Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for Thanksgiving Day

November 26, 2020
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Sirach 50:22-24
Psalm 138:1-2a, 2bc-3, 4-5
Colossians 3:12-17
Luke 1:39-55

John’s leap was no ordinary movement of an unborn child, for in the words of Saint Elizabeth to the Blessed Virgin Mary, “as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

The Church has held from the time of the early Church Fathers that the joy of the unborn John the Baptist came from his cleansing at that moment of Original Sin, in accordance with the Archangel Gabriel’s prophecy to Zechariah, before John’s conception, that “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.” Without the freedom from original sin, there can be no gratitude because Baptism washes us clean from sin and introduces us to the mystery of God’s free gift of His Son, Jesus, who is first presented by Mary in the sanctity of her womb.

This free and unearned gift of Jesus is announced and received by the unborn John the Baptist simultaneously and seamlessly through the visitation between their mothers, Saint Elizabeth and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Gratitude is reborn through grace in this meeting prompted not by fear but by love and ministry. Mary, having received the gift of God’s Son through her “yes,” immediately goes to seek out her kinswoman, Elizabeth, who she knows to be in need because of the challenges brought to her through her pregnancy in a later age. The entrance into the mystery of the Incarnation immediately leads to compassion and service to those who are most in need. Sin prompts resentment in us because it severs us from our relationship with God, which otherwise can only be marked by gratitude for we owe everything including our own existence to His selfless act of creation. In our refusal of God’s grace, we cannot help but wrongly come to view God as an adversary; in our refusal of God’s grace, we cannot help but view our neighbor — even our vulnerable neighbor in need — as a threat. His presence and His visitation prompt us to leap joyfully and to see everything we have, and all that we are, as a grace because of His unconditional love that “has filled the hungry with good things and has sent the rich away empty.”

The Blessed Virgin Mary sings of the fear of the Lord in her Magnificat, “He has mercy on those who fear Him in every generation.” As Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “Perhaps this is a phrase with which we are not very familiar or perhaps we do not like it very much. But ‘fear of the Lord’ is not anguish; it is something quite different. It is the concern not to destroy the love on which our life is based. Fear of the Lord is that sense of responsibility that we are bound to possess for the portion of the world that has been entrusted to us in our lives.” It is the sense that we are accountable to God and we do not want to fail Him because He loves us.

Fear of the Lord always brings authentic hope. The theological virtue of hope is entirely necessary for our salvation. We receive it as part of grace at Baptism and again at Confirmation. Hope is the bridge between faith and charity. We can lose sight of the virtue of hope in our culture influenced heavily by Christian fundamentalism on the one hand and secularism on the other hand. These influences can tempt us to emphasize a sense of assurance in place of hope. Luther thought that faith alone is all that is necessary to offer us the assurance of our salvation. This approach frequently leads us to sins of presumption or despair. In response to this, the Council of Trent clearly taught that faith without hope cannot offer us a share in God’s life. Secularism arrogantly rejects the gift of hope, vainly preferring its own self-sufficiency and technological prowess, leading us further into isolation and estrangement from God, our neighbors, and ourselves. The Second Vatican Council spoke of this in the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, “Striving to probe more profoundly into the deeper recesses of his own mind, [man] frequently appears more unsure of himself. Gradually and more precisely he lays bare the laws of society, only to be paralyzed by uncertainty about the direction to give it.” (Gaudium et Spes 4)

What is there about God that prompts us to hope? The scholastic theologians wrote a lot about this question because it is a question that very directly concerns what makes the good news of the Gospel so good. They came up with different answers. Saint Bonaventure thought that it is God’s faithfulness that prompted us to hope in God. Others thought that it is God’s mercy. Yet, Saint Thomas Aquinas, with a greater deal of precision, identified the motive for our hope as being God’s omnipotence. “Nothing is impossible for God,” especially when we accept our powerlessness. “He has shown the strength of His arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty; He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham, and his children forever.”

Hope in God is the calm for all our fears. Hope in God is the answer to our futility and limitations. Hope is the door that God opens to the prison of our powerlessness and lack of control. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote with hope, “everything is a grace.” Hope is better than assurance because it brings us closer into that right relationship with God. To rely falsely on a sense of self-will can lead us to see the intimate relationship that God offers us simply as only a matter of convenience or usefulness. The God in whom we believe offers us love through the virtue of hope. We cannot love without hope. “All generations will call me blessed.” This means that the future brought about instrumentally by Mary’s “yes,” what is to come, belongs to God. It is in God’s hands. It is God who conquers our enemies and brings us home to Him. Today is a day for us to thank God. It is a day for us to make our own the words of the Psalmist and pray, “Lord, I thank You for Your faithfulness and love.” We can only do this with His grace. Even if our visitations with our families are impeded because of the pandemic, He is present and visits us even in the absence of large dinners and the presence of sickness and anxiety. Christ is present, sin departs. Joy visits us because His grace overwhelms our sin. Thus, we can freely bear with one another and forgive the grievances we have with one another because God has forgiven us, placing upon this love, the bond of perfection.

%d bloggers like this: