Friday, November 6, 2015


         The sayings of Jesus which Luke has collected into today’s gospel reading are comments on what we heard in yesterday’s reading. That was about the unjust steward who realized that he was about to lose his job because of mismanaging his employer’s property. To assure himself of friends who would be indebted to him, and might offer him future employment after he was let go, he calls in the people who owe money to his master’s estate and settles their debts for fifty cents on the dollar. To our surprise Jesus commends the steward “for acting prudently.” Jesus does not praise the man’s dishonesty. He praises his prudence. Realizing that the knife is at his throat, the man acts, desperately, to ensure his future.    

         Today’s gospel continues Jesus’ teaching about money, for which he uses the ancient Hebrew word mammon. This culminates in the sayings, “No servant can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus is not saying that money and possessions are bad. Nothing that God has made is bad; indeed everything that comes from God is good. It participates in some measure in the absolute goodness of God the Creator. What is at stake is how we use money. Used to support people and causes we love, money is good. Given the central place in our lives by trying to amass more and more and more, money makes us unhappy and frustrated (as people who give money the central place in their lives soon discover) – because we find we can never get enough.

         Jesus’ personal religion taught the law of tithing: giving the Lord out of gratitude, the first claim on our money and possessions. For most Catholics that seems so out of reach to be almost preposterous. There is one place in our country, however, where tithing is a reality: the diocese of Wichita, Kansas. There, after decades of teaching, tithing is all but universal. One consequence is that whereas all other dioceses are struggling to maintain Catholic schools in the face of today’s rising costs, all the Catholic schools in the Wichita diocese are tuition free! Another consequence: the Wichita diocese has almost as many seminarians as does our own archdiocese of St. Louis – which has five times the Catholic population of Wichita.   

Think about that, friends. Above all, pray about it.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015


Homily for November 6th, 2015: Luke 16:1-8.         

“The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” From antiquity Bible commentators have disputed about who is meant by “the master.” Is he the man’s employer – or Jesus himself? It is difficult to believe that the praise can have come from an employer who has just told his steward – we would call him a manager -- that he is about to be fired. So the praise must come from Jesus himself. How is that possible? Clever the manager may have been. But honest? Hardly. How can Jesus praise what all can see is a swindle?

          Jesus does not praise the manger’s dishonesty. He praises the man’s ability to recognize his desperate situation. For him, it is now or never. Jesus addresses the parable to those who remain indifferent to his message. The story is Jesus’ attempt to shake them out of their complacency. His message confronted them with the need to decide: for him, or against him. To postpone this decision, to continue living as if nothing had changed, with the attitude of “business-as-usual”, was in fact to decide against Jesus. That meant disaster. Trapped in what looks like a hopeless situation, the manager cleverly found a way out and acted while there was still time. It is this cleverness and enterprise which Jesus commends, not the man’s dishonesty.

Jesus Christ asks us for the same decision today: for him, or against him. It is not a once-for-all decision – something like learning to ride a bicycle: once you’ve learned, you know it for life. Our decision for Jesus Christ needs to be renewed every day.

For those who are trying to renew their decision for Jesus Christ every day, joy awaits, beyond our imagining: eternal life with Him who alone can fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts.


Wednesday, November 4, 2015


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B.  Mark 12:38-44.
AIM: Through the example of the widow=s generosity to deepen the hearers= faith.
The Scripture commentators tell us that people who wished to make offerings to the Jerusalem Temple in Jesus= day handed them to the priest on duty, who announced the amount, and what it was for, before depositing the offering in the appropriate urn. This explains how Jesus could know the amount given by the poor widow in the gospel reading we have just heard. The commentators believe she wanted to make an Aunrestricted gift.@ Such offerings were used to purchase animals for the Temple sacrifices. Her gift did not benefit the poor or some other Agood cause.@ It was for the sole honor of God.
Such a gift, especially from a woman who was herself poor, was sure to provoke criticism. The gospels record this criticism in the case of the woman who anointed Jesus= feet with costly perfume. AWhy this waste?@ some of the bystanders ask indignantly. The perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor. (Cf. Mark 14:5)
This criticism will always be heard whenever people offer gifts for the sole honor of God: to build or decorate a church, for instance. Such gifts can never be justified in purely this-worldly, utilitarian terms. They can be justified only on the basis of faith. And for those with faith, no justification is necessary.
Faith alone can justify the widow=s gift. And faith alone can motivate such a gift. That is what Jesus emphasizes in his comment. The utilitarian, worldly view sees the woman=s action as, at best, insignificant B what good is so trifling a gift?; at worst, a scandal B that a woman so poor herself should give all she had to live on, and not even for a Agood cause,@ but simply to be wasted for God.
Jesus sees her action from the perspective of faith, which is the perspective of God. God looks not at the outward action, nor at appearances. God looks at the heart. In God=s eyes what counts, therefore, is not the size of the gift, but its motive. The wealthy contributors were motivated at least in part by the desire for human recognition and praise. They=re the people Jesus is talking about at the beginning of today=s gospel. They like Aseats of honor in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets.@ The widow can expect no such recognition. Her gift is too insignificant to be noticed. For God, however, no gift is too small provided it is made in the spirit of total self-giving that comes from faith and is nourished by faith.
Jesus recognizes this generosity in the widow. She gives all that she has to live on for that day. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant.  She could easily have kept one for herself. Human prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, disregarding prudence, trusting in God alone.
Jesus refers to the totality of the widow=s gift when he says that she has given Amore than all the others.@ They calculated how much they could afford to give. In the widow=s case calculation could lead to only one conclusion: she could not afford to give anything. Her poverty excused her from giving at all. She refuses to calculate. She prefers instead to trust in Him for whom Aall things are possible@ (Mark 9:23, 10:27, 14:36).
Mark=s choice of this little incident to conclude his account of Jesus= public ministry is an example of the artistry with which he has composed this seemingly simple gospel, the shortest of the four. Immediately following this story Mark gives us Jesus= teaching about Athe last days.@ He then moves swiftly to the Passover, Last Supper, and crucifixion. In saying that this poor widow has contributed all that she had,@ Jesus is anticipating his own total self-giving, soon to be consummated on Calvary. There he would give all that he had, even life itself. 
This poor widow, unnamed and known to us by this single act, shows us better than long descriptions what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship will always seem foolish, even mad, to those who live by worldly wisdom.
C       How foolish, many people say, for a young man or woman to forego marriage and a family in order to become a religious Sister or Brother, or a priest.
C       How foolish for a mother whose husband=s earnings can cover all the family=s needs to forego the extra income and prestige of her own career in order to Astay at home and bake cookies,@ as a feminist politician said some years ago, pouring scorn on women to undertake the arduous task of full-time motherhood and child-rearing B something admirable which deserves recognition and honor.    
C       How foolish to remain faithful to marriage vows B taken years ago Afor better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death@ B when the one to whom those vows were made has lost the bloom of youth, married life has become routine and flat, and no longer offers the zest and excitement which someone younger is offering with open arms and open heart.
Every one of those sacrifices is foolish, even mad, to those without faith. So was the poor widow=s gift in today=s gospel: folly, utter folly. But the folly which inspired her sacrifice was divine. She had a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world: the wisdom of faith. With her small gift she takes her place alongside the other great biblical heroes of faith, from Abraham to Mary, who set their minds first on God=s kingdom, confident that their needs would be provided by Him who (as Jesus reminds us) Aknows that you have need of these things@ (Luke 12:30). This poor widow is one of those whom Jesus was talking about when he said: AFear not, little flock; for your Father has chosen to give you the Kingdom@ (Luke 12:32).

This widow is also one of that Ahuge crowd which no one can count@ (Rev. 7:9) whom we celebrated on All Saints= Day B those whose faith inspired them to sacrifice all for Jesus Christ, and who in so doing received from him the Ahundredfold reward@ that he promised (Mark 10:30).

Now, in this hour, Jesus is inviting each one of us to join that happy company: to sacrifice all, that we may receive all. He challenges us to begin today!


Homily for November 5th, 2015: Luke 15:1-10.

          Had Jesus said, “There is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents,” we’d say: “Well sure.” But that is not all that Jesus said. He added a word to that sentence. “There is more joy in heaven,” he actually said, “than over ninety-nine people who have no need of repentance.” How do we respond to that? I think the first response that comes to most of is: “Now, wait a minute. Shouldn’t there be some joy at least over the ninety-nine who have need of repentance?” 

          To answer to that question we need to ask another question: Who are these ninety-nine who have no need of repentance? Do you know anyone like that? I don’t. Oh, I know many people who think they have no need of repentance. But they are wrong. How can there be any joy over people who are so mistaken about their true spiritual state? We all fall short at some time, and in some way. We all need to repent, the saints included. Catholics have always believed that the only person who has never sinned, and has therefore no need to repent, is the Lord’s mother, Mary.

          The two parables in today’s gospel tell us that God’s love for us is not measured, limited, or prudent. It is, judged by human standards, over the top, reckless. For a shepherd to leave the whole flock of sheep untended, in order to find just one who had strayed, risked turning a minor misfortune, the loss of one, into a major disaster: the dispersal of the whole flock. For the woman who has lost a single coin from the family’s meager savings to throw a party which surely cost far more than the one coin lost and then found, was crazy. Could Jesus have remembered his mother doing something like that during his boyhood? It is quite possible.

          The two parables are Jesus’ answer to his critics’ complaint at the beginning of today’s gospel: “This man receives sinners, and eats with them.” What for those critics was a scandal is, for us, good news. It tells us that however far we stray, the Lord is close to us. His love for us has no limit, and no end. That is the good news. That is the gospel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Homily for Nov. 4th, 2015: St. Charles Borromeo.

          Today’s saint, Charles Borromeo, was born in 1538 in a castle on the shore of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. His father was a count, his mother the sister of a future pope. From birth, therefore, Charles was surrounded by privilege and wealth. Remembering Jesus’ words about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God (cf. Lk 18:24), we would hardly expect that a child so privileged would become a saint.

          Though handicapped by a speech impediment, he became a doctor of both civil and canon or church law at age 21. Shortly thereafter his maternal uncle was elected Bishop of Rome, taking the title of Pius IV. The new pope soon made his nephew, then only 22 and not yet ordained priest, a cardinal and bishop of Milan in northwest Italy – a classic case of nepotism. Ordained a priest at age 24, Charles was detained by his papal uncle in Rome, to assist in the government of the Church. Only two years later was he able to enter his diocese, which had been without a resident bishop for eighty years.

          During the only 18 years which remained to him, Charles worked tirelessly for Church renewal and reform, despite embittered opposition from the civil authorities in Milan, and many of the clergy. At one point one of his priests actually discharged a gun at his bishop. The assassination attempt failed due only to the primitive nature weaponry in that day. When the plague broke out in Milan, causing most of the clergy and civil officials of the city to flee, Charles remained behind to nurse the sick personally.

Exhausted by his labors, Charles Borromeo died at age 46 in the night of November 3 to 4, 1584, having spoken the Latin words, Ecce venio – “Behold I come.” Just seventeen year later, the then reigning pope, Paul V, declared him a saint.

Charles Borromeo is a singular example of what the angel Gabriel told a Jewish teenager named Mary, when she asked how she could possibly be the mother of God’s son: “Nothing is impossible for God” (Lk. 1:37).

Monday, November 2, 2015


Homily for November 3rd, 2015. Luke 14:15-24.
          Some Scripture commentators suggest that the host in the parable we have just heard was a tax collector. His party is an attempt to break into society by inviting the leading citizens of the town and providing lavish entertainment. His guests have all told him, in the offhand way that people do, that  they’d be happy to come to his house.  “Any time,” they’ve all said. When the invitations arrive, however, it turns out that these acceptances were insincere. The excuses offered are so flimsy as to be almost pathetic.
          Jesus’ hearers would have smiled as they heard of the frustration of the host’s plans. He thought he was going to make a big splash. Now all his guests have stood him up. The man’s growing anger enhances the humor of the situation. He resolves to repay the insults of his intended guests with an insult of his own. He will give a party for people whom those originally invited hold in contempt. That will show them! 
          The parable, like many others, contains a warning — but also good news. The warning is the exclusion of those first invited. They represent Jesus’ critics: people confident that the best seats at the banquet were reserved for them. They assume that there will be other opportunities, other invitations. Too late, they discover that this was their final chance.    
         The parable’s good news is contained in the description of the substitute guests. They are a portrait of Luke’s own Christian community: “the poor, the blind, the crippled, the lame.” The parable’s good news is its assurance that God welcomes not just the fit and strong, people whose good moral character makes them role models and leaders. The Lord who was reproached in his earthly life for welcoming sinners and eating with them continues to do the same today. To claim a place at his table we need to show him not our successes but our failures; not our strength but our weakness; not health but sickness.
          Preaching on this parable back in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI told about bishops from Western countries, Europe especially, telling him on their visits to Rome about how people refuse the Lord’s invitation to his banquet. Yet at the same time, the Pope said, “I also hear this, precisely from the Third World: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth, and that people crowd into God’s hall for the banquet.”
          Are you among them?

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Homily for All Souls’ Day 2015.
          Yesterday, on All Saints’ Day, we reflected that we are never alone. I told you what Pope Benedict XVI said at his installation of Bishop of Rome in April 2005: “Those who believe are never alone B neither in life nor in death.@ God never intended us to be Lone Rangers, I said. In baptism he made us members of his great family, the Catholic Church. He wants us to support one another. One way we do so is by praying for one another.
          Our present Pope Francis is quite different from his predecessor. Yet he proclaims the same gospel. Here is something he said on All Souls’ Day two years ago. “The communion of Saints goes beyond earthly life, it goes beyond death and lasts forever. This union among us, goes beyond and continues in the afterlife; it is a spiritual union that stems from Baptism is not severed by death but, thanks to the Resurrection of Christ, is destined to find its fullness in eternal life. There is a profound and indissoluble bond among all those who are still pilgrims in this world - among us - and those who have crossed the threshold of death to enter into eternity. All the baptized down here on earth, the souls in Purgatory and all the Blessed who are already in Paradise make up one great family. This communion between earth and Heaven is brought about especially through intercessory prayer.”
          Intercessory prayer (also called suffrages) refers to our prayer for the departed, and to their prayer for us. He is what the Catechism says. “The Church in its pilgrim members [that is in us who are still alive], from the very earliest days of the Christian religion, has honored with great respect the memory of the dead and ‘because it is a holy and a wholesome thought to pray for the dead that they may be loosed from their sins’ she offers her suffrages for them. Our prayer for them is capable not only of helping them but also of making their intercession for us effective.” (No. 958)
          This is what we do in a special way on All Souls’ Day.