Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year B
27 September 2009
Holy Family Cathedral
Pope Benedict in Czech Republic
This weekend, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is in the Czech Republic. He is visiting a nation wounded by 40 years of Communism, where two out of three individuals say they believe in nothing, and where the encroaching forces of secularism are allied to erase even the memory of a Christian culture from the hearts of rising generations. For all of that, our Holy Father is not intimidated.
The Little Jesus
Yesterday morning he accomplished an amazing gesture -- a prophetic one. The Supreme Pontiff and, quite apart from that, one of the greatest theologians of modern times, went in pilgrimage to the Little Jesus, to the Infant Jesus of Prague. Bareheaded, and with a look of indescribable tenderness and affection, the Pope approached the little statue known and loved around the world and left a golden crown at the feet of the Infant Jesus, as a token of his devotion.
Vespers and Benediction
What, you may ask, has this to do with Vespers of this Twenty-Sixth Sunday of the Year? In a certain sense, everything. Catholic tradition has, for centuries now, coupled the celebration of Sunday Vespers with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Vespers, being a Liturgy of the Word, recalls the Liturgy of the Word at this morning's Mass. Mother Church frames the Magnificat with a fragment of the Gospel proclaimed at Mass. A grace remembered is a grace renewed. At Vespers, the Holy Spirit quickens the very Word we heard at Mass, and in that mystical quickening, we experience its power all over again.
Word to Sacrament
Mother Church's liturgy is all of a piece. The Magnificat Antiphon, a mere fragment of this morning's Gospel, brings back the divine energy that compelled us at Holy Mass to go from the ambo to the altar.
The same thing happens at Vespers: the Word remembered, repeated, and prayed, drives us to the altar, just as Our Lord's explanation of the Scriptures to the disciples on the road to Emmaus compelled them to say, "Stay with us, Lord, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent." (Lk 24:29).
Every time we hear the Word, receiving it with hearts that are childlike and humble, it causes us to say over and over again, "Stay with us, Lord." At Holy Mass, He answers that prayer of ours by giving us bread changed into His Body and wine mixed with water changed into His Blood. At Benediction, that same adorable Mystery is withdrawn from the tabernacle and exposed to our gaze so that we, by looking, and adoring, and bowing low might be blessed, and so experience again, at the close of Sunday, the miracle of His Real Presence. The movement, at Holy Mass as at Vespers, is always from Word to Sacramental Presence.
Power to Convert the World
In this morning's Gospel -- at least as it is laid out in my lectionary -- there were 28 lines. Each one of those 28 lines, and every word of them, contains enough power to convert the world . . . only the hardness of our hearts keeps us from experiencing the power of the Word of God.
The Child Jesus and the Little Ones
I prayed over today's Gospel last evening while the Pope's pilgrimage to Prague was very much on my mind. I came to the verse where Our Lord says, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (Mk 9:41). He who speaks these terrible words was Himself a little one. Only the Child Jesus grasps the immensity of crimes against the innocence of little ones, and only the Child Jesus can heal the effects of such sins.
The Divine Infant desires to heal the wounds of scandal because His Name is Jesus: Saviour. He has the power to heal the wounds of scandal because He is our almighty King. There is no sin that He is unwilling to forgive, and no sin that He cannot forgive. There is no wound that He is unwilling to heal, and no wound that He cannot heal.
In going on pilgrimage to the Infant Jesus of Prague, the Holy Father was showing us the way to wholeness and to holiness all at once. May I suggest that we find our way to a statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, the Restorer of Innocence and the Healer of hearts rent asunder by sin? You may not be able to leave Him a crown as did the Pope, but you can, at least, leave Him a kiss.
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Even after these Second Vespers of Sunday, the liturgy will go on. This Thursday will bring us the feast of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus -- yes, of the Child Jesus -- and of the Holy Face. Thérèse will teach you all you need to know about recovering the childhood of the soul without which no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven. "If anyone is little," she heard the Divine King say, "let him come to me." Not if anyone is virtuous; not, if anyone is perfect; not if anyone is sinless; not, if anyone is learned in the mysteries of the faith -- but only this: if anyone is little. Thérèse considered that she qualified. So too, I think, do I, and so too do most of us here, including Bishop Slattery! We are all little, and because we are little, we have every reason to be full of hope.
The Blessing of the Infant Christ
The terrible words of Jesus in today's Gospel are, when we ponder them carefully, a passionate expression of His solicitude for all of us who are little, and weak, and who easily fall prey to the things that rob us of our innocence and cause our hearts to grow old and hard.
When, in just a few minutes, the Sacred Host is raised over you in blessing, know that the Hidden God of the Eucharist is the Little One, the treasured Infant Christ of the Virgin who desires nothing so much as to restore innocence where it has been lost, and to heal every bruised and battered heart.