Friday, July 31, 2015


Homily for August 1st, 2015; Matt. 14:1-12.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry the wife of his still living brother Philip, a woman named Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, who was even then languishing in Herod’s prison.

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: Muslims threatened with death, or actually killed, for converting to Christianity; a Christian missionary sentenced to death for preaching Christ in an Islamic country, and saved only by a worldwide outcry; the teenage girl in Afghanistan who more than two years ago year survived an assassination attempt by terrorists opposed to education for women. Fortunately she was nursed back to health in England, and lived to tell her story before a meeting of the United Nations in New York.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the many victims of injustice and terror in the world today?


Thursday, July 30, 2015


Homily for July 31st, 2015.

          Ignatius Loyola, whom we celebrate today, was born about 1491 in northeastern Spain. Wounded in 1521 by a canon ball while fighting invading French troops at Pamplona, he was carried to the family castle at Loyola. There the doctors reset the broken bone in his broken leg. He would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

          During his recuperation Ignatius asked for tales of love and adventure – the equivalent of today’s pulp novels and Playboy magazine. When nothing of this kind could be found, he was given the Legends of the Saints and a Life of Christ. He found them boring. In time, however, he asked himself: “What if I were to do what blessed Francis did? or blessed Dominic?” 

          As the months crept by, he realized that his romantic dreams left him empty afterwards. The stories of the saints, on the other hand, filled him with a joy which persisted even after he laid the book down. He resolved to do penance for his many sins, and to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem – another romantic dream, transformed now into a desire to serve a higher love, the love of God himself.

          In March 1522 Ignatius set off on a mule for his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His went first to the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. There he made a general confession, laid down his sword at the shrine of the Black Virgin, gave his mule to the abbot, his fine clothes to a beggar, and donned the sackcloth garment of pilgrims. Ignatius then made for the nearby town of Manresa, where stayed for the next ten months. He attended Mass daily, spent much of the day in prayer, and fasted to excess. He became seriously depressed, was tempted with thoughts of suicide, and tormented by scruples about whether his general confession at Montserrat had been complete.

          At Manresa Ignatius also began writing notes for what eventually became his Spiritual Exercises, a kind of handbook designed, as the opening paragraph says, “to prepare and dispose the soul to rid itself of all disordered affections and then, after their removal, to seek and find God’s will in the ordering of our life for the salvation of our soul.”  It would become the first organized manual for a spiritual retreat in Christianity’s history. 

          Upon his return from the Holy Land, Ignatius began university study of philosophy and theology, first in Spain, finally at age 37 in Paris, where he guided fellow students in the Spiritual Exercises. On the 15th of August 1534, Ignatius and six companions attended a Mass celebrated by Peter Favre, the only priest in the group, in a chapel atop Montmartre, then outside Paris. Together they vowed to go to Jerusalem (the old romantic dream was not dead); and if that proved impossible to place themselves at the disposal of the Pope for any work he assigned them.

          Only in January 1537 could the group could reassemble at Venice, the jumping off place for the Holy Land. With the Mediterranean closed to shipping by the Turks, the hoped for trip to Jerusalem was impossible. On the 24th of June Ignatius and his companions were ordained priests in Venice. At the end of 1538 Ignatius and his companions proceeded to Rome, where they offered themselves to Pope Paul III, who assigned them missions in Italy, Portugal, and overseas. Only in 1540 did the Pope confirm the group as the Society of Jesus, with Ignatius chosen unanimously as their first superior.  

          Ignatius remained in Rome for the fifteen more years which remained to him. The society grew rapidly, founding two colleges in Rome for the training of the clergy, Rome’s first orphanage, the first “half-way house” for prostitutes wanting to change their lives, and in 1547 the first schools for laypeople, the beginning of the worldwide Jesuit teaching apostolate which continues today.   

          Inspiring and supporting all this activity was Ignatius’ deep and prolonged prayer. His devotion to the Holy Trinity was so intense that he sometimes had difficulty starting to celebrate Mass or to continue. After Mass he would remain two hours in silent prayer -- something sadly lacking today, when millions banish silence with TV, radio, and the many other electronic means now so widely available.

          Death came unexpectedly to Ignatius’ on July 31st, 1556. He went home to the Lord whom he had served so generously as he had taught his followers to live: without drama or fuss. At his death they numbered over a thousand, working as far afield as Japan and Brazil, and including the great apostle to the Orient, St. Francis Xavier. Among his many frequently quoted words are these: “Act, as if all depended on you; pray, as if all depended on God.”  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


Homily for July 30th, 2015: Matthew 13:47-53.

          “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea.” It is what we call a dragnet. Dragged along the bottom, it collects everything in its path. In Matthew’s gospel it immediately follows the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Both parables have a similar message, one which Jesus’ first hearers would easily have understood. They were familiar with dietary laws, which separated unclean foods from those they were permitted to eat. Sea creatures without fins or scales were unclean, and hence could not be eaten. So once the net is brought ashore, there must be a selection. The clean fish are put into buckets and taken to market. Everything else is thrown away. “Thus it will be at the end of the age,” Jesus tells us. “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.” In the parable of the wheat and the weeds they do the same with the weeds.

          God is not mocked, Jesus is telling us. The power of evil, of which we see signs daily in the morning headlines, and on the evening news on TV, is temporary. In the end, goodness will triumph, Jesus is telling us, and evil will be burned up in the flames of God’s justice.

That too is the gospel. That is the good news.      


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  John 6:24-35.
AIM: To deepen the hearers= faith. 
AThis is the work of God,@ Jesus says in the gospel reading we have just heard, Athat you believe in the one he sent.@ Or as another translation has it: Ahave faith in the one he sent.@ What is faith? For many of us, I think, faith means belief in the truths contained in the creed which we recite every Sunday at Mass. Faith in that sense is more properly called Abelief@: mental assent. Important as that is, faith has another meaning: personal trust C an affair not just of the head, but of the heart.  Even the creed begins not AI believe that@ but AI believe in.@ To believe in someone is to trust that person. Let me tell you a story about such trusting faith.
Some Alpine guides in a Swiss village organized a climb late in the season, after all the tourists had departed. They reached their chosen summit without difficulty. They were disappointed, however, not to have found an edelweiss, the delicate star-shaped white flower that grows only at high altitudes and is prized by mountaineers as a souvenir of their exploits.
The group had already started their descent when one of them spotted a single edelweiss on a narrow ledge some thirty feet below. To get it someone would have to be let down on a rope. There was no time to linger, for the weather, which changes rapidly in the mountains, was deteriorating. The climbers turned at once to the youngest and smallest member of the party, twelve-year-old Hans, making his first major climb with his father. It would be easy to let him down. In five minutes they could be on their way again. 
AWhat about it, Hans,@ they asked. AWill you do it?@
Hans peered anxiously at the narrow ledge with the treasured white flower C and at the sheer drop of hundreds of feet immediately beyond.
AI=ll do it,@ Hans replied, Aif my father holds the rope.@
That=s faith B unconditional trust! That is what Jesus is talking about when he says in today=s gospel: AThis is the work of God: have faith in the One he sent.@ The people Jesus was addressing had asked about something else entirely: AWhat must we do to perform the works of God?@ Raised, like many Catholics today, in a tradition which emphasized a long list of commands and prohibitions, they expected Jesus to give them a set of Do=s and Don=t=s. Instead he demanded simply trusting faith in the One God had sent. 
Still thinking in legalistic terms, the people counter with a request for some authenticating Asign@ to justify the faith Jesus was demanding. AWhat sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do?@ The people go on to mention what Moses had done when, as we heard in the first reading, he had given their ancestors manna B mysterious bread from heaven during their desert wanderings. 
Gently, Jesus corrects their account of Moses= work. That bread, Jesus explains, had not come from Moses. It came from God. The manner in which it was given had itself been a test of faith for those who received it. AEach day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion; thus will I test them, to see whether they follow my instructions or not.@      
Some of the people failed that test. Unwilling to trust God, who gave them the food, they disobeyed the command to gather each day only enough for that day. Some hoarded the manna B only to find that it spoiled overnight (cf. Exodus 16:16-20). Behind the hoarding was a lack of faith. They failed to trust God. They did not believe that the One who fed them today would also provide for their needs tomorrow.
What about ourselves? Do we trust God only when we can see results, when we have proof? Or are we willing to go on trusting when we cannot see, because all is dark, and life seems meaningless? That is the kind of faith Jesus asks of us. And faith of that kind is truly, as Jesus tells us in today=s gospel, Athe work of God.@ It is God=s work because it is not something we can produce or summon up merely through willpower. Nor is it something for which we can take credit. Faith that trusts, and goes on trusting even when there seems to be no reason for trust is, in the most literal sense, God=s work and God=s gift. 

God bestows this gift on all who ask for it. He may not do so in just the way we want, or at the time we expect. Being willing to leave the manner and time of this gift to God the giver is itself part of faith, a test of our sincerity in asking for faith. To encourage us to ask for this gift of faith, and to keep on asking, Jesus tells us: AWhoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.@ 

Those are tremendous words. What they mean is simply this: those who come to Jesus with trusting faith possess something so precious that bodily hunger and thirst sink into insignificance. 

That is the personal promise of Jesus Christ to each one of us. To discover that his promise is true, we must take him at his word. He is inviting us to begin, right now.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Homily for July 29th, 2015: Luke 10:38-42.
It seems terribly unfair, doesn't it? Even a child can see that it is not right to sit making pleasant conversation with a guest while leaving your sister all alone in the kitchen. Before tackling this difficulty it is worth noting that this is one of many instances in the gospels which show Jesus rejecting the second-class status of women in his society. In his day women were supposed to stay out of sight and appear only to wait on the men.
The story immediately follows Jesus= parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus contrasts the behavior of two members of the Jewish clergy, a priest and a Levite, with the behavior of a despised outsider, the Samaritan. Though he lacked the knowledge of God=s law available to the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan fulfilled the law=s spirit better than the legal experts. That parable shows the futility of a religion which has no consequences in daily life.
Today=s story of Mary and Martha turns that lesson around. It shows the futility of active service which, because it is not based on attentive listening to God=s word, and nourished by such listening, becomes mere busyness. When Jesus says to Martha, AYou are anxious and worried about many things,@ he is not criticizing her for performing the duties of hospitality, but for doing so without first attending to his word.

This story does not ask us to choose between being a Mary or a Martha. The true disciple of Jesus must be both. Mark=s gospel tells us that when Jesus called his twelve apostles, he called them for a dual purpose: Ato be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message@ (Mk 3:14). Both are important. If we ask, however, which has priority C the relationship or the work C then the answer is clear. Our relationship with the Lord must come first. If we are not willing to spend time with him, sitting at his feet like Mary of Bethany and listening to his words, then all our efforts to do his work are just spinning our wheels. Luke gives us this story to help us see that being with the Lord and listening to his word must be the basis of all we do for him. 

To people without faith, sitting at the Lord=s feet and listening to his words seems a waste of time. We who live by faith, however, know that the Lord loves to have us waste our time on him. Doing so is the best thing we can do with our time. It is the Abetter part@, as Jesus calls it in today=s gospel, which will not be taken from us. Spending time with Jesus Christ, opening our hearts and minds to his words, is the motive and source of all fruitful work for him and for others. Listening to Jesus= words we receive strength to live, as we shall receive also one day courage to die.       

Monday, July 27, 2015


Homily for July 28th, 2015: Matt. 13:36-43.       

“The righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father,” Jesus tells us at the end of his explanation of his parable of the weeds among the wheat. That story is about the greatest difficulty for religious belief: the so-called “Problem of Evil.” How is it possible that, in a world created and ruled by a good and loving God, there is so much evil, injustice, and suffering? The weeds sown among the wheat are, Jesus explains, “the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.”

          Why does God tolerate evil in the good world he has created? God’s words to Moses in our first reading give us the answer: because “the Lord is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.” But not forever. Today’s gospel reading proclaims the good news that the power of evil is temporary. There will come a time when justice and goodness will triumph. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers [and] throw them into the fiery furnace …”

          When that happens, Jesus says, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” We became citizens of that kingdom at baptism. This life, with all its trials and suffering, and ending with death, is a preparation for a life without end, without suffering; where the deepest desires of our hearts, never fully satisfied in this life, will find fulfillment beyond our imagining; where we shall experience ecstasy, for we shall see God face to face.

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Homily for July 27th, 2015: Exod. 32:15-24, 30-34.

          It’s difficult for most of us to relate to the story of the golden calf in today’s first reading. Idolatry is not high on the sin list of most Catholics. We’re aware of the charge by fundamentalist Protestants that we’re guilty of idolatry because we have statues of saints in our churches. We know, however, that we don’t worship the statues. And when we pray to the saints we’re merely asking them to pray for us. So what’s the big deal?

          The issue is not statues, and it’s not prayer to the saints. Idolatry is putting anything in the place that belongs to God alone. What are today’s false gods? There are four: pleasure, power, possessions, and honor. None of them are bad in themselves. Where we go wrong is making the pursuit of any of those four central in our lives. When we do that, we are guilty of idolatry: worshiping a god who cannot answer our prayers, because he is deaf, dumb, and blind.

          The person who lives for thrills is worshiping the false god of pleasure. Control freaks are worshiping the idol of power. People intent on getting more, and more, and more are idolizing possessions. And anyone who can’t stand not being in the spotlight is worshiping the false god of honor. Making the pursuit of any of those four idols central in our lives leads inevitably to frustration – because we’ll never get enough.

We are hard-wired for God. He is the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. Put Him, the Lord God, at the center of your life, and he will give you pleasure, power, possessions, and honor: not as much, perhaps, you think you should have; but as much as the Lord God knows is good for you. No one has said it better than St. Augustine when he wrote, from his own experience: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”