HOMILY WEEK 23 02 – Year I
Staying Rooted in Jesus Christ
(Col 2:6-16; Ps 145; Lk 6:12-19)
One of the many scenes of destruction portrayed on television during the wrath of Hurricane Irma was that of a homeowner watching and videoing the uprooting of a huge tree in her backyard. As the tree swayed back and forth, the paving tiles moved up and down, causing her to exclaim the tree was going to fall, and then it did – causing the roots to fly high into the air!
Other trees survived the hurricane because they were more deeply rooted. That is the message today’s readings present to us – the need to stay deeply rooted in Jesus Christ so as to survive any and all of life’s storms.
In the first reading to the Colossians, St. Paul urges them to continue to live their lives in Jesus, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith. He pleads with them not to be distracted by superficial philosophy, traditions, even other spirits, because the fullness of life is found only in Jesus Christ, who is the head of every ruler and authority.
He reminds them of the power of the resurrection that transformed everything, including them, by the experience of forgiveness of all their sins, and the healing they received through the Spirit of the crucified-risen Lord.
Mary always points us to Jesus. “Do whatever he tells you,” she told the servants at the wedding feast in Cana. Jesus used Mary as a model when his family came to see him – telling us in the process we can be closer to him spiritually than he is to his own mother physically if we listen to his Word and keep it (Lk 8:19-21). So, praying with scripture is one way to stay rooted in Jesus.
The Gospel shows us another way to stay rooted in Jesus – contemplative prayer. Jesus prayed all night before naming his 12 apostles. His prayer underlines the gravity of that choice – they would represent the 12 tribes of Israel in the new creation he would bring about through his resurrection, and within the new people of God, the Church. Surely, we can do no better than follow his example, go apart to find our own mountain, and spend time communing with the Father every day in contemplative prayer, especially before making major decisions in our lives.
One of the best ways to both pray with scripture and pray contemplatively is Lectio Divina, that I have developed into Lectio/Visio/Audio Divina for some retreats. There are seven stages in this way of contemplative prayer with scripture: Lectio – reading a passage of God’s word, Visio – viewing and appreciating a painting or icon of that passage, Audio – listening to a hymn or song that relates to that passage and artwork, Meditatio – meditating on what God is saying to me through this passage, painting and song, Oratio – having an intimate inner conversation with Jesus about the Word, art and music, and praying with all of these for the needs of the world, Contemplatio – setting all that aside and just sitting in God’s presence, soaking up God’s love, perhaps at first with the help of a mantra taken from the passage, and finally, Operatio – deciding on some way to live out the content of your prayer. For me, that is usually writing out a homily, as well as sharing my emotions about that passage in a letter to Jesus.
St. Eugene de Mazenod is an example of one who was totally rooted in Jesus. He spent an hour each morning in contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament, during which he felt intimately connected with the members of the community he founded, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, spread out across the world. He urged all his Oblates to do the same, a practice we now call “oraison.”
My late brother Louis is another example of someone who was rooted in Jesus so securely that his four-year journey with cancer to his peaceful death in the arms of my sister-in-law was an inspiration to all who knew him. His graciousness, his gentleness and his gratitude for everyone who journeyed with him remains a blessing to this day, as does the faith-filled wake and funeral in which we all celebrated a life full of love and a death faced with courageous faith.
The gift of the Eucharist combines both scripture (The Word of God) and contemplative prayer (important moments of silence in the liturgy) and is thus a wonderful way for us to stay rooted in Jesus Christ. It is the Eucharist that also kept St. Eugene firmly rooted in Jesus – his love for the Eucharist remains a model for his Oblates to this day.
So, let us take to heart the words of St. Paul and stay rooted in Jesus Christ, especially through praying with scripture, contemplative prayer, celebrating and living out the Eucharist as did St. Eugene.