Opening Homily: September 4

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Is God indeed to dwell on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!"

Earlier this year, I had the singular opportunity of traveling to Israel. Needless to say, it was an amazing experience, filled with the wonder of discovery and new insight. When our group finally arrived in Jerusalem, after several days, my first priority was to go, as soon as possible, to the site of the temple. I wanted to get close to those ancient stones, to stand in the place where Jesus undoubtedly stood so long ago.

And so it happened. Several of us made our way through the winding streets of the Old City until we came upon the site of the temple mount, and the western wall, all that remains of that once great edifice that defined, in so many ways, three of the world's great religious traditions.

There it was, in stone and crumbling mortar, that temple wall that has withstood the ravages of men's folly, the ravages of time, and of war, of neglect, of passing civilizations, of antiquity and modernity.

There it was and is, those ancient ramparts of which the psalmist spoke, of which the lawmakers legislated, of which priests and Levites toiled day after day, fulfilling the expectations of the Law, expectations that could never be satisfied or satisfy.

There it was, and is, the building, or what is left of it, that served, at least for a time, as God's dwelling on earth.

There it was, the muse of prophets, the prophetic ideal.

Perhaps those ancient walls offer us a lyre this morning, a lyre upon which to sing the prophetic song. It is a song whose strains are so needed in our world, in our Church today.

What is the song of the prophet? How can we learn its melodies and so be inspired again?

Like the apostles of the new covenant, the prophets were a curious lot. Some, like the prophet Jonah, were stubborn, even disobedient men. Jonah, when asked by God to go to Nineveh, avoided it to his near peril. Elijah was more enthusiastic; he was a fiery preacher and outspoken critic of the culture of his time.

Isaiah was a poet. Amos was a dresser of sycamore trees. Hosea made a bad marriage. Jeremiah was a young man, a hesitant man, but a man like the others (and like the apostles later on) who could not resist the call of God. He was imbibed with the prophetic spirit, the spirit of witness to the ultimate reality of the Divine over the ephemeral, the passing notions of human happiness, power, authority, prestige and accomplishment.

He and the others were gifted with the prophetic spirit and so they went forth to do mighty deeds and proclaim powerful messages in the name of the Most High, a name inscribed on the walls of that ancient temple, inscribed in the smoke of sacrifice, inscribed in the prayers and petitions of the people, inscribed today in the tears of those whose wailing continues to rise to the throne of the Most High.

"Is God indeed to dwell on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house which I have built!"

There are some in the Church today who claim that the prophetic spirit has departed from the Church. These critics would say that the forceful message of God has been stifled by institutional bureaucracy, by outmoded forms of leadership or by a simple inability to proclaim the Word of Truth effectively in a new and decidedly fractured, to a technologically re-engineered generation.

For many in the Church today, things are not what they used to be, whether our vision of a prophetic Golden Age existed 50 or 500 years ago. These harbingers of doom lament the lack of prophetic voices in the Church, but I say let us not be taken in, my brothers and sisters, by their dire warnings.

Brothers and sisters, to these naysayers, I say: As long as Church walls, or as long as men and women stand in places like Egypt and Afghanistan, bombarded with messages of hate yet boldly continuing to proclaim the Prince of Peace amid the clamor of the gross machinery of ideological warfare, I say the prophetic spirit lives in the Church.

I say the spirit of prophecy lives as long as chants sing out over distant hills to proclaim times of prayer and consecration in a world of violence, violence in the home, in the fields, in the human heart, and in a world of blasphemy, blasphemy of creation, blasphemy against innocent life, blasphemy against God Himself.

I say the spirit of prophecy lives as long as altars are approached and the manifestation of the Living God is present to us, as long as men and women and children bring forward the gifts of their lives to be transubstantiated into Divine reality and take from those same altars the Good News of salvation in the clever disguise of bread and wine.

I say the spirit of prophecy lives as long as candles are lit to quell the encroaching darkness of the human spirit inebriated with false understandings of choice, debilitating lies about freedom.

The spirit of prophecy lives as long as Masses are celebrated in churches and chapels, while outside the hounds of intolerance bay for the blood of Christians.

The spirit of prophecy lives as long as little children continue to be brought forward to be baptized and men and women find their way to the safe harbor of the Church in Easter vigils from year to year.

The spirit of prophecy lives as long as knees are bent in humble confession and tears are shed as sins long held fast are forgiven and the assurances of absolution given.

The spirit of prophecy lives as long as one couple enters into the sanctity of marriage with the full conviction of their vocations to be witnesses of Christ's love for the world.

The spirit of prophecy lives as long as women and men kneel in sanctuaries to take vows of apostolic service and pour out their lives for the good of others.

Brothers and sisters, the spirit of prophecy, the spirit of evangelization, the spirit instilled so irresistibly in those varied men of old continues in our day; it cannot help but continue.

The spirit of prophecy in every utterance of Church teaching that points to a better way of life for the hungry huddled masses starving in the streets of the cities of so-called developed countries and condemns violence against the human person, even at the hands of those who vow to uphold the sanctity of that life.

The spirit of prophecy that speaks liberation to families immured in lives of rank poverty, the slavery of unutterable violence, and the shroud of desperation

The spirit of prophecy that boldly proclaims life in a culture of death, the dignity of every man, every woman, every child, from conception until the last labored breath is drawn

The spirit of prophecy in far-flung places like Korea, Africa, Mexico, India, and throughout the United States where men continue to stand up to be counted with the saints, and hearing the call of God, the call heard by the prophets of old, respond with heartfelt voices, clear voices, unwavering voices: Speak Lord, your servant is listening.

It is the spirit of prophecy that infuses us to be mighty proclaimers of the Word as long as we say with those confused men and women of the Gospel:

"What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."

We, like those men and women of old, like St. Paul, are called to be proclaimers of the Word,

That Word whose quickening syllables arouse us from the slumber of indifference, impatience, and spiritual sloth

That Word that desperate ears long to hear, that dispels the fearsome phantoms of death and proclaims new life, immortality for a people sheltering against the walls of a lost Eden

That Word that compels us to proclamation, instills in our hearts the wonder of God having been made Flesh

That Word that invades our bones, the very marrow of our bones, and sets us in motion until it, and we, become like a quickening storm.

A storm that cannot be held back, a force of nature, thundering mightily across a parched landscape.

And, O brothers and sisters, we need such a storm.

We need a storm to blow mightily in the depths of our souls and consume our complacency and our lack of faith.

We need a storm of clarification to shake a world hovering in the shadows of its own lies.

We need a storm to stir the depths of the human intellect and culture long neglected by the enduring mold of indifference.

We need a storm to renew our Church today and rid it of all duplicitousness, all false politicism, all lies and deceit.

And I can assure you, the Word of God, the spirit of prophecy is that crackling storm that wipes out the cynical spirit of this age, clearing barren trees from the landscapes of cynicism and destruction until we can see the clear horizon of Truth over which the Mighty Son of Justice rises, with healing in his wings, and whose thunderous voice cries out that God is not dead nor does he sleep and continues to instill the spirit of prophecy in his Church, in her preachers, in us.

Let us recall again the words concerning our Lord in today's Gospel:

"What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out."

How is that not a mighty promise for us in this troubled world, befouled as we are by the unclean spirits that sometimes we helped to make?

In that spirit, then, brothers and sisters, today let us resolve to take up the mantle of renewal, of prophecy.

As we renew this temple today, let us renew ourselves and our community, and dare to give your lives to Him and hold nothing back and then we will know, brothers and sisters, without a doubt we will know that the prophetic spirit has not left the Church, nor could it leave as long as we long to be true to the Spirit of the Gospel, the living spirit of Christ.

It will not depart as long as one witness cries out from the street corners of overrun cities.

As long as one heart continues to beat on behalf of Love Himself.

As long as one holy but failing priest opens the covers of a missal in a little church in the middle of nowhere and with faltering voice intones those words so desperately needed in a world of hunger and pain: In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

You, brothers and sisters, have come here to this temple, to the ramparts of the New Jerusalem, ancient yes, but in no way decaying. You have come here, and here we shall abide to be the very life of that prophetic spirit alive, tottering on the dawn of a new day.