Friday, September 25, 2015


Homily for Sept. 26th, 2015: Luke 9:43b-45.

          “They were all amazed at [Jesus’] every deed,” today’s brief gospel reading begins. Immediately before this verse Luke has described Jesus’ healing of an epileptic boy, the only son of his father (9:38). The man has already asked Jesus’ disciples for healing, without success. The youth has an epileptic fit even as he is being brought to Jesus. The Lord heals the boy with a word and gives him back to his father. “And all who saw it marveled at the greatness of God,” Luke tells us (vs. 43a). The opening words of our gospel today follow immediately: “All were amazed at [Jesus’] every deed.”  

          Jesus breaks into the people’s amazement to tell them something he wants them to remember. “Pay attention to what I am telling you” are the words we heard. What Luke writes literally is: “lay up in your ears these words. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.” This is so jarring that the people do not understand it. “They were afraid to ask him about this saying,” Luke tells us.

          This fear can be understood if we reflect that the miracle of healing which the people have just witnessed, indeed all Jesus’ miracles, kindled in them a desire for something we all want: a success story. Being betrayed into the hands of men certainly didn’t sound like success. No wonder the people were afraid to enquire too deeply about Jesus’ meaning.

          The day would come, however, when people would understand. After Jesus’ death and burial his women disciples, more faithful than the men, visit his tomb as soon as the Sabbath rest is over, intending to do what had been impossible Friday evening, when the Sabbath had already begun: anoint the Lord’s body. The women find not Jesus’ body but “two men in dazzling garments” (clearly angels) who ask them: “Why do you search for the Living One among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised up.” And then, Luke tells us, the angels tell the women: “Remember what he said to you while he was sill in Galilee – that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” “With this reminder,” Luke writes, “[Jesus’] words came back to them” (Lk 24:4-8).

          We pray, then, in this Mass: “Open our ears, Lord Jesus, to listen to your words. And when we do not understand, give us patience to await the day when we shall understand, the day when we see you face to face. Amen”

Thursday, September 24, 2015


Homily for September 25th, 2015: Mark 8:27-33.

          Today’s gospel reading recounts Peter’s confession of faith: “You are the Messiah of God.” Confirming this statement, Jesus says that he will be rejected and killed. In Mark’s account of this incident, and in Matthew as well, Peter immediately protests, causing Jesus to tell him that he is thinking is on the human level, not on God’s. Pope Francis referred to this incident when he celebrated his first Mass with the cardinals who had just elected him in March 2013. Here is what the Pope told them:

        “The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross. When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but not disciples of the Lord. I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.”

Friends, all of us must walk, at one time or another, through what Psalm 23 calls the valley of the shadow of death, when the clouds of doubt and discouragement seem to shut out the sunshine of God’s love. When we wonder why that should be so, why we cannot have a religion of Easter only, without Good Friday, we need to remember: Jesus could not have that. Neither can we. Take the cross out of our faith, and you have ripped the heart out of it. Good Friday and Easter belong together. Behind the cross of Good Friday, we must see the open portal of the empty tomb. And through that open portal of Easter morning, we must always see the cross, where Jesus offered all for us, even life itself.

That is where all the great lessons of life are learned: at the foot of the cross.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015


26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48.
AIM:   To explain the total dedication Jesus asks of us. 
How much of the Bible is true? All of it! The Catechism says: AThe inspired books teach the truth. ... we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach the truth [which] God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.@ The Catechism then adds this important statement: AIf the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.@ [Nos. 107-108] 
To understand the Scriptures we must know that the truth they contain comes in many different forms. The Bible contains poetry, prophecy, history, and many other literary forms as well. All are true. But they must be read in different ways. Poetry, for example, must be read quite differently from prose. Take the well known lines from the eighteenth century Scottish poet, Robert Burns: AO, my Luv=s like a red red rose / That=s newly sprung in June: / O my Luv=s like the melodie / That=s sweetly play=d in tune.@ A person reading that literally would conclude that the lady in question had petals and thorns; and that people near her could hear a musical tune. That would be absurd. The description is true, but not literally true. It is poetry, not prose.
These distinctions are important if we are to to understand the gospel we have just heard. AIf your hand causes you to sin,@ Jesus says, cut it off. ... And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. ...  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.@ Jesus is not encouraging us to maim ourselves. He is using something called hyperbole: deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. We use hyperbole all the time. In my early childhood a dearly loved aunt used to say to me, when she thought I was over-eating: AJay, if you eat any more, you=ll burst.@ At age five I had never heard of hyperbole and couldn’t have told you what the word meant. I knew I wouldn=t burst. But I had no difficulty understanding what my aunt was telling me. 
Many common, everyday expressions are ridiculous if taken literally, yet immediately understood. We say, for instance: AI felt as if I=d been hit like a ton of bricks.@ If you were hit by a ton of bricks you wouldn’t feel anything. You=d be dead. We speak about someone being Aall bent out of shape.@ We say: AYou could have knocked me down with a feather.@ Such expressions are deliberate exaggerations in order to make a point.
What is Jesus= point when he speaks about cutting off hands and feet and plucking out eyes? He is telling us that if we are serious about being his followers, our commitment to him must be total. We must be willing to sacrifice even things as dear to us as hands, feet, and eyes. Taking Jesus= language literally would make God into some kind of sadistic monster. The God whom Jesus reveals is a God of love.
But this raises a further difficulty. How could a loving God condemn people to the eternal punishment indicated by Jesus= words about going Ainto Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire@? Gehenna was well known to all Jesus= hearers. It was a deep ravine outside Jerusalem, previously the site of idolatrous rites in which children were made to pass through fire. It thus became a symbol for hellfire.  Hence the difficulty B
How can a loving God condemn anyone to eternal punishment B to hell? The answer may surprise you. God does not condemn anyone to hell. If there is anyone in hell B and the Church does not tell us whether there is, while firmly insisting, with the Bible, that hell is a possibility and a reality B then it is because they have freely chosen hell for themselves. The Catechism is clear on this point: ATo die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God=s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called >hell.= ... God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.@ (Nos. 1033 & 1037, emphasis supplied.) The judgment that God will pronounce on each one of us at the end of our lives is not the adding up of the pluses and minuses in some heavenly account book. It is simply God=s ratification of the judgment we ourselves have pronounced by the fundamental choice we have made throughout our lives. 
In his book, The Great Divorce, the English writer C.S. Lewis explains this in a vivid allegory. The book tells about a group of people in Hell B  fighting, complaining, all bitterly unhappy. One day they are invited to board a bus that will take them on a visit to heaven. Many refuse even to get into the bus. Those who do embark start complaining and quarreling as soon as they have taken their seats. When they get to heaven, they are still dissatisfied B and demand to be taken back where they came from. The point of the story is clear. If there are people in hell, it is only because they have chosen it for themselves. If we choose to shut out of our lives all goodness, love, and light, then God will respect our choice.    
What is hell anyway? Hell is when everyone else has gone to the party, and you’re not there; not because you weren=t invited, but because you were invited time and time again, and refused every invitation. What this tells us is simply this. The choices we make every day, and every hour, are determining, right now, where, how, and with whom we shall spent eternity.
AThe kingdom of God,@ by contrast B also mentioned by Jesus at the end of our gospel reading B is the place of fulfillment, of joy, of total love; where there is no more disappointment, no more sickness, no more injustice, no more suffering; where (as we read twice over the final book on the Bible) AGod will wipe away all tears from [our] eyes@ (Rev. 7:17 & 21:4). And to attain that state of blessed fulfillment, Jesus tells us, no sacrifice is too great.
Let me conclude by telling you of some followers of Jesus Christ who made such a sacrifice. They stand for countless others, many of them known only to God. In 1995 six Sisters of the Poor from Bergamo, in northern Italy, died in the Ebola epidemic in the African Congo. Despite the danger of infection, these Sisters stayed behind in order to take care of the sick. Others arrived to help them. They all died. One of them, a Sister Dinarosa, was asked: AAren=t you afraid, being always in the midst of people with this deadly, highly infectious disease?@ She responded: AMy mission is to serve the poor. What did my Founder do? I am here to follow in his footsteps ... the Eternal Father will help me.@ Were she and her fellow Sisters martyrs? Most assuredly. AMartyr@ means Awitnesses.@ Those Sisters were witnesses, martyrs, of love. 

For the follower of Jesus Christ one=s own life is not the absolute value. Love for the poor and suffering counts more than saving self. A high standard? Undoubtedly. Is it too high? For unaided human nature, it is too high, impossible even. That is why we are here B and why we come repeatedly, week by week, some of us every day: to receive at these twin tables of God=s word and sacrament the help and strength of Him for whom Aall things are possible@ (Mark 10:27); to be embraced, held fast, strengthened, and uplifted by the love that will never let us go.


The story of the Sisters in Africa is in F. X. Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope (Pauline Books, Boston: 2000) p. 112f.


Homily for Sept. 24th, 2013: Haggai 1:1-8.

          “The time has not yet come to build the house of the Lord,” the people of God tell the prophet Haggai in our first reading. It’s the oldest excuse in the book for failing to do something we know we ought to do. ‘Postpone it,’ we say, ‘the time is not ripe.’ The excuse is so old, in fact, that we have a name for it: procrastination.

          God’s people have come back to Jerusalem from decades of exile and oppression in Babylon. The Temple, the dwelling place of God on earth which was destroyed long ago by their enemies, is still in ruins. But the people are doing just fine, thank you, living high off the hog in their rebuilt paneled McMansions.

          Haggai challenges his people. Are you really happy? “You have sown much, but have brought in little. You have eaten, but have not been satisfied. You have drunk, but not been exhilarated [he’s talking about drinking wine]. You have clothed yourselves, but not been warmed. And whoever earned wages, earned them for a bag with holes in it.”

          What’s the reason for all this frustration? The people have looked after themselves. But they have neglected the Lord God. The first thing we owe Him is worship. That’s why the Church asks us to come to Mass on the Lord’s day. ‘But I don’t get anything out of it,’ many say; or 'Mass is boring.’ The proper answer to such complaints is: “So what?” We don’t come for moral uplift, for a nice warm feeling inside, to be entertained by lively music or a sparkling homily, or to rejoice in human togetherness. Those things may happen, or they may not. But they are not the reason why we come. We come to worship! To praise and thank God who gives us all that we have, and all that we are – sin excepted: our sins are all our own. We come, in short, not to get, but to give.

          And all experience teaches that those who get most are those who give most generously, never thinking of themselves, but only of the Lord God, who gives us always so much more than we deserve.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Homily for Sept. 23rd, 2015: Luke 9:1-6.

          “Take nothing for the journey,” Jesus tells the Twelve as he sends them out “to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” He wants those whom he commissions as his messengers to travel light. They are to depend not on material resources, but on the Lord alone.

          Jesus’ words are especially relevant today. All over the world, the forces hostile to the Church are rising. In our own country the government is trying to impose on Catholic organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, conditions which we cannot, in conscience, accept. We are being asked, for instance, to pay for sterilization and abortion. In Ireland, unlike the United States a historically Catholic country, there is even an attempt to pass a law which would compel priests, in certain instances, to violate the seal of the confessional. TV entertainers air gross jokes about Catholic priests which they would not dare make about Muslim imams or Jewish rabbis. And the media show little interest in reporting studies which show that throughout the world Christians are the Number One target of religious persecution today.

          We rightly lament this tide of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiment. But it has a good side as well. Whenever in its two thousand year history, the Church has been favored by the powers that be, whether financially or in other ways, it has grown spiritually flabby and weak. The Church is always at her best in times of persecution. When persecution is raging it is difficult, mostly impossible, to see this. Things become clear only when we look back. So let’s look back.

In recent centuries the most violent attack on the Church came in the French Revolution, which started in 1789 and lasted more than a decade. Thousand of priests were murdered under the guillotine. Most of the French bishops fled the country. Those who remained had to accept restrictions on their ministry which they justified on the plea that there was to other way to continue offering the sacraments to God’s people. 

As the Church moved into the nineteenth century, however, there was an explosion of religious vocations in France, and the foundation of an unprecedented number of new religious orders, for both men and women.

          When we grow discouraged at the hostile forces confronting us, we need to remember: God can bring good out of evil – and he does, time after time!

Monday, September 21, 2015


Homily for Sept. 22nd, 2015: Luke 8:19-21.

          Jesus’ mother and his brother come to visit him, our gospel tells us. His brothers? The word which Luke uses means “relatives” or “kinsmen.” From antiquity Catholics have believed that Mary had no other children but Jesus. Having given herself completely to God by responding to the angel’s message that she was to be mother of God’s son with the words, “Be it done to me according to your word,” it was inconceivable that Mary could give herself to another. This is why she is called “Mary ever virgin.” 

          Jesus’ mother and his other relatives are unable to get to him, we heard, “because of the crowd.” Those four words give us a glimpse of what life was like for the Lord on most days of his public ministry. He was constantly hemmed in by people shoving, pushing, shouting, trying to get his attention. This explains why Jesus retreated, whenever he could, to what the gospels call “a deserted place” – somewhere where he could be alone with his heavenly Father. 

          When Jesus is told that his mother and other relatives are trying to get to him through the crowd, he responds with words that sound like a put-down: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” In reality the words are not dismissive. Can there be any doubt that Mary truly listened to God’s word and acted on it? Jesus’ words are extensive: they extend the limits of his family to anyone who truly listens to his teaching and acts on it – in other words, to us.

          God’s word comes to us in many ways: through Holy Scripture, read out here in church, or pondered over as we read the Bible for ourselves. God’s word comes to us also through the teaching of his Church, and through the still, small, but powerful voice of conscience.

          How better, then, could we respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel than with the simple prayer of the boy Samuel, when he heard his name being called as he was sleeping in the Temple: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Homily for Sept. 21st, 2015: Matt. 9:9-13.

          “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.” Matthew was a tax collector. He was not the kind of tax collector we know today, a civil servant. In the Palestine of Jesus’ day the Roman government of occupation entrusted the collection of taxes to tax farmers, as they are sometimes called, who bid for the right to collect taxes. In doing so, they enriched themselves by extorting more than the government required. They were hated, therefore, for two reasons: for preying on people financially; and for serving the despised Roman rulers of the land. 

          Jesus speaks just two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. Other disciples of Jesus have already done the same, when, at Jesus’ command, they abandoned the tools of their trade as fishermen, their boats and nets, to follow Jesus. What motivated this immediate obedience? I think that if we could have questioned any of them, Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          As a parting gesture Matthew invites his friends to dinner at his house, with Jesus as the honored guest. As we would expect, many of those friends were Matthew’s fellow tax collectors. Others were simply “sinners,” as the gospel reading calls them: Jews, like Matthew, who did not bother to keep all of God’s law.

Observing these disreputable guests, the Pharisees, proud of their exact observance of God’s law, ask Jesus’ other disciples how their Master can associate with such ruffians. Jesus supplies the answer himself: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. … I did not come to call the righteous [by which Jesus means ‘people like you Pharisees’]. ‘I came to call sinners.’

What is the message for us? If we want Jesus’ loving care, we need first to recognize and confess our need. And the first thing we need from Jesus is forgiveness.