Friday, August 21, 2015


Homily for August 22nd, 2015: Mathew 23:1-12.
          “Call no one on earth father,” Jesus says. Evangelical Christians charge that the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father” violates Jesus’ command. There is a simple response to this charge. Taking Jesus’ words literally would forbid us to use this word for our biological fathers. Nor can we take literally the following verse: “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Taken literally this would forbid us to call anyone “Mister,” since this title is merely a variation of the English word “master.” If despite this passage, it is legitimate to call men in our society “Mister,” and to call our biological fathers “Father,” why should it be wrong to call priests “Father”?
          All this is true. But we make things too easy for ourselves if we leave the matter there. We need to see the principle behind Jesus’ rejection of titles like “Father” and “Master.” What Jesus is condemning is not the titles themselves but an underlying mentality. Jesus is warning against the temptation of those who have spiritual authority in his Church to forget that they are first of all servants; and that they will themselves be judged by the authority they represent to others. The scramble for titles is alive and well in the Lord’s Church. There is a saying in Rome which confirms this: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.”
          Jesus’ warnings in today’s gospel have an obvious application to us clergy. Do they apply, however, only to Church leaders? Who are the people today of whom it could be said: “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” 
          It is not hard to find people in public life to whom those words apply. Many public officials are truly public servants. Sadly there are also many exceptions. Hypocrisy, the yawning credibility gap between words and deeds, is a danger for all of us. The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
          It is God’s love, and his love alone, that gives us the courage to throw away our masks, to stop pretending to be other than we are. That is what God wants for us. Deep in our hearts that is what we too desire: just to be ourselves; to know that we are loved not in spite of what we are, but for who we are: daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
          Once we stop pretending and truly accept the love God offers us as a free gift, we begin to discover what Jesus called “the peace which the world cannot give.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015


Homily for August 21st, 2015: Matt. 22:34-40.

          “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard test question in Jesus’ day. Studying the Ten Commandments and disputing about how they should be lived in daily life, the rabbis by Jesus’ day had developed 613 commandments: 248 positive laws, and 365 prohibitions. If those numbers seem high, they are modest compared to the 1752 laws in the Church’s book of canon law today.  

          Jesus answers his questioners by citing the command to love God completely in Deuteronomy chapter 6, and the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19. There was nothing novel about this response. Any rabbi would have approved Jesus’ answer. What was novel was Jesus’ insistence that the two commandments were on the same level. Up to then, the rabbis subordinated love of neighbor to the primary duty of loving God.

          Important for us today is understanding what Jesus means by “love” in his summary of the law. When we hear that word today, we immediately think of feelings. Not so Jesus. Feelings come and go. They are dependent on the weather, our digestion, our mood. In telling us we must love God completely, and our neighbor as well, Jesus is talking about an attitude.

          He is telling us that in every situation, God must come first for us. He must be at the center of our lives, not somewhere out on the fringe. And he is telling us that, in every situation, we must treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. That is the so-called Golden Rule. ‘Love others as you love yourself,’ Jesus says. Do we always have warm loving feelings about ourselves? Of course not. But (unless we are mentally ill) we always wish the best for ourselves.

          Though we often experience tension between our duty toward God and neighbor, Jesus tells us later in Matthew’s gospel that in reality there is no tension. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus tells us: ‘Whatever you do for others – or fail to do – you do, or fail to do, for me.   

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. Josh. 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b; John 6: 60-69.
AIM: To challenge the hearers to an unconditioned commitment to Jesus Christ. 
Are you the kind of person who welcomes a challenge? Or do challenges make you uncomfortable because of the risk involved? Two of our readings today are about challenges. In the first reading Joshua, the successor of Moses as leader of God=s people, challenges them to renew their commitment to the God who has delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and who is about to lead them into a new land. With a new chapter in their national life about to open, Joshua challenges his people to a fundamental decision: AIf it does not please you to serve the Lord, decide today whom you will serve. ... As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.@
The people accept Joshua=s challenge.  Without hesitation, they renew their commitment to the One whose miraculous care and guidance they have experienced: AFar be it from us to forsake the Lord for the service of other gods.  For it was the Lord, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey ... Therefore we will serve the Lord, for he is our God.@
 The gospel also contains a challenge. Following Jesus= miraculous feeding of a great crowd in the wilderness, John records the long discourse on the bread of life, portions of which we have heard in the gospel readings for the last two Sundays.  Offended by Jesus= stark words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, Amany of the disciples returned to their former way of life,@ we heard in today=s reading, Aand no longer accompanied him.@ 
Saddened by this defection, Jesus turns to the inner circle of the Twelve and challenges them to a decision, very much as Joshua (whose name in Hebrew is the same as Jesus) had challenged the people in his day.  ADo you also want to leave?@ Jesus asks. Here, as elsewhere, Peter responds on behalf of all: AMaster, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.@ 
We should not read too much into Peter=s words. In all likelihood, Peter was as puzzled by Jesus= words about eating his flesh and drinking his blood as the others who turned away from Jesus and left. Peter was expressing not mental comprehension, but something deeper: trusting faith B the willingness to embark upon uncharted waters. However hard Jesus= demands, however difficult his teaching, Peter acknowledges a bond that can no longer be broken.
That is the essence of faith: a personal relationship based on trust. The One who asks for this trust challenges us to an unconditioned commitment: with no Ifs, Ands, or Buts B and no strings attached. That is hard. For many people it is too hard. Challenged to make such a commitment, many people turn away B like the people in today=s gospel who Areturned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied [Jesus].@
Turning away from the challenge to an unconditioned commitment is common today. It is called Akeeping your options open.@ Many people consider that a key to happiness. That explains why people live together without marrying. ALet=s try it out first,@ they think B not realizing that there you cannot try out marriage without marrying, any more than you can try out parenthood by baby-sitting someone else=s child. Living together without marrying is a relationship which is different from marriage. Interestingly, statistics show that the rate of marital breakup is far higher for couples who have lived together before marriage than for those who do not.  Even on the practical level, Atrying it out first@ mostly doesn=t work.
People who live together without marrying set conditions: AAs long as we=re in love.@ AAs long as it works out.@ AUntil I find someone better.@ Christian marriage means committing to a spouse without conditions. It means promising faithfulness to one another Afor better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.@ 
The Church asks the same unconditioned commitment of candidates for priesthood, from a Sister or Brother taking religious vows. Who can promise the young man on the day of his priestly ordination, the young woman on the day of her religious profession, that it will work out B not just for a year, or five years, or for ten, but for a lifetime? No one can make that promise! The commitment must be made simply in faith     
And the really big payoffs in life come to people who make such a commitment. If you insist on keeping your options open, on retaining ultimate control of your life, you may achieve a measure of fulfillment and happiness. Life=s greatest reward, however, you will not achieve. That is reserved for those who choose an option and go for it; who make a commitment with no strings attach; without any If or Ands or Buts. 
Making such commitments is no guarantee of uninterrupted happiness. In a fallen world there is no such guarantee. A widow testified to this when she said: AFather, when you walk up the aisle on your wedding day, you don=t see the Stations of the Cross.@ More than sixty-one years after ordination I can same the same of my own experience of priesthood. There have been dark days, even dark years, as well as sunny ones. But I have never regretted the commitment I made over sixty-one years ago B not one single day. If you were to ask me whether, if I could live my life over again, knowing the worst that priesthood would bring I would still choose to be a priest, I would answer you without hesitation: In a heartbeat! I would change just one thing. I would try to be more faithful. The Chicago priest and sociologist and novelist, Fr. Andrew Greeley, writes: APriests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.@  You=re looking at one right now.

In this hour Jesus Christ is challenging each one of us, as his namesake Joshua challenged the people in his day: ADecide today whom you will serve.@  What is your choice? Will you decide for yourself, for keeping your options open?  Or will you decide for Jesus Christ?

He is asking each of us the same challenging question he put to Peter and those other friends of his: ADo you also want to leave?@ Happy if we can answer, with Peter: 

AMaster, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.@


Homily for August 20th, 2015: Matthew 22:1-14.

          Bishops from all over the world are required to visit the Pope every five years. Speaking to the bishops of Switzerland in November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired, spoke about the parable of the great banquet which we have just heard. Here is what he said.

            “Those who were invited first decline. God’s hall remains empty, the banquet seems to have been prepared in vain. This is what Jesus experienced in the last stages of his activity: official groups, the authorities, say No to God’s invitation. They do not come. His message, his call, ends in the human No.

          “However, the empty hall becomes an opportunity to invite a larger number of people. God’s love, God’s invitation, is extended more widely … beyond the boundaries of his own people, to all the world. Those who do not belong to God, according to Jewish ideas about the chosen people, are now invited to fill the hall. Thus the gospel becomes universal, influencing everything, eventually even at Rome, the great capital of Jesus’ world. There, as we read in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul summons the heads of the synagogue and proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when only a few accept Paul’s message, he tells them that he will proclaim it to Gentiles, and they will believe. 

          “What does all this mean for us?  First, it means one thing of which we can be certain: God does not fail … because through this [seeming failure] he finds new opportunities for far greater mercy. He finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled. He does not shrink from asking people to come and sit at his table, to eat the food of the poor in which the precious gift is offered, the gift of God himself. 

          “In the West, in Europe especially, the new ‘first guests’ now largely excuse themselves, they have no time to come to the Lord. On their visits bishops tell me about these refusals, and much other bad news as well. Yet at the same time I also hear this, precisely from the Third World: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth, and that people crowd into God’s hall for the banquet.”

          Even today, then, and despite all refusals, God’s hall is filled with guests. Praise and glory to Him, our divine host!


Tuesday, August 18, 2015


Homily for August 19th, 2015: Mathew 20:1-16.

          It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? The story is not about social justice. It is about God’s generosity. Here’s how it might go today. A rancher in one of the “salad factories” of California’s San Fernando valley is eager to harvest his crop before a threatened change in the weather. So at dawn he’s off to the hiring hall in town. The men he finds there bargain about the conditions of work, and their wages.

          At intervals during the day, the foreman tells the rancher that more workers will be needed to get in the whole harvest in time. So the rancher makes repeated trips to town to hire more help. Each time the workers he encounters are less promising. The men he finds lounging around in mid-afternoon are the dregs of the local labor market: drifters, panhandlers, winos. There is no bargaining with men like that. “Get into the truck, fellows,” he says. “There’s work for you out at my place.”

          At quitting time, those hired last are first in the pay line. The first man rips open his pay envelope — and can’t believe his eyes. It contains a whole day’s pay! Meanwhile, news of what the first men in line are receiving is being passed back to those in the rear. They calculate how much they will receive at the same hourly rate. Imagine their indignation when they receive exactly what they had bargained for in the early morning.

          We are left with the injustice. The story begins to make sense only when we ask: who was happy? who was disappointed? and why? Those who were happy were the men hired last. They had not bargained. They were little better than beggars. It was these beggars, however, who went away happy, while the bargainers were unhappy.

          What are you, with God -- a bargainer, or a beggar? If you want to experience God’s justice, be a bargainer. He’ll never short-change you. When you discover, however, how little you deserve on any strict accounting, you’ll probably be disappointed, perhaps even shocked.

          So perhaps you’d rather experience God’s generosity. Then learn to be, before God, a beggar. Then you will be bowled over with the Lord’s generosity. Ask the Lord who bestows his gifts not according to our deserving but according to his boundless generosity to give you that hunger which longs to be fed; that emptiness which yearns to be filled. Stand beneath his cross and say, in the words of the old evangelical hymn:

          Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Homily for August 18th, 2015: Matthew 19:23-30.

          Today’s gospel reading is a follow-up to yesterday’s, about the young man who “went way sad, for he had many possessions.” Jesus’ disciples are astonished, today’s gospel tells us, to hear the Master say that riches are a bar to entrance into God’s kingdom. Their religion taught them that material blessings were a sign of God’s favor. No wonder that the disciples ask: “Then who can be saved?” The figure used by Jesus of a camel passing through the eye of a needle is, the Scripture scholars tell us, a typical oriental exaggeration – something impossible even to conceive, let alone happen.

Jesus did not tell the young man with many possessions to sell everything because riches are evil. Rightly used, wealth is good. Riches become a danger for us, however, when we hang on to them too tightly B and whenever they give us a false sense of security.

Jesus summons us, as he summoned the rich young man in yesterday=s gospel, to trust in God and in him alone. For unaided human powers the demands Jesus makes on us are impossible. They are impossible, that is, for everyone except God. AFor God all things are possible,@ Jesus tells us.

When life seems too much for you; when you are weighed down by anxiety, illness, injustice, the claims of others, or the nagging sense of your own inadequacy; when God=s demands on you seem too great B whenever, in short, you come up against the impossible; then you are up against God. He is the God of the impossible. In every impossible situation, in every trial that is too hard for you to bear, his divine Son and your best friend is saying to you, with tender love: 

AFor you it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.@



Sunday, August 16, 2015


Homily for August 17th, 2015: Matt. 19:16-22.

          “What must I do to gain eternal life?” the young man asks Jesus. Keep God’s commandments, Jesus responds. I’ve kept them all, the young man responds. Has he -- really? That is more than doubtful. That would make the young man sinless. And according to traditional Catholic belief, the only completely sinless human being in all history is the Lord’s immaculate mother, Mary. Even the greatest saints have sins and fall short of God’s standards in some way. Indeed the saints are the first to acknowledge their sinfulness.

          So the young man in today’s gospel is actually mistaken about his spiritual condition. But his goodwill is clear. He sincerely wants to do what is right and what the Lord wants for him. With his unique ability to read the human heart, Jesus sees in this young man an attachment to possessions which is holding him back from offering himself completely to God. That is why Jesus tells the man to sell all that he has, and give to the poor. Relinquishing earthly treasure will secure him treasure in heaven, Jesus says. And it will free the young man to follow Jesus without hesitation or reserve. The young man's reaction shows that there are still limits to his desire to serve God completely. He "went away sad, for he had many possessions."       

          The Lord gives this call to some in every generation. Others he calls not to total renunciation, but to something equally important, and no less difficult: detachment. That means enjoying the good things the Lord gives us, thanking him for them; but not clinging to them tightly or fearing their loss.

          Show me someone who has discovered the secret of deep and true happiness, and I’ll show you someone who lives with open hands, and a heart open to others in need. Ask the Lord to help you live like that, and you’ll be happy too. The Lord is inviting you to begin – today!