Saturday, October 11, 2014


28th Sunday in Year A. Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 22:1-14.
AIM: To show the importance of centering our lives on God.

          I am one of a dwindling number of people able recall the days, before universal air travel, when people traveling to Europe crossed by ship. Hardly had the vessel left port than the passengers were bombarded with “last chance” announcements on the public address system urging them to come to the Chief Steward’s office “right away’ to reserve a deck chair “before they’re all gone.”  Novice travelers believed the hype and spent a long time standing in line.  Seasoned voyagers knew there were plenty of deck chairs. They waited until the lines had disappeared and got their chairs without delay.
          The people in Jesus’ story who ignore the king’s invitation to his son’s wedding banquet are like yesteryear’s seasoned ocean travelers. They see nothing special in this particular invitation. They assume there will be many more. Too late they discover that, for them, this was their last chance. 
          The story is Jesus’ warning to people who have failed to respond to him and his message. Like the heedless guests in the story, they were turning down their last and final chance. Soon they would discover that they were excluded from the joyful wedding banquet which God had prepared for his people, of which Isaiah writes in our first reading. Others, not originally invited, will take their places.     There are, in every life, times when God offers us opportunities which will not come again. Can we identify them at the time? Often we cannot. We need not worry, however, about missing such opportunities, as long as we are trying to live with God at the center of our lives. 
           Where is God in your life? Is he at the center? Or is he somewhere out on the fringe? Are you more interested in finding out how little you need to do for  God, rather than how much you can do? Is “avoiding sin” more important to you than finding opportunities to do good? Does the practice of your faith stop short  when you have fulfilled your “minimum obligation”? If the answer to any of these questions is Yes, then God is on the fringe of your life, not at the center. Then Jesus’ story is addressed to you. You could be in danger of throwing away opportunities offered to you by God which will not come again.
          There is a further danger when God is at the fringe of our lives, rather than at the center. Even when we do respond to the opportunities God offers, we may do so casually, like the man in the second part of Jesus’ story who came to the banquet unprepared, and was thrown out. That seems unfair. After all, if the man had just been brought in from the street, how could anyone expect him to be properly dressed? The scripture scholars speculate that Matthew may have combined two originally separate stories. The first was Jesus’ warning to those who failed to respond to him, that they were throwing away their last chance to join the banquet God had prepared for his people. The second story was addressed to people in the community for which Matthew wrote his gospel. Many of them were Gentiles — people not originally invited to the feast. This story warned them that though God had now extended his invitation to all, no one could accept the invitation casually.
          Today’s Catholic grandparents, looking back to their own First Communion, remember hearing so much about preparing for Holy Communion that it was easy to think of Communion as a kind of reward for making a good confession. Back in those days Communion, for many, was associated with fears about receiving unworthily. 
          Today we emphasize that Communion is not a reward. It is medicine for sick sinners. The danger now is that people come to the Lord’s Table casually, with no preparation at all. Here is what the Catechism says about this: “We must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: ‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself’ (1 Cor. 11:27-29). Anyone conscious of grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” (No. 1385) 
          God does not want us to be fearful when we approach his Holy Table. He  does want us, however, to be careful. Listen, again, to what the Catechism says on this point: “Bodily demeanor (gesture, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.” (No. 1387)
          Once again, dear friends, I have the privilege, though unworthy, of extending to you the invitation you have heard so many times before: “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” God, the host at this banquet, longs to have you with him. He wants to fill you with his goodness, his power, his purity, his love. 
          He cannot fill you unless you come.
          He cannot fill you unless you are empty.
He cannot fill you unless you confess your need, which means preparing by acknowledging your unworthiness.
          How often have you heard this invitation before? How often will you hear it again? One day you will hear it for the last time. Then you will receive another invitation: to appear before your divine Master, your King, your Creator, your Lord.
When you encounter him, will you recognize him with joy as your familiar host at this banquet? Or will you be encountering a stern judge, before whom you shrink in fear?    
          The answer to those two questions is in your hands — right now!


Homily for November 12th, 2014: 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 comes 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 full 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 also 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?

Friday, October 10, 2014


Homily for Oct. 11th, 2014: Luke 11:27-28.
          “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed,” a woman in the crowd cries out as Jesus is speaking. Jesus’ response to this tribute to his mother surprises us. He might have said, “Truly,” “Indeed,” or perhaps just “Thank you.” He owed his mother so much: his humanity, loving care from infancy through childhood, youth, and adolescence. Yet he says none of those things. The response Jesus actually makes seems almost to contradict what the woman in the crowd has cried out. “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”
In reality this is not a contradiction. For Mary is the first hearer of God’s word. It came to her first when the angel Gabriel told her that she was to be the mother of God’s Son. How much of that word did Mary understand? Well, she understood at least this: that in a small village where gossip was rife and everybody knew everybody else’s business, she was to be an unmarried mother. Despite this bleak prospect, Mary immediately said yes: “Be it done to me according to your word.”
Mary’s attention to God’s word did not stop there. After Mary and Joseph’s frantic search for their 12-year-old son who, unbeknownst to them, had stayed behind in Jerusalem, they heard the boy’s puzzling questions: “Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” On the threshold of his teens, Jesus already knew that God, and not Joseph, was his Father.
Luke (alone of the four gospel writers) tells us that Mary and Joseph “did not understand” what their son had said to them (2:50). After returning to Nazareth, however, Mary continued to “ponder these things in her heart” (vs. 51).
The Lord asks us to do the same. More, he promises that when we do listen to his word, ponder in our hearts what he says to us, and put his teaching into action, we are “blessed.” And that word, in Luke’s original Greek text makarios, means “happy.” 

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Homily for Oct. 10th, 2014: Luke 11:15-26.
          At the start of today’s gospel Jesus has just given back the power of speech to a man unable to speak, probably from birth. People in those days attributed a condition like that, indeed all illness, to demons. This is reflected in the opening words of today’s gospel: “Jesus had driven out a demon.” Usually those who witness Jesus’ healings are amazed. Here they say, in effect: ‘That’s no big deal.’ Some ascribe Jesus’ ability to heal to his having entered into a pact with the demons who cause illness. Others demand that Jesus show them a sign more dramatic than a mere physical healing: a “sign from heaven,” they call it.  
          The gospels record this demand for a sign in a number of places: some proof so dramatic that it will compel belief. But belief cannot be compelled, any more than love can be compelled. Jesus’ most dramatic sign was the empty tomb of Easter morning. That did not compel belief in anyone. The only people who believed in the risen Lord were those who had known and believed in Jesus before his resurrection. And even they were initially skeptical. The one exception was the man called in the gospel that bears his name, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Upon entering the empty tomb this disciple “saw and believed,” John’s gospel tells us (20:8). The others came to believe only after seeing the risen Lord.
          Jesus’ closing words about an unclean spirit returning to a house that has been cleaned with seven other even worse spirits tells us that it is not enough to banish bad habits. We must develop good ones. Here is an example. A parent confesses being impatient with the children. The priest gives this advice. Don’t bother with making fist-clenching resolutions not to lose your temper with your children. Resolve instead that when you do lose your temper, you’ll be looking for an opportunity as soon as possible to show your children that there is a more loving side to Mummy or Daddy. Praise or thank the children, for instance, for doing something well, no matter how small it may be. In other words, don’t try to pull up all the weeds in your life – your bad habits, weaknesses, and sins. That will never work. Concentrate instead on sowing flowers – the virtues.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Homily for Oct. 9th, 2014: Luke 11:5-13.
This story about the friend coming at midnight emphasizes two things: the need for persistence in prayer, and God=s readiness to hear us: AAsk and you will receive,” Jesus says. “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.@ Continuing to pray when God seems to answer only with silence increases our desire and strengthens our faith, as physical exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. St. Gregory the Great, who was bishop of Rome from 590 to 604, wrote: AAll holy desires grow by delays; and if they fade because of these delays, they were never holy desires.@
To illustrate his teaching about prayer, Jesus reminds us that God is our loving heavenly Father, and we are his children. God is more loving, however, than the even best human father or mother B and wiser. Hence he will not always answer our prayers in the way, or at the time, that we think he should. When God refuses something we pray for, it is always in order to give us something better.  
 The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story about a little girl who prayed, before Christmas, for a hundred dolls. She didn=t get even one. Her unbelieving father, who had taunted both her and her mother for praying at all, couldn=t resist saying on Christmas day: AWell God didn=t answer your prayers, did he?@ To which the child gave the beautiful answer: AOh yes, He did. He said No!@ In my own eighty-seventh year, I am grateful to have lived long enough to be able to thank God for answering some of my prayers, Not yet; and others, No.
Even when we have done our best to explain and understand prayer, however, it remains a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about prayer, but that what we can understand is partial only. We can no more explain Ahow prayer works@ than we can explain how the human mind works, or the human heart.
Above all, therefore, we need to ask for the gift of God=s Holy Spirit: the fire of God’s love, to burn away everything in us that is contrary to God, and to light up our way; his wisdom to see what it right and true, and to embrace it when seen. That prayer will always be answered, Jesus promises us. AIf you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?@

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Homily for October 8th, 2014: Luke 11:1-4.
          With his gift of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, he offers us a pattern for all our prayer, especially private prayer. “Father,” Jesus begins. When we begin like that, we are acknowledging that we can’t make it on our own. From infancy to old age we are dependent on Another: the One whom Jesus addressed with the intimate word, Abba – akin to “Daddy” in English.
Three petitions follow, having to with our heavenly Father himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to, for God acts in sovereign freedom.
          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.
          Four petitions follow which have to do not just with own needs, but also with those of our brothers and sisters in God’s family: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.
          Here is a suggestion which can help you to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer more deeply. Rather than just rattling it off, as Catholics mostly do, take at least five or ten minutes to pray it slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Ponder the full meaning of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of others -- your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on the next day to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will help you realize that the words are not just a pious formula. Rightly prayed, they bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Monday, October 6, 2014


Homily for Oct. 7th, 2014: Luke 10:38-42.
          It seems unfair, doesn’t it? Even a child can see that it’s not right to leave your sister all alone in the kitchen while you make pleasant conversation with a guest. How can we make sense of the story?
          Before dealing with this question, it is worth noting that this is one of a number of  instances in the gospels where Jesus rejects the second class status of women in his society. In Jesus’ day, only men were supposed to sit at the feet of a religious teacher and listen to his teaching. Women were supposed to stay out of sight and appear only to wait on the men. Jesus clearly rejects this double standard.
The story is not about the duty of hospitality. In Luke’s gospel it immediately follows the parable of the Good Samaritan. That story told us we must always be ready to help others in need. Today’s story is shows the futility of active service which, because it is not based on attentive listening to God=s word, becomes mere busyness. When Jesus says to Martha, AYou are anxious and worried about many things,@ he is not criticizing her for performing the duties of hospitality, but for doing so without first attending to his word. Martha, we might say, is the kind of person who likes to go about doing good, especially the kind of good that requires a lot of going about. 
Jesus doesn’t ask us to choose between being a Mary or a Martha. The true disciple of Jesus must be both. Mark=s gospel tells us that when Jesus called his twelve apostles, he called them for two reasons: Ato be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message@ (Mk 3:14). Which is more important: to be with Jesus, or to proclaim his message others? Both are important. If we ask, however, which must have priority C the relationship or the work C then the answer is clear. Our relationship with the Lord must come first. If we are not willing to spend time with him, sitting at his feet like Mary of Bethany and listening to his words, then all our efforts help others are just spinning our wheels. Luke gives us this story to challenge our priorities; to help us see that being with the Lord and listening to his word must be the basis of all we do for him – and for others.
That’s why we are here: to listen to the Lord speaking to us in his holy word; and to be strengthened for service to others by receiving his Body and Blood.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Homily for October 6th, 2014: Luke 10:25-37.
          A “scholar of the law” (the Ten Commandments) asks Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” He wants to know: what are the limits to my obligation? Jesus never answers that question. Instead he tells a story about what it means to be a neighbor. And he concludes the story with a question of his own: “Which of these three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The answer is obvious: the Samaritan. But Jesus’ questioner can’t bring himself to say that hated word. Samaritans were despised by Jews. So he resorts to a circumlocution: “The one who treated him with mercy.” To which Jesus responds: AGo and do likewise.@ The man had asked about the limits of his obligation. The parable says in effect: >there are no limits.=
          How, we ask, can Jesus make such a radical demand? For one reason alone: because this is the way he, Jesus Christ, treats us. Jesus is the despised outsider. Jesus is the one who finds us lying mortally wounded along life=s way. For no merits of our own, but simply because of his infinite compassion, Jesus comes to our aid. He binds up our wounds, pouring upon us the healing oil of his forgiveness in the sacraments of baptism and penance, the exhilarating wine of his love in his holy word and in the Eucharist.
He entrusts us to the care of his Church, promising to come again and again as often as may be necessary, to tend to our every need. Because of this total generosity toward us in our need, a readiness to help which caused Jesus to lay down his life for us, he is able to say to us: ‘See how much I have done for you C look what I am doing for you even now! Then go and do the same for others.’       
The man who asks Jesus, AWhat must I do to inherit eternal life?@ is like many sincerely religious people today. Wanting to do what is right, he develops a spirit directly contrary to God=s law, even when he thinks he is obeying the law. His question, AAnd who is my neighbor?@ shows that he was unable to get beyond the law=s details. To be cured, he needed to encounter the Lawgiver. 
His name is Jesus Christ.