Friday, December 11, 2015


Homily for December 11th, 2015. Luke 1:26-38

          Fourteen days before Christmas you come to Mass, and what do you hear? The story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, telling her that she is to be the mother of God’s Son. What’s going on?

What’s going on is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On December 9th, 1531 a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego, encountered a girl at the hill of Tepeyac who told him to go to the archbishop of nearby Mexico City and ask him to build a shrine there in her honor. Recognizing that the girl was Mary, Juan Diego went to the archbishop and placed Mary’s request before him. Go back to Tepeyac, the archbishop told Juan Diego, and if the girl appears again, tell her I must have some sign to authenticate her request.

Three days later the girl reappeared and told Juan Diego to gather some roses, put them in his cloak, and take them to the archbishop. Although it was cold and long past the time of roses, Juan Diego found plenty of roses atop the normally barren hill. He filled his cloak with them and returned to the archbishop. When he opened his cloak, the flowers fell to the floor, revealing on the inside of the cloak an image of Mary. The image survives today, enshrined in the great church of Guadalupe, at the edge of Mexico City. It is the most visited Marian shrine in the whole world. Despite extensive examinations of the image, there is no scientific explanation of how it was produced or how it has survived intact for almost five centuries..

Nor has there ever been any explanation of how Mary, while still a virgin, conceived the baby boy whose birth we shall celebrate in just 14 days. When Mary herself asked the angel Gabriel who brought her this astounding news how such a thing was possible, she received simply the words: “Nothing will be impossible with God.”
Some thirty-three years later (according to the traditional dating), her Son experienced something no less impossible than his virginal conception. On the third day after his public death by crucifixion, his tomb was found empty, and he started to appear to those who had loved him before. Jesus is not a dead hero from the past. He is our risen and glorified Lord, alive forevermore, holding in his hand the keys of death. He waits for each one of us at the end of life’s road, to lead us to the place he has gone ahead to prepare for us. There we shall experience not just joy, but ecstasy –for we shall see God face to face!     


Thursday, December 10, 2015


Third Sunday in Advent, Year C.  Zeph. 3:14-18a; Phil. 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18
AIM: To help the hearers experience Christian joy.
Is there anyone here who does not remember Mother Teresa, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? Can anyone forget her radiant smile? A secular journalist wrote about her: AWhen she smiles and laughs, which she does often ... the human clay molds itself in unambiguous joy.@ Can there be any doubt that Mother Teresa was a living embodiment of the theme of our liturgy on this third Sunday in Advent: joy
ASing joyfully, O Israel!@ we heard in the first reading. ABe glad and exult with all your heart.@ The responsorial psalm continued this theme: ACry out with joy and gladness.@ Paul repeats it in the second reading. Writing from a Roman prison, hardly a place of joy, he tells the Christian community at Philippi: ARejoice in the Lord always!@ And joy is evident also in the gospel description of the people=s reaction to the preaching of John the Baptist: AThe people were filled with expectation@ B or, as another translation has it, they were Aon tiptoe of expectation@ [New English Bible] B Aand all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.@
Would a stranger visiting a Catholic church on Sunday morning find people Aon tiptoe of expectation,@ radiating Mother Teresa’s Aunambiguous joy@? In some places, perhaps. But in many others definitely not. Why are there so many bored, joyless faces in Catholic churches B on both sides of the altar? One reason, surely, is the emphasis we place on obligations. Catholics who come to Mass on Sunday simply to fulfill a legal obligation are hardly likely to experience much joy.
Now don=t get me wrong. Obligations are important. They are the bridges that carry us over life=s valleys, when zeal and enthusiasm slacken. Sunday Mass, however, is meant to be more than just an obligation. It is a celebration. A religion which never gets beyond fulfilling a list of obligations will always be joyless. Though our religious obligations are defined in minimum terms, Catholics who are concerned simply with fulfilling these obligations experience them as heavy burdens, without which life would be much more pleasant. 
A religion of minimum obligations only is based on the idea of a remote God who makes unpleasant demands on us, and punishes us when we fail to measure up.  If we don=t want any trouble, therefore, we=d better satisfy God=s demands.  Catholics who think of God like that tend to think that once they have satisfied God=s demands, they are free to live the rest of their lives as they please. Such people are living with God on the fringe of their lives. At the center are their own plans, their own desires, their own Apursuit of happiness.@
At this point I must tell you something that may surprise you. As long as God is on the fringe of your life, he will always be a threat to you. Why? Because he will always be trying to move from the fringe into the center. That is why there are so many joyless faces in church on Sunday morning. Most of the people behind those faces probably think of God as someone threatening and remote, on the fringe of their lives, whom they are trying to appease by fulfilling a list of minimum obligations. Such a God is always a threat. He seems always to be asking for more; wanting to move from the fringe into the center. 
Have you ever felt threatened by God? Would you like to end that threat? to make your religion a source of joy, rather than a burden? You can B and it=s very simple. All you have to do is move God from the fringe of your life into the center.  If your religion is based upon fulfilling a list of minimum obligations, that will sound very threatening. Once God is at the center of my life, you=re probably asking, won=t he take over and smother me with his demands?
In reality, precisely the opposite is the case. A religion which places God at the center is the only kind of religion that can produce joy. Show me a follower of Jesus Christ who radiates the Aunambiguous joy@ that even a secular journalist saw in Mother Teresa, and I will show you someone who never asks: >How little can I give to God and still satisfy my obligation? How late can I come to Mass, for instance, and how early can I hurry away, and still have it Acount@?= People whose religion brings them joy, and who radiate that joy to others, ask a very different question: >If God has given me all that I have and am, apart from my sins, how much do I dare keep for myself?=   
That is the question Mother Teresa asked when, at age thirty-six, she felt called by God to leave the security of her Principal=s job in a convent school for wealthy girls in Calcutta in order to devote the rest of her life to the service of the poor. She had no money and no companions. It took her over a year just to get permission to leave her convent for new work. At her death, however, there were almost 3000 women in 132 countries worldwide who had joined her Missionaries of Charity B and that in a day in which, in our country alone, over 100,000 women left the convent to pursue other paths. 
Comparatively few people are called in the special away that Mother Teresa was B though some are. Somewhere in this church right now there is a young person whom God is calling to be a Sister, a religious Brother, or a priest. Ahead of you is a wonderful life! Respond generously to God=s call, and you will discover that the Lord will never be outdone in generosity. How do I know that? I know it from my own experience. When I was just twelve years old, the Lord put into my heart the desire to be a priest. Since then, I=ve never wanted anything else. I=ve been a priest now for over 58 years. And I=ve never regretted it: not one single day. The Chicago novelist and sociologist, Fr. Andrew Greeley, writes: APriests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.@ I can confirm that from my own experience. I’ve written about that experience in a book called No Ordinary Fool: A Testimony to Grace. It’s the story of my difficult journey to the Catholic Church: I was a priest in the Episcopal Church before I became a Catholic priest. And it’s the story too of a man who, more than 61 years after ordination, is still in love with priesthood.  

Let me tell you finally about another man who was in love with priesthood. He died in Rome ten years ago as a cardinal: the Vietnamese bishop Francis Xavier Van Thuan. When the Communists took over South Vietnam in 1975, he had just been made archbishop of Saigon. He was arrested and imprisoned for thirteen years. 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 December 13th, 2013: Mathew 11:16-19.

          Jesus speaks often of children in the gospels, usually in a positive sense In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about a negative aspect of childhood. Grieved that too few of his own people have responded either to his cousin, John the Baptist, or to himself, Jesus compares them to children who reject every approach of those who reach out to them in loving concern. ‘You complained that John was too strict and ascetic,” Jesus says in effect. ‘Me you find too laid back and merciful. What do you want?’ Jesus asks them.

          Children can be like that. I experienced it myself, in my own childhood. I might have been nine years old, or even younger, with a sister seven, and a brother five. I remember my father saying to another grownup, in a tone of resigned frustration: “My children are contra-suggestive.” I no longer know what occasioned this remark, but I can easily imagine it. Whatever my father suggested, by way of a leisure activity – whether it was a walk, a drive in the country, or a visit to a museum – we said: “Oh, no -- we don’t want to do that.”

          Most of us carry over this childhood stubbornness into adult life. We’d like to determine our own agenda, thank you. But of course we can’t. God set the agenda for us before we were even born. “My yoke is easy”, Jesus says, “and my burden light” (Mt. 11:30). Jesus’ yoke is easy, however, only if we accept it. Otherwise it chafes. How better could we respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel than to pray: “Not what I want, Lord, but what you want.”


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Homily for December 10th, 2015: Isaiah 41:13-20.

          “I am the Lord your God, who grasp your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” Bible scholars tell us that the book of the prophet Isaiah, from which these words in our first reading are taken, is actually three different books, put together by an editor. The first 39 chapters of the book are a warning to God’s people. ‘God is not mocked,’ the prophet tells them. ‘If you do not repent of your personal and national sins, your holy city of Jerusalem, of which you are so proud and which is so dear to you, will be taken from you. The Temple will be destroyed. And you will be carried off into exile.’

          At the beginning of chapter 40, however, the tone of the book changes radically: from warning to consolation and encouragement. The warnings in the first 39 chapters have become reality. The Temple lies in ruins, and the people have been carried off into exile in Babylon. What they need now is assurance that the God who has permitted them to suffer for their sins is still with them. “Fear not, I will help you,” God tells them through his prophet. “Fear not, O worm Jacob, O maggot, Israel: I will help you, says the Lord.” What kind of language is that? It is the way a mother – or it could be a father also – speaks to the infant whom she holds in her arms. The words “worm” and “maggot” are not expressions of contempt. They are terms of endearment.

Then, in a passage of great literary beauty, the prophet compares those he is addressing as people dying of thirst. “The afflicted and the needy seek water in vain, their tongues are parched with thirst.” Then comes this response: “I, the Lord will answer them, I will not forsake them. I will open up rivers on the bare heights I will turn the desert into a marsh, and the dry ground into springs of water.” God promises his people that he will do even the impossible to support and help them. Farther than that love cannot go.  

We sometimes hear that the Old Testament is about God’s law, and the New Testament about his love. Not true! The Old Testament shows numerous examples of God’s love. And in the New Testament Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). God never changes. He gave the Law to Moses: ten signposts pointing human flourishing and happiness. But he is also the God love: infinitely tender, infinitely compassionate.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Homily for 2nd Wednesday in Advent: Matthew 11:28-30.

          I spoke to you twelve days ago about Jesus’ words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Jesus’ words in today’s  gospel reading were among the examples I quoted. “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. In Jesus’ day yokes were in daily use. Carved out of wood to fit over the shoulders, they had arms extending out about a foot or more with a ring on each end supporting a rope from which the person using the yoke could hang a bucket or other container. This made it possible to transport with relative ease loads which could not be carried by hand.

          It was crucial that yoke fit the shoulders of the person using it. Otherwise the yoke would chafe and the person attempting to use it would soon throw it off. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus says, “and my burden light.” There is an unspoken IF there. The yoke and burden Jesus offers us are easy and light only if we accept them. If we chafe against the yoke and try to throw it off, then it is not easy; and the burden which it supports is heavy and definitely not light.

          To help us accept the yoke Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Meekness and humility do not come to us easily or without prolonged effort and many failures. We must be lifelong learners. Our teacher is the best there is. He understands our difficulties. He is not interested in how often we stumble and fall. He is interested in one thing only: how often, with his help, we get up again, and continue the journey.

          Our teacher’s name is Jesus Christ. 

Monday, December 7, 2015


12.8. Immaculate Conception of the BVM.  Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians, 1:3-6,
          11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
          Have you ever felt so ashamed of yourself that you wanted to run away and hide? Today’s first reading is about a man who felt that way. After disobeying God’s command, Adam hides, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the loving Creator and Father against whom he has rebelled. 
          When God pursues him and asks, “Where are you?” the man replies: “I was afraid ... so I hid myself.” He thought he would find happiness by ‘doing his own thing.’ Instead he finds only disappointment, frustration, and shame. Is there anyone here who has never had a similar experience? This simple story is no primitive folk tale. It is the story of Everyman – true to our common experience of life. If the story has a moral, it is this. We find happiness, joy, and peace only when we stop trying to run away and hide from God, and begin entrusting ourselves to him in faith. 
          The Church gives us, in Holy Scripture, a beautiful human model of this trusting faith: Mary, the mother of the Lord. The Catechism says: “By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity.” (No. 967)
          Mary did not insist on what she wanted, on doing her own thing. She was content to do God’s thing, even though all she could understand about it at the time was that it meant the humiliation of being an unmarried mother in a tiny village where gossip was rife and everyone knew everyone else’s business. 
          On today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, we praise God for preparing Mary from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb (which took place through normal human procreation) from that fundamental defect of human nature which the theologians call “original sin.” This defect means that we come into the world imperfect, not as God originally intended us to be. From this defect we are healed by baptism, when God reaches out and claims us for his own. In baptism we are reborn spiritually, becoming God’s children by adoption; and by his free gift, we are graced with the perfect human nature of our savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ. 
          The Immaculate Conception means that Mary had no need for baptism. As the Catechism says, quoting the words of our second reading: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.’” (No. 492)  
          Today we praise God for bestowing this unique privilege on Mary in order to prepare her beforehand to be the mother of his Son. That gift did not take away Mary’s freedom, however. For her, as for each of us, her acceptance by God – her salvation – was a free gift that required her cooperation with God, the giver of this gift. 
          As we honor Mary for her words of free assent, “May it be done to me according to your word,” we invoke her prayers that we may make our assent to God; that we too may say our “Yes” to God, as she did.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Homily for December 7, 2015: Luke 5:17-26.
          “Child, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says to the paralyzed man in today’s gospel. Jesus is not saying that every illness is the result of sin. His words suggest, however, that Jesus saw in this particular man a spiritual burden that needed to be loosed before the man could be healed physically. 
          “We have never seen anything like this,” the onlookers exclaim in astonishment as they see the formerly paralyzed man pick up his mat and walk. For Luke, the gospel writer, the true miracle, however, is not the man’s physical cure, but the spiritual healing of forgiveness. 
          Perhaps you’re thinking: “What is so miraculous about forgiveness? Don’t we forgive others every day?” Thank God, we do. Between our forgiveness and God’s, however, there is this great difference. When we forgive, there is always a memory of
the injury done, a “skeleton in the closet.” The wrong needs only to be repeated, or one like it, for the memory to be revived. God doesn’t have any closets. And even if he did, there wouldn’t be any skeletons there. God’s forgiveness is total. Jesus brings us this total forgiveness. In the sacrament of penance, Jesus uses his priests to bring us this gift.
          Some of the things we priests hear in confession help us to repent. Across the distance of almost sixty years I can still hear a child’s voice saying: “I stamp my foot at my mother and say No.” And I thought: that little one has greater sorrow for that small sin than I do for my sins, which are far worse. Telling you that is no violation of the seal of confession. I haven’t identified that child. I believe the Lord sent that little one into my confessional, to teach me a lesson. I’ve never forgotten it.
            “What will the priest think?” people sometimes ask. Let me tell you what one priest thought, a young man newly ordained and in his first parish assignment. In a letter to a friend, still in seminary, the new priest wrote: “I go into the confessional now, Jack; and I experience God in a completely new way.”