Friday, November 15, 2013


Homily for November 16th, 2013: Luke 18:1-8.
Most of Jesus= parables involve a similarity between the central figure and God. In this case the story turns on the dissimilarity between the corrupt judge and God. It is a Ahow much more@ story. If even so depraved a judge as this one grants the petitioner her request in the end, how much more will God grant the prayers of those who ask him for their needs. God, Jesus is saying, is not like the corrupt judge. It is not difficult to get his attention. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God is approachable.
What is the point of praying, however, if God knows our needs before we do, and better than we do? To that question there is no fully satisfying answer. Prayer, like everything to do with God, is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about it, but that what we can understand is always less than the whole. One thing is certain. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. It opens us up to the action of God in our lives, as the sun=s rays open the flowers to their life-giving warmth and the nourishing moisture of dew and rain.
Prayer also reminds us of our need for God. How easily we forget that need, especially when the sun shines on us and things go well. Then we start to think we can make it on our own: by our cleverness, by luck, by pulling strings, by hard work, even by being so good that God will have to reward us.
We need to be reminded again and again that we can never make it on our own. No matter how clever we are; no matter how much luck we have; no matter how many strings we pull; no matter how hard we work or how hard we try to be good. None of those things is certain, Jesus tells us.  There is certainty only in God. He alone can satisfy our deepest desires. Hence Jesus= final, insistent question. He is putting it to us, right now: AWhen the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?”

Thursday, November 14, 2013


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 21:5-19.
AIM:  To assure the hearers that God is with us in times of trial.

AThere will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.@ That sounds like some kind of antique science fiction. What is Jesus telling us?
Let=s look at the passage in context. To people who were admiring the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says: AAll that you see here B the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.@ The people who heard those words would have thought them either shocking or crazy B as shocking and crazy as the statement of a hypothetical Manhattan tour guide on September 10, 2001, to tourists gawking at the World Trade Center: ATake a good look folks. It won=t be here tomorrow.@                
Jesus= prediction about the destruction of their beloved Temple was made to people who had been told times without number that they were God=s people. He had chosen them, from all other peoples on earth. He had promised to be with them and to protect them always. How could God permit the destruction of his earthly dwelling place? Small wonder that the people ask: ATeacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?@
Jesus= reply to these questions, as so often, is disappointing. He tells them they don=t need a timetable. They should distrust anyone who offers one. >If you are living as my followers,= Jesus tells them in effect, >future trials and even disasters will not defeat you. Stay close to God and you will have nothing to fear, even when everything around you is collapsing: your nation, your church, your own personal life.=
Luke recorded Jesus= words in his gospel to reassure his own Christian community amid difficulties and persecution. Their trials are not ours. But the truth behind the strange sounding language in today=s gospel remains. Today, as in Luke=s time, we are witnessing a struggle between the forces of good and evil: in the world, in our own county, in the Church, in our own personal lives. We need not look far to see evidence of evil=s power. We find it in the newspaper each morning, and in the evening news on television. We feel in our own hearts and minds the dark forces that threaten to drag us down from what, in the depths of our being, we most deeply long to do and to be.
Jesus never promised to preserve us from trials or even from disasters. He promises to be with us amid disasters. Jesus made that promise out of his own experience. Taunted on Calvary to produce a final dramatic proof of his claim to be God=s Son, by coming down from the cross, he remained silent. Jesus had really to die. Only then could he be raised by God=s power to a new and higher life beyond suffering, disaster, and death. 
If Jesus was not preserved from suffering and death, how can we expect to be immune? Neither the Church, nor any nation, nor any individual has any guarantee from God that things will always work out, that catastrophes will be averted.
Jesus Christ gives one guarantee only. He will always support with the power of his Holy Spirit those who try to be faithful to him; and in the end (though not necessarily before then), the power of good will prove stronger than the power of evil B because it is the power of God. That is the message of today=s gospel.

How should we respond to that message? Jesus tells us in the final sentence of our gospel reading: ABy your perseverance you will secure your lives.@ This perseverance is not something we can summon up from within simply by willpower, by gritting our teeth, holding the right thought, or (as the saying goes) Ahanging in there.@ The perseverance Jesus commands must be given to us from without.
That is why we are here once again: to receive from God strength to endure the humanly unendurable; to hope when we see no reason for hope; to continue the journey when we feel our strength at an end and we are tempted to give up.
We receive this power to persevere in Holy Communion. We receive it also, however, at what the second Vatican Council taught us to call once again, as our Catholic forbears did almost two millennia ago, the table of the word. From the rich storehouse of Holy Scripture listen, in conclusion, to a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Though not in our readings today, it was surely familiar to Jesus. It is quite possible that he knew it by heart. It is the source of the contemporary hymn, AOn eagle=s wings.@
ADo you not know, have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, creator of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint; no man can fathom his understanding. He gives vigor to the weary, new strength to the exhausted. Young men may grow weary and faint, even in their prime they may stumble and fall; but those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will march on and never grow faint.@  (Isaiah 40:28-31, NEB)


Homily for November 15th, 2013: Luke 17:26-37.
             Jesus continues his teaching about the end time, which began in yesterday’s gospel reading. The end time refers to Jesus’ return in power and glory, a total contrast to his first coming as a helpless infant, in weakness and obscurity. In today’s gospel the emphasis is on the unexpectedness of the Lord’s return. 
           On page after page of Holy Scripture we see God acting in ways that no one could have expected. Jesus gives two examples familiar to his Jewish hearers.

No one expected the flood which swallowed up all but those who embarked in the ark which Noah built at God’s command. No one save Lot foresaw the catastrophe which befell the wicked inhabitants of Sodom. 
           Here are two more examples. The younger son Joseph was hated by his older brothers, who sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. There he is thrown into prison on a trumped up capital charge – only to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom and the savior from death through famine not only of the Egyptians but of his whole family, including his resentful brothers.

          Moses, while still a young man, has to flee Egypt after failing to save his people from oppression. Forty years later, with Moses’ life for all intents and purposes over, God summons him from a life of obscurity to do what he had miserably failed to do forty years before: liberate his entire people from bondage. These biblical stories, and many more like them, have given birth to our modern saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
          But how do we prepare for the unexpected? Jesus’ answer is clear: by living with our eyes directed not upon ourselves and our own interests, but on the Lord God. That is the meaning of Jesus' words: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.” Then, when the Lord comes – whether to us individually through the angel of death, or for all of us through the Lord’s return in glory – his coming, though unexpected, will be a day not of terror, but of joy – the joy of seeing face-to-face the One who alone can satisfy the deepest longings and desires of our hearts; and who told us during his short time on earth: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete. (John 15:11)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Homily for November 14th, 2013: Luke 17:20-25.
          We are nearing the end of the year in the Church’s calendar. Two weeks from Sunday, the first of December, is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church year. As we approach the threshold of this new year, the Church gives us readings about what has traditionally been called “the end time,” when Jesus will come again: not as he first came in Bethlehem, in the weakness and obscurity of a baby, born in a little village on the edge of the then known world; but in an event so dramatic that all will know that history’s final hour has struck.  
          From Jesus’ day to this people have wanted to know when this will be. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that even he does not know this. “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).
Hence, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, when people claim to have a timetable, we should pay no attention to them: “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” Jesus’ return will be dramatic, and unexpected. “For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will he Son of Man be in his day.”
Then comes a shocker: “First he [the Son of Man] must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”  Friends, this suffering and rejection continue today. Just this week, Cardinal Dolan, in his final address as outgoing President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, spoke about the worldwide persecution of Christians today. The 20th century, he said, saw the death of half the total number of Christian martyrs since Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in the not yet 13 years of this century, a million Christians have already died because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Those martyrs are our brothers and sisters in the family of God, Dolan said. We must pray for them, Dolan said, as well as for those still living but facing cruel persecution. Pope Francis has said the same. I invite you to do this in a special way in this Mass. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


Homily for November 13th, 2013: Luke 17: 11-19.
Jesus heals ten lepers. In Jesus' day leprosy was something like AIDS today. Because the disease was incurable, and thought to be contagious, the leper had to live apart, calling out AUnclean, Unclean!@ lest others approach and become infected. So in healing the ten, Jesus was restoring them from a living death to new life. Yet only one came back to give thanks for his healing. He was a foreigner, despised by Jesus= people. If he goes to the Temple, the priest will probably tell him to get lost. He doesn=t belong to the right religion, or the right people. Related ethnically to the Jews, he doesn=t observe the Jewish Law. Priests in Jesus= day were also quarantine officials. Only the Samaritan, who lives outside the law, follows the impulse of his heart, returns to Jesus, and gives thanks.  
What about ourselves? Are we grateful people? Do we take time each day to count our blessings, and give thanks to God for them? The Church helps us to be thankful people by placing thanksgiving at the heart of its public prayer. Eucharist, you know, means Athanksgiving.@ The Mass C every Mass C is a public act of thanksgiving to our heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon us. In a few minutes we shall hear once again the familiar story of what Jesus did for us at the Last Supper. AHe took bread and gave you thanks .... When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise.@
Giving thanks to God over something is the Jewish form of blessing. In giving thanks to his heavenly Father for the bread and wine, Jesus was blessing them. And in so doing he was transforming them: changing their inner reality into his own body and blood. It is because of this miraculous though unseen change that we genuflect to Jesus present in the tabernacle when we come into church. We ring a bell at the consecration, reminding everyone in the church: Jesus is here, right now, in a special way, with a special intensity! The light burning near the tabernacle, day and night, says the same thing. 
Show me someone who is embittered, angry, filled with resentment and hate B and I=ll show you a person who has no time for thanksgiving. But show me a person who radiates peace and joy B and I=ll show you someone who daily and even hourly gives thanks to God for all his blessings. 
Which of these two persons would you like to be?

Monday, November 11, 2013


Homily for November 12th, 2013: Luke 17:7-10.
          “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” The closing words of our gospel reading today tell us that we never have a claim on God. Even when we have done all that God commands – and which of us has? – we can never sit back and tell God: “I’m waiting for your reward, Lord.”
          That was what the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story of the two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. In his prayer the Pharisee told God all the good things he had done. And he really had done them. He was a genuinely good and devout man. His good works went far beyond anything that was required.
          The tax collector, on the other hand, knew that he had few if any good deeds to appeal to. He could pray only for God’s mercy: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Yet, Jesus says, it was the tax collector who went home justified – which means “having been put right with God” – rather than the devout Pharisee. His mistake lay in assuming that his good deeds gave him a claim on God. 
          We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us, and it is a total claim. Does that mean that there is no reward for faithful service? Of course not. Jesus speaks often of God’s reward. To experience his reward, Jesus is saying, you must appeal, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s mercy. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Homily for November 11th, 2013: Luke 17:1-6.
          Today’s gospel reading gives us an example of Jesus using hyperbole. How so, you ask? Webster’s dictionary says that hyperbole is “a statement exaggerated fancifully, as for effect.” The American humorist Mark Twain was using hyperbole when he said: “The first time I ever saw St. Louis, I could have bought it for 3 million dollars; and it is the mistake of my life that I did not do so.” In Mark Twain’s youth 3 million dollars was like 300 million today. The statement is absurd – but also very funny, which is of course the effect Mark Twain was aiming at.
          Helping people understand the power of faith is the effect Jesus was aiming at when he spoke the words in today’s gospel: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” That is as absurd as Mark twin claiming he could have bought Louis for 3 million dollars. No one would want to a plant mulberry tree in the sea. The salt water would kill it.   
          What Jesus is actually saying is that with faith we can accomplish the impossible. What is faith, anyway? Many Catholics would probably say: faith is the list of truths that we profess every Sunday in the creed. That is not wrong. But faith in that sense is properly called the faith.
          The primary meaning of faith is trust. Even in the Creed, we say “I believe in God.” To believe in someone is to trust that person. When we say we believe in God, we’re saying that we trust him enough to entrust our lives to him. Faith in that sense is not something that comes to us naturally. It is a gift. And the one who gives it to us is God.
          Each time we come here we are praying that through his two tables of word and sacrament God will deepen and strengthen our trust in him. We are like the man in Mark’s gospel who comes to Jesus asking healing for his boy, who suffers terrible convulsions. Jesus asks the man if he truly believes that Jesus has power to heal. “I do believe,” the father replies. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). I invite you to make that prayer your own.