Thursday, October 27, 2016


Homily for Oct. 28th, 2016: Luke 6:12-16.
 From his disciples, we heard in the gospel, Jesus chose twelve. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose to lead his new people were undistinguished. If they had one common quality it was mediocrity. About most of them we have only legends. And the lists of names in the different gospels don’t even agree in all cases.
He calls these mostly quite ordinary men “apostles.” What is an apostle? The word means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to another country to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.
Who are today’s apostles? One answer is “the bishops.” We call them the successors of the apostles. Each one of them must have been ordained bishop by at least one previous bishop who is, as the books say, “in the apostolic succession.” That means that he too must have been ordained by a bishop who received his sending from a bishop who can trace his call back to one of the twelve originally sent out by Jesus and named today’s gospel.
In baptism and confirmation, however, Jesus has also sent each one of us to be his apostles, his messengers. How do we do that? You probably know St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to this question. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.” How wise that is. Personal example is always more powerful than words. “What you are,” someone said, “speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” And Pope Paul VI said the same when he wrote: “People today listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. And if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.
So what are we? In baptism we were made God’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and heirs of his kingdom. The whole of our Christian life, therefore – all our prayers, sacrifices and good works -- are not a striving after high and distant ideals that constantly elude us. They are efforts to live up to what in baptism, we have already become. We come here, therefore, to receive, at these twin tables of word and sacrament, the inspiration and strength to be messengers of God’s love, and bringers of his light, to a dark and mostly unbelieving world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Homily for October 27th, 2016: Ephesians 6:10-20.

          “Pray at every opportunity in the Spirit,” Paul writes in our first reading. He says the same, even more strongly, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, when he writes: “Pray without ceasing” (5:17). Is that realistic? Taken literally, it is not. There are many daily activities which require our full attention. We cannot be thinking of God consciously at every waking moment of our lives.

          We can pray to God “at every opportunity,” however. And the opportunities for doing so are far more frequent than we mostly suppose. In every life there are, each day, empty times when we can recall God’s presence and turn to him with an upward glance of the heart, a thought, or a word of prayer. There are many times each day when we must wait: in line at the post office or bank, at the supermarket, at the doctor, in traffic – and when we walk to or from our cars. Why not turn these empty times into times for prayer? Short prayers or phrases are best: “Jesus, help me;” “Thank you, Lord;” “Lord, have mercy.” Or simply the Holy Names, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” – or the name of Jesus alone – repeated with every step, every breath, or every heartbeat. These are perfect prayers which take us straight into presence of Him who loves us more than we can ever imagine, and who is close to us always, even when we stray far from Him.

          As a 21-year-old seminarian I resolved to turn to the Lord God whenever I went up or downstairs – something I would be doing all my life, I reflected, until I got old and was felled by a stroke – when I could continue this practice in elevators. I’ve been working on this now for 67 years. I could never tell you how much it has helped me and how much joy it has put into my heart.

          Why not do something like this yourself? Find the empty times in your own life. Use them to turn inwardly to God. Each time you do so, you will find that he is there, waiting for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Homily for Oct. 26th, 2016. Luke 13:22-30.

ALord, will only a few people be saved?@ Jesus is asked in our gospel reading. The question was asked out of mere curiosity. Jesus never answered such questions. Here he turns to a different question B and a far more important one: AHow can I be saved?@ Many, he warns, will not be saved. People who are complacent, who think they can postpone their decision for God, will find themselves shut out from God=s presence. Many others, however, who do not belong to God=s chosen people, will be saved, Jesus says. APeople will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.@ God offers salvation not just to one people, but to all peoples. The lesson for us Catholics is clear. A Catholic baptismal certificate and attendance at Sunday Mass do not guarantee salvation. Our Catholic faith must produce fruits in daily life. If it does not, we too risk hearing one day the terrible words in today=s gospel: AI do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!@

AStrive to enter through the narrow gate,@ Jesus says. That Anarrow gate@ stands for every situation in which God=s demands weigh heavily on us and seem too hard to bear. Our trials and sufferings are the homework we are assigned in the school of life. Our teacher in this school is Jesus Christ. Whatever trials and sufferings we encounter, his were heavier. Jesus never promised that God would protect us from trials and sufferings. He promises that God will be with us in trials and suffering. 

Today=s gospel begins by saying that Jesus was Amaking his way to Jerusalem.@ For Jesus, our teacher in life=s school, Jerusalem meant Calvary. There he passed through his Anarrow gate.@ There he had his final examination in life=s school. John=s gospel tells us that Ain the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb ...@ (19:41). In that garden tomb, hard by Calvary, the Lord=s heartbroken friends laid his dead body on Good Friday afternoon. From that tomb Jesus was raised on the third day to a new and glorious life beyond death. He had passed his final examination. He had graduated. For him there would be no more school, no more examinations, no more suffering.

Jesus invites us to walk the same road he walked. Here in the Eucharist, he gives us the food we need for our journey. He invites us to make our way to Jerusalem, there to pass through our narrow gate to Calvary B but beyond Calvary to resurrection and the fullness of eternal life with him.     

Monday, October 24, 2016


Homily for October 25th, 2017: Luke 13: 18-21.

          The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is “like a mustard seed … the smallest of all seeds.” From tiny beginnings comes a great bush, large enough to shelter birds, who build their nests in its branches. God’s kingdom is not identical with his Church. Yet what Jesus says about the kingdom in this little parable is also true of the Church. Who could have predicted that the little band of humble friends of Jesus whom we read about in the gospels would grow into the worldwide Church we see today? Nobody! Yet so it is. Jesus knows what he is about. With this comparison of God’s kingdom to mustard seed, he spoke the truth.

The kingdom is also, Jesus says, “like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Do those words reflect a childhood memory: Jesus recalling how he had watched his mother mixing leaven with dough, kneading it, and then setting it in the sun, which caused the dough to rise, so that it could be baked in the oven? We cannot say; but it is entirely possible. The meaning of this parable is similar to that of the mustard seed. From small, seemingly insignificant beginnings, comes growth that no one could have predicted.

Why do you suppose Jesus chose parables as his favorite form of teaching? Well, who doesn’t like a good story?  Stories have a universal appeal, to young children, but also to adults. But there is another reason why Jesus chose to teach through stories. Because stories are much easier to understand than abstract explanations. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Every teacher who wants to communicate new knowledge to his listeners naturally makes constant use of example or parable. ... By means of parable he brings something distant within their reach so that, using the parable as a bridge, they can arrive at what was previously unknown.”  

The two little parables we have heard today proclaim God’s love – but also our need to respond with love: for him and for others.    


Sunday, October 23, 2016


Homily for October 24th, 2016: Luke 13:10-17.

          “Woman, you are set free . . . ” Jesus tells a nameless woman, unable to stand erect, whom he encounters in a synagogue on a Sabbath day. “He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God,” Luke tells us. There is no indication that the woman asked to be healed. Moreover, men and women sat separately in synagogues – as they still do today in Orthodox synagogues. “When Jesus saw her, he called to her,” Luke writes. The healing was entirely his initiative.

It is one of countless examples in the gospels of Jesus’ compassion. More importantly, it is an example Jesus’ rejection of the second-class status of women in his society. Another is Jesus’ lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4 of John’s gospel. The social laws of the day forbade all but the most superficial public contact with a woman not related to a man. Moreover, as a Samaritan the woman belonged to people whom Jews in Jesus’ day hated. Jesus also rejected the second-class status of women when he praised Mary of Bethany for sitting at his feet, listening to his teaching, while her sister Martha toiled in the kitchen. Again, the laws of the day said that was where Mary too belonged.

The fourth Commandment told God’s people to rest from work on the Sabbath because God had rested on the seventh day, after finishing his work of creation. (cf. Exod. 20:11) The Sabbath rest was thus a weekly reminder that God must have the central place in his people’s lives.

When the synagogue leader complains that the healing Jesus has performed violates the Sabbath rest, Jesus responds by telling the man that he would not hesitate to untie and lead to water a domestic animal on the Sabbath. Was this “daughter of Abraham,” as Jesus calls her, less worthy of compassion than an animal? Ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath, Jesus asks. By framing what he has done in terms of liberation, Jesus reminds us of his central and most important work: setting us free from our heaviest burden: sin and guilt. Jesus never grows tired of doing this, our wonderful Pope Francis reminds us. It is we who too often grow tired of asking for forgiveness.


Friday, October 21, 2016


Homily for Oct. 22nd, 2016: Luke 13:1-9.

Jesus= hearers tell him about two recent disasters: an atrocity perpetrated by the hated Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; and a construction accident which had killed eighteen unsuspecting people. In Jesus= day people assumed that the victims of such tragedies were being punished for their sins. Twice over Jesus contradicts this view. The victims were no worse sinners than anyone else, Jesus says. But their deaths were a warning, Jesus says: AI tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!@ The story which follows, about a farmer and his barren fig tree, drives home this warning.

Fig trees grew wild in Palestine in Jesus= day. A newly planted fig tree takes three years to bear fruit. So when the owner of this fig tree tells his gardener that he has been looking for fruit from it for three years, this means it had been there for six years in all. The order to cut it down was entirely reasonable. The gardener is an example of the incurable optimist. He wants to dig round it, to allow the rain to reach the roots, and to fertilize the tree. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any reference to fig trees being cultivated or fertilized. The gardener is suggesting extraordinary, heroic measures. He agrees with his employer, however, that if the tree is still without fruit after another year, it will have to come down.

The story contains a warning, but also encouragement. God is like the owner of the fig tree, Jesus is saying. God looks for results. There will be a day of reckoning. That is the warning. But God is also patient. He is willing to wait. He will even wait longer than necessary. Behind the figure of the gardener in the story C pleading for one more growing season, for extraordinary, heroic measures C we glimpse Jesus himself. Jesus, our elder brother and our best friend, knows our weakness. If we haven=t done too well up to now, Jesus pleads on our behalf for more time. That is the story=s message of encouragement.

In the gardener=s suggestion to wait one more year, to use extraordinary measures, we see God=s patience and generosity. In the agreement of owner and gardener alike, that if the tree remains without fruit another year, it must be cut down, Jesus warns us of the certainty judgment.

God’s judgment is not the adding up of the pluses and minuses in some heavenly book. It is simply God’s ratification of choices we make every day: for God, his love, his goodness, and his light; or our choice to reject those things. If we are trying to choose Him, the Lord God who loves us beyond our imagining things, need not fear judgment. We can be confident.


Thursday, October 20, 2016


Homily for October 21st, 2016: Luke 12:54-59.

          In today’s short gospel reading, just six verses in Luke’s gospel, Jesus expresses his disappointment, bewilderment, and sorrow that people who know how to read the signs of the time in worldly matters are clueless when it comes to judging spiritual signs, which are far more important.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that is going to rain. . . When you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say it is going to be hot.” Jesus’ examples are as up-to-date as the morning newspaper. So is his challenging question: Why, then, can you not see, Jesus asks in effect, that my presence, and my words, require a response.    

          No less up-to-date is Jesus’ example from the law courts. If you are entangled in a legal dispute, he says, beware of pressing the matter for decision before third parties -- a judge and jury. That could turn out very badly for you. Try, if you can, to reach a settlement with your opponent before the matter comes to trial. Good lawyers continue to give this advice to their clients today.

          How easy it is to delay our response to the Lord, especially when we are young. I’ll deal with that later, we tell ourselves. Right now I want to get on with my life, to live it up! None of us knows how much time we have left. The only time we ever truly have is the present time, right now. The Lord looks for our response to him today, not sometime in the future. And the response he seeks can be expressed in one short word: Yes.

“Yes, Lord, I believe in you; I trust you; I want you in my life – and at the center of my life. You alone can give me the happiness I seek, and true joy. Come then, dear Lord Jesus, come into my heart; fill me with your love, your joy. Then I shall be truly happy, and desire nothing more -- when I am living completely for you, and for you alone. Amen.”    

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Homily for October 23rd, 2016: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 
         Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.
AIM: To help the hearers trust in God=s mercy, not in their own achievements.
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, is said to have visited a prison one day. Each of the prisoners he spoke with told the king he was innocent: the victim of misunderstanding, prejudice, or simple injustice. Finally King Frederick stopped at the cell of an inmate who remained silent. I suppose you=re innocent too,@ Frederick remarked. ANo, sir,@ the man replied. AI=m guilty.  I deserve to be here.@ Turning to the warden, the king said: AWarden, release this scoundrel at once before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here.@ What better example could we have of the words in our first reading: AThe prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds@?
The story could also serve as an introduction to the parable we have just heard in the gospel about the two men going into the Temple to pray. Both believed in the same God. One went home at peace with God. The other did not. Well sure, we think. Our image of the Pharisees is so negative that the story=s conclusion doesn=t surprise us. For Jesus= hearers, however, the conclusion was not only a surprise. It was deeply shocking. They knew that the Pharisees were deeply religious. The Pharisee in the story was no hypocrite. He really had done all the things he listed in his prayer. 
The Jewish law enjoined fasting only once a year. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable fasted twice a week. Many things were exempt from the law of tithing. This Pharisee made no use of the exemption: he gave back to God, out of gratitude, ten percent of everything he received. The modern equivalent of the Pharisee in Jesus= story would be a Catholic who goes daily to Mass and Communion, performs many good works, and returns a full tithe of his or her income to Church and charity. 
The tax collector, on the other hand, belonged to a class despised by all decent Jews in Jesus= day. Tax collectors worked for the hated Roman government of occupation. They used all kinds of shakedowns and protection rackets to extract money from people. Much of it went into their own pockets. For Jesus= hearers this tax collector was a public sinner on the road to hell. And like the prisoner who confessed to the Prussian king that he really was guilty, the tax collector knew that his bad reputation was well deserved. His visit to the Temple shows, however, that he still believes in God. Unable, like the Pharisee, to point in his prayer to any semblance of a good conduct record, he appeals simply to God=s mercy: AO God, be merciful to me, a sinner.@ 
Though both men believe in God, their image of God is quite different. The tax collector prays to a God of mercy. The Pharisee prays to a God who rewards good people like himself, and comes down hard on bad people like tax collectors.  Jesus addressed the story, the gospel writer Luke tells us at the outset, Ato those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.@ The Pharisee=s image of God was wrong. 
Wrong too was the Pharisee=s attitude. He measured himself not by God=s law, but by those around him. Measuring ourselves against others is always a mistake. If we see, like the Pharisee, that we are better, we become complacent and proud. If we see that we are worse, we can become discouraged. Comparisons with others are meaningless. If others have done better than we have, this may have been because they had advantages we never enjoyed. If they have done worse, this could be due to difficulties of which we have no conception. If you must measure yourself at all, compare yourself not with others, but with Jesus Christ. Instead of looking around at others, and looking down on those whom you consider bad people, place yourself beneath the cross of Jesus. Look up at the One who hangs there. Judged by his standard, we all fall short. 
Like both men in Jesus= story, we have come into God=s house to pray, to worship. We want to go home reconciled with God and others, and at peace. To do so we must avoid two common mistakes. The first is thinking that we are so bad that God is angry with us and cannot forgive us. That is wrong. God never stops loving us. No matter how badly we have fallen, God is always ready to forgive. To receive his forgiveness, we need only say, with the tax collector: AO God be merciful to me, a sinner.@ If our sin was grave and deliberate, we need to receive God=s forgiveness in the sacrament of penance, or confession. 
The second common mistake which keeps us from going home reconciled with God and at peace is thinking that we have a credit balance in some heavenly account book which God is bound to honor. That was how the Pharisee thought. God owes us nothing. We owe him everything. Does that mean that God is not generous? That there is no reward for all our efforts to be good? Of course not!  God is unbelievably generous. And Jesus speaks of reward often in the gospels. To experience God=s generosity, however, we must stand before him with empty hands, appealing not to our deserving, but to his mercy.   
That is what the tax collector did. Jesus gives us this story to help us do the same. Let me conclude by telling you what Pope Benedict says about these two men in his book, Jesus of Nazareth [pp. 61f]:
AThe Pharisee can boast considerable virtues; he tells God only about himself, and he thinks that he is praising God in praising himself. The tax collector knows that he has sinned, he knows he cannot boast before God, and he prays in full awareness of his debt to grace. [AGrace@ is the technical term for God=s freely given love, something we can never earn.] ... The real point is ... that there are two ways of relating to God and to oneself. The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous B what he does himself is enough. 
AThe tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself.  So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God=s goodness, which he can not force God to give him and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows that he needs mercy and so he will learn from God=s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God. ... He will always need the gift of goodness, or forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to give the gift to others.@
Happy are we if those words describe us: people who know we shall always need the gift of God=s goodness, and of his forgiveness; and if, in receiving these gifts we learn to pass them on to others. Let me conclude with a personal statement.
When I come to stand before God in judgment one day, I won=t say: ALord, I have celebrated twenty thousand Masses and preached at least as many homilies; I have spent ten thousand and more hours in the confessional bringing your mercy to the people you love beyond their imagining; I have written 15 books and hundreds of articles and book reviews.@ I won=t mention any of that. Instead I shall say one thing, and one thing only:
ALord, be merciful to me, a sinner.@