HOMILY WEEK 33 03 – Year I
Faith, Hope and Love:
Memorial of St. Cecilia
(2 Macc 7:1-31; Ps 17; Lk 19:11-28)
Some years ago, St. Albert parish celebrated their 150th anniversary with a year-long series of speakers and events. I was invited to conduct a parish mission as part of that series, and was impressed by their theme: Rooted in Faith, Living in Hope and Growing in Love, expressed on three huge banners in the church.
Those themes coincide with the message emerging from the readings today: pray for faith, live in hope and grow in love.
Those themes, incidentally, are known in the church as the three great theological virtues of faith, hope and love. They actually form a pattern in our lives: faith enables us to hope; and hope in turn empowers us to love.
The first reading is all about faith and hope. The seven Maccabee brothers and their mother, in the face of severe persecution for their Jewish faith, prove to be steadfast. The mother in particular expresses her faith in God as the creator of all things, the source of life and of life after death as she encourages her sons to be strong in the face of death. Her “hope is in the Lord,” and in her certainty that she will “get her sons back again” if they all remain faithful to their God. Her youngest son, strengthened by her firmness of purpose, fearlessly proclaims his readiness to die for the ancestral commands given to them through Moses. Their faith and hope were unshakeable even in the face of certain death, and thus they became revered martyrs.
Jesus, in the gospel, recounts the parable of the talents. One interpretation, based on the fact that Jesus was “near Jerusalem” at the beginning of the gospel, and “went on to Jerusalem” at the end of the gospel, where he would be crucified, suggests this parable is really about refusing to buy into a corrupt religious-economic-political system that Judaism had become. For the sake of this homily, however, we will go with the more traditional interpretation – the generous use of the gifts and talents that God has given each one of us.
One Sunday I was invited to preside at a Eucharist at the Sacred Heart First Peoples’ Parish in Edmonton, while Fr. Susai Jesu OMI, the new pastor, delivered the homily. That he did in a masterly way, describing the good wife in the first reading as one who used her gifts and talents to build up a strong marriage, family and community. He went on to affirm that each one present has been freely given gifts and talents by God that must now be given away freely in the service of others.
Fr. Susai stressed that, unlike material gifts that are depleted when shared, these spiritual gifts and talents actually grow and expand when given away, and become a source of joy. They are meant to be shared and used, like the persons in the gospel given 5 and 10 talents, who make that many more. They are not meant to be kept to ourselves, like the person given one talent, who was only able to give back the same one talent he was given. Spiritual gifts, if kept to ourselves, diminish and can even disappear altogether.
Fr. Susai then invited the parishioners to consider becoming part of the formation of a new parish council as a way of using their gifts and talent. He felt lonely, and that making all the decisions concerning the parish alone was just not the way it should be. Especially since Vatican II, a parish council that would serve as a consultative body to the pastor is seen as an integral part of a lively parish community.
Finally, since it was the first World Day of Prayer for the Poor instituted by Pope Francis, Fr. Susai encouraged us all to use our gifts and talents by getting more involved in serving the poor and trying to meet their needs. He himself went to the Marian Centre to help serve meals, and made a commitment to go their every Saturday, not so much to serve, but just to be with the poor and needy, getting to know them and hearing their stories.
The Church provides us with a fitting model today, St. Cecilia. She was a woman in Rome who came from a very rich family and was given in marriage to Valerian, whom she converted. As her husband and brother-in-law buried the dead, St. Cecilia spent her time preaching and in her lifetime was able to convert over four hundred people, most of whom were baptized by Pope Urban.
A few days after her husband Valerian and his brother Tiburtius were beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the gods of the Romans, Cecilia was arrested and condemned to be suffocated in the baths. Honoured since the early years of the Church, Cecilia is mentioned in the list of saints in the first Eucharistic Prayer.St. Cecilia is regarded as the patroness of music, because she heard heavenly music in her heart when she was married, and is represented in art with an organ or organ-pipes in her hand. Officials exhumed her body in 1599 and found her to be incorrupt, the first of all incorrupt saints. St. Cecilia’s remains were transferred to Cecilia’s titular church in Trastevere and placed under the high altar.
When in Rome for the canonization of the founder of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1995, St. Eugene de Mazenod, I visited the catacombs and was struck by a statue of her lying on the ground in the catacombs, a scar on her neck, dying for her faith, in the spirit of the Maccabees.
One almost has to remain subdued and humbled before this testimony to such a faith-filled and loving servant of God. If the Eucharist is an act of faith in God’s love for us in Jesus, and a commitment to go out and serve with love, then she truly lived the Eucharist.
So, may our celebration today help our faith and hope be like that of the martyrs in the Book of Maccabees, and empower us to give our lives away by using our gifts and talents to build up the reign of God here on earth as did St. Cecilia.