Tuesday, December 30, 2008

St. Francis of Assisi, Upside Down (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 9, Assisi)

(Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas; This homily was given on 30 December, 2008 in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi; See 1 John 2:12-17)

Towards the beginning of St. John’s Gospel there is a beautiful statement which describes God’s attitude and response to the world. The Evangelist—whose feast we just celebrated a few days ago—says:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
—John 3:16

John could not be any clearer about this God who loves the world enough to send us Christ; His stance towards the world is one of compassion, one of mercy.

Therefore it is with some curiosity that we listen to the same Evangelist, in our first reading this afternoon, warning us quite directly:

Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
—1 John 2:15

Of course, St. John is talking about two completely different things. The world, as God created it, is good. We see that clearly in the Book of Genesis. But what John is referring to in our first reading is the world corrupted by sin; he is talking about a world system that is opposed to God’s perfect plan for our happiness.

In describing that system he says “all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). So, obviously, we find two very different uses of “world” in St. John.

We could say that God looks at the world in one way (with love and mercy and a desire to see things set right) and we, because of sin, are prone to see it differently and embrace the world for its own sake, without God. We sometimes look at the world incorrectly, even sinfully, our vision impaired through lust, covetousness and pride.

We can take a moment here in Assisi this afternoon to recognize both of these perspectives in the person of St. Francis. I am sure it comes as no big surprise to you that Francis, as a young man, was quite worldly. He very much saw the world with that impaired vision described by St. John. He was misguided by “sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life.” But while still a young man, and to the surprise of many close to him, everything changed.

Francis’ life underwent a complete transformation, and it happened here, in this city. It happened here in the few square miles that we will walk through and pray in throughout this day. What happened, according to the great Catholic author, G.K. Chesterton, is that St. Francis began to see the world he lived in…and God…and himself…differently.

Chesterton, in his biography on St. Francis of Assisi, says that Francis’ transformation took place through humiliation. Through being humbled in all kinds of circumstances, through humbling himself in prayer, fasting, and imitation of the poor Christ, he began to see things differently and to live differently. His life, says Chesterton, was turned upside down.

Think about how it feels to be humbled, or better yet, humiliated. We feel like our whole world has turned upside down. Eventually we get back “on our feet” and move forward. But what Chesterton suggests is that Francis underwent that experience so many times and with such intensity that he simply stayed that way, upside down! It is a powerful image to be sure. Chesterton says:

If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence… He would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars.

Perhaps St. Peter saw the world so, when he was crucified head downwards… men have said “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” It was in a wholly happy and enthusiastic sense that St. Francis said, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall enjoy everything.” It was by this deliberate idea of starting from zero…that he did come to enjoy even earthly things as few people have enjoyed them.

—G. K. Chesterton

Francis begins to see the world the way God does, and how utterly dependent we are upon Him for everything. That vision eventually set him free and allowed him to live in an entirely new way.

Today we ask for that same grace, to stand on our heads here in Assisi! We pray for the grace to see things as they are, completely dependent upon God. Then we shall live here in this world, and love the world, even as God does. We shall live and love as St. Francis, as we walk the streets of his hometown.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Obedience Begets Joy (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 8, Rome)

(Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas; This homily was given on 29 December, 2008 in the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome; See Luke 2:22-35)

What joy to be able to celebrate this Holy Mass here in the Basilica of St. Paul, and in the Year of St. Paul! This morning I would like to begin with something rather un-Pauline, and offer some word associations. We are all familiar with how word associations work. As soon as we hear a word—because of past experiences or the various contexts in which that word has been used—we immediately have certain feelings or emotions.

For instance: Gelato. What is your first impression when you hear that word? Perhaps it is one of great happiness, mixed with memories of these last few days.

What about the word: Pilgrimage?

Hopefully, for years to come, when you hear that word you will think about all the Churches we have prayed in and the grace-filled experiences of Rome, Florence, and Assisi.

But there is one more word I would like to mention this morning, and it is one which is essential to the life of the Church. It is also one that is of particular importance to me, and for you who are preparing for the priesthood, as well.

And yet, it is a word that does not receive a very favorable response in the world we live in. One is likely to illicit a negative response when the word is used. The word, of course, is obedience.

What comes to mind when you hear that word? What if I were to say: “You should obey those in authority in the Church,” or “We are called to be obedient to the laws of God."

I think many people today would be offended by statements like that. Obedience is often viewed as a threat to autonomy. Some might think, “I am no longer free to be who I want to be, or to do what I want to do, because obedience forces me to do otherwise.” Obedience is seen as the enemy of free choice.

In popular culture we find many different expressions of this mistaken view of obedience. As I am sure you know, one of my favorite television shows is the series 24, featuring action hero Jack Bauer. Jack is a man of tremendous courage and self sacrifice. Time and again he is willing to risk his own life while trying to save others. Yet nearly every episode finds him breaking the law, stretching the ethical code of his profession, and many times deliberately disobeying his superiors. Undoubtedly he saves the day every time! It is awfully exciting to watch, but offers a very unhealthy perspective when it comes to obedience.

Thankfully we have someone close to each of us who offers a stellar vision of what it means to obey: The Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary’s obedience to God brings Jesus Christ into this world. There is a remarkably short distance between Mary’s fiat voluntas tua and the unfathomable mystery of verbum caro factum est. She obeys God’s will and the Light of the World begins to shine in the darkness! Now that is a positive perspective on obedience!

Our gospel this morning gets even more specific. We hear no less than four times that Mary and Joseph have brought the Child Jesus to Jerusalem because that was what they were required to do by the law of the Lord.

Mary would have gladly complied with this law. It would have given her great joy to bring her little Child to the city and participate in the sacred rituals of her faith. But it is not only Mary, Joseph and the Child who are affected here. We soon discover that there is an old man in Jerusalem to whom God has made a promise!

God told this man that he would see the Messiah. He would see the Christ with his own eyes. God is that kind, that he would offer a grace and consolation to a devout soul simply because He wanted to. Yet then He steps back and makes that promise completely dependent upon a young girl’s desire to be obedient!

If Mary chooses that she, who is without sin, and her Child, who is the eternal Son of God, do not need to fulfill the Mosaic law, then Simeon will not see the Christ. Yet Mary’s loving obedience is the very thing that brings great joy to that holy man. He takes the Child into his arms, blesses almighty God, and says:

Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.
—Luke 2:29-32

Obedience brings joy into the world we live in; obedience has the power even to bring Christ to those who wait for Him. And so I would ask each of us to consider one simple question today: Who is Simeon in our lives right now? Who are the ones that God has made promises to, or offered hope to, but is depending upon us to fulfill those promises and bring that hope?

Who are the people to whom God has said “I will never leave you,” and who are now waiting for us to make due on that promise? Who are the people waiting for the consolation intimated by God, a consolation dependent now only upon our words or the attentiveness of our will in obedience to Him?

Or perhaps to go a little deeper with the question for you who are preparing for the priesthood: Who will be Simeon in your life in the days to come? Who are the men and women that will benefit from your promise of obedience to your bishop and his successors on the day of your ordination? Who are the lives that will be touched by your willingness to obey God and the teachings of our faith? Who will receive the sacraments of the Church through your obedience today and in the days ahead?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Feast of St. John the Evangelist: God Made Visible (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 6, Rome)

(Feast of St. John the Evangelist; This homily was given on 27 December, 2008 in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome; See 1 John 1:1-4)

I am sure that all of us have heard of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Given as a part of his Wednesday General Audiences right here in the City of Rome in the first five years of his pontificate, this profound teaching of our late Holy Father can hardly be reduced to a sound byte.

Yet John Paul II himself offers a sentence, back in October of 1982, that allows us to catch a glimpse of what—or, rather Who—this Theology of the Body is all about. On that autumn day some 26 years ago he said:

The body, in fact, and only it, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.

Great. Now what does that mean?! We can start with our own experience. We know that we are not just physical beings, not merely bodies occupying space. We are also spiritual; we have a soul.

But what does a soul look like? You cannot tell what another person’s soul looks like because it is invisible. You do not know if it is dark, occupied with hatred, anger or jealousy. Perhaps it is a soul filled with light, surrendered completely to love and compassion. We could never know such a thing.

But when persons express themselves—using their speech, actions, mannerisms—then we begin to catch a glimpse of what is happening in the soul. We cannot know everything, and we should always be careful not to make hasty judgments, but we can begin to see that which had been hidden.

I will give you an example. Let us say that a father has a deep and abiding love for his daughter. Well, what does that mean? What does it look like? But imagine that this little girl is out playing in the back yard, and suddenly she falls and is hurt. The father rushes out to her, scoops her up in his arms and holds her close to himself. Now we can see, in a concrete way, what it means to say that this father has a deep and abiding love for his daughter.

The body, in fact, and only it, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.

That is how the body can make visible that which is invisible, the spiritual nature we all possess. But what about that second part: the divine? How does the body reveal the invisible God?

Hopefully you have already guessed this one, since we have been celebrating it for the past three days! In the Incarnation—Christ born among us on that first Christmas morning—we come to see a love that has existed from all eternity.

The eternal communion of love that exists from all eternity in the Blessed Trinity—this love that is forever being poured out and received within God Himself—is suddenly revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

That little Child born in Bethlehem grows up to be a man, and he reaches out in love to the lonely, to the sorrowful, and to those who no one else wants anything to do with. He forgives and reconciles in ways that defy all common “standards.” In loving obedience to the Father’s will, He suffers and dies on the cross without ever becoming bitter, and even pleads forgiveness for the very people crucifying Him.

We look at this Christ and say: Yes, that is what love looks like. Now I understand what it means to say that “God is love.”

And that is precisely what St. John the Evangelist is saying in our first reading this morning. We listen to those words here, in this basilica dedicated to St. John, on his feast day. We hear his own words, his eyewitness account of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us.

—1 John 1:1-2

We have seen Him, St. John declares. We listened to His voice, we touched His body. The invisible God has been made visible to us, and now we proclaim this Christ to you!

This is John’s message to all the world. He burns within to make it known, to announce to every person this Good News about the God who first loved him. This is why we call him—the author of the Fourth Gospel—St. John the Evangelist.

As we celebrate his feast today, here in this basilica, how is God calling us to be evangelists? How are we called to hear, and see, and touch Christ, so that we may burn with that same desire to share Him with the world around us?

It is not all that different for us here today. We also listen to the words of Christ in the Gospel. We hear His voice speaking to us when the Scriptures are read. We touch Him and are touched by Him, physically and spiritually, in the sacraments of the Church. In a moment we will eat His body and drink His blood in the Holy Eucharist.

May we also leave this place and make Him visible to the world we live in. We who have seen the invisible God and been changed by Him, cannot help but to make Him known to those who are seeking and searching and longing for God.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Feast of St. Stephen (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 5, Rome)

(Feast of St. Stephen, First Martyr; This homily was given on 26 December, 2008 in the Clementine Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome; See Acts chapter 6-7, and Matthew 10:17-22)

It is fitting that we are here, in this place, as we listen to these words of Christ in the gospel this morning. Christ addresses his disciples and tells them, soberly, of the days to come:

They will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them…
—Matthew 10: 17-22

And some of them, Christ says, will be put to death. Of course, St. Peter would have been one of those disciples listening to that warning; Peter, who experienced all these things for Christ.

It is fitting that we celebrate here in this chapel—at the tomb of St. Peter, Apostle and martyr—the Feast of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church and the very first martyr. That word martyr—as our seminarians will remember from Greek classes!—means witness. Saints Peter and Stephen gave their lives as witnesses to their faith in Jesus Christ.

St. Stephen, in the Acts of the Apostles this morning, bears witness to Christ quite literally. He looks up into the heavens and sees our Lord with his own eyes. He cries out to the members of the synagogue, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts of the Apostles 7:56).

But it was not for a vision that St. Stephen was stoned to death. It was not merely because he saw Christ with his own eyes. St. Stephen, like St. Peter and all the martyrs, was killed because of his witness to Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel. He bore witness to the synagogue officials about the need to acknowledge Jesus Christ as the savior of our lives. Like St. Peter, he spoke courageously about the person of Jesus Christ and the need to live our lives for Him, and not for ourselves. The martyrs announced the message of the gospel and bore witness to Christ without shame, without embarrassment, and without fear.

Those of us here today who are priests and those studying for the priesthood can do no less. We, too, must announce a message which requires conversion and repentance, and at times we must speak out for the culture of life in a world that does not always listen to that message. We must daily live the gospel and, in turn, proclaim that message in its entirety. It is not easy to do that. In fact, without the grace of God it would be impossible.

And so, again, it is fitting that we are here. This is the place where, for hundreds of years after the death of Saints Peter and Stephen, popes and kings alike would come to acknowledge their faith in Christ and need for Him, here before the tomb of Peter. Here in this place is where solemn oaths were sworn and Christian hearts were strengthened.

This morning we take a moment to pray before the tomb of St. Peter, and to ask for his prayers, and the prayers of St. Stephen, that we might be as faithful as them in living our faith and professing it to others. May we also bear witness to our faith in Jesus Christ, without embarrassment, without shame, and without fear.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Natural (ACL Pilgrimage, Day 2, Florence)

(Fourth Week of Advent; This homily was given on 23 December, 2008 at the Duomo in Florence, Italy; I am accompanying the Seminarians of the American College of the Immaculate Conception on our annual pilgrimage to Italy. See Luke 1:57-66)

One of the best baseball movies ever made is a film called The Natural, starring Robert Redford. It’s a beautiful story about a talented baseball player named Roy Hobbs. He has a gift, a “natural” ability, as the title suggests, and could possibly be the best to ever play the game.

Towards the beginning of the movie he strikes out “the Whammer,” considered to be the best hitter in the major leagues, on three pitches. He is well on his way to the top. But soon things take a tragic turn for the worse. Roy is shot by a deranged woman, his career suddenly cut short. He survives, but that natural gift and his desire to play the game seem all but finished.

But if you have seen the movie then you know that, after sixteen years, Roy Hobbs eventually makes a comeback. His natural talent and love for baseball draw him back once again, and the end of his career is nothing short of breathtaking.

I believe that, deep down inside, we all long for a natural talent or ability like that. And truth be told, every single one of us has such an ability, and one even greater than Roy Hobbs. It is something so natural and common that we often take it for granted. It is the ability to communicate. We are given a gift for expressing ourselves—our feelings, desires, fears, hopes—with others.

Especially for those who are called to the priesthood, it is a gift and ability that allows us to communicate the gospel message of Jesus Christ, to tell the story of His mercy and compassion to a world longing for that consolation and communion with the living God.

Our ability to communicate goes beyond the mere “natural.” As we have heard in these gospel passages in the days leading up to the birth of Christ, the saints (Joseph, the Blessed Virgin Mary) communicate with angels and ultimately we are all called to communicate even with God himself. We are able to respond to God in words freely chosen, creatively expressing our desire for the One who first desired us. Our “natural” gift extends into the supernatural realm.

And a great example for us when it comes to the use and misuse of this gift is Zechariah, whom we hear from in the gospel this afternoon. We heard last week about the visit he received from the angel announcing the birth of John the Baptist. To that extraordinary announcement Zechariah responds with doubt and fear. Unlike Mary, whose, “How can this be,” is followed immediately by her “Let it be,” (see Luke 1:26-38) Zechariah expresses his inability to trust in either the message or the messenger.

The angel’s reaction to that unbelief is automatic and somewhat startling. Without consulting anyone, and with complete authority, he reduces Zechariah to silence. Since he has expressed doubt and disbelief at so great a message, now he will no longer express himself at all!

But in the gospel this afternoon he receives that gift back once again. Immediately after expressing his faith and trust in God's plan through the naming of his child according to the instructions of the angel, everything changes. Like Roy Hobbs, his natural gift cannot be suppressed and he now uses it for the supernatural praise and worship of God. St. Luke tells us:

Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.
—Luke 1:64

St. Luke goes on to tell of the glorious canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:67-79), a prayer that we recite each day at Morning Prayer. It is a joyful song of praise, expressing the hope of Israel and all the world, and exalting the God for whom all things are possible.

Zechariah gives us all an opportunity, in these final days before Christmas, to consider how we are using our natural gift of communication. Especially as men called to the priesthood and to be messengers of the gospel, how are we communicating with those around us?

Do we sometimes express doubts or unbelief in God’s plan for our lives or our future? Are the words and language we use uniting the Body of Christ and bringing God’s people closer together? Are we able to use that natural gift to communicate with God in that supernatural conversation called prayer?

May we use well this gift of communication and, Like Zechariah, might these days of anticipation and celebration of Christ’s coming among us free our tongues to bless God and to come before Him in praise and adoration.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Gaudete Sunday and "The Romances"

(Third Sunday of Advent; This homily was given on 14 December, 2008 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See 1 Thessalonians 5:16 and Philippians 4:4)

This morning I would like to tell you a story. In fact, it is a love story, a romance! Oh, don’t worry; it is nothing risqué. But it is a lovely story and one that I am sure you have heard many times before…but we’ll come back to that.

For now, I would like to begin with a few words about this feast we celebrate today. Our colors this morning are rose and the candle we light on our wreath is pink because today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for Rejoice! We find that word in our second reading this morning, in St. Paul’s letter to the Church at Thessalonica. He says, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16). The entrance antiphon is from another one of St. Paul’s letters, in which he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He repeats himself, just in case we missed it the first time!

What we rejoice in is that Christmas is just around the corner. We are less than two weeks away, and so we already begin to celebrate—in anticipation—that glorious coming of the Lord. But there is one important question we must ask ourselves this morning:

What right do we have, as Christians, to celebrate and rejoice?

With all the suffering and sorrow in the world around us, the trials in our own personal lives, and the brokenness we experience so often, are we not deluding ourselves? What right does St. Paul have to say to us, “Rejoice,” and what obligation do we have to follow such counsel?

To answer that question I would like to turn to the person whose feast day is celebrated today, and every December 14: St. John of the Cross. We do not observe his feast today because Gaudete Sunday takes precedence, but he is a saint who can teach us a great deal about joy, and about suffering (how very often those two things are found together in the lives of the Saints).

St. John of the Cross is a 16th century Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church. He had an intense and intimate relationship with God and he possessed a unique gift for communicating that relationship to others through poetry and prose. John was called by God, along with his dear friend St. Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order at that time.

The Carmelites are a contemplative religious order founded on a commitment to God in silent-as well as communal-prayer. John’s attempt to bring the focus more completely back to this original foundation was met with much resistance. His own contemporaries rejected him, and even had him abducted and brought to the Carmelite monastery in Toledo, where he was placed in a tiny cell with little food, little water and almost no light at all. He was treated miserably.

Yet it was there, alone and in the darkness of that prison cell, that St. John of the Cross made a remarkable discovery. He found joy—even there, of all places—and understood well that our rejoicing in God is not dependent upon anyone or anything else around us. We do not depend upon the way others treat us, or on what is happening in the world around us, or on any other thing. Our joy, St. John of the Cross would attest, comes from God.

And there, in the darkness, John began to write the most beautiful poems about the depths of God’s love and the soul’s remarkable journey towards union with Him. We still have those poems today…

…which brings me back to that story I mentioned at the beginning of this homily! I said that it was a love story, a romance. It was written by St. John of the Cross and it is a poem which he himself entitled The Romances. It begins in heaven, as a dialogue of love between God the Father and God the Son. We are allowed to kind of eavesdrop on that conversation in heaven, and in that poem God the Father says:

“My Son, I wish to give you
a Bride who will love you.
Because of you she will deserve
to share our company,
and eat at our table,
the same bread I eat,
that she may know the good
I have in such a son;
and rejoice with me
in your grace and fullness.”

The Bride, of course, is us. We are the Father’s gift to His Son. But that gift is one that is incomplete because of the nature of God and because of our own human nature. God is pure spirit, existing from all eternity long before the material world is ever created. He is different from us.

We are made of body and soul, flesh and blood. We could never be fully united to the Son. The Father in The Romances recognizes this. He says:

“Now, you see Son, that your bride
was made in your image,
and so far as she is like you
she will suit you well;
yet she is different in her flesh,
which your simple being does not have.”

And so the Father proposes that the Son become like His bride. He will have a body, become flesh and blood like Her. The Son—of course—is delighted, as He is delighted in everything that the Father does. He cries out to the Father:

“My will is yours,
and my glory is
that your will be mine . . .
I will go and seek my bride
and take upon myself
her weariness and labors
in which she suffers so;
and that she may have life,
I will die for her,
and lifting her up out of that deep,
I will restore her to you.”

—St. John of the Cross
“The Romances”

That love story, that romance, of course, is the story of Christmas that we are even now anticipating and preparing to celebrate. It is the story of the God who sees our suffering and sorrow here on earth and chooses to become like us, to take upon Himself our suffering, our sorrows; He comes to die, and give us new life. He comes to lift us out of this deep and restore us again to God.

So that is why we rejoice on Gaudete Sunday! Our joy comes from that romance and that overwhelming story where we see revealed the great love God has for His bride, the Church. And to make sure we would never forget a story like that, to see that it would not simply remain a poem, something to be read aloud each year without ever touching us deeply and transforming us, the Bridegroom chose to make His love for us a sacrament. It is the Sacrament of the Eucharist which we are about to celebrate here this Gaudete Sunday.

Here we listen to the words of Christ spoken to His Bride, the Church. He says: “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body, which will be given up for you.” He pours out His life for us and says: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. This is the cup of my blood.” We become one with Christ here, we find the strength to get through any difficulty here. The Bride is united to Her Bridegroom here. That is why we rejoice even in the midst of afflictions on this Gaudete Sunday and we take St. Paul’s words to heart in his letter to the Philippians:

Gaudete, in Domino, semper!
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

On This Mountain, the Centre Holds.

(Wednesday of the First Week of Advent; This homily was given on 3 December, 2008 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Isaiah 25:6-10 and Matthew 15:29-37)

If you have ever been on the top of a very high mountain then you know how exhilarating that experience can be; thousands of feet above sea level, looking out as far as the eye can see.

And it is not difficult to see why the mountaintop plays such a key role in the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testament. It is Moses who goes up on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. Elijah the prophet goes to Mount Horeb and listens to the still, small voice of God Himself.

In our gospel this morning, Christ goes up the mountain—like He does so many times in the gospels—and He heals those who are sick, He opens the eyes of the blind. And it is there, on that mountain, that He performs the miracle of love and feeds the hungry crowd. The mountain is the meeting place of God and humanity; it is the place where heaven and earth come together.

In the 1960’s modern psychology began to use that religious language and imagery to speak about the human experience. Abraham Maslow talks about peak experiences, moments in our lives where things seem to come together, when we are at a high point; we’re on the mountaintop.

But we do not need Maslow to tell us the reality of peak experiences: they don’t last! No sooner are we on the top of the mountain than we are forced back down again. We can stay there only so long before the reality of this fallen world brings us back down; or worse, we are thrown over the side of the mountain! Many people find themselves so far from the top that they despair of ever being able to get back up again. They walk in the “dark valley” spoken about in our responsorial psalm this morning (Psalm 23). That tragic story is told from the beginning of time, describing in excruciating detail how far we have fallen from the mountaintop.

In the wake of the First World War, right here in Flanders and the surrounding countries, they experienced the destruction of humanity on a scale never before imagined. Corpses and destruction were strewn across the beautiful places that you and I visit and enjoy in much brighter times today.

But the world up to that point had been climbing the mountain; humanity was going places, progressing and surpassing all expectations. How far the world fell from that peak experience! The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, in his famous work, The Second Coming, writes to the people of his generation immediately after those devastating events. He likens them to a falcon, swirling around in the wind, climbing higher and higher…but the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. Without foundations, without a reference point, we are on our own, and there are consequences:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…

—William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Things fall apart because we cannot hold the centre in place. We do not have to be Yeats or someone living in the aftermath of World War I to see things fall apart. That is the brokenness which is a part of our human condition. We see it all the time: broken hearts and broken homes; broken relationships, broken promises. Broken dreams. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Yet the miracle that we celebrate right now, the unthinkable event that shines through like a beacon in the night, is that God Himself would choose to come—adventus—and enter into that world. He Himself would choose to become one of us, to be broken, so that we could be made whole.

God comes to be born as a child in Bethlehem. That child will grow up and as a man He will climb to the top of the mountain, and give us the teaching of the Beatitudes: a new way of living, a new way of looking at life. He will climb to the top of the mountain, and be transfigured before Peter, James and John. They will come to see that this is what God had in mind all along, this was His plan for us: that we should join Him for all eternity on the mountain, that we should be glorified forever with Him.

And to make sure that call and promise would be fulfilled, Jesus Christ climbs one more mountain: Calvary. He climbed to the top of that mountain and, in the word of St. John of the Cross:

… he climbed a tree,
and spread his shining arms,
and hung by them, and died,
his heart an open wound with love.

—St. John of the Cross

Christ pours out His very self, all that He has, to reach us in our brokenness; He heals us, forgives us, gives us the grace and strength to get back up again. That is what Isaiah the prophet is referring to in our first reading this morning:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.
—Isaiah 25:6-8

Christ comes to feed us with His very self, to provide a rich and eternal banquet for us, to destroy death forever, and He does it on this mountain, in the gift of Himself on the cross. And it is in Christ, and in Christ alone, that humanity has hope, for in Him, things do not fall apart. In Jesus Christ things come together and the centre can hold!

“Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history” (John Paul the Great, Redemptor Hominis, #1), He is heaven and earth held together in Himself. Christ is God and humanity wed together as one, and He pours out new life for us from the cross.

Here at this Eucharistic table we share in that banquet, that outpouring of Christ for the building up of His Church. We come here to receive Him in whom the centre holds. It is in Christ that all things come together, and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Might we live in the Eucharist today, and let Christ live in us; for it is in that gift of Christ Himself in the Blessed Sacrament that we come together and in Him do we have the strength to walk upon the mountain and share in that rich banquet for all eternity.