Friday, January 8, 2016


Homily for January 9th, 2016: 1 John 5:14-21.

          “Children, be on your guard against idols,” we heard at the end of the first reading. It’s probably safe to say that idols hardly appear on the radar screens of most Catholics. Catholics who live in the Bible-belt are aware that fundamentalist Protestants charge us with idolatry because we have statues in our churches, and because of the prayers we say in front of those statues. Such charges don’t bother us because we know that we don’t worship the statues. Idolatry may have been an issue in Bible times, we assume, but not today. That is dead wrong. Idolatry means putting anything at all in the place that belongs only to God. Here are some examples.

People who live for thrills are worshipping the false god of pleasure. The American novelist Ernest Hemingway is an example. He lived for thrills: the excitement of battle in the Spanish Civil War, bullfighting in Spain, four marriages and goodness know how many affairs, big game hunting in Africa. The person who lives for thrills and pleasure can never be never fully satisfied. Is it so surprising that Hemingway end by blowing his brains out? 

          People who center their lives on making money are worshipping the false god of possessions. “How much is enough?” a millionaire was asked. “Always just a little more,” he replied. Another very rich man said: “Anyone who thinks that having a lot of money will make you happy has never had a lot of money.”

          We’ve all heard of control freaks. They are worshiping the false god of power. They too are frustrated, because they can never get enough power. Finally there is the false god of honor. An example: Jesus’ disciples arguing at the Last Supper over “who should be greatest” (Luke 2:24). I’m sorry to tell you, folks: that argument is still going on. Last year Pope Francis tried to discourage it by virtually eliminating the honorific title of Monsignor. Good luck, Holy Father!

          Friends, we’re not Puritans. Each of these things – pleasure, possessions, power, and honor – is good. They become bad only when we center our lives on them. Then they produce unhappiness and frustration. Because we can never get enough. There is only One who can answer our prayers. “He hears us,” our first reading says. The false gods cannot hear us: they are deaf, dumb, and blind.
          I leave you then with two questions. Are you directing your prayers to the one true God? Are you centering your life on Him?

Thursday, January 7, 2016


Homily for January 8th, 2016: Luke 5:12-16.

          The Bible commentators tell us that the disease of leprosy mentioned often in Scripture is not the same as leprosy today, which doctors call Hansen’s disease. Leprosy in the Bible is any kind of disfiguring skin disease. People afflicted in this way suffered not only physically, but socially and spiritually as well. They were banned from public places. And since they were considered spiritually unclean they could not participate in Temple worship. Anyone who touched a leper became spiritually unclean as well.

          This helps us understand why the man we have just heard about in the gospel reading is so desperate. He “fell prostrate,” Luke tells us, and “pleaded” with Jesus, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”  The man’s faith in Jesus’ power to heal is crucial. Faith opens the door for God’s action in our lives.

          Out of compassion with this social outcast Jesus responds at once. Reaching out across the boundary between clean and unclean, Jesus touches the man, saying: “I do will it. And the leprosy left him at once,” Luke tells us. Jesus has restored him to the community of God’s people. Jesus then orders the man to fulfill the provisions of the Jewish law by going to a Temple priest and offering sacrifice. Jewish priests were then also quarantine officials.

          The gospel writer, Luke, was what passed in those days for a physician. This is evident from the care he takes to tell us that the man’s cure was instantaneous. Note also what Luke tells us about Jesus at the end of the reading: “He would withdraw to deserted places to pray.” Luke’s choice of words makes it clear that Jesus did this repeatedly. Why?

          Jesus was constantly surrounded by people clamoring to get at him, to speak with him, to touch him. He needed those times of silence, alone with his heavenly Father. It was in those hours of solitude that Jesus nurtured the power to heal, to say to rough working men, “Follow me,” and have them obey him on the spot. And if Jesus, whose inner resources were infinitely greater than hours, needed those times alone with God, we are fools and guilty fools, if we think we can do without them.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


Baptism of the Lord, Year C.  Luke 3:15-16, 21-22.
AIM: To explain the significance of baptism.
King Louis IX of France, for whom our city is named, used to sign official documents not ALouis IX, King@, but ALouis of Poissy.@ Asked why, he replied: APoissy is the place where I was baptized. That is more important to me than the Cathedral of Rheims, where I was crowned. It is a greater thing to be a child of God than to be ruler of a kingdom: this last I shall lose at death; but the other will be my passport to everlasting glory.@ The humility and faith which those words express help us understand why the Church enrolled Louis IX in its list of saints. 
When did you last hear a sermon on baptism? Possibly you recall some remarks on the subject at a baptism you attended. Otherwise, sermons on baptism are rare these days. That is unfortunate, for baptism, the Catechism tells us, Ais the basis of the whole Christian life, the gateway to life in the Spirit, and the door which give access to the other sacraments.@ (No. 1213) 
Few of us can remember our own baptism. For most of Christian history people have normally been baptized as infants. This was not always so. Scholars tell us that in the first decades after the resurrection the normal practice was adult baptism. Only from the second century, the Catechism says, is there explicit testimony to infant baptism, though Ait is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching, when whole >households= received baptism, infants may also have been baptized.@ (No. 1252) To understand baptism properly, therefore, we need to start with what was originally the norm: adult baptism. 
If you have witnessed the baptism of adults during the Easter Vigil liturgy, you may recall the questions put to the candidates. The Church asks them to declare publicly their faith in Jesus Christ, and to reject all that is opposed to him and his teaching. Only when they have personally confessed this faith can they be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. 
Faith is the one essential which the Church requires of every candidate for baptism. This remains true whether the candidate is a so-called catechumen B someone old enough to be receiving instruction in the faith B or an infant. The Catechism explains: ABaptism is the sacrament of faith. But faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. The catechumen or the godparent is asked: >What do you ask of God=s Church?= The response is: >Faith!=@ (No. 1253)       
Parents of a newborn will sometimes tell their Pastor: “Father, we’d like to get the baby done.” They are thinking of baptism as something like vaccination. The proper comparison for baptism is not vaccination but birth. Just as our birth makes us members of the human family and children of a particular pair of parents, so baptism makes us members of God=s family, the Catholic Church. Baptism, the Catechism says, Amakes us members of the Body of Christ ... [and] incorporates us into the Church.  From the baptismal font is born the one People God of the New Covenant, which transcends all the natural or human limits of nations, cultures, races, and sexes: >For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.=@ (No. 1267).
AThe two principal effects@ of baptism, the Catechism says, A are purification from sins and new birth in the Holy Spirit.@ Baptism is called spiritual rebirth because it gives us a new nature. The human nature we inherit from our parents is, as the theologians say, Afallen.@ That means that it is not what God meant it to be in his original plan of creation. We experience this every day. From the age of reason we can distinguish right from wrong. We know in our hearts that we should choose good and reject evil. Yet how often we do the opposite. 
At baptism we receive a new nature: the nature of the perfect man, Christ Jesus. To the extent that we lay hold of this gift, using and developing it, we are able to rise above the inclination to evil that lurks within each of us. Laying hold of the new Christ-life given us at baptism requires faith. Babies and small children are incapable of faith. That is why, at infant baptism, the Church requires that faith be expressed by someone who is capable of it: a parent or godparent. They must promise that the child is given a Christian upbringing and every opportunity of making a personal decision for Jesus Christ when old enough to do so. 
People sometimes object that this means forcing on children something they have not chosen, and may never choose. Interestingly, we never hear this objection in other areas. Little children do not always choose to eat the food we give them.  And how many would go willingly to school, if allowed to choose for themselves?  Yet how many people would favor feeding youngsters candy and ice cream until they were old enough to choose a balanced diet? And how much support is there for postponing schooling until children choose it for themselves? 
We give children the best nourishment for their bodies and minds, because we recognize this as our duty. We have the same duty to give them the best spiritual nourishment we know. For Catholics this means bringing them up in our holy Catholic faith. In time young people will make their own decisions about faith, and other matters as well, whether we like it or not. All of us, but parents especially, have an obligation to help them choose wisely and well, especially by the example of our own lives. 

At Jesus= baptism, today=s gospel tells us, a voice came from heaven, saying: AYou are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.@ The same words sounded from heaven when each of us was baptized. Today, on this feast of his baptism, Jesus Christ is asking every one of us to recall what we are, and to live as what we are: God=s dearly loved daughters and sons, in whom he is well pleased.


Homily for January 7th, 2016. Letter of John 4:19-5:4.

          “We love God because he first loved us,” we heard in our first reading. Isn’t that why we love our parents? If they were reasonably good parents, they loved us when we were still in the womb. “We talk to the baby,” a young father said, when his wife was expecting their first child. Asked what they said to the baby, he replied: “We talk to the baby when we’re lying in bed, about everything we did that day.” Already, before they have seen the little one who is the fruit of their love for each other, the bond of love is being woven.

          So the tiny child comes into the world already loved. And this love is not just a matter of feelings. It takes flesh as it were, in the often arduous toil of caring for an infant. That is how each one of us learns to love: from our parents, mothers especially. In the tragic cases in which a child is unwanted, the ability to love is stunted, with often bitterly unhappy consequences in later life.

          Because we are imperfect sinners, God’s love for us infinitely exceeds our love for our children. But the priorities remain the same. If we have any capacity to love at all, it is because God has loved us first. Nor does God’s love for us slacken, let alone disappear, when we fail to respond to his love. In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son the father never stopped loving his son after the young man left home. How do we know that? We know it from the fact that at the son’s return his father saw him “while he was still a long way off” (Luke 15:20). The father was looking for him. You don’t keep looking for someone you have ceased to love.

          “The love of God is this,” our first reading tells us, “that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Really? Don’t we often think of God’s commandments as fences to hem us in? In reality they are signposts pointing us to a happy and fulfilled life. It is so that God’s love for us, given to us already in the womb, and continuing no matter how far we may stray from him, may be deepened and strengthened, and bear fruit in lives of generous service to God and others, that we are here.

And so we pray in this Mass to the One who is love: “Come, Lord Jesus!”     

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Homily for January 6th, 2016. Mark 6:45-52.

          What began as a routine evening crossing of the lake soon turns into a nightmare for Jesus’ friends in their small boat. Small wonder that they cry out in fear as they see a human figure approaching across the wind-whipped waves. It is Jesus. “Take courage,” he calls out. “It is I, do not be afraid!”

Like most people in antiquity, Jesus’ people, the Jews, regarded the sea as the domain of supernatural, demonic forces. To the Hebrew mind wind and waves were perilous: only God could master them. Repeatedly the psalms speak of God’s power to “rule the surging sea and calm the turmoil of its waves” (Ps. 89:10; cf. 93:3f; 107:23-30). By walking on the raging waves, and calming the stormy sea, Jesus shows himself to be acting as only God can do.

          This beautiful story speaks to each one of us individually. Somewhere in this church right now there may be someone facing a personal crisis: an illness, perhaps, your own or that of a loved one; a family problem; a humiliating failure; the sudden collapse of long held hopes, plans, and efforts. You are filled with fear. When you look down, you see only peril and ruin. But look up! Keep your eyes on Jesus. He still has power to save. 

          The story assures us that when the storm rages and the night is blackest; when we cannot see the way ahead; when we are bone weary with life’s struggle and our hearts fail us for fear, Jesus is close. He only seems to be absent. In reality he is never far from us. He knows at every moment the difficulties against which we contend. Across the storm waters of this world he comes to us and speaks the same words of assurance that he spoke 20 centuries ago to the terrified men in that small boat: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid!”

That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news.



Monday, January 4, 2016


Homily for January 5th, 2016: Mark 6:34-44,

          As the sun starts to sink and the shadows lengthen, Jesus’ disciples approach him with an urgent request. “This is a deserted place and it is already very late; dismiss [the crowds] so that they can go … and buy themselves something to eat.”

          Jesus’ response surprises us: “Give them some food yourselves.” He was having fun with them – teasing them. Jesus knew perfectly well what he was going to do. Not realizing this, the disciples point out that what Jesus has asked them to do is impossible: all they have, the disciples say, is five loaves and two fish.

          Jesus has the disciples tell the people to sit down in orderly rows. Then he takes the loaves and fish, looks up to heaven, blesses these hopelessly inadequate supplies, and gives them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. “They all ate and were satisfied,” Mark tells us, adding: “and they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments and what was left of the fish.” But of course: there were twelve men doing the distribution.

          What does this tell us? Two things. First, when we entrust our pitifully inadequate resources to the Lord, they are inadequate no longer. Second, when the Lord gives, he gives not only abundantly, but super-abundantly. We come repeatedly not because the Lord's gifts are limited, but because our ability to receive them is limited.

          The early Christian community loved this story so much that we find it told six times over, with variations, in the four gospels. We heard it in Matthew’s version last August. The reason for its popularity is clear. It reminded Jesus’ friends of what he does in the Eucharist. We offer him a little bread and wine – and these modest gifts come back to us transformed into his Body and Blood: all his goodness, all his love, all his compassion, patience, and purity. And when have Him, we have everything!  

Sunday, January 3, 2016


Homily for January 4th, 2016 Matthew 4:12-17, 23-25.

          “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus says at the beginning of his public ministry. Bible scholars tell us that Jesus uses the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven,” in order to avoid speaking the name of God, which was forbidden to Jesus’ people. When reading a text which contained the word “God”, they substituted “the Lord.” Jesus was actually telling the people that God’s reign was at hand. Hence, Jesus said in his teaching, they must repent. Repentance begins with the acknowledgement that we fall short of what God wants for us; and of what, deep in our hearts, we want of ourselves.   

At the beginning of the long interview with Pope Francis that was published all over the world in September 2013, just six months after his election a Bishop of Rome, he was asked: “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” (his pre-papal name). “He stares at me in silence”, the interviewer writes. “I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: ‘I do not know what might be the most fitting description … I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.’”

The acknowledgement that we fall short is the necessary start of all repentance. Having made this acknowledgment, we must follow it up by telling the Lord we are truly sorry, that we want to do better; and that we know we can never do so without his help. Pope Francis, who helps us repent by identifying himself as a sinner, says often: “God never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who get tired of asking for forgiveness.”

Jesus, who is God’s Word – his personal communication to us – shows us God’s readiness to forgive by calling as a disciple a public sinner like Matthew, the tax collector. Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son has the same message. The Father in the story (who is a stand-in for God) immediately forgives his shiftless son, who has wasted his money, freely given him by the father, in what the text charitably calls “riotous living.” Not content with that, he orders a banquet to celebrate his son’s return.

He is doing the same right now – for us. Because we are unworthy, we begin every Mass by asking forgiveness. And we pray before we approach the Lord Holy Table: “Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church.”