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Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter – Marking Fr. Michael’s 25th Ordination Anniversary

It was on the Seventh Sunday of Easter twenty five years that I first presided at the Liturgy of the Word and Eucharist, or in the Catholic vernacular: “said my first Mass”.  The previous day, on May 26 1990, the feast of St. Philip Neri, the founder of the Congregation of the Oratory, I stood before the bishop as he asked the candidates for holy orders:  Are you resolved to consecrate your life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite yourself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice? And, following the script,  I said:  I am, with the help of God.

A few moments later, I lay prostrate on the floor of the Cathedral sanctuary, my face literally in my hands, as the Litany of Saints washed over us: Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us, Saint Michael, pray for us, St. Peter and St. Paul, St. Perpetua and St. Felicity, St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St Philip Neri – pray for us –  and I simultaneously had two thoughts:  1) I cannot do this thing and 2) that through this thing God will somehow change the world.  When the bishop laid his hands on my head, and the procession of presbyters did the same, I experienced both comfort and trepidation.  Some pressed down firmly, perhaps to remind me of the responsibilities to come.  Others barely got their hands on my head and they were off, perhaps to reflect how quickly the Spirit can move and how transient the life of pries can be. At the end, there I was, a newly minted priest – in persona Christi, not for my own benefit but for the good of all souls.

Reflecting on that day 25 years ago, I now understand that whatever else was going on, that consecration was an act by which I was to be reshaped, by dying and rising, dying and rising again in the years to follow.

To say that my first year as a priest was everything I had not expected and was just short of a nightmare would not be an overstatement: No need for details. But as grace works, that experience pushed me to look for a way to frame things differently as a priest – to have a vision for possibility, and to live with joy.

When my ordination date was moved from May 12 to May 26 when someone forgot to book the cathedral for our ordinations, I decided I should get to know something about S. Philip. 16 months after my ordination, following another booking error, when the hotel room I was to have for a wedding in Virginia was not available, I met Fr. Dennis when we both stayed that night sharing the hospitality of mutual friends. He invited me to come and visit the Oratory in Brooklyn.  I did.

What impressed me at that time was not the beauty of the church; it was not as it is today.  Rather, what caught my eye was a sign that hung in the sacristy that read:  The life of a priest has never been easy.  It was that day that my Oratorian vocation was truly born.  Each time I came to visit the Oratory and took the train to Penn station and stood on the platform to take the A train to downtown Brooklyn, I felt like I was coming home.

By the inspiration of S. Philip, the truth I stand in today, is that when that fruit of the holy Spirit, joy, burns within us, all manner of things are not only able to be endured, but redeemed,  sanctified, and transformed.

This is what is at the core of Jesus’ great priestly prayer of today’s gospel by which he consecrates his disciples – in effect, he ordains them –  to be his presence in the world.

 I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.  I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.   I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.  They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.  And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

Those myriad hands, laid on my head 25 years ago sought to awaken me to what Jesus prays over us in the gospel today.  In the end you and I, we don’t really belong to all this, we are transients, pilgrims on the way, given to one another for the journey.  We must wrestle with the world as it is and take the knocks that come with it, even the knocks we give one another.   The key is to wrap it all in the joy of belonging to Christ, a joy that makes us complete, even as it demands much.

Supported by your prayers, with the love of my Oratorian brothers and with the help of God I am resolved to continue to consecrate my life to God for the salvation of his people, and to unite myself more closely every day to Christ the High Priest, who offered himself for us to the Father as a perfect sacrifice.

 I don’t know if I have another 25 years but whatever years God grants me, I will be here, wrestling with the world and praying to understand more fully what it means to live in joy.

When shall we begin to do good?

Homily on the Seventh Sunday of Easter
The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Ordination
Michael J. Callaghan, c.o.

 

What Does Easter Mean???

A good friend of mine who loves to text at all hours of the day—or night—which is one of the reasons I keep my cell phone on silent all the time—texted this question to me Holy Thursday morning: What does Easter mean to you?  I guess I was in a bit of a grumpy mood or maybe just thought ‘how the heck I am going to respond to the central belief of Christians for two millennia by text’?

So I cheekily texted back: bunny rabbits and chocolate. bunny_2522510b

I got no response which I guess was the appropriate response.  But the question of the text really nailed it.  What does Easter mean to me or any of us today two thousand years after the historical events we commemorate in the Easter celebration?

So here it is, this fundamental question about Easter (from my chair):

  • What does it mean?
  • How can we really believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?
  • For those who believe this, what impact might this have on our daily lives?

Witnesses, Missing Body and God’s Invitation

All four Gospels state that on the second morning after Jesus was laid in the tomb, it was women–Mary Magdalene and some others—who were the first to arrive there to care for the body of their beloved friend but that his remains were there. Now this would be a strange account for the male apostles to have concocted. In Middle Eastern society of the time, women were not regarded as reliable witnesses, and in a court of law a woman’s testimony was almost always heavily discounted. Why then would have the original followers of Jesus attributed such testimony, which was foundational to belief in Christ, to people whose testimony was so often disregarded?  Well, maybe because that was exactly how it happened.  Women were the first ones to find the empty tomb and they led others—the men—to come to see and believe that the Lord had been raised.

jesus-ressurection-1

The absence of the body does not de facto mean that Jesus was raised. Maybe the disciples went to the wrong tomb; or they lied about the missing body; or even maybe someone stole the body and hid it.

Yet if Jesus’ body had been available, it makes sense that those who opposed the teaching of Jesus’ resurrection would have found it to embarrass the disciples. If the body had indeed been taken by Jesus’ disciples or they had gone to the wrong tomb, the reality of Jesus’ body itself would have come to light and the location of his dead body would have put an end to all claims of resurrection.

Faith Grows from Freedom

But even if we can accept on an intellectual level, in our heads, that the resurrection of Jesus was not concocted and that there is a reasonable historical evidence that it was true, how can our hearts have faith in it, come to believe it in a way that is meaningful and transformative?  For this, let us go back to another fundamental Christian belief.

It is the firm conviction of the Church that God never overpowers, never pushes the human person into anything.  God always respects our freedom and is never manipulative. Nowhere is this more true than in what is revealed in the resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospels assure us that, like his birth, the resurrection was physical.  It was real.  And it was not just some alteration inside the consciousness of believers. After the resurrection, we are assured, Jesus’ tomb was empty, people could touch him, he ate food with them; he was not a ghost.  But his rising from the dead was not a brute slap in the face to his critics, a non-negotiable fact that left skeptics with nothing to say. In fact, it had the same dynamics as his birth. After he rose from the dead, Jesus was seen by some, but not by others; understood by some, but not by others. Some got his meaning and it changed their lives, others were indifferent to him, and still others understood what had happened, hardened their hearts against it, and then tried to destroy him and the message of hope and justice he was bringing into the world.

Notice how this parallels, almost perfectly, what happened at the birth of Jesus: The baby was real, not a ghost, but he was seen by some, but not by others and the event was understood by some but not by others. Some got its meaning and it changed their lives, others were indifferent and their lives went on as before, while still others (like Herod) sensed its meaning but hardened their hearts against him and all that for which his birth stood.

jesus in midst of disciples

What’s Love Got to do With It?

Why the difference? What makes some see the resurrection while others do not? What leads some understand the mystery and embrace it, while others remain in indifference or hatred?  As in most anything in life that has meaning, it is about love.

Love is in the eye.  When we look at anything through the eyes of love, we see correctly and properly appropriate its mystery. The reverse is also true. When we look at anything – or anyone –  through eyes that are cynical, jealous, or bitter, we will not see correctly, will not understand, and will not properly appropriate its mystery.

We see this in how the Gospel of John describes the events of Easter Sunday. Jesus has risen, but only the person who is driven by love, Mary Magdalen, goes in search of him. The others remain as they are, locked inside their own worlds. But love seeks out its beloved.  Mary Magdalene goes out, spices in hand, wanting to honor the body of her beloved friend. She finds his grave empty and runs back to Peter and the beloved disciple and tells them the tomb is empty.

MaryencountersJesus

Peter enters the empty tomb, sees the linens that had covered the body of Jesus, but does not understand. Then the beloved disciple, enters. He sees and he does understand. Love grasps the mystery. Love is the eye. It is what brought the first believers to lets us see and understand the resurrection and it is what brings us to that same reality today.

That is why, after the resurrection, some saw Jesus but others did not. Some understood the resurrection while others did not. Those with the eyes of love saw and understood. Those without the eyes of love either didn’t see anything or were perplexed or upset by what they did see.

May we have the eyes of love to see the resurrected Lord in our midst in the many ways the Risen Christ continues to come into our lives and hearts.

Risen_Christ

 From the Homily of Fr. Anthony Andreassi, c.o.
Easter Sunday at the Mass in Newman Hall
April 5, 2015

Does it matter how Jesus was born?

We come to the close of the season of the Church year marking the Nativity - Poverty of Jesus' Birth.jpg.opt277x439o0,0s277x439Incarnation of our Lord, at once a great mystery and a staggering reality.  Of particular note in the genesis of the marking of the feast, before a fixed date, or particular customs or a developed liturgy and until today, is that the Church has always clung to the poverty of the Holy Family and the birth of the Lord. There were only two ways to be in Palestine – subsistence living or not. Those beneath subsistence living were the lepers, beggars, diseased, abandoned.  While the law called for care for the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, as in our own day, there was a wide array of opinions as to what that meant. Jesus was born in poverty, a poverty of place that even in his own day would have been an unlikely choice for giving birth. Not only the conditions are poor but the birth is absent a home, family in attendance, assistance at the ready. Those who first attend are those among whom Jesus will live, the working poor, shepherds. During a dialogue in his public ministry it is to these lost sheep of the house of Israel that he tells us is called first to serve. His poverty is like theirs, not abject but persistent. His access to power is like theirs, non-existent. He works as a carpenter to keep a roof over head and food supplied.  There are no amenities. No laundries, no sewers, no medical advances.

Why does it matter that Jesus is born in poverty? In choosing to become flesh in such a way, God, the creator of all, the animating force of the universe, the God of the burning bush not consumed, the God of exodus of desolation and restoration, that same God is completely emptied of all pretense to power. This, of course, is heresy to those who cannot accept a self-emptying God.  To us Christians it means everything and it is the model for our lives. It is from this peripheral position, from the world’s viewpoint, that God chose to become one of us and save us. There is nothing obvious or direct about it and the path of salvation history continues not down the center of things but towards the margins, where the lives of most people are fashioned, lived and come to completion.  It is there, always there, that the Church must exist in its fullness if we are to be true to the core meaning of the Incarnation. Salvation from the margins, among the margins, and from there for all the world.

 

Fr. Michael, c.o.