The Solemnity Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (November 22, 2015)

The Church’s year of prayer and worship ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King.

The great promise of God’s revelation as described in the Bible is that God would send a king who would establish a kingdom in which God’s law, that is, his justice would prevail throughout all of creation. Before this King and Kingdom, all the dark forces that oppose God, the powers of sin, death and the devil would fall and ultimately be defeated and the corruptions of evil that cause so much misery would be overcome.

The great king and kingdom of the Old Testament, that of King David and the Kingdom of the Israelites, was considered to be a foreshadowing of God’s king and God’s kingdom, but that king and kingdom went the way of all earthly things- corruption, decline and fall.

This left the Israelites longing for something more, for a king and kingdom greater than any that the world provides and promises.

The great revelation of Christ the Lord is that God himself becomes the King and establishes his Kingdom, a kingdom unlike the kingdoms of the world- this kingdom makes its appearance in the world in the Church, in saints and in sacraments, in self-sacrifice and in service. It is the revelation of Christ and his Kingdom that signals to us that God has come into the world to deal with all that opposes him- to offer forgiveness of sins, salvation from death and redemption from the devil.

His victory is revealed in the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection and it is in the revelation of his resurrection that his disciples see that God and his Kingdom are now here, in this world, and we are now given the opportunity to live, not as slaves to sin, not in fear of death, and not in bondage to the devil, but as the children of God the King. But in this regard, we must make a decision…

This decision is whether we are for or against Christ the King, and if we are for him, whether or not we are willing to live in the manner that he asks us to live. The way of life he gives us is not accepted in the abstract or as merely ideals or emotions, but in very real practices, in very real relationships and very real decisions.

This way of life is embedded and embodied concretely in the Church.

Living for or against the Church is an extension of our decision for or against Christ. What Christ offers to us is not a matter for debate, but a matter for our decision. And in terms of Christ and the Church, you can’t have one without the other- you can’t have the King without also having his Kingdom.

St. Ignatius of Loyola put this all succinctly and starkly in his Spiritual Exercises as a decision for Christ or the devil.   You can’t serve both you will either love one or hate the other. All Christians are faced with this decision and while many will postpone or try to evade it, you can’t postpone or evade your decision for Christ indefinitely. Not to decide is to have made your decision and it means your decision is no.

On this, the last day of the Church’s year of praise and worship, we are reminded that Christ is our King, and if we truly accept him as such, we have a life changing decision that we have to make.

Christ the King chooses us (this is his decision) but will we choose him?

Christ offers us his Kingdom, but are we willing to accept responsibility for it, or will we choose instead to languish in fallen kingdoms of our own making…

Not to decide is to decide.

Now is the moment of decision.

christ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time (November 19th, 2015)

This week the Church presents excerpts from the Old Testament Book of Maccabees. The Book of Maccabees describes a terrifying conflict as the Israelites are afflicted with a civil war that leads to the invasion of their lands by the armies of the Greek overlord, Antiochus Epiphanes.

Antiochus Epiphanes seizes control of the city of Jerusalem and imposes martial law on the Israelites, compelling them to perform public acts of obeisance to his authority, acts which meant that the Israelites would have to not only deny their cultural and religious heritage, but worse, they would have to blaspheme God and commit sacrilege.

Many of the Israelites resist and this results in a great and terrible war.

The heroes of the Book of Maccabees are those who resisted, even to the point of death, rather than comply with laws that would compel them to deny their faith in the God of Israel.

Yesterday we heard about the death of a courageous man named Eleazar, who died, rather than violate the dictates of the Law of Moses. Today we hear another tale of resistance. A man named Mattathias kills agents of king Antiochus Epiphanes who are compelling the Israelites to worship false gods. The violence is just escalating!

What are to make of these texts?

One way is to read today’s text spiritually, and in the context of an overarching theme of the entire Bible- the danger of worshipping false gods. The “capital” sin of the Bible is idolatry and the false gods of the Bible do not just have the form of mythological beings created out of stone or metal. Instead the most dangerous of the false gods are created out of our own desires- desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

The gods we create out of our desires for these things are utterly monstrous and they consume the life out of our souls.

The false gods created out of desires must be resisted, if not, the false gods we create will undermine and destroy us.

The violence of the Book of Maccabees is unsettling. It is also not unique in terms of the Bible. The Bible is a “book of battles”, as it tells not just the story of God, but the story of humanity and human relationships are wrought and riven by conflict.

The violent stories of the Bible do not justify our violence, but compel us to contend with the truth of the human condition. The world can be a dangerous place. Sin, death and the devil are not abstractions, but realities that afflict us. Christians are not to be lost in a fog of idealism, but are to be fully immersed in the reality of human experience. This immersion in reality necessitates that we be honest about not only the great good that we are capable of, but evil as well.

Eventually, the rebel Israelites will prevail over Antiochus Epiphanes and drive him out, but this will not end the afflictions of the Israelites. There will be new overlords who will demand the obeisance of the Israelites. The bloody war of the Maccabees prepares the way for the Romans.

This is the situation that afflicts the Israelites during the time of Christ’s revelation, and it is Christ’s concern in his Gospel for today.

Christ is realistic about Rome and its power. Eventually, the Israelite resentment towards Roman rule will lead to a violent confrontation and another bloody war.

Christ foresees that this confrontation will lead to the Israelites’ defeat and a situation worse than that of the catastrophe of 587 BC, when the Babylonians brought the Kingdom of David to a disastrous end.

Christ the Lord’s prediction comes to pass in 70 AD, when the Romans invade Jerusalem and raze the city and the temple to the ground.

God in Christ had revealed that despite this catastrophe, a new kind of Israel would endure, and that this new Israel would have within itself the power to outlast worldly empires, not by force of violence, but by a love that manifests itself in self-sacrifice, in a willingness to forgive, in aligning itself with the vulnerable and by bestowing mercy, even on those for whom that mercy may not be deserved.

When the Church, in her saints and martyrs proves herself capable of all this, we are the New Israel that Christ promised would have the power to bring his peace into the world.

hanukkah-maccabees-painting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time (November 16th, 2015)

The ancestral lands of the Israelites have been, for many centuries occupied and contested territory. It was only for brief periods of time that the Israelites lived without fear of invasion or free from the tyranny of foreign overlords.

In 587 BC, the Kingdom of David came to an end, and the Israelites were driven from their ancestral lands by the Babylonians, forcing the population into exile and slavery. Around 539 BC, the Persian empire supplanted the Babylonians and allowed Israelites to resettle their ancestral lands, but only if they understood themselves to be subjects of, and the land the possession of, the Persian emperor. The Persian Empire fell to the armies of Alexander the Great and this basically gave control of the Israelites and their territory, after Alexander the Great’s death to Greeks, first the Ptolemies and then, around 200 BC to the Seleucids.

Around the year 175 BC, a Seleucid by the name of Antiochus Epiphanes was in control of the Israelite territory and he made the error of deposing the High Priest Onias and replacing him with a man named Jason, an act that provoked a civil war. A period of violent tribulation began in which Jason was later deposed by a man name Menelaus, who had Onias killed, and was later deposed by Jason. With the entire Israelite territory torn apart by violence, Antiochus and his armies invaded and occupied the city of Jerusalem. The temple was desecrated and martial law imposed. Laws forcing Israelites to abandon their rituals and customs were enforced and Israelites were compelled to conform to Greek culture.

This is the historical background of the Old Testament texts the Church will present to us at Mass for coming week. The first reading will be a passage taken from the Book of Maccabbees, which is the story of how the Israelites resisted and eventually overcame the persecution of the Antiochus Epiphanes.

The meaning of these scriptures for us is not limited to mere historical details, but they should provoke a serious consideration of the relationship of our own profession and practice of the Christian faith to the politics, economics and culture of our own time. Politics, economics and culture are not neutral realities and at times compel faithful believers to a decision to stand against the prevailing politics, economics or culture of a given age.

There are always elements of politics, economics, and culture that the Church can appropriate, but the Church cannot compromise the commandments of God or the integrity of the Apostolic Faith.

At times, the Church must stand against a culture or political or economic system and when this happens, and it has happened often in the past, Christians have to be courageous.

We live in a culture that permits a significant measure of freedom in regards to our profession and practice of the Church’s Faith, but this is not the case for many of the world’s Christians, and for many Christians, the stories of the Maccabees do not simply describe the past, but their own present experience.

The reality that so many Christians live in oppressive situations and in fear of violence should cut us to the heart. We might have been spared such tribulations, but the Body of Christ, of which we are a part, suffers greatly.

We should keep this in mind in terms of what we think the priorities of the Church should be and whether or not, we have become, in Pope Francis’ words, “closed in on ourselves” and unable to see the bigger picture of the lived experience of most of the world’s Christians. The affluence and securities that protect us, often narrows our vision, and this creates it’s own kinds of troubles for the Church.

It is easy for our vision of the Church to become distorted and the practice of our faith self-interested. We risk ignoring the demand of love in the immediacy of our lives and the urgency of the call to serve Christ. Life as a disciple can be construed as getting from the Church what we believe that we rightly deserve, rather than making of our lives a sacrifice in imitation of Christ.

The mission of the Church is not a project of our own making, but it happens in our willingness to do what Christ asks us to do. Mercy is not an idea or abstraction, but is embodied in very real practices of life that we cannot delegate away to social service agencies or government programs. If we do not listen to and speak up for persecuted Christians, what reason will we give to the Lord Jesus for our indifference and silence?

The Church is not a clubhouse, it is, to quote Pope Francis, a field hospital and for many Christians the wounds they bear are the tortures and torments of persecution.

In this regard, we are compelled to ask ourselves how we are preparing ourselves to leave the clubhouse behind and get to work in the field hospital.

Make sure to “like” Fr. Steve’s facebook page.

St_Peters_square_(420074147)

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 15th, 2015)

Today’s scriptures are all strange and mysterious. Hidden messages and meanings are tightly wrapped up in symbols and metaphors. Taken literally, they are ominous, even threatening, suggesting hidden secrets regarding the end of the world.

The first reading is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, which is one of the weirdest books of the Bible. It is a kind of “mash up” of action/adventure stories regarding a hero of the Israelites named Daniel, who endures all sorts of life threatening and death defying challenges, along with bizarre predictions that seem to insinuate an imminent political catastrophe that is going to shake the foundations of civilization.

Today’s scripture gives us just a small taste of this, with references to Michael the archangel fighting on behalf of the Israelites in a war that seems to culminate in a zombie apocalypse, with the dead rising from their graves to walk the earth and the righteous ascending into heavens.

What the heck?

It’s hard to make sense of any of this in the limited time allotted for a homily. I’ll try.

The archangel Michael was understood by the author of the Book of Daniel as a guardian spirit of the Israelites, a spiritual power that was assigned with the duty of protecting the Israelites against the false gods worshipped by other nations, who were understood by the Israelites as being demonic powers. The Book of Daniel is foreseeing a time of momentous tribulation in which the spiritual and earthly powers will be engaged in a struggle, the outcome of which will decide the destiny of the world. The battle of earthly nations will be an expression of a battle between the powers of heaven and hell, ending with victory of the forces aligned with God (represented by the archangel Michael) and the vindication of the righteous and their exaltation in heaven.

Where or when will all of this take place?

You have to look deeper into the Book of Daniel to find an answer to this question. It seems that the author of the Book of Daniel believed that this conflict would take place after the collapse of several worldly kingdoms and after the collapse of the last of these kingdoms, the rule of the God of Israel over the world would begin. In other words, the God of Israel would launch a massive counter offensive against those worldly and spiritual powers that had opposed him. Those Israelites, who had long suffered the oppression of these worldly and spiritual powers, who aligned themselves with the God of the Israelites would then share in all the benefits of God’s victory, ruling with him over the world.

This might all sound way to fantastic to our modern minds to be worthy of belief, but the strange visions of the Book of Daniel were enormously influential for the Israelites who lived during the time of Christ’s revelation and also for the first Christians. Many Israelites interpreted the bizarre imagery of the Book of Daniel and took it all to mean that the conflict described in that text was about to take place. Thus, when Christ employs imagery and language from the Book of Daniel (as he does in today’s excerpt from the Gospel of Mark and throughout the Gospels) he caused quite a stir. Christ himself confirms in the Gospel that the expectations concerning the Book of Daniel were not misplaced, and were in fact about to be fulfilled. The great war between heavenly and earthly powers, the victory of the God of Israel over his enemies was very close to happening- and in fact, those living during Christ’s revelation would be alive when it all happened.

With this in mind, it might be easier to understand the reason the political and religious leadership of the Israelites were very nervous about what the Lord Jesus was saying and doing. If all the Lord Jesus had been preaching and teaching was a self help program or a benevolent ethical truths they wouldn’t have cared. But that wasn’t what the Lord Jesus was doing- what Christ was doing was announcing that the God of the Israelites had come, and as the Book of Daniel has foreseen, he had come for a fight.

Throughout the Gospels, we hear testimony that God’s coming into the world signaled that now was the time for the faithful Israelites to align themselves with the God of the Israelites, and this meant aligning themselves with the Lord Jesus.   The battle was about to begin and you would have to choose sides.

This is the frightening meaning of today’s Gospel. Christ is referencing the Book of Daniel and he is saying that what that biblical text foresees is about to take place. Christ’s proclamation of the “kingdom of God” is not, as so many people today construe it, as a message of personal spiritual illumination that happens in ideas and feelings, but that God’s very real kingdom is coming to earth and once that kingdom arrives, the whole world is going to change. Imagine now being a representative of those worldly powers ruling the Israelites, like the Romans or those responsible for public and religious order in the society, like the temple priests, and you hear about the Lord Jesus attracting huge crowds with a message about the prophecies of the Book of Daniel being fulfilled and him being instrumental to their fulfillment. Imagine all that and you get a better idea as to why they understood what the Lord Jesus was saying and doing to be so dangerous and why they later arrested him and had him tortured and killed. They were not upset with the Lord Jesus because he preached forgiveness of enemies or healed the sick, or because he was inclusive and advocated sharing, (who cares?!) but because he interpreted these things as signs that foreshadowed the coming kingdom of God and with that kingdom coming, what was also coming was God’s battle against the worldly and spiritual powers that opposed him.

If all this shocks you, it is likely because you have become accustomed to an image of the Lord Jesus “meek and mild”, a religious philosopher and social reformer- not the real Lord Jesus who came to announce that God had come to set right a world gone wrong and had come into this world for fight.

Christ’s disciples witnessed the culmination of all this in Christ’s arrest, crucifixion and death, which they understood as being the beginning of the actual battle symbolically described in the Book of Daniel. The fear that Christ’s disciples manifest as they witness the torture and death of the Lord Jesus is not just about their own self-preservation, but the fear that the God of the Israelites had been defeated by dark and fallen spiritual and worldly powers.  If this was true, it was truly the end of the world and the worst possible outcome.

The disciples of the Lord Jesus first thought that the victory they had anticipated had been lost and with the God of Israel, defeated and dead, the world now belonged to the opposition.

This perception changed with the revelation of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, in which they witnessed the victory of God, and accepted the responsibility to let everyone in the world know about it. When Christ speaks today about the revelation of the “Son of Man” (which is an image from the Book of Daniel of the strange heavenly person through which God will be victorious) he is speaking about the revelation of his resurrection and ascension, through which God proves his victory after the great and terrible battle. The first Christians saw this victory in Christ’s resurrection and ascension and knew that the world that had ended had been the one controlled by the devil, what they thought had been the worst possible outcome, was actually the absolute best outcome!

The first Christians announced that God in Christ had been victorious and also began living in such a way that would demonstrate to the world that they were allies of the victorious God in Christ and they called this way of life the Church, which they understood to be the worldly expression of the very real and very earthly kingdom of God. Through their announcement, the first Christians knew that they were claiming territory from the powers of the world. The world was now Christ’s territory and the Church was a sign to the world of who precisely the world belonged to- not Caesar and his successors, not the devil and his minions, but God in Christ.

The first Christians were so radical in their commitment to Christ and courageous in the face of opposition because they had seen and believed in Christ’s resurrection and ascension and as such they were willing to stare down the threats of the worldly, even the threat of torture and death, with a confidence that came from knowing that they were allied with God in Christ who could restore bodies broken by torture and raise people from the dead.

It was because of what they claimed about God in Christ being the real ruler of the world that the same worldly and spiritual powers that opposed Christ, opposed the first Christians, and still oppose the Church today. The Church doesn’t have martyrs because we build and maintain schools, hospitals and social service programs, after all, all these things can be used by worldly powers to advance their own agendas. The Church has martyrs because her very existence signals that the world really and truly belongs to God.

Some of you might be thinking, what does any of this have to do with your own life and the answer to that question might first be that you have to stop pretending that the Lord Jesus is nothing more than meek and mild and that the Church is just some kind of faith-based club. None of the first Christians believed this and if we have settled for this kind of distortion, we have settled for a corruption, an anti-Christ and an anti-Church.

The real Christ and real Church is much more dangerous and unsettling and believing in the real Christ and the real Church means that you will accept at times a dangerous and unsettling kind of life- one that necessitates risks and may just get you into a fight.

The risk and the fight would look in your own life like Christ’s cross.

And that’s as frightening, strange and mysterious as anything in the weird Book of Daniel.

Guido_Reni_031

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time (November 14th, 2015)

Today’s scripture passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom is a poetic summation of the story of the Israelite’s dramatic exodus from Egypt. Remember, the Israelites languished for many years as a persecuted and enslaved minority, prisoners of the god-king of the Egyptians called the Pharaoh. The God of the Israelites defeated the false gods of the Egyptians, including the Pharaoh, and God’s victory allowed the Israelites to return to their ancestral homeland.

God’s victory over the gods of the Egyptians and the return of the Israelites to their homeland was celebrated in ritual, song and story and you heard an example of this solemn commemoration today.

The liberation of the Israelites from the thrall of the false gods of the Egyptians is understood by the Church as a foreshadowing of Christ’s victory over the fallen powers of sin, death, the devil and all their worldly conspirators. The victory of God in Christ frees his disciples from living in bondage to these fallen spiritual and worldly powers and open up for all the possibility of a new way of life. This new way of life is for the Christian the route of access to our true homeland that is heaven- communion with God.

The paths to heaven take us through this world and the world prepares us to receive heaven. The journey through this life is a necessary, though at times difficult one. It prepares us, like the training of an athlete for competition, for our heavenly mission. Now is the time of our liberation and our exodus, a liberation and exodus that we celebrate in ritual, song and story in the worship of the Church called the Mass. The Mass, in its deepest significance and profound mystery, is our participation in the here and now of our heavenly homeland that is yet to come.

Last week, Christ the Lord employed an image of worldliness, that of a shrewd man who through his cunning saves himself from financial ruin. This image is used by Christ as a means of contrasting the indolence that afflicts too many disciples with the sense of urgency that characterizes the worldly in their aspirations. Threatened with the loss of faith, hope and love what will the believer do? Too often we do little or nothing.

Today, Christ the Lord employs another worldly image, one of a corrupt magistrate finally worn down by the persistence of a woman who wants the judge to rule in her favor. Finally the magistrate gives in, not because he cares the least for the woman or her cause, or even for the sake of justice, but because the woman is admirable in her persistence.

The quality of persistence is so often manifested in our pursuit of worldly attainments. Consider the effort people will employ to accomplish worldly goals, what people will willingly undergo for wealth, pleasure, power and honors? But what about truly spiritual attainments? What is the quality of our persistence in terms of the attainments of faith, hope and love? How easy we give up in these attainment of faith, hope and love! How often we refuse to aspire to virtue because such aspiration will not be easy!

When in today’s Gospel, Christ the Lord laments that when he returns will he find faith on earth, the object of his sorrow are all those who claim to be his disciples, even lay claim to the benefits of being a follower of Christ, but through a manifest lack of urgency and persistence, reveal that they don’t really follow him at all.

572e40f095187edff58727bb81656b32

Homily for Thursday, 32nd week of Ordinary Time (November 12th, 2015)

Today’s scripture passage from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom provokes us to imagine wisdom metaphorically, one of the Lord’s great gifts, personified as a great lady, a woman of formidable power.

This woman, Wisdom, invites us into relationship with her and through this relationship, she quickens in us the capacity to accomplish mighty deeds, works which manifest that the gift of wisdom is to be preferred to any other gift.

What is wisdom? Wisdom is not to be equated with practical skill, instead it is a capacity for discernment of the truth, particularly the truth which illuminates the meaning and purpose of human existence. The Bible insists that such discernment, such wisdom is only possible through a relationship with the one, true God who created all things and therefore is the giver of the ultimate answers to the deepest longings of our souls.

God’s Holy Wisdom is finally revealed to the world, not as a metaphor or as a personification, but as a living divine person, a divine person who accepts a human nature and lives a real, human life. This living divine person is the Lord Jesus Christ, who as reveals in his identity and in his mission the meaning and purpose of human existence. As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council testified, and Pope St. John Paul affirmed, it is Jesus Christ who fully reveals man to himself. This means that the truth about the meaning and purpose of our lives cannot be revealed simply in esoteric philosophies or self-help strategies or social service projects, but only in an encounter with the Living God whom we encounter in Christ the Lord.

The Church has as its mission to bear the living presence of the Lord Jesus into the world. She accomplishes this mission through the Sacraments and Works of Mercy, but also and especially through a personal invitation to know Jesus Christ.

The Christian who knows Christ has been given that relationship so that they can become a route of access to Jesus Christ for others. The Christian life only bears fruit and the Church only flourishes in her mission if those who claim to know Christ are willing to share the relationship they have with him with others.

Withholding from others the Holy Wisdom that imparts God’s answer to humanity’s longing for meaning and purpose is a terribly selfish thing to do. This happens when we privatize our relationship with Christ or when our concerns for institutions and causes end up making the Church into a private club, rather than a means of encountering the Lord.

Christ the Lord testifies to the revelation of the Kingdom of God.

What is this?

The Kingdom of God is literally God’s rule or sovereignty over his creation. The revelation of the Kingdom of God indicates that the worldly and spiritual powers that oppose God’s sovereignty or rule over his creation will be defeated.

When Christ testifies to the Kingdom of God, he is not just making reference to ideas or emotions, or to something spiritualized or otherworldly, but to something very real and with very real world implications for how people will live in this world.

The first and most important “sign” of the Kingdom of God is Christ himself. Christ is victorious over the worldly and spiritual powers that oppose God in his cross and resurrection (this is the meaning of Christ’s reference to the revelation of the mysterious “Son of Man” who will suffer and be rejected).

The Church is also a sign of the revelation of the Kingdom of God, particularly in the saints, who manifest in their heroic discipleship the victory of God in Christ.

The Christian who is truly Christ’s disciple manifests the revelation in the Kingdom of God by living in such a way that their way of life only makes sense if it is understood in relation to Jesus Christ. If we are truly conformed to Christ, we accept his sovereignty over our lives. Practically speaking this means that Christ, not our desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors, and not our political or economic and cultural commitments set the agenda for the way that we live.

Of course, this is not an easy way of life, and it necessitates taking risks and making sacrifices. The saints demonstrate to us how all this can be accomplished and reveal that living in relationship with Christ is not just an ideal, but is also a real world possibility.

As Christians we are not running about wily nily looking for the Kingdom of God, as some do in their pursuit of worldly philosophies and ideological agendas, we know that this Kingdom has arrived and it is here in this world, being brought to its fulfillment by Christ, active and working in his Church.

It is in the Christ, living and present in his Church, in his saints, that the Kingdom of God is among us.

comm_of_saints1

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (November 8th, 2015)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The First and Second Books of Kings detail the rise and fall of the Israelite Monarchy and reads at times like chapters that should be included in George R Martin’s “Game of Thrones”. The human pre-occupation with power (and its disastrous consequences) and the folly elevating politics to a quasi-divine status are both on full display. Eventually the weight of corruption brings the Kingdom of David crashing down, a fall from grace that was devastating in its impact.

The excerpt from the Book of Kings we heard today is about the prophet Elijah, who was one of the greatest and most fearsome of the Israelite prophets. Elijah was not just a speaker of God’s truths, truths he often expressed in threats and warnings, but he was also a wonderworker, whose power was manifested in both blessings and curses. Elijah was a force to be reckoned with and a corrupt king and his queen stood right in his path. The king was Ahaz and the queen was Jezebel, and both provoked the wrath of Elijah and would suffer terrifying consequences.

The lesson of the story of Elijah is simply and direct: Don’t mess with the prophets of the Lord.

Today’s story of Elijah presents the prophet seeking refuge with an impoverished widow and her son who are suffering because of a devastating famine. The two are at the limit of their food reserves and are literally preparing their last meal. Elijah begs the woman for some food and the woman, believing in the prophet’s assurances that the Lord would provide for their needs, surrenders the last of her food reserves to the prophet. As a result of this gift, Elijah works a miracle, multiplying the woman’s reserves of food so that what was a last meal, becomes enough food to feed the woman, her son, and Elijah for a year.

There are many directions that one can go in an interpretation of this story. One is that it is a moral exhortation, a story with a lesson, and in this case, a story about the benefit of treating the prophets of the Lord with deference and respect. Being kind to the prophets brings with it the promise of a reward.

Limiting the interpretation of this scripture to “be kind to the prophets” is not enough, for this story, like all the stories of the Old Testament, only really and truly yields up its meaning in relation to the revelation of Christ- of whom the prophet Elijah foreshadows, meaning, that in a mysterious way, Elijah is a kind of “stand in” for Christ in the story and when we accept this, the meaning of the story becomes very interesting.

Elijah is a stand in for Christ, whom we encounter in a world that is in the midst of a spiritual famine, a world that is starving for God, and without the necessary means to feed that hunger. Our own efforts to feed our souls are paltry and limited, as represented by the woman’s desperate food reserves. We haven’t the means to feed our starving souls and what we have leads us only to death. Into this situation comes Christ, who with a power greater than that of Elijah, transforms what we offer to him into something must greater- bread becomes his Body and wine becomes his Blood and with both Christ the Lord feeds our starving souls with the food of everlasting life.

This story of Elijah and the widow is a story that foreshadows the story of Christ and his Church, a story that we ourselves participate in each time our hungry souls gather for the Mass- for Holy Communion.

You see, we do not simply receive bread and wine at Mass, but the bread and wine that we offer is transformed by Christ into a reality much greater that anything ordinary and natural. What is offered as bread and wine is transformed by Christ into his Body and Blood so that what we receive in Holy Communion is life, and not just any life, but Christ’s own divine life.

The story of Elijah and the widow is meant to call to our minds the deepest meaning and most important purpose of the Mass, which is that Christ feeds our starving souls with his divine life and in doing so, saves and redeems us (just as Elijah saved the widow and her son from the famine and redeemed them from death, so also does Christ do this for us through Holy Communion).

The meaning and purpose of the Mass is also impressed upon our minds in today’s excerpt from the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews.

We have been listening to select passages from the Letter to the Hebrews for the past few Sundays. The Letter to the Hebrews is a lengthy essay about the identity and mission of the Lord Jesus- who he is and what he does, and it utilizes imagery from the temple worship of the Israelites to advance its presentation of who the Lord Jesus is and what his mission is all about.

Today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews references a sanctuary, that is a temple, that the Lord Jesus enters into as High Priest and from which he emerges with a gift for all humanity- this gift has the power to save us from sin and death.

All of this is mystical language, symbolic language, which explains how Christ the Lord acts during the Mass as our High Priest. You see, the worship of the Church is not merely some form of faith-based entertainment- it is not just stories and songs and sermons, but the Mass is something much more wonderful- the Mass is the privileged moment when Christ gives to us a gift that can save us from the power of sin and death, and this gift is his own life, his sacrifice, and this gift is given to us in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is during the Mass that Christ, the great High Priest, emerges from the sanctuary of heaven, and gives to his people his sacrifice- his divine life. This is what the Mass is for. This is what the Mass is about. The Mass, when reduced merely to entertainment, to songs, stories and sermons, quickly becomes boring.

Yet, when the Mass is allowed to do more for us than entertain us, the experience can become far more interesting. In this regard our expectations must change from the desire to be entertained (which may or may not happen) to the desire for Holy Communion with God in Christ.

The Bible has much to say about worship, especially the worship God wants. The kind of worship God wants, he reveals in Christ and Christ reveals this worship to us every time the Mass is offered. The Mass is the worship God in Christ wants. At times the faithful may be tempted to construct a worship that they feel would be pleasing to God, or worse, construct a worship that pleases our selves. This temptation is often times manifested in elevating an element of worship, like songs or sermons, which we “like” to a status they shouldn’t have. Elements of worship like songs and sermons are important, but they can only serve God, and be what he wants them to be, when they lead us to the Eucharist. When you leave Mass your take away should never just be “that was great music” or “that preaching was excellent” but instead “God in Christ give his life to me”.

Giving into the temptation of making worship into something God doesn’t want is very dangerous, for it ultimately deprives us of the very gift that God in Christ wants to give to us- his sacrifice- the gift of Holy Communion with his own divine life.

In his Gospel Christ identifies a gift that has little or no worldly value as being more significant and pleasing to God than gifts that the world would consider to be far more impressive. A poor widow’s nearly valueless pennies are esteemed by Christ as being of greater value than gifts of great extravagance and cost. What gives?

Christ is highlighting the sacrifice inherent in the contrasting gifts- the impoverished widow gives everything, while others give only something. The impoverished widow’s sacrifice is made in humility while others who give only something give not out of love, as the widow did, but out of an ulterior motive- the motive of making themselves appear important.

The great St. Therese of Lisieux once said that “love does not calculate” and there is great wisdom in this insight.

The widow Christ observes did not calculate the cost of her gift to herself- she made her sacrifice. So it is also with Christ. He does not calculate the cost of the sacrifice he makes for us, he makes his sacrifice, and for the sake of his love for us, his sacrifice is his own life.

The lesson of Christ’s Gospel is severe, especially for all of us who are willing to give only in the measure that what we offer is recognized or whether the sacrifice we make is ultimately for our own benefit.

Christ asks that we love without calculation and that we offer to him a sacrifice that is not just something, but everything…

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation