Friday, October 16, 2015


29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  Mark 10:35-45.
AIM: To encourage the hearers to find fulfillment through service.
ATeacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,@ the brothers James and John say to Jesus in the gospel reading we have just heard. They are asking Jesus to sign a blank check. They will fill in the amount when they get it. Jesus might have told the two that their request was presumptuous. That would have put them on the defensive. People who feel they must defend themselves are not open to new insights. So Jesus asks simply: AWhat do you wish me to do for you?@
AGrant that in your glory we may sit one at your right hand and the other on your left.@ That was presumptuous. Jesus still does not rebuke them. Instead he tells them that they have no idea what they are asking. To drive home the lesson he challenges them with a question: ACan you drink of the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?@ 
AWe can,@ the brothers reply lightheartedly. 
Clearly they have no idea what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere. The cup Jesus refers to will contain bitter suffering. His baptism will be, this time, not in water but in blood. Had James and John understood that, they would not have been so eager to claim places on his right and left. Those places, Jesus tells them, are Afor those for whom it has been prepared@ C a reference, we recognize today, to the two thieves between whom Jesus would be crucified.

Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for power and honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. AWhoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.@ Jesus reinforces this teaching with his own example: AFor the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.@ The first citizens of God=s kingdom are those who, like Jesus himself, seek not to be served, but to serve. On this Mission Sunday we think of the countless women and men all over the world who are happy to live for years far from their homelands, to serve as missionaries, bringing to others the gospel B the good news that God loves sinners with a love that will never let us go. They have discovered the secret of true happiness, and deep joy. Let me give you two examples. Both are women. 

The first is Mother Teresa, now Bl. Teresa of Calcutta. She died eighteen years ago in India. At her death the only things she owned were two white saris edged in blue and a wooden bucket to wash in. Born eighty-seven years before in Albania, at age eighteen she traveled to Dublin/Ireland to become a Sister of Loretto. She never saw her home, or her mother, again. The Sisters sent her to India, where she eventually became principal of a school for girls in Calcutta. In 1946 she was traveling by train to her annual retreat when she received what she termed Aa call within a call: to give up all and follow Jesus into the slums C to serve him in the poorest of the poor.@

She began in a single room, with no companions and five rupees, then about a dollar. She started a school for slum children. Later she began caring for people dying in the streets C the start of several hostels for the dying which continue in Calcutta today. Slowly others joined her. Over the next half-century the growth of Mother Teresa=s Missionaries of Charity became a twentieth century miracle. In a day in which, in our country alone, over 100,000 Sisters left the convent, Mother Teresa=s Sisters numbered, at her death, 3,700 in 122 countries C all  inspired by a woman who sought not to be served but to serve, to be the slave of all.

My second example is a young woman from Ohio who came to the parish where I was then serving, at age twenty-one, as a Vincentian volunteer working in an inner city school. She called the children with whom she worked “Virtue Builders” – because, she said, “they need so much patience and love.” Soon after her arrival she asked me to be her spiritual director. Early on it became clear that she wanted to give her life to God, as a religious Sister. I’ll let her tell her own story, just as she sent it to me this summer. She gave it the title:

Never Been Kissed

I have never been kissed. I’ve never had a boyfriend either. This may be shocking, and some of you might be wondering, “Then how can you become a Sister? You don’t know what it is like?” I’ve gotten this line before, and I’ve put a lot of prayer and thought into it. No, I am not afraid of romance, and I am not scared of vulnerability. I have found the person with whom I want to spend the rest of my life. Isn’t that every girl’s dream?

Trust me, I’ve had my share of crushes, but not too many of course. When your future spouse is the Son of the living God, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, one’s standards for men are pretty high. But, I have met a handful of holy young men that have made my heart flutter. There was actually one quite recently. Yeah, discernment + major crush – that’s tricky.

As I grew closer to making this huge decision with my life, I often took a trip down memory lane to understand my love life a little better. As far back as I can remember, I’ve been captured by the liturgy and all things relating to Church. Obviously, as a child, I didn’t grasp all of the theology, but I knew something spectacular was happening. As I grew in wisdom and grace, the mystery/miracle of the Mass slowly unraveled in my heart and mind. Christ drew me nearer and nearer to Him as time passed. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, I gave my heart to Christ. He’s had it ever since, even if I didn’t recognize it.

Along the way, I’ve been infatuated with certain young men. Yet, when I asked myself if I wanted a relationship, I wasn’t so sure. I never did pursue a serious relationship with someone. I used to wonder why I never did that, but couldn’t quite figure it out. In hindsight, I see that my heart was struggling to make a choice. When your heart belongs to someone, it is nearly impossible to give it away or share it for that matter. When it came down to it, my heart couldn’t be divided.

During this recent crush, I had many heart to hearts with a wise and wonderful Sister. My heart was struggling with this potential division. She listened to all my woes and was patient with me (probably more than she should have been). In the end, it came down to one question. She asked, “What is the deepest desire of your heart?” Immediately, I had my answer. My heart wanted the Lord, and He wanted it in return. Ask anyone who’s been in love; the heart wants what the heart wants. Why fight it? So, yes I know I want to be a Sister. My heart belongs to My Beloved. It can never belong to anyone else.

          Today that young woman is a Sister in renewable yearly vows with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George in Alton/Illinois. She has told me more than once: “I love convent life.” In a letter to her mother she said it was a life of joy. 

          Somewhere in this church right now there is a young woman whom God is calling to be Sister; and somewhere there is a young man who God wants to be a priest. “I’m not good enough,” you say? Well, you’re right there. None of us is good enough. God doesn’t call us because we’re good enough. He calls us because he loves us. So if he is calling you, go for it! He is calling you to wonderful life, and to the joy about which that young Sister wrote her mother. How do I know that? I know it because I have that joy too. I answered the Lord’s call over 61 years ago. And I have never regretted it – not one single day.    



Homily for October 17th, 2015: Luke 12:8-12.

          “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man [a title for Jesus] will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” These words of Jesus are difficult. We find them, in different versions, in all three of the so-called synoptic gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. From the beginning the words have caused heart-searching and anguish, especially for people inclined to scrupulosity. What can we say about them?

          Here is what the Catholic Catechism says: “There are no limits to the mercy of God, but anyone who deliberately refuses to accept his mercy by repenting, rejects the forgiveness of his sins and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and final loss.” [1864] Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not properly consist, then, in offending against the Holy Spirit in words; it consists rather in the refusal to accept the salvation which God offers to us through the Holy Spirit, working through the power of the Cross.

          Pope John Paul II explained it thus: “If Jesus says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven either in this life or in the next, it is because this ‘non-forgiveness’ is linked, as to its cause, to ‘non-repentance’, in other words to the radical refusal to be converted. . . Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then, is the sin committed by the person who claims to have a ‘right’ to persist in evil -- in any sin at all -- and who thus rejects redemption. One closes oneself up in sin, thus making impossible one's conversion, and consequently the remission of sins, which one considers not essential or not important for one's life. This is a state of spiritual ruin, because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not allow one to escape from one's self-imposed imprisonment and open oneself to the divine sources of the purification of consciences and of the remission of sins.” [Dominum et vivificantem, 46.]

          And Pope Francis says again and again: “God never grows tired of forgiving us. It is we who go tired of asking for forgiveness.” Committing the unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit means, therefore, refusing to ask for forgiveness, and perseverance in such refusal until the end.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Homily for Oct. 16th, 2015: Luke 12:1-7.

          “Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells us in the gospel reading we have just heard. He says it, in fact, twice over. We find the same reassuring command, to fear nothing, throughout the gospels. In today’s gospel reading the command not to fear follows the statement, “Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight.” That is fearful indeed. Which one of us would like to have everything we have ever said, even in secret, publicly revealed to all? Don’t we all have things we’ve said that would make us ashamed if they were publicized?

          Jesus repeats the command not to fear after speaking about what we must all undergo at the end of earthly life: death. “Do not fear those who can kill the body and can do no more.” Fear instead, Jesus says, “him who has power to cast into hell after he has killed.” This time Jesus gives us the reason why we need not fear: because God loves us with a love that will never let us go: in God’s eyes, he says, “even the hairs of your head are numbered.”

There is not one of us who has no fears. To overcome them we need to deepen and strengthen our spiritual vision. Buried in the Old Testament and hence mostly overlooked, there is a story about this. We find it in just a few verses in the 2nd Book of Kings, chapter 6.  It tells about the prophet Elisha finding himself surrounded one morning by enemy troops. They want to kidnap him, because Elisha has been giving intelligence information to the king of Israel. Seeing their desperate plight, Elisha=s servant panics. ADo not be afraid,@ Elisha tells him, Afor those who are with us are more than those who are with them.@       

How could the servant believe that? He and Elisha were alone and encircled. Their situation was hopeless. So Elisha does what prophets do best. He prays: AO Lord, open his eyes, that he may see.@ The story continues: AAnd the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, so that he saw the mountainside filled with horses and fiery chariots around Elisha.@ With the protection of these heavenly warriors, God=s angels, Elisha has an easy victory over his enemies that day.

When you find yourself beset with fear, pray, as Elisha prayed: “Lord, open my eyes that I may see” – see your love for me, your understanding of my weakness, the desire deep in my heart to be truly yours, despite my many humiliating falls. Let me see, Lord, your boundless mercy and willingness to forgive. Help me to see that those who are with me are always more than those who fight against me.



Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Homily for Oct. 15th, 2014: St. Teresa of Avila

          We celebrate today one of the great women of the 16th century, Teresa of Avila in central Spain. Born in 1515 as her mother’s third child and first daughter, she was, in the words of a modern biographer, “a vain and vivacious girl, with a divine agenda.” When she was thirteen, her mother died while giving birth to her tenth child. Devastated, Teresa prayed that henceforth Mary might be her mother. Despite this early piety, Teresa says herself that she was a frivolous teenager, “wearing fancy things, and silly baubles.” This was likely why her father sent Teresa to a convent school at age 16.

          She got on well in the convent. But after 19 months she fell ill and was sent to a deeply pious uncle in the country to recuperate. Conversations with him convinced Teresa that the world would soon end and that if she did not change, she would go to hell. To avoid this, she decided to “bully herself” into becoming a nun. Lacking her father’s permission for this, she stole away at age 20, with the help of an older brother, to the Carmelite convent in Avila. She would remain there for the next quarter-century. It was a relaxed life, with nuns from wealthy families enjoying comfortable suites, pets, and even servants. “Everything about God gave me tremendous pleasure,” Teresa writes, “but the things of the world captivated me. I spent almost twenty years on this stormy sea, falling and rising, then falling again.”

          When she was not quite 40, she had a conversion experience. Her prayer deepened and she began to think of what more she could do for the Lord. Reform of orders for men and women was in the air, and in 1562 Teresa, with only 4 companions, but with the support of her 17 years younger friend and Confessor, St. John of the Cross, founded a new convent with a far more austere life than the one she had left. Teresa would found almost 20 other such convents in the 20 years which remained to her. Exhausted by the travels all over Spain which these foundations required, Teresa died in 1581. She left classic writings on prayer which fill 3 volumes in English translation. They formed the basis for Pope Paul VI’s declaration in 1970 of Teresa of Avila as a Doctor or official teacher of the Church, the first woman to be so honored.

          The modern English Carmelite, Ruth Burrows, writes: “Teresa’s will was identified with our Lord’s. So everything she was, her many gifts and her weaknesses too, were brought into the orbit of her love and dedication. Union with Christ does not mean becoming someone different, renouncing our gifts, changing our temperament; but putting everything we have into our love for God and opening everything we have to his transforming influence. Teresa reached the full potential of personhood: what she was meant to be she became. This is holiness.”

          How wonderful, if something like that could be said of us, when the Lord sends his angel to call us home. To that end, then, we pray:

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Homily for Oct. 14th, 2015: Luke 11: 42-46

“Woe to you Pharisees!” Jesus says in today’s gospel. Who are these people about whom we hear so much in the gospels, most of it negative? Their name means “the separated ones.” They looked down on their fellow Jews who paid little attention to all the details of the Jewish law.  

          There is an example of this superior attitude in John’s gospel. The Pharisees and chief priests ask the Temple guards in Jerusalem why they have not arrested Jesus. “No one ever spoke like that before,” the guards reply. “Do not tell us you have been taken in!” the Pharisees respond. “You don’t see any of the Sanhedrin believing in him, do you? Or the Pharisees?” Then comes the condescending sentence:” Only this lot, that knows nothing about the law – and they are lost anyway!” (John 7:45-49).

Jesus never condemns the Pharisees’ meticulous efforts to keep God’s’ law. What he criticizes is their legalistic spirit. “You [Pharisees] pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done,” Jesus says, affirming the payment of tithes on even the tiniest things, “without overlooking the others”: judgment and the love of God.

Pope Francis spoke similarly in the lengthy interview which was published all over the world in late September, 2013. “The Church sometimes has locked itself up in small things,” he said. And he gave this example: We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. … The teaching of the church is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” People immediately assumed that the Pope was changing Church teaching. Yet within days he told a group of gynecologists: “Every unborn child, condemned unjustly to being aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the face of the Lord.” You can’t get more specific than that.

What is the bottom line? The laws of God and the Church are important. Observing them is the key to happiness. Even more important, however, are help and mercy for those who fail in this – and that is all of us. Asked at the beginning of the interview, “Who is Jorge Bergoglio” (the Pope’s original, pre-papal name), he responded: “I am a sinner. This is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” In saying those words, the Pope spoke for all of us, without exception.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Homily for October 13th, 2015: Luke 11:37-41.

          Jesus is the guest of a Pharisee, a man who is careful to observe all the provisions of the Jewish law. Offered an opportunity to wash his hands before dinner, Jesus offends his host by brushing aside this Jewish custom. An act of rudeness? So it would seem. As the story unfolds we discover, however, that Jesus had a reason for what looks like an act of discourtesy. He wanted to show his host that mere external cleansing is useless if it is not accompanied by internal cleansing as well.

          “Oh, you Pharisees!” He says. “Although you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.” What might this mean for us today? A possible modern parallel would be Catholics who are always careful to dress up for Sunday Mass: a suit and necktie for men; for women a nice dress; inside, however, unconfessed and hence unforgiven sins: cruelty, resentment, and hate; dishonesty, impurity, and pride. The Lord in his mercy has given us a remedy for such sins: the sacrament of penance or confession. Correctness in dress and outward behavior is important. Coming to the Lord’s Table as we would to a picnic or baseball game shows scant respect for our host. Yet inner and spiritual cleansing is even more important.

          Now Jesus surprises us (as he does often). Rather than pointing to confession of sins, he speaks of something else: almsgiving. “But as to what is within, give alms, and behold everything will be clean for you.” Luke wrote his gospel for a partly Gentile community. Almsgiving hardly figured in the ancient pagan world of Jesus’ day. For Jews, however, it was important. The Jewish farmer and shepherd gave the firstfruits of field and flock to the Lord. He did so to express gratitude to the Lord who gives us all we are and have, sin excepted. Only when we are truly thankful to the Lord for all the blessings he showers upon us, so many more than we deserve on any strict accounting, are we truly in a right relationship with him. And we show our gratitude by sharing the Lord’s blessings with our brothers and sisters. Only then, Jesus tells us, will everything be clean for us.

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Homily for Oct. 12th, 2015: Luke 11:29-32.

          “This generation seeks a sign,” Jesus says. He is referring to the repeated demand of his contemporaries for a miracle so dramatic that it will force them to believe. We heard this demand in the gospel reading only last Friday. And as we noted then, belief cannot be forced any more than love can be forced. Jesus’ miracles confirm the faith of those who already believe. They do not force belief on those who hearts and minds are closed to him and his message.

          Jesus then mentions two such confirming signs: Jonah, and the so-called queen of the south, Sheba. Jonah’s sign was not his survival in the belly of the great fish. We saw when we were reading Jonah last week that this was one of the parts of Jonah’s story which showed that it was fiction – though, like much great fiction, notably Jesus’ parables and Shakespeare’s plays, the vehicle for important truth about God, humanity, and life. The sign of Jonah which Jesus refers to is the immediate repentance of the people of Nineveh – Gentiles without the gift of God’s law – in response to Jonah’s preaching. Jesus contrasts the response of the Ninevites with the failure of so many of his own people to respond to his message.

          The sign of Queen Sheba is different, though in one respect the same. Like Jonah, she came from afar, motivated however not by a divine command, but by the report that King Solomon possessed wisdom greater than that of all other rulers or sages. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus says. He is referring to himself. He not merely possesses wisdom: Jesus is wisdom personified. Similarly the statement that “there is something greater than Jonah here” means that Jesus’ message is more compelling than Jonah’s -- yet the people still do not respond. Jesus sums up by saying that the Ninevites and Queen Sheba showed a readiness to respond which his own people do not.

Are we responding? “I have come,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). Are we embracing Jesus’ offer of life to the full? Or do we think of our faith as observing enough of the Church’s complicated rules and regulations to be able, on Judgment Day, to squeeze our way into heaven?

          Think about it – more important, pray about it!