Friday, January 24, 2014


3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Matttew 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-three 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 years ago. Those sixty 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.


Homily for January 25th, 2014: Acts of the Apostles 22:3-16.
          “Why are you persecuting me?” the voice from heaven asks the zealous defender of his Jewish faith, Saul, as he approaches Damascus. He is armed with letters from the religious authorities in Jerusalem authorizing him to track down and arrest members of this heretical sect who follow and worship a mere man, Jesus of Nazareth.
“Persecuting me?” Persecuting “my Church,” we could understand. But“me”? Paul’s experience that day is the origin of his teaching that the Church is Christ’s body. What does that mean? Simply this. Since his return to his Father’s right hand in heaven, Jesus has no body on earth but us. We are hands, arms, feet, eyes, ears, and voice for Jesus Christ. What a tremendous responsibility! But a tremendous opportunity also.
Paul’s conversion is yet another of the Lord’s surprises. Which of us would have chosen an arch persecutor of the Church to be the first great missionary of the gospel to those outside the Jewish world in which Jesus was born, nourished and died?
Unlike Jesus’ other apostles, Paul was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ deeds and teaching. There is no evidence that Paul ever saw Jesus. In time, however, Paul became convinced that he had seen the risen Lord there outside Damascus. Here is what Paul writes in his first Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15.
“I handed on to you first of all what I myself received, that Christ died for us in accordance with the Scriptures, rose on the third day; that he was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the Twelve. After that he was seen by five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Next he was seen by James; then by all the apostles. Last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of the normal course.” And then, remembering the man he had been before he saw the risen Lord, Paul adds: “I am the least of the apostles; in fact, because I persecuted the church of God, I am not worthy of the name. But by God’s grace, I am what I am.” (verses 3-10)
As we celebrate Paul’s conversion today, we pray that like him, we too may give ourselves completely to the Lord and one day hear the Lord speaking to us tenderly, and with great love: “Well one, good and faithful servant. Enter into your master’s joy.”

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Homily for January 24th, 2014: 1 Sam. 24:3-21.                                          
          King Saul had ample reason to be grateful to David. His harp playing soothed the old king’s anger and jealousy. David’s victory over Goliath, and over the Philistines on many other occasions, saved Israel from shame and defeat. But Saul’s relationship with David was a mixture of love and hatred. Over time, hatred gained the upper hand. Saul became increasingly jealous of the young man, and enraged that his son and heir, Jonathan, became David’s intimate friend. More than once Saul warned Jonathan that he would never inherit the throne, as long as David remained alive. 
          At the beginning of today’s first reading Saul has assembled a large army to hunt down and kill David. Aware of his father’s plans, Jonathan has been able, more than once, to warn David, and allow him to escape. Now David and his men have taken refuge in a cave. When Saul enters, he does not realize that they are there. “Here’s your chance,” David’s men signal to him when they see the old king entering. Unwilling to capture, let alone kill, the king, David stealthily cuts off part of Saul’s cloak. When his men make a move to fall upon the old man, David  restrains them.
Only after Saul has left the cave, does David emerge holding up part of Saul’s cloak and call out to him from a distance: “Is this not yours, O King!” Saul looks down and sees that, in fact, his garment has been torn. Deeply ashamed that the man he is trying to kill has had him in his power, yet never harmed him, Saul is so shaken that he responds, amid tears: “You are in the right rather than I; you have treated me generously, while I have done you harm. … Now I know that you shall surely be king.”
Tomorrow’s first reading, which we shall not hear, because it is displaced the account of St. Paul’s conversion from the Acts of the Apostles, recounts the death in battle of both Saul and his son Jonathan. David mourns for both, but especially for his beloved Jonathan. “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me; more precious have I held love for you than love for women.”
The way is open for Israel’s greatest king to claim the throne. By his generosity to Saul he has shown himself a man of moral greatness; yet also, as we shall see, he remains a sinner like all of us.  

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Homily for January 23rd, 2014: 1 Sam. 18:6-9; 19:1-7.
          When Saul and David return, after David’s slaying of the Philistine giant, Goliath, they are met by women cheering this great victory, dancing for joy and singing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul, we heard in the first reading, was “very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: ‘They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.’ And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David.”
          Despite his jealousy, Saul does not permit David to return to his father in Bethlehem. He retains David to play the harp for him, because of the music’s soothing effect. One day, while David is playing the harp, Saul bursts out in a rage and twice throws a Javelin at David. Both times David is able to save his life by dodging the weapon, which becomes implanted in the wall. This incident, which is omitted from our reading for the sake of brevity, shows the violence of the king’s anger, the fruit of his jealousy.
          Omitted too is the story of David’s pact of friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, which Jonathan seals by taking off his tunic and cloak and giving them to David. The love between the two is genuine and deep. It is a happy contrast to Saul’s envy and hatred, which the biblical account ascribes to an “evil spirit of the Lord” overcoming the king.
          By means of what we would call today “shuttle diplomacy” Jonathan is able to pacify his father, at least for a time, by reminding the king of David’s bravery and the great service he has done for Saul and his people, by killing Goliath and fighting off the Philistines.
          The jealousy which inflicts Saul is one of the capital sins, so-called because they cause other sins – in Saul’s case his attempts to kill David. Jealousy is the one sin which brings its own punishment with it. For when we give way to jealousy we are miserable. 
          What is the remedy for such dark thoughts? Gratitude! If we are thanking God daily and even hourly for all the things we do have, we will find that, over time, fretting over the things that others have, and we do not, disappears – to be replaced by the joy over the good things God bestows on us, so much more than we deserve.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Homily for January 22nd, 2014: 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51.
           Samuel’s anointing of David as Israel’s king, which we heard about yesterday, was private. Afterwards David, probably only a teenager, returns to looking after his father’s sheep. Saul, though rejected by the Lord for disobedience, remains king of Israel. But he falls into what we would call today a deep depression. The Bible says that “he was tormented by an evil spirit sent by the Lord” (16:14). His servants suggest that listening to harp music will soothe him. One of them reports that the youngest son of Jesse plays the harp. So they send for David, whose music cheers the old king so much that Saul becomes very fond of him and makes him his armor bearer (16:21). As we shall hear later, it is, on Saul’s side, a love-hate relationship
          This is the prelude to the story of the encounter between David and the Philistine giant, Goliath, described in today’s first reading. Once again, it is severely edited, for the sake of brevity. For forty days, the text says, Goliath taunts the Israelites to send him a warrior to settle their differences in single combat.
          Young David, still tending his father’s sheep, hears about Goliath’s challenge when David’s father sends him to the Israelite army with provisions for his older brothers, who have volunteered for service under Saul. “I’ll fight this giant Philistine,” David says. Saul and those with him say that is impossible: David won’t last five minutes against such a mighty opponent. David tells the king that he has personally killed lions and bears who threatened his father’s sheep. “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”
          After Goliath has taunted David, saying he will make him mince meat “for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field,” David responds: “You come against me with sword and spear, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” In minutes the conflict is over. David launches a stone from his sling shot, hitting Goliath on the forehead, knocking him unconscious, and allowing David to finish off the giant with the latter’s own huge sword.
          The story contrasts human power with the power of God. In reliance on Him, we can do all things, even the humanly impossible. 

Monday, January 20, 2014


Homily for January 21st, 2014: 1 Samuel 16:1-13.
          “How long will you grieve for Saul?” the Lord asks the prophet Samuel. We heard yesterday about God rejecting Saul for failing to obey the Lord’s command, and for fabricating a dishonest excuse when confronted with his disobedience. God now tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem, to anoint as Saul’s replacement one of the sons of a man named Jesse.
          Samuel fears for his life – understandably. Should Saul get wind of what is afoot, he will have Samuel killed for treason. To cover his tracks, Samuel is instructed to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer sacrifice. When Samuel enters Bethlehem, it is the elders of the city who are terrified. Word of how Samuel has dealt with Saul has spread. What fate has he in store for us, the elders of Bethlehem wonder.
          Samuel reassures them. His coming is peaceful, he says. He has come to offer sacrifice to God. He invites Jesse and his sons to join him. The first son is an impressive tall man named Eliab. Surely, Lord, this must be the one you have chosen, Samuel tells God. No, not him, the Lord replies. This is repeated for six more of Jesse’s children. Each time God tells Samuel: No, not him.
          “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks Jesse. “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replies. “He is tending the sheep.” Send for him, Samuel tells Jesse. We cannot begin the sacrificial banquet until he is here. When he appears, “a young man handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance,” the Lord tells Samuel: “He’s the one. Anoint him.” Samuel anoints the young man, in the midst of his brothers. Then comes the wonderful sentence: “From that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” 
           What does all this tell us? First, it shows once again, that God is the God of surprises. He chooses this handsome adolescent over his seven older brothers. And in the words about the Lord’s Spirit “rushing” upon David, we hear a hint of great things ahead. God has taken possession of this teenager.

He did the same for each one of us, at our baptism and confirmation. We can be happy only if we live as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, possessed for all time by his heavenly Father – and ours.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Homily for January 20th, 2014: 1 Samuel 15:16-23.

          The first reading on Saturday told about Samuel anointing Saul as Israel’s first king. He did so privately. Only later did Samuel present Saul to the people as their king, so that they could pledge loyalty to him. The background of today’s reading is the Lord’s command to Saul to make war against the Amalekites, to punish them for attacking God’s people after they were delivered from slavery to the Egyptians. Saul was to see to it that his soldiers did not take the Amelikites’ domestic animals as spoils of war. They were all to be killed, which in the thought world of the Bible meant that they were given to God.

          Saul proves himself a weak leader. Disobeying the Lord’s command, he allows his men to spare the animals. When Samuel rebukes the king for disobedience, Saul defends himself by saying that the men have only taken the animals so that they could use them for sacrifice. That was a lie. The animals had been taken for the soldiers’ own use. A king stronger than Saul, and more faithful to the Lord, would have been able to enforce the Lord’s command. 

          The prophet Samuel castigates the king for his shabby and untruthful defense. You have disobeyed the Lord’s command, Samuel tells Saul. You say the animals were taken for sacrifice. But “obedience is better than sacrifice,” Samuel says, adding: “Because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” Translated into modern terms, Samuel was saying: obedience to God and to his moral law is more important than prayers.

          Some years ago one of the Godfather films ended with a dramatic scene vividly illustrating this lesson. The Godfather is standing, with other members of his family, at a font where a priest is baptizing the Godfather’s infant grandson, using the old Latin prayers. Repeatedly we hear the words per vitam aeternam – “for eternal life.” The camera cuts away to show people being killed all over the city on the orders of the man standing piously at the font saying his Amens to the prayers for eternal life.

          God is not mocked. All the prayers and rosaries and Masses in the world cannot expunge the guilt of deliberate disobedience to God’s laws.