This weekend at St. Mary’s revealed, once again, that the two expressions of the one Roman Rite: the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form speak to us the same ONE Truth from Jesus Christ. Below are transcribed homilies I gave… the first for the Feast of Bl. Karl of Austria (EF, yesterday)… and the second for the OF Sunday masses today. Each one addresses one of my favorite issues: Hope… and it’s origins in hard times.
In Commemoration of Blessed Karl of Austria
In the beginning, the Apostles, the first Christians, drew their hope directly from an encounter with the Lord Jesus. In the readings for today’s mass, the Lord enjoins us, “be prepared, for at what hour you think not the Son of Man will come.” The Apostles believed that within their lifetime, Christ would return to inaugurate the end of time and the fullness of the Kingdom. Based on that, and on their personal relationship with him in faith, they remained hopeful through martyrdom and other persecutions. As time passed and it became obvious that the Second Coming wouldn’t be happening any time soon, the Church in her beauty and wisdom developed various means by which we could stay awake and girt with lamps burning waiting for the master’s return. Literature, music, cuisine, ceremony… CULTURE developed as an instrument of hope linking us back, confirming us in the hope that comes from a personal encounter with Christ.
The thing of it is… over time, the chaos of the world begins to creep back in to our consciousness. We can become distant from Christ so that the cultural instruments of our hope begin to feel hollow, or even disappear. The first time this happened, St. Benedict left Rome and established his order (We’re blessed to have some Benedictines with us today)… so that from Subiaco and Cassino bright centers of learning and peace and music and… well, culture might once more confirm our people in hope. Their work, it is popularly said, “saved civilization.” Eventually however, as perhaps it must, chaos began to creep in again, until the Lord called up Francis, Dominic and their itinerant friars (some of whom are with us today) to kindle again the fire of culture. Time passed and again saints were needed. St. Philip Neri renewed Rome (and, as it happens we have members of his Oratory with us today) using the tools of culture to renew hope among a cynical, despairing, and all too often depraved Roman establishment. Over and over again… and we could name so many more great saints… God provides for a reanaissance of culture unto the confirmation of hope! But it was never just the vowed religious who confirmed the brothers and sisters in hope.
In St. Peter’s Square one sees, at the heart of it all, the monumental basilica where Peter rests waiting for the Resurrection. The first bishop at the heart of the Church… but reaching out embracing the world… or so it seems whenever the square is full… reaching out are the arms of the Church the colonnade of Bernini, which begin with two statues: Constantine, the first Christian Emperor and Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor. Representatives of the laity, who bonded to the clergy embrace and love the world, bringing hope to all.
Blessed Karl of Austria was the last heir to that Tradition that began so long ago. He saw his life as a ruler as that of the shepherd, meant to build a realm… and a culture… where people could be safe enough educated enough and faithful enough to touch hope. He, the arms of the Church would take the lessons he’d learned at mass and put them to use serving his people in the world. With the conclusion of World War I this would all be sorely tested. Blessed Karl and his family lost everything: power, wealth, prestige, and not only their home but their homeland. Exiled to a small Portuguese island, all the instruments of hope were taken away from them. But what Karl learned and what we all must learn is that the instruments of hope are just that: instruments, means to an end. Hope begins with a personal encounter with the living God… And this does not require wealth, power, music, literature… any of that. Furthermore, all those instruments of hope are pointless if they don’t spring from a profound encounter with Christ. We know that Karl learned this lesson because he passed it on to his children… whose descendants are also here today. They are living breathing icons of the reality that hope begins and ends with Christ who rose from the dead… And no earthly circumstance can change that.
Today the Church, and society in general, finds itself challenged to hope. All the cultural instruments that once buttressed our hope are gone. The Empire has fallen and is not coming back. Our teachings are not just challenged… much worse, they are ignored both without and often within the Church. Our songs, literature, drama, art, ceremony… all are threatened either by active assault or the sad possibility of obsolescence. And we… we are left to wonder, “how can we stay awake until the master’s return.
If in our mind’s eye we return to St. Peter’s Square and enter the great portal of the Basilica, we find at our feet a seemingly nondescript disc of red stone. Once, in Constantine’s Basilica, there were twelve such discs. They were carved from red porphyry – stone of the Pharaohs, the Senate and the Emperors. When Julius II began to build the present church, eleven of these precious discs were broken up, sent to monuments in various parts of the holy city. This one remained… because on this stone, on Christmas Day in the year 800 the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was crowned, signaling the return of culture, peace and hope to the West. For five hundred years only popes and Catholic monarchs could traverse the porphyry disc… until St. John XXIII removed the barriers around it. Good Pope John pointed out that the royal dignity of the popes and monarchs was not ultimately based on their coronations, their wealth or their power… but upon their baptism… the baptism ALL of us share, our very first encounter with Christ. From that moment we all have royal dignity with the Lord… and our hope springs to life as we are joined to his death and resurrection. This was the lesson Blessed Karl learned and taught us by doggedly holding on to a joyful hope until the end. Through his prayers may we be likewise blessed, may we remain awake and vigilant until the Master’s return.
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time:
“It’s going to be OK”
Today’s OF gospel for mass (Mk 10:35-45) exposes for us an anxious moment. It’s not just that Jesus is concerned for the Apostles about their infighting. He’s preparing for crucifixion, worried that they just haven’t gotten it. And when he’s gone, to whom will they look?
It’s a question we’re all facing right now. In an America that no longer agrees on what it means to be American, with our national identity shredded by identity politics, we feel uneasy, uncertain about our future. Historically we would look to a unifying figure, the President, not necessarily to solve everything at once, but to say to us, “It’s going to be OK.” But we don’t seem to have that at the moment. Likewise in the Church. There have always been problems in Church life, even grave scandal, even war. The faithful rightly seek out a familiar voice to say, “It’s going to be OK.” At the moment, it’s hard to find that voice. The credibility of our bishops has been deeply scarred, and even Pope Francis by his comments, or at least by the media coverage of them, makes it hard to believe that, “It’s going to be OK.”
A number of parishioners have come to me in recent days looking for me to tell them that and I found myself running on empty, hard pressed to tell them, “It’s going to be OK,” because it’s hard for me to see where our story goes from here… as a society, as a Church… and the voices to whom I would normally look are confused, silent, retired, discredited. It was such a striking feeling that I actually went to see a friend who’s a therapist to discuss the matter. He confirmed for me, (a) I’m not crazy (…big relief there…) and (b) this really is a hard moment. I put that second point in there because often I find that I minimize challenges. I assume that my life as a priest doesn’t have big epic-scale difficulties… those are reserved to people like corporate titans and high state officials… but it’s true. This is a ground shaking moment for us as a Church.
Then I looked at today’s second reading (Heb 4:14-16) and these words,
“Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.”
Heaven doesn’t depend on human beings, but on Jesus Christ… and HE is risen from the dead. He remains sympathetic to our situation. He reigns on high. I don’t know what the future will look like for our society… for our Church. Maybe, in all honesty I never did. Maybe before we just had a greater statistical grasp of what the future would most likely be… but even that was never a guarantee. The challenge of our Christianity is not to know the future, but to “hold fast to our confession” in the present. To all our people: I don’t know how life turns out… but I do know, it’ll be OK… because Jesus is risen from the dead.