Friday, June 26, 2015


Homily for June 27th, 2015. Matt. 8:5-17.

          The centurion who asks Jesus to heal his serving boy is a Roman military officer, something like a colonel today. This is clear from his response when Jesus says he will come at once to heal the boy. The officer shows both courtesy to Jesus and respect for the Jewish law by saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” Luke’s version of this story tells us that this Roman officer has taken a genuine interest in Jewish religion, and has even built a synagogue. He knows, therefore, that in entering a Gentile house Jesus could become ritually unclean. Hence, Luke tells us, the officer suggests an alternative: “Just give an order and my boy will be healed.” I do that all the time, he says. I give orders to those under my authority, and they do what I command.

          Upon hearing these words, Matthew tells us, Jesus “showed amazement.” Normally it is the witnesses of Jesus’ healings who are amazed. Here it is the Lord himself who shows amazement. I have not found faith like this from my own people, Jesus says. This outsider, who has neither our divine law, nor our prophets, he tells the people, shows greater faith than you do.

The words which follow about people coming from east and west to take seats at God’s heavenly banquet alongside Israel’s heroes are a prophecy of the Church. Originally a sect within Judaism, the Church would break out of its Jewish womb to become the worldwide community that we know today.

          The centurion’s words continue to resound two millennia later. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” we say before we approach the Lord’s table to receive his Body and Blood, “but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Even after a good confession, we are still unworthy of the Lord’s gift. He gives himself to us for one reason: not because we are good enough; but because he is so good that he longs to share his love with us.  

          How do we respond? By gratitude! By walking before the Lord in holiness and righteousness all our days, trusting that when the Lord calls us home to himself, we shall hear him saying to us, very personally and with tender love: “Well done. … Come and share your master’s joy.” (Matt. 25:21).


Thursday, June 25, 2015


13th Sunday in Year B.  Mark 5:21-43.
AIM: By explaining the difference between superstition and faith, to deepen faith.
People who suffer from an incurable illness can become so desperate that they are willing to try anything.  Judging by the amount of mail I receive from advertisers promising Amiracle cures@ for all my aches and pains, I have to conclude that there are a lot of desperate people out there. Most of this mail goes straight into the circular file unopened.
From time to time the media report about desperately ill people journeying to clinics in countries like Mexico and Russia in search of medical treatment not available to them at home. The woman in today=s gospel who had suffered hemorrhages for twelve years is similarly desperate. AShe had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors,@ Mark tells us, Aand had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.@ She comes to Jesus as a last resort. After so many bitter disappointments, she hardly dares to hope for a cure. But what does she have to lose?
Her situation is even more serious than we can realize. For according to the religious law of the day, this woman=s illness makes her ritually unclean. Like lepers in that day, she is excluded from normal society, and anyone who touches her becomes similarly defiled. (Cf. Lev. 15:25-27) By mixing with the crowd and trying to touch Jesus she is deliberately violating this quarantine. This is a measure of her desperation.  AIf I but touch his clothes,@ she tells herself, AI shall be cured.@  Her real interest is less in Jesus= person than in his reputed power. What looks at first sight like faith is closer to superstition.
The Catechism calls superstition is Aa perverse excess of religion ... for example when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition@ (No. 2110f). Here is a modern example this Aperverse excess of religion@ that the Catechism condemns.  Every so often pastors of Catholic parishes find in their churches copies of a supposed novena prayer with the instruction to say it every day for seven days, and to leave copies in seven different churches B and then you=ll get whatever you pray for. That may look like faith. In reality it is superstition. 
Faith is trust in a person. Superstition, on the other hand, is reliance on a power which, if not handled correctly, can become harmful. Hence superstition always contains an element of fear. This explains the woman=s fear when Jesus turns in the crowd and asks: AWho has touched my clothes?@ ARealizing what had happened to her,@ Mark tells us, the woman Aapproached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth@ B that she had violated the law of quarantine. 
Notice how Jesus treats this poor woman. Instead of scolding her, he encourages her. Realizing her desperation, Jesus judges the woman=s action more generously that it actually deserves. To this poor, frightened soul, huddled at his feet in fear, Jesus speaks words of reassurance. ADaughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.@
By treating the woman as if she had faith, when in reality she had little more than superstition, Jesus plants in her the seed of true faith. Jesus speaks as if the healing were the consequence of the woman=s faith. In reality her healing is the cause and beginning of faith for this desperate woman.  
Following her healing, Mark resumes his account of the gravely ill girl which he has interrupted to relate the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage. Jesus= words to the girl=s grief stricken father, who has just learned of his daughter=s death, link what follows to the experience of the fearful woman for whom Jesus has just opened the door to faith. ADo not be afraid,@ Jesus tells the father, Ajust have faith.@
There is no need to linger over the details of this second healing miracle. Mark=s purpose in relating it was not so much to preserve the historical record as to make a statement about who Jesus is. This statement begins with Jesus= words to the mourners at the dead girl=s house: AThe child is not dead but asleep.@ That is a religious statement, not a medical one. For the One who has power to raise the dead, Jesus is saying, physical death is no more significant than sleep. What follows illustrates this statement. 
These two intertwined stories of healing have a common theme.  Both contrast fear and faith. Fear shrinks from encountering the one who is feared B as the woman shrinks from Jesus once he senses that she has violated the law of quarantine. Faith, on the other hand, seeks encounter with faith=s object. As long as the woman is motivated by superstition, she must try to keep her encounter with Jesus secret, because of the fear associated with her superstitious belief in Jesus= healing power. Jesus, as we have seen, invites her to move beyond superstition to faith. Faith, like love, casts out fear.  (Cf. 1 John 4:18)
ADo not be afraid; just have faith.@  Jesus= words to the bereaved father, Jairus, were spoken in the face of the thing we fear most of all: death. Jesus speaks these same words to us today. He invites us to move from fear to faith. How fearful many people are! Some fear God as a stern judge waiting to punish them for the slightest infraction of his rules. Others fear not God but themselves: their inadequacy, their weakness, their inability to keep all God=s rules, no matter how hard they try.

What do you fear? We all fear something. Jesus is inviting you to move beyond fear, to faith. When you do, you open the door to Him who is able to do, in you and through you, not merely the unexpected, not merely the improbable or the difficult B but the impossible!



Homily for July 2nd, 2015: Genesis 22:1b-19.

          The story in today’s first reading of the patriarch Abraham preparing to kill his son Isaac is, to us, horrifying. In the ancient world, however, human sacrifice was no more shocking than today’s wars, large and small. Important for us is what this story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac tells us of the Lord God. It shows us God doing his characteristic work: bringing life out of death. Let me explain.

          We hear the first note of this theme in God’s promise to Abraham that he and his wife Sarah, whose hope of issue has long since died, will receive in their old age a son through whose descendants “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him” (Gen. 18:18). That was so preposterous that Sarah laughed – and her husband as well (Gen. 17:17 and 18:18). From the deadness of Sarah’s womb, however, God brings forth new life. When her son is born, he receives the Hebrew name Isaac, which in that language means “laughter.” His very birth was a divine joke. The laughter of Isaac’s parents is long past, however, when his father, in response to what he is convinced is a divine command, prepares to kill the son upon whose survival the fulfillment of God’s promise depends. Ten seconds from death at his father’s hand the boy is saved by the message of an angel.

          If we had time I could go through the stories of Abraham’s descendants and show you how, in every generation, God repeatedly does the impossible, by bringing life out of death. This culminates in the event of the Passover, when Moses and God’s whole people, doomed to certain death between the impassible waters of the sea ahead of them, and Pharaoh’s whole army advancing upon them from behind, is saved through divine intervention.

Why does the Bible devote so much space to recording God's “mighty acts”? Because they show us who God is: not just who he was, but (because God never changes) who he is today, and will be for all time. He remains always “the same yesterday today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Even in a nuclear age the Lord’s arm (to use biblical language) is not shortened.

          Is it consistent with biblical faith to assume that we shall always remain the kind of people we have been and are – never changing in any fundamental way, never growing? The final book of the Bible tells us that God “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Believing those words is, admittedly, not always easy. When we doubt, we are in good company. Abraham and Sarah not only doubted but laughed – and were brought up short with the question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Centuries later, one of their descendants, questioning how she could be the mother of God’s Son while remaining a virgin, received a remarkably similar response: “Nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37; Jerusalem Bible). This is the God whom we encounter here in the Eucharist: in his holy word, in the sacrament of his body and blood; the God who brings life out of death, who, time after time, does the impossible. 



Homily for June 26th, 2015: Matthew 8:1-4.

          People afflicted with leprosy in Jesus’ day suffered not only physically but socially and spiritually, as well. They were banned from public places. And since they were considered spiritually unclean they could not participate in Temple worship. Anyone who touched a leper became spiritually unclean as well.

          This helps us understand why the man we have just heard about in the gospel reading prefaces his plea for healing by doing homage to Jesus. “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean, he pleads.”  The man’s faith in Jesus’ power to heal is crucial. It is faith that opens the door for God’s action in our lives.

          Out of compassion with this social outcast Jesus responds at once. Reaching out across the boundary between clean and unclean, Jesus touches the man, saying: “I will do it. Be made clean.” Jesus has restored the man to the community of God’s people. At once he tells the newly healed man to fulfill the provisions of the Jewish law by going to a Temple priest and offering sacrifice. Jewish priests were then also quarantine officials.

          Where did Jesus get this power to heal? He received it in his hours of silent waiting on his heavenly Father in prayer. Just before encountering this leper, Jesus has been on a mountain, Matthew tells us. Mountains in those days were considered especially close to God. Jesus had just been praying. He needed those times of silence, alone with his heavenly Father. It was in those hours of solitude that Jesus nurtured the power to heal, to say to rough working men, “Follow me,” and have them obey him on the spot. And if Jesus, whose inner resources were infinitely greater than hours, needed those times alone with God, we are fools and guilty fools, if we think we can do without them.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Homily for June 25th, 2015: Matthew 7:21-29.

"Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” At the time of Jesus, it would make no sense to build one's house on sand. After each heavy rain, a torrent would come and wash away anything in its path. Jesus had probably seen structures carried away by heavy rains and storms in Palestine.

To build one's house on sand means to build our lives on things that are unstable and fleeting, things that cannot not withstand the tests of time and the hazards of chance. What are such things? Money, success, fame, and even health and prosperity. Each of those things is good in itself; but none of them is reliable or solid.

To build one's house on rock means to base our lives on things that are solid, enduring, things that cannot be carried away with life’s storms. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says later in this gospel according to Matthew, “but my words will not pass away.” (24:35) To build our house on rock means building our life on God. Rock is one of the preferred biblical symbols for the God. “Trust in the Lord forever,” we read in the prophet Isaiah, “for the Lord is an eternal rock.” (26:4). The book Deuteronomy says the same: "He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is." (32:4)

To build one's house on the rock means, therefore, living in the Church and not remaining on the fringe, at a distance, using the excuse that the Church is filled with hypocrites, dishonesty. and sin. Of course it is! The Church is made up of sinners like ourselves.

Today's gospel starts with what seems a harsh message. For the first time Matthew speaks about people who refer to Jesus as their Lord. But what good is it to cry out, "Lord, Lord," Jesus asks, when your works are not done for me but for your own glory? When we cry out "Lord," it should mean that we belong to him at all times, and not just as temporary acquaintances. When the Lord responds, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers,” (a harsh message indeed) Jesus is really expressing his longing for people who are truly close to him in daily life. Those who do things in his name to be seen and honored, yet refuse to live in daily fellowship with him are fraudulent. Those who are deaf to the Word of God, who do not act upon it, and whose lives are not built upon God will be swept away when the storms of life descend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Homily for June 24th, 2015: Isaiah 49:1-6; Luke 1:57-66, 80.
The saints are normally celebrated on the day of their death, called by the Church their “heavenly birthday.” The Church celebrates John the Baptist=s death on the 29th of August. He is the only saint, other than Our Lady, whose biological birthday is also celebrated. The name given him  was a surprise. Today=s gospel tells us how it came about
Nine months before the child=s birth, God had sent the angel Gabriel to tell the baby=s father, the Jewish priest, Zechariah: AYour prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear a son whom you shall name John. Joy and gladness will be yours, and many will rejoice at his birth@ (Lk 1:13f). Zechariah found the news incredible: he and his wife were too old to have a child.
Zechariah=s disbelief meant that from that day he was mute, unable to speak. Clearly he was deaf as well. For at his son=s birth, today=s gospel reading says, they have to ask the old man by signs what name he wishes to give his son. His inability to speak meant that he had never been able to tell his wife the name that the angel had given their son nine months before. 
Those gathered for the baby=s naming assume that he will have his father=s name. Great is their astonishment when the child=s mother Elizabeth insists on a name not borne hitherto by anyone in their family. ANo,@ she says, Ahe will be called John.@ The astonishment becomes amazement when Zechariah confirms his wife=s choice.
Immediately, Luke tells us, Zechariah=s Amouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.@ His words are omitted in today=s gospel reading. They are a hymn of praise, starting with the words: ABlessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.@ The Church has made these words part of her daily public prayer every morning. 
St. Augustine says that Zechariah=s power of speech was restored because at his son=s birth a voice was born. If John had proclaimed himself, Augustine says, he could not have restored his father=s speech. John=s role, determined by God from his conception in his mother=s womb, was to proclaim another: the One who would not be, like John, simply a voice, but himself God=s Word: his personal utterance and communication to us.

The words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading apply equally to John: AThe Lord called me from birth, from my mother=s womb he gave me my name. ... You are my servant, he said to me, Israel through whom I show my glory.@ The name John means, AGod is gracious,@ or AGod has given grace.@ The name was singularly appropriate for the man commissioned even before his birth to proclaim the One who would give God a human face, and a human voice.

God called each of us in our mother=s womb. He fashioned us in his own image, as creatures made for love: to praise, worship, and praise God here on earth, and to be happy with him forever in heaven. Fulfilling that destiny, given to us at our conception, means heeding the words which today=s saint, John the Baptist, spoke about Jesus: AHe must increase, I must decrease@ (John 3:3).

Those are the most important words which St. John the Baptist ever spoke. In just six words they sum up the whole life of Christian discipleship. Imprint those words on your mind, your heart, your soul. Resolve today to try to make them a reality in daily life. Those who do that find that they have discovered the key to happiness, to fulfillment, and to peace. AHe must increase, I must decrease.@

Monday, June 22, 2015


Homily for June 23rd, 2015: Matthew 7, 6, 12-14.

AStrive to enter through the narrow gate,@ Jesus says. That Anarrow gate@ stands for every situation in which God=s demands weigh heavily on us and seem too hard to bear. We all experience such situations. It is important to know that trials and troubles are not signs not of God=s absence, but of his presence. Everything that threatens our peace of mind, or even life itself, is a challenge, and an opportunity to grow. Our trials and sufferings are the homework we are assigned in the school of life.

The idea that God is a supernatural protector who guards his own from all suffering is not a Christian idea, but a pagan one. Why is there suffering in a good world, created and upheld by a good and just God? Which of us has never asked that question? Our faith does not answer it. Faith gives us instead the strength to endure amid of suffering.

Our teacher in this school is Jesus Christ. Whatever trials and sufferings we encounter, his were heavier. The letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus: ASon though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him ...@ (5:8f).

This is the Anarrow gate@ of which Jesus speaks in the gospel: the patient endurance of all the hard and difficult things that life sets before us. Jesus never promised that God would protect us from trials and sufferings. He promises that God will be with us in trials and suffering. 

We pray, then, in this Mass in a special way: “Be with us, Lord, in times of darkness, when clouds shut out the sunshine of your love. Be with us in the power of your Holy Spirit. Lead us ever onward. Give us the protection of your holy angels, to lead us to you.”

Sunday, June 21, 2015


Homily for June 22nd, 2015: Matthew 7:1-5.

          “Stop judging,” Jesus says. Can we really do that? Even simple statements involve judging: “This coffee is too hot;” or, “Children, you’re making too much noise.” And what about the moral judgments of others that we make, and must make, all the time? An employer makes a judgment every time he hires a new employee. The pope judges when he makes a priest a bishop. Parents make judgments about their children in deciding such questions as when to entrust them with a cell phone, or the family car. Clearly Jesus cannot be forbidding judgments like that.

          What Jesus forbids is making judgments that only God can make – because only God can see the heart. When God sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to find a new king for his people, to replace Saul, Samuel was especially impressed with the young man Eliab. Surely, he must be the one, Samuel says. To which the Lord responds: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7) Jesus, who was steeped in the Jewish Scriptures, would have been familiar with that passage. He would also have known the verse from the prophet Jeremiah, who represents God saying: “I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways.” (Jer. 17:10)

          “Stop judging, that you may not be judged,” Jesus says. That is what Bible scholars call the “theological passive.” What Jesus meant was, “Stop judging, so that God will not judge you.” A devout Jew could not say that. Pronouncing the name of God was forbidden. To avoid doing so, Jesus uses the passive: “that you may not be judged.”

          We find this confirmed in the words that follow: “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” What this means is: God will judge you with the severity, or generosity, which you show to others. Do you hope that, when you come to stand before the Lord God in judgment, he will show you mercy? Then start showing mercy to others. It’s as simple as that!