A Family Wedding

I’m in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, today for a family wedding. My cousin Christine Gaddis is marrying Kevin Mahoney in Christ Our Light Church at 2 PM. Here’s my homily.

Christine and Kevin, thanks for giving us a love story today. We need love stories today. There’s so much violence in life, so much political and economic uncertainty. We need love stories.

You chose your first reading from a beautiful love story, the Book of Ruth:. 

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to go back and abandon you!

Wherever you go I will go,

wherever you lodge I will lodge.

Your people shall be my people

and your God, my God.

Where you die I will die,

and there be buried.

May the LORD do thus to me, and more, if even death separates me from you!”  (Ruth 1, 1-17)

In the present arrangement of our bible, the Book of Ruth is squeezed in between the Book of Judges and the Book of Kings, two books describing difficult times in Jewish history. The Book of Judges describes a period when everyone’s looking out for themselves, everyone’s on their own.  The Book of Kings describes a time when kings were fighting for control over people and politics ruled the day.   

I imagine the original compilers of our Bible saying to one another “We need a love story to break up the concentration of me, me, me. We need a love story that says life’s not about controlling others. So they put a love story, the Book of Ruth, where it is. 

That may be it. 

However it is, we can’t help being moved by the language of love, the forever language, the daring language, the godlike language that we hear today.   

And here you are two lawyers, who know the cautious language of law and deal so much with the careful steps we need for an orderly society–  here you are saying to one another, “I take you for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. 

The language of Ruth, the language of love, the language of God. 

Love is the language of God. We’re made in the image of God. Whether we know it or not, we aspire to be like God. And you recognize that as you come to make your vows to one another here, where the signs of God are so strong, where God who inspires you to make this commitment of love is present.  

We ask God’s blessing for you.

You come too with your family and friends. We’re here to share your happiness, we promise you our support and our prayers, and we thank you for giving us a love story today.

The Queenship of Mary

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“Christians live from feast to feast,” St. Athanasius said. The church’s feasts are linked to each other; all are linked to the great feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, August 14, leads to the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, August 22, a feast introduced into the liturgy of the Roman Catholic church in 1955 to celebrate the privileged place of Mary in heaven. She “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory when her earthly life was over, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.” ( Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 59)

Royal titles were commonly given to God and those anointed by God in the Old Testament; Christianity continued the pratice, giving royal titles to Jesus and Mary. She is called queen in traditional Christian prayers like the Hail Holy Queen and Queen of Heaven:

“Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in the valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show to us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promise of Christ.

Those called a queen, Mary on her part knows her greatness is from her Lord, as she acknowledges in her Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. He who is mighty has done great things to me; holy is his name.” ( Luke 1, 46-55)

Fra Angelico captures Mary’s humility in his portrayal of her (above), bowing before her Son. Honors given to her are a reflection of the graces promised to humanity.

“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

Praying the Psalms

The psalms are prayers that never get old. Here’s Pius X, whose feast day is August 20, commenting on the psalms:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

“The psalms are like a garden containing the fruits of all the other books of the Bible. Saints like Athanasius and Augustine recognized these powerful prayers. ‘The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.”

Augustine says in his Confessions: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears. “

Pius X continues:  “Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?

Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.”

St. Bernard

August 20th we remember St. Bernard, a spiritual teacher who never goes out of date. Here is his summary of the two stages of contemplation.

“The first involves humbling ourselves before God: “Heal me, Lord, and I shall be healed; save me and I shall be saved. And again, Lord, have mercy on me; heal my soul because I have sinned against you.

Then, leaving sorrow and ourselves behind, it’s time to “abide rather in the Spirit of God with great delight. No longer do we consider what is the will of God for us, but rather what it is in itself.

Under the guidance of the Spirit who gazes into the deep things of God, let us reflect how gracious the Lord is and how good he is in himself. Let us join the Prophet in praying that we may see the Lord’s will and frequent not our own hearts but the Lord’s temple; and let us also say, My soul is humbled within me, therefore I shall be mindful of you.

These two stages sum up the whole of the spiritual life: when we contemplate ourselves we are troubled, but our sadness saves us and brings us to contemplate God. That contemplation in turn gives us the consolation of the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Contemplating ourselves brings fear and humility; contemplating God brings us hope and love.”

The Book of Judges

Most of this week the OT readings are from the Book of Judges, which recalls the time when the Israelites, after being led by Moses and then by Joshua,  take possession of the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  

It’s not vacant land. The Canaanites who lived there before still live there, strongly entrenched. Instead of establishing themselves according to the commands of God, the Israelites decide to fit in. They split into isolated households rather than living as a united people, They begin to intermarry with the Canaanites and even set up altars to Baal, the Canaanite god. 

This is a time of religious and political disorder. One of the worst times in Jewish history. On Thursday of this week we hear how Jephthah kills his own daughter because of a vow he made to God. Not an easy story to make any sense of. Hard to make sense of anything in this age.

God raises up leaders, judges, but they’re not powerful enough to give the community the direction it needs. 

Gideon– his story is told this week– is an example of the kind of leader the judges were. He’s a lonely farmer expecting an invasion by the Midianites, a tribe of nomads who periodically raided the land of Canaan. He’s busy trying to save some wheat from his fields before they come, and probably hide. 

The angel of the Lord appears and calls him a “Champion of Israel,” but Gideon wants no part in championing Israel. He’s a man who’s lost faith in the promises of God. He has no big dreams or ambition to do anything except save himself. Even when God gives him a sign, one sign isn’t enough. Gideon wants no part in it.

“Go with the strength you have.”  That’s what the angel says to Gideon at a time when he and so many others have lost their trust in God’s promises. The strength you have, not the strength you would like to have, or the strength you once had. Go with the strength you have.

That was God’s command in the time of the Judges. Is it God’s command to us now?  

Readings for the 20th Week of the Year

AUGUST 19 Mon Weekday [Saint John Eudes, Priest]

Jgs 2:11-19/Mt 19:16-22 

20 Tue Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Memorial Jgs 6:11-24a/Mt 19:23-30 

21 Wed Saint Pius X, Pope Memorial

Jgs 9:6-15/Mt 20:1-16 

22 Thu The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Memorial Jgs 11:29-39a/Mt 22:1-14 (422)

23 Fri Weekday [Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin]

Ru 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22/Mt 22:34-40 (423)

24 Sat Saint Bartholomew, Apostle Feast

Rv 21:9b-14/Jn 1:45-51 

25 SUN TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Is 66:18-21/Heb 12:5-7, 11-13/Lk 13:22-30 (123) Pss I