Monday, January 23, 2017

JESUS' TRUE FAMILY


Homily for January 24th, 2017: Mark 31-35.

          “The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house,” we heard at the start of today’s gospel. His brothers? The Church has always believed and taught that Jesus had no siblings. His mother Mary had only one child; which is why she is called “ever virgin.” Why, some people ask? Others ask, what difference does it make? It makes all the difference. Here’s why.

          Having given herself completely to God, when she told the angel Gabriel, “I am the servant of the Lord – be it done to me as you say,” it was impossible that Mary could give herself completely to a human husband. That is why Mary is “ever virgin.” The Greek word used by Mark and translated “brothers” was used in biblical times to designate not only siblings, but other relatives as well.

          More significant are the words Jesus directs to those sitting with him in the house: “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Jesus widens his family circle to include all those who try to do his will – ourselves included.

          That too, friends, is part of the gospel. That is the good news.  

         

 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE."


 Homily for April 5th, 2017. John 8:31-42.

          “Everyone one who commits sin is a slave of sin,” Jesus says. What does that mean, “a slave of sin?” To answer that question we must start with temptation. Where does it come from? From Satan. His name means “the Tempter.” Jesus calls him “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan lied to Jesus in the second of the three temptations during Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness. “Then the devil … showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. He said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms: the power has been given to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it shall all be yours” (Luke 4:5ff). That was a lie. Jesus recognized the lie at once, and rejected the temptation with a scriptural quote: “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore” (Deut. 6:13).

          We all experience temptation, all the time. ‘Go ahead. Do it. Why not? It will make you feel good. You’ll be happy. Everybody does it.’ Every one of those statements is a lie. So we say, ‘Well, just this once.’ And then we find that it’s not just this once. Having yielded to Satan’s lies, we yield again – and again, until we find that we’ve acquired a habit, which soon has us in its grip. Over time we discover that we are slaves of sin, as Jesus says in today’s gospel. Breaking the habit is very difficult.

          But not impossible. “If you remain in my word,” Jesus says, “you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What is this truth that will set us free? It is knowing that when the Lord God set his mark on us at baptism, he made us his sons and daughters,  sisters and brothers of his Son, Jesus. As long as we stay close to him, we are happy; yes, and we are also free. And when we wander off, as all of us do at times, he is ready to forgive us and to restore us to his friendship. He does that in the sacrament of penance, or confession.  

More than once Pope Francis has heard confessions at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. A video made on one such occasion, and which soon went viral on the Internet, shows the Pope kneeling in front of another confessional to confess his own sins, before he goes to the confessional assigned to him. I have an appointment with my own confessor next week. If you have not celebrated this sacrament recently, I hope you will do so before Easter. It’s not something unpleasant like going to the dentist, It is a personal encounter with One whose love will never let you go. He wants to set you free. His name is Jesus Christ.    

"COME AFTER ME."

3rd Sunday Ordinary Time, Year A. Mt 4:12-23.
AIM: To challenge the hearers to respond to the Lord=s call today.
 
A cardinal was visiting a community of Carmelite nuns in Italy. After celebrating Mass for them, he asked the Mother Superior if he could see how they lived. Carmelite nuns are enclosed. They don=t leave the cloister. And visitors talk to them through a grille. The cardinal=s request violated their rule. But when a cardinal asks, you don=t say No. So the Prioress asked one of the nuns to show him round.
They visited the refectory, where the nuns sit on wooden benches without backs to eat their simple meals off bare wooden tables. The cardinal saw one of the cells where they sleep: a small room furnished with a narrow bed, a table to serve as a desk, and a hard wooden chair; a single light bulb overhead and a gooseneck lamp on the table. Instead of a basin with running water there was a large washbowl on a stand, and on the floor next to it a large crockery jug. The nun explained that water was brought from the bathroom down the hall.
At the end of the short tour the nun led the cardinal up a narrow stairway to the flat terraced roof above, furnished with hard benches and a railing all round. AOn feast days ,@ she explained,@we can come up here, if the weather is fine, for our recreation period.@ The view was beautiful. Across a valley they could see a magnificent villa surrounded by formal gardens and several fountains. It was summer. A gardener was cutting one of the hedges. Children were frolicking in the swimming pool. A couple were playing tennis on one of the two courts. 
The cardinal turned to the nun who was showing him round. 
AHow long have you been here in Carmel, Sister?@ he asked her.
AI entered twenty years ago next Easter,@ she responded.
ASister,@ he said, Aif the young man of that house had asked you twenty-one years ago to come and live there with him there as his wife, do you think you would be here today?@
AYour Eminence,@ she replied, AThat was my house.@
Why? Why would a young woman give up all that luxury and all that beauty?  I think if we could have asked her, or hundreds like her round the world, she would have said something like this:
AI wanted to be with Jesus.@
Our gospel reading today tells of a similar sacrifice by two pairs of brothers: Simon and his brother Andrew, James and his brother John.  They were fishermen.  Yet at Jesus= call, our gospel told us, they immediately leave their nets and boat and follow him. Their nets and boat were their livelihood, their security. They were burning their bridges behind them. Why? If we could have asked them, I think they might have said something like this: AYou would have to have known this man Jesus. There was something about him that made it impossible to say No.@
Somewhere in this church right now there is a young woman whom God is calling to be a religious Sister. Somewhere there is a young man who God wants to be a priest. Let me speak very personally to you.
Jesus is offering you something he offers to only a few, something precious beyond words. He is offering you a life that will sometimes be hard, but which will be filled with meaning and filled above all with joy. How do I know that? Because seventy-six years ago Jesus made that offer to me. He called me when I was just twelve years old by placing in my heart and mind the desire to be a priest. Since then I have never wanted anything else. Thirteen years later I fulfilled that desire.  On April 3rd of this year that will be sixty-three years ago. Those sixty-three years have brought me joy beyond telling. But they have also brought me suffering, sorrow, and grief. Have I ever regretted my decision for priest hood? Never. Not one single day.

And so I say to you, whoever you may be, whatever your age, whatever your circumstances:  When Jesus calls you, go for it! And one day you too will be able to say what I say to you right now: What a wonderful life! I have experienced already here on earth a little bit of heaven.

Is God=s call just for religious professionals, priests and religious Sisters? Don=t you believe it! While you were still in your mother=s womb, God already had a plan for your life. He calls each one of us, as he called those four rough fishermen in today=s gospel. He calls us to walk with him, to be so full of his love that others will see the joy on our faces and want what we have. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught.

AI could never do that,@ you=re thinking?  You=re wrong.  Here is a list of some of the great people in the Bible. It was sent to me by e-mail, by whom I no longer know. Every one of these people had a reason for thinking God could not use them. So the next time you feel like God can=t use you, remember: 

Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer.  Jacob was a liar. Joseph was abused by his brothers. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy thought they were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah thought himself unworthy. Jonah ran away from God=s call. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Martha was a perpetual worrier. The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well was five times divorced. Zaccheus was too small. Peter denied Christ.  The disciples fell asleep while praying. At Jesus= arrest, they all forsook him and fled. Paul was a religious fanatic. Timothy had an ulcer. And Lazarus was dead! 
           So what=s your excuse?  Whatever it may be, God can still use you to your full potential. Besides, you aren=t the message. You=re only the messenger.

When you were born, you were crying, and everyone around you was smiling. Start today (if you haven=t started already) living your life so that when you die, you=re the only one smiling, and everyone around you is crying.

SIN AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT


Homily for January 23rd, 2017: Mark 3:22-30.

          “Every sin will be forgiven mankind,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “and all blasphemies men utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” These words are difficult. We find them, in different versions, in all three of the so-called synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. From the beginning the words have caused heart-searching and anguish, especially for people inclined to scrupulosity. What can we say about them?

          Here is what the Catholic Catechism says: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and final loss.” [1864] Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not properly consist, then, in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to us through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross.

          Pope St. John Paul II explained it thus: “If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness’ is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance’, in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. . . Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evil -- in any sin at all -- and who thus rejects redemption. One closes oneself up in sin, thus making impossible one's conversion, and consequently the remission of sins, which one considers not essential or not important for one's life. This is a state of spiritual ruin, because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not allow one to escape from one's self-imposed imprisonment and open oneself to the divine sources of the purification of consciences and of the remission of sins.” [Dominum et vivificantem, 46.]

          And Pope Francis says again and again: “God never grows tired of forgiving us. It is we who go tired of asking for forgiveness.” Committing the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit means, therefore, refusing to ask for forgiveness, and perseverance in such refusal until the end.

Friday, January 20, 2017

"HE IS OUT OF HIS MIND."


Homily for January 21st, 2017: Mark 3:20-21.

          No sooner has word got out that Jesus has come to their town than crowds storm the house where he is staying in such numbers that it was “impossible even to eat,” Mark tells us. Even more shocking is the reaction of his family: “When his relatives hear of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” People are still saying that of Jesus Christ and of those determined to follow him. Here are three examples.

          A man married for well over twenty years tells a priest: “Father, my wife is so sensitive. For the whole of our marriage I’ve been walking on eggshells, always afraid that I’ll say or do something that will upset her. It’s driving me nuts.” Further conversation discloses that there is another woman in the picture who understands and affirms him. “I’ve thought about getting a divorce and marrying her,” he says. “But then I think of the children – and of the promises I made when we married. So I’ve decided to stay married and tough it out. All my buddies tell me I’m out of my mind.”

          Then there is the girl at college who discovers that she is pregnant. The man responsible, and all her girlfriends, tell her to get an abortion. At first terrified that her parents will find out, she finally screws up courage to tell them. “You’re still our daughter,” they say. “You mustn’t kill the child you’re carrying. We all make mistakes. We’re going to help you – with the birth and by caring for your baby afterwards.” When other members of the family find out about this they’re outraged. “Are you out of your mind?” they ask. “An abortion may not be cheap. But it’s nothing compared with the expense of raising a child no one wants. And think of the embarrassment when everyone finds out.” The child is a girl, three years old now. Everybody loves her.

          Finally there is the young man who tells his parents he wants to go to seminary – or it could be his sister (the only other sibling in the family) wanting to enter a convent. This time it’s the parents who are outraged. “You need to marry, have children,” they say. “And we want grandchildren who will have Dad’s name. You’re throwing your life away. Are you out of your mind?”

          None of the people in these examples are out of their minds. Rather, through faithfulness to the Lord, supported by much prayer, they have developed the mind of Christ.

Think about that. More important: pray about it.       

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"TO BE WITH HIM, AND TO BE SENT OUT."


Homily for January 20th, 2017: Mark 3:13-19.

          Jesus “appointed Twelve,” our gospel has just told us, “whom he also named Apostles.”

         Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.

He chose them, Mark tells us, “that they might be with him and [that] he might send them forth.” There seems to be a contradiction there. How could they be with Jesus while at the same time being sent forth into the world? This seeming contradiction is the tension of the whole Christian life. It is the tension between the vertical and the horizontal; between our duty towards God and our duty toward others – between transcendence (vertical) and immanence (horizontal).

Ideally there is no conflict between the vertical and the horizontal. The first (our relationship with God) is the support of the second (our duty toward others). And the second (service of others) is the active expression of the first. Prayer and our whole relationship with God make it possible for us to have something to give to others. And active, self-sacrificing love of others is the expression and proof of genuine love of God.

Jesus’ life was the perfect combination of the vertical and the horizontal; of total consecration to his heavenly Father, combined with unrestricted service of others. That was why his earthly life ended where the vertical and horizontal intersect: on the cross. Note: I said Jesus’ earthly life. Beyond that his heavenly and eternal life continued. Raised on the third day through the power of God’s Holy Spirit from the tomb where his heart-broken friends had laid him, Jesus started appearing to his initially frightened but then overjoyed friends to inspire and empower them to live as he lived: totally devoted to his heavenly Father, yet totally at the service of others. That is why we are here: to worship and adore our crucified but risen Lord, and to receive his power to live as he lived: at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal: devoted and consecrated to him, while serving others by sharing with them the love he pours out on us through his Holy Spirit.                          

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"HE DID THAT ONCE FOR ALL."


Homily for January 19th, 2017: Hebrews 7:25-8:6.

          We have a high priest, we heard in our first reading, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.” The words refer, of course, to Jesus Christ. The author of that first reading contrasts Jesus with the Jewish priests of his day, who offered sacrifices “day after day” in the Temple at Jerusalem. Those Temple sacrifices needed to be repeated daily because, as Israel’s prophets said many times over, they did not truly take away the sins of those for which they were offered.

Since God was the creator of everything, the prophets said, and thus their true owner, he did not need the material things offered to him in sacrifice. God wanted the givers. Yet this was the one thing people could not offer. And to the extent that people did try to offer themselves to God in a spiritual manner, they were offering something tainted by sin, and hence unworthy of God. God, being all-holy, deserved an untainted and perfect offering.

The perfect, undefiled sacrifice which God desires has been offered, the Letter to the Hebrews says, by Jesus, God’s divine Son, at the Last Supper and on Calvary. He did that, our first reading says, “once for all.” But this raises a question. How can we call the Mass a sacrifice? We do so because the Mass makes Jesus’ perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice spiritually present – just as, for observant Jews today, the celebration of Passover makes God’s rescue of his people from bondage (an event even more distant in time than the Last Supper and Calvary) spiritually present.

          Whenever, therefore, we gather to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “do this” with the bread and the wine, we are there! We are in the Upper Room with Jesus’ apostles. We are there with the Beloved Disciple and Mary, along with his other female followers – more faithful than the men – beneath the cross. We are there with but one difference: we cannot see the Lord with our physical eyes; but we do perceive him with the eyes of faith.

          Do we realize that when we come to Mass – and truly worship?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"THEY WATCHED JESUS CLOSELY."


Homily for January 18th, 2017. Mark 3:1-6.

          Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. The healings already recounted by Mark in the first two chapters of his gospel have brought Jesus the reputation of a powerful healer. The man with the withered hand is probably well known to the local community. It is no wonder therefore, that the people in the synagogue on watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they might accuse him,” Mark explains. Jesus has just begun his 3-year pubic ministry. But already there are signs of the hostility which will bring him to the cross.

          Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Come up here before us,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save a life rather than to destroy it?” To which those watching give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes flocking to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.

          Jesus’ critics are infuriated. They meet at once with the friends of the puppet ruler, Herod, who serves at the pleasure of the Roman rulers of the land, to see how they can rid themselves of Jesus by putting him to death.

          None of this remains unknown to Jesus. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.