Friday, July 24, 2015


Homily for July 25th, 2015: Matthew 20:20-28.
         “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. It is his response to the request made by the mother of the brothers James and John that he give them places of special honor in his kingdom. The petition may have come from the mother. It is clear, however, that she had the full backing of her two sons. For when Jesus asks if they can share the chalice of pain and suffering from which he will drink, the two brothers respond eagerly, “We can.” They have no idea, of course, what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere.
          It quickly becomes clear that the other disciples are equally clueless. They become indignant at James and John for staking out a claim before the other disciples can assert theirs. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” And immediately Jesus ratifies this teaching with his own example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          We all need a measure of recognition and affirmation. But if finding that is central in your life, I’ll promise you one thing. You’ll never get enough -- and you'll always be frustrated. Look, rather, for opportunities to serve others and you will find happiness: here and now in this world -- and in the next the joy of eternal life with the Lord who tells us, later in this gospel according to Matthew: “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.”  

Thursday, July 23, 2015


Homily for July 24th, 2015: Matthew 13:18-23.
      Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Only at the end of the story does Jesus tell us: “Some seed, finally, landed on good soil and yielded grain that spring up to produce at a rate of thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold.”
          A modern Bible commentator writes: “A 20-to-1 ratio would have been considered an extraordinary harvest. Jesus’ strikingly large figures are intended to underscore the prodigious quality of God’s glorious kingdom still to come.”
          The parable is Jesus’ antidote to discouragement and despair. So much of our effort seems to be wasted. So much of the Church’s work seems barren of result. The Christian community for which Mark wrote his gospel was discouraged, as we are often discouraged. They had been banished from the synagogue which they loved. They faced the same hostility as their Master. Despite the rising hostility he could see all round him, Jesus refuses to yield to discouragement. He remains confident — and tells this story to give confidence to others. “Jesus is not only the sower who scatters the seed of God’s word,” Pope Benedict XVI writes. “He is also the seed that falls into the earth in order to die and so to bear fruit.” 
          Are you sometimes discouraged? You have made so many good resolutions. How many have you kept? You seem to make no progress in prayer. When you come to confession, it is the same tired old list of sins. You wanted so much. You’ve settled for so little. If that — or any of that — applies to you, then Jesus is speaking, through this parable, very personally to you. Listen.
          ‘Have patience and courage,’ he is saying. ‘Do your work, be faithful to prayer, to your daily duties. God has sown the seed of his word in your life. The harvest is certain. When it comes it will be greater than you can possibly imagine.  The harvest depends, in the final analysis, not on you, but on God. And God’s seed is always fruitful, his promise always reliable.’

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  John 6:1-15.
AIM: To show that our meager resources are transformed when offered to God; but that God=s power is not at our disposal.
Responding to the rectory doorbell, a priest encountered a young woman he had never seen before. She was weeping and wanted to talk to a priest. Amid tears she stated her problem: AMy husband is having an affair.@ Her heart was broken.
Somewhere in this church right now there is a person with a broken heart, or at least a bruised one. Perhaps it is a family problem, financial difficulty, or some bitter injustice. Or maybe the problem is your inability to get your life together.  When you look within, you see a tangle of loose ends, broken resolutions, and failures. You ask yourself: AWill my life ever be different, better?@ And deep in your heart you fear that the answer may be No. 
The gospel we have just heard describes a problem every bit as insoluble as any we face: the impossibility of feeding a vast crowd far from any source of food.  Jesus= friend Philip says the situation is hopeless: ATwo hundred days= wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.@ Philip is your classic pessimist. No sooner is a solution proposed for a problem, than the pessimist says at once: AOh, that=s no good. We tried that before and it didn’t work.@
Another friend, Andrew, is a bit more practical. Instead of concentrating on the magnitude of the problem, he looks first at the means for solving it. AThere is some food,@ Andrew says. AThere is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.@ Yet even Andrew has to acknowledge that these resources are pitifully inadequate, for he adds immediately: ABut what good are these for so many?@
This brief exchange between Jesus and his two friends is merely the prelude to the story. Jesus wastes no time in discussion. Instead he acts. We must leave to the scripture scholars the question, AWhat really happened?@ The preacher=s task is not so much to explain the gospel stories, as to show their significance for us today. What this story tells us is this. When we place our resources, however inadequate they may be, in the hands of Jesus Christ, we discover that they are inadequate no longer. 
You come here with your burdens, your problems, your pain. Some of those problems may seem insoluble, the pains unbearable. If you look only at your own strength and your own resources, you have every reason for discouragement C perhaps even for despair.
But offer those resources, however inadequate they maybe, to Jesus Christ, and you will find that they are transformed beyond imagining. When to our weakness is added the strength and power of God, made available to us in his Son Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, then great things can happen in and through even people as weak and poor as we know ourselves to be.
Look down C at your problems, your woefully insufficient means of dealing with them; look at your weakness of will, your inconstancy, your many compromises and frequent falls C look down, I say, at all that, and you will indeed have every reason for pessimism. But look up C up into the face of Jesus Christ, your divine Savior, but also your brother, your lover, and your best friend. Place your pitifully inadequate strength, which you know to be little more than weakness, into his hands; and then you will find that the impossible happens. The problem you thought insoluble may not disappear, but it will not ultimately defeat you. The pain which seem unbearable can be borne, the heavy burden carried. Whenever we place our littleness into the hands of Jesus Christ, it becomes greatness. The impossible happens. Where before there had been only discouragement and despair, there is hope and joy.
I could stop there. But this story has more spiritual nourishment for us than the message of hope for those who think their situation is hopeless, their problems insoluble, their pain unbearable. The people who experienced Jesus= miracle were so impressed that they wanted to capture his power, to make sure that it would be available to them always. That is the significance of their desire to make Jesus a king. Here, they think, is the one who can get this hated Roman government of occupation off our backs. Someone who can feed such a vast crowd here in the wilderness is surely capable of greater things still. In this expectation, however, the people are disappointed. Jesus, we read, Awithdrew to the mountain alone.@
Jesus Christ is never at our disposal. We are at his disposal. The power of God, which is at work in Jesus, is not some kind of automatic solution that we can turn on at will, like the electric light. You cannot Acapture@ Jesus Christ, any more than the people in today=s gospel who wanted to make him king could capture him.
In Jesus there is power, certainly. It is not power, however, to do our own thing. Jesus empowers us to do God=s thing. Jesus= power is the power of love.  Love is creative. Once truly touched by love, we become capable of things that previously seemed beyond us. People in love sacrifice for the one they love: they are happy to sacrifice. People touched and filled by love can run where before they could scarcely walk. That is the power of Jesus Christ: the creative power of love, a force which will not always transform our problems, but which will infallibly transform us, if we will but entrust ourselves to Jesus, and to his love for us, without reserve.
Here in the Eucharist, Jesus repeats the miracle recounted in today=s gospel.  Here we, the hungry and weary people God, are fed by Jesus Christ with bread in the wilderness of our earthly pilgrimage; that Adaily bread@ for which Jesus taught us to pray: ordinary bread, transformed on the altar through the power of the Holy Spirit into the Lord’s crucified and risen body: nourishment, support, and strength as we stumble onward toward our heavenly homeland, lying down to rest each night a day=s march nearer home.


Homily for July 23rd, 2015: Matthew 13:10-17.

          “To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Those words from today’s gospel reading  seem terribly unfair, don’t they. To understand what Jesus is saying, we must note first that he speaks in the passive: “more will be given;” and “what he has will be taken away.” As I have told you before, that is what Bible scholars call “the theological passive.” It is a way of saying the God will give more to anyone who has, without actually pronouncing the word “God,” which was forbidden to Jews; and that God will take away from anyone who has not.

          Even when we have understood this, however, we are still left with the seeming injustice. What Jesus is saying is this. Those who open themselves in faith and hope to Jesus’ message of God’s love and salvation quickly grow in understanding of the message. Those who close themselves to the message, demanding some “sign” – a dramatic proof which will compel them to believe – are unable to understand the message, and forfeit the offer of salvation.

          Teachers see something similar in the classroom all the time. Students who work hard, do their homework, and listen closely, grow rapidly in understanding. Those who are lazy, or think they know it all already, quickly fall behind and, over time, understand little or nothing. This is not a question of justice or injustice. It is simply the way things are.

          Jesus’ concluding words, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear,” are his grateful tribute to those who have opened the minds and hearts to him. Remembering that the word “blessed” also means “happy,” we pray:

          “Lord, if today we hear your voice, harden not our hearts.”


Tuesday, July 21, 2015


July 22nd, 2015: John 20:1-2, 11-18.

          Mary Magdalene “saw Jesus,” we heard in the gospel, “but did not know it was Jesus.” 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!” Immediately followed by the command: “Go to my brothers with the news that [I am] 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.  

Monday, July 20, 2015


Homily for July 21st, 2015: Matthew 12:46-50.

          Told that his mother and other close relatives are “outside, wishing to speak with him,” Jesus seems to be dismissive. “Who is my mother?” he asks. “Who are my brothers? And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’” What seems to us to be dismissive is in reality inclusive. Jesus makes this clear by adding at once: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”

          Jesus lived, died, and rose again fully two millennia ago. Yet we are never distant from him, save by our own choice. As long as we are trying to be faithful to him, by doing his Father’s will, we are as close to Jesus as his blood relatives. Note, that I said, "trying." That is what is crucial: our effort, not our success. Mother Teresa, now Bl. Teresa of Calcutta, used to tell her Sisters: “The Lord He does not ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful.” When we fail in faithfulness, we need to remember what our wonderful new Pope Francis told us within days of his election: “The Lord never tires of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.”

          Who were the “brothers” who wished to speak with Jesus in today’s gospel reading? The Church has always believed that Jesus was Mary’s only child. Why? Having given herself completely to the Lord when she told the angel Gabriel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary was so totally united to God that she could never give herself to another, not even to Joseph. The “brothers” of Jesus mentioned here and elsewhere in the gospels were either cousins, or possibly half-siblings: children of Joseph with a wife who had died before he married Mary.

          Crucial for us is Jesus’ assurance that we who live remote from him in time, are still as close to him as his blood relatives, as long as we are trying to do each day what God asks of us.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


Homily for July 20th, 2015: Matthew 12:38-42.   

          “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,” Jesus says. He is referring to the repeated demand of his contemporaries for a miracle so dramatic that it will force them to believe. But belief cannot be forced any more than love can be forced. Jesus’ miracles confirm the faith of those who already believe. They do not compel belief on those who hearts and minds are closed to him and his message.

          Jesus then mentions two such confirming signs: Jonah, and the so-called queen of the south, Sheba. The book Jonah is fiction, not history. Like much great fiction, notably Jesus’ parables and Shakespeare’s plays, Jonah is the vehicle for important truth about God, humanity, and life. The sign of Jonah is not his survival in the belly of the great fish. It is rather the immediate repentance of the people of Nineveh – Gentiles without the gift of God’s law – in response to Jonah’s preaching. Jesus contrasts the immediate response of the Ninevites to Jonah's preaching with the failure of so many of his own people to respond to his message.

          The sign of Queen Sheba is different, though in one respect the same. Like Jonah, she came from afar, motivated however not by a divine command, but by the report that King Solomon possessed wisdom greater than that of all other rulers or sages. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus says. He is referring to himself. He not merely possesses wisdom: Jesus is wisdom personified. Similarly the statement that “there is something greater than Jonah here” means that Jesus’ message is more compelling than Jonah’s -- yet the people still do not respond. Jesus sums up by saying that the Ninevites and Queen Sheba showed a readiness to respond which his own people do not.

Are we responding? “I have come,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). Are we embracing Jesus’ offer of life to the full? Or do we think of our faith as observing enough of the Church’s complicated rules and regulations to be able, on Judgment Day, to squeeze our way into heaven?

          Think about it!