Friday, April 17, 2015


Homily for April 18th, 2015: John 6:16-21.

          What began as a routine evening crossing of the lake soon turns into a nightmare for Jesus’ friends in their small boat. When they see a human figure approaching across the storm-tossed waves it is small wonder that they “began to be afraid.” It is Jesus. “It is I,” he calls out. “Do not be afraid!”

Like most people in antiquity, Jesus’ people, the Jews, regarded the sea as the domain of supernatural, demonic forces. To the Hebrew mind wind and waves were perilous: only God could master them. Repeatedly the psalms speak of God’s power to “rule the surging sea and calm the turmoil of its waves” (Ps. 89:10; cf. 93:3f; 107:23-30). By walking on the raging waves, and calming the stormy sea, Jesus shows himself to be acting as only God can do.

          This beautiful story speaks to each one of us individually. Somewhere in this church right now there may be someone facing a personal crisis: an illness, perhaps, your own or that of a loved one; a family problem; a humiliating failure; the sudden collapse of long held hopes, plans, and efforts. You are filled with fear. When you look down, you see only peril and ruin. But look up! Keep your eyes on Jesus. He still has power to save. 

          The story assures us that when the storm rages and the night is blackest; when we cannot see the way ahead; when we are bone weary with life’s struggle and our hearts fail us for fear, Jesus is close. He only seems to be absent. In reality he is never far from us. He knows at every moment the difficulties against which we contend. Across the storm waters of this world he comes to us and speaks the same words of assurance that he spoke to the terrified men in that small boat: “It is I, do not be afraid!”

That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news.      

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Homily for April 17th, 2015: John 6:1-15.

Following the miraculous feeding of the great crowd in the wilderness, AJesus realized that they would come and carry him off to make him king, so he fled back to the mountain alone.@ The people were so impressed with the great Asign@ which Jesus had performed, that they want to capture the power they had seen in Jesus, so that it would be theirs always.

You cannot capture Jesus Christ. You cannot apprehend him or hold him fast. He will always elude your grasp. ADo not cling to me,@ the risen Lord said to Mary Magdalene in the garden of the resurrection. She wanted to resume the relationship of emotional intimacy with Jesus which she had enjoyed during his public ministry. The time for that was past. ADo not cling to me,@ Jesus told her. ARather, go to my brothers and tell them, >I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God!=@ (John 20:17)

Jesus says the same to us today: ADo not cling to me.” At the end of every Mass the Lord sends us to others: his brothers and sisters C and ours too. As we journey life=s way, with all its twistings and turnings, Jesus is always with us. He remains close to us, even when we stray far from him. But he does not belong to us. We belong to him. He will be with us always C but he will also be ahead of us.

When you come to walk the last stretch of life=s journey, which each of us must walk alone, you will find that you are not alone. Jesus will be walking with you. And he will be waiting for you at the end of life=s road. AI am going to prepare a place for you,@ Jesus says later in John=s gospel, Athat where I am you also may be@ (14:3). That is Jesus= personal promise to you C and to me. And when Jesus Christ promises something, he always keeps his promise.

Here, then, is a question to ponder. When you meet the Lord at the end of life=s road, will you be encountering a stern judge, before whom you shrink in fear? Or will you be meeting a familiar, dearly loved friend? The Lord in his goodness allows us to choose what the encounter will be like. It is the most important choice we shall ever have. 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015


3rd Sunday of Easter, Year B. Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1 John 1:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48.
AIM: To inspire the hearers to be witnesses of Jesus Christ in daily life.
          “The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way, and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” This opening sentence in our gospel reading concludes the account of the best loved of all Jesus’ resurrection appearances. Two of his friends, you’ll recall, were walking late on Easter afternoon “to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus” (Lk 24:13). Seven miles would have been a brisk two-hour walk. Only one of the two is named: Cleopas.  Bible scholars speculate that his unnamed companion may well have been his wife. 
          As they walk along the road, Jesus joins them. Like almost all those to whom he appeared after his resurrection, they do not recognize him. It’s easy to understand why. Jesus had not been brought back to his old life. That had ended on Calvary. Jesus had been raised to an entirely new mode of life. Like a friend whom we have not seen for decades, Jesus was changed in appearance. Only gradually did those to whom he appeared after the resurrection come to realize that it was the same Lord they had known and loved, alive again in flesh and blood.
          For Cleopas and his companion that first Easter evening the moment of recognition came at the supper Jesus shared with them. Listen again to Luke’s account: “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” (Lk 24:30f).
          How thrilled and excited they must have been! Forgetting their weariness and the late hour, they immediately return to Jerusalem to impart their momentous news to their friends. No sooner have they done so, today’s gospel reading tells us, than Jesus is there in their midst, with his characteristic greeting: “Peace be with you.” But they are “startled and terrified,” the gospel says, thinking “that they were seeing a ghost.” To banish their fear and doubts, Jesus invites them to touch him. He calls for food and eats it in their presence to demonstrate that he is no ghost but fully human, fully alive.
          “Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” Luke tells us. What Scriptures? The Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. Remember: none of the New Testament books had yet been written. The Old Testament proclaims the resurrection by showing us, many times over, a God whose characteristic work, from Abraham to Moses, is to bring life out of death. We have time to consider just two examples: the stories of Abraham and of Moses.
          Abraham and Sarah were old and childless. From the deadness of Sarah’s womb God brings forth new life: the child Isaac. If we had more time, I could show you how this pattern of life-out-of-death is repeated in every generation right up to the deliverance of God’s whole people, under Moses. That deliverance is the second example of God bringing life out of death. Trapped between the impassable waters ahead of them, and the pursuing armies of Pharaoh behind, Moses and his people are delivered from death to begin a new life in a distant land which God will give them after forty years of desert wanderings. Failure to perceive this pattern of life-out-of-death was why Jesus reproached Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke” (Lk 24:25). 
          Toward the close of today’s gospel Jesus reaffirms this central message of the Old Testament: “Thus is it written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” And those who will preach this message, Jesus says in the next sentence, are those he is addressing: “You are witnesses of these things.” 
          Those words are more than a statement. They are a commission, a sending. Nor is that sending just long ago and far away. Jesus repeats this sending today. He comes to us in the Eucharist: in his holy word, in the sacrament of his body and blood. He does for us at every Mass what he did for those first friends of his: he takes away our doubts and strengthens our faith. Through his Holy Spirit, who guides the teaching of his Church, he opens the Scriptures to us. He gives us his peace: a peace which the world cannot give since it comes from God. And he says to us, as he said to those friends on that first Sunday after the resurrection: “You are witnesses of these things.”
          How do we bear witness to Jesus Christ? There are as many ways as there are witnesses. A few years back the St Louis Post-Dispatch 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 reaction to her new assignment is also uplifting. She is a shining witness to the power, and love, of the risen Lord Jesus. Her witness impressed me when I read it. The article showed that she impressed a secular journalist as well. 
          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.


Homily for April 16th: John 3:31-36.

          “He does not ration his gift of the Spirit,” we heard in the gospel. What does that mean? It means that God’s gifts are without limit. When God gives, he gives totally and completely.

          Jesus showed that in his own life. When he turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, the quantity of water changed into wine would have kept the party going for a week. In every one of the six accounts of Jesus’ feeding a vast crowd in the wilderness, he gave them not just a snack. Always there was food left over, even after all had eaten to the full. When God gives, he gives not only abundantly, but superabundantly.

          Whether I offer Mass for one person, or for a hundred, does not affect the blessings that each receives. God’s blessings are infinite. We come again and again to Communion not because what we receive is limited, but because our capacity to receive is limited.

          Jesus goes on to say: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” We heard yesterday that believing in someone means trusting that person, and more: entrusting our lives to him or her. Friends and disciples of Jesus Christ are people who entrust their lives to him who is our best friend, our lover – but also our Savior, our Redeemer, our God in human flesh.   

          And note: Jesus does not say that we shall have eternal life. No. He speaks in the present tense. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” – here and now. The fellowship we have with the Lord Jesus continues on beyond death into eternity. That is God’s plan and design for your life, and for mine. And the only thing that can frustrate the fulfillment of that plan is our own final and deliberate No.

          That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Homily for April 15th: John 3:16-21.

          “God so loved he world …” we just heard. Perhaps someone is thinking: “But of course. Isn’t that obvious?” To many people it is not obvious. Christians who in past centuries used to be called Puritans consider the world an evil place, from which Jesus’ disciples must flee. This view is still alive and well today in certain quarters. It has a kernel of truth. The world organized apart from God, and against God is evil. Jesus refers to that world when he says, later in John’s gospel: “In the world you will have tribulation. But be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (16:33). In today’s gospel, however, Jesus is speaking of the world in a good sense: not the world of human marring, but the good world of God’s making. That world must be lovable, for God does not making anything that is not good.

          “God so loved the world,” Jesus goes on, “that he gave his only begotten Son.” He was the most that God had to give or could give. And God’s Son came into our world, and continues with us through the power of his Holy Spirit, not as some kind of great policeman or scold to frighten us into measuring up to his unrealistically high standards. No. Jesus came, and remains with us, “so that the world might be saved through him.” How?

          As we read on in today’s gospel we discover the answer. We are saved “by believing in him,” Jesus Christ. To believe in someone is to trust that person -- more, to entrust ourselves to him or her. Whoever does that, our gospel tells us, lives not in darkness, but in light – the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ. How dark our world would be had he never come to us!

          We pray in this Mass, therefore, that we may entrust ourselves ever more completely to Jesus, himself the light of the world; and that we ourselves may be lenses or prisms of his light in a dark and often fearful world.



Monday, April 13, 2015


Homily for April 14th, 2015: John 3:7-15.

          In yesterday’s gospel reading we heard Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be “born again.” How was that possible, Nicodemus asked? How could someone enter again into this mother’s womb and be born anew? Jesus explained that he was talking, not about biological birth, but about birth “from above” – heavenly birth, through water and the spirit. We understand (though Nicodemus did not) that Jesus was talking about baptism. 

          In today’s gospel Jesus expands on theme of spirit. In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the word for spirit is pneuma. In English medical terms are almost all from Greek roots; so we find pneuma in the name for a sickness of the lungs: pneumonia. In antiquity pneuma designated both a wind and a person’s breath. That is why the gospels speak about Jesus giving up his spirit when he died. His breath went out of him.

          Using the same word, Jesus speaks also about the winds of the air. In antiquity people believed that the winds came from God. Winds were, they thought, God’s breath. The winds we hear and feel blow from different directions. We hear the sound the wind makes, Jesus tells Nicodemus, but we do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

Then comes a crucial sentence: “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” We are born of the spirit in baptism and in confirmation. At Pentecost we hear about the Spirit of God coming dramatically, like a strong driving wind. That we are Christians in a land undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on that first Pentecost day is proof that the Spirit=s Astrong driving wind@ did not blow in vain. Those first touched by that wind were blown into places, and situations, they never dreamed of.  Even those who never left Jerusalem found their lives utterly changed.

This same wind of the Spirit is blowing in the Church today. Is it blowing in your life? Or are you afraid of that wind B of what it might do to you, and where it might blow you? Cast aide fear. The wind of God=s Spirit, like the winds of the sky, blows from different directions. But in the end this wind blows all who are driven by it to the same place. The wind of God Spirit blows us home B home to God.   



Sunday, April 12, 2015


Homily for April 13th, 2015: John 3: 1-8.

          Most of those who responded to Jesus’ teaching by coming to believe in him were “little people,” as the world reckons such things. In today’s gospel we meet an exception. Nicodemus was member of the Sanhedrin, the elite 70-man Jewish ruling body that went back to Moses. He comes to Jesus at night. He doesn’t want his fellow Sanhedrin members, almost all of whom are either hostile to Jesus, or indifferent, to know about his visit. The night visit my also have a symbolic meaning. John’s gospel is rich in symbolism. Nicodemus is coming from the darkness of disbelief, or at least of weak belief, to the One who is the light of the world.

There was similar symbolism in the gospel for Tuesday in Holy Week, also by John. After Judas leaves the Upper Room where Jesus was celebrating his Last Supper with the twelve apostles, John tells us: “And it was night.” For Jesus, however, it was not night. “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” he cries out, “and God is glorified in him.”

Nicodemus has been impressed by Jesus’ miracles – which ones we are not told. Calling Jesus “Rabbi,” Nicodemus says: “We know you are a teacher come from God, for no man can perform signs and wonders such as you perform unless God is with him.” This stops far short of acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah. There were other holy rabbis who performed signs and wonders. 

This explains Jesus’ less than enthusiastic response. You cannot see God’s kingdom, he tells Nicodemus, unless you are “begotten from above,” in other words, “born of God as your Father.” A father “begets” the child whom a mother “bears.” Jesus’ meaning becomes clear only when he says: “No one can enter God’s kingdom without being begotten of water and the Spirit.”

That is what happened to each of us when we were baptized. Through the Holy Spirit, and the pouring of water, God our Father made us his children, brothers and sisters of his divine Son, Jesus, and heirs of the kingdom of heaven. That is our eternal destiny. And the only thing can prevent the fulfillment of this destiny is our own deliberate and final No.