Friday, September 4, 2015


Homily for Sept. 5th, 2015: Luke 6:1-5.

          “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,” is the third of the Ten Commandments. We find them twice in the Old Testament: in the 20th chapter of Exodus, and in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. Both versions say that we keep the Sabbath holy by refraining from work. Exodus says that the Sabbath rest commemorates God resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in six days. Deuteronomy doesn’t mention God resting; but it spells out in greater detail what Exodus says more briefly: that the Sabbath rest is for all, domestic animals as well as humans, masters and slaves alike: “for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

          By Jesus’ day there was an enormous collection of rabbinical interpretation of this commandment, distinguishing between forms of work that were lawful on the Sabbath, and those which were unlawful. The controversy continues in Judaism today. Orthodox Jews walk to the synagogue because they consider it unlawful to drive a car on the Sabbath. Reform Jews reject this rigorism.       

          In today’s gospel reading some rigorists criticize Jesus’ disciples for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Jesus appeals to a precedent in the Jewish Scriptures, when David took bread offered to God, and which only Jewish priests might eat, and both eating it himself and offering it to his companions. The precedent was weak: David had not violated the Sabbath rest, though what he had done was illegal.  

          Crucial is the final sentence of our reading: “The Son of Man [a title for Jesus himself] is lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. But he made charity the highest law of all. That is why he healed on the Sabbath, for instance. And that is why Pope Francis, celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison on the first Holy Thursday after his election disregarded the liturgical law which says that only the feet of baptized men should be washed, in order to wash also the feet of some Muslim women. The highest law of all is charity.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


Homily for Sept. 4th, 2015: Colossians 1:15-20.
“Christ is the image of the invisible God,” we heard in our first reading. From time immemorial people have longed to see God. The book Exodus tells about Moses asking to see God. “My face you cannot see,” God replies. “For no man can see me and live. … I will set you in the hollow of a rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face you cannot see.” (Ex. 33:20-23)
The birth of God’s Son, Jesus, changed this. Jesus is God’s image. Looking at him, we see what God is like. Jesus preferred the company of simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people. They were the ones who welcomed him most warmly. The rich and powerful and learned had difficulties with Jesus. Many were hostile to him. That was true then. It remains true today – with notable and happy exceptions, for which we give thanks to God.
In his youth Jesus worked with his hands in the carpenter=s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. Those were images that everyone could understand. Jesus also told stories: so simple that they capture the interest of children; yet so profound that learned scholars are still studying them today.
In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is not only God’s image, but his utterance and word, God=s personal communication to us, is saying through all the circumstances of his life that God loves humble people. God is especially close to those who feel that they are not in control of their lives; that they are the victims of circumstances; that their lives are a tangle of loose ends and broken resolutions.
Jesus, the man who gave God a human face, and a human voice, shows us through all he says and all he does, that God loves us with a love that will never let us go.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  Is. 35:4-7a; Mark 7:31-37.
AIM: To proclaim Jesus as the one who enables us to be open to God, and others. 
Deafness, especially when it is total, is a heavier burden than blindness. There are blind people who become accomplished musicians or writers. The blind are also well represented in the learned professions. Deaf people find it difficult to match those achievements. Deafness isolates its victims from others more than blindness. The deaf see others talking and realize that they are excluded. 
The deaf man brought to Jesus by his friends in today=s gospel has apparently never heard human speech. He speaks indistinctly. The account we have just heard mentions a Aspeech impediment.@ Though Jesus sometimes healed with a mere word, he takes this man apart from the crowd. He had at least two reasons for doing so.
First, Jesus needed the man=s undivided attention. Second, Jesus experienced each of his healings as an intimate encounter with his heavenly Father: something too precious and too sacred, to be paraded before curious spectators. If Jesus= practice were followed by all who claim to heal in his name today, a number of Sunday television programs would have to go off the air.
So strong was Jesus= desire to avoid being known as a sensational miracle worker, that he often told those he healed to say nothing about it. Jesus knew that the one truly important miracle would be the empty tomb of Easter morning. Once, therefore, in this gospel according to Mark Jesus sets a limit to the silence he imposes: when he tells his three friends, Peter, James, and John, after they have witnessed his transfiguration, Anot to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead@ (Mk. 9:9). Then the greatest miracle of all, Jesus= resurrection, could be proclaimed B as long as the cross was proclaimed with it.  Calvary and the empty tomb must never be separated.
What is important about the miracle in today=s gospel, as about all Jesus= miracles of healing, is not so much the healing itself, as what it tells us about the healer. In the first reading we heard Isaiah prophesy that when God=s anointed servant, the Messiah, visits his people, Athe eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared  ... the tongue of the mute will sing.@  
Jesus= healing of the deaf man fulfills this prophecy. In an act that speaks more eloquently than words Jesus is proclaiming that the one so long proclaimed by the prophets is here. In him, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary and Joseph, the very power of God is at work. God is visiting his people.
Even the details of the healing are significant. Jesus does not tell the man to be patient under his handicap, because in heaven his lot will be better. Nor does he urge the deaf man to Aoffer up@ his suffering. How often we hear both of those responses to sickness and suffering from those who claim to speak in Jesus= name.  We do not hear them, however, from Jesus himself.
Instead, Mark tells us, Jesus Alooked up to heaven and groaned.@ Why? The groan was Jesus= lament over this fresh example of how sin, which is the cause of suffering, has spoiled the beautiful and perfect world which God made. Jesus= heavenly Father and ours is not a God of sickness but of health. We must not think that an individual who is suffering is being punished for his or her personal sin.  But Scripture clearly teaches that the existence of suffering is connected with human sin in general. In the Genesis story of the fall, for instance, God tells the woman, after she has turned away from him and sinned, AI will intensify the pangs of your childbearing.@ And to the man who joined her in sinning, God says that henceforth work will no longer be a joy for him, but a burden: ABy the sweat of your face shall you get the bread you eat.@ (Gen. 3:16-19) In his Letter to the Romans Paul takes this teaching a step farther, writing that human sin caused not only suffering but death: Athrough one man sin entered into the world, and with sin death@ (5:12). The deaf man=s inability to hear or speak reminds Jesus of how sin has spoiled his Father=s handiwork in creation. That is why Jesus groans. 
The heart of the story is Jesus= command to the deaf man: ABe opened!@  Deafness has closed him off from others. Jesus wants to set him free. Jesus is the man of total openness: openness to God; and openness to those who society in Jesus= day accepted only in subordinate roles or not at all B women, children, and social outcasts like prostitutes and the hated tax collectors. Jesus came, our fourth Eucharistic prayer tells us, to proclaim “the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.”
Jesus is saying to us right now, in this church, what he said to the deaf man: ABe opened!@ How closed in we are much of the time: closed to God, closed to others. We shut ourselves up in prisons of our own making, whose walls are self-fulfillment, and whose guiding principle is the hackneyed and deceitful slogan: ADo your own thing.@ Most of the conflicts, divisions, and wars in our world B between individuals, families, classes, groups, and nations B are the result of people not being open. In the cacophony of conflicting arguments and claims we hear only what we want to hear, and no more; just enough to confirm our prejudices; and then we stop listening altogether. 
Even between Christians there are barriers erected by our failure to be open to each other. To remedy this tragic situation, a living contradiction of Jesus= prayer the night before he died, that all might be one (Jn. 17, passim), the Second Vatican Council recommended the method of dialogue. Dialogue requires that we be open to what those who are separated from us B whom we may even consider enemies B are saying; that we listen before we speak.
Can dialogue overcome all barriers? Sadly it cannot. Some conflicts are so grave that no human power seems great enough to break down the walls that separate us from one another. Nor can we penetrate by our own efforts alone the wall which our sins erect between us and the all-holy God. The gospel proclaims the good news that there is One who can break down those walls. His name is Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the man of total openness, has the right, if ever a man had it, to command: ABe opened!@ He won that right for all time on Calvary when, as we shall hear in a moment in the preface to our Eucharistic prayer, Ahe stretched out his hands as he endured his Passion, so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.” (Weekday Preface VI) 


Homily for Sept. 3rd, 2015. St. Gregory the Great.

          St. Gregory the Great, the man whom we celebrate today, was born at Rome about 540 of a wealthy aristocratic family which had already given the Church two popes. It was a decaying and chaotic world. There was now no Emperor at Rome. The man who bore that title now ruled Italy from Constantinople. Thanks to his intelligence and family connections, Gregory soon attained high office in civil government. But he was unsatisfied. A conversion experience led him to become a monk in his mid-30s.

          Gregory always looked back on this period of his life as the happiest. It lasted five years only. In 579 the Pope summoned Gregory from his monastery, and over his protests ordained him a deacon, thus making him one of the top administrative officials of the Roman Church. To Gregory’s further dismay, the Pope soon sent him as papal envoy to the Emperor’s court in Constantinople, where he would remain for the next seven years. Recalled to Rome in 586, Gregory resumed living with his fellow monks, while fully occupied with administrative duties at the papal court.

When the Pope died in 590, Gregory tried for months to avoid being chosen as his successor, but finally accepted the inevitable. He lived on for another 14 years, suffering often from ill health, but ceaselessly busy attending to the needs of the Church, and those of the city of Rome and the surrounding area as well. To raise the level of the Church’s bishops, he wrote his Pastoral Rule – a work too little heeded in the centuries to come.

Convinced from his years as a monk of the importance of waiting upon God in silent prayer, he stressed the foundation of such contemplative prayer: the virtue of humility. When the Patriarch of Constantinople saluted him in a letter as “Universal Pope,” Gregory protested that this grandiose title detracted from the honor due his fellow bishops – an early example of what we call today “collegiality.” The best example of Gregory’s humility is the title he originated, and which is still used today in official papal documents: “Servant of the servants of God.” We invoke his prayers for his successor today: Pope Francis. 


Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Homily for Sept. 2nd, 2015: Luke 4:38-44.

          In Jesus’ world illness of various kinds was due, people thought, to possession by demons. Today’s gospel portrays Jesus as one who has power over these supernatural forces of evil. He “rebukes” them.  

Jesus too comes from the supernatural world. As God’s Son, however, Jesus has power over the evil forces in that supernatural world. That is why Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus “rebukes” the supernatural forces of evil. He rebukes the life-threatening fever which has laid Peter’s mother-in-law low. And he rebukes the demons in the many people who are brought to him for healing. Luke’s language shows that he is describing what we today call “exorcisms.” Freed from demonic possession, these people are healed at once. There is no period of convalescence. Peter’s mother-in-law, we heard, “got up immediately and waited on them.” Her healing helps explain Peter’s willingness, reported in the next chapter of Luke’s gospel, immediately to leave his work as a fisherman in order to follow Jesus.

          The demons leave the other people whom Jesus heals, shouting, “You are the Son of God.” Unlike the many who witnessed Jesus’ healing and refused to believe in him, these evil inhabitants of the supernatural world recognize Jesus as a fellow inhabitant of that world – though unlike them a good one. Jesus rebukes them and does not allow them to speak, we heard, “because they knew he was the Christ”: the long awaited anointed servant and Son of God. Jesus did not want to acquire the reputation of a sensational wonder-worker. He was that, but he was so much more.

          Especially significant is the information that at daybreak, “Jesus went to a deserted place.” Why? He needed to be alone with his heavenly Father. If Jesus, whose inner resources were incomparably greater than ours, needed those times alone with the Lord, we are fools, and guilty fools, if we think we can make it in reliance on our own resources alone. That’s why we are here. To receive all the goodness, love, purity, and power of Jesus – our elder brother, our lover, and our best friend; but also our divine savior and redeemer. And when we have him, we have everything. 

Monday, August 31, 2015


Homily for Sept. 1st, 2015: Luke 4:31-37.

          “Jesus taught them on the Sabbath,” we heard in the gospel, “and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority.” And a few verses later Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that following a dramatic healing, “they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.’”

          The people who hear Jesus realize that he speaks “with authority.” What does that mean? It means that he spoke differently from the other religious teachers they were accustomed to hearing. Those teachers interpreted God’s law. Jesus spoke not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as the law-giver. Read the last part of chapter 5 in Matthew’s gospel, for instance, and you will find Jesus citing one Commandment after another, and then saying: “But I say unto you.” After citing the Commandment which prohibits murder, for instance, Jesus says that it applies not only to killing another, but even to the emotion which leads to killing: anger. (Cf. Mt. 5:21-23)  Citing the Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” Jesus says that it applies even to lustful thoughts. (Mt. 5:27f.)

          The people who hear Jesus are also amazed that he has power to heal people with a mere word. The man whom Jesus heals in today’s gospel is possessed, Luke tells us, “with the spirit of an unclean demon.” In a pre-scientific age without blood tests, microscopes, or X-rays, that was the normal way to explain illness. The demon throws the man down and at Jesus’ word comes out of him, “without doing him any harm.”

          Jesus still speaks to us today: in Holy Scripture, in the teaching of his divinely commissioned Church, and in the still, small voice of conscience. His word still has power to convict people of sin, changing their lives, and setting them on the right path – to Him. When people pray to Him and listen to his words, there are still miraculous healings which no doctor can explain.

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35 NEB). How better could we respond than with the familiar prayer: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Sunday, August 30, 2015


Homily for August 31st, 2015: Luke 4:16-30.

          “All spoke highly of him,” we heard in the gospel after Jesus has read in the synagogue from the prophet Isaiah and proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that God would send someone to comfort, heal, and liberate people. Only a few verses later, however, the same people who were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” are ready to hurl Jesus headlong from the brow of the hill on which Jesus’ home tome, Nazareth, was built. What’s going on here? 

          The “year acceptable to the Lord” which Jesus says he was sent to proclaim is reminiscent of the jubilee years, celebrated by Jews in Jesus’ day every half-century. During a jubilee year the fields lay fallow, people returned to their homes, debts were forgiven, and slaves set free. Jubilee years also reminded people that God did not reserve his blessings for those he had called to be especially his own. God loves and blesses all people.

Jesus gives his Jewish hearers two examples of this universal love. During a prolonged famine, Jesus reminds them, God sent our great prophet Elijah not to a member of our own people, but to a Gentile widow living outside Israel. And Elijah’s successor, Elisha, never cured any lepers among our own people, only the Gentile Naaman, from Syria. Those were the words that changed the people’s admiration for Jesus to resentful anger. 

In May 2013 Pope Francis caused similar outrage in some quarters by saying, during his homily at a daily Mass: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘But Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! Christ died for all, even for atheists.”

          He was repeating, in more colloquial language, the teaching of the Second Council: “Those also can attain salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (LG 16).

          Being a member of God’s holy Catholic Church is a great privilege and a blessing. But it does not give us a first-class ticket to heaven.