Friday, November 27, 2015


Homily for November 28th, 2015: Luke 21:34-36.

          On this last day of the year in the Church’s calendar she gives us this short gospel reading from Luke’s gospel, just two verses. It contains Jesus’ command: “Be vigilant at all times and pray.”  What wonderful advice to take with us, as we cross the threshold of a new year. 

          But is it realistic? Can we pray always? I asked that question myself more than six decades ago, as a 21-year-old seminarian. The question forced itself on me through the reading a spiritual classic: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. He was a Carmelite lay brother who worked in the kitchen of his monastery in Paris, where he died in 1691. The book tells on how Brother Lawrence was constantly thinking of God, and praying to him, as he worked all day in the kitchen.

Could I do that? I asked myself. What if I decided to think of God during some daily recurring activity? I resolved to think of God every time I went up or downstairs.  I would repeat the holy name of Jesus at each step. I’ve been working on this now for 65 years. I could never tell you how much it has helped me and how much joy it has put into my heart.

Why not try doing something like that yourself? If prayer of the stairs doesn’t appeal to you, what about resolving to turn to God whenever, during the day, you must wait? Every day offers us many such times. We wait in line at the post office or bank, at the supermarket, at the doctor, in traffic – when we walk to or from our cars. Why not turn these empty times into times for prayer? Short prayers are best: “Jesus, help me;” “Thank you, Lord;” “Lord, have mercy.” Or simply the Holy Names, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” – or the name of Jesus alone – repeated with every step, every breath, or every heartbeat. These are perfect prayers which take us straight into presence of Him who loves us more than we can ever imagine, and who is close to us always, even when we stray far from Him.

I leave you with two quotations from Brother Lawrence: “In order to know God we must often think of him; and when we come to love him, we shall then think of him often, for our heart will be where our treasure is."

To which Brother Lawrence adds: “You need not cry very loud. God is closer to us than we think.”


Thursday, November 26, 2015


Homily for November 27th, 2015: Luke 21:29-33.

          On the next to last day of the year in the Church’s calendar, she gives us Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Remembering the boy Samuel’s words in the Jerusalem Temple, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10), we listen to some of Jesus’ words.

-  To Mary and Joseph, thankful to have found their Son in the Temple after a frantic search, the 12-year-old boy speaks his first recorded words: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49) Already, at age 12, Jesus knows that his Father was not Joseph, but God.

-  What gospel reader does not recall Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life”? (Jn. 3:16)

-  Which of us has not found comfort in the words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28ff)?

-  Unforgettable too are Jesus’ words of the terrified young girl just delivered from death by stoning for adultery: “Nor do I condemn you. You may go. But from now on avoid this sin.” (Jn. 8:11)

-  Jesus’ seven last words from the cross have provided inspiration for uncounted thousands of preachers on Good Friday. AFather, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.@ (Lk 23:34) To the penitent thief, crucified next to him: AToday you shall be with me in paradise (Lk 23:43). AWoman, there is your son …son, there is your mother.@ (Jn. 26: 19f). AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ ( Mk. 15:34) AI thirst.@ (Jn. 19:28) “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)

-  Finally Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in the garden of the resurrection: “Do not cling to me … Rather, go to my brothers …) Jn. 20:17.

          Jesus is saying the same to us, right now. 


Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Luke 17:11-19
AIM: To encourage the hearers in thanksgiving 
A man had just sat down to have lunch in a crowded restaurant when another man asked if he could join him. The restaurant was full and there was no other place vacant. AOf course,@ the first man replied. ADo join me.@ Then he bowed his head, as he was accustomed to do, to thank God for the meal he was about to enjoy.  When he raised his head again, the second man asked: ADo you have a headache?@
ANot at all,@ the first man replied. AI was simply thanking God, as I always do, before I eat.@
AOh, you=re one of those,@ his companion replied. AWell, let me tell you something. I never give thanks. I earn my money by hard work. I don=t need to give thanks to anyone before I eat. I just start right in.@
AYou=re just like my dog,@ the first man said. AThat=s what he does too.@
Many people are like that man=s dog. They believe they have earned everything they have. They see no reason to thank God for it. They forget (if they ever knew) that the good things we enjoy were God=s blessings before they became our achievements. 
What did any one of us do to merit being born instead of aborted, as over a million babies are in our country each year? If we had good and loving parents, what did we do to deserve them when so many parents are neither good nor loving?  Why weren=t any of us on one of those four planes on September 11th, 2001? What did any of us do to enjoy sight, hearing, speech, two arms and two legs? There are plenty of people who lack one or more of these basic faculties.
How much did any of us pay God to make us the intelligent, beautiful people we are? Think of all the people who helped us as we were growing up: teachers, friends, relatives. Do we take them for granted? Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if the stars came out only once a year, we would stay up all night to gaze at them.  We=ve seen the stars so often that we hardly ever bother to look at them any more.  How easily we grow accustomed to all the blessings God showers on us, and forget to give thanks for them.
In the gospel reading we just heard how Jesus healed ten lepers. Leprosy was the dread scourge of the ancient world, something like AIDS today. Because the disease was contagious, the leper had to live apart, calling out AUnclean, Unclean!@ lest others approach and become infected. In healing the ten, Jesus was restoring them from a living death to new life. Yet only one came back to give thanks for his healing.
He is a Samaritan, a kind of illegal immigrant, 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 Jewish Law. Priests in Jesus= day were also quarantine officials. The other nine go to the Temple priest to fulfill the law=s provisions. 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? As a schoolboy I used to do that in a special way on my birthday. Kneeling or sitting before Jesus in the tabernacle, I would make a list each year of all the reasons I had to thank God. The list was always a long one; and it was never difficult to compile. It is many years, decades even, since I have done that.  But that youthful practice may be the reason why prayer of thanksgiving has always been easy for me.  I know of no better remedy for depression, anxiety, sadness, or envy than consciously to count one=s blessings C and to thank God for them.  Show me someone who is embittered, angry, filled with resentments and hate B and I=ll show you a person who has little or 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.
On the Italian Thanksgiving Day one year, Pope Benedict said: "We should get into the habit of blessing the Creator for each thing: for air and water, precious elements which are the foundation of life on our planet; as well as for food that, through the fruitfulness of the earth, God gives us for our sustenance."
The Church helps us to be thankful people by placing thanksgiving at the heart of its public prayer. The word 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 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. 
Let me conclude with two quotations. The first is from the great nineteenth century convert, John Henry Newman, at the end of his long life a cardinal. He writes:
AIt would be well if we were in the habit of looking at all we have as God=s gift, undeservedly given, and day by day continued to us solely by His mercy.  He gave; He may take away. He gave us all we have, life, health, strength, reason, enjoyment, the light of conscience; whatever we have good and holy within us; whatever faith we have; whatever of a renewed will; whatever love towards Him; whatever power over ourselves; whatever prospect of heaven. ... While he continues his blessings, we should follow David and Jacob, by living in constant praise and thanksgiving, and in offering up to Him of His own.@         

The medieval German Dominican, Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) says it more briefly: AIf the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is 'Thank you God',..... that would suffice."

I cannot tell you how often I say every day: ALord, you=re so good to me, and I=m so grateful.@ Happy if you can do the same.

On this Thanksgiving Day we give thanks to God for his love, lavished upon us so far beyond our deserving, in ways too many for any of us to count.




Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Homily for November 25th, 2015: Luke 21:12-19.

Was that just in ancient times? No. The persecution of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel continues today. Here is just one example.

On the 4th of November last year a Muslim mob in eastern Pakistan severely beat a Christian couple accused of burning pages of the Koran and then incinerated them in a brick kiln. Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih were bonded laborers at a brick factory. They had 4 children at home who had to watch as their parents died. This brutal murder followed in the wake of a court decision a month previously that condemned a Christian woman to death, Asia Bibi, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2010. Since the 1990s, a number of Christians have been charged with desecrating the Koran or of committing blasphemy. While some sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence, even a mere accusation of blasphemy can incite mob violence.

Dominican Father James Channan, O.P., Director of the Peace Center in Pakistan commented: “The barbaric act by fanatic Pakistani Muslims of burning alive a poor Christian couple was triggered by the false accusation of the burning of some pages of the Koran. Muslims and Christians alike are victimized by controversial blasphemy laws that stipulate life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran and the death sentence for defaming or insulting the Prophet of Islam. These laws are often used to settle personal scores. In any case, who in their sound mind would burn pages of the Koran or insult the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed?

“Most problematic is that these laws are very vague; plus most Pakistanis are illiterate—hence, the application of the law is very easily abused, with people taking matters into their own hands. Extremist Muslims, incited by mere accusations, have murdered other Muslims as well as Christians. But the Christian community is most vulnerable, since an accusation leveled against a single individual can provoke violence aimed at his or her family as well as the entire local community. Homes are seized, churches are burned down, and people are killed. Once a person is accused, his or her life in Pakistan has become impossible. Even if the courts eventually declare an individual innocent, radical Muslims may still murder the person, which is considered an act worthy of praise.”

Seldom do we hear of these atrocities in this land of the free. Our media, already hostile to Christian faith, are not interested. All the more reason, therefore, to pray for our fellow Christians in a world which has become, once again, and age of martyrs. 

Monday, November 23, 2015


Homily for November 24th, 2015: Luke 21:5-11.

          Our gospel reading today is about what is called about the “End Time.” This Temple which you are looking at, Jesus tells his hearers, will not always be here. It will all be torn down one day. Shocked, the hearers want to know when this will happen. What sign will there be that the end is coming?

People have been asking that question ever since. Jesus never answered it. As I told you two weeks ago, there is a passage in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says that even he has no timetable. “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).  

          One piece of information Jesus does give. The end of all things, and Jesus’ return in glory, will be preceded by disturbing signs. Jesus mentions some of them in today’s gospel: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” Jesus is using poetic, dramatic language to describe a world in ferment, and coming apart at the scenes. Who can doubt that we are living in just such a world today?

          Should these signs make us fearful and anxious? Not if we are living for the Lord God, and for others. Let me tell you about a man who did that. His name was Basil Hume, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey in the north of England. The 3 English monks who founded St. Louis Abbey and the Priory School on Mason Road came from Ampleforth over 50 years ago. Basil Hume was their Abbot when Pope Paul VI reached over the heads of all the English bishops to make him Archbishop of Westminster and later a cardinal. In June 1999, when he knew he was dying of cancer, Cardinal Basil wrote these words:

                   “We each have a story, or part of one at any rate, about which we have never been able to speak to anyone. Fear of being misunderstood. Inability to understand. Ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or even shame, make it very difficult for many people. Our true story is not told, or, only half of it is. What a relief it will be to whisper freely and fully into the merciful and compassionate ear of God. That is what God has always wanted. He waits for us to come home. He receives us, his prodigal children, with a loving embrace. In that embrace we start to tell him our story. I now have no fear of death. I look forward to this friend leading me to a world where I shall know God and be known by Him as His beloved son.”

Sunday, November 22, 2015


Homily for November 23rd, 2015: Luke 21:1-4.

In a society without today’s social safety net, a widow was destitute. For the widow in today’s gospel to give all that she had to live on for that day was, most people would say, irresponsible, even scandalous. God looks, however, not at the outward action, but at the heart. For God 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. The widow could expect no recognition. Her gift was 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. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant. She could easily have kept one for herself. Prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, trusting in God alone. That is why Jesus 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, as the angel Gabriel told a young Jewish teenager named Mary, Anothing is impossible@ (Luke 1:38)

This poor widow 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. This poor widow 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 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!