all mankind. And with that he is content—to the extent that he now longs for death. Not just because he has seen it all, but because he now holds in his arms the Life of the world. And when you hold to Christ the Life of all the living, death no longer has a hold on you.

Imitate, then, the worship of St. Simeon. Take to heart the Word Our Lord speaks and gives to you. Take in the Christ Child as He places His own flesh and blood within your flesh and blood. Receive Him as He comes to you, as He makes good on His promise, as He keeps His Word. And then relax, knowing that the Lord has made known to you also His salvation, and revealed to you the glory which is His sacrificed Son; to whom with the Father in the Holy Spirit belongs all glory, honor and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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The Gift for God

An Epiphany Day homily
Matthew 2.1-12

The day when God pulled off the greatest wonder of all time by interweaving and interlocking and interpenetrating our flesh with His divinity;

the day when a virgin—think of that, a virgin—became the Mother of God and, at the same time, retained her virginity forever;

the day when the God the Word became a speechless infant;

the day when the Creator made Himself a creature;

the day when the Messiah promised for centuries finally arrived in our world;

the day when the Governor and Monarch of the entire cosmos was found lying in a manger;

the day when the Almighty became a vulnerable baby capable of suffering and death;

the day when the Mediator between God and human beings bridged the unbridgeable gap by becoming completely human while not laying aside an ounce of His divinity—

that day; that glorious day; that day that exceeds all days in joy and gladness—

that day is so revered that its celebration cannot be confined to just one day; or eight days; or twelve days.

Our celebration must now be extended another week so that we can both ponder and rejoice in this mystery that not only brings our redemption, but also lets us be the humans we were designed to be—women and men capable of receiving God, containing God in our soul, and approaching God with boldness and confidence.

And so, the Feast of the Epiphany prolongs our joy of Christmas, even as it reveals to us another aspect of Our Lord’s extraordinary incarnation.

What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if God has all, why offer Him anything?

Part of that aspect is that experts who point out where God in the flesh is to be found—in Bethlehem of Judaea as written by the prophets—these experts refuse to believe their own truthful testimony, and the prophets who told them; and so they stay put while the Magi venture forth to find the One revealed by a miraculous star.

Yet not just these experts, but also a king—who is so afraid of his own demise, afraid that someone might take away all that he has, a fool whose soul will be required after he had a chance to prepare—this king will also lie about wanting to following the Magi, not to adore Life Himself, the Living Bread come down to heaven, the King of the Angels; but rather to murder and destroy Him—incredibly believing that he alone can do what no Satan could do—that he, as a puppet king of the Romans, can somehow kill God.

But the Magi—they are unmindful of inconvenience or threats or evil machinations. They are single minded in both reaching the star’s destination, and in adoring the baby who was promised to other people, yet prophesied as savior of all nations.

And what do these Magi wish to do? Treat a stable as if it were a king’s palace. Approach a manger as if it were a throne. Kneel before, and adore, and worship a cooing infant as if he had issued life-altering proclamations. And then present the King of heaven and earth with a few precious gifts—precious and costly and dignifying to them, but meager and inconsequential to the Lord they adored.

Remember what the Lord says: the whole world is mine, and all that is therein. Thinkest thou that I will eat bulls’ flesh, and drink the blood of goats?

So, what do you give to the almighty who holds all things in His hands, and who has no need for anything, and who can create from nothing everything He wants? What gift is suitable, appropriate, and right for the one who holds all life in the hollow of His hand? And if that is the case, why offer God anything?

And the Magi know this. You can see it in their relentless pursuit of the star. You can see it in their belief in the Scripture prophecies from the scribes. And you can see it in the gifts they offer—especially the frankincense. For the Magi know and believe that they are bowing not before the up-and-coming King of the Jews. They know and believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

The Magi believe that they are genuflecting in the stable-temple, toward the manger-tabernacle, before God Himself.

Yet they still offer Him meaningful gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh—all for the Child that they are proclaiming, by their gifts, is God the King come in the flesh in order to die for the redemption and salvation of not just people, but particularly for those three.

The greatest present, however, is their presence. For they know that God has all that exists, and that an infant can do nothing with what they give. But their kneeling, their adoration, they determined faith, their trust in the star’s preaching—that is their truest, most authentic, and best offering, sacrifice, and gift.

And this should be a relief to us. For God has given us all we have, even our life itself, not to take it back; but so that we might know that He is the giver, and thereby adore Him with the gift of ourselves—in His church-temple, kneeling before His Eucharist-tabernacle, adoring the Word made flesh made the Bread of Heaven into to transform us into His own dear brothers and sisters.

What shall we give, then, to the Lord for all that He has given to us? Shall we not imitate the Magi? We should. We must. And so, like them, we should offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the Most High. And we should receive the cup of salvation. And we should call upon the name of the Lord.

And as we revere the mysteries devoted to our salvation—the mystery of the Incarnation, and the mystery of Christ before you in the Mass and placed in you in the Eucharist—as we reverse these holy mysteries, let us not be content merely with showing up and giving thanks with our lips.

For the Magi did not simply offer themselves, their worship, and their gifts. They also “went home by another way.” Spiritually, that other way was a changed heart, a mind set on the things of God, a fearless desire, and a faith, hope, and love aimed not at what benefited them here and now, but at what aided others and assisted their salvation.

The worship of the mysteries, the adoration of Christ in His sacraments—that also should urge us to “go home by another way.” As the Magi turned away from Herod and the selfishness he shows, we can heed St Paul and abstain from carnal desires—pride, wrath, greed, lust, envy, despondency, gluttony—which wage war against the soul. Yet it is not enough to turn aside. Like the Magi, our hearts should be filled with love for the chaste life, since Christ is the Son of a Virgin. And we should be as little children with respect to wickedness, because the Lord of glory conformed himself to the infancy of mortals. And we should earnestly pursue true humility—the humility we see both in the Christ Child and in the Magi. And finally, like the persistent and unwavering Magi, we should clothe ourselves in patience—as well as fearlessness, not letting anxiety overwhelm us, but praying that the Lord increase in us faithful perseverance and godliness. (from St Leo the Great Epiphany sermon, paraphrased)

In this way, we offer such sacrifices to God as are well-pleasing. And, above all else, we will increase our joy on this glorious feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ; to whom, with His Faither, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

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Who Has Heard Such Things?

Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord
Midnight Mass Homily

Something strange has happened.

A virgin gives birth yet retains her virginity.
A mother bears a child before she is in labor.
A woman delivers a son but suffers no birth pangs.
A child is born, but no blood is shed.
A son begins his life yet has no earthly father.

Who has heard such a thing?
Who has seen such things?

God, who has no beginning, is born of a human mother.
Him, whom the whole cosmos cannot contain, comes forth from his mother’s womb.
The Word through whom all things were made make Himself one of His own creatures.

God becomes one of us.
To suffer our pains
To be tempted like we are
To experience our sorrows
To feel our hurts
To endure our weakness
To die our death.

He takes on our every weakness, He is vulnerable like we are
In order to exchange our death for His life
In order to swap our sickness for His healing
In order to trade our apathy for His love.

So, the holy child is born—something strange indeed.
The Son of God is human—remarkable, earth-shattering, and strange.

And this is all for you. For your good.
To relieve you in your distress
To comfort you in your anxiety
To aid you in your hardship
To console you in your fear
To gladden you in your misery
To encourage you in your time of need
To forgive your secret sins; and
To save you from yourself and everything that threatens you.

For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, the grace of God—God Himself—in flesh like yours, like mine.

The grace that is God appears as a child to rescue us from ourselves by being the rescue we don’t even think we need.

This God of all grace settles down and lives not just among us, but in skin and bones like ours, so that He might both experience what we go through and, even better, bring us closer, into a most intimate union, with Himself and His Father in the Holy Spirit.

And so the God of all grace—the Ideal Man, the Human we were designed to be—He is born to invite you to sit with Him in heavenly places.

Imagine that—
material beings sitting in the immaterial heaven
souls encased in flesh sitting with, and above, the bodiless spirits
lives that can choose to love now being chosen to reside in Love Himself.

Christ is born so that you can share in His eternal glory.
Christ is born so that you may live as God.

For even though we die, because of His birth we get to be sons of the Most Highest
Born as He was—by an act of love and grace
Born as He was—by the will of the Father
Born as He was—into life everlasting.

And so, Christ is born, in order to restore, establish, perfect, strengthen and settle you.
And Christ is born, so that you might live for higher things
For the blessed hope
To see, with your eyes, God Himself
And to live in a love that exceeds your imagination

And so, God is born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem us who are slaves to the law of sin and death.

This is a strange thing indeed.

And it is a miracle greater than medicines, or even resuscitation from the dead, or anything else that we think is so great.

This is the miracle of God breaking into our world,
Not to break us, but to restore us
Not to punish us, but to shower us with His kindness
Not to threaten us or guilt us, but to love us into Himself.

Rejoice, then. For Christ is born!
Not just then, but also now.
Not just for them, but for you.
Not just in that place, but here on this altar, so that He might be born also in your heart.

So let us all rejoice with the angels, glorifying God.
For God has done what we could never have thought to do.

And with the birth of His Son, He has bent the laws of nature to our advantage.

Rejoice then, all who have been justified freely by grace.
It is the birthday of the just one!
Rejoice, all who were weak and sick.
It is the birthday of the Savior, the Healer!
Rejoice, all who are captive to their own ungodly desires.
It is the birthday of the Redeemer who makes your way of escape!
Rejoice, all who are enslaved to fear and anxiety.
It is he birthday of the One who comforts and settles you!
Rejoice, all who are freed from sin and fear.
It is the birthday of the One who set you free!
Rejoice, all who are weighed down.
It is the birthday of the One who bears and carries and takes away your burdens.
Rejoice, all who are confused about your place in life.
It is the birthday of the Beloved Son who invites you to live in and through Him!
Rejoice, all who feel worthless and unloved.
It is the birthday of the One who, in baptism, sets you as the Beloved of the Father who takes pleasure in you as you are.
Rejoice, all who suffer in hardship or distress.
It is the birthday of the One who born to relieve and revive you!
Rejoice, every Christian.
It is the birthday of Christ!

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Waiting for the Savior

A homily for the First Sunday in Advent

Luke 21.25-33

We are waiting for the Savior. These words from St Paul to the Philippians perfectly fit the Advent mood the Church wishes to inculcate in us. So these are words we should do more than simply hear and then nod our heads. We are waiting for the Savior should be a motto to live by, a simple sentence that shapes every decision, every desire.

We are waiting for our Savior, Christ Jesus. So let us wait not down hearted, not in dread. And certainly not nonchalantly, unconcerned, with detachment, without forethought, and not as an agreeable thought that never affects our daily routine. But we get to wait with uplifted hearts, uplifted heads, with eager expectation, with joyful anticipation. And with the excitement, the confidence, the belief that our Lord is coming, and that his advent will usher us into a better world.

So, let us wait with hope, believing that our Lord’s arrival will bring us good things. That is what hope is: believing that good things await us in the life to come.

Our weakness, and so our challenge, is that we don’t really wait. At least not for the Lord. And not for his imminent return or arrival. Most days it’s the furthest thing from our mind, a barely noticed twinge in our hearts. And when the Lord’s advent comes into our minds, when someone or some event reminds us of this possibility, then as quickly as it enters, we push the thought out. Why? On the one hand, we’d rather not be reminded of our mortality, that our days are numbered and will end. On the other hand, we don’t want to face the truth that we’re living our life in the wrong direction – head down, focused by the things that break, fade, mold; and diverted from the things that truly matter most.

And so, we impatiently seek happiness in the affairs of this present life. Instead of looking up, setting our eyes on Jesus, we make every effort to snatch the prizes this world offers: prizes that really do us no lasting good. We gladly receive the goods this life offers while rarely acknowledging and thanking the Giver. We do not truly look for the good and perfect gift that comes from the Father of lights, but instead we think we’ve stumbled upon the good life because of what our hands have worked for and our minds have done.

Blessed are the women and men who take no notice of the spurious and empty foolishness that this world falsely promises. Blessed are those who are able to live beyond the things that distract, beyond the misspent desires, beyond the misdirected loves. These are blessed because they know it is better to become humble with the meek than to share in the vain promises of the proud, the greedy, and the powerful.

Those are truly blessed who say not just with their lips but deeply within themselves, “The Lord is my portion so I will wait for him. The Lord is good to everyone that trusts in him and longs for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good to sit quietly readying the soul to greet the Lord.”

The first step in waiting for the Lord is to deny yourself, to deny your flesh by fasting and prayer. There are other steps. But this first step of fasting coupled with prayer cannot be skipped or done halfheartedly if you truly wish to await the Lord’s advent. For this first step gives you the strength and courage to lift up your head above all the things in this life.

Lift up your head means, live not for the peace and contentment this world can never give. To lift up your head means to live for the best life, the life in God, where everything we have is a gift—not something we have to dwell on, or strive for. But all is a gift given to always directs our heart and mind and whole being in thanksgiving towards God.

We are waiting, St Paul says, because our citizenship is not here but in heaven. We are waiting because we believe that this life is a prelude that trains and sets our way for the life to come. And so, we wait with the confidence that our abiding place is in heaven, from where our Savior will come in order to bring us into himself. And then we will be able to say with Isaiah: “Behold, this is our God; We have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; We have waited for Him; We will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

That was the hope of the Old Testament church. They waited with joy and gladness for the salvation that the Christ child would come to bring. Certainly they wavered, oftentimes they got lost. But when they leaned into the Lord’s promises, they were eager for his advent. His first advent. In the manger. In our flesh. On our earth.

His second advent will not be all that different. In our flesh, on our earth, our Lord will come to let us see and understand fully and without hesitation what he has already accomplished in his first advent. He will come not so much to complete, but to help us see what has always been. He will come to give the fullness of the gifts he has already given, a fullness that we have if only we believe. Rare saints have been blessed with seeing this Lord’s coming, saints like John the Evangelist when he saw what the Lord’s coming looks like, and described it in the book of the Revelation. The record of John’s vision is this: everything we think that matters here and now will fall away and be displaced with the unending glorious Mass where nothing can harm or threaten or frighten.

When will this day occur? When you and I, individually, have been given a time for true repentance. For that is what the Lord awaits. He waits, he delays—not to toy with us, not to build character within us, but so that we might be truly ready when he comes. Time for true repentance for many of us, for myself especially, takes a long time. For true repentance is not about feeling guilty or constantly apologizing. True repentance is living in gratitude for the Lord coming into this place, this church, where his kingdom comes, so that we together might receive his flesh and blood in order to give courage and faith to our weakened body and soul.

So, the day of the Lord’s second advent begins with the reception of his body – the body he assumed from us in his first advent, in the manger, in Bethlehem.

Waiting for Christ, then, begins here at the altar. Where we practice for heaven. Where we learn to lay aside all earthly cares—all tweets and buzzes and notifications and messages and ring tones—that force our head down. The more we can disengage, the more we will be living toward the end, and for the end—in the time of true repentance, with heads and hearts uplifted.

May Christ our true God, by his Holy Spirit, grant us time, and the godly desire to desire his advent. To whom, by the prayers of the saints, belongs all glory, honor, and worship, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.

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Why Celebrate Mary?

Bernadine, an Italian priest and holy man, reminds us that Holy Church is entirely indebted to the Blessed Virgin Mary; because through her we have been judged worthy to receive Christ.

This means, first of all, that Mary is not a minor character in the story of Christ. In her womb, our Lord knits our human nature to His divine nature. From her, He receives all the tenderness that the best of humanity can lavish upon God. By her, He sees what we can truly be if we only give ourselves utterly and completely to the Lord’s will, trusting that He truly wants the best for us—even when Life is threatened, even when Life suffers, even when Life looks defeated, even when Life Himself dies. Mary still says, “Let it be to me according to thy Word”—confident that her Son and His Father have everything necessary in hand.

So, Mary is an integral part of Christ’s story—of Christ Himself. Without her, He has no humanity. And without her, we have nothing holy, nothing pure, nothing worthy to offer the Father as a token—a small but necessary token—of repairing the evil we endure and the evil we participate in.

Holy Church is entirely indebted to the Blessed Virgin Mary. We are in her debt, because when the Father chose her, among all women; when He blessed her to be His Son’s Mother; when He determined that, of the billions, she was the one—this Holy Mother did not resist, or lose heart, or go her own way, or waver. She said, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” And in living that, she taught Son to do the same.

Mary is vital to Christ’s life. And so vital to our life in Christ. Not just because she is His mother, but also as His human role model; and a model for us as well. And not just because she nursed Him, but also because she shaped His human character—and shapes our life in Christ.

Yet who shaped Mary? Certainly, her parents, Joachim and Anna. Their faith is legendary, and worth our attention. For like their ancestors before them—like Sarah and Rebecca, like Hannah and Rachel—the parents of the Virgin Mary trusted in God even when all looked lost.

So, Mary’s generation, her ancestors whom you heard recounted in the Gospel reading—these generations are also worthy of our admiration. Sometimes despite their sin and lack of faith. Sometimes because of their courage and faith when it was most needed. Abraham, David, Bathsheba, and Ruth—just to name a few—they are also judged worthy by God because of Mary’s holy and humble assent.

And with them, we are judged worthy. A people worthy of reclamation. A creation worthy of restoration. A society of men and women worthy of being incorporated in Christ. A humanity worthy of being divinized, able to sit with Christ Jesus in heavenly places.

Who knew, then, that when Adam gave that snarky reply; when the first man tried to blame both God and Eve in one sentence; when he refused to own up to his role as protector and tried to fob everything off on the so-called ‘weakness of women’—who knew that his words were prophetic. For what did Adam say? “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.

This statement intended for accusation, now in Mary points to our salvation. And her holiness. And our debt to her. For, blessed above all women, Mary is the woman whom God has given to be with us. She gives us the fruit of the Tree of Life. For blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. And from her hand we get to taste and see that the Lord is good. From her and through her and with her, we partake of the same God who grew in her womb, and nursed at her breasts. From her we learn to carry Christ in our hearts by faith. And from her, to whom the Son of God Himself was subject and obedient—from her we learn true faith and obedience, and above all true humanity.

Since we owe her so much, it is fitting, then, that we celebrate the birthday of Our Lady, the Queen of heaven—the woman who delivers Joy to the whole world. And the best celebration is not merely to speak of her, but even more so to imitate her now by ascribing all glory, honor, and worship to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ: who is adored and glorified with His Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world without end.

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The Fear in Pride

St Luke 18.9-14

Pride often masks fear. The fear that I won’t be seen. The fear that I won’t be loved. Loved for who I say I am. Loved for the good I present to you. So, pride masks the fear that I won’t be loved on my terms.

This kind of pride is an arrogance which quickly descends into hell because it degenerates into wrath and envy. And then feeds all the other passions: lust, greed, overindulgence, and despair. Pride is the mother of all of these ungodly desires; and it is toxic—both for the proud person and for those it influences.

You see this pride in the Pharisee. Not in every Pharisee, but certainly in the Pharisee Jesus draws. The Pharisee who goes into the temple to pray. For this Pharisee is not content to show God his goodness. The man needs to judge and tear down another in order to build himself up. And as he does this, the Pharisee shows that he truly envies the publican. For just as Cain intuited that his offering was no offering, so this Pharisee intuits that his prayer is no real prayer—so he has to brag rather than pray.

So blind is the Pharisee that he cannot see himself. So hateful that he loves only himself. So envious that he resents humility and despises repentance.

Repentance and humility are not about being beaten down. They’re not about refusing to look up or be glad. Eeyore is not the model of humility. For “humility is not thinking less of yourself; humility is thinking of yourself less.”

Repentance and humility begin with fear. But not the fear that’s afraid of getting lost, the fear that fears not being seen, the fear of being mistreated, the fear that fuels being offended.

Repentance and humility begin with the fear of being loved by God. Because we know we are undeserving of His kindness. It is not the fear of the weak and timid, but the trembling of those who are truly loved—who are attracted and drawn in and warmed by Love’s love.

This kind of fear is not afraid. Because this godly fear arises not from a bad conscience, which we want to hide. Rather, this godly fear arises from a true faith, which says that the Lord’s mercies are too wonderful; we cannot reach them; they can only be given.

The Lord’s mercy is too wonderful to understand, too bright to behold. And His mercy requires a deep-cleaning which is both painful and necessary. A deep-cleaning that I must do by saying aloud the truth about myself.

Now confessing my truth requires that I admit that my truth is not the truth. Confessing my truth requires that I not excuse or explain away or dismiss with “becauses” and “reasons” for why I have done what I’ve done. Confessing my truth requires that I own the sins the Lord identifies—not the ones I think don’t apply anymore because I’m convinced they are from another time, or don’t fit my science. Confessing my truth requires that I admit not that I’ve been human, but that I’ve become less human by giving into the things—the words and the deeds—that everyone else says are okay.

Ultimately, confessing who I am is both laying myself bare, and then asking for the courage to amend. Not just do better, but change. From the inside. To transform what I prefer, how I think, what I’m sure I know. And to discard my chosen identity for the identity the Lord supplies. For the Lord speaks His love to me, not so that I love me better but so that His love radiates through me. And the Lord wants to feed me with His Body and Blood, not so that I can digest Him but so that He consumes me.

In that word of absolution spoken by the priest individually to me, to you; in that food placed into my mouth and yours at this holy altar—there “we gain the strength we need to approach Our Lord and enjoy Him. We do not find it, however, until we embrace the mediator between God and men—the man Christ Jesus. He calls and says, ‘I am your Way, your Truth, your Life.’ And He offers the food which we lack the strength to eat; the food which He mingled with our flesh” so that we might then have courage and the drive to lay bare who we truly are, knowing that He had already laid Himself out for us.

The publican wanted this. Courage brought him into the temple to pray. Courage that was rooted in the hope, the promise, the truth that “there is not and cannot be in the whole world such a sin that the Lord will not forgive one who truly repents of it. A man even cannot commit so great a sin as would exhaust God’s boundless love. How could there be a sin that exceeds God’s love?”

So, the publican goes into the temple to pray. Because he was not afraid, even as he stood trembling in fear. The fear that he knew himself too well. The fear that he might not live up to his promises. And the fear that the Lord’s kindness was too wonderful, nearly incredible, approaching impossible.

Yet the publican prayed. Unafraid of the Pharisee’s judgment. Unafraid of what others would say. Unafraid of the priest hearing his confession. Unafraid, because the Lord’s mercy blinded him to everything he saw, and drowned out what others said, and calmed every anxiety he felt.

And this is true humility. Humbling yourself before the Lord God, casting every care and every fear and every bit of yourself on Him. Locating your burdens in the burden of His cross. And then seeing your true self in His mercy, in His absolution, in His statement that says, “You are mine. I have called you by your name. You are my beloved One. I am well pleased.”

The publican goes home justified, not because he had the right attitude but because he refused to let pride mask his fear—a pride that would have kept him away from confession. Instead, he feared the Lord but was not afraid. And so, he got what his heart desired: God, being merciful to him, the sinner.

May God, through His Son in the Holy Spirit, be merciful to us and bless us. To whom belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

Acknowledgements: CS Lewis; St Augustine; Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Now A Woman Ascends

Enoch. Perhaps Moses. Definitely Elijah.

These men anticipate the ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They precede Him by letting us think that it is possible for visible, material, created humans to sit in the realm of God’s invisible, immaterial, uncreated kingdom. These prophets point to our salvation. That it is more than forgiveness, more than hope after the grave. Our salvation is an unending and joyous relationship with our Lord God, in His home, where angels truly serve us, and the saints and blessed dead return to us, and we to them.

Certainly, Jesus’ ascension is the climax foreshadowed by these prophets. Certainly, Our Lord’s bodily assumption into heaven is the ultimate destination which these men were uniquely blessed to anticipate—just as they were uniquely blessed to walk and talk with our Father and radiate His divine light.

Only by anticipation, only with a hope of things to come, only by pointing forward, only in what faith trusted would be—could these men ascend.

Yet now a woman ascends. She does not prefigure, but fully realizes. She does not anticipate the Lord’s ascension, but participates in every note, every aspect, every detail—in the fullness of what He has already accomplished for the salvation of all. So, this woman ascends not to point forward in hope. In her ascension she declares what has already been; and what is true and firmly established.

It is most fitting that a woman—and this particular woman—is the first to ascend after Christ. For Mary offered herself fully to God, and submitted her hopes and dreams to His will. Her identity was no longer her own but forever tied to her Son. For His sake, to give Him her flesh, Mary refused the fruit of pleasure and knowing, and instead desired nothing but the fruit from the Tree of Life who took His flesh from her flesh. This godly, immaculate, holy and pure woman contained in her womb Him whom the world cannot contain. And so it is most fitting that she first tastes the fully ripened fruit of His saving work; and that she is the first to join Him in His throne room.

When Mary ascended, the angels rejoiced. And they glorified and praised and adored Christ her Son. For she shows them that Christ expended His energy and worked His healing not for Himself, but for all humanity—which is now typified by His Holy Mother. For I must repeat myself: our salvation is more than forgiveness, more than hope after the grave. Our salvation is an unending and joyous relationship with our Lord God, in His home. To show us that this is true and real and authentic and possible, Mary is taken up into heaven.

Our queen has gone up before us. She has gone before and has been caught up in glory, so that we may follow her as children follow their mother. Borrowing words from King Solomon, we cry out, “‘Draw us after you, let us make haste’ and follow in your wake as we yearn for what you have, and Him whom you deliver to us.” This holy Mother is even now pleading our cause to her Son. That’s why she ascends! She now stands before Him, praying that her Son be who He truly is—and that we begin to see and believe that He is the mercy, the compassion, and the grace of God in human flesh. So, she transacts the business of our salvation since we are not nearly holy or righteous as she is.

Mary enters the realms of heaven—like those ancient men. She enters to show that earth can now be joined to heaven; that the lowest person can sit with God; that her prayer to be exalted by humility has been answered. For the woman despised by her own kin, nearly disowned by her own spouse, almost closeted by so many Christians—she is now exalted and literally lifted up to be what she always was: the best of all humanity.

Consider this: Mary is the best offering humanity can give to the Lord God. She is the only creature that our God found worthy to join Himself to. She is the first from whom God takes the matter, which lets God inhabit our bodies. And now, this holy and perfect woman gains greater dignity, and the highest rank, because she suppressed her desires and gave herself wholly to God.

As we have heard, only one thing is needful when Christ enters the world; when He enters to be with us; when He enters into our flesh; when He enters the stillness of our heart. Only one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

What is that one thing? To quit what we find so necessary, to lay aside every earthly care, to stop being anxious and stressed about so many things—and, instead, to locate our life, our identity, our desires, our being in Christ, who sits now beside us, who even now wishes us simply to hear and retain and take to heart what He gives.

The blessed Virgin Mary chose that good part. And not only is it not taken away from her; it is enlarged and increased. And, in return, she is magnified and venerated and admired and revered.

That’s not what she sought. That’s not why she said, “Let it be to me according to thy word.” But her humility is honored and rewarded in a most splendid manner: by the Son calling His Mother to Himself in the same trail that He blazed—resurrected after three days, and then ascended with a chorus of angels.

Mary’s humility summons us to cast all our cares upon Christ, because he cares for us. Mary’s humility urges us to imitate her by zeroing in only on the one thing needful.

The Holy Mother rooted herself in what her Son gave, in the inheritance of faith and love that He provides. And now she abides the full assembly of the Saints.

May this woman, who is blessed above all men; this woman, who has gave her all for mankind; this woman, who is now honored above all angels and men—may she continue to intercede for us to her Son so that we might, even now, live in her humility in order to attain the heights to which she draws us; even to her Son Jesus Christ, who with His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, is glorified in all the Saints.

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Raising Our Human Nature

An Ascension Day Homily

It sounds like the angels are rebuking the disciples. As if they’re saying, “Stop staring. He’ll return. Stop standing there with your mouth open. This is not the end. And stop gazing. Don’t you see what’s really happening?”

In truth, great and unspeakable joy filled the disciples when they saw Jesus ascend. They had spent forty days with Him in His resurrected body. They had learned much. And so they knew that, when He ascended, Our Lord was taking human nature—our human nature adhered to His—raising it above the dignity of all celestial beings, beyond the heights of Archangels, without any limit of ascent until He reached the right hand of the Father.

There, our human nature sits in heavenly places. And there it shares in the Father’s glory; there, where God and humanity are united in Christ Jesus.

So the disciples were not afflicted with sadness. They were speechless in wonder and awe, amazed for joy, filled with great joy as they saw what Our Lord did for them in His ascension.

You see, our Blessed Lord Jesus does not ascend for His sake—so that He can finally escape this miserable existence; or to show His triumph.

Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ ascends into heaven so that what is His can be yours. He ascends so that what He lived and overcame and won in His body, can be planted and resident and lived out in your body. Christ ascends so that the fullness of His deity can live in the fullness of your humanity. Christ Jesus ascends so that your corrupted and dying human nature, can be fully transformed and transfigured by His divinized human nature. And Jesus ascends so that He can truly live His Life in you and through you; and so that you might live to the Father in Him.

Our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ ascends into heaven so that what is His can be yours

Christ living in you and you in Him—that’s hard for us to believe because it doesn’t fit our lived experience. When we were baptized into Christ, when we receive His body and blood into our flesh and blood, when we hear and celebrate Our Lord’s ascension—we don’t feel differently or act differently. Nothing seems to have changed—in us, in our life, in our world.

But Our Lord’s ascension is not about your experience or how you see or what things look like. How self-centered! Our Lord’s ascension requires faith in Him—that He has paid the debt of Adam; that He has destroyed death by His death; and that He has already, in His body, raised our human nature to the Father’s right hand so that we can fully, perfectly, and completely share in His divine nature.

And it takes faith to believe the Lord’s enduring promise—a promise tied only to the Truth that He is: that He persistently draws and entices us more and more fully into Himself so that we might know and participate in the communal relationship between God and humanity in Christ.

This promise has not degraded or eroded. It has remained as firm and sure as it was when Our Lord first spoke it.

St. Paul says: When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” And what is the chief among the gifts He gave? The Promise of the Father. That Promise is the Holy Spirit. And that Promise was kept not just on the day of Pentecost, but at every Mass, and in every Sacrament.

Every time the Gospel is proclaimed, every time the Eucharist is offered and served, every time our bodies are anointed, every time life in God is depicted in Holy Matrimony, every time the Absolution is spoken individually, privately, deliberately, decidedly into your ears: there is the Holy Spirit bringing to your remembrance and planting deeply within your heart and soul the Life Our Lord is and gives. And that is the Promise and Comfort of the Father—not that you are calm and settled simply for a moment, not that you immediately feel better, but that He renews your life and hope in God.

Everything else is going from bad to worse. Heresies seem more numerous and more inventive now than ever before. Behavior and morality seems more degenerate and degrading now than ever before. Faith in God seems more detached and impersonal than ever before. And the reality of the Church seems more unreal and invisible now than ever before.

Yet Our Lord’s Promise—that Holy Spirit by which He gives His saving gifts—that remains sure and true. And regardless of how things look or feel, the Spirit offers the Father’s sturdy and unflinching love to us in Christ Jesus.

Whether we stand with the faithful to receive Christ’s gifts; whether we will listen and believe; whether set aside our earthly cares and self-serving desires—that’s on us. But the Spirit of God does not back away.

We might remain stubborn, wanting to live for our pleasures. And we might insist that God come to us on our terms. And we might even try to mold Jesus’ words to fit our twisted ideas. But the Spirit will not abandon us, nor withdraw God’s mercy from us.

He remains the true and faithful Promise of the Father that Our Lord gives. He will urge us to live like this matters, but He will not force us to love Him. He will offer to transform our ungodly energy, but He will not make us receive the Lord’s gracious gifts.

To breathe our poisoned air—that is why Our Blessed Lord descended into our lower parts. And to resuscitate and renew and reinvigorate us by His perfect and Holy Breath—that is why Jesus ascends.

With Our Lord’s ascension, all things are made new again. With Our Lord’s ascension, even the lonely and single are grafted into a family—the family of the Church. With Our Lord’s ascension, even our bodies which cause us so much trouble can be transfigured as His was. And with Our Lord’s ascension, even our minds and souls which are liable to sin can be converted and renewed.

And so Our Lord Jesus ascends, not to leave us to work out our own life. Rather, Christ Our Lord ascends so that all that you might become all that He is. He ascends so that, by His Spirit, He may descend into each one of us—into our hopes and aspirations, into our cells and corpuscles, into our muscles and joints, into our skin and bones, into our flesh and blood. Christ Our Lord ascends all so that He might live and move and have His being in you. Christ Our Lord ascends all so that God might truly and really live and dwell in you.

And Our Lord Jesus ascends so that we might ascend, in our bodies, with Him and stand with Him in heavenly places; so that the entirety of our human nature, body and soul, might enter the kingdom of heaven; so that we might, in our bodies, actually stand, converse, and communion intimately with our Father.

To this Lord Jesus, who sent the Promise of the Father so that we might live in Him, belongs all glory, honor and worship.

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Jesus in the Wilderness

A Homily for the First Sunday in Lent
Matthew 4.1-11

Jesus goes into the wilderness looking for Adam. For the wilderness is where the Lord God sent Adam and Eve. In fact, the Lord God drove the man out of the garden into the wilderness. And so, it fits that St Mark says that the Spirit likewise drives Jesus into the wilderness.

Into the desert, then, goes our Savior. To face our demons. To live with our disordered loves and desires. To confront our pride and our need to control. To starve our shameless, wanton, and unrestrained appetites.

Jesus is not virtue signaling when He goes into the wilderness. Neither is He play-acting or going through the motions. Christ is truly tempted. He actually fasts and gets hungry. He really prays for assistance. Psalm 91—that long chant you just heard, pleading that God be our defense, that the angels minister to us, that God needs to be trusted, and that He is our only Hope and Deliverance—that prayer first forms on Jesus’ lips, flows out of His Sacred Heart, and sounds from His parched throat long before we repeat it.

The Lord’s temptation is very real, but He is not doing this for His sake. Although He truly suffers, Jesus is not processing His own fears or doubts. After all, Our Lord Jesus is the beloved Son, upon whom the Spirit alights and in whom the Father is well-pleased. And with that baptism—as with every baptism—the Spirit affirms the Father’s love and strengthens His limitless grace.

So, Jesus is in the wilderness, not to show what He can do, but to gain us. To reclaim us. To begin the work of th­e transfiguration of our bodies, and the renovation of our souls, and the reconfiguration of our life in God. So that we can also live as the beloved sons of God, upon whom the Spirit alights and in whom the Father is equally well-pleased.

When Jesus goes into the wilderness, then, He is searching for Adam. And for us. Like the Good Shepherd searching for the lost sheep. For you’ve both heard and known deep down that “all we like sheep have gone astray, everyone to his own way.”

Adam lost his way by eating, by giving into what he thought was good and pleasing and a smart move. Christ Jesus fasts in the wilderness so that he might regain by fasting what Adam lost by eating; so that He might not simply show what restraint looks like, but by His restraint and victory over Satan, actually win back Adam—and us.

Our Lord does this willingly. Even though the Spirit drives and leads Jesus into the wilderness, the Son of God does not resist. He aligns His will with the Father’s will—even to His demise. So, Christ chooses to fast. He chooses to be tempted.

[Our Lord] made us one with him when he chose to be tempted by Satan. Certainly, Christ was tempted by the devil. But in Christ, you were also tempted. For Christ received his flesh from your nature, but by his own power gained salvation for you; he suffered death in your nature, but by his own power gained glory for you; therefore, he suffered temptation in your nature, but by his own power gained victory for you. If in Christ we have been tempted, then in Him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of his victory? See yourself as tempted in Him, and see yourself as victorious in Him. (St Augustine)

Our Lord could have easily avoided the devil, or swatted him away like the vexing dung-fly that he is, or even destroyed him with a word, a look, a thought. But then, where would be your victory? And how would that benefit you?

Instead, Christ goes into the wilderness. And not just that arid place beyond the Jordan River, where thirst threatens, and death is close. Christ enters the desert of our souls. For our very body is, in a sense, a desert when we pine for any food, but do not hunger and thirst for righteousness; when we overindulge, without caring about those who have little or nothing; when we make sure that we get ours, even at the expense of someone else.

Christ enters the desert of our body and, if we let Him—if we don’t fight back with self-gratification, but if we instead join in by following Our Lord in self-denial—then Our Lord overcomes in us all the devices and willfulness of our own demons. And then we can be settled and calmed since Our Lord can cleanse our heart, purify our mind, and make our very being a suitable temple and tabernacle for God.

That is the victory Christ gains. That is our hope. And because of His triumph over Satan, we no longer need, each day, to give into our desires afraid that, somehow, we’re missing out. Neither need we be anxious about what we shall eat or wear, or how we shall live. As we fast, Christ gains our victory by His fasting. As we deny ourselves, He defeats our devils. As we align our wills with His, He hands over to us the fullness of His victory—the victory He first won by a battle of wits and words, and then by His death and resurrection.

Our hope, then, is that we begin to see heaven within ourselves; that is to say, that we think nothing of our desires, and look beyond our inner struggles and heartaches, and see only that the Lord of the heavenly Kingdom is also the author of our earthly resurrection—because He located and embraced and loved us back to Him when He entered the wilderness for us.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, our hope, our life, our victory, and our salvation, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: world without end.

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