Friday, January 14, 2011

Homilies on Hebrews

Several years ago, when I was at Saint Albert the Great parish in Kettering as parochial vicar, I prepared a series of homilies on the Letter to the Hebrews, which was read at daily Mass all during January.

Now that I'm a pastor of two parishes, I don't have time to put as much preparation into my daily homilies. But I remembered these, and thought someone might enjoy seeing them. Here are two related to this week's readings.

(Heb. 3:7-14; Ps. 95; Mark 1:40-45)

We continue to reflect on the Letter to the Hebrews.

In a paragraph right before today’s reading, Moses is mentioned. Then comes what we just heard, which quotes Psalm 95: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

All this recall the covenant at Mt. Sinai—so let’s paint the scene.

Moses led God’s people from slavery, to Sinai, where we went up and met God; Moses mediated the great covenant between God and his People. God revealed himself, his Law, to Israel, and gave his unbreakable pledge to his people.

Up on Sinai, God was enshrouded in fire and cloud, untouchable, terrifying in his power and glory. The mountain shook at the thunder of his Voice.

In the fullness of time, comes Jesus: Jesus not only brings God’s Word—he is God’s final Word to humanity; Jesus leads all mankind from slavery to sin; he is the deliverer, who brings us to God, for a new and everlasting covenant.

In Jesus, the fearsome, unreachable YHWH comes down the mountain, and pitches his tent in our very midst, becoming our brother!

Moses went up a mountain—Jesus ascended Calvary! Moses offered animals in sacrifice; Jesus offered himself as the Lamb of God! Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of goats; Jesus pours out his own Precious Blood, one tiny drop of which would have been sufficient to save everyone who ever has, or will, exist!

At Sinai, with all the wonders the people beheld, Moses said: God is in your midst: yield to him; don’t harden your hearts!

The Holy Spirit, whose glory enshrouded Sinai with cloud and fire, says the same to us: YHWH-Jesus! Hear his Voice!

The Gospel actually connects to this. It strikes us odd that Jesus keeps saying, “Don’t tell anyone.” Here’s why: like the people at Sinai, they see—but they don’t see. At Sinai, the people saw the fireworks, they saw the Manna—“free bread!”—but missed the reality of God coming to save them; and the same thing happens in Jesus!
What do people see? A potential new king; a military leader; a giver of goodies! They don’t really see: God became man, to be the priest—and offering!—of a new and everlasting covenant!

Now lets come right to the present. We wonder how those folks missed it; well, here we are, and a greater than Sinai happens here! We’re the new covenant people—it’s us! Sinai—Calvary—the Covenant—right here!

The same Spirit comes down, right here! The Lamb—his Flesh and Blood—offered here!
What’s it about for us? Do we come, saying, “Gimme, gimme, Jesus”? “Ho hum, another boring Mass”? Do we fuss about the nothing-stuff: “Why do they bring their kids?” “Why can’t I have it just as I want Mass?” And then we miss what is really happening?
Holy Spirit: help us not to harden our hearts!


(Heb. 4:1-5, 11; Ps. 78; Mark 2:1-120

The Letter to the Hebrews, the first reading we heard this morning, tells us that God promises a “rest” for us.

What the reading calls “rest” isn’t just the life we’ll have with God in heaven. It’s the life we have with God now, too. It comes when God is important in our lives and we try to stay close to God.

And the key to that is prayer.

I don’t mean just prayer here at Mass. And I don’t mean a quick “Our Father” or “Hail Mary” here or there. I mean time we spend, every day, alone with God—with no one and nothing else distracting us.

If you think that’s hard to do, you’re right. It is hard—no matter who you are, no matter how old you are. It’s something that you have to work at.

There’s always something else you’d rather do. A TV show. Having fun with your friends. Sometimes you’re just too tired.

How many here play sports? How many play a musical instrument? How many like to read, and are trying to earn points at school for your reading? OK—with sports or music—how often do you practice if you really want to be good? How often do you read?

Prayer is the same way. If you let it slide, it just won’t happen. You have to make it happen.

Here are some things to help you do it.

First, decide. Tell yourself: “I’m going to make this happen. I’m going to set aside, say 10 minutes every day for time alone with God.”

Then, ask God to help you! You’ll never do it any other way.

Then, look for some time in your day—maybe it’s early in the morning; maybe at lunch or right after school, or maybe it will be in the evening—whenever you can be alone and not be interrupted.

Then find a place you can go to be alone. Maybe there’s someplace at home where you can be alone. Or maybe you can visit church. Tell your mom and dad what you want to do, and I bet they will help you.

When you sit down to pray with God—or maybe you want to take a walk alone—you can read something from the Bible or something else that tells you about God. Just make sure you don’t just read—talk to God about what you’re reading.

That’s what I do. I read psalms, like the one we recited a moment ago—and I talk to God about what it means. And I pray for the people it reminds me of.

I’m going to tell you a secret. God wants to be your best friend! And he will spend as much time with you as you want!

But if you want to be friends with God, you have to find time to spend with him, too. That’s how it is with our friends here on earth. It’s the same with God. And he is the best friend to have.

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