Homily on 5th Sunday of Lent, Year A, 2020

In recent weeks nearly the whole world has become occupied, with increasing intensity, with the corona virus. We see a great deal of solidarity, willingness to sacrifice, readiness to change. Great force are unleashed, because here one of the deepest human drives is implicated, the survival instinct. Like other animals, we have a fundamental drive to survive.

At the same time, we know that we at some point will die. How does this knowledge affect us? Our life can be an attempt to extend the short span of life as long as possible. Some wealthy persons invest a great deal in research, from which they hope for breakthroughs in extending human life. Some persons avoid everything wherein they see every the slightest risk: fear of dying turns into fear of living. Others attempt to supress death by simply ignoring and not thinking about it.

Our life can be an attempt, to get as much as possible from life: to work, to do and accomplish many things, to experience and enjoy many things, or simply to experience as consciously as possible everything going on in our life.

The thought that has become much more present with the current crisis, that I myself or someone close to me could be seriously or even fatally struck, can cause fear, or it can strengthen the desire and resolution to live each day as well as we can: "live every day (and every week, and every month), as though it were your last," as many saints have encouraged for the past millennia.

Death is a tremendous reality. Jesus knows well the purpose in Lazarus's death, indeed he "is glad" that he was not there to prevent his death. Yet he also, with Maria of Bethany, wept over the death of Lazarus, one of only two times recorded in the Gospel that Jesus wept. Jesus knows the depth of the darkness of death.

And Jesus gives us hope. His words to Martha are spoken and written for us as well: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."

The worldwide developments can challenge faith, if Martha's observation, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died," becomes, today: "If God exists, all of this would not be happening." But all who, with Martha, confess, "Yes, Lord; I believe, that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world", find comfort in Christ's solidarity with those dying in sorrow, find hope and confidence in the surety of the victory of life over death.

Towards the end of Lent the Church reminds us yearly of the reality of death from the perspective of the hope that Christ's life, death and resurrection gives us. For the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead will give life, meaning and hope to our mortal life and our concern for physical and spiritual life of our brothers and sisters, the beginning of eternal life in us.

March 25, 2020 – Feast of the Annunciation

"Behold, I come to do your will, o God." Beginning with the narrative of man’s fall, the whole Bibel tells of the consequences of man’s rejection of God: suffering, death, social and political division, war, and it tells the Gospel, the good news of God’s plan to transform that rejection into acceptance.

This “Yes” has a central place in today’s feast, the Annunciation. Nine months before Christmas, the Lord’s birth, this feast recalls: God himself becomes man, affirms the humanity that he created, and enables man to say a wholehearted, sincere “yes” to God, and to himself, despite destructive, sinful and egoistic tendencies present in him after the fall.

Mary lived from the very beginning in a deep relationship to her child and Lord, a relationship oriented towards her maternity, but rooted in the first place in her faith. In faith she spoke her “Yes”, gave her assent to the Lord’s word to her, revealed through the angel Gabriel. Through this obedience of faith the wonder took place, which we venerate in adoration: God became man, Immanuel, God with us.

As Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience stands at the beginning of humanity’s disobedience, so Mary expresses this obedience of faith, as the new “Eve”, for humanity and for the whole Church, which believes in God, hopes in him, and loves him. We are called with her to renew our assent to God and to his plan for us.

That means for me and each of us: to affirm and to do what I can to achieve my goals and to improve my part of the world in some way. But it also means to accept the world as it is, in a state of imperfection and on a journey, which its uncertainty, its tensions. And it means above all, to trust that God accompanies, calls, and fills us with his grace, that all things lead to good for those who love Him.

March 24, 2020 – Call to Conversion

"See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you" (Jn 5,14).

Some would see in the coronavirus a divine punishment for man's sins. Christ, when asked about the man born blind, rejects the notion that sickness is punishment for an individual's sins. Neither he sinned nor his parents, that he was born blind, but so that God might be glorified (Jn 9:3). Elsewhere Christ sees indicates one may sse catastrophes and injustice as a call to repentance and conversion. (Lk 13,1-5)

In a televised interview on Sunday, Cardinal Schönborn in this vein expressed the hope, that "some rethinking is done in economic matters, but also in regards to the personal lifestyle of each one of us…. is it necessary to fly for the weekend to London to go shopping? Is it necessary to spend Christmas on the Maldives? Is it necessary to take a luxury cruise with 4000 people on a ship? Do there have to be 200,000 aircraft flights a day?

It is not a matter of refraining from what is in human power to hinder suffering and sickness, but of, more than this, seeing the big picture from a perspective of faith and christian hope. We have the certitude of faith, God does not abandon us, and for those who love him, he leads all things to good. (Rom 8,28) And does that also through the rethinking, changes and conversion for which a pandemic and its consequences can be the occasion.

March 23, 2020 – New Heavens and a New Earth

"Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind." (Isa 65:17). Isaiah transmits the Lord's promise to give God's faithful yet suffering people courage: the victory will be won, finally, neither by unjust human powers nor by unfeeling powers of nature, which can repress and destroy life, but the power of love, which makes alive. God will create a new world, in which no one dies young, in which everyone is in the position to build a house for themselves and to live there.

The prophecy doesn't reject the present world so as to base hope merely in a distant future, along the lines "this world may be hopeless, but it will pass away, and I will create another." The hope is related not principally to the future, but to God, whose fidelity and love is greater than all disasters and all evil.

Many centuries later, many persons still suffer from injustice and the consequences of the forces of nature. There is still much hatred, injustice and destruction in the world. Yet what was promised to God's people can also be seen today. Where men and women trust that the victory belongs to love and goodness, and in this hope champion the winning cause, take courage to do their best to further it, we find a participation here and now in the promised new world, a gleam of this tremendous hope even in the midst of darkness.

Homily on 4th Sunday of Lent, year A

March 22, 2020

Light of the World

Are the Chinese responsible for the outbreak of the Coronavirus that is making such a stir and is bringing so much suffering and uncertainty? Or the governments?

Similarly the disciples ask: „Who is responsible for this man’s blindness? It can only be the result of sin? Is he guilty, or his parents?”

It is human and normal to ask the question, why did that happen?

In the encounter with the man born blind, Jesus focuses not on the past, bot on the future. He is not blind, because something was, but that something happen: so that healing take place, to show that whatever happens, God is with us a God of the living, as light in the world. Jesus does not pose the question of guilt, but of purpose and meaning: what meaning can we find or bring into the situation?

This is a an encouraging word and an invitation for us, when we feel unsettled in the face of risks to health or one’s financial situation? As he was present to the man born blind, so he is with us in this uncertain situation. Jesus gave the blind man bodily, but also, and even more, spiritual vision, let him perceive God’s intervention in history in recognizing Jesus as a prophet. God wills to open our eyes, too, to see and create meaning in the present happenings.

The new corona sickness may bring suffering and various worries. Many have relatives who are particularly at risk or are themselves at risk, some are out of a job or worry about keeping their job.

The sickness and its spreading is however also an occasion to rethink various things, on the political level, such as globalization and the foundation, but also with a vew to our daily life.

We experience and show much solidarity precisely in these present times, the willingness to sacrifice to protect or to help others. And we may take joy and consolation in this. God is at work here, too.

It was hope for healing that moved the blind man to obey Jesus’s command, to go and wash himself. The hope that fills our hearts, springing from faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the victory over death itself, can help us to keep a positive, even confident and joyful attitude. In our daily work that continues, in taking various precautions, in helping others in this time, we have confidence: the LORD is with us, in HIM is our hope and our salvation. Let us encourage and enhearten one another with this hope. Some things we have to bear, but we can and should see various positive aspects of the changes and developments taking place.

Let us remain in contact with one another, and let us pray for one another, that Jesus, the light of the world, enlighten our communion and this present time.

2020-03-21 – Hope and conversion

"Come, let us return to the LORD, it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence."

Today's reading from the book of Hosea express hope and a call to conversion. The LORD will heal, both from external wounds of war, hunger, sickness, but also and above all does he desire to heal us from the interior wounds of selfishness, greed, incosiderateness. " it is love that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings."

The prophet's words are for us, too. We are going through a difficult time, but go through it with the hope, indeed the conviction that the wounds and the suffering will be healed.

The time is not stolen from us, just given us a different manner. It is a time to rethink various customs and habits, a time to trust one another and to trust in God, a time to show love through voluntary or obligatory self-denial, a time to hear God's voice: "Let us know, let us strive to know the LORD." In short, it is a special Lent, a time of hope-filled preparation for the new life of resurrection.

When this time has passed, as it will pass, we may mourn over some events and struggle with various upsets in our patterns of life, but we shall also see that this time, in its one way, was a fruitful time of reflection and conversion, a time to learn love anew. And the time will be more fruitful to the extent that we don't only stick it out, but accept it and use it, as a special time given to us.

2020-03-20 – Love and Happiness

Much has changed in the past few days, in Austria and in many other countries. We’ve had to hold back in many areas, while in others (hospitals, food supplies, personnel management, emergency services, etc.) work has become much more intense? To what purpose? In many areas we cut back out of love of neighbor, in order to protect others, as ourselves, from infection. In other areas more work is done, also in the service of love of neighbor, who have basic needs even in crisis situations.

What has true value?

If the current situation is unaccustomed and, in some respects, uncomfortable and unsettling, we can still use it to reflect on what is truly important, what makes us truly happy, what is truly meaningful?

When I moved from Zillingdorf to Vienna last year, I used the occasion to clean out various things I don’t really need, that had and have some value but that taken as a whole were just to much. The coming weeks and months can be for all of us a time of reflection and rethinking, in our own household or family, country and in the whole world. Many things are good, but does it really make sense, to build the economy on the basis of unending growth? Do we have to get in the car and drive to the mountains or lake, in order to get some exercise and enjoy nature?

Love of God and Neighbor

Jesus takes up and confirms the Mosaic Law: „You shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart and soul, with all your thoughts and with all your strength… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these two.” (Mk 12,30-31) Might the events and changes, even the concerns of these days, be an occasion to focus more on this fundamental aim and outlook?

This is not simply moralizing or preaching, it’s a matter of our happiness, just as that is the goal of the commandments themselves. What makes us truly happy? Travelling for vacation, the ability to consume fresh fruit from all over the world at any season of the year, the concerts, etc.? Or is it rather attentiveness for one another and concern for another, solidarity and cooperation, everything that we summarize in the short word “love”?

We will make it through this time, and we may, I hope we come out with a greater love for life itself, for the simple things in life, a greater love for god and our neighbor, and a greater awareness, that that is what counts most in life.

19.03.2020 – St. Joseph — quiet and steadfast

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, a man of whom no words are recorded in tradition, a man who quietly listens to God's voice and does with resolve that to which the Holy Spirit moved him and was necessary to protect his family. Scarcely had the joy of Jesus's birth come, Joseph heard the prophecy made to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart. How difficult must it have been for him to hear such words! He heard from an angel in a dream, that the child's life was in danger and that they should flee to Egypt. In all of this St. Joseph remained steadfast.

Today we may feel particularly close to St. Joseph and can learn much from him. Day-to-day life is quieter, as many activities can't or shouldn't take place. We ourselves make have more leisure to focus on what is essential, to give more heed to distinguish what is truly important from what is superfluous, give up many things that formerly claimed our attention. That can itself be rather strenuous: some persons are already feeling cabin fever… but this new "emptiness" and quiet in society and in our own life can also be a chance to listen to our dreams, to our heart, and above all, to God Himself.

We also experience, as St. Joseph did, much that pains and worries us. At present the spread of the corona virus is all over the news, because it is already impacting our lives here and now and the measures being taken to save human lives may have an even more dramatic effect if we or our neighbors lose our jobs; at the same time the countless other things have not ceased to be cause for concern, the multitudes fleeing from war, terror or starvation, various natural disasters such as the extended fires in the Amazon and Australia, etc. St. Joseph can here be a model for us of remaining steadfast in the midst of many challenges, not talking a lot and making a fuss, but simply doing what it is in our power to do, and trusting in God for the rest.


Faithfulness in little things

We live in interesting times, are in a quite unusual situation. All kinds of worries present themselves at every level: concerns about the spread of coronavirus and the suffering and death for the persons who might be infected by it, but also for our job, for the future of our business, that is forced to close for an indefinite but potentially long period, but also concerns about larger civil and economic relations.

We may feel helpless when thinking about the potential risks and dangers facing us. It may be helpful to consider, on the one hand, the truly big picture, and the other hand, small and daily tasks.

To see the big picture, gives confidence. Humanity and society has mastered far greater problems, we will manage this one as well. Together we will win out over the virus, prevent its swift spread, and, in the long-time, find treatments and/or vaccines.

But more than that, God is with us, who has not only given us "statutes and ordinances" as Moses proclaims to the people, but who is Himself with us in our searching, our uncertainty, in our efforts to hinder the spread of coronavirus while giving attention to and maintaining what is truly necessary for ourselves and society.

In today's Gospel Jesus says "till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." The Salvific message, God who himself turns to his people in love, does not do away with the value of fidelity, fairness, attention to one another and care for another, but confirms it.

So let us look consoled to the little things in our power: the work we can do; the tasks we can take care of for others who can't or shouldn't or don't want to leave their homes; the caring and loving and consoling words we can speak to those suffering from loneliness or fear or sickness. Our fidelity, work, patience, and love, that of each one of us, is of great and enduring value.

17.03.201 – Deprivation of Public Liturgy

For many persons, who find spiritual nourishment in the liturgy of the Church, and especially the Eucharist, it is a great sacrifice and a hard burden to be unable to participate in the Holy Mass at this time. They can identify well with the words of today's reading: "We have… no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you."

This forced deprivation can, however, also be an opportunity to pursue more intensely spiritual practices, that can also unite us with the Lord, which is also the fruit of the liturgy. Public Mass may be cancelled, but we can still make a spiritual date with God. And know that he comes to us, accepts us and unites himself to us, also apart from liturgy. The biblical pray, "let us be received; As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, So let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly;" we could render for this situation, "as though it were the celebration of the Mass, so let our faithfulness, our consideration for each other, our patience and our prayer be received by you."