Friday, October 2, 2015


Homily for October 3rd, 2015: Luke 10:1-12.

          Jesus has already sent out his twelve apostles, telling them to “take nothing for the journey.” They were to travel light, trusting not in material resources, but in God alone. (Lk. 9:1-5) He chose twelve, because the old people of God had twelve tribes. The Greek version of Genesis, chapter 10, lists 72 nations in the world. Just as the sending of 12 apostles symbolizes the founding of a new people of God, so the sending of the 72 in today’s gospel symbolizes the mission to the entire world. Jesus sends them in pairs so that they can support one another. His messengers are not Lone Rangers. We depend on one another. Here too, Jesus tells his messengers to travel light: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals,” Jesus tells them.

          But why does Jesus tell them to “greet no one on the way”? He does so because the message he entrusts to them is urgent. There is story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elisha sending a messenger to bring back to life the only son of a barren woman to whom God has given a son in answer to Elisha’s prayer. Elisha tells the servant: “If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer” (2 Kgs 4:29). The servant’s mission was urgent: exchanging greetings on the way would delay him. So also here, with the 72.   

          As an encouragement to his messengers, Jesus tells them: “The harvest is abundant.” But they must “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” There was a time when Catholic parents, mothers especially, were the primary recruiters of future priests. No longer. Ask any Vocation Director, and he will tell you: the major obstacle to priestly vocations today is parental opposition. How sad! In a day of small families, almost always the result of a conscious choice, parents want grandchildren. A son who goes to seminary and becomes a priest will not give them grandchildren. But he will have hundreds of spiritual children. That is why Catholics call their priests “Father.” Speaking for myself, I can tell you that I not only pray for priestly vocations. I tell anyone who will listen that priests who are happy are among the happiest men the world. I know, because I’m one.

          We pray in this Mass therefore, that the Lord will help many of our young people to hear and heed the call of the Good Shepherd, to serve him and his holy people as priests, religious Sisters, and Brothers.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


Homily for Oct. 2nd, 2015: Holy Guardian Angels.

          Today’s memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels reminds us of an important truth of our Christian and Catholic faith. The world in which we live, which we entered at birth and which we shall leave at death, is surrounded by another world which, though we cannot see it, is every bit as real as the world which we see, touch, hear, and feel. This other world is spiritual. It is the world of God, the angels, the saints, and our beloved dead. Though invisible, this spiritual world is not only as real as the visible world all around us. It is in truth more real than that world. For the world we see is passing away. The unseen, spiritual world is not passing away. It is eternal. Moreover, this spiritual world is our true homeland. St. Paul tells us this when he writes in his letter to the Philippians that, because of baptism, “we have our citizenship in heaven” (3:20).

          The Catechism says: “The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal [that is, not bodily] beings that Sacred Scripture calls ‘angels’ is a truth of faith” (No. 328). And the Catechism goes on to quote St. Augustine, who says that “angel” is the name of their office: it tells us what they do. Their nature is spirit; in other words, they are not bodily but spiritual beings. “With their whole beings,” Augustine writes, “the angels are servants and messengers of God.” (No. 329) They appear often in Scripture. The angel Gabriel told Mary, for instance, that she was to be the mother of God’s son. The Catechism quotes the 4th century Greek Father, St. Basil, who writes: “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life” (No. 336).

          Whenever, then, we are in danger; whenever we are strongly tempted, it is a joy to know that we can pray with confidence: “Holy guardian angel, protect me and keep me safe! Amen.”

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Homily for Oct. 1st, 2015: Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux

          The young woman whom we commemorate today – she died at only 24 – was a spiritual child prodigy. Born Thérèse Martin on the 2nd of January 1873 to deeply devout Catholic parents in northwestern France, she was the youngest of five sisters and her father’s little “queen,” as he called her. Her mother’s death when Thérèse was only 4 plunged her into terrible grief which would last into adolescence. At age 9 Thérèse received a second blow, when her older sister Pauline, who had been a second mother to her, entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, where the family was living. Thérèse decided that Carmel was the place she too wanted to be – “but not for Pauline, for Jesus.” So certain was Thérèse of her vocation, that she started to ask permission to enter Carmel when she was only 14. It finally came, in a letter from her bishop, on January 1st, 1888, a day before her fifteenth birthday. Three months later she was received into the community where she had longed to be from age 9. 

Thérèse soon discovered the shadow side of Carmelite life. “Of course one does not have enemies in Carmel,” she wrote, “but still there are natural attractions, one feels drawn towards a certain sister, whereas you go a long way round to avoid meeting another.” Thérèse resolved to counter these difficulties by going out of her way to be kind to the Sisters who most irritated her. Over time this would become what she called her “little way.” Since she could not do great things, she would do little things as an offering to God. One of those little things was her request to remain a novice. To her life’s end she had to ask permission to do things her fellow Sisters could do on their own.

For the last 18 months of her short life, Thérèse was suffering from tuberculosis, for which there was then no real treatment. She also suffered spiritual darkness, like a later sister with her name, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. Death came on the evening of Sept. 30th, 1897.

A year later the account of her short life which she had been commanded to write was published in a limited edition of 2000 copies, under the title, The Story of a Soul. Translated over time into 40 languages, it would produce what Pope Pius XI said at Thérèse’s canonization in 1925, before half a million people “a storm of glory.” People read Thérèse’s story, invoked her intercession, and found their prayers answered. Words she had spoken toward the end of her life came true: “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” Today we pray, therefore: “Ste. Thérèse, pray for us. Amen.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Homily for September 30th, 2015: Luke 9:57-62.

          Three potential disciples come to Jesus. The first pledges total loyalty: “I will be your follower wherever you go.” The man’s good will is obvious. With his unique ability to read minds, Jesus sees a potential defect in the man’s stated willingness to serve. He may find the road more difficult that he has reckoned: “The foxes have lairs, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 

          The next recruit responds to Jesus’ call, “Come after me.” There is something he wants to do first, however. “Let me bury my father.” An important duty for Jews, burying the dead has been taken over by Christians as the last of the seven corporal works of mercy. When Jesus calls, however, this takes precedence over all else. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus tells him. “Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

          The third recruit, like the first, volunteers for discipleship: “I will be your follower, Lord,” he says. But like the second man, he sets a condition: “First let me take leave of my people at home.” With seeming coldness, Jesus tells him he is not truly qualified: “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” Jesus’ message to all three is the same: the Lord’s call takes precedence over all else. Is that possible? For some it is. Let me tell you about one.

          She was born in Albania in 1910 and baptized with the name Agnes. As a young girl she was fascinated by stories of missionaries in India. At age 12 she decided to join them. A Jesuit told her that the Loreto nuns, based in Dublin, worked in India. At age 18 Agnes, not knowing a word of English, journeyed to Ireland to become a Sister of Loreto. She would never see her home, or her mother, again. After only 6 weeks, she was sent to Calcutta, where she received the religious name Teresa, after the then recently canonized French Carmelite whom we shall commemorate tomorrow. In the years following she became a teacher and later Principal of a girls’ school.

          On a train journey in 1946, Teresa received what she called “a call within a call”: to leave the security of the convent to live among and serve the poor. Slowly former pupils and others joined her. At her death in 1997, at age 87, the Missionaries of Charity, whom she had founded, numbered over 3,800 in 122 countries – and that in a day, when in the United States alone, over 100,000 Sisters left the convent to pursue other paths. Another thousand have joined the order since.

          Toward the end of her life Mother Teresa summed up her life in a single sentence: “I am but a small pencil in the hand of a writing God.” Happy are we if we can say the same.  

Monday, September 28, 2015


Homily for September 29th, 2015: John 1:47-51.

          “Truly, I say to you, you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus speaks these words to his newly recruited disciple, Nathaniel. Elsewhere in the gospels he is identified as the apostle Bartholomew. The words tell us that Jesus is the contact person between earth and heaven, between humanity and God. 

We contact God by offering prayers to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus, in and through the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to pray and supports us as we do so. The ascending angels carry our prayers heavenward. And the descending angels bring us the Father’s blessings in answer to our prayers. 

The Bible identifies three special angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, whom we commemorate today. Michael, whose name means, “who can compare with God?” is mentioned in the book of Revelation, where we read: “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven.” The archangel Michael represents God’s power, defending us against the forces of evil.

Gabriel is God’s messenger. He appeared to the Old Testament prophet Daniel to help him understand a vision Daniel had about the world’s end (cf. Dan. 8:16 & 9:21). Later he appeared to a teenaged Jewish girl called Mary, to tell her she was to be the mother of God’s Son.

The archangel Raphael is traditionally the angel of healing. Chapter 12 of the Old Testament book Tobit speaks of his healing power. And chapter 5 of John’s gospel speaks of sick people waiting to be healed at a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda. An ancient verse which is missing in modern Bibles speaks of an angel, identified in Catholic tradition as Raphael, coming to stir up the waters, to release their healing powers.

In 1886 Pope Leo XIII composed a prayer to the archangel Michael which was prayed at the end of every Mass until 1968. It goes like this:

"Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host - by the Divine Power of God - cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen."  


Sunday, September 27, 2015


Homily for Sept. 28th, 2013: Luke 9:46-50.

          “An argument arose among them about which of them was the greatest.” So what else is new? we ask. The argument continued at the Last Supper (cf. Lk. 22:24). It continues today: we clergy are especially susceptible. Even canonized saints have engaged n the contest for position and honor. We would have celebrated one of them yesterday, had it not been a Sunday: St. Vincent de Paul. He decided to be a priest, even managing to get himself ordained several years before the minimum age, because he thought priesthood was a career, rather than a service. Only years later did he come to realize his error, acknowledging it with the words: “If I had known what priesthood was all about, as I have come to know since, I would rather have tilled the soil than engage in such an awesome state of life.”  In an attempt to put a damper on this contest about greatness, Pope Francis has put at least a temporary stop on the granting to priests of the honorific title of “Monsignor.”

          Our gospel reading makes it clear that Jesus didn’t overhear what his friends were arguing about. He didn’t need to. He could read people’s thoughts. This is one of a number of occasions in the gospels when he did so.

Jesus responds to the argument about greatness by calling a young child to his side. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,” he tells his disciples. “And whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is greatest.” We grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ action and words only when we know that he lived in a society which was anything but child-centered. In Jesus’ world children, like women, were supposed to be seen and not heard.   

When I entered seminary just over 67 years ago, we newcomers were given a book of “Principles,” as they were called, to guide our lives. One of them went like this: “Choose for yourself the lowest place, not because of modesty, but because it is most fit for you. There is always someone whose burden is heavier than yours. Find him out, and if you can, help him.”

I’ve never forgotten that. Nor should you.