Friday, November 13, 2015


Homily for November 14th, 2015: Luke 18:1-8.

Most of Jesus= parables involve a similarity between the central figure and God. In this case the story turns on the dissimilarity between the corrupt judge and God. It is a Ahow much more@ story. If even so depraved a judge as this one grants the petitioner her request in the end, how much more will God grant the prayers of those who ask him for their needs. God, Jesus is saying, is not like the corrupt judge. It is not difficult to get his attention. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God is approachable.

What is the point of praying, however, if God knows our needs before we do, and better than we do? To that question there is no fully satisfying answer. Prayer, like everything to do with God, is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about it, but that what we can understand is always less than the whole. One thing is certain. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. It opens us up to the action of God in our lives, as the sun=s rays open the flowers to their life-giving warmth and the nourishing moisture of dew and rain.

Prayer also reminds us of our need for God. How easily we forget that need, especially when the sun shines on us and things go well. Then we start to think we can make it on our own: by our cleverness, by luck, by pulling strings, by hard work, even by being so good that God will have to reward us.

We need to be reminded again and again that we can never make it on our own. No matter how clever we are; no matter how much luck we have; no matter how many strings we pull; no matter how hard we work or how hard we try to be good. None of those things is certain, Jesus tells us. There is certainty only in God. He alone can satisfy our deepest desires. Hence Jesus= final, insistent question. He is putting it to us, right now:

   AWhen the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?”


Thursday, November 12, 2015


Homily for November 13th, 2015: Luke 17:26-37.

             Jesus continues his teaching about the end time, which began with yesterday’s gospel reading. The end time refers to Jesus’ return in power and glory, a total contrast to his first coming as a helpless infant, in weakness and obscurity. In today’s gospel the emphasis is on the unexpectedness of the Lord’s return. On page after page of Holy Scripture we see God acting in ways that no one could have expected.

Jesus gives two examples familiar to his Jewish hearers. No one expected the flood which swallowed up all but those who embarked in the ark which Noah built at God’s command. No one save Lot foresaw the catastrophe which befell the wicked inhabitants of Sodom.

Here are two more examples of the unexpected. The younger son Joseph was hated by his older brothers, who sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. There Joseph is thrown into prison on a trumped up capital charge – only to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom and the savior from death through famine not only of the Egyptians but of his whole family, including his resentful brothers.

          At age forty Moses had to flee Egypt after failing to save his people from slavery. Forty years later, with Moses’ life for all intents and purposes over, God summons him from a life of obscurity to do what he had miserably failed to do forty years before: liberate his entire people from bondage. These biblical stories, and many more like them, have given birth to our modern saying: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

          How do we prepare for the unexpected? Jesus’ answer is clear: by living with our eyes directed not upon ourselves and our own interests, but on the Lord God.  That is what Jesus means when he says: “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will save it.”

If we try to do that, then, when the Lord comes – whether to us individually through the angel of death, or for all of us through the Lord’s return in glory – his coming, though unexpected, will be a day not of terror, but of joy – the joy of seeing face-to-face the One who alone can satisfy the deepest longings and desires of our hearts; and who told us during his short time on earth: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours and your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)


Wednesday, November 11, 2015


33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, B.  Hebrews 10:11-14, 18.
AIM: To explain the doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice and its implications for us today. 
Mother Teresa, whom happily we can now call ABlessed,@ used to say: AThe worst disease in the world today is loneliness.@ The longing to give ourselves in love, and to know that we are loved in return, is universal. We seek the fulfillment of this longing in friendship and marriage. And beyond these human relationships, people from the beginning of time have sought a remedy for the deepest longings of their hearts, and their inner emptiness, through fellowship with God.
From time immemorial the search for fellowship with God has led people to offer God sacrifice. Some sacrifices sought to atone for sin, others were offered in thanksgiving for blessings received, or to reinforce prayer for future blessings.  Sacrifice may also take the form of a religious meal, through which the worshipers seek to enter into communion with God. Jesus= religion permitted the offering of sacrifice only in the temple at Jerusalem, which Jews considered the dwelling place of God on earth.
Israel=s prophets pointed out, however, that there was a fundamental flaw in the sacrifices offered to God. Since God was the creator of everything, and thus their true owner, he did not need the material things offered to him in sacrifice.  God did not want the gifts which were offered to him. He wanted the givers. Yet this was the one thing people could not offer. And to the extent that people did try to offer themselves to God in a spiritual manner, they were offering something tainted by sin, and hence unworthy of God. God, being all-holy, deserved an untainted and perfect offering.
The realization that the sacrifices offered in the Jerusalem temple never really made up for sin lies behind the opening sentence in our second reading: Aevery priest [and the author is referring to Jewish priests in the Jerusalem temple] stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins.@
It is part of the good news that Jesus came to proclaim that this failure at the heart of his people=s religion has been ended. A perfect sacrifice has been offered to God once: one truly worthy of him, one that does make up for and take away the guilt of all sins for all time. This perfect sacrifice has actually achieved what all previous sacrificial offerings tried to achieve, without success. It has put an end to human isolation and loneliness by bringing us into loving fellowship with the One who alone can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts: God himself.
This perfect sacrifice was offered by Jesus Christ. From childhood he lived always without sin, Atempted in every way that we are,@ as this same letter to the Hebrews says (4:15), yet always remaining perfectly obedient to his Father=s will.  Jesus consummated this offering on his sinless life to his Father on Calvary, uttering as he died there the well known words: ANow it is finished@ (Jn. 19:30). 
Our second reading is referring to Jesus= self-offering when it contrasts the repeated offering of material sacrifices in the Jerusalem temple, Awhich can never take away sins,@ with the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. ABut this one offered one sacrifice for sins, and took his seat forever at the right hand of God  ... For by one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin.@ 
That last phrase presents us with a difficulty. It seems to contradict the Church=s teaching that there is a daily offering for sin: the sacrifice of the Mass.  This confronts us with a dilemma. Either Jesus= self-offering, consummated on Calvary, was truly all-sufficient, unique, and unrepeatable B in which case it is difficult to see how we can say that the Mass is a sacrifice. Or the Mass is a sacrifice B in which case Jesus= sacrifice on Calvary was not all-sufficient. To resolve this dilemma we must ask: what is the relationship between the Mass and Calvary?
To answer that question we need to go behind Calvary to the Last Supper.  There Jesus used the familiar symbolism of the Jewish Passover meal to interpret for his friends what he would do the next day. Giving thanks to God over bread and wine, which is the Jewish way of blessing them, Jesus said: AThis is my body ... This is my blood.@ But he said more. He called the bread Amy body given for you.@  The wine he called Amy blood poured out for you.@ That is Jewish sacrificial language. Jesus was referring to the sacrifice of his body and blood on Calvary, where his body would be broken and his blood poured out. 
Finally, Jesus gave his friends a command: ADo this in my memory.@ When, in obedience to that command, we Ado this@ with the bread and wine, both Jesus himself, and his sacrificial self-offering to the Father, are truly present with us.  Jesus= sacrifice is not repeated. Rather it is Amade present.@ As the Catechism says; AThe Eucharist is ...  a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit.@ (No. 1366)
The Mass, however, is not merely a mental recalling of what Jesus did at the Last Supper and Calvary. Here our crucified and risen Lord is truly present. Spiritually, which means invisibly but truly, the unique and unrepeatable past event of the Last Supper and Calvary is made present as we celebrate that event in sacred signs. Those signs, bread and wine, make present through their consecration both him whom they signify and his action for us. Here time and space fall away.Here we are able to stand with Mary and the Beloved Disciple at the cross, with but one exception: we cannot see Jesus with our bodily eyes, only with the eyes of faith. 
Is it any wonder that, down through the ages, the Mass has been so precious to Catholics? One of them, Mother Teresa, said: AI couldn=t survive one day with Jesus in the Eucharist.@ Let me tell you about another, the Vietnamese Bishop Francis Xavier Van Thuan. When the Communists took over South Vietnam in 1975, he was arrested and imprisoned for thirteen years. He died in Rome as a cardinal in 2002. He writes:

AWhen I was arrested, I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day I was permitted to write to my people asking for the most necessary things: clothes, toothpaste. I wrote, >Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach ache.= The faithful understood right away. They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, >Medicine for stomach aches.= They also sent me some hosts, hidden in a flashlight. 

AThe police asked me: >You have stomach aches?= >Yes,= I told them. >Here=s some medicine for you,= they said.

AI will never be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body.

AEach time I celebrated Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. Each day in reciting the words of consecration, I confirmed with all my heart and soul a new pact, an eternal pact between Jesus and me through his blood mixed with mine. Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!@

Those words challenge us. Does the Mass mean, for us, even a fraction of what it meant to that imprisoned bishop?



The bishop=s story is taken from Francis Xavier Van Than, Testimony of Hope (Boston: Pauline Books, 2000) p. 131.


Homily for November 12th, 2015: Luke 17:20-25.

          We are nearing the end of the year in the Church’s calendar. Two weeks from Sunday, the twenty-ninth of November, is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church year. As we approach the threshold of this new year, the Church gives us readings about what has traditionally been called “the end time,” when Jesus will come again: not as he first came in Bethlehem, in the weakness and obscurity of a baby, born in a little village on the edge of the then known world; but in an event so dramatic that all will know that history’s final hour has struck.  

          From Jesus’ day to this people have wanted to know when this will be. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that even he does not know this. “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).

Hence, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, when people claim to have a timetable, we should pay no attention to them: “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” Jesus’ return will be dramatic, but also unexpected. “For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will he Son of Man be in his day.”

Then comes a shocker: “First he [the Son of Man] must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.” Friends, this suffering and rejection continue today. Two years ago, Cardinal Dolan of New York, in his final address as outgoing President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, spoke about the worldwide persecution of Christians today. The 20th century, he said, saw the death of half the total number of Christian martyrs since Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in the not yet 15 years of this century, a million Christians have already died because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Those martyrs are our brothers and sisters in the family of God, Dolan said. We must pray for them, as well as for those still living, in Iraq and Syria but also elsewhere, who are facing cruel persecution. Pope Francis has said the same many times. I invite you to do this in a special way in this Mass. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Homily for November 11th, 2015: Luke 17: 11-19.

Jesus heals ten lepers. In Jesus’ day leprosy was something like AIDS today. Because the disease was incurable, and thought to be contagious, the leper had to live apart, calling out AUnclean, Unclean!@ lest others approach and become infected. So in healing the ten, Jesus was restoring them from a living death to new life. Yet only one comes back to give thanks for his healing. He was a foreigner, despised by Jesus= people. If he goes to the Temple, the priest will probably tell him to get lost. He doesn=t belong to the right religion, or the right people. Related ethnically to the Jews, he doesn=t observe the full Jewish Law. Priests in Jesus= day were also quarantine officials. Only the Samaritan, who lives outside the law, follows the impulse of his heart, returns to Jesus, and gives thanks.  

What about ourselves? Are we grateful people? Do we take time each day to count our blessings, and give thanks to God for them? The Church helps us to be thankful people by placing thanksgiving at the heart of its public prayer. Eucharist, you know, means Athanksgiving.@ The Mass C every Mass C is a public act of thanksgiving to our heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon us. In a few minutes we shall hear once again the familiar story of what Jesus did for us at the Last Supper. AHe took bread and gave you thanks .... When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise.@

Giving thanks to God over something is the Jewish form of blessing. In giving thanks to his heavenly Father for the bread and wine, Jesus was blessing them. And in so doing he was also transforming them: changing their inner reality into his own body and blood. It is because of this miraculous though unseen change that we genuflect to Jesus present in the tabernacle when we come into church. We ring a bell at the consecration, reminding everyone in the church: Jesus is here, right now, in a special way, with a special intensity! The light burning near the tabernacle, day and night, says the same thing. 

Show me someone who is embittered, angry, filled with resentment and hate B and I=ll show you a person who has no time for thanksgiving. But show me a person who radiates peace and joy B and I=ll show you someone who daily and even hourly gives thanks to God for all his blessings. Which of these two persons would you like to be?

Monday, November 9, 2015


Homily for November 10th, 2015: Luke 17:7-10.

          “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” The closing words of our gospel reading today tell us that we never have a claim on God. Even when we have done all that God commands – and which of us has? – we can never sit back and tell God: “I’m waiting for your reward, Lord.”

          That was what the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story of the two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. In his prayer the Pharisee tells God all the good things he has done. And he really has done them. He was a genuinely good and devout man. His good works went far beyond anything that was required.

          The tax collector, on the other hand, knew that he had few if any good deeds to appeal to. He could pray only for God’s mercy: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Yet, Jesus says, it was the tax collector who went home justified – which means “put right with God” – rather than the devout Pharisee. His mistake lay in assuming that his good deeds gave him a claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us, and it is an absolute claim 

          Does that mean that there is no reward for faithful service? Of course not. Jesus speaks often of God’s reward. To experience his reward, Jesus is saying, you must appeal, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s mercy. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”


Sunday, November 8, 2015


Homily for November 9th, 2015: John 2:13-22.

          Was Jesus always meek and mild? The gospel we have just heard shows him angry. Why? To understand Jesus’ anger, we must turn back to the criticism which the prophets made repeatedly of the way their people worshiped God. In cleansing the Temple Jesus was acting out this criticism in a particularly dramatic way.

Repeatedly the prophets emphasized that God was not interested in the offering of material things. He desired the worshipers’ hearts and minds. To come before God with prayers and material offerings, while living in disobedience to God’s law — lying, cheating, stealing, and oppressing the poor — was worse than useless, the prophets said. It cried to heaven for vengeance. That was the consistent message of all Israel’s prophets.

          The demand of the Jewish prophets for pure worship is the background for Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple. Reinforcing his words with actions, Jesus was reminding people that worship can never be a form of barter with God: ‘I’ll give you this, Lord, if you give me that.’ Worship is something we owe to God apart from any thought of reward.

          How important that lesson is for us Catholics. We owe God our worship on Sunday, as well as the worship of obedience to him in daily life, simply because God made us. God has given us all that we are and have, sin excepted. Even the things we have gained through our own initiative and hard work, we have only because of the gifts and abilities which God has given us. One day we shall have to give an account of how we have used all God’s gifts. We owe God our worship also in thanksgiving for the greatest of all his gifts to us: the gift of his Son, who shed his life’s blood to pay the price of our sins.

          Prompted by the celebrating priest in every Mass to lift up our hearts to the Lord, and to give him thanks, we say, “It is right and just.” To which the priest responds: “It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.”

          If you want to know the key to happiness, there it is. Thankful people are happy people: always, and everywhere: no exceptions!