Friday, March 6, 2015


Homily for Saturday in Lent, Week 2: Luke 21:33-43, 45-46.

Was the older brother short-changed? Don’t we have a sneaky feeling that his complaint was justified? Unlike his shiftless younger brother, he’d never left home. He’d never asked for his father’s money. Nor had he wasted what his father had been good enough to give him.   

All that is true. But the older brother=s reaction to his younger brother’s shame-faced return shows that the elder brother too was in a distant country: physically at home, but far removed from his father=s attitude of love. He never noticed his father=s grief all the time his brother was away. Now that he is home again, the elder brother refuses to acknowledge him. AYour son,@ the older brother calls him, as if to say: AYour son, perhaps, but no brother of mine.@ He is filled with resentment, envy, and hate. Yet the father does not condemn this son any more than he had condemned his younger son: AEverything I have is yours,@ he reminds the elder brother. Farther than that love cannot go. 

AWho in the story suffered the most?@ a Sunday school teacher asked the children after reading them this story. One of the brightest children answered at once: AThe fattened calf.@ Next to the fattened calf, however, comes the older brother who remains outside while the party goes on inside. He does not even taste the fattened calf he himself probably helped to raise. 

Or did he? Did he change his mind and go in after all? Jesus doesn=t tell us.  Jesus leaves the story open-ended. He does so because us wants us to supply the ending. This Mass C every Mass C is a celebration of our heavenly Father=s freely given love and forgiveness. The price of that forgiveness was the poured out blood of his Son, who, as St Paul tells us, “did not know sin, but whom God made to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). We supply the ending to the story by confronting honestly the questions Jesus is putting to each of us right now:

Is the Mass for you a celebration of joy at your heavenly Father’s love, given not just to good faithful people like yourself, but to all, without limit? In other words C Have you heard the good news? Are you joining in its celebration?

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Homily for Week 2 in Lent, Friday: Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46.

          Opposition to Jesus has risen to a point where the religious leaders of his people are about to reject him. Jesus gives them a final, solemn warning: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit." The parable 's warning continues today: for our country, for us American Catholics, for each of us personally.

          First, the warning for our country. Few nations have been so blessed by God as ours. From small beginnings we have become the world’s only superpower. Jesus’ parable warns us that all our wealth and power will be taken from us, and given to others, if we are not willing to share with those less fortunate than ourselves the abundance God has given us. 

          The parable is also a warning to us American Catholics. The position of influence we enjoy in the Church, because of our numbers and financial resources, will be taken away from us and given to Catholics in Third World countries, if our Catholicism is complacent, conventional, and lukewarm — while theirs is dynamic, daring, enthusiastic. 

          For each of us personally Jesus’ parable is a warning that merely conventional, formal religion is not enough. And our religion is conventional if all it means, at bottom, is fulfilling a list of “minimum obligations”: dropping in at  Sunday Mass to get our card punched, avoidance of serious sin, but not much beyond that: little generosity, little love or consideration for others, because we’re too busy looking after Number One. How much would a marriage be worth in which the spouses were merely concerned to fulfill their “minimum obligations” to one another? Think about it!

          In the great family of God which we call the Catholic Church God lavishes on us treasures beyond counting: all his truth, all his goodness, power, and love (which the theologians call “grace”). He looks for our answering love in return. The treasures God bestows on us are meant to be used, not put away for safe-keeping. They are to be shared, not hoarded. If we fail to pass on to others what God so generously gives to us, we shall lose God’s gifts. We can’t keep them, unless we give them away! That is what Jesus’ warning words mean: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

          Someone has said: It doesn’t take much of a person to be a Catholic Christian. But it does take all of him — or her — that there is!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Third Sunday in Lent, Year B. 1 Cor.1:22-25; John 2:13-25.

AIM: To show that Jesus, who overturned the tables of the Temple money changers, also overturns our ideas and expectations, replacing them with “the foolishness of the cross.” 

          Was Jesus always meek and mild? The gospel we have just heard shows him angry. Why? There is no suggestion that the money changers whose tables Jesus overturned were corrupt. Both they, and the people who sold the animals used in the Temple sacrifices, performed useful and necessary functions. To understand Jesus’ anger, we must turn back to the criticism which the prophets made repeatedly of the way their people worshiped God. In cleansing the Temple Jesus was acting out this criticism in a particularly dramatic way.

          Amos, for instance, the first prophet to write down his message, represents God saying to the people of his day: “I hate, I spurn your pilgrim feasts; I will not delight in your sacred ceremonies. When you present your sacrifices and offerings, I will not accept them.” (5:21). 

          Repeatedly the prophets emphasized that God was not interested in the offering of material things. He desired the worshipers’ hearts and minds. To come before God with prayers and material offerings, while living in disobedience to God’s law — lying, cheating, stealing, and oppressing the poor — was worse than useless, the prophets said. It cried to heaven for vengeance. That was the consistent message of all Israel’s prophets. (Cf. Hos. 6:6; Mic. 6:6-8; Is. 1:11-17; Jer.7:21-23)  

          Hollywood has given us a modern example of what the prophets were talking about in the first Godfather film. Toward the end, a baby is being baptized with the old Latin prayers. As the priest repeats over and over the words “Per vitam aeternam,” “for eternal life,” –the actor Al Pacino, is standing piously by the font, holding a candle. Meanwhile the camera pans to show us Pacino’s enemies being shot down all over the city by his henchmen. This is exactly what the prophets condemned: piety accompanied by violence and injustice.

          The demand of the Jewish prophets for pure worship is the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. In a dramatic way Jesus was reminding people that worship can never be a form of barter with God: ‘I’ll give you this, Lord, if you give me that.’ Worship is something we owe to God apart from any thought of reward.

          How important that lesson is for us Catholics. We owe God our worship on Sunday, as well as the worship of obedience to him in daily life, simply because God made us. God has given us all that we are and have, sin excepted. Even the things we have gained through our own initiative and hard work, we have only because of the gifts and abilities which God has given us. One day we shall have to give an account of all the gifts God has lavished on us. We owe God our worship also in thanksgiving for the greatest of all his gifts to us: the gift of his Son, who shed his life’s blood to pay the price of our sins.

          The gospel writer is referring to Jesus’ death when he quotes the words of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The words refer to Jesus’ zeal for the offering of pure, spiritual worship in the Temple, the earthly dwelling place of Jesus’ heavenly Father. But the words have a deeper meaning as well. Zeal for his Father’s house would consume Jesus in a literal sense, by leading to his crucifixion. Enraged by Jesus’ attack on their religious observances, the religious leaders of his people delivered him to death.

          Jesus was also referring to his death when he spoke of the Temple being destroyed and “raised up” in three days. His hearers naturally assumed that he was talking about the building in which they were standing. In reality, the gospel tells us, “he was speaking about the temple of his body.” As God’s Son, Jesus is himself the dwelling place of God in a way that no building of wood or stone could ever be. After he was raised from the dead, the gospel says, Jesus’ friends recalled Jesus’ words, and for the first time understood their real meaning.

          Jesus’ overturning of the money changers’ tables was typical of his whole message and ministry. Jesus is constantly overturning worldly standards and expectations. This is Paul’s theme in our second reading. People who demand a “sign” before they will believe, Paul writes, find this demand overturned by Jesus Christ. He does not offer any sign strong enough to compel faith. Jesus’ greatest signs were the empty tomb of Easter morning, and his appearances to his friends thereafter. Neither then, nor since, did those signs compel anyone to believe in Jesus Christ.    

          It is the same, Paul writes in the second reading, with people who expect Jesus to impress them with some special “wisdom”: subtle arguments, deep philosophy. Jesus overturns that expectation too. Instead of wisdom Jesus offers what Paul calls the “foolishness” of the cross: the symbol not of success but of humiliating failure. “We proclaim Christ crucified,” Paul writes. A crucified Lord drives out the longing we all have for a success story, as surely as Jesus drove from his Father’s house those who were encouraging people to use worship, which is the offering of grateful praise to God, as a form of barter with God. 

          To all those, however, who are willing to have their ideas and expectations and demands overturned, this crucified Lord is, Paul writes, “the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”   


Homily for Thursday in Lent, Week 2: Luke 16:19-31.
Why was the rich man punished?  Not for anything he did, but for what he failed to do. He seems not even to have seen poor Lazarus as he went in or out of his house. Another question: Why did Lazarus go to heaven? We are not told that he did a single good deed. All we know about him, apart from his poverty, is his name: Lazarus. It means AGod is my help.@ So this Lazarus is not just a poor man, but a poor man who believes and trusts in God. That is why he is carried by angels to Abraham=s bosom in heaven: not because he was poor, but because of his trusting faith in God. 
The parable doesn’t say that at death the rich will become poor and the poor rich. Wealthy people who use their wealth to do good for God and others, experience happiness in this life and blessing in the next. Poor people who spend their lives in bitterness, envy, self-pity, and hate experience misery in this life, which may continue after death.
If the parable is a parable of judgment, it also contains good news. The judgment meted out to Lazarus B silent and passive throughout B tells us that the inarticulate, the weak, the poor, the marginalized and neglected, are especially dear to God. Lazarus, the man whom God helped, tells us that in the kingdom Jesus came to proclaim the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and run without growing weary; those who hope in the Lord renew their strength and soar as on eagles= wings; the tone deaf sing like René Fleming and Placido Domingo; the poor are made rich; the hungry feast at the banquet of eternal life; the sorrowful are filled with laughter and joy; and those who are persecuted because of the Son of Man receive their unbelievably great reward.
Somewhere in this church right now there may be a Lazarus: someone weighed down by illness, misunderstanding, injustice, loneliness, or poverty. The Lord is telling you: >Trust me always. I am with you. You are in my hands, now and always. And my hands are good hands.= 
Also in this church there may be someone who is rich. You have worked hard for what you have. You are grateful for what God has given you. But there is still an emptiness inside. To you the Lord is saying: >Open your hands and your heart. There is a Lazarus at your door, maybe in your own family. Try to help that person. Sometimes all that is necessary is an affirming word, a kind gesture, or a loving look. Remember, ‘whatever you do to one of these least sisters or brothers of mine, you do to me.’ Then one day I shall be able to say to you, very personally, the words I long to say to all my friends: AWell done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.@=  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Homily for Wednesday in Lent, Week 2: Matthew 20:17-28.

          “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. It is his response to the request made by the mother of the brothers James and John that he give them places of special honor in his kingdom. The petition may have come from the mother. It is clear, however, that she had the full backing of her two sons. For when Jesus asks if they can share the chalice of pain and suffering from which he will drink, the two brothers respond eagerly, “We can.” Clearly they have no idea what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere.

It quickly becomes clear that the other disciples are equally clueless. They become indignant at James and John for staking out a claim before the other disciples can assert theirs. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” And immediately Jesus ratifies this teaching with his own example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          We all need a measure of recognition and affirmation. But if finding that is central in your life, I’ll promise you one thing. You’ll never get enough -- and you'll always be frustrated. Look, rather, for opportunities to serve others and you will find happiness: here and now in this world -- and in the next the joy of eternal life with the Lord who tells us, later in this gospel according to Matthew: “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.”  

Monday, March 2, 2015


Homily for Tuesday, Week 2 of Lent: Mathew 23:1-12.
          “Call no one on earth father,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Evangelical Christians charge that the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father” violates Jesus’ command. There is a simple response to this charge. Taking Jesus’ words literally would forbid us to use this word for our biological fathers. Nor can we take literally the following verse: “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Taken literally this would forbid us to call anyone “Mister,” since this title is merely a variation of the English word “master.” If despite this passage, it is legitimate to call men in our society “Mister,” and to call our biological fathers “Father,” why should it be wrong to call priests “Father”?
          All this is true. But we make things too easy for ourselves if we leave the matter there. We need to see the principle behind Jesus’ rejection of titles like “Father” and “Master.” What Jesus is condemning is not the titles themselves but an underlying mentality. Jesus is warning against the temptation of those who have spiritual authority in his Church to forget that they are first of all servants; and that they will themselves be judged by the authority they represent to others. The scramble for honors and titles is alive and well in the Lord’s Church. There is a saying in Rome which confirms this: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.”
          Jesus’ warnings in today’s gospel have an obvious application to us clergy. Do they apply, however, only to Church leaders? Who are the people today to whom these other words in today’s gospel apply? “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” 
          It is not hard to find people in public life who fit that bill. Many public officials are truly public servants. Sadly there are also many exceptions. Hypocrisy, the yawning credibility gap between words and deeds, is a danger for all of us. The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
          It is God’s love, and his love alone, that gives us the courage to throw away our masks, to stop pretending to be other than we are. That is what God wants for us. Deep in our hearts that is what we too desire: just to be ourselves; to know that we are loved not in spite of what we are, but for who we are: daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
          Once we stop pretending and truly accept the love God offers us as a free gift, we begin to discover what Jesus called “the peace which the world cannot give.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015


Homily for Monday, second week in Lent: Luke 6:36-38.

          At the end of the day there are, basically, two kinds of people. There are the Takers, and there are the Givers. Which are you? If you’re a Taker, I can promise you one thing. You will always be frustrated; because you’ll never get enough. It is only the Givers who are truly happy. They are the ones who receive from God, the giver of every good gift, the joy and peace which only the Lord God can give.

          At bottom this is what Jesus is talking about in the short gospel reading we have just heard. “Give and gifts will be given to you,” he tells us. And what we receive will be measured out to us in accordance with the generosity of our own giving. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”

          If we want God to be merciful to us, Jesus says, we must be merciful to others. If we want God to be generous in judging us – and is there anyone who does not? – then we must be generous in judging others.

          Lent is a time in which we try to grow spiritually. One way to do so is to examine ourselves, our attitudes, and our behavior. Am I quick to find fault with others? Do I try to avoid contact with people who rub me the wrong way? Do I easily look down on others who don’t have the gifts God has given me? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, or sometimes, then we need to ask the Lord to help us change.

          Nor should we wait to see if others show any sign of being willing to change. Start to make the necessary changes today. And you will discover what all generous Givers know already: God can never be outdone in generosity!