Monday, 27 February 2012

2nd Sunday of Lent - Year B

Genesis 22:1-2.9-13.15-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

Imagine you have just built a church, an immense, wonderful building. It is all finished and has never been used. All the furnishings are in place, the pews, the confessionals, the baptismal font, the altar, the pulpit, tabernacle, the priest’s chair, the paschal candle. All is ready for the first Mass.

You stand at the main door and look down the carpeted aisle between the pews and survey the architectural splendour of this new building and marvel at the beauty of the sanctuary and its decorations, each one more striking than the other. And then you ask yourself: What is the most important item in this building? What is the most sacred? What is the most essential?

The answer is, of course, the altar. Indeed, one might say that a church building is to all intents and purposes not much more than a house for the altar – and, of course, for the people.

Altars are as old as humanity; they seem to have been around from the beginning. When Cain and Abel made their offerings to God it is probable they placed it on an altar. We are not told this explicitly but we can suppose they did; probably a rock or a heap of rammed earth.

Noah, too, built an altar for God and offered burnt offerings there.

Sometimes I take the primary children of the parish school for a tour through the church and if they ask me I tell them: An altar is a place where we put things we want to give to God. And that’s not a bad working definition of at least one of the functions of an altar – a place on which we sacrifice to God.

When God appeared to Abram at Shechem Abram built an altar there ‘for God who had appeared to him.' (Gn 12:7) This is slightly different from using an altar for sacrifice.

Abram built an altar to mark the spot where God had revealed himself. I can easily picture him doing this. It is like lovers carving a heart in the tree under which they had that picnic at which he asked her to marry him.

Abram moves on from Shechem. We are told (Gn 12:8): From there, he moved on to the mountainous district east of Bethel, where he pitched his tent, with Bethel to the west and Ai to the east. There he built an altar to God and invoked the name of God.

Now I find that rather interesting! First God speaks to Abram who builds an altar to mark the spot and then, at another time and in another place, Abram builds an altar because he wants to speak to God.

Perhaps a second definition is presenting itself: An altar is a point of communication between God and man. This seems to be confirmed by what happens later (Gn 13:3-4): By stages he (Abram) went from the Negeb to Bethel, where he had first pitched his tent, between Bethel and Al, at the place where he had formerly erected the altar. Here Abram invoked the name of Yahweh.

The altar which holds our attention today is the one Abraham built on the mountain of Moriah. On this altar he was going to place something he wanted to give, or more precisely, something he had been commanded to give to God, namely, his only son Isaac.

But it was not only his son that he placed on that altar. He placed there also his humble recognition of God’s sovereignty; his obedient worship, not to mention his own broken heart.

Perhaps definition number three now proposes itself: An altar is a place on which we place our love for God and on which God places his love for us.

The altar in our cathedral church is a beautiful one. At every Mass we set there bread and wine; our offerings. The little white disks of bread lie on a golden dish and the wine is poured into a golden chalice. Still they remain pretty ordinary as offerings. Indeed, humanly speaking, the gold might be even more attractive than the bread and wine.

But the very poverty of these offerings underscores the fact that, when all is said and done, we have nothing worthy of God. We certainly cannot give him something he hasn't got; something he needs. Nevertheless, we bring what he has asked us to bring and we humbly place it on the altar - and God makes a switch - like he did to Abraham, replacing his offering with one of his own.

Through the words of the priest the gifts are transformed - transubstantiated, actually; they become the Body and Blood of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. Our difficulty recognising him is the same one those who met the Lord 2000 years ago had: ‘Can this man really be God?’ Today we say, ‘Can this bread really be God?’

Yes, it is. We believe that at the moment of consecration the gifts of bread and wine become Christ himself. If you don’t believe this you are not a Catholic.

And these gifts have now become worthy of God who cannot refuse, cannot resist the gift of his own Son. As the Father welcomes his Son he welcomes also those who offer him.

That’s what we are here to do, so let’s get busy.


Jo said...

What a wonderful way to express what lies on the Altar. Our humble offering being swapped for God's Love. It is so refreshing to hear/read an explanation such as this. Thank you Fr. John.

Anonymous said...

The Eucharist ( The Altar of the Word & The Altar of the Host)

.....If you don't believe this you are not a Catholic.(quote from your homily..... todays Mass Readings)

Fr John are'nt you being a bit Clerical with this dictat in your assumption...????????????

In gen 22.2 The word LOVE is first used in the Scriptures to flag the 'Love between a Father and Son' (Abraham & Issac)

Love is the fragrance of the Genesis..(your opening simile of your Homily- Boy loves girl..lovele example)
What a pity to conclude by mounting a Pulpit and excommunicating the Doubter!

You forgot to include the lectors chair( Laity) behind The Altar of The your Cathedral.

As I see it 'without the Grace of the doubt of Thomas as recorded in the Scriptures and the doubt of the 'followers ' on the road to they opened up their hearts & fears to Jesus..surely doubt is the journey
of th Christian pilgrim...?

As usual you excel over 90% in your homily....well done.

'Jesus in the Eucharist, You are the greatest of our Mysteries'
(St. V. Palotti)


Frank -Ireland

Janet said...

What a magnificent homily! Thank you, Father! (although even if I were your homiletics instructor, I don't think I'd score you ;)

Frank, what's wrong with a cleric being clerical? with a priest preaching from the pulpit? with the authority of the Church? That's why we need priests. If we wanted our own lay people's homilies, our opinions, we could start our own blogs. You make it sound like if we "love" we don't have to "believe". I'm pretty sure they go together and are not opposed to one another...
As you quote St V Palotti, the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is the greatest of our mysteries - it's our Catholic faith.

Delima said...

Thanks for a memorable homily, with so much good, solid instruction. That was a beautiful description of the true meaning of the Mass and a faith-filled confirmation of our belief in the Real Presence, that defines us as Catholics.

It is such a blessing to have these constant reminders of the riches of our Catholic heritage. of our f

Anonymous said...

Hi Janet, Priests preach & Rabbi's teach.did you know a synagogue has no the reordering of our chuches as per 2nd Vatican Council directive...pulpits were removed and Laity ( lector) and Presider were on the same level.
I am 73 yrs millions of my generation i remember the Pulpit priests & Bishops who held Power over our minds preaching 'at us' the Fear & anger of their God.. I'm sure Fr. John is familiar with the stories of abuse of this power by so many of these Priests and Nuns. Pope Benedict is burdened ( Bless Him) implementing a damage limitation('Purification of The Catholic Church)process throughout the church..
Clericalism is outlawed by Catholic parishioners in Ireland!

I am a success story of an abused person who found Christ (through Mary) and active in bringing healing (through my prayer) to my contemporaries in Ireland.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus seeing the crowds.. went up and sat down!
Then He taught them! like the itinerant Rabbi He was.

Mary appeared to peasant children at Lourdes, Fatima,etc..
The Renewal of The Church is being refounded on 'Humility' It had lost its way!

Please Janet sit down with those who have suffered, listen to them! Learn to thaw the heart of your perspectives.
Fr John is gifted, He has his flaws like us all..I enjoy His Homilies from his typing Pulpit on my level.but as more Catholics buy a Bible , and learn to read the Love Story of God and His People unlike us souls who were denied this freedom...Pulpits will vanish and Fr john will sit down in rabinnical fashion and teach like Jesus.