Showing posts with label Abraham. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abraham. Show all posts

March 1, 2020

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2020, Year A

The Transfiguration of Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


God asked Abraham to leave his land, take everything and everyone with him and move to a new land. Later God asked Moses to take the Hebrews from Egypt into a promised new land. And Jesus? Well, He too had to leave Joseph and Mary back in Nazareth and begin his mission out on the road. Jesus once remarked: “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And when He was crucified and died, He didn’t even have a tomb of His own.

One of the hardest things I face as a priest is not having my own home, a place I can call my own. My only home is the Church. My only family is all of you… along with all of the other members of Christ’s family throughout the world.

Many people today experience homelessness. Lots of people, even young kids, live out in the streets. Many members of gangs belong to gangs because they are looking for family, for someone to belong to, for a “home” that they feel they never had with their moms and dads if, that is, they even know who their mothers were and know who their fathers are. A great deal of the trouble in the schools of our big cities comes from the countless numbers of children within them that have no place they can really call home, no family that they can truly call their own – except perhaps the gang that has accepted them and taken them in.

Many of us as adults and parents also feel like we are in a lot of ways strangers and exiles living in an alien and hostile culture, or environment, or world. Quite a few feel that it’s not possible to be a good Christian, or a total and complete Christian, or Catholic, and at the same time live in the sort of world in which we find ourselves. They feel like the standards of our culture are being “dumbed down,” that our laws and rules are being redefined so that people can do simply what they feel like doing. Many of us watch what we value as it is being de-valued in the world around us, a world in which we no longer feel at home, much less want to raise our children.

The feeling is not new; the feeling is, as a matter of fact, quite old. In a time when Christians were being hounded down, chased out of town, marginalized and even arrested and killed. St. Peter wrote in one of his Epistles that we must remember we are strangers living in exile, that our citizenship and our real home is not in this world but rather in God’s kingdom. St. Paul, too, wrote in one of his Epistles that “we have here no lasting city,” and that our citizenship is in heaven after our sojourn here in earth is ended.

Nevertheless, God wants us to have roots, to have a place, to belong. We all need a place in which we can find ourselves and a family in which we can belong. If we don’t have that we become very angry, act out, and engage in what is called “anti-social” and hostile behavior. In other words, in our rage at not belonging we end up attacking everyone around us.

One of the remarkable things about the Catholic Church is the fact that in it you belong no matter where you find yourself on the face of the earth. I have entered churches in many other parts of the world, participated in Masses in them, and instantly felt at home even though the language wasn’t English (or Latin, for that matter). It’s a wonderful feeling to enter St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican and be able to say: “This is my church!” I’ve entered great cathedrals all over Europe  and been able to say: “I feel at home here. This is my church. Jesus is here in the Blessed Sacrament. These people represented in statues stained glass windows are a part of my family and I belong to them just as they belong to me.”

Likewise we need to be able to respond to God the way others have when He called them to be about His tasks, to be about His purposes, to accomplish His work. Could you leave everything in back of you if He called you to make a radical change in your life? Like Abraham, you would have to leave your security and your familiar surroundings behind you. Sometimes God calls you to empty yourself in order that He might fill you with what He wants to give you. Could you do it?

There’s a story about a Sufi Master who was approached by a young man who wanted to be his disciple. To impress the Master the prospect went on and on and on about his academic achievements, his experience and about all of his accomplishments in serving and helping people. The Master listened in silence. Then while the young man was running on and on and on about all the he had done the Master began to fill a teacup with tea. When the cup was filled he kept filling it with more tea until it spilled all over. “Stop, Master!” cried the young man, “the cup can’t hold any more tea.”. To which the Master replied: “Neither can I teach you anything. You are too full of yourself now. Come back when you’ve made some room within you to hold a new thought.”

Abraham made new room for God. So did Moses. And Jesus totally emptied himself in order to be completely filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

We speak of Lent as a journey, a moving from one place to a new and better place. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus from Bethlehem where He was born, to Nazareth where He was raised, out into the desert, then to Jerusalem where He was crucified and died, and into the tomb in which He was buried, and then into the Garden of the Resurrection, the new Garden of Eden. One day we will follow in His path by joining Him in His Ascension into heaven along with the Assumption of His mother Mary who was also taken up from this alien world into the home God has prepared for us.

The tomb of Jesus is empty because the things of this world are all destined to turn into dust. Inside of them, all of the things of this world are as empty as the tomb of Jesus. Why? Because reality is something spiritual, not material. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return, along with all of the glitter of this world. Our citizenship and our home are elsewhere and our hearts will not rest until they rest in the home God has prepared for us.

Our hearts can experience some of that peace, some of that rest, right here in this church, in God’s house, in His Presence here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Why not stop in here to be at home for a little while with Jesus, here in His house? Why not give your heart the love it seeks, namely to be here at peace and in union, in love, with the One for whom your heart was made by God in the first place?

To whom do I belong? Where is my home? Here at least, here in God’s house in the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, you will be strangers and exiles no longer. This is God’s house, and therefore it is your house, your home. This is where your family shares its Sunday meal and where, whenever we come here, we know at last we belong.

September 29, 2019

Reflection for the 26th Week in Ordinary Time: Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Here is a reflection on this Sunday's Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke:

SCRIPTURE: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Luke 16:19-24 (NIV)

TRANSITION: As a means to bring home a lesson from this scripture I would like to ask a couple of questions. Do you use or have used an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning? A lot of alarm clocks have a button on them called a snooze alarm. When your alarm goes off, you can hit that button and go back to sleep. In about ten minutes, the alarm will go off again. You can just keep on doing this and go right on sleeping.

God sound a wake-up alarm in our lives!

Did you know that God sometimes sounds a “wake up” alarm in our lives? He speaks to our heart and says, “It is time to wake up and follow me.” Some people hit the snooze button and say, “Not now Lord, call me again—a little bit later.” Some people hit that “snooze button” so many times that they get to where they don’t ever hear God’s voice. When they finally wake up, they find out that it is too late. That is what happened in our Bible story today.

Jesus told a story about a rich man who wore the finest clothes and lived in luxury. A beggar named Lazarus lay outside the rich man’s gate. Lazarus was hungry and his body was covered with sores. He was hoping that the rich man might have pity on him and that he might be able to satisfy his hunger with the leftovers from the rich man’s table. But every day the rich man passed by Lazarus without even giving him a thought. I imagine that he passed by Lazarus so many times that he eventually go to the point that he didn’t see him at all.

The Bible says that Lazarus died and went to heaven. The rich man also died, but he went to hell. In hell, he looked up and saw Lazarus in heaven with Abraham. He asked Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger in water and come and touch it to his burning tongue, but Abraham sand, “No.” Then he reminded the rich man how he had enjoyed such good things on earth while Lazarus had nothing.

The rich man asked Abraham to allow Lazarus to go back to earth and warn his five brothers so that they would not end up in hell with him, but again, Abraham said , “No.” The rich man finally woke up, but it was too late.

Back to our alarm clock analogy.

God is sending “wake-up” calls to people today. Let us pray that we will listen to his voice and follow him before it is too late.

Dear Father, when you sound the alarm telling us it is time to wake up and follow you, many we never be guilty of hitting the snooze alarm saying, “Later, Lord.” Instead, let us rise up and follow you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

July 15, 2019

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 21, 2019, Year C


Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

(Click here for today’s readings)

Hospitality, presence, and being personally attentive. All of these are qualities of character that should be a part of our living in relationships with others.

In today’s readings the theme that comes to my mind is that of hospitality, hospitality in the sense of personal presence, an openness of heart that allows guests into the inner home of our hearts and souls. In my years of pastoring souls I have come to recognize that the way we treat others is the way we treat God and the way we treat God is the way we treat others. The Gospel account of Martha and Mary along with the Old Testament account of Abraham meeting God in his three guests give us an occasion to examine the notion of personal presence to others, and our personal presence to God in Jesus Christ.

Abraham, as you may remember, felt that God was absent from him. After Abraham’s initial experience with God we find him in today’s first reading in his old age. Unable in her younger years to have a child, Sarah now in her old age was obviously sterile. Yet Abraham was constantly aware of God’s promise that he would be the father of a nation of people dedicated to God, a nation as numerous as grains of sand along the shores of the world’s oceans. Abraham was also painfully aware that God’s promise was hardly able to be fulfilled, he and his wife Sarah in their old age now being unable to have children. For Abraham, God did not seem to be present. How could God’s promise of numerous children possibly be fulfilled?

The remarkable thing about Abraham was the fact that, in spite of the seeming failure of God to respond to him, in spite of all of the catastrophes and misfortunes he and Sarah had met, in spite of all of the sufferings they had endured, Abraham was still actively searching for the presence of God in his life. He had not given up. He had not been defeated by apparent failure. He was still a pilgrim and a disciple of God. His mind still searched the events of his life for traces of the finger of God writing on the shifting sands of his life’s history. His eyes and his soul were still waiting for the hand of the Lord to give an indication of the presence of God. It was because of this persisting faith that Abraham in his hospitality was able to perceive the presence of God in the three strange men who suddenly appeared in his life. Christians are able to see in them a veiled foreshadowing of the Trinitarian God, the God who said let us make man in our image and likeness, and also a veiled foreshadowing of the three Wise Men from the East who point to the presence of God in our lives.

Presence is a quality of soul, a character trait, a habit of mental alertness, an openness of mind that allows us to integrate our lives and our very selves into the lives and selves of others. It is a prerequisite for intimacy and it is an essential characteristic of discipleship. It is this that Mary chose and that Martha did not understand. Presence means making space for an other in your soul, for the person and spirit of another to be whom they really are for you to admire, respect, and for you to receive with hospitality. This demands the active awareness and the mental and spiritual attention of the disciple, the host, the student, or the friend.

Some people allow others to come deeply into their presence only upon set pre-conditions. The other is allowed into that inner circle of deep awareness only if the other will meet our requirements or fulfill our needs. Discipleship, on the other hand, just as friendship and the intimacy of love, is unconditional. Martha was all too concerned with the social requirements of polite hospitality.

Another practical application can be discerned in the way family members treat each other. Sometimes I’ve watched couples talk at each other rather than really listen to each other. While one is attempting to communicate, and the other is only half listening, all the while trying to think of the most compelling response to make. TV talk shows are good examples of that. The talking heads only talk at each other. Sometimes husbands and wives talk at each other as if they knew beforehand what the other was going to say without hearing what was really being said. Parents can treat their children that way and children sometimes treat their parents that way. There’s no true presence, no real understanding, only hidden agendas that each side compulsively seeks to get out in the discussion.

Presence means withdrawing part of one’s self in order that the other can fill in the space created by that self-withdrawal. Attentive presence is real hospitality, the sort of hospitality that allows the other to enter and be healed of the wounds of isolation and loneliness. It is a hospitality that is unconditional and total.

Hospitality is a virtue, a strength of soul that should perdure through all of one’s life. It cuts through any categorizations of others. Just as religion is not merely a part of one’s life but rather one’s life is a part of religion, so also presence and hospitality are states of mind that should be found in all of our relationships with others. Sometimes we think of hospitality as a virtue that we will haul out of storage only when we have to endure the presence of another. We sort of offer it up to God as a cross we must carry when we are obliged to deal with a person whom we consider to be unpleasant. Genuine discipleship helps us overcome that sort of categorization because through discipleship we develop a mental habit of always trying, like Abraham, to discern the hand of God working throughout the whole of our lives. We should always be talking and listening in the presence of the Lord, trying to see Him in the mysterious strangers who come into our lives, trying like Mary to be receptive without conditions and without any attempt to meet our requirements hidden within us.

Hospitality, presence, and being personally attentive, all of these are personal qualities that are a part of our living in relationships with others. They are essential to living in relationship to God. The critical question you must face and I must face is how welcoming am I to God? How conscious am I of His presence in my life? How personally attentive am I to God’s presence, power, and love in my life?

You and I should be challenged by these questions. Out of love God made us to love not only each other but above all to be open to and accepting of His love… and to love Him in return. Hospitality isn’t simply “nice.” Being personally attentive to God each and every day is essential, something far more profound than good manners.

We may feel we are too busy to pay much attention to God. What if God had the same attitude and was too busy to pay much attention to us? How we treat others is an indicator of how we treat God. Something for us all to ponder.

June 9, 2019

Homily for Trinity Sunday, Jane 16, 2019, Year C


Fr. Thomas J. Lane S.T.D.
Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture
Mt. St. Mary's Seminary
Emmitsburg, MD

(Click here for today’s readings)

"O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me."

That beautiful prayer to the Trinity is quoted in a book on Celtic prayer (The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination page 43 by Esther de Waal). It expresses beautifully the different qualities of the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The Father sought us. That reminds me of Psalm 139, a beautiful Psalm about God seeking us and being present with us at all times.

O Lord you search me and you know me,
You know my resting and my rising,
You discern my purpose from afar.
You mark when I walk or lie down,
All my ways lie open to you.

Before ever a word is on my tongue
You know it, O Lord through and through.
Behind and before you besiege me,
Your hand ever laid upon me.
Too wonderful for me, this knowledge,
Too high, beyond my reach.

The Father was continually seeking us from the beginning. The Father called Abraham and called a people to himself out of all the peoples on earth. God called Moses and gave a covenant forming them into the Jewish people. The first reading (Prov 8:22-31) described the wisdom of God. Other passages in the Bible identify this wisdom with God’s Torah or Law or Commandments (Sir/Ecclus 24:23; Bar 4:1). God’s wisdom or his Commandments are one of the ways we see God seeking his people before Jesus. God’s commandments, his wisdom, is one way God reached out to his people to lead them to himself. The Father continued to seek his people by sending the prophets to call his people back to live according to the covenant when they were wandering away.

Unfortunately our spiritual ancestors, the Jews, did not listen, so then the Father revealed the great masterpiece of his plan to seek us; he sent his Son Jesus to buy us with his blood (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24; Acts 20:28; Rom 3:24-25; 5:9; Eph 1:7; 2:13; Col 1:20; Heb 9:12; Rev 5:9).

"O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me."

The second reading today says the same using other words, "...through our Lord Jesus Christ, by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace..." (Rom 5:1) Jesus, the Son of the Father bought us. That reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Cor 6:20, “You are not your own property, you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God.” How much are you worth? You are worth as much as the precious blood of Jesus because that is the price God paid for you, the blood of Jesus. In Rev 5:9 there is a hymn to Jesus, these words are addressed to Jesus,

"Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation."

Yes we were purchased for the Father by the blood of Jesus. The blood of Jesus is priceless so you are priceless.

The final part of God’s plan to save us is the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost after Jesus had ascended.

"O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me."

Jesus refers to the teaching quality of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel today,

"But when the Spirit of truth comes
He will lead you to the complete truth,
Since he will not be speaking as from himself
But will say only what he has learnt…" (John 16:13)

There are many ways in which we can see the Holy Spirit guiding the Church all down through the centuries. There is a very interesting example that I heard on Italian TV some years ago. Bishop Magee was being interviewed and mentioned that when he was secretary to Pope John Paul I, the Pope said to him one day that his successor was sitting opposite him during the conclave (first conclave of 1978). Bishop Magee did not think about it again until after the election of Pope John Paul II a short while afterwards and then he took out the map of the conclave that elected Pope John Paul I and saw that Cardinal Karol Woytyla who was to become Pope John Paul II was indeed sitting opposite Cardinal Luciani who became Pope John Paul I. How did Pope John Paul I know who his successor would be? I think we can say that somehow it was the Holy Spirit who had brought him to this conclusion.

"O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me."

Can you see in your own life that the Father has sought you, Jesus the Son bought you, and the Holy Spirit taught you? Can you see events in your own life that show the Father seeking you? Sometimes you would hear people say they felt that God had protected them from an accident or protected during an accident or that what at first looked to be disaster later turned out to be for the best. Can you see Jesus the Son buying you? Those who have seen the movie The Passion of the Christ are very aware of Jesus buying them with his blood. Can you see the Holy Spirit working in your life perhaps to expand your heart to be compassionate to someone or to forgive someone or to help someone? The Father, Son and Spirit work in the lives of each of us if we are open. Can you open your heart to the Father, Son and Spirit?

"O Father who sought me
O Son who bought me
O Holy Spirit who taught me."

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.
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Reprinted with permission from www.frtommylane.com.

April 1, 2019

A Lenten Bible Study: Genesis to Jesus Lesson Six: Our Father in Faith


Here is the sixth lesson in the Saint Paul Center for Catholic Biblical Theology's Lenten Scripture study, Genesis to Jesus. Follow along, and by the end of Lent, you'll understand the importance of Easter in light of God's plan for our salvation. Sign up to receive new video lessons [here] and buy related study materials.
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In our last lesson, we examined the story of God’s covenant with humanity through Noah. We saw the parallels between the original creation story, and the account of the great flood in which the world experienced a kind of rebirth. Now we’ll look at how God’s covenant blessing passes to all nations, through the great patriarch Abraham. Among other things, we will see the connection between covenant blessing, and the trials that God’s faithful children undergo. We’ll also examine how God rewards Abraham’s obedience by renewing the covenant he made with him. That renewal comes with an incredible promise to regather the families of the earth scattered at the Tower of Babel, and restore them to blessing, in the family of God. Finally, we will see how God’s people eventually make their way down into Egypt, and then trace the events that lead to the Exodus.

Recall that at the very beginning of the world, God gave his blessing to creation. The sign of that blessing is life – both the gift of life itself and the power to bring forth new life. That blessing is passed on from generation to generation through family. We see this in Genesis when, after the Fall, God’s blessing is restored through Noah. Noah, in turn, passes that blessing on to his firstborn son, Shem. In the previous lesson we discussed that when humanity chose to go its own way at the Tower of Babel, God confused their language and scattered the people to the four corners of the earth. He did that because they were glorifying themselves instead of God. That happened in Genesis 11.

Just one chapter later, in Genesis 12, God promises Abraham, who is a descendant of Noah’s son Shem, that he will bless him. Even more, he promises that through Abraham, all humanity will be blessed. In just three verses in Genesis 12:1-3, God actually uses the word “bless” five times.

As in the past, this blessing will be transmitted from generation to generation through the family, this time through Abraham’s descendants. One of the most important things we learn from God’s conversation with Abraham in Genesis 12, is that man will never be united through his own attempts, like at Babel, to make a name for himself. Instead, true unity will only come about through God, who promises to make Abraham’s name great.

We can start to see this unity happening on the timeline of salvation history as God continues to expand his family through covenants. So far, we have seen how God expanded his family from two people – Adam and Eve – to a family – Noah and his household. Now, through his covenant with Abraham, God expands his family even further. Where Noah was the father of a household, Abraham is the head of an extended family. He is the chieftain of a tribe.

If you think back to our lesson on creation, you’ll remember that Adam’s disobedience triggered the covenant curses. These curses continued to weigh heavy on all of Adam’s descendants. However, God calls Abraham as the beginning of his solution to the problem created by Adam. Adam’s failure brought curses upon the world. Abraham’s faithfulness brought blessings upon the world.

Let’s see how all of this unfolds in Scripture. Genesis 12:1-3 states: “1 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; 2 And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; 3 And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’”

God promises Abram, whose name he will later change to Abraham, three things; land and nationhood, a dynastic kingdom, and a worldwide family. All families will be blessed through Abram. Later, because of Abram’s patient endurance and faithfulness, God will upgrade these three promises to three covenant oaths.

When God first call Abram, which means “exalted father,” to leave his home and journey to an unknown land, Abram is 75 years-old, very wealth, and childless. Despite his age and his wealth, Abram obeys. Abram’s on the back side of life, he’s loaded and lives in a nice place. God says, “Listen up, Abram, I’m going to bless you, but you’ve got to move to Canaan” (a town 400 miles away). Travel, at this time, was neither simple nor easy. But along with his wife Sarai, and his nephew Lot, and many domestic servants and their families, Abram does it. He leaves to begin a new life in the land of Canaan.

The Book of Hebrews tells us that he did all of this in faith, trusting God’s call every step of the way. Leaving his home and kin at age 75 is only one of the trials Abram will endure after being chosen by God. As we’ll see throughout this lesson, Abram’s life reveals that the road to blessing is paved with trials and temptations. These trials will include famine, exile and the temporary loss of his wife, family strife and division, wars, unfulfilled promises, marital discord, painful surgery, supernatural disaster, the temporary loss of his wife once again, even more family strife, and being asked to sacrifice his beloved son.

But the remarkable thing is that Abram’s faith grows stronger through each of these tests. God rewards that faith by upgrading his promise of blessings to covenant oaths in Genesis 15, 17, and 22. Hebrews 6:13-17 reads: “13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” 15 And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 16 For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath…”

Let’s consider how each of God’s promises becomes a covenant oath. But first, we should highlight the fulfillment of another very important promise – a promise that points forward to Jesus Christ. In Genesis 12, God promises to bless Abram. In Genesis 14, he fulfils that promise when Abram encounters a man named Melchizedek. Melchizedek is the righteous king of Salem, which in Hebrew means peace. In Genesis 14:17-20, we see that Melchizedek is not just a king, but also a priest. In fact, he’s the first person to be called a priest in all of Scripture.

During their encounter, Melchizedek offers bread and wine, then blesses Abram. Abram, in turn, pays homage to Melchizedek by offering a tithe. Bread, wine, and tithes probably sound pretty familiar to you – and it should. As scholars have noted, Melchizedek prefigures Jesus Christ in this encounter. Christ is also a priest king, who offers bread and wine, and receives our homage. The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the similarities even more explicit. Hebrews 6:19-7:2 writes:

19 “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. [Ch 7:] 1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.”

We turn our attention to the covenant oaths. In Genesis 12, God promised Abram that he would make him a great nation. But many years later, in Genesis 15, Abram still has no children. So when God comes to him again and promises him a “great reward,” Abram says what good is a reward since I have no son to inherit it. At this point, God pledges to give Abram a son, and through him innumerable descendants. God also tells Abraham that these descendants will be delivered from bondage and receive the Promised Land, the land he promised to Abram back in Genesis 12.

Abram’s encounter with God then ends in a mysterious ceremony where God seals the covenant. After putting Abram into a deep sleep, God himself passes between the remains of animals that had already been cut in two by Abram. While this kind of ceremony is foreign to the modern mind, covenants were often sealed by sacrifice. It is something you see over and over in Scripture. The reason is that there is real symbolism bound up in sacrifice. The blood of the oath-takers would be spilled like the sacrificial animals if they don’t keep the covenant.

This ritual oath ceremony marks the first promise God made to Abram – land and nationhood – being upgraded to a covenant. More time passes, however, and the son God promised still doesn’t arrive. Not surprisingly, Abram and Sarai grow impatient and decide to take matters into their own hands. Perhaps in a fit of desperation, Sarai tells Abram to take her Egyptian handmaid, Hagar, and have a son with her. Abram does what she recommends. This proves to be a mistake. To start with, it creates some serious domestic problems. Once Hagar conceives a son, Genesis 16:4 tells us that she begins looking upon her mistress “with contempt.”

Now, domestic problems are one thing; unfortunately, it didn’t end there. Abram and Sarai’s decision eventually creates a few geopolitical problems that are still with us to this day. The son born of Hagar, Ishmael, becomes the father of the Arab nation. And the son eventually born to Sarai – Isaac – is the father of the Israelite nation. But at this point in our story, Abram’s only son is Ishmael. Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, God again appears to Abram, and gives both Abram and Sarai new names.

Abram will now be Abraham, which means “father of a multitude,” and Sarai will be Sarah, which means “great mother” or “princess.” In Genesis 17:16 God says of Sarah, “Kings of people will come forth from her.” This declaration is a foreshadowing of God’s covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, which we’ll discuss in a later lesson. Next, God tells Abraham that his shortcut to getting an heir through Hagar didn’t work. Ishmael is not the son of the promise. That son will be born of Sarah. God then promises Abraham that Sarah will give birth to a son in one year [See Genesis 17:21].

There is, however, a catch. The promise of a son through Sarah includes a command: Abraham must circumcise himself and all the males of his tribe. Also, from that day forward, all of Abraham’s descendants must be circumcised on the eighth day. Despite the fact that Abraham is 99 years-old at the time, despite the fact that Sarah is 90, and despite the fact that circumcision is a painful and difficult procedure for a grown man, Abraham trusted God and did as he was told. That obedience reveals him to be a man of tremendous faith. The other members of Abraham’s tribe also evidenced great faith in submitting to circumcision along with Abraham.

One year later, Abraham’s faith is rewarded. Sarah gives birth to a son, Isaac. The child grows strong and healthy, and on the day he is weaned, his father throws a great feast in his honor. But during the feast, Sarah sees Ishmael, playing with her son, and begins to fear that he will try to usurp Isaac’s place, possibly by doing Isaac harm. To protect him, she presses Abraham to banish Ishmael and Hagar from their camp – and kick them out. At first, Abraham hesitates. After all, Ishmael may not be the son of the promise, but he is still his son, and Abraham loves him. So rather than act, he waits for directions from the Lord.

The directions come. God tells Abraham to do as Sarah wants, but promises to one day make a great nation out of Ishmael’s descendants. Once Ishmael is banished, Abraham is left with only one son, his beloved son Isaac. Many years pass. Then comes the ultimate test of Abraham’s faith. God asks him to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain in the land of Moriah, a site that will later be known as Jerusalem. Unbelievably, Abraham doesn’t hesitate. He gathers the supplies they’ll need and sets off on the three-day journey, a journey he believes will end with the death of his son.

Once they arrive at Moriah. Isaac carries the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain. Isaac then asks his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” His father’s response? “God will provide himself the lamb.” And sure enough, just as Abraham is about to plunge the knife into Isaac, the Lord calls out to Abraham and tells him to spare his son. Abraham then spots a ram and offers it to the Lord instead. Afterwards, for the third and final time, God upgrades his promise to Abraham into a covenant, swearing an oath in Genesis 22:15-18 to bless all nations through the seed of Abraham.

The oath God swears in Genesis 22:18 echoes the promise he made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. If you recall, he promised in Genesis 3 to bring deliverance through the “seed” of the woman. Now, God promises to save the world through the seed or “descendants,” of Abraham. And just as the woman’s seed, not the woman herself, will bring salvation to the world, likewise, it is Abraham’s seed, not Abraham himself, who will redeem the world.

Both seeds, of course, are the same person. Christ, the woman’s seed, is also Abraham’s descendant. Galatians 3:14-17 says: “14 that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brothers, in human terms I say that no one can annul or amend even a human will once ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his descendant. It does not say, “And to descendants,” as referring to many, but as referring to one, “And to your descendant,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to cancel the promise.”

Abraham’s story is the opposite of Adam’s story. When Adam disobeyed God, humanity was cursed. But when Abraham obeys God, even to the point of sacrificing his beloved son, humanity is blessed. Eventually, through Abraham’s seed, the curses incurred by the human race at the Fall will be fully reversed.

Most of this lesson has been spent talking about the obedience of Abraham. But Isaac deserves credit as well. When ancient rabbis talked about this story, they called it the Aqedah, which meant “the binding” of Isaac. They believed that this story is as much about Isaac’s self-offering as it is about Abraham’s faithfulness. This is because if Isaac were strong enough to carry the wood up the mountain, he was strong enough to resist being tied up to that pile of wood as a sacrifice. He was a young man, not a little boy. He could have easily stopped his elderly father. But he didn’t.

In fact, Jewish tradition says that Isaac was bound at his own request. He asked to be tied down so that he wouldn’t resist and struggle against his father while he was being sacrificed. Like the previous covenants we’ve discussed, the early Church fathers understood that the sacrifice of Isaac foreshadowed the sacrifice of another beloved son – Jesus Christ. Like Isaac, Jesus Christ is the beloved Son of the Father, offered for the salvation of the word. Like Isaac, Jesus carries the wood of his sacrifice up the mountain in full submission to his Father’s will. Hebrews 11:19 tells us that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son because “he considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead.” And as we all know, Jesus is raised from the dead on the third day, just as Abraham received his son back from the sentence of death at the end of their three-day journey.

In the Church’s liturgy, this story in Genesis 22 is also read in connection with Jesus’ transfiguration. There, at the top of Mt. Tabor, the Apostles hear God the Father say [Mark 9:7], “This is my beloved Son.” This brings to mind God’s words to Abraham [Genesis 22:2], “Take your son, your only begotten son Isaac, whom you love…” The difference, of course, is that God the Father did not stop the death of his beloved Son. In fact, he willed that his Son should fulfill all the covenants of salvation history by a death he freely accepted. Abraham had no idea how his actions would foreshadow that day of ultimate blessing. But, even his words to Isaac, “The Lord will provide himself the lamb,” come true in Jesus Christ. Interestingly, God provides that lamb, Christ, at the very place of Abraham’s sacrifice, Mt. Moriah.

Later in Israel’s history, the Temple of Jerusalem is built on Mt. Moriah. It is there that the people of Israel offer their sacrifices, in effect reminding God of his promise to Abraham. The need for those sacrifices comes to an end, however, when Christ – the promised Lamb of God – is sacrificed on Calvary. And Calvary, located just outside the ancient city of Jerusalem, is part of this very mountain where Abraham offered Isaac so many centuries ago.

Before we consider how Abraham’s descendants ended up enslaved in Egypt, let us review the promises and oaths of God’s covenant with Abraham. Remember in Genesis 12, God made three promises to Abraham: a land and nation, kingship, and worldwide blessing. Later, these three promises are strengthened by covenant oaths. In Genesis 15, God swears an oath that Abraham’s descendants will be given the Promised Land. In Genesis 17, God swears that kings will come forth from Abraham and Sarah. And finally, in Genesis 22, God swears that all nations will be blessed through Abraham’s descendants.

Now, about those descendants. Abraham’s son Isaac has two sons – Jacob and Esau. Just as God chose Abraham’s youngest son Isaac rather than his elder son Ishmael to be the son through whom the blessings of the covenant passed, so too, Isaac’s younger son Jacob is chosen over his older brother Esau. Also, many years later, Jacob’s younger son Joseph will be chosen over his older brothers.

This is a subplot that runs throughout the Bible – the younger being chosen over the elder to carry God’s plan of salvation forward. The younger is often chosen over the elder because over and over again in Scripture, the older son is prideful. Just as Adam, the firstborn of creation, fell into pride, a long line of older sons in the Bible fall in a similar way. However, according to worldly standards, the older should be chosen. After all, shouldn’t the older and stronger son have pride of place? But God flips that argument upside down. He chooses the younger son over the elder son to show that his plans are fulfilled through his power, not man’s. St. Paul makes this clear when he writes in Romans 9:11,16 that God chose the younger over the elder, “In order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call… so it depends not on man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy.”

Besides the younger being chosen over the elder, what happens to Abraham’s offspring? Well to start with, Jacob, Abraham’s grandson and Isaac’s son, gets a new name. Just as his grandfather’s name was changed from “Abram” to “Abraham,” Jacob’s name is changed to “Israel.” Israel has twelve sons, whose descendants become the twelve tribes of Israel. But before that happens, those twelve sons make their way down into Egypt. The story of how that happens is how the Book of Genesis ends.

The beginning of the end, so to speak, is when Israel gives one of his younger sons, Joseph, a beautiful coat. His older brothers become jealous, and sell him into slavery, which seems like a bit of an overreaction to Joseph’s extravagant gift of clothing. In reality, they were furious because the coat was a sign of their father’s preferential love.

Joseph eventually ends up in Egypt, where he lives as a slave and then as a prisoner until he has the opportunity to use his God-given gift of interpreting dreams. That opportunity comes, and he uses that gift to explain a dream of the pharaoh about a coming famine. Recognizing his extraordinary wisdom, the pharaoh makes him prime minister of all Egypt. But while Joseph’s wisdom spared Egypt from starvation, the rest of the region was not so fortunate.

That is why Joseph’s brothers, like many others, come to Egypt hoping to buy food. There, the family is reunited. But instead of returning home to the land God gave them, all of the brothers remain in Egypt. They wanted to enjoy the finest real estate the Egyptians had to offer. Unfortunately, that life of luxury eventually turns into a life of misery when a new Pharaoh arises who doesn’t know Joseph and sees the Hebrew people as a threat.

That new Pharaoh enslaves the sons of Israel. But as they wait for their deliverance, the families of Israel find hope in God’s words to Joseph [Genesis 48:21]: “God will be with you, and will bring you again to the land of your fathers.” Remember, way back in Genesis 15, God promised Abraham that he would deliver his descendants from slavery. The Israelites know help is coming it is just a question of when.

In the next lesson, we will look at the arrival of God’s promised help with the coming of Moses, as well as the direction God’s relationship with Israel takes once he’s delivered them out of Egypt. Moses is easily one of the most pivotal figures in all of Scripture. As we will see, when it came to leading the people of Israel, he had his work cut out for him.

February 25, 2018

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018, Year B

The Transfiguration

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


If you read letters to the editor in newspapers you will realize that many people have lost confidence in a loving God. Nowhere is this more forcefully indicated than in the debate over abortion and assisted suicide. Some have gone so far as to assert the Catholic Church wants people to suffer, that it’s a death dealing rather than a life-giving institution, and that it extols human pain and suffering.

In the world of art this attitude is reflected in works of self-proclaimed “art” that, in just one instance, portray the crucifix, Christ nailed to the cross, immersed in a jar of human urine.

Certainly all those who support partial birth abortion and “mercy killing”, along with others who advocate the position that we can terminate the lives of they declare to have a “miserable quality life”, vociferously oppose traditional Judeo-Christian teachings which hold that God and God alone gives life… that God and God alone takes human life. This teaching is found in the Old Testament’s Book of Job as well as in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Job, you will remember, having endured suffering to excruciating levels, cries out “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

How we, both individually and as are society, are to deal with suffering is a major problem we need to deal with. Today’s first reading from Sacred Scripture along with today’s Gospel account put our faces into it.

Abraham’s first wife, Sarai, childless and in her 70’s, was in a jealous rage because her husband Abraham had a child by her maidservant Hagar. Hagar had given birth to Ishmael; the boy-child was a source of great joy to Abraham, who at age 86 had been able to sire a child.

Thirteen years later God offers His famous covenant to Abraham, now in his 90’s, and causes his wife, now called Sarah, to become fruitful. She, too, bears a boy-child and names him Isaac.

At the time of Isaac’s weaning Sarah demands that Abraham cast away Hagar and her child Ishmael by sending them out into the desert with a little bread and water, and to leave them there to die. Abraham relying on God’s loving care and providence sends his beloved son Ishmael out into the death-dealing desert. Most likely he thought Ishmael would die. It’s hard to imagine the levels of human suffering that were swirling around these people.

Years later, when Isaac grows to about the same age as Ishmael, Abraham is asked again, this time by God Himself, to dispatch his beloved son by plunging a knife into his heart. There are no promises given by God, no indications whatsoever, that there will be any divine protection given to Isaac. All Abraham has left, the only thing upon which he can rely, is God’s goodness and love. Abraham acts on pure faith alone.

And that’s the whole point, as well as that of the Gospel account. The spectacular scene just read takes place up on top of Mt. Tabor immediately prior to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, there to be sacrificed on the altar of the Cross. The very same Peter, James and John present for this moment of ecstasy on Mt. Tabor are likewise present on the Mount of Olives for Christ’s agony. The divinity within Christ revealed here will be just as present as the humanity within Jesus as he suffers on the other mount. Both reveal the whole truth about Jesus Christ, namely that he is truly both man and God, divinity and humanity, true God and true man. Peter, James and John are very much animated, very much alive to the moment of privilege on the Mount of Transfiguration. They will, however, sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane up on Mt. Olivet.

The Christian response to suffering is far too complicated to explain in a letter to the editor to the newspaper. And even though a crucifix immersed in a jar of urine is promoted in certain quarters as “art” deserving to be supported by public tax dollars, we nevertheless elevate the crucifix, the cross with Christ’s human body on it, high above our altars because of what it reveals about our human nature.

It is worthwhile in the current public debate over human suffering and the question of who controls the birth of human life as well as who controls its death to remember that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., built his entire civil rights movement on the theological notion of the effectiveness and power of human suffering. He knew full well its power to reveal the divine within our human nature; its power to change our consciousness of what it means to be a child of God, a human being created in the image and likeness of God. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. knew full well that it could stir the soul of an entire nation and change the direction of our entire American culture by changing our consciousness and therefore our consciences through passive, non-violent suffering.

Here in the middle of Lent, Holy Mother Church puts these two powerful readings from the bible in front of our eyes. She doesn’t glorify human suffering, nor does she rejoice that humans must suffer. Contrary to the propaganda of secularists, the Roman Catholic Church has devoted hundreds of billions of dollars to the alleviation of human suffering, the care of the sick and suffering, as well as the elderly. Likewise, she has devoted enormous resources to educating countless millions of people in order that they may be delivered from ignorance and given light for their minds with which to see reality and discern wisdom. Our Church needs no defense against her enemies; she stands with Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ in the certain faith that God will not let the gates of hell prevail against her.

What then shall we say this day of our own personal faith at this stage in our journey through Lent? Can we really “let go and let God”? Shall we let go of those things that we cling to, let them go in the sure and certain faith that God will bring good out of evil, life out of death, meaning out of absurdity, and joy out of suffering? Abraham is, as we pray in the Roman Canon, “our father in faith”. If Abraham could let his beloved son go, whom God spared from death, and if God our Father in heaven could let His own beloved Son go, whom He did not spare from death, what levels of faith do we have with which to do the same? Just how much do we allow God to be truly God in our own lives by placing our lives in His hands?

February 24, 2018

“Well Written”: Icon of the Week, Vol. 2 | Our Lord is Brilliantly Transfigured on High

The Transfiguration of Christ
It's no accident that the first reading for the second Sunday of Lent (Year B) is the testing of Abraham's faith. Genesis chapter 22 begins: "God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, 'Abraham!' 'Here I am!' [Abraham] replied. Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you."

"When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the LORD's messenger called to him from heaven, 'Abraham, Abraham!' 'Here I am!' he answered. 'Do not lay your hand on the boy,' said the messenger. 'Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.' As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son." (See Genesis 22:1-2; 9-13.)

The allegorical or typical sense of Scripture is how people and events in the Bible point forward to future events, practices and figures. The story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac is a prefiguring of Christ. Isaac, a son carries the wood for his own sacrifice (which fortunately for Isaac doesn’t happen). Christ, the Son of God carries the cross for his own sacrifice, the Crucifixion. Contrary to most traditional portrayals, Isaac was not a helpless child, but a vital young man. He could have easily disobeyed his aged father to the point of physically fighting back. Instead, Isaac was a willing holocaust, like the Savior in offering Himself for our salvation.

The Transfiguration is a pivotal event in Jesus' life and ministry. The words of God the Father, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him." are a further revelation of the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and evoke the Father's words at Jesus' Baptism. The significance of this identification is enhanced by the presence of Elijah and Moses. Jesus is the voice of God par excellence, not Elijah (who represents the prophets) or Moses (who represents the law). Jesus is the preeminent moral authority who should be listened to, surpassing the law of Moses by virtue of his filial relationship with the Father. The Transfiguration embodies Jesus as the one in whom human nature meets God: the union of the temporal and the eternal, with Christ as the bridge between Heaven and earth.

February 21, 2018

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018, Year B

Our Lord's Transfiguration

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut


One thing is certain. For Peter, James and John, after what they experienced on that mountain, everything was changed. For Abraham, after what he experienced on another mountain, everything was changed. One was an experience of glory. The other was a test.

And what a test! How could God do such a thing to Abraham? How could Abraham accept it without a fight? How could Isaac, presumably a teenager by this time, let himself be tied up and placed on the altar of sacrifice? These are questions that people raise in perfectly good faith. The whole thing seems incredible to us, impossible; which is our way of saying: “I couldn’t do that!”

Even granting, as I often say, that it was “another world,” in which it seems child sacrifice was practiced by the pagans, the sacrifice of Isaac is hard for modern readers to make sense of. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews offers the following explanation: “Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son... He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead...” (Heb. 11:17-19). That’s all well and good, but this was much more than a rational exercise!

In fact, that quotation from Hebrews is among the several verses recalling four moments in the life of Sarah and Abraham. Each episode cited, including this one, is preceded by the words, “By faith.”

Abraham was not passive. Remember how he argued with God in an effort to save Sodom and Gomorrah? The same relationship that allowed him to challenge God then, enabled him now to accept God’s command to sacrifice his son Isaac—a relationship of perfect trust, based on deep faith.

Abraham’s total commitment to God, which began over forty years earlier, was his response to God’s total commitment to him. God chose him, guided him, defended him, made and kept generous promises to him. Abraham believed then, and did not stop believing now.

We probably all know good persons whose lives have been marked by seemingly endless tragedies and misfortunes, and who have persevered in a most admirable faith. I am reminded of the American Colonial poet Edward Taylor, who lost several infant children. He was a Congregational minister. In one of his poems he writes of the first two children that died. Not covering up his grief, he nevertheless recognizes that he brought those children into the world for God’s glory, and he concludes, “Take, Lord, they’re thine.” Incredible? Impossible? No. Magnificent!

What we witness on Abraham’s mountain is magnificent faith. The faith that has been nourished and strengthened over many years reaches its pinnacle in this moment. He has always believed in God’s love for him, and he isn’t going to doubt it now!

St. Paul reminds us, ““If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” He challenges us to demonstrate that same magnificent faith.

Abraham’s story has a happy ending. Even if it did not, the point would be the same: by faith, Abraham accepted God’s will, submitted to this tremendous test, and showed his total devotion to God. So, too, Jesus was “handed over” for us all, and his glorious resurrection confirmed the glory of his sacrifice.

What is faith that is never challenged? In a way, it’s like dancers or athletes whose skill has never been put to the test. They may be good, even very good, but not great, certainly not magnificent.

Considering that St. Peter witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus, and yet his faith faltered in his time of testing, I am not eager that my faith should be put to the test. But when it is, I pray that the gift of faith that the Lord has nourished these many years—including my own Transfiguration moments—may not falter, but rather look only to him in whom that faith is placed, and rely on him absolutely.

Can it be? Dare we hope that our own faith could actually be magnificent?

February 18, 2018

The Son: A Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B

The Transfiguration

By Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America

(Genesis 22:1-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10)

At the conclusion of the dramatic story of what transpired on a mountain in the land of Moriah, Isaac’s life is spared, a substitute is found for the holocaust, and Abraham, who was willing to offer up his beloved son at God’s command, is rewarded for his unstinting faith. In Old Testament and New Testament times, the place where it was believed Abraham went to sacrifice his son continued to be venerated. The Temple of Jerusalem was built there.

In our second reading, St. Paul alludes indirectly to another small mount within easy walking distance of the Temple. The evangelists call it Golgotha.

And on an unnamed mountain, somewhere in Galilee, Jesus appeared in his glory, along with Moses and Elijah.

These various elements all find a resonance at yet another mountain, in the French alps, called La Salette.

In remembrance of the Passion of Jesus, the Beautiful Lady wears a large crucifix on her breast. It is the brightest point in the Apparition, the source of its light. The hammer and pincers, instruments of the Passion, draw attention to it in a unique way.

Reminding us of the covenant proclaimed through Moses, and calling us to the steadfast commitment of Elijah, she speaks in the manner of the prophets. (It is interesting to note that in 2 Peter 1:18, the place of the Transfiguration is referred to as ‘the holy mountain.’ We use the same phrase when we speak of La Salette.)

Finally, like God speaking to Abraham, Mary also makes a grand promise of hope and prosperity to those who will live by faith.

More important than any of these similarities, however, is the word Son. “Take your only son, whom you love, and offer him up as a holocaust;” “God did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all;” “This is my beloved Son.”

When Our Lady of La Salette speaks of her Son, it is to reproach her people for their ingratitude to him and their disrespect for his Name. We must never allow ourselves to forget that her Son is God’s beloved Son, handed over for us.

As he is at the heart of Scripture, he must be at the heart of our faith, of our way of life.  Lent is a good time to ask ourselves if this is really the case.

September 18, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of La Salette [Homily]

Our Lady of La Salette [statue]

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut



The anniversary of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette is September 19. As La Salette Missionaries around the world we celebrate the event on the nearest Sunday. My homily today is therefore not based on the readings for the [24th Tuesday] in Ordinary time but on special readings for the Feast.

One might find the story from Genesis, about the rainbow after the flood, to be an odd reading for a feast of the Blessed Virgin.

The rainbow makes its appearance as the sign of the covenant that God makes with Noah. The bow, an ancient symbol of war, now becomes a sign of peace. God is starting over, re-creating, reconciling humanity to himself, promising he will never again give up on us.

Other covenants followed, with Abraham, with Moses, until the definitive, final covenant was ratified in the blood of the Cross. As the flood in Noah’s time both destroyed creation and cleansed it for a new beginning, so too Jesus’ blood marked not only his death but a new beginning of life for all of us. Entrusting us, in and through the Beloved Disciple, to his own Blessed Mother, he puts us all in a new relationship to one another as he reconciles us with the Father.

St. Paul, passionate about everything in his relationship to the Lord, pleads emphatically: Be reconciled to God! Five times in five verses he speaks of reconciling and reconciliation. There is no new covenant after Christ, but we often need to renew our relationship with Christ within the covenant he has established.

It is not surprising that all the readings for today’s feast point to the reality of reconciliation. The whole purpose of the Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette was reconciliation. Like the prophets of old she uses language that is sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh— whatever it takes to restore the relationship between her people and her Son.

Some twenty-five years ago I was a curate in the Parish of Our Lady of La Salette in Rainham, England, east of London. Over a period of several weeks I visited a man named Sydney who had been diagnosed with cancer. Each week I found him weaker.

Meanwhile, there was another parish staffed by La Salette Missionaries, in Dagenham, the next town to our west, and on Mondays at noon the priests of both parishes would get together for dinner at the rectory in Dagenham. One Monday the three of us in Rainham drove there, but after the meal two of us decided to walk the two and a half miles back home. After a while it began to rain lightly, and as we approached our destination, there appeared before us one of the most glorious rainbows I have ever seen. Sydney died that same day.

I decided to use the image of the rainbow to begin the homily at Sydney’s funeral: “On the day that Sydney died,” I began, “a magnificent rainbow was shining over Rainham.” I noticed as I said this, however, that his widow and her son looked strangely at each other; but I didn’t give it another thought until we were leaving the cemetery, and she asked me, “How did you know?” “About what?” I replied. “About the rainbow.” “I saw it.”

“No,” she answered, and then went on to explain. On the day before Sydney died, he had been unresponsive most of the day. Then he awoke and said to his wife, “I’ve just seen the most beautiful rainbow.” With tremendous compassion and courage she told him, “Go to the rainbow.” That was their last exchange. You can imagine the comfort she found in learning that there was just such a rainbow on the day he died.

A rainbow, you see, is not just a thing of beauty. It radiates not only color but hope. That is the point of today’s reading from Genesis. That is the point of the Apparition and the Message of Our Lady of La Salette.

June 7, 2017

By What Vision? The Attack on Marriage and Family

Family

Contemporary times have witnessed a continued and sustained attack against the traditional family. On the excellent EWTN DVD series, The Domestic Church, Dr. Joseph Atkinson of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family presents a lucid, God-centered vision of the family as a Domestic Church. The following is a partial excerpt of Dr. Atkinson's presentation from the first episode.

By What Vision?

We live in a world where the family is under attack. It is safe to say that the institution of both marriage and family has never been as threatened as it is today. In fact, its very survival as an institution is questionable. There is hardly a person reading this who is not touched by the disintegration of family life. It can take many forms; divorce, co-habitation, the acceptance of a contraceptive mentality, abortion, fatherless homes, the rejection of the faith and numerous other dysfunctions which plague and threaten to destroy family life all together.

Beyond these problems, as Saint John Paul II himself warned in Familiars consortio, there are strong forces in our society, which are actively seeking to change the very nature, structure, and meaning of both marriage and family: and even in some cases to eradicate them all together. This disintegration of marriage and family has not happened by accident. At one time, they were considered to be sacred institutions having profound spiritual meaning.

But within the last 40 years or so society has soundly rejected this Judeo-Christian understanding and replaced it with an increasingly materialistic one. Just look at the evidence: we destroy human life in the womb and think nothing of it, we kill the aged for convenience. The uniqueness and giftedness of man and woman as man and woman is rejected. Marriage is considered to be just a social contract, changeable at will, or rejected because it’s considered too oppressive. And for some, the very nature of marriage and family can be redefined by new laws in any way we want. This current situation has been accurately described as the culture wars.

There are competing visions of reality that seek to form society with the all too serious consequences which we do not like. Sadly, in the West at least, these forces often reject the spiritual dimension to life itself. And so, the basic question of this session is which vision of reality is going to prevail? Our greatest need at the moment is to capture afresh the biblical vision of the family. Why? Because the purpose and meaning of the family have largely been lost in our society, even among Christians, and we need to rediscover God’s vision for it.

Secondly, we need to discover the presence of God in our own families. Families, all our families, are so deeply fractured that people experience so many forms of brokenness. These wounds are often unacknowledged and go untreated. Thus, we need to find ways to open ourselves, our children and all our families to the healing grace of Our Lord.

Our aims and objectives over the next few weeks are clear. We will be dealing with several key topics, including: the family at creation, how did God create the family?, the relation of the family to the covenant, the salvific family of Abraham, who, as we will discover, is actually the father of us all. We’ll also see how the family plays out in both the Old and New Testament. We’ll see how Jesus’ Passion and the Holy Spirit transform our families. And we’ll look at each of us is meant to work out our salvation in the concrete terms of our own family lives, and we will see the great mystery that we are indeed parts of the body of Christ. Indeed, our families are meant to be the Domestic Church.

The topic for this session is “By What Vision?” Vision refers to the ability to see. It’s very important. If we do not see correctly we will fall and hurt ourselves. We need to be able to have good vision and to see correctly in order that we can live well. If this is important in our physical lives it is even more important in our spiritual lives. Why? Because, the vision that we carry, the vision that we have will determine how we live our lives and their outcome. Because of this, I would suggest that this session is perhaps the most important of the whole series – that we understand what a vision is and we ask ourselves “By what vision do we live?”

The Scriptures are clear about having a vision for life. If we do not have the Lord’s vision we will perish. But if we accept and live out his vision we will find genuine fulfillment as human beings. The Scriptures, in a very clear passage in Proverbs 29:18, has a reference to vision. It states this: “Where there is no vision, the people perish but the one who keeps the law is happy.”

March 12, 2017

Homily for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2017, Year A

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Icon of the Transfiguration, (Click here for today’s readings)

All of us know people who have retired to Florida or Arizona or California, or even people from points south who have retired to New Hampshire or Vermont. But none of them moved because God told them to.

Here we have Abram—at the age of 75, by the way—being told, by the Lord, to do what was unthinkable in his world, to leave country and family behind and go he knew not where. This was nothing like retirement. It was starting all over again. But he did it, because God made him a promise. The trade-off was this: God would gain a people who would worship him exclusively, and  Abraham, still childless at this point, would have more descendants than could ever be counted. God didn’t say it would be easy, and in fact it wasn’t easy for him or his descendants, down to this very day.

In Lent perhaps more than at other times we think of “doing something for God,” praying more, going to church more often, making a variety of sacrifices which, like the sacrifices of old, send up a pleasing odor to God. Why?

It’s not the guarantee of an easy existence. St. Paul encourages us to bear our “share of hardship for the Gospel.” That hasn’t changed, down to this very day. So, what’s the trade-off?

Now you will never find the word “trade-off” in the Bible or any liturgical prayer you will hear at Mass or elsewhere. It’s too inelegant, crass even. But we find the reality often enough.

The word used in the Liturgy is “exchange.” For example, there is this text in the Breviary for January 1st: “O marvelous exchange! The Creator of the human race, taking on a living body,... has bestowed on us his own divinity.” And we find the same reality without the word, at the offertory of every Mass, as water is added to the wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

At the Mass, then, we offer God bread and wine, and he offers us in return the Body and Blood of Christ. What about outside of the Liturgy?

Today’s Gospel helps us to understand this exchange. Not only did Peter, James and John get a glimpse of the glory that Jesus was destined for, but of the glory they were destined for as well.

St. Augustine in one of his sermons describes the exchange. He explains what the Son of God received from us by taking on our humanity, and what we received from him.

From us, he received a human body, that “flesh” which in the Scriptures is synonymous with weakness. From him, we received strength. From us, he received death; from him, we received life. He received insults, we received glory. And through the temptation he endured, he gave us victory.

There is of course an expectation on both sides of the bargain. He will guide and protect his own. We for our part need to put our trust in him, or as the voice from the cloud said: “Listen to him.” Like Peter and his companions, sometimes we do so with enthusiasm. “It is good that we are here.” And sometimes, as they were just moments later, we are “very much afraid.”

Today’s Gospel promises at least two things: the suffering and death of Jesus will not be the end; and, for his faithful disciples, suffering and death, inevitable as they are, will not be the end.

That’s a more than fair trade-off. That’s a “marvelous exchange”!

March 5, 2017

Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2017, Year A

The Transfiguration of Christ

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


God asked Abraham to leave his land, take everything and everyone with him and move to a new land. Later God asked Moses to take the Hebrews from Egypt into a promised new land. And Jesus? Well, He too had to leave Joseph and Mary back in Nazareth and begin his mission out on the road. Jesus once remarked: “The foxes have their dens and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” And when He was crucified and died, He didn’t even have a tomb of His own.

One of the hardest things I face as a priest is not having my own home, a place I can call my own. My only home is the Church. My only family is all of you… along with all of the other members of Christ’s family throughout the world.

Many people today experience homelessness. Lots of people, even young kids, live out in the streets. Many members of gangs belong to gangs because they are looking for family, for someone to belong to, for a “home” that they feel they never had with their moms and dads if, that is, they even know who their mothers were and know who their fathers are. A great deal of the trouble in the schools of our big cities comes from the countless numbers of children within them that have no place they can really call home, no family that they can truly call their own – except perhaps the gang that has accepted them and taken them in.

Many of us as adults and parents also feel like we are in a lot of ways strangers and exiles living in an alien and hostile culture, or environment, or world. Quite a few feel that it’s not possible to be a good Christian, or a total and complete Christian, or Catholic, and at the same time live in the sort of world in which we find ourselves. They feel like the standards of our culture are being “dumbed down,” that our laws and rules are being redefined so that people can do simply what they feel like doing. Many of us watch what we value as it is being de-valued in the world around us, a world in which we no longer feel at home, much less want to raise our children.

The feeling is not new; the feeling is, as a matter of fact, quite old. In a time when Christians were being hounded down, chased out of town, marginalized and even arrested and killed. St. Peter wrote in one of his Epistles that we must remember we are strangers living in exile, that our citizenship and our real home is not in this world but rather in God’s kingdom. St. Paul, too, wrote in one of his Epistles that “we have here no lasting city,” and that our citizenship is in heaven after our sojourn here in earth is ended.

Nevertheless, God wants us to have roots, to have a place, to belong. We all need a place in which we can find ourselves and a family in which we can belong. If we don’t have that we become very angry, act out, and engage in what is called “anti-social” and hostile behavior. In other words, in our rage at not belonging we end up attacking everyone around us.

One of the remarkable things about the Catholic Church is the fact that in it you belong no matter where you find yourself on the face of the earth. I have entered churches in many other parts of the world, participated in Masses in them, and instantly felt at home even though the language wasn’t English (or Latin, for that matter). It’s a wonderful feeling to enter St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican and be able to say: “This is my church!” I’ve entered great cathedrals all over Europe  and been able to say: “I feel at home here. This is my church. Jesus is here in the Blessed Sacrament. These people represented in statues stained glass windows are a part of my family and I belong to them just as they belong to me.”

Likewise we need to be able to respond to God the way others have when He called them to be about His tasks, to be about His purposes, to accomplish His work. Could you leave everything in back of you if He called you to make a radical change in your life? Like Abraham, you would have to leave your security and your familiar surroundings behind you. Sometimes God calls you to empty yourself in order that He might fill you with what He wants to give you. Could you do it?

There’s a story about a Sufi Master who was approached by a young man who wanted to be his disciple. To impress the Master the prospect went on and on and on about his academic achievements, his experience and about all of his accomplishments in serving and helping people. The Master listened in silence. Then while the young man was running on and on and on about all the he had done the Master began to fill a teacup with tea. When the cup was filled he kept filling it with more tea until it spilled all over. “Stop, Master!” cried the young man, “the cup can’t hold any more tea.”. To which the Master replied: “Neither can I teach you anything. You are too full of yourself now. Come back when you’ve made some room within you to hold a new thought.”

Abraham made new room for God. So did Moses. And Jesus totally emptied himself in order to be completely filled with God’s Holy Spirit.

We speak of Lent as a journey, a moving from one place to a new and better place. We follow in the footsteps of Jesus from Bethlehem where He was born, to Nazareth where He was raised, out into the desert, then to Jerusalem where He was crucified and died, and into the tomb in which He was buried, and then into the Garden of the Resurrection, the new Garden of Eden. One day we will follow in His path by joining Him in His Ascension into heaven along with the Assumption of His mother Mary who was also taken up from this alien world into the home God has prepared for us.

The tomb of Jesus is empty because the things of this world are all destined to turn into dust. Inside of them, all of the things of this world are as empty as the tomb of Jesus. Why? Because reality is something spiritual, not material. We are dust, and unto dust we shall return, along with all of the glitter of this world. Our citizenship and our home are elsewhere and our hearts will not rest until they rest in the home God has prepared for us.

Our hearts can experience some of that peace, some of that rest, right here in this church, in God’s house, in His Presence here in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Why not stop in here to be at home for a little while with Jesus, here in His house? Why not give your heart the love it seeks, namely to be here at peace and in union, in love, with the One for whom your heart was made by God in the first place?

To whom do I belong? Where is my home? Here at least, here in God’s house in the Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar, you will be strangers and exiles no longer. This is God’s house, and therefore it is your house, your home. This is where your family shares its Sunday meal and where, whenever we come here, we know at last we belong.

September 21, 2016

Reflection: Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Here is a reflection on this Sunday's Gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke:

SCRIPTURE: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.” Luke 16:19-24 (NIV)

TRANSITION: As a means to bring home a lesson from this scripture I would like to ask a couple of questions. Do you use or have used an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning? A lot of alarm clocks have a button on them called a snooze alarm. When your alarm goes off, you can hit that button and go back to sleep. In about ten minutes, the alarm will go off again. You can just keep on doing this and go right on sleeping.

God sound a wake-up alarm in our lives!

Did you know that God sometimes sounds a “wake up” alarm in our lives? He speaks to our heart and says, “It is time to wake up and follow me.” Some people hit the snooze button and say, “Not now Lord, call me again—a little bit later.” Some people hit that “snooze button” so many times that they get to where they don’t ever hear God’s voice. When they finally wake up, they find out that it is too late. That is what happened in our Bible story today.

Jesus told a story about a rich man who wore the finest clothes and lived in luxury. A beggar named Lazarus lay outside the rich man’s gate. Lazarus was hungry and his body was covered with sores. He was hoping that the rich man might have pity on him and that he might be able to satisfy his hunger with the leftovers from the rich man’s table. But every day the rich man passed by Lazarus without even giving him a thought. I imagine that he passed by Lazarus so many times that he eventually go to the point that he didn’t see him at all.

The Bible says that Lazarus died and went to heaven. The rich man also died, but he went to hell. In hell, he looked up and saw Lazarus in heaven with Abraham. He asked Abraham to let Lazarus dip his finger in water and come and touch it to his burning tongue, but Abraham sand, “No.” Then he reminded the rich man how he had enjoyed such good things on earth while Lazarus had nothing.

The rich man asked Abraham to allow Lazarus to go back to earth and warn his five brothers so that they would not end up in hell with him, but again, Abraham said , “No.” The rich man finally woke up, but it was too late.

Back to our alarm clock analogy.

God is sending “wake-up” calls to people today. Let us pray that we will listen to his voice and follow him before it is too late.

Dear Father, when you sound the alarm telling us it is time to wake up and follow you, many we never be guilty of hitting the snooze alarm saying, “Later, Lord.” Instead, let us rise up and follow you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

July 23, 2016

Fr. Butler's Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 24, 2016, Year C

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

Christ teaching the disciples to pray (Click here for today’s readings)

About 30 years ago I worked at a seminary. We had a librarian named Sr. Frances. Whenever she would remind me of something I had promised to do, I would answer, “In due time.” To which she always replied with a paraphrase of Luke 16:22: “In due time the beggar died.”

Most of us know the type. They ask for something. They remind us the next day. And the next, and the next... Until we do it, convenient or not, just to make it stop!

Today’s story of Abraham has a brief prologue that is not included in the lectionary.  “With Abraham walking with them to see them on their way, the men set out from there and looked down toward Sodom. The LORD considered: Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, now that he is to become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth are to find blessing in him? So the LORD said”—and here begins our text, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great,” etc.

God actually shows no impatience with Abraham. Not only doesn’t he “make it stop”, but as we have just see he sets the stage himself. He wants Abraham to intercede. We mustn’t think this discussion lasted only a few minutes. It not doubt followed a leisurely ancient Middle Eastern pace.

Note that Abraham asks nothing for himself, not even for his nephew Lot’s family.

Hearing the gospel, we might wonder: Didn’t the disciples know how to pray? They had the example of Abraham. They probably knew all the Psalms by heart. In fact, every phrase in the Lord’s prayer (except the promise to forgive as we are forgiven) has a correspondence in the Psalms. In Psalm 103, for example, we read: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him.” This is just like the fathers Jesus speaks of in the gospel, who know how to give good gifts to their children. Note that it is not a matter of just giving them what they want. No matter how much the child might want to play with a scorpion, no parent could grant that request.

We need to ask for the right things, for “good gifts.” In pleading for the remaining ten just people of Sodom, Abraham asked for a good gift. If the conditions had been right, God was ready to give it to him.

We would expect Jesus to say that the Father will give good things to those who know how to give good things to their children. That is in fact what we find in Matthew 7:11. But today’s gospel says that the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. This is similar to Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” There is a good gift that includes all other good gifts. That is the Holy Spirit. Or we might say the Holy Spirit is the criterion. Anything we ask for that the Holy Spirit dwelling in us can ask for is a good gift.

To sum up, in this long discourse on prayer Jesus reminds us who it is we are addressing (the Father), who we are (needy children), how to pray (persistently, insistently), and what to ask for (good gifts, most especially the Holy Spirit). It’s a lot more than just saying certain words.