Friday, September 18, 2015


Homily for September 19th, 2015: Luke 8:4-15.

          Jesus’ favorite form of teaching was through stories. We call them parables. Most of them are so simple that they can be understood even by children; yet so profound that scholars are still writing books about them. The parable of the sower and his seed occurs in three of the four gospels. At the most basic level, the story is encouragement in the face of failure. It is Jesus’ answer to the rising tide of opposition which his teaching and ministry provoked. Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Despite this waste, the story promises a “hundredfold” harvest. A modern 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.”

          Today’s gospel reading gives the story another interpretation. By speaking about the different kinds of soil on which the farmer’s seed falls, Jesus directs our attention to our role in the harvest. It comes from God, yes. But it requires our cooperation.

          The different kinds of soil symbolize the many kinds of people who heard Jesus’ message: in his lifetime, and still today. “Those on the path are the ones who have heard,” Jesus says, “but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.” There are people like that in every parish, the world over.  

So also for those on rocky ground. They receive Jesus’ words with joy. But they have no root, so in times of temptation, they fall away. The seed falling among thorns represent people unable to bring any fruit to fruition, because they are so busy with other things: anxiety, and the pursuit of the false gods of pleasure, possessions, power, and honor.  

The super-abundant harvest of which the story speaks comes only for those who internalize Jesus’ words, praying over them, and making them the foundation of their lives. In response, then, we pray: “Take hold of me, Lord. Help me to know that you are always with me; that I can find happiness only by fulfilling the purpose for which you fashioned me in my mother’s womb: to praise, serve, and glorify you here on earth; and so to be happy with you forever in heaven. Amen.”

Thursday, September 17, 2015


Homily for Sept. 18th, 2015: Luke 8:1-3

          Who were Jesus’ disciples? The Twelve, first of all, chosen by Jesus to represent Jesus’ desire to reconstitute the twelve tribes of Israel. They were all men. Traveling along with them, Luke tells us in today’s gospel, were women as well. A modern Bible commentator writes: “It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for [a woman] to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ travelling companions.” Today’s gospel is one of the many pieces of evidence we have that Jesus rejected the second-class status of women in his society.

          The first woman mentioned, Mary of Magdala, a small town in Galilee, is clearly not the woman “known in the town to be a sinner,” whom we heard about in yesterday’s gospel. Luke is clearly telling us about a woman he has not previously mentioned. The information that “seven demons had gone out of her” refers to healing from sickness. The number seven in biblical thought represents fullness. Her healing is now complete.

            The next woman mentioned, Joanna, is married to a high government official: Chuza, the manager of the estates of Palestine’s ruler, Herod Antipas. This Herod was hostile to Jesus. If his steward Chuza was the royal official mentioned in the 4th chapter of John’s gospel who asked Jesus to heal his son, as some commentators believe, and who “became a believer” when the boy was cured, this would explain why he allowed his wife to minister to Jesus.

          Later it would be women, not men, who were the first witnesses and messengers of the resurrection. Despite all this evidence of the importance of women for Jesus, it was to men alone that he gave the command at the Last Supper, to “do this in my memory.” This helps explain why still today only men are ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II told us that the Church has no power to alter Jesus’ clear intention and command.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B. Mark 9:30-37
AIM: To encourage the hearers to find Christ in serving others. 
AWhat were you arguing about on the way?@ Jesus asks his disciples in today=s gospel. He probably knew already (Jesus always did). But he wanted an admission from their own mouths that they had been discussing Awho was the greatest.@ Mark will repeat the phrase, Aon the way,@ in the very next sentence C and four more times in his short gospel (10:17, 32, 52; 11:8). There was a reason. It was not just any way. Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem where, as he says in today=s gospel, AThe Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him ...@
       That way was not inevitable. Jesus chose it, at great personal cost. And the cost grew greater, not less, as Jesus approached the end of his self-chosen way. We get a glimpse of the cost in Mark=s description of Jesus= agonized prayer in the garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, when Jesus fell on the ground and prayed that the cup of suffering might be taken from him. (Mk 14:32-36)
       There are, in every life, times when the way we must walk is steep, and difficult. As a help to persevere, many people join a support group. There are support groups for just about everyone today, priests included. Jesus too had a support group: his twelve apostles. One of the reasons he chose them, Mark tells us, was Ato be with him@ (3:14).
       The Twelve did not really give Jesus much support, however. Those dozen men who accompanied Jesus Aon the way@ were miles removed from their Master in spirit. While he Aset his face resolutely toward Jerusalem@ (Lk 9:51), knowing what awaited him there, his closest friends were discussing Awho was the greatest.@ Their behavior illustrates perfectly what Mark has already told us: that these hand-picked friends of Jesus, his support group, Adid not understand@ what he was facing. This failure, and the resulting inability of the Twelve to give Jesus the support he needed, were themselves part of Jesus= suffering. His passion had already begun before he reached Jerusalem, while he was still Aon the way.@
       Our gospel shows how Jesus responded: not with a complaint, but with a fresh bid for understanding. Seated C the accepted posture for the religious teacher Jesus= day C Jesus tells his friends that ordinary standards of importance cannot apply for them. AIf anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.@ This teaching was so crucial for the early Christian community that it is recorded, with variations, five more times in the gospels. (Mt 18:3f, Mk 10:43f, Lk 9:46ff & 22:26, Jn.13:14f)
       To drive home his point Jesus places a small child in their midst and says: AWhoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me ...@ The child does not symbolize innocence. That is a sentimental modern idea which would have been foreign to Jesus and his hearers. Richard Gaillardetz, a teacher of theology at Boston College and himself a married man and father, is more realistic when he writes: AWhatever Jesus meant when he suggested we must imitate the children, it had nothing to do with angelic innocence! I love my children in ways that can never be put into words, but there is no hiding the fact that they are imperfect creatures, capable of the same pettiness, resentment, and mean-spiritedness that sets us adults to warring.@ [Richard R. Gaillardetz, ALearning from marriage,@ in: Commonweal, Sept. 8, 2000, 18f]
       In Jesus= world, therefore, children symbolized not innocence, but insignificance. It is as if Jesus were saying to these friends of his: >You are concerned about who shall be most important. If you want to be my disciples, you must become like this child, the least important. If you want to find me, look for me in people who are as insignificant as this child, and as easily overlooked.=
       Jesus= words overturn all normal worldly standards based on Alooking after Number One.@ Yet Jesus had no interest in promoting a revolution that would sweep away earthly rulers. What he wanted was to create a new way of living that would reflect God=s rule, as Jesus reflected it in his own life. God exercises his rule through his merciful love; and Jesus exercises the power he has from his heavenly Father by being the servant of all and at the disposal of all.
       Who lives like that today, you ask? More people than you might think. We have such people here in our parish. There are parents who live like that. A father of three asked members of his support group: AWho ever said children were supposed to bring us together?@ To which his wife added: ASince we started having children, we have had less time for ourselves than we ever expected. We can hardly wait for the kids to grow up, so that we can get together again.@ A newspaper article quoted a Catholic bishop saying something similar. Asked to describe his life, he answered: AYou can never do what you like.@
        Would those harassed parents, or the busy bishop, exchange their lives with others who have greater leisure? They might talk about it. Deep in their hearts, however, they know they would not change, even if they could. In their commitment to serving others they are living out Jesus= teaching in today=s gospel: AIf anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.@ In putting themselves at the disposal even of those whom many would consider a nuisance or insignificant, they encounter the One who had time for everyone: who was so little concerned with his own importance that he was willing Ato be handed over to men [who] will kill him;@ and who was raised from death the third day, never more to die.
       So if you want to encounter Jesus Christ, look for him in those everyone else ignores. There, in the overlooked, the insignificant, the neediest and the most forsaken, he is waiting for you.



Homily for Sept. 17th, 2015: Luke 7:36-50.

          Let’s get one thing straight right away. The “sinful woman in the city” whom we have just heard about in the gospel is not Mary Magdalene. Luke will mention Mary Magdalene just 2 verses after the close of today’s gospel reading; yet he says nothing to suggest that she is the same woman whose over the top behavior he has just described. Nor need we assume that this “sinful woman,” as she is called, is a prostitute. There are plenty of serious sins which are not sexual. 

          Jesus is dining in the house of a Pharisee, a man proud of his meticulous observance of all the details of God’s law. “If this man were a prophet,” Jesus’ host says to himself, “he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

With his unique ability to read the human mind and heart, Jesus perceives at once what his host is thinking. Jesus is a prophet. He has already read his host’s unspoken thoughts. He responds by telling the story of two debtors. One owes a sum equal to 18 months’ daily wages; the other’s debt equals a worker’s pay for just 50 days. When both men tell their creditor they cannot pay their debts, he says, ‘Forget about it.’ Which would love the creditor more? Jesus asks. The answer is obvious. We can see the Pharisee’s resentment at having to give this answer by the frigid words he speaks: “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.”   

Jesus then contrasts the formally correct welcome he has received from his host with the extravagant welcome of the sinful woman. Her behavior is the response, Jesus says, to my forgiveness of her sins. This causes the other guests to ask: “Who is this who even forgives sins?” To which Jesus responds by telling the sinful and now forgiven woman: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Without claiming in words to be divine, Jesus acts as only God can act.

The story reminds us of something which Pope Francis never stops telling us: God never grows tired of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness. And the story challenges us with an insistent question: Are we even half as grateful for God’s merciful forgiveness as this sinful woman?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


Homily for Sept. 16th, 2015: Luke 7:31-35.
          Jesus speaks often of children in the gospels, usually in a positive sense. He tells us, for instance, that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we “become like little children” (Mt. 18:3; cf. Mk. 9:36, Lk 9:47). When his disciples try to keep children away from Jesus, he rebukes them, saying that anyone who welcomes a little child “welcomes me” (Lk 9:48). In these and similar passages Jesus is recommending the sense of dependence that children have. It never occurs to small children that they can make it on their own. He is also recommending children’s ability to wonder – something that most of us lose, as we grow up, though artists and great saints retain the sense of wonder at God’s creation into old age.
          In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about a negative aspect of childhood. Grieved that too few of his own people have responded either to his cousin, John the Baptist, or to himself, Jesus compares them to children who reject every approach of those who reach out to them in loving concern. ‘You complained that John was too strict and ascetic,’ Jesus says in effect. ‘Me you find too laid back and merciful. What do you want?’ Jesus asks them.
          Children can be like that. I experienced it myself, in my own childhood. I might have been ten years old, or even younger, with a sister eight, and a brother six. I remember my father saying to another grownup, in a tone of resigned frustration: “My children are contra-suggestive.” I no longer know what occasioned this remark, but I can easily imagine it. Whatever my father suggested, by way of a leisure activity – whether it was a walk, a drive in the country, or a visit to a museum – we said: “Oh, no -- we don’t want to do that.”
          Most of us carry over this childhood stubbornness into adult life. We’d like to determine our own agenda, thank you. But of course we can’t. God set the agenda for us before we were even born. “My yoke is easy”, Jesus says, “and my burden light” (Mt. 11:30). Jesus’ yoke is easy, however, only if we accept it. Otherwise it chafes. How better could we respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel than to pray: “Not what I want, Lord, but what you want.”

Monday, September 14, 2015


Homily for Sept. 15th, 2015: John 19:25-27.

Decades ago it was common on Good Friday to preach seven sermons based on Jesus= seven last words from the cross. I preached those sermons myself, over half a century ago. The AThree Hours= Agony,@ as it was often called, started at noon and ended at three, traditionally the hour of Jesus= death, with the church bell tolling 33 times, once for each year of Jesus= earthly life. Interspersed between each sermon or meditation was a hymn and one of more prayers, allowing worshipers who could not remain for the full three hours opportunities to come and go. 

We have just heard the third of Jesus’ seven last words: AWoman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.@ The second half of this word from the cross is addressed to Athe disciple whom Jesus loved,@ as he is always called in the Fourth Gospel -- deliberately left anonymous, many commentators believe, so that he can stand for all those whom Jesus loves, ourselves included. It is because of this third word from the cross that Catholics call Mary Aour blessed Mother.@

          We do not pray to Mary B or to any of the saints B in the same way we pray to God. We ask Mary and the other saints to pray for us. If it is right to ask our earthly friends to pray for us, how much more fitting to ask the prayers of our heavenly friends, especially of Mary, given to us by her dying son as our spiritual mother. The Catechism recommends such prayer in the following words: “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.” (No. 2682)

          As we remember today the sorrows of Jesus’ mother, we pray, once again, the familiar and well loved words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”


Sunday, September 13, 2015


Homily for Sept. 14th, 2015: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.

At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.

Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power?  The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.

Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@  with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me. It sounds like horribly bad news.

The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in our parish pre-school. I went to meet Doris when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door, waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.

The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).

Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.

AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ.  He is waiting for your response, right now.