Friday, September 11, 2015


Homily for September 12th, 2015: Luke 6:43-49.

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?" Jesus asks in today’s gospel. He is addressing people whose religious practice has no real foundations. He contrasts such people with those who, after hearing the Lord’s words, put them into practice in daily life. They are “like the man building a house” Jesus says, “who dug deep and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built.” He goes on to contrast such a person with the superficially religious person “who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed at once and was completely destroyed.”

To build one's house without foundations means building our lives on things that are unstable and fleeting, things that cannot withstand the tests of time and the hazards of chance. What are such things? Money, success, fame, and even health and prosperity. None of those things are 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 Matthew’s gospel, “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 hypocrisy, 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 Luke 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 him 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; epart 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 be 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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015


Homily for Sept. 11th, 2015: 1 Tim1:1-2, 12-14; Luke 6:39-42.

          Have you ever thought about how much easier it would be to prepare a list of sins for someone else to confess – especially if that other person was someone of whom you’re highly critical – than to list all your own sins? That would be much easier, wouldn’t it?

That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says in today’s gospel: “You notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own.” He is warning us about something we’re all guilty of at times: being alert for even small faults and sins in others, while overlooking much more serious sins of our own.

          The Lord has given us the remedy for those sins: the sacrament of penance, or confession. One advantage of sacramental confession is that it forces us to confront our own particular sins, not to be content with simply confessing that we are sinners in general. And in confession the priest has an opportunity to help us with our own particular sins and difficulties. So many people today feel that they’re “just a number.” In confession we’re not just a number. The priest is there for you personally, as a unique individual. But first you must come.

          Speaking for myself, I can tell you that without the sacrament of penance, or confession, I would not be a priest today. What a relief it was in the difficult years of adolescence – and more than a relief, a deep joy – to be able to go to a priest, tell him my sins, hear the words which assured me of God’s forgiveness; and then the beautiful closing words: “Go in peace, the Lord has put away all your sins.” Those words touched me so deeply that I still say them today, at the close of every confession I hear.

          Paul is talking in our first reading about his gratitude for God’s forgiveness when he describes the man he was before his conversion: “a blasphemer, a persecutor, an arrogant man.” He was acting, he says, in ignorance. But “the grace of our Lord has been abundant,” Paul says, “along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” We’re here to receive that abundant grace and that love from the One who is love himself: Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  Mark 8:27-35.
AIM: To help the hearers surrender more completely to Jesus Christ.  
An airplane flying across an ocean reaches what pilots call Athe point of no return.@ This is the point after which the plane would require more fuel to turn back than to continue on. Thereafter the pilot knows that there is no going back.  He must continue on.
Today=s gospel shows Jesus passing his point of no return. Up to now people have responded to Jesus= message in large numbers. Jesus= disciples, though always slow to understand his teaching, were gradually coming to grasp who Jesus was. A conventional success story still seemed possible.
In today=s gospel, however, Jesus faces, and states Aopenly@ (Mark tells us), that what has once seemed possible is possible no more. He can no longer expect popular acceptance and success. He can only go forward, knowing that ahead lies rejection, suffering, and death. 
Precipitating Jesus= unusually plain statement about the dark future awaiting him, so different from the veiled manner in which Jesus normally spoke about himself, is Peter=s confession: AYou are the Christ.@ At once Jesus commands secrecy about his identity. Why? To prevent misunderstanding. AThe Christ@ means Athe anointed one@ B in other words, the Messiah. The common expectation in Jesus= day was that the Messiah would be a glamorous hero who would liberate his people from the hated Roman government of occupation and lead them to new heights.
Jesus knew that this was not his role. Ahead of him lay not triumph but, by all earthly standards, bitter defeat. This was too much for the disciples to accept.  Peter takes Jesus aside, Mark tells us, Ato rebuke [Jesus].@ Matthew gives us Peter=s words: AMay you be spared, Master! God forbid that any such thing ever happen to you!@ (Mt. 16:22)
Jesus= response to Peter is severe. Calling the man he has just chosen as leader of his inner circle ASatan,@ Jesus tells Peter: AYou are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do.@ The severity of this rebuke shows that Peter=s words were a real temptation for Jesus. Passing his point of no return, abandoning the early hopes of success and accepting rejection, suffering, and death B all that cost Jesus an agonizing struggle. (Cf. Mark 14:34-36; Hebrews 5:7) Jesus= harsh words to Peter reveal how intense this inner conflict was.
In the passage which follows, addressed not only to the disciples but to the whole crowd, Jesus makes it clear that the road he is traveling will have a parallel in the life of anyone who wishes to be his follower. Jesus= final words in today=s gospel are addressed also to us. Listen to them again, in a modern translation.
AAnyone who wishes to be a follower of mine must leave self behind; he must take up his cross, and come with me. Whoever cares for his own safety is lost; but if a man will let himself be lost for my sake and for the gospel, that man is safe.@ [New English Bible]       
Jesus is talking about more than mere self-denial. In telling us that his followers must be willing to Aleave self behind@ and Atake up his cross,@ Jesus means giving up control of our destiny. He is talking about accepting weakness, disgrace, suffering, and death, as Jesus himself accepted these things: in the knowledge that those who do let themselves be Alost@ in this way are found by God.  And not only found: they are taken under God=s special and all-powerful protection.
Jesus is talking (to put it another way) about abandoning the attempts we all  make from time to time to retain total control of our lives. Life never belongs to us in an absolute sense. Our lives are a gift, entrusted to us for a limited time only. Few of us have a century. Try as we may to retain total control of our lives, we never quite succeed. At death we lose all control. Most people discover long before that, however, through life=s changes and chances, that they are not the masters of their fates and the captains of their souls that we all long to be. Making that discovery can be discouraging. For some it is crushing.

There is One, however, who can save our lives for us despite death, indeed through death and beyond. He will do so on the condition, and to the extent, that we begin surrendering control of our lives to him here and now. That is the only way, Jesus tells us in today=s gospel, that we can save or preserve our lives: by turning them over to the One who gave life to us; and who one day will take back his gift, whether we will or not. 

Jesus summons us to do this without anxiety, without fuss, without conditions, and without trying to hold onto a corner of our lives; but simply surrendering all into the hands of the Life-giver. The name which the Bible gives  for this act of total self-surrender is Afaith.@

To the extent that we achieve this faith, through surrender to God, we discover the inner meaning of Jesus= life. And with that discovery we are able to answer the question that Jesus puts to his disciples in today=s gospel B and that he is putting to each one of us right now: ABut who do you say that I am?@

It is the most important question we shall ever be asked.


Homily for Sept. 10th, 2015: Luke 6:27-38.

            “Give and gifts will be given to you,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing will be poured into you lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”    

Is that how we normally think of giving? Don’t we assume that when we have given something away, then it’s gone – and we are poorer? In reality, our gifts do not us make poorer. They enrich us.

Let me tell you about someone afraid to give. She is the mother of two grown children, a son and a daughter. The son is seeking priesthood, as a member of a religious order. His mother wants grandchildren with her husband’s family name. If her son perseveres to ordination, she won’t have them. She thinks that will make her poorer. Every time he goes home, she cries in front of him, and begs him to leave. Friends, there is only one word for such behavior: emotional blackmail.

I don’t know that mother. And I don’t want to do her any injustice. But I’ve wondered. When Judgment Day comes and the books are opened, will the Lord say to her: ‘Mary, I wanted to give you another son, and even two. Together they would have given you all the grandchildren you could wish for. And you would have been just as proud of them as you are of that son of yours who even now is offering Mass for the repose of your soul. But you said No.’

Contrast that nameless mother with other mothers, and fathers as well, who affirm and support a son’s decision for priesthood. On his ordination day they shed tears of joy and pride at what their son is doing. He’ll never give them grandchildren, true. But he will have countless spiritual children – far more than he could ever have through marriage.

Who do you suppose is happier? the mother who cries in front of her son and begs him turn aside form God’s call? or the parents who joyfully support that call, knowing that the measure with which they measure will be measured back to them?

Think about it.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Homily for September 9th, 2015: Luke 6: 20-26
How many people here would like to be poor? To be hungry? To be weeping and hated by everybody? Suppose, however, that I asked some different questions: How many of you would like to be rich, well fed, laughing, and well spoken of by all? Aren=t those things we all want? 
How, then, can Jesus pronounce a blessing on those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated? Are those things good? Of course not! Yet Jesus calls those who suffer these things Ablessed@ C  which means Ahappy.@ To understand why, we must look again at what Jesus says at the end of these beatitudes: Aon account of the Son of man.@ Things evil in themselves C poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, exclusion C become good when they are the price we must pay for choosing to stand with Jesus Christ. 
When Luke wrote his gospel, almost all Jesus= followers were Jews. Deciding to follow Jesus meant being disowned by family members and excluded from the synagogue. The passage we just heard immediately follows the call of the twelve apostles. They faced alienation from their friends, loss of their livelihoods, hatred, and much grief. To these frightened, fearful men, uncertain about what they are getting into, Jesus speaks the words we heard in the gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

          Where do we stand? With the frightened Twelve whom Jesus calls blessed? Or with the young man who went away sorrowful because he was rich? Let=s not be too sure that Jesus= woes aren=t for us just because we=re not rich. Jesus is not talking about the size of our bank accounts. He is talking about the cost of discipleship. That cost can be high, no doubt about it.  How could it be otherwise when the One who asks these costs of us paid the highest cost of all: life itself. 

          Jesus= words are his encouragement to people who wonder what they have let themselves in for, who wonder if the cost of following Jesus Christ may not be too high. He is speaking them to us, right now. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”


Monday, September 7, 2015


Homily for Sept. 8th, 2015: The birth of Mary: Rom. 8:28-30; Matt. 1:18-23.

What do today’s readings tell us about the birth of Mary, which we celebrate today? Nothing. Nor do the Scriptures tell us anything about how her earthly life ended. In defining Mary=s Assumption on All Saints Day 1950, Pope Pius XII said simply: AWhen the course of [Mary=s] earthly life had ended, she was taken up body and soul into the glory of heaven.@ Whether this happened before or after physical death, the Pope did not say. The body the Pope referred to is Mary=s new resurrection body: the body with which Jesus rose from the dead B the heavenly and spiritual body which, as St. Paul says, each one of us will receive in heaven (cf.1 Cor. 15:35-53). There Mary continues to pray for us. As the Catechism says: AThe Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary ... and to entrust supplications and praises to her.@ (No. 2682).

The Scriptures do tell us one thing about Mary, however, which we often overlook. When, after a frantic three-day search, Mary and Joseph found their 12-year old son in the Jerusalem Temple, he answered their reproaches by asking: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Already at age twelve, Jesus knew that God was his Father, not Joseph. And Luke tells us that “they did not grasp what he said to them” (2:50)

There would be much more that Mary did not grasp. How much did she grasp about the angel’s message that she was to be the mother of God’s Son? Well, she grasped at least this: that in a little village where gossip was rife, and everybody knew everybody else’s business, she was going to be an unmarried mother. Yet despite this daunting prospect, and her still young age (Scripture scholars think she may have been no more than thirteen), Mary responded: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say” (Luke 1:38).

Three decades later, after Jesus left home, he seemed on more than one occasion to be fulfilling his command to his disciples about turning one=s back on parents and other relatives (cf. Lk 14:26). At the marriage at Cana Jesus seemed to speak coldly to his mother. She seems not to have been present at the Last Supper. Only at Calvary was Mary permitted to stand beside her now dying Son, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26); deliberately unnamed, many Scripture scholars believe, to represent the ideal follower of Jesus Christ in every time and place.

The last glimpse we have of Mary in Scripture shows her with the apostles and Jesus= other friends, praying for the descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14). Thereafter Mary disappears. Her work of bringing Christ to the world was taken over by the Church. From her place in heaven this woman whose life began and ended in obscurity continues to answer the prayer which Catholics have prayed for two millennia: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.” 

Sunday, September 6, 2015


Homily for September 7th, 2015. Luke 6:6-11.

          Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. Jesus’ healings were already well known. The man with the withered hand was probably well known to the local community. It is no wonder therefore, that Jesus’ critics watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they could find a charge against him,” Luke explains.

          Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Get up and stand here in front,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath – or evil? To preserve life --  or destroy it?” His critics give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes who flock to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.

          Jesus’ critics are “frenzied,” Luke tells us, and ask “what could be done to Jesus.” None of this remains unknown to him. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.