Friday, April 10, 2015


Homily for Easter Saturday: Mark 16: 9-15.

          Throughout Easter week we have been hearing gospel readings which tell of the risen Lord Jesus sending out those to whom he appeared to proclaim that he is risen. On Monday he encountered the women visiting his empty tomb and told them: “Do not be afraid! Go and carry the news to my brothers . . .” On Tuesday we heard him giving the same command to Mary Magdalene. On Wednesday he encountered two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus and made himself known to them “in the breaking of the bread” – the first post-Easter celebration of Mass  On Thursday we heard the account of Jesus appearing to the apostles, with the previously missing Thomas, a week after Easter. “You are witnesses of all this,” he tells them: not just a statement, but also a command. Yesterday we heard about Jesus encountering seven of his apostles, tired from a night of fruitless fishing on the lake, and charging Peter to “feed my sheep.”

          Today’s gospel reading is a kind of summary of all this. Twice over we hear that even after hearing the testimony of people who had seen the risen Lord, “they refused to believe.” Sitting at table with the eleven remaining apostles Jesus “takes them to task for their disbelief and stubbornness,” Mark writes, “since they had put no faith in those who had seen him after he had been raised.”

          Note what immediately follows. To these men whose faith was not merely lacking, but missing entirely, Jesus says: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the good news to all creation.” That challenged not only those eleven at table with Jesus. It also challenges us. When we think our faith is too weak to enable us bear witness to the risen Lord, and to proclaim his good news to an often hostile though hungry world, we should remember: the first witnesses were also weak in faith, even lacking in faith. Yet Jesus did not hesitate to send them. He knew that in the very act of proclaiming the good news to others their own faith would be kindled, and deepened.

Another man who knew that was the namesake of our present Pope: St. Francis of Assisi. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.”

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Homily for April 10th, 2015 John 21:1-19
AHave you caught anything?@ Jesus calls out from the shore at dawn to his friends in their boat. What he really said was: AYou haven=t caught anything, have you?" Jesus was poking fun at their lack of success in the one thing they were supposed to be good at: catching fish. Not once in the gospels is there any record of Peter and his friends catching a single fish without Jesus= help. Here that help is the command to try again. They do so – and at once they feel the net heavy with fish. One of those in the boat tells Peter: AIt is the Lord.@ It is the unnamed Adisciple whom Jesus loved," as he is always called in John's gospel. Peter and the others hurry ashore and find a charcoal fire with fish on it, and bread. Knowing that they would be hungry after their long night=s labor, Jesus has made breakfast for them.
Did Peter recall another charcoal fire, at night, in the courtyard of the High Priest=s house at Jerusalem, where Peter stood warming himself? APeter was distressed,@ we heard in the gospel, because Jesus asked his question a third time. Of course he was distressed! The memory of his three-fold denial at that other fire was painful. Peter=s thrice repeated assurance of love is his rehabilitation. In response to each pledge of love, Jesus assigns Peter responsibility: to feed Jesus= sheep.
Why did Jesus give this responsibility to Peter, of all people? Jesus gave the office of leader to the friend whose love was imperfect; whose impetuosity and weakness made the name Jesus gave him C Peter, the rock C as ironic as calling a 350-pound heavyweight ASlim@.
Is there someone here today who feels weak? You have made so many good resolutions. Some you have kept, others not. You have high ideals. Yet time and again you have compromised. You had so many dreams, hopes, plans. How many have you achieved? You wanted so much. You have settled for so little. If that is your story, you have a friend in heaven. His name is Simon Peter. 

If, like Peter, you have discovered that you are weak, that command is reassuring. Jesus doesn’t ask you to be strong, for he knows your weakness. He doesn’t ask you to be a pioneer or a leader. He knows that is too hard: that you would soon lose your way C or at least your nerve. He asks one thing alone. He asks you to follow him. 

Following Jesus Christ is not always easy. If you know your weakness, however, you have an advantage over those who still think they are strong. Then you will trust, as you try to follow your Master and Lord, not in any strength of your own, but only and always in the strength of Jesus Christ. His strength is always reliable; and it is always available. We have only to ask and Jesus is there.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Second Sunday of Easter, Year B: John 20:19-31.
AIM: To help the hearers experience and cultivate Christian joy. 
AThe disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.@ What about us? If someone who knew nothing about Christianity were to drop in at Mass on Sunday morning in a typical Catholic parish, would the visitor be struck by our joy? If not, why not?
 One reason is the emphasis in Catholic teaching on the obligation of attending Sunday Mass. People who come simply to fulfill an obligation are hardly likely to experience much joy. For such people attending Sunday Mass is like paying insurance premiums: something done with little joy, perhaps even with a certain amount of resentment, simply because it is too dangerous to be without it, and you never know when you might need it.
That=s no reason to drop the obligation. We need obligations. Obligations are the bridges which take us over the valleys in life, when zeal and enthusiasm slacken. But things done solely out of obligation bring little joy. How much joy would there be in a marriage, for instance, in which the spouses thought only of their mutual obligations? in which they never did anything out of love, just to make each other happy?
In reality, Sunday Mass is so much more than an obligation. It is meant to be a celebration. Today=s gospel reading tells us how Jesus celebrated the first two Sundays after his resurrection, with his closest friends.  AOn the evening of that first day of the week,@ the day of the resurrection, seeing Jesus was the last thing his demoralized and frightened friends were expecting. After the tragedy of Calvary just two days before, had come the discovery that the Lord=s body was no longer in its final resting place. Terrified of what fresh disaster might await them, the disciples had locked the door of the room where they met.
How filled with joy Jesus must have been at being able to surprise those friends of his! Even the locked door was no barrier to him now. Jesus had not been brought back to his old life. That ended on Calvary. He had been raised to a new and higher life. He was no longer subject to the old restrictions of time and space. The gospel tells us that Jesus returned Aa week later@ in the same room. Again it was the Afirst day of the week@ C Sunday.
Jesus greets his frightened friends with the conventional Jewish greeting: AShalom C peace be with you.@ The peace he gives is far more, however, than mere absence of care and worry. Before his crucifixion Jesus had told them: APeace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give@ (John 14:27). The world cannot give this gift because the peace Jesus gives comes from outside this world, from God. It is available to those C and only to those C who enter into a relationship of loving trust with Jesus Christ. (See Lk 19:42; Eph. 2:14 & 17)
All the Lord=s gifts, however, are given under one strict condition: that what we freely receive, we freely share with others. Immediately, therefore, Jesus tells his friends: AAs the Father has sent me, so I send you.@ And to enable them to fulfill this sending, he gives another gift: his Holy Spirit.  Breathing on them, as God breathed on the first man Adam in creation (Gen. 2:7), Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit; and with the Spirit the power to forgive sins. This power lives on in the Church today in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. 
That scene in the locked room on the first Easter evening is repeated every time we, the friends of Jesus, gather to fulfill his command the night before he died to Ado this in my memory@ with the bread and wine. Jesus comes to us, as he came to his frightened friends in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, in all the joy of his resurrection. He gives us, as he gave them, his peace: a peace which the world cannot give; the peace of those who live in loving trust in Him, our risen Lord. We recall this gift in the prayer which immediately follows the Our Father: ALord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, I leave you peace, my peace I give you ...@ And immediately we exchange a sign of this peace with one another. Strengthened, then, by receiving the Lord=s body and blood, present under the forms of bread and wine through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are sent forth at the close of Mass to a spiritually hungry world to share with others the peace, and the forgiveness, which the Lord gives us here. Is that all just an obligation? Can you see now why, in reality, the Mass is a celebration C and one moreover which should fill us with joy?
If there is no joy in your heart, or too little, then let me give you the remedy.  Learn to count your blessings. Cultivate the habit of thanksgiving. Let no day go by without thanking your heavenly Father for all his goodness to you. Show me a joyful person, and I=ll show you someone who thanks God daily, even hourly, for the Lord=s overwhelming goodness. 
One of the Lord=s greatest gifts to me was inspiring me to start doing that very early in life. As a schoolboy I used to go into church on my birthday C I began, I think, at age thirteen C and kneeling or sitting before the tabernacle, I would write down in a notebook all the reasons I had to thank God. It was always a long list. It wasn=t hard. It was easy. And it filled my heart with joy.
I don=t keep those lists any more. But the prayers of thanksgiving continue. A few years back I read an article by the late Chicago priest, novelist, and sociologist, Fr. Andrew Greeley. One sentence lifted me out of my chair. APriests, who like being priests,@ Fr. Greeley wrote, Aare among the happiest men in the world.@ I sent him an e-mail at once: AAndy, you=re right! I can confirm that from my own experience.@ 

APriests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.@ Priests have no monopoly on that happiness, and on that joy. It comes to all those who cultivate the habit of thanksgiving.

On the first Easter evening those friends of Jesus in the locked room were filled with joy at seeing the Lord again, and hearing his familiar voice. We who cannot see the risen Lord, or hear his voice, save with the eyes and ears of faith, can share their joy. For us Jesus has a gift, and a blessing, not given to those first friends of his. It is contained in the closing words of today=s gospel. Jesus is speaking those same words to us in this church, right now:

ABlessed [and the world means Ahappy@ and Ajoyful@] are those who have not seen and have believed.@


Homily for Easter Thursday: Luke 24:35-48.

“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells his first frightened and then incredulous friends. Those words were not merely a statement. They were a sending, a command. The risen Lord continues to issue this command today – to us.

How do we bear witness to Jesus Christ? There are as many ways as there are witnesses. A few years back our local newspaper had an article about one such witness: Sister Irene Marie of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who take a special vow of “hospitality to the aged poor.” As “collector” for her community, she hits the street daily to collect supplies for their 100-bed home for the elderly. One of her regular stops is the wholesale food market, Produce Row. A man who sees her there often says: “I guess a polite way to describe Produce Row is ‘tough.’ But Sister Irene just goes right in there and tells those guys what she needs. They’re like little puppies around her.”

What’s her secret? She is careful not to push too hard, the article says. “You can’t expect people to give what they can’t afford,” Sister Irene told the reporter who wrote the article. “If we pushed like that, then God wouldn’t bless our work.”

          She wasn’t always in this line of work. “I was a seamstress in our Cleveland house,” she told the reporter. “One day Mother Superior told me I was going to be the collector.” Wasn’t she worried about taking on something for which she had no experience?  “Not really,” Sister Irene replied. “I’d never sewn before either.” That’s amusing, of course. But the deep and simple faith reflected in that Sister’s words is also uplifting. She is a shining witness to the power, and love, of the risen Lord Jesus.  

Friends, you don’t have to be a religious Sister to be a witness to Jesus Christ. You don’t have to be a priest either. There are people here in this church right now who, like that Sister, are bearing witness to the risen Lord by the inner quality of their lives: women and men of deep faith, steadfast hope even when all looks dark, and active, generous love for God and others.

          Here in the Eucharist we encounter the One who sends us out to be his witnesses in daily life. Here, in word and sacrament, we receive once again all his power, all his goodness, all his purity, all his love. And when we have Him, we have everything.  

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Homily for Easter Wednesday: The Two Tables.  Luke 24:13-35.
          This best known of all the resurrection stories is also one of the most loved.  The story appeals because it shows Jesus coming to his friends in the two ways he has always come: through word and sacrament. After Jesus’ disappearance, his two friends recall that their hearts had been “burning within us while he spoke to us ... and opened the Scriptures to us.” More than once the gospels record that “he spoke with authority,” and not like other religious teachers. (Matt. 7:29 and parallels.)
Jesus is still speaking with authority today; and our hearts too can burn within us, as we ponder his word. For that to happen, however, we must spend time alone with the Lord, in silence. The 16th century Spanish Carmelite, St. John of the Cross, says: “The Father spoke one Word, which is his Son, and this word he speaks always in eternal silence; and in silence it must be heard by the soul.”
          Though the two friends of Jesus in today’s gospel feel their hearts burning within them as they listen to the Lord’s words, they recognize him only “in the breaking of the bread” – the first celebration of Mass.
          Jesus’ swift disappearance at Emmaus shows also that he did not come to these friends of his so that they could luxuriate in a great spiritual experience. He came to empower them to carry the good news of his resurrection to others. Every encounter with God in Scripture is for the sake of others.
          Let me conclude with some verses written as a meditation on the Emmaus story. They are by a monk of the Benedictine abbey in St. Louis, Fr. Ralph Wright.
Sing of one who walks beside us / And this day is living still,
          One who now is closer to us / Than the thought our hearts distill,
          One who once upon a hilltop / Raised against the power of sin,
          Died in love as his own creatures / Crucified their God and King.
          Strangers we have walked beside him / The long journey of the day,
          And have told him of the darkness / That has swept our hope away.
          He has offered words of comfort, / Words of energy and light,
          And our hearts have blazed within us / As he saved us from the night.
Stay with us, dear Lord, and raise us / Once again the night is near.
Dine with us and share your wisdom. / Free our hearts from every fear.
In the calm of each new evening, / In the freshness of each dawn,
If you hold us fast in friendship / We will never be alone.

Monday, April 6, 2015


Homily for Easter Tuesday: John 20:1-18.

          Mary Magdalene “saw Jesus … but did not know it was Jesus,” we just heard in the gospel. That was the experience of almost all those to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Why? Jesus had not returned to his former life. He had been raised to a new life, beyond death. His appearance was somehow changed. Mary Magdalene realized it was the Lord standing before her only when he spoke her name. The gospel reading does not tell us how she reacted. We can easily infer this, however, from Jesus’ words: “Do not cling to me! Go to my brothers” with the news that he is risen.”

          A young man thinking of priesthood told the priest who was helping him with his vocational decision that he had finally found courage to send in his application for admission to one of the Church’s religious orders for men. A few days after he received word of his acceptance into the novitiate, he was driving down the highway when he thought of a girl he had known. “She’d be the perfect wife for me,” he thought. “Am I crazy, throwing away that chance for happiness?” He got so upset that he prayed: “Lord, you’re going to have to help me." Immediately, he said, “the Lord came to me so strongly that the tears ran down my cheeks, and I had to pull off the road.”

          “Johnny,” the priest told him, “the Lord came to you to strengthen your faith and your decision to serve Him as a priest. You must be thankful for that. But don’t try to hold on to that spiritual experience by running the video over again in your head. That is spiritual gluttony.”

          Then the priest told him about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Lord, and Jesus’ command to her: “Do not cling to me,” but go to my brothers with the news of my resurrection. Every encounter with the Lord is given to us not just for ourselves, the priest told the young man, to give us a nice warm spiritual experience inside. The Lord comes to us to send us to others – his brothers and sisters; yes, and ours too. 


Sunday, April 5, 2015


Homily for Easter Monday: Matthew 28: 8-15.

          “Do not be afraid!” Jesus says to the women who have just found the tomb empty. “Go and carry the news to my brothers.” The first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection were women. That is significant. In Jesus’ day the testimony of women was considered about as reliable as the testimony of a three-year-old child today. Had the gospel writers made up the story of the empty tomb, it is hardly likely that they would have cited as their primary witnesses people whose testimony had little weight with their contemporaries.

          Jesus’ command to carry the good news of his resurrection to others is important for another reason. The command remains as urgent today as it was on that first Easter morning. Our wonderful Pope Francis never tires of telling us that we are a missionary Church. We “cannot passively and calmly wait in our church buildings” he says. “Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but by attraction.” (Evangelii gaudium Nos. 14-15)

          What is it about this first Latin American pope which so impresses people – and not just Catholics? Just about any priest will tell you that from the first days after his election, and continuing today, Catholics and non-Catholics alike come up to us spontaneously to express their admiration for Pope Francis. They perceive at once that he is a man of joy. And joy is contagious.

          If the Church is filled with joy, it will be an evangelizing community. The Church, Pope Francis tells us, “knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates at every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization. Evangelization with joy becomes beauty in the liturgy. … The Church evangelizes and is herself evangelized through the beauty of the liturgy, which is both a celebration of the task of evangelization and the source of [the Church’s] renewed self-giving.” (op.cit. No. 24)

          Are you filled with that joy? If not, start cultivating prayer of thanksgiving. If a long life has taught me anything, it is this. Grateful people are happy people – no exceptions!