Tag Archives: Easter

St. Boniface: A Homily

Boniface

Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’ Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them.While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy;and they were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24: 44-53.

He said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah* is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses* of these things.

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

          Good morning, good morning. And welcome to you all as we celebrate the feast of St. Boniface, a great saint of the Church. He was born somewhere around 675 A.D. in Wessex. At birth, he was given the name of Winfred, but later took the name of Boniface, probably when he was ordained a bishop. In 716, he set out as a missionary for Frisia, in modern-day Germany.

          There’s a wonderful old legend about St. Boniface. They say that one winter he came across some men who were about to offer up a child sacrifice to the pagan god Thor. Boniface stopped the murder of this child by going over to an oak tree and striking it. The tree fell to the ground. When all the snow, they saw a small fir-tree there. Boniface pointed to the tree, which was green in the dead of winter and announced, “That is the tree of life and this boy is to live not die.” He then pointed at the tree again and said, “This tree does not die in winter like others but lives and it symbolizes the eternal life offered to you through Jesus Christ.” He then noted that the shape of the fir-tree is triangular and thus represents the Trinity of God. Upon this declaration, the men repented and gave their hearts to Jesus and they spared the boy’s life.

          So, what’s the point of that story? You know, neuro-psychologists have described something called a perception bias. It’s sometimes called selective perception. It’s the tendency of the brain to seek out what it’s looking for, and to disregard all the other noise around it. It explains how we do those Where’s Waldo puzzles, and how the brain finds what it’s looking for and sets aside everything else. It explains why we see the good in people if we’re looking for it and why, if we go searching out the ways in which people can be selfish and cruel, we’ll find that, too.

          What does that have to do with the story about St. Boniface? I think it explains the reason St. Boniface saw eternal life in Christ when he looked at the evergreen fir-tree. And it explains why he saw the life of the Trinity when he noticed the triangular shape of the tree. He saw those things because he was looking for them. And that’s why St. Chrysostrom observed that unless you can see Christ in the face of the beggar on the street, you’ll never find Him in the chalice.

          And so, we come to today’s Gospel reading. This reading comes right after the story of the road to Emmaus. And we wonder, “Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus? How could they not see him, right beside them?” I think part of the answer is that they didn’t see Him because they weren’t looking for him. They thought he was dead; there was no reason to look for him. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, tells us, that we are to be his witnesses. We are to see and hear, and speak of what we’ve seen and heard: that Jesus is risen, that he preached repentance, and promised forgiveness. And that He’s still with us.

          So, what are we supposed to be looking for? He told us: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” If we follow Jesus, that’s our perception bias. I pray that we’ll look for it, because He promised that if we did, we’ll find it. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2014 James R. Dennis

The Feast of Mary Magdalene: A Sermon

Mary MagdaleneMary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18.

It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning as we celebrate the Feast of a great saint of the Church, Mary Magdalene. Magdalene: the first witness to the resurrection, Mary, who had her heart broken and then restored.  So, I thought I’d borrow very liberally this morning from a sermon first preached by Meister Eckhart, one of my Dominican brothers, around the thirteenth century.

“Mary stood at the sepulchre weeping ….”

A wonder that in such sore distress she was even able to weep. She stood there because she loved, she wept because she mourned. She approached and looked into the sepulchre. She was looking for a dead man: she found two living angels and the living son of God.

Origen says: “She stood – why did she stand when the Apostles had run away?’ Because she had nothing to lose. Everything she had was lost with Him. When He died, she died as well. When they buried Him, they buried her with Him. So she had nothing to lose.

She moved on. Then he met her. She thought it was the gardener, and said “Where have you put Him?’ Anxious for Him, she does not answer His question; just, ‘Where have you put Him?’ Those were her words. Then He showed her plainly Who He was. Had he announced Himself straight away while she was in the throes of longing, she would have died of joy.

If the soul knew when God would come to her, she would die of joy! – and if she knew when He would leave her, she would die of grief. She knows neither when He comes nor when He goes: she knows well when He is with her. It is said, “His comings and goings are hidden; His presence is no secret, for He is Light, and by its very nature Light is Manifestation.”

Mary sought God and only God. That is why she found Him, because she desired God and nothing else.

While we didn’t get to hear this part of the story, unlike the other gospels that begin the story of the resurrection at dawn, John begins this chapter “while it was still dark.” Of course, the opening phrase of John’s gospel is: “In the beginning.” John wants to take us back to the moment of creation, to another garden from which we were cast out. And the contrast of the darkness of a world without Jesus, and the light we encounter with Jesus: well, that’s quintessentially John.

It’s interesting to note that the very first words Jesus says in John’s gospel are a question directed to the followers of John the Baptist: “What are you looking for?” Here, Jesus repeats almost exactly the same question, asking “Who are you looking for?” It’s a question we should each consider. Who are we looking for? It’s also important that Mary does not recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. I’m wondering whether we can hear him calling our names as well.

In that moment as Jesus calls her name,”Mary”, she knows Him just as He knows his own. And she knows that death has not taken her teacher, her friend, that death has no claim on Him any longer, nor those who follow Him. And that morning, sadness had no more claim on her life, and I pray that it has no more claim on ours.

Mary saw it: the kingdom of God had broken into the world. The kingdom of God is coming into the world. The kingdom of God will come into the world. Amen.

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2013 James R. Dennis

A Study of Wisdom

     Augustine said:      “The wise will shine like stars and those who can make others wise will be bright with eternal splendour.”      “Feed your soul on divine readings; they will prepare for you a spiritual feast.”  
Jerome said:
     “It is much better to speak the truth clumsily than to wax eloquently with a lie.”
Gregory said:      “Wisdom is to fear God and keep far from evil.”
“The beginning of wisdom is to avoid evil:  the second stage is to do good.”
     “Whoever wants to understand what he is hearing must hasten to translate what he has already heard into action.”
     Isadore said:      “Simplicity joined with ignorance is called stupidity: simplicity joined with prudence is called wisdom.”

Defensor Gramaticus Book of Sparkling Sayings, 18

Again, I found this piece in today’s readings from Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  From a very early age, I have been attracted to the notion of wisdom, particularly as distinct (although not always separate) from intellect.  Wisdom seems to call for a special kind of “knowing”, and implies patience, simplicity, kindness, and carefulness.  In my experience, although intellect may be a personal quality, wisdom most often comes from community.

In the spiritual setting, that community involves listening creatively to the voices around us, including the voices of the past.  Holy Scripture, when read carefully, offers us the collective wisdom of the Church. That “great cloud of witnesses”, the saints who have gone before us, they get a vote, too.  Similarly, the we sometimes locate wisdom collective voice of the Church.

I particularly like the quotation from Gregory, suggesting that our notion of wisdom is always incomplete if we simply try and avoid evil.  Real wisdom lies in seeking out the good.  Rather than simply avoiding sin, we are called to make this world a better place:  alleviating suffering, helping out the poor, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and binding up the brokenhearted.  Perhaps there we will find wisdom, in the translation from a good idea to a committed heart.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

A Study of Wisdom

Augustine said:
     “The wise will shine like stars and those who can make others wise will be bright with eternal splendour.”
     “Feed your soul on divine readings; they will prepare for you a spiritual feast.”
Jerome said:
     “It is much better to speak the truth clumsily than to wax eloquently with a lie.”
Gregory said:
     “Wisdom is to fear God and keep far from evil.”
     “The beginning of wisdom is to avoid evil:  the second stage is to do good.”
     “Whoever wants to understand what he is hearing must hasten to translate what he has already heard into action.”
Isadore said:
     “Simplicity joined with ignorance is called stupidity: simplicity joined with prudence is called wisdom.”
Defensor Gramaticus
Book of Sparkling Sayings, 18

Again, I found this piece in today’s readings from Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  From a very early age, I have been attracted to the notion of wisdom, particularly as distinct (although not always seperate) from intellect.  Wisdom seems to call for a special kind of “knowing”, and implies patience, simplicity, kindness, and carefulness.  In my experience, although intellect may be a personal quality, wisdom most often comes from community.

In the spiritual setting, that community involves listening creatively to the voices around us, including the voices of the past.  Holy Scripture, when read carefully, offers us the collective wisdom of the Church. That “great cloud of witnesses”, the saints who have gone before us, they get a vote, too.  Similarly, the we sometimes locate wisdom collective voice of the Church.

I particularly like the quotation from Gregory, suggesting that our notion of wisdom is always incomplete if we simply try and avoid evil.  Real wisdom lies in seeking out the good.  Rather than simply avoiding sin, we are called to make this world a better place:  alleviating suffering, helping out the poor, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and binding up the brokenhearted.  Perhaps there we will find wisdom, in the translation from a good idea to a committed heart.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Standing on Holy Ground

 

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”  But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations. Exodus 3:1-15.

I found this reading in the Daily Office for today.  The passage begins with Moses engaged in an everyday sort of task.  He’s tending to his father-in-law’s flock; he’s working.  Moses has not set out on a spiritual journey, he hasn’t gone into the desert to retreat and encounter the Infinite.  Like most of us, God confronts Moses when he’s busy trying to do something else.

We should also note that Moses is pretty much homeless when this remarkable event happens.  Although an Israelite child, he was adopted by the Egyptians and lived among them until he killed an Egyptian overseer.  He runs away from the wrath of Pharoah into the land of Midian.  And as we know from the balance of the story, Moses will spend the bulk of his life wandering.  (It’s a bit ironic that he ends up finding a homeland for his people, but not for himself.)  In fact, Moses offers a revealing glimpse into himself when he says, “I have been an alien living in a foreign land.”  Gen. 2:22.  I think lots of folks feel that way, constantly looking for a home.

As Moses encounters this burning bush, YHWH tells him to remove his sandals because he is standing on holy ground.  The removal of one’s sandals not only signifies that one has arrived at a sacred space, but also (within many cultures) suggests that one has entered a home.  Therefore Moses, the wanderer, finds his home with the Lord.

Two questions from this passage echo into each of our lives, and will shape the course of our faith.  The first is the question Moses asks of the Lord:  “Who am I?”  Moses wants to know his own authority to preach truth to power, and it’s a question most of us have faced at one time or another.  Who am I to be God’s voice in this troubled world?  Who am I to speak out against something that’s wrong?

We should find the second question equally troubling, and equally determinative for us.  Moses asks the Lord (the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of our ancestors), “Who are you?”  Moses wants to know exactly what he’s going to tell people about who he met in the burning bush.  He wants to understand the Almighty; he wants to know God’s name.

The answer Moses heard, “I AM WHO I AM,” probably didn’t leave him completely satisfied.  The name “I AM” obviously conjures up so many of Jesus’ “I am” statements (the bread of life, the light of the world, the good shepherd, etc).  In this case, however, we might find particular encouragement in Jesus’ assurance:  “I AM with you always, even to the end of the age.”  Matt. 28:20.

Many of us still hear the reverberations of these two questions, “Who am I?” and “Who is God?” As we begin to answer them, I think we may find the story of Moses even more rich.  Once Moses begins to understand the answers (a rudimentary and incomplete understanding) God immediately sends him on a mission.  In Moses’ case, the mission involves confronting Pharoah and leading the people into Israel as God saves His people.  In our case, that mission may be completely different.  But only through that journey, which will last for the rest of his life, will Moses come to more fully understand who God is and who Moses is.

The journey leads him to a deeper understanding of YHWH, which leads him to a deeper understanding of himself, which leads him further along the journey.  I believe that’s part of the reason why the Exodus became the overarching narrative of the Jewish people, and why it remains so important today.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

The Gift of Peace

     You cannot acquire the gift of the peace if by your anger you destroy the peace of the Lord.
     True patience is to suffer the wrongs done to us by others in an unruffled spirit and without feeling resentment.  Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.
     True patience grows with the growth of love.  We put up with our neighbours to the extent that we love them.  If you love, you are patient.  If you cease loving, you will cease being patient.  The less we love, the less patience we show.
     If we truly preserve patience in our souls, we are martyrs without being killed.

                                            –Gregory the Great, Defensor Gramaticus

I found this bit of wisdom in the reading for today in a wonderful little book, Drinking From the Hidden Fountain:  A Patristic Breviary.  Pope Gregory I wrote the reading for today.  The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox faith, the Anglican Church and some Lutheran churches recognize Gregory as a saint.  The first pope to spring from the monastic tradition, he is the patron saint of musicians, students and teachers.

Gregory was born around 540 A.D., and lived in very tumultuous times for the Church which included the defeat of the Roman Empire by the Goths, famine and a plague that killed over a third of the population.  The papacy was virtually forced on Gregory, who longed for the monastic life.  Although he was deeply interested in and involved with the liturgy, Gregory probably had no substantial involvement with Gregorian chant which bears his name.  (Gregorian chant was first written down in the early 9th century.)  He made extensive use of the title servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God) in official documents, revealing a deep and abiding humility.

In this short little selection from Gregory, we see a hint of his humility and catch a glimpse of why he was so deeply loved and revered.  Gregory points out how deeply our anger undermines the peace we so desperately long for and need.  Yet although we want peace in our lives, we just aren’t willing to let go of our anger and resentments.

He encourages us to turn to the ancient Christian virtue of patience.  St. Paul recognized patience as one of the gifts of the Spirit.  Gal. 5:22.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote:  “Patience is one of the humble, workaday virtues; but it is, in a real sense, the root and guardian of all virtues, not causing them, but removing obstacles to their operation. Do away with patience and the gates are open for a flood of discontent and sin.”

Long before psychology taught us about passive/aggressive behavior, St. Gregory described it:  “Patience bears with others because it loves them; to bear with them and yet to hate them is not the virtue of patience but a smokescreen for anger.”  Most anger arises from a lack of patience.  In fact, many of our intemperate statements begin:  “I’ve just about lost my patience with . . . . (insert the object of our rage here).”

Our impatience usually carries with it either an implicit message of our moral superiority or wrongs that we cannot or  will not release. We are so anxious to claim the moral high ground that we forget that Jesus blessed the poor in spirit and the meek rather than the righteously indignant. Patience requires the understanding that although our brothers and sisters may not yet be the people God intends them to be, neither are we.

St. Gregory correctly showed us the link between patience and love.  Again, Paul had noted this link in Scripture, writing:  “Love is patient; love is kind.”  Learning to love means learning and practicing patience.  Admittedly, it’s not my strongest gift, but I know that if I want to create a peaceful life and a peaceful world, that path begins with patience.

Pax Christi,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

A New Song

Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

The LORD has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

 Sing to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.

 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.

Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

 Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.

 In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.  Psalm 98.

The Psalm from today’s Lectionary offers us the perfect message as we near the end of the Easter season.  The Psalmist calls for every person, every nation, and all of creation to rise up in a joyful song of being known and loved by the God of Israel. We need “a new song” because God has done something new, something out of our experience.  Even the rivers will clap their hands as God’s judgment will set creation right.

The Sabbath, the day of rest, offers both Jews and Christians the principle occasion for giving praise to God.  Praise is a funny thing; it is not particularly useful and does not accomplish any particular thing.  Praise, therefore, is not a means to an end.  Rather, praise is the end.  We join together to acknowledge God and give Him thanks for no particular reason other than He is God.  And somehow, in that simple act of gratitude, the Psalmist tells us we will find our joy.

One of the reoccurring ideas in this psalm is the Lord’s “victory”, also sometimes translated as “salvation”.  In the original Hebrew, the word is Y’shua or yeshua.  That word is the basis for the name of the old Testament hero Joshua, and is anglicized as “Jesus.”  Viewed through a Christian lens, this psalm speaks of the victory God has won, offering us a wonderful Easter message.

Walter Brueggeman has observed, “In this literature the community of faith has heard and continues to hear the sovereign speech of God, who meets the community in its depths of need and in its heights of celebration. The Psalms draw our entire life under the rule of God, where everything may be submitted to the God of the gospel.”

In the life of Christ, God sang a love song to all of creation, a song through which all creation was made new.  This psalm invites us to share in that song, replying to God’s song with great gladness.  My prayer for all of us is that we join in that new song, in that love song, with happy voices and glad hearts.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis