Friday, December 4, 2015


Homily for December 5th, 2015: Matthew 9:35-10:1,5a, 6-8.       
          “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” Jesus tells us. Or, as another translation has it: “Freely you have received, freely give.” Can you think of something that is all your own, and not a gift from God? Many people might cite their achievements, the money they have earned, the awards they may have received. Would any of that be possible without the talents and abilities God has given us? When you stop to think about it, everything we have is given to us by God. There is one exception: our sins. They are all our own. Everything else comes ultimately from God – not because we are good enough to deserve God’s gifts – for none of us is. God showers his gifts on us not as rewards for being good, but simply because He is so good that he wants to share his goodness and love with us. 
          What is the appropriate response? We can describe it in a single word: thanksgiving. Here’s a question we all need to ask ourselves from time to time: Am I a thankful person? If we are people of prayer – and you would hardly be here if you weren’t – then we’re probably pretty good at asking God for things. Are we equally good at saying “Thank you,” when our requests are granted?
I was born before universal air travel. In my childhood I remember hearing about the Pastor of a wealthy parish who regretted that so many of his parishioners were lost at sea every summer. When they asked him, How come? he explained: “Lots of my people ask every June for Masses for a safe passage to Europe. Come Labor Day I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Masses of thanksgiving requested for a safe return.”
What is the best way to thank God for all his gifts? The closing words of our gospel reading tell us: “Freely you have received, freely give.” In other words: we can’t keep God’s gifts, unless we give them away.” And it gets even better. When we do give them away, they come back to us. If you doubt that, just try it!


Thursday, December 3, 2015


Second Sunday in Advent, Year C. Baruch 5:1-9; Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6.

AIM: To explain the three “comings” of Christ which Advent celebrates. 

          About this time each year young children grow excited at the approach of Christmas. Their mood of expectancy grows each time they see a package brought into the house, to be put away until the Great Day. Expectancy is the mood of all three readings today. They also have a common theme: the great event to which the writers look forward will be the result not of human effort or of historical development, but of God’s intervention. 

          Our first reading opens on a note expectation: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  Addressing the holy city, the prophet tells Jerusalem to rejoice because its exiled inhabitants are about to return. Their captivity was a purely natural event, the result of military defeat. Their liberation, on the other hand, will be more than human.  “Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you.”

          We hear this same note of expectation in the gospel. John the Baptist proclaims that God’s decisive intervention in the life of his people, so long predicted by the prophets, is now at hand: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. ... The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  

          The second reading is quieter in tone. But it too looks forward to a bright future. Paul sees this future, however, not as the result of human effort, but of God’s faithfulness. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
          The mood of expectancy common to all these readings is the mood of Advent, a word which means “coming.” Advent celebrates the coming of Christ at Bethlehem. But it also celebrates two further comings: Christ’s final coming at the end of time; and between these two, Advent celebrates an intermediate coming here and how.

          None of these three comings of Jesus Christ is the result of anything that we do. They are the result of what God does. Jesus’ first coming at Bethlehem was the result of God’s intervention not only in history, but also in biology. Jesus did not come like all other human children, through the God-given process of human procreation. Jesus came not from within humanity, like all of us. He came from outside humanity. He took his human nature from his mother. But he had God for his Father.

          Christ’s final coming at the end of time will be similar. It will not come about through human development or historical evolution. It will be the termination of history, God’s final intervention from without, as surely as Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was God’s intervention from without. 

          The encouragement these readings give us to expect God’s decisive intervention from without is important for us Americans. Since the first settlers came to these shores almost four centuries ago, we Americans have thought of ourselves as a “can do” people. We call our country “the land of unbounded opportunity.” For millions it has been just that. That is wonderful, cause for deep gratitude.

          Today, however, we are painfully conscious of the limitations on our opportunities. Beginning with the Vietnam war, we have suffered a series of painful humiliations at the hands of smaller and weaker nations. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the pain and humiliation have come not from nations but from small groups of deeply embittered, hate-filled individuals. The United States is still the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. Yet only a starry eyed optimist could claim that we are today in all respects the masters of our fate of the captains of our national destiny. 

          Discovering the limitations on our opportunities and independence has been painful for us Americans. It might have been less painful if we had paid more attention to Holy Scripture. In the Bible salvation is never the result of human effort alone. Scripture tells us that salvation is God’s free gift.  

          Though Jesus speaks repeatedly in the gospels about the reign of God, or God’s kingdom, nowhere does he suggest that God’s kingdom will come through our own efforts alone. God’s kingdom is something that breaks in on us from outside human history, the result of God’s intervention in the historical process. 

          God’s kingdom, and our salvation, will not come without our effort. But they will not be the result of our effort. The Bible teaches that all our efforts to serve God are a response to what God has already done for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (5:8).  Every effort we make to keep God’s commandments in an attempt to thank God for the gift he has given us in his Son. 

          Advent looks forward expectantly to the celebration at Christmas of Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem. That was a coming in weakness (as every baby is weak), and in obscurity: the only people who showed up to celebrate were some shepherds and three crackpot astrologers from God knows where. Advent also looks forward to Christ’s final coming at the end of time. That will be a coming in power and in glory. 
          Between these two comings of Christ, however, there is an intermediate coming, here and now. Like Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem, this intermediate coming is hidden and obscure. Yet like Christ’s final coming, his present intermediate coming is a thing of power. Jesus spoke of this intermediate coming when he said: “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). 

          This interior coming of the Lord in the hearts and minds of those who love him is inconspicuous. It is not something we can measure or observe. Most of the time we cannot feel it. Yet it is a coming in power, for it is nothing less than the presence within us of God’s Holy Spirit.

          It is so that his presence within us may be renewed that we are here: to receive again the Spirit promised by Jesus Christ to all who love him. In obscurity and weakness he came first at Bethlehem. In power and great glory he will come at the end of time. Inconspicuously, quietly, but with great power he wants to come right now – to you.           


Homily for December 4th, 2015: Matthew 9:27-31          

          “Do you believe that I can do this?” Jesus asks the two blind men who ask for healing. “Yes, Lord,” they respond. This declaration of faith is crucial. Faith opens us up to the action of God, as the sunshine opens up the flowers to the sun’s life giving warmth and the morning dew. Jesus reaffirms the close connection between faith and healing when he says: “Let it be done to you according to your faith.” Whereupon he touches the two and they are immediately healed.

          Now comes a surprise. “See that no one knows this,” he commands. Why? Bible scholars have been puzzling over this question ever since the gospels were written. The most convincing answer seems to be that Jesus did not wish to be known as a sensational wonder-worker. If all those who preach Jesus Christ today were to follow his example, a number of hot gospelers on TV have to go off the air. In Jesus’ day many of his people thought that when the long awaited Messiah came, he would be a person of power and glory. The only power that Jesus had was the power of love. His only glory was acceptance of the cross – an instrument of shame, degradation and death.

          Pope Benedict gives perhaps the best explanation for Jesus’ unwillingness to reveal his true identity until after his resurrection. Identifying himself publicly as Messiah, the anointed servant of God, “would undoubtedly have been misinterpreted in the public climate of Israel [Pope Benedict writes] and would necessarily have led to false hopes in him and on the other hand to political action against him. … The true Messiah is the ‘Son of Man,’ who is condemned to death as the precondition for his entrance into glory as the one who rose from death after three days.” (Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, pp. 297f)

          The two newly healed blind men know nothing of all this, of course. Overwhelmed with gratitude for their newfound sight, “they went out [Matthew tells us] and spread word of him throughout all that land.” Now, after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection has removed all false expectations of the Messiah, Jesus invites us to do the same: with words when necessary, but in any case through a joy no less intense and contagious than that of the two men in today’s gospel: previously blind, but now able to see.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Homily for December 5th, 2013: Matthew 7:21, 24-27.

          “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells us, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Who are the people who say, “Lord, Lord”? We are! Every time we pray – and your presence here shows that you do pray – we are saying, “Lord, Lord.” God asks for more, Jesus is telling us. If our prayers do not bear fruit in our lives, they are useless.

          The parable of the two houses which follows shows the difference between words and deeds. It may reflect something Jesus himself had witnessed: a house built on sandy, low lying ground, swept away by heavy rains and storms. Those of us who live in the Mississippi valley witness that every decade or so. Houses built, despite all previous experience, on the floodplain are swept away, or rendered uninhabitable, when the Father of Waters, as the native Americans called the river, overflow its banks. Meanwhile, those who build on higher ground, with solid foundations, experience no loss at all.

          What does it mean to build on sand? It means basing our lives and hopes on things that are unstable and fleeting: money, success, fame – even health and prosperity. To build on rock means to build our lives on God. The Bible often compares God to solid rock. We have an example in today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, “Trust in the Lord forever,” he writes, “for the Lord is an eternal Rock.” Simply calling out ‘Lord, Lord,” is useless, if the good things we do are not done for Him, but for our own glory, to impress other people.

          Here is a prayer written by a man who built on God: Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, a hero to his people for defending them, at great personal cost, during the German occupation of World War I. It goes like this: “O Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will. Amen.”

          I pray that prayer myself, every day.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Homily for December 2nd, 2015: Matthew 15:29-37.

          This story of Jesus feeding the vast crowd in the wilderness was clearly a favorite with Christians in the decades after Jesus’ resurrection. We find it told, with variations, six times over in the four gospels.

What accounts for its popularity? I can think of three reasons. First, it shows Jesus’ ability to solve what, to us, is insoluble. Second, it is an example of what is sometimes called “The Law of the gift.” And finally, it helps us understand the central Christian mystery: the Eucharist. Let me speak briefly about each of these three.

Feeding a vast multitude with seven loaves of bread and a few fish was clearly impossible. Not, however, for Jesus. The story tells us that when we place our resources, however inadequate they may be, into the hands of Jesus Christ, we discover that they are inadequate no longer. Jesus is the Son and representative of the God of the impossible.

Second, the story helps us understand what is sometimes called “the law of the gift.” This tells us that when we give something to the Lord, it is not lost. It comes back to us. But it comes back transformed, and enlarged. That is because God is, in the words of the theologians, sufficient unto himself. He needs nothing.

Third and finally, what we offer to God in the Eucharist -- a little bread and a small quantity of wine, gifts every bit as insignificant as the seven loaves of bread and a few fish offered to Jesus in this story -- comes back to us transformed into the Body and Blood of God’s Son: all his love, all his goodness, all his  strength, all his purity and compassion, all his willingness to forgive.

And friends, when we have Him – Jesus – we have everything.

Monday, November 30, 2015


Homily for December 1, 2015: Luke 10:21-24.

          The seventy-two have just returned from their missionary journeys to tell Jesus: “Even the demons are subject to us” (Luke 10:17). Jesus responds with the spontaneous hymn of praise to his heavenly Father which we have just heard: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.” The wise and learned are those who fail to respond to Jesus, because they feel no need for God. Jesus’ disciples are the childlike, whose hearts and minds are open to the Lord.

          Who are today's wise and learned? They teach in our elite universities; they run the great foundations, with names like Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates. They dominate Hollywood and the media. With few exceptions they consider the killing of unborn children whose birth might be an inconvenience to be a wonderful advance in humanity’s ascent from ignorance and superstition to enlightenment and freedom. They charge those of us who consider abortion for any reason a crime and a grave sin with waging a “war on women.” They look down with patronizing scorn, disbelief, and hatred on those who insist that life is precious at every stage: in the womb, but also in old age, when Grandma’s mind has gone ahead of her, and her meaningful life is over. When we insist that marriage is the union of one man and one woman; and that re-defining marriage is an injustice to children, who have a right to a father and a mother, they denounce us as bigots and homophobes.

          Who, on the other hand, are today’s childlike? We are! We pray in this Mass that our merciful and loving Lord may keep us always so: aware that we can never make it on our own; that we are dependent every day, every hour, and every minute on the One who came to show us what the invisible God is like; who always walks with us on the journey of life; and who is waiting for each one of us at the end of the road – to welcome us home!


Sunday, November 29, 2015


Homily for November 30th, 2015: Matthew 4:18-22.

Simon and his brother Andrew were fishermen. Yet at Jesus’ call, they immediately leave their nets and boat and follow him. Their nets and boat were their livelihood, their security. They were burning their bridges behind them. Why? If we could have asked them, I think they might have said something like this: “You would have to have known this man Jesus. There was something about him that made it impossible to say No.”

God still calls today. He called each one of us when we were still in our mothers’ wombs. He calls us to walk with him, to be so full of his love that others will see the joy on our faces and want what we have. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught.

          Perhaps you’re thinking: “I could never do that.” You’re wrong. Here is a list that came to me in an e-mail, years ago, of some of the great people in the Bible. Every one of them had a reason for thinking God could not use them. So the next time you feel like God can’t use you, remember: 

“Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Jacob was a liar. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused by his brothers. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Sampson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy thought they were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah thought himself unworthy. Jonah ran away from God’s call. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Martha was a perpetual worrier. The Samaritan woman who spoke with Jesus at the well was five times divorced. Zaccheus was too small. Peter denied Christ. The disciples fell asleep while praying. At Jesus’ arrest, they all forsook him and fled. Paul was too religious. Timothy had an ulcer. And Lazarus was dead!” 

          So what’s your excuse? Whatever it may be, God can still use you to your full potential. Besides, you aren’t the message. You’re only the messenger.

          When you were born, you were crying, and everyone around you was smiling. Start today (if you haven’t started already) living your life so that when you die, you’re the only one smiling, and everyone around you is crying.