Friday, May 15, 2015


Homily for May 16th, 2015: John 16:23b-28.

          “The Father himself loves you,” Jesus tells his apostles at the Last Supper, “because you have loved me and have come to believe that I come from God.” St. Augustine says, “His object in loving us was to enable us to love one another.” Love is something that must be given to us from without. And the first one to bestow his love on us was our heavenly Father and Creator. It is important to know that the love Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading is not primarily a matter of feelings. It is an attitude of concern. Feelings come and go, influenced by the weather, the state of our mental and physical health, our changing moods.

          None of those things matter for God. God cannot change. He is always the same. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, God wanted the very best for us. God loves us, Augustine writes, “so that we may be brothers of his only Son. . . . His object in loving us was to enable us to love each other. By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love.” [Office of Readings, Thursday of the Fifth week of Easter]

          The love that God has for us, his creatures, enables us to approach him with confidence. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you . . . ask and you will receive, so that your joy will be complete.” The French Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, who died in New York City on Easter Sunday 1955, at the age of 73, used to call joy “the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

          How sad that so many of Jesus’ friends show little evidence of joy. To have it, you must cultivate thanksgiving. Let no day pass without thanking your heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon you. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: I couldn’t tell you how many times I say, every day: “Lord, you’re so good to me; and I’m so grateful.” And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this. Thankful people are happy people, and joyful people – no exceptions. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Homily for May 15th, 2015: 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 he 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, at all times, 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 13, 2015


Ascension, Year B.  Acts 1:1-11; Eph. 1:17-23; Mark 16:15-20.
AIM: To encourage faithfulness to the missionary task given by Jesus at his Ascension.
          Was Jesus= ascension, which we celebrate today, a conclusion? or was it a beginning? Clearly it was both. The ascension was the conclusion of Jesus= earthly life. But Mark, the writer of today=s gospel, saw it also as a beginning. AThe Lord worked with them,@ he writes, Aand confirmed the word through the accompanying signs.@ 
Those final words of today=s gospel look not backward, but forward. For Mark, and all the New Testament writers, Jesus= ascension inaugurates a new age: the age of the Church. In and through his Church Jesus continues now the work he began during his earthly life. And the Church, of course, is all of us: all the baptized. Jesus= parting command to his original disciples, AGo into the whole word and proclaim the gospel to every creature,@ is given to us today, no less than to them. 
Even in what is often called our post-Christian and secular age the way we  number the years still reflects the fundamental Christian belief that we are living in a new age which belongs to Jesus Christ. We designate the years before Christ=s birth with the letters AB.C.@ C before Christ. The years since then are called AA.D.@  Those letters do not mean not Aafter Christ.@ They stand for the Latin words, Aanno Domini,@ which mean Ain the year of the Lord.@ These are the years that belong to him, who is the Lord of history. This is the final age, at the end of which Jesus Christ will come again: not in weakness and obscurity, as he came at Bethlehem, but in power and glory. That was the angel=s message at the end of our first reading: AThis Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you seen him going into heaven.@
That is picture language, of course: poetic imagery to suggest something beyond the power of human language to describe. The gospel too is using picture language when it says that Jesus Atook his seat at the right hand of God.@ This does not mean that Jesus is in a certain place, but that he exercises a certain function. He is our prophet, our priest, and our king.
A prophet, as the Bible understands him, is not someone who foretells the future. A prophet is a person who speaks for God. Jesus spoke for God during his earthly life. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Jesus said: AYou have heard the commandment, >You shall not commit adultery.= What I say to you is: anyone who looks lustfully on a woman has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts.@ (Mt. 5:27f) In that and other such passages Jesus was not interpreting the law. He was speaking as the Lawgiver C he was speaking for God. Jesus continues to exercise this prophetic ministry through his Holy Word, and through the teaching of his Church.      
Jesus is also our priest. We human priests are only his representatives. It is Jesus for instance, and Jesus alone, who has power to forgive sins in the sacrament of penance. Jesus is the true celebrant of every Mass. When we pray, we approach God through Jesus. That is why we conclude our prayers with the words Athrough Jesus Christ@, in the power of his Holy Spirit. 
Today=s second reading speaks of Jesus as king when it says, again using picture language, the God has Aput all things beneath [Christ=s] feet and gave him as head over all things to the Church, which is his body ... A
The Church is the sphere where Christ=s kingly rule is acknowledged. The world in which the Church lives rejects its true king, and suffers in consequence the turmoil, chaos, and anguish reflected daily in the newspaper headlines and on TV.  The Church=s task, which means the task of every one of us who are the Church, is to expand the sphere in which Christ=s rule is acknowledged. We do so not so much by words (for words are cheap), as by the contagious force of our own example. 
Jesus commands us, as he commanded that little band of disciples on a Galilean hillside two thousand years ago, to Ago into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.@ In the measure in which we try faithfully to fulfill this command, Jesus continues to do what he promised to do when he gave the command: to confirm it by Asigns.@ In the pre-scientific world of the first century, there were signs appropriate to that age. Mark mentions them: the power to drive out demons, to speak new languages, immunity to deadly snakes and poisons, the power to heal the sick. 
Today=s signs are different: the worldwide example and inspiration of a Mother Teresa, of Pope John Paul II, who soldiered on to the end despite bodily weakness, attracting at successive World Youth Days larger crowds than any rock star. The century which closed twelve years ago brought us the sign of some twelve thousand Awitnesses for Christ@: women and men all over the world who, in the bloodiest of all centuries in recorded history, gave their lives for Jesus Christ. AThe age of the martyrs has returned,@ Pope John Paul II said as the twentieth century drew to a close. And in a great ecumenical service sixteen years ago in Rome=s Coliseum, where many martyrs shed their blood for Christ in antiquity, the Pope joined other Christian leaders in commemorating these twelve thousand witnesses to Christ.
Impressive as their witness is, and the other signs I have mentioned, perhaps the greatest of all today=s signs, confirming the gospel message given to us by Jesus at his ascension, is simply this: that after so much failure by Christians in history, and by the Church=s leaders and members in our own day; after so many frustrations, after so many betrayals – yes, and so many scandals -- and after so many defeats in the struggle to fulfill Christ=s missionary command C nevertheless, after twenty centuries, so many, all over the world, are still trying to be faithful. 


Homily for May 14th, 2015: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 15:9-17.

          Our first reading shows us the Church performing what might be called her first juridical act: finding among Jesus’ disciples one to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed the Lord and, unlike Peter who repented, had despaired and taken his own life. Peter, by the Lord’s appointment the Church’s chief shepherd, takes the lead. The man chosen, he says, must be one who has been with us from the day of Jesus’ baptism, until his death, resurrection, and ascension, so that he could be, with us remaining eleven apostles, a witness to [Jesus’] resurrection. 

          Note how carefully they proceed. Not trusting to human judgment, they choose two of their number who fulfill Peter’s requirement. Then they pray that the Lord will show them which of the two he has chosen. This is the first corporate prayer recorded in the New Testament.  Following this, they cast lots. A common Jewish practice, this was done by taking two stones, writing the name of one candidate on each, and then placing both in an open jar. The jar was then shaken until one of the stones fell out.        

Who was this Matthias, we want to know? The honest answer is: we don’t know. There are stories about him, but they are legends only. Careful as Peter had been to leave the choice to God, it seems that the Lord had another in mind, a man about whom we know a great deal: a devout Jew named Saul, zealous defender of his Jewish faith, who in baptism became Paul, the great apostle to the wider Gentile world. He is a man to whom Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading apply, if they ever applied to anyone: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

In all this we see, once again, what the Bible shows us repeatedly: that God is the master of surprises, the God of the unexpected. Hence the old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Homily for May 13th, 2015: 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 books were not written until 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 today 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 is 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’ 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, Paul 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.”

          Some, 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 11, 2015


Homily for May 12th, 2015: 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, at 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. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Homily for May 11th, 2015: 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 recent 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 must also refuse to be cowed into silence about Church teachings on marriage and the sanctity of life by today’s bullying guardians of political correctness.