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Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – All Souls

The Gospel:    John 11:17-27

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him,

while Mary stayed at home.

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.

Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.

Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,  the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

 

After the Gospel:

 

Today we do one of the things that has always marked us as  “Catholics”  —

pray for the Dead… continually … hopefully, pray for the dead. 

Customs have changed, but not the praying.

In the catacombs, the earliest Christians offered the Eucharistic   right at the tombs,

to bring Christ, the resurrection and the life,  to their dead, just as Martha had.  

A thousand years later, when  Saint Bernard wrote the life of St Malachy,

he included  Malachy’s       praying for his dead sister.

 

The two men first met when Malachy was Archbishop of Armagh, on his way from Ireland  to Rome, 

when he  stopped by Clairvaux to meet the famous Bernard;

they became such good friends that Malachy  obtained five monks to make a foundation at Mellifont, Ireland.

Later on, during  a second visit to Clairvaux, Malachy  fell ill, died in the arms of St Bernard,  was buried at Clairvaux.

 

In Bernard’s history,   St. Malachy didn’t get along with his sister, lost contact with her,  then didn’t see her any more before she died. After she died, Malachy  heard a voice one night telling him that his sister was hungry, she hadn’t eaten for thirty days. He remembered it was thirty days since he had offered Mass for her.  So once again he offered Mass for her, saw her  coming up to the church door  in a black garment, but she couldn’t enter.

He continued to say Mass for her and the next time she was dressed in a lighter-colored garment. The final time he saw her, she came into the church,  dressed in beautiful white, surrounded by blessed spirits.                                     

 

Not much for historians to look at, but it points out the importance of praying for the dead, reminds us  that one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is   to Pray for the Dead.

 

Especially nowadays, as they ask if Catholics believe in Purgatory anymore,

Didn’t the Church drop that doctrine?

 Today is part of the answer.

If you want to know what the Church believes: Look at how we pray –

                             What we believe and our prayer are twins that go together.

 

The Church deliberately puts All Souls Day right next to All Saint’s Day.  

Yesterday,  we remembered  the Saints already in heaven; today, we’re  praying for the dead

  on their way to heaven.

The key is:   On their way …

When we think of  our relatives, friends, fellow monks … 

they died like us  … humans..  with all their bruises and scars,

with all their weaknesses  and failings…

not  evil, their souls  condemned to hell,

but realistically,   even though they died in God’s friendship,

still  stained by the selfishness and  sins of this life,

rendering them unworthy of entering immediately  into  heaven;

they’re in an intermediate state, a state of purification after death,

a purification that will achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven.

 

All Souls is a day that takes us back to our roots,

a day of  memory, of  hope, reminding each of us to expect the mercy and love of Christ.

A day that says:  No matter what else changes,  never lose your memories as a family, a people,

never lose hope that Christ will accompany us, 

that He … the Resurrection and the Life … will be there,  waiting  with so much love.

 

Today is our best reminder in the Church year …

How  many saints  have said:

“All those  we’ve known and loved,  the ones  now our ‘faithful departed’ …

let us not hesitate to help them  by offering our prayers for them.”

Homily – Fr. James Conner – Prayer – 10/20/19

29th Sunday of Year – Cycle C

The readings today speak to us about the importance and necessity of prayer. Like Moses, we are to pray for the needs of the world. But his arms grew tired, and so he was assisted by Aaron and Hur who supported his arms raised in prayer. Our vocation as monks is also to support the active arms of those who minister to the needs of the People of God. Our vocation is one of prayer. Like the widow in the gospel, we are called to  trust in God for all of our needs. She persevered in asking for justice, and was finally heard. However it was not her repeated asking that was granted, but her continued humbling of herself before the unjust judge. Each time she came back was a further demeaning of herself before the judge. Our prayer is made to a Just Judge who is ready to hear us. But he grants our request only when we have true faith.

The gospel ends with a sentence which might seem not to follow from the parable. And yet in fact it is the key to all that was said. “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Like Christ on the Cross, faith is that total abasement of ourselves before God. In a sermon, Meister Eckhart speaks of the danger of seeing prayer as something which we DO, which is heard by God and granted. Such prayer he calls that of the businessman. He does his good work in order to receive the goods that he needs. But prayer is not a business transaction. It is simply our self abasement before God in faith alone.

Even the prayer of Jesus was granted only when he had totally abased himself before the Father by hanging on the cross. His arms were held raised, not by other people, but only by the nails of the cross. And in that total self abasement before the Father, he gained a hearing for all of us before God.

We are called to follow in his path. As Paul says in the second reading, “remain faithful in what you have learned, because you know from whom you learned it.”  We have learned the lesson from Jesus Christ, hanging on the cross, and yet in that total emptiness He was heard and we have been saved. Hence Paul also reminds us to “have that mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus”.

Prayer, then, is that emptying of our self before God with total trust in His mercy because the prayer of Jesus on the cross was heard, and we have been saved – not by what we do of ourselves, but by what He has done for us. This is the faith which God will look for when the Son of Man comes. It is a faith which must be activated each day and each moment of our life. It is such faith, such total surrender of ourselves to God, which will open the way that God “will see to it that justice is done for all speedily”.

In celebrating this Eucharist we are called to enter into that mind and heart of Christ Jesus as He renews His offering of Himself and of all of us to the Father. Like the poor widow in the gospel and like Christ Himself on the Cross, we are to come before the Lord with total surrender, total faith in His prayer for us and for all the world, knowing that we will be heard by the Just Judge so long as we come before Him with full awareness of our poverty, our emptiness before God, that He may fill that emptiness for ourselves and for the whole world.

 

 

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram -O GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER   – October 27, 2019

+O GOD, BE MERCIFUL TO ME A SINNER                             30th Sunday(C), 2019

The words of Scripture this morning give comfort and encouragement to us all. We all sympathize with the tax collector who stands afar off, beating his breast and praying: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’ The words challenge us as well for we also have those moments when, like the Pharisee, we think ourselves better than others and easily judge her or him for their way of life. The lesson of humility is not an easy one to learn but it grounds us in the truth Jesus seeks to convey, opening our hearts to the continual gift of divine grace.

The readings from Sirach and letter of St Paul to Timothy are beautiful instances of this divine working. God “hears the cry of the oppressed, ..is not deaf to the wail of the orphan, nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.” In fact their voices seem to have a power over God until they are heard. In writing to Timothy, St. Paul is at the end of a life of labor and knows that in death God will reward him. But he too knows this is only because God has rescued him from the lion’s mouth and will rescue him “from every evil threat and will bring him safe to his heavenly kingdom.” To God alone belongs the glory forever and ever.

We have grown familiar with the story of the Pharisee and tax collector so that it becomes easy to ignore the call to each of us for a continual conversion. God is not all that interested in our exterior behavior but is very interested in our hearts, in what moves us to do the things we do. The divine judgement in our parable is all about whether our lives are self-centered or God-centered. It is not about out outward performance but our inner motive.

The Pharisee’s description of his religious practice is probably pretty accurate and his negative evaluation of the tax collector, accurate as well. Tax collectors in the time of Jesus, being paid little or nothing for their work would exact money from those from whom they demanded taxes to where they often became dishonest or greedy. The stance of the tax collector standing afar off and beating his breast is  an honest one.

What Jesus shows us in the parable is the inner disposition of each of these men and in doing so reveals what God is really looking for in each of our hearts. Where the Pharisee claims superiority over the other because of his good deeds, the tax collector begs for mercy. The Pharisee has no real need but the tax collector prays out of a deep sense of inner poverty and is answered.

Just being poor, oppressed or brokenhearted does not necessarily bring us closer to God. But if we allow such experiences to lead or move us to turn to God rather than to ourselves we will be sure to know the power of grace. God is all merciful and strengthens us as often as we turn to God in our need. This is what St Paul had done throughout his life and knew that he would be forever rewarded for it. One sees here the basis of so much of what St Benedict wrote in his Rule about the value of humility so as to run in the way of God’s commands.

There is always the danger for Religious to fall into a kind of self-righteousness, attributing to themselves the good they do. And as brothers we know how easy it is to begin judging one another for failures to meet our expectations of how one should live the life.

God sees us in a clearer light, for God sees what’s going on deep down within our hearts. The one we see sinning may well be asking for God’s mercy while we, because of our self-righteousness, fail to see our dire need. Ironically enough, to presume righteousness through our own power is to fall into sin, the self takes center stage rather than God. When God is at the center of our lives, we know by experience that God’s merciful love endures forever.

To know our own frailty is to be continually open to the wonderful gift we are about to receive in this Eucharist. It is a sharing in the infinite love God has for us in Christ Jesus, a becoming one with his very own Body and Blood. To do so is not only to go home justified but to be exalted already here below as a bearer of God’s very own life and love.

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 1 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14