Friday, May 30, 2014


Homily for May 31st, 2014. The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56.
Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as our British cousins say, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With characteristic generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.  
When Mary arrives at her cousin’s house and greets her, Elizabeth, as we have just heard, “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … At moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” Doctors tell us that a new mother (and Elizabeth, though old, was pregnant for the first time) usually begins to feel her baby moving in her womb during the fifth month of pregnancy. Thereafter the movements become increasingly frequent and intense. Considering the time it would have taken Mary to reach her, Elizabeth is now in her seventh month at least. Her baby is now very active. Moreover, medical science has discovered, fairly recently, something called “startle response,” when the baby moves on  hearing a sound outside the mother. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, was reacting to the sound of Mary’s loud cry, greeting with joy, as his mother said, the approach of his younger unborn kinsman, Jesus. How marvelous are God’s works!
With the words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth acknowledges her failure to believe that a woman as old as she was could conceive. And Mary responds with words that proclaim the reversal of normal worldly expectations. She praises God for scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, while sending the rich away hungry.
Three decades later her Son, in his Sermon on the Mount, would speak remarkably similar words, calling blest (which means happy) the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for holiness, the merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake, and all those insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of Him who spoke these words. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Truly marvelous are God’s works, wonderful indeed!

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Homily for May 30th, 2014: John 16:20-23.
          “You will weep and mourn,” Jesus says, “while the world rejoices.” In both halves of this statement Jesus is telling his friends what will happen at his impending death. That his friends will weep and mourn is obvious. But why will the world rejoice at Jesus’ death? Because the One whose whole life and words were a rebuke to all who live for themselves, and not for God and others, is no longer there to make them uncomfortable. 
          In his resurrection, however, this pattern of grief and joy will be reversed. Now it is “the world” which will grieve. “The world” in John’s gospel refers to those who organize their lives without reference to God and against God, experiencing in consequence emptiness, frustration, and loneliness. Mother Teresa, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, used to say: “Loneliness is the greatest suffering today: being unloved, just having no one.” The only one who can completely remove this loneliness is God. For those who reject God, therefore, and live as if he de did not exist, loneliness remains, and with it the grief of which Jesus speaks here.
          “But I will see you again,” Jesus says, “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” Jesus is referring not merely to his resurrection appearances, which were few, brief, and transitory. He is speaking about his sending of what is called, variously, the Comforter, Paraclete, or Advocate – in other words, the Holy Spirit. Following his return to heaven Jesus is present with us now through his Spirit, available to all throughout the whole world. This explains why Jesus said earlier in this sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel: “It is expedient for you that I go away. If I fail to go the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you” (vs. 7).  
          Those filled with the Spirit are so united to Jesus that their prayers in his name will be in accord with his Father’s will, and so can be granted. Jesus is not speaking just about prayer for our everyday needs. His words about asking in his name refer to asking for whatever will deepen the eternal life for which we are destined, and make fruitful the Spirit’s work.
          How better can we respond to today’s gospel than by praying the age-old and powerful prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Ascension Day, Year A.  Acts 1:1-11; Matthew 28:16-20.
AIM: To show the universality of Christ’s missionary call, and its implications for daily life.

“When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted." Those doubts show that the first followers of Jesus Christ were not credulous peasants, ready to believe anything. Like many of us, they were often skeptical, and often doubted. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances all mention those doubts. The most persistent doubter, as you will remember, was the apostle Thomas who responded to reports that the Lord was risen: "I will never believe it without probing the nail prints in his hands, without putting my finger in the nail marks and my hand into his side" (John 20:25).
Until its climactic moment, Christ‘s ascension was an appearance of the risen Lord like all the others. It was only to be expected that on this occasion, as on those which had preceded it, his disciples doubted. What is remarkable is not their doubts, but the fact that Jesus ignores them. “Go ... make disciples of all nations," he charges them, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you.”
That charge is not just long ago and far away. Jesus gives us the same command today. Now, as then, he issues this command to all his friends, fervent believers and skeptical doubters alike. We may think that before we can become Jesus’ messengers we must first overcome all our doubts and hesitations. We must be strong in faith, able to stand on our own feet. That is not true! Jesus’ first messengers and missionaries were often weak in faith.  That has remained true in every age. It is true today.
Jesus summons us to his missionary service just as we are: weak in faith, encumbered with doubts, hesitations, faults, and sins. He does not send us as his messengers to an unbelieving and spiritually hungry world because we are fit for the task. Rather he calls us to make us fit. It is in sharing with others the faith that is in us, that our own faith is deepened and strengthened.
Few of us are called to preach sermons about Jesus Christ. But every one of us is called, and in baptism and confirmation commissioned, to proclaim and bear witness to him through the testimony of daily living.  Here is what the bishops of the whole world said about this call at the Second Vatican Council. 
[The laity] work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven ... [making] Christ known to others especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope, and charity. [Lumen gentium, 31]
The laity are called in a special way to make the Church present and operative in those places and circumstances where only through them can it become the salt of the earth. [33]      
There are people here in our parish who are doing those things every day. Are you? One day the Lord will examine us about how we have responded to the call to be his messengers to others. Here, ahead of time, are some of the questions in that examination. They came to me years ago in an e-mail. I no longer know the sender.
God won't ask what kind of car you drove; he'll ask how many people you drove who didn't have transportation. 
God won't ask the square footage of your house; he'll ask how many people you welcomed into your home. 
God won't ask about the clothes you had in your closet; he'll ask how many you helped to clothe.
God won't ask what your highest salary was; he'll ask if you cut corners to obtain it.
God won't ask what your job title was; he'll ask if you performed your job to the best of your ability.
God won't ask how many friends you had; he'll ask how many people to whom you were a friend.
God won't ask in what neighborhood you lived; he'll ask how you treated your neighbors.
God won't ask about the color of your skin; he'll ask about the content of your character.
The testimony of deeds before words is powerful. You probably know the saying: “What you are speaks so loud that I can’t hear what you say." Words are cheap and our world is inundated by words. People today are more impressed by deeds than by words.
Bearing witness to Jesus Christ in daily life is difficult. If you doubt that, perhaps that is because you have never seriously tried it for any extended period of time. With our own resources alone, the task is impossible. But we are not alone. We have an unseen companion in the missionary task: the same divine master and Lord who is saying to us right now, as he said to that little band of weak sinners and doubters on a Galilean hilltop two thousand years ago:
“Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age.”


Homily for May 29th, 2014: John 16:16-20.
          “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me’” Jesus’ disciples ask one another. “We do not know what he means.” How often preachers, and readers of the gospels as well, repeat that statement; if not aloud, at least in thought: “We do not know what he means.” Not everything in Scripture is clear, simple, or obvious, by any means.
          If we believe that Jesus spoke these words in connection with the Last Supper, then Jesus’ “little while” would refer to the time between Jesus’ burial and his resurrection on the third day. That is the view of most of the Eastern Church Fathers. There is a difficulty with this interpretation, however. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy,” adding two verses later: “Then your hearts will rejoice, with a joy that no one can take from you;” and that thereafter “You will have no more questions to ask me.” (vs. 22f) However, the appearances of the risen Lord to his friends were transitory and brief. Were they not only sufficient to give Jesus’ friends “a joy that no one can take from you,” but also to justify Jesus’ further statement that “you will have no more questions to ask me”?
St. Augustine avoids this difficulty by saying that Jesus’ “little while” is the period between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return at the end of time in glory. This overlooks the joy which his friends experienced as soon as they saw him alive again, in flesh and blood – though also so changed that at first most did not recognize him.
We need not choose between these two interpretations. There is truth in both. Jesus’ resurrection appearances did indeed fill his friends with joy. But only at the end of time will we have no more questions to ask him. Meanwhile we thank God the Father for raising his Son from the dead, but also for the Son’s promise, which we shall hear in tomorrow gospel: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Homily for May 28th, 2014: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1.
          St. Paul normally began his preaching with appeals to Holy Scripture – for him the Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. The New Testament did not exist until long after Paul’s death. Paul’s letters and accounts of his preaching in the Acts of the Apostles contain numerous examples of his Scripture based preaching. Paul’s address reported in our first reading is an exception to this rule. He is in Athens, the center, in Paul’s world, of learning and sophisticated culture. What the Athenians knew about the Jewish Scriptures was comparable to what most of us know about the Koran: next to nothing.
          So Paul tries a different approach this time. He starts not with Scripture but with the actual situation in Athens, with its many temples to numerous gods and goddesses. This an example of his becoming “all things to all people,” about which Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (9:22). Paul begins then: “I see you are very religious.”  That is called, in rhetoric, a captatio benevolentiae: capturing the hearers’ attention and goodwill with benevolence or kindness – in this case with flattery. Referring to all the temples which he sees on the hill Areopagus in the center of Athens, he says that one in particular has caught his eye, because of the inscription it bears: “To an Unknown God.” The Athenians who erected it obviously wanted to cover all the bases.
          “What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” Paul says. This Unknown God is the one who created all that is, he continues. He has come down to us in the person of a man named Jesus, whom he raised from the dead. The mention of resurrection causes some to scoff. Everyone knows that is absurd: when you’re dead, you’re dead. Others react more politely, but still with condescension: “We’d like to hear more about this – just not now. Another day, perhaps.”
          Others, however, accept Paul’s message, and become believers. One is obviously a man of importance: a member of the Court of the Areopagus. Another is a woman of whom we know only her name, Damaris. Paul’s attempt to “become all things to all people” seems have had only modest success. It is a picture of the Church’s evangelism in every age. As in Jesus’ parable of the sower and his seed: despite the waste of so much of the farmer’s efforts, “some seed falls on good ground and produces a rich harvest, at a rate of thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold." (Mark 4:8).

Monday, May 26, 2014


Homily for May 27th, 2014: John 16:5-11.
          “I tell you,” Jesus says, “it is better that I go. For if I do not go the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” What is Jesus really saying? All depends on the meaning of the word “Advocate.” In the original Greek of the New Testament the word is "Paraclete." In some versions of the Bible it is also translated “Comforter.”
          However we translate it – Paraclete, Advocate, or Comforter – it designates the One who makes Jesus present: the Holy Spirit, who takes the place on earth of the glorified Jesus, after he has risen and ascended to heaven to be, once more, with his heavenly Father. “It is better for you that I go,” Jesus says, because it was only when the Spirit had come down on his disciples that they were able fully to understand who Jesus was. The Spirit came upon them quietly, but nonetheless powerfully, when the risen Jesus entered the room where his disciples had gathered, with doors locked “for fear of the Jews,” spoke the Hebrew greeting, “Shalom – Peace be with you,” breathed on them, and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 19-23) The Spirit came dramatically a short time later, on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, in a “mighty driving wind [and] tongues as of fire.” (Acts 2) 
Jesus goes on to say that the Spirit “will convict the world in regard to sin.” The sin in question was people’s refusal to believe in Jesus. This has been a theme of John’s gospel from the beginning, where we read:  “He came to his own, yet his own did not accept him” (John 1:11); and two chapters later we read: “The light has come into the world, but men preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). The Spirit will also convict the world in regard to “righteousness” or justice, by reversing the unjust sentence at Jesus’ trial, which declared him guilty and not God’s Son. Finally the Spirit “will convict the word in regard to sin,” because in Jesus’ resurrection it is Satan who is condemned, and his power over the world crippled. 
As he was being stoned to death, the Church’s first martyr, the deacon Stephen, “filled with the Sprit … exclaimed, ‘Look! I see an opening in the sky, and the Son of Man standing at God’s right hand.’” (Acts 7:55f). Down through the centuries since, and continuing today, the Spirit who is the Lord’s gift continues to make Jesus, now with his Father in heaven, present to us on earth. 
oly Spirit.” (John 20

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Homily for May 26th, 2014. John 15:25-16:4a.
          Just two days ago we heard Jesus’ words: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” In today’s gospel, Jesus returns to the same theme. “They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Is that just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it.  
A new book, entitled The Global War on Christians, by the American journalist John Allen shows that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today. From Iraq and Egypt to Sudan and Nigeria, from Indonesia to the Indian subcontinent, Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. The secular International Society for Human Rights says that 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. Our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the fact that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority -- Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea.
    Most people in Western countries have little idea that this global war on Christians is even happening. “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States fought over issues like whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps,” Allen writes. “We’re talking about a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. Christians today form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”
          In the supposedly Christian country of Colombia, since 1984, 70 Catholic priests, two bishops, eight nuns, and three seminarians have been slaughtered, most falling victim to the nation’s notorious narco-cartels. Scores of Pentecostal and Evangelical pastors and faithful also have lost their lives. This shows two things. First, that Christians are a majority in a given country it doesn’t mean they’re safe; and second, radical Islam is hardly the only threat out there.
          What can we do about this persecution? “Don’t dismiss the power of prayer,” John Allen says. Also by supporting organizations that help victims we can make sure they don’t feel abandoned and alone. And we can refuse to be cowed into silence about Church teachings on marriage and the sanctity of life by today’s bullying guardians of political correctness.