Friday, May 22, 2015


Homily for May 23rd , 2015: John 21:20-25.

Having just received Jesus’ commission to “feed my sheep,” Peter asks about the man standing next to him, “the one who reclined upon [the Lord’s] breast during the [last] supper,” and asks: “Lord, what about him?” Bible scholars have been debating the reason for this question for two millennia. Some think that Peter may have been genuinely concerned that Jesus had said nothing about the fate of Peter’s best friend and fellow fisherman. Others discern a touch of jealousy in Peter, long present because of the special closeness between Jesus and this disciple, open for all to see. Both views are pure speculation. We simply don’t know the reason for Peter’s question. And at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. As we have already seen, not everything in Scripture is plain, simple, or obvious.

As so often in the gospels, Jesus does not answer the question he has been asked. Directing Peter to concentrate on the commission he has just received, Jesus answers the latter’s question with one of his own (a common practice in Jewish dialogue and disputation): “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours?” This response would be especially appropriate if Peter’s question contained a touch of jealousy.

John’s gospel closes with an affirmation of authenticity: “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true,” The concluding final sentence -- about there not being enough room in the whole world for books to record all Jesus’ works -- is a clear example of hyperbole: deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. This was common in antiquity. The Jewish philosopher Philo, for instance, writes: “If [God] were to display all his riches, even the entire earth, with the sea turned into dry land, would not contain them.” And the Church Father Origen says: “It is impossible t commit to writing all those particulars that belong to the glory of the Savior.” [cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John, p. 1130]

The significance of the statement for us is simply this: if we are trying to follow Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor with all our heart, mind, and soul, we will be discovering more about him every day; until he sends his angel to call us home, to the place which he has prepared for us – where we shall experience not only peace and joy but ecstasy; for we shall see God face to face. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Homily for May 22nd, 2015: John 21_15-29.

          It is after Easter. Peter and his friends have gone back to fishing. All night, they catch nothing. At dawn a man on the shore whom they don’t recognize calls out: “Cast your net on the starboard side.” They do so and feel the net heavy with fish. The disciple always identified in John’s gospel as “the one Jesus loved” calls out: “It is the Lord!” They hurry ashore with their rich catch and find Jesus standing by a fire. He has made breakfast for them.

          After they have eaten, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter assures the Lord that he does. “Peter was distressed,” we heard in the gospel when Jesus asked the question the third time. Of course he was distressed. Jesus= thrice repeated question reminded Peter of his own threefold denial of the Lord by another fire, in Jerusalem, the night before the crucifixion.

In response to each pledge of love, Jesus assigns Peter responsibility: to feed Jesus= sheep. It is noteworthy, however, that the flock entrusted to Peter=s care remains the Lord=s: Amy lambs ... my sheep.@ Jesus himself is Athe chief shepherd.@ (cf. 1 Peter (5:4).   

Why did Jesus give this responsibility to Peter, of all people? As long as Peter thought that he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful, Peter was not ready for leadership. For that Peter had to experience his weakness. He had to become convinced that without a power greater than his own, he could do nothing. One way he learned his weakness was through his failure at fishing.

Do you sometimes feel weak? You have made so many good resolutions. Some you have kept, others not. You have high ideals. How often you have compromised. You had so many dreams, hopes, plans. 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 Peter=s story is yours C boasting followed by humiliating failure; impetuosity and then indecisiveness; pledges of loyalty no matter what, and then swift betrayal C if you see any of that in your life, or even all of that, then Jesus has a task for you. He is saying to you right now what he said to Peter: AFollow me.@ He doesn’t ask you to be always strong, for he knows your weakness -- better than you do. He asks you one thing only: to trust him. His strength will always be enough. You have only to ask, and Jesus is there.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Pentecost, Year B.  Acts 2:1-11. Gal. 5:16-25.
AIM: To help the hearers grasp the meaning of the Pentecost event for our lives.
One bright Sunday morning Jason decided that he would sleep in. His mother was indignant. So she did what mothers do best. Storming into his bedroom, she said: AJason, it=s Sunday. Time to get up! Time to go to church!@
AI don=t want to go,@ Jason mumbled from under the covers. 
AWhat do you mean you don=t want to go?@ his mother retorted. AYou can=t stay home. Now get up and get dressed.@
Roused now from his slumber, Jason sat up and said: AI=m not going. And I=ll give you two reasons why. First, I don=t like the people at church. And second, they don=t like me.@
AThat=s ridiculous,@ his mother replied. AI=ll give you two reasons why you=ve got to go. First, you=re forty years old. And second, you=re the Pastor.@
Jason was not too different from Jesus= apostles after the Ascension. AGo into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature,@ Jesus told them on that occasion. (Mark 16:15). Those were the opening words of last Sunday=s gospel. Once Jesus left, however, they found that they had little appetite for proclaiming the gospel even in Jerusalem, let alone to the whole world. They knew their fellow Jews didn=t like them. And many of them didn=t like the apostles= message either. Like Jason, the apostles preferred to remain in their beds, under the covers, rather than getting up and facing a hostile society.
Aren=t we often like that? We go to church quietly. We receive Jesus into our hearts quietly, listening to his holy Word and receiving his body and blood in Communion. We go home quietly to say our morning and evening prayers quietly.        Here=s someone who confesses lying. Asked about the lie, the person says: AWhen I was leaving to come here, a friend asked where I was going. I was embarrassed to say I was going to confession. So I said I was going to the mall.@  No big deal, you say? What do you suppose Jesus would say about that lie? Well, here is what he actually did say: AWhoever will acknowledge me before men, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven; and whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven@ (Mt. 10:32; cf. Lk. 12:8).
Many of us have a me-and-God religion. Jesus asks for more. Jesus wants us to be his witnesses in an often hostile world. That=s difficult C and scary. If we=re too open, and too public about our faith, people may turn their backs on us. They may call us out of touch, old fashioned, hopelessly unrealistic. They say that about us already when we call abortion not the liberation of women, but a terrible exploitation of women by selfish, irresponsible men. And that is just the beginning of society=s hostility to those who try to witness to the message and truth of Jesus Christ. Like Jason, we=d rather stay home. They don=t like us, and we don=t like them.
   Fortunately, Jason had a mother who woke him and sent him out to do what he had been commissioned to do when he was ordained: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The one who did that for Jesus= frightened and reluctant apostles was the Holy Spirit. He came to them on this day with Aa noise like a strong driving wind,@ and in Atongues as of fire.@ That fire warmed their cold hearts. That wind gave them courage to speak in different languages the message Jesus had entrusted to them C a preview of his Church=s work down through history. 
 Friends, that wind is still blowing. That fire is still burning. That we are Catholic Christians in a continent undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost is proof that the fire kindled then was not lit in vain. AI have come to set fire to the earth,@ Jesus says, Aand how I wish it were already kindled@ (Lk 12:49). It is our task to pass on the flame to others, so that they may catch a spark from the fire of God=s love burning within us. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must caught. 
As fire burns it gives light. We are called to be prisms or lenses of God=s light, so that it may shine in a dark world. The inner quality of our lives is determining, right now, the brightness, or the darkness, of that part of the world in which God=s providence has placed us. St. Paul tells us what this means in characteristically memorable words. AWork out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for his chosen purpose. Do all you have to do without complaining or wrangling.  Show yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world, and proffer the word of life.@ (Phil. 2:12-16)  
What is the message we have to proclaim? It is very simple, really. We are to proclaim, by the quality of our lives, and by words if necessary, that God is C that he is real. That he is a God of love, who loves each one of us as if, in the whole  universe, there were only one person to love; and that he looks for our loving response to his love. We are called to be witnesses to the existence of a world beyond this one: the unseen, spiritual but utterly real world of God, of the angels, of the saints; the dwelling place of our beloved dead C our true homeland, as Paul reminds when he writes, Awe have our citizenship in heaven@ (Phil 3:20).    

Does any of that come through in your life? Is the Spirit=s wind blowing in your life? Is his divine fire burning in your heart? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere physical presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

Living our faith in its fullness means doing what Paul tells us to do in our second reading: ALive by the Spirit.@ If we do that, Paul says, we shall experience  the Spirit=s fruits: Alove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.@  With confidence, therefore, we join on this feast of Pentecost in the Church=s unceasing prayer for the Spirit=s gifts:

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,

and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;

O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,

and kindle it thy holy flame bestowing.


O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn

to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,

and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.


Let holy charity my outward vesture be,

and lowliness become my inner clothing;

true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,

and o=er its own shortcoming weeps with loathing.


And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long.

Will far outpass the power of human telling;

for none can guess its grace, till he become the place

wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.


(Bianco da Siena, d.1434; translated by R.F.Littledale, d. 1890)


Homily for May 21st, 2015: John 17:20-26.

          Once again Jesus lifts up his eyes to heaven, as he continues what has come to be called his High Priestly prayer. If the theme in his prayer hitherto has been the glory that Jesus shares with the Father and wishes to share with his friends, here the theme is unity. Jesus and his Father are one, bound together by their love for one another. And the love that binds them together is the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit Jesus’ disciples are made one.

          The unity among his friends for which Jesus prays extends far beyond those who hear his words. Jesus is looking toward the future, at what would become his Church. This is clear from his opening words: “I pray not only for these [those present with him in the Upper Room] but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Sadly Christians are not all one; and our divisions make it impossible for many in our world to believe that Jesus is God’s divine Son, sent by him into the world in human form. That is why ecumenism, which involves the search for Christian unity, is not an optional extra for the Church but an essential duty. The Second Vatican Council said: “The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike,” adding: “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion.” The search for the unity for which Christ prayed starts, in other words, at home: with us, and the deepening of our faith. “Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way,” the Council said, “to that continual purification of which she always has need.” [Decree on Ecumenism, Nos. 5-6]

Jesus concludes this moving prayer by asking his Father “that the love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” To which we gladly say: Amen, so may it be.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


Homily for May 20th, 2015: Acts 20:28-38.

          Today’s first reading portrays Paul’s farewell to the Christian community at Ephesus. Paul’s words are addressed to “the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus.” “Presbyter” is a Greek word which means “elder.” It is still today the proper title of a man who has been ordained to the Church’s priesthood. I am technically not a priest in the full sense. I am a presbyter. The fullness of priesthood is given only to presbyters who are ordained bishops. Paul, therefore, is addressing the elders of the Church at Ephesus; their priests, we would say today.

“Keep watch over yourselves,” he tells them, “and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood.” Enemies will come, he warns them, to pervert the truth. Paul reminds them of all he had done for them during his three years with them. Paul was a worker-priest, and proud of it. He never took a salary. That is what he is referring to when he says: “You know that these very hands have served my needs and my companions.”

Then comes a reference to some words of Jesus that we don’t find in the gospels, only here. The gospels had not yet been written. The words and work of Jesus were already being handed on orally. Paul reminds them of a saying obviously well known at Ephesus: “Keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” The Greek word Paul uses for “blessed” also means “happy.”

If a long life has taught me anything, it is this. At the end of the day there are two kinds of people: givers and takers. Which are you? If you are a taker, I’ll promise you one thing: you will always be frustrated and unhappy, because you will never get enough.

It is only the givers who are truly happy. The person who has never discovered that is poor indeed, no matter how large the size of his or her house, bank account or stock portfolio.  “Give, and it shall be given to you,” Jesus says in Luke’s gospel. “Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” (6:38)

Think about those words. Better still, pray about them.

Monday, May 18, 2015


Homily for May 19th, 2015: John 17:1-11a.

          In today’s gospel we come to one of the most majestic passages in John’s gospel, Jesus’ so-called High Priestly prayer. Knowing that his life is drawing to its close, Jesus stands before us not to offer sacrifice – that will come the next day, on Calvary. Rather he stands before his heavenly Father, offering intercession for his friends – ourselves included.

          The passage begins by telling us that Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven.” He did the same at the Last Supper, as we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took break in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven … he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples … "

          Reading the words of his prayer, we get the impression that Jesus has already crossed the threshold between time and eternity and is now on the way to his Father. The twice repeated word “Father” gives Jesus’ prayer a note of special intimacy. He asks nothing for himself, so that his words are more a prayer of union than of petition.

Jesus does ask for “glory.” But his glory is not distinct from the glory of the Father. During his earthly life Jesus’ glory was visible through what John’s gospel calls “signs” – miracles such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ healings, the stilling of the storm on the lake, his feeding of a vast crown in the wilderness. At Cana Jesus said: “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4) Now Jesus’ “hour” has come. We pass from signs to reality. “The hour” is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ earthly life ends with his return to his Father.  

In a real sense, however, his real work is only beginning. We know this from Jesus’ words about “the ones you have given me”: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you … they accepted [my words] and truly understood that I came from you, and have believed that you sent me.” The understanding of which Jesus speaks here includes obedience to God’s Commandments. Knowing that we cannot do this without God’s help, Jesus says: “I pray for them.” This prayer for us, Jesus’ friends, continues today, and until the Jesus returns in glory, at the world’s end.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Homily for May 18th, 2015: John 16:29-33.

          “Take courage,” Jesus says. “I have conquered the world.” To understand these words we must know that in John’s gospel the word “world” is used in two senses: good and bad. When Jesus says, earlier in the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” [3:16] he is using the word in a good sense. He is speaking of the world as it comes from the hand of God, the world of God’s making. God must love that world, for he does not make anything that is not lovable.

          When he tells his friends to take courage because he has “overcome the world,” he is speaking not about the world of God’s making, but the world of human marring: the world deformed by human sin, centered not on God but on our own selfish desires, the world not of giving, but of getting.   

          “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. Other translations say not trouble but “suffering” or “tribulation.” Can we Catholic Christians in the comfortable and rich country of the United States honestly claim to have trouble, suffering, and tribulation? If we refuse to abbreviate the gospel, yes we do. When we call the killing of unborn babies a grave crime, equivalent to murder, we are accused of “waging a war on women.” When we insist that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman; and that, once established, it can be terminated only by death, we are accused of “hate speech,” and vilified as homophobes and opponents of human equality.

The trouble and suffering of Christians worldwide is far greater than anything we experience. In his richly documented new book, The Global War on Christians, journalist John Allen writes: “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. 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.”

Jesus speaks to us today the same words he spoke to the apostles at the Last Supper two thousand years ago: “In the world you will have suffering, but take courage. I have overcome the world.”