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In the Light of the Master

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? James

Rejoice and be GladToday is part 3 of our 5 part homiletic series based on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation (which is a message that encourages a community of people to undertake a particular activity but does not define Church doctrine) Rejoice and Be Glad: a call to Holiness.

Fr. Dominic started us off a few weeks back with an introduction with the words of the Holy Father who said to us “Do not be afraid of holiness” (32).  The Pope quotes Leon Bloy (34) who shares that “the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint”.

Why would we fear holiness?

I have mentioned on several occasions in past homilies that my favorite definition of the word FEAR is: False Expectations Appearing Real.

In the 1st chapter of  Rejoice and be Glad the Pope outlines a number of reasons why we might reject or FEAR a call to holiness and for the most part they can be summarized as a feeling that we are either not worthy of sainthood or we think being holy will subtract from our enjoyment of life.

Chapter 2 talks about the two great impediments to holiness.

Contemporary Gnosticism – it is all in your head: The story of the Scribes.

Contemporary Pelagianism – It is all about your hands: The Story of Martha

Today we reflect on Chapter 3 which the Pope titles: “In the Light of the Master.”

Perhaps you remember the resurrection scene in John Chapter 20 when Mary of Magdala encounters Jesus after the other apostles hurry back to the Upper Room. At first she thinks our Lord is the gardener and she asks him for help in finding out where they had taken the body of Jesus.

Jesus looks at her and says one simple word, her name, and Mary responds “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Pope Francis says to us in Chapter 3 that to overcome the obstacles and to put aside our FEARs (False Expectations Appearing Real) of holiness, we must be willing to sit at the feet of our teacher Jesus on that Holy Mountain. Jesus will teach us if we are willing to listen and learn how to connect our head and our hands together through our heart/soul.

In Mathew’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount begins with the eight beatitudes. Each of these blessings is made up of two parts: the call to be Blessed and the result of living a life based on this calling to be holy.

The Pope uses the Beatitudes to build a bridge that allows us to overcome the two contemporary impediments to holiness and to live the life of a saint even though our canonization may only be known to God and those we touch directly.

Let us examine three of these blessings as taught by Jesus and how they relate to living holy lives.

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Jesus tells us that Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Meek for they shall inherit the earth. Pope Francis shares that this certainly goes against the flow of modern thinking where knowledge and power are often equated with success.

The use of the word meek, especially today, is not well understood. In the context of the beatitudes being meek is the opposite of being pride filled.

The contemporary Gnostics’ faith is locked inside their heads and they often fall prey to arrogance. They use their knowledge as a way to display their superiority over others especially the least of the brothers and sisters. There is a tendency to judge others harshly.

Being Meek does not mean being weak. It is using your knowledge in service but avoiding the tendency to rob others of their dignity.

Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Merciful for they shall receive Mercy. Pope Francis shares that mercy has two aspects: giving and forgiving.

There is a danger that we might confuse good works with mercy.  There is another danger that we undertake these works thinking that when people see us doing all of these things for others they will know that we are truly Holy.

There is also the aspect of forgiveness. There is a risk that we get involved in a never ending series of ‘good works’ as a way to compensate for a wrong. Perhaps it is something that has happened to us that we can not forgive. In some cases it is a response to a hurt we have inflicted on another. Pope Francis realizes that there can be no true mercy – “i.e. Good Works”- without forgiveness.

It is the first of the blessings of the beatitudes that completes the bridge to a holiness that is attainable by all of us and for our community.

Blessed/Happy/Holy are the Poor in Spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

We are a busy and driven people. Contemporary Pelagianism can often be seen in those who are always doing things, the modern day “Martha”.

To be Poor in Spirit means that we must leave room in our heart/soul for the Spirit. We spend time in quiet reflection and allow the grace of God to enter our souls and it is this grace that guides both our minds and our hands.

Holy are the Poor in Spirit for they are the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

This raises a question – How will we know when holiness has taken hold in our lives? What are the signs of holiness?

Spoiler Alert – These signs are in Chapter 4, which will be brought to you next week at this time in the homily or you could go online and look it up for yourself.

As a preview here is one of the signs of holiness: Community!

Pope Francis shares that “Growth in Holiness is a growth in community, side by side with others”. (141)

In our Prayers of the Faithful for the last number of months we have been asking for guidance as a community. This prayer is a good example of what it means to be Poor in Spirit. To become a holy community we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit.

That said, there is already much evidence that the Holy Spirit is active in our parish life.

I have observed a phenomena I call the two sides of the table when it comes to community holiness.

A good example was last week when Deacon Michael talked about Chalice. After his reflection he and others went into the foyer and stood behind a table. Their hope was that some of you would come and stand on the other side of that table. The response was tremendous.

Recently we had our annual backpack program. The people that come together to run this outreach ministry trust that the Holy Spirit will send parishioners to share with those who have less. I had the great joy of being able to pick up 60 backpacks and deliver them to people who dedicate their lives to helping women who are trying to rebuild their lives after spending time in prison or on the streets. I got an e-mail with about 30 pictures of the children getting the backpacks with a little of their story attached. I can tell you each time one of these children received the gift of a backpack it was a Holy moment.

In the final part of the series of homilies in two weeks time you will be asked to join in what the Pope calls “spiritual combat, vigilance and discernment.”

Francis tells us do not be afraid of holiness. Following this call is what allows us to leave this Mass in peace and to truly glorify the Lord by living lives of holiness and thus avoiding the one great tragedy in life which is – not becoming a saint.

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