Friday, January 15, 2016


Homily for January 16th, 2016: 1 Samuel 9:1-4, 17-19; 10:1

          Yesterday we heard Israel’s leaders demand a king, “so that we may be like the other nations.”  Today’s first reading, severely edited for the sake of brevity, tells how he was found. Here is the whole story.

          It starts with a man named Kish sending his son Saul, “a handsome young man [standing] head and shoulders the people,” to find his father’s lost donkeys. A servant accompanies him. After wandering far and wide for three days without finding the animals, Saul tells the servant that his father will be worried about their long absence. They must turn back. The servant counters with another suggestion. There is a Seer around here, the servant says. He will know where the donkeys are. Let’s go look for him.

          As they enter the town, they meet some girls on their way to draw water from the municipal well. When Saul asks if the Seer is in town, the girls tell him that he is. He’s here to attend a sacrificial banquet, they say. If you hurry you may catch him.  

             Shortly thereafter, they encounter Samuel. The Lord has told him just the day before that the very next day he will send him the man whom Samuel is to anoint as Israel’s king. Saul asks Samuel, whom he has never seen before, “Do you know where we can find the Seer?” “You’re talking to him,” Samuel replies, adding: “I’m on my way to a sacrificial banquet. You must come with me. And don’t worry about your father’s lost donkeys. They have been found.” By addressing the reason for their mission, before Saul or the servant have even mentioned it, Samuel shows that he is indeed the Seer whom the servant has told Saul about.

             Samuel gives Saul the place of honor at the banquet which follows, and lodging for the night. Early the next morning Samuel wakes his guest, telling him he must start home. Samuel accompanies Saul and the servant to the edge of town, where he tells Saul to send the servant ahead, “so that I may give you a message from God.” When the two are alone, Samuel anoints Saul as Israel’s first king. In that moment Saul’s life is changed forever.

             What does this story tell us? Like countless events in the Bible, it shows that God is the God of surprises. This has given rise to the familiar saying: “If you want to want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” That’s something we need to remember – and ponder.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Homily for January 15th, 2016: 1 Sam. 8:4-7, 10-22a.

          “There must be a king over us,” the people tell the now aged Samuel. “We must be like other nations, with a king to rule us and to lead us in warfare and fight our battles.” This demand marks a turning point in the history of God’s people. Hitherto they had been different from other peoples. Their king was the Lord. Samuel was his representative, but himself no king.

          Samuel interprets the people’s demand for a king as a rejection of himself – understandable in an old man. God reassures him. It’s not you they are rejecting, Samuel, the Lord says, but me. Then God tells Samuel to grant the people what they are asking. First, however, he must warn them of the consequences.

          There is an important lesson here. It is this. Most of the good advice in the world is wasted. We learn best from experience. That explains why, in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, the father does not hesitate to give his immature and irresponsible son the money the young man is asking for. The boy must find out for himself where the enjoyment of so much money, far more than he has ever had, will lead. The father could have warned him of trouble ahead. But he knew that his son would never listen. He must find out for himself.

          So Samuel warns the people what lies ahead, once they have the king they are demanding. He will draft your sons and daughters into his service. He will impose heavy taxes on you, taking not only your money, but your servants and domestic animals as well. And when you start complaining to the Lord about these crushing burdens, he won’t listen to you.

          To which the people respond: ‘We don’t care. We must have a king. We must be like all the other nations.’ Can anyone doubt that if the father of the Prodigal Son had explained to his boy where he would end up if he left home with the fortune he was demanding, his response would have been the same?

          So what is the lesson for us? Simply this: Be careful what you pray for. Lay before the Lord God your dreams, your hopes, your needs – yes. In doing so, however, say always: “Not what I want, Lord; but what you want.”

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Isaiah 62:1-5; John 2:1-11.
AIM: To show the significance of the miracle at Cana, and its fulfillment in the Eucharist.  
Jesus begins his ministry in this fourth gospel, according to John, by changing water into wine. A miracle! But what does it mean? The story=s deepest meaning can be grasped only through its symbols. First, let=s recall a few modern symbols.
The cross is recognized worldwide as the symbol of Christianity, just as the star of David symbolizes Judaism, and the crescent Islam. A now largely defunct political faith also had its symbol, known worldwide: the hammer and sickle of communism. Our country=s flag is a symbol. When we see protestors burning the flag, we are offended. It is not just colored bunting. It symbolizes the country we love: not because it is perfect, but simply because it is ours.
The story in today=s gospel is full of symbols. We have time to consider only three: the wedding, Jesus= mother, and the transformation of water into wine.
1.       The prophet Hosea was the first biblical writer to use the love of a bridegroom for his bride as a symbol of God=s love for his people. Hosea used the symbolism of a wedding to show that God=s love for Israel was not the calm and staid affair of old age, but the ardent passion of youth. We heard the prophet Isaiah using this symbolism in our first reading, when he told the people: ANo more shall people call you >Forsaken,= or your land >Desolate,= but you shall be called >My Delight,= and your land >Espoused.=@     
Isaiah was telling his people that God wanted to share his life with them, as husband and wife share life with one another. This God who wanted to marry his people becomes flesh in Jesus. Hence it is altogether appropriate that the Lord's first public sign in John's Gospel takes place at a wedding. He has come that we may have life and have it to the full. The Agood wine@ of the wedding feast at Cana is now the Agood wine@ of the Eucharist by which all of us become partakers of God's inner life.
At the wedding in Cana Jesus is not the bridegroom, however. He is only a guest. AMy hour has not yet come,@ he explains. When his hour did come, Jesus would seal his wedding covenant not with wine, but with his own blood. Calvary was the place of that marriage. There Jesus would show how passionately he loves us: enough to lay down his life for us. Thereafter the old nuptial or marriage symbolism was applied to the Church, which is called Christ=s bride.  (Cf. Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7f, 21:2 & 9, 22:17) 
2.       If the wedding symbolizes God=s love for his people, Mary is the symbol, at Cana, and at Calvary, of the Church=s faith and love. AThey have no wine,@ Mary tells her Son. Mary knew it was enough to state the problem. Jesus would know what to do. Even when Jesus’ response seems discouraging B AWoman, how does your concern affect me?@ B Mary=s confidence remains unshaken. ADo whatever he tells you,@ she instructs the servants.
At Calvary Mary would again be the symbol of faith and love, as she stands beside her dying Son to receive his final instructions. (Cf. John 19:26f) And Mary remains the symbol of faith after Jesus= resurrection. We glimpse her for the last time in the upper room at Jerusalem with Jesus= apostles and other relatives, united in fervent prayer before the promised outpouring of God=s Spirit at Pentecost. (cf. Acts 1:13f)
3.       The story=s richest symbolism, however, is the changing of water into wine.  Here, as elsewhere in Scripture, water symbolizes God=s precious gift of the Law to his people. The lifegiving wisdom enshrined in the holy books that we call the Old Testament satisfied his people=s thirst for knowledge of God, the ultimate author of those books. 
Now, at Cana, Jesus changes this water into the exhilarating wine of the gospel B the good news that God has visited his people by sending them his Son, to celebrate with them a wedding feast which symbolizes God=s passionate love for us.
AYou have kept the good wine until now,@ the headwaiter remarks in astonishment to the bridegroom after tasting the wine. These words are the key to the story=s deepest symbolism. If the headwaiter had known who provided the wine, he would have addressed his words to Jesus. His hour, however, had not yet come.  When it did come, on Calvary, Jesus would give himself totally; giving not wine, but his own blood, laying down his life for us.

Already, at Cana, the quantity of wine which Jesus provides is a symbol of this total self-giving. It was enough to keep the party going for a week! The gift reveals the giver. God does not measure out his gifts bit by bit. When God gives, he gives totally.

Is all that just a beautiful story -- long ago and far away? Don=t you believe it! Cana is here and now, at the Eucharist. At the table of the word Jesus satisfies our thirst for knowledge of life=s meaning with the wine of the gospel. At the table of his body and blood he strengthens us to live in accordance with the gospel B to live not just for ourselves, but for God and for others. Here, as at Cana, Jesus gives not only abundantly but super-abundantly. The gifts he offers us are beyond limit. We come repeatedly because our capacity to receive is limited.  

Here we invoke Mary, still today the symbol of faith and love, still saying to us what she said to the servants at Cana: ADo whatever he tells you.@ Here at the Eucharist God celebrates with us a joyful wedding feast, the symbol today, as always, of his passionate and unwavering love for us.

So much symbolism. So much beauty. So much drama. Do we realize it B and truly worship?    


Homily for January 14th, 2016: 1 Sam. 4:1-11.

          “Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today?” the elders of Israel ask after a defeat at the hands of a neighboring tribe, the Philistines. Without waiting for an answer to this question, the elders resolve on a counter-attack. This time, however, they resolve to take with them the ark of the covenant. This was a kind of portable tabernacle containing the tablets given by God to Moses and inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The ark had been carried before the people on their flight from Egypt. It was Israel’s most sacred and precious possession.  

          The ark was then resting in the temple at Shiloh where, as we heard yesterday, the Lord first called the boy Samuel, while he was sleeping. Because the temple priest Eli was old and almost blind, his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas (also priests, since Jewish priesthood was inherited) were the de facto guardians of this treasure. A previous chapter, not included in the readings for Mass, discloses that these two brothers regularly assaulted the worshipers at Shiloh, robbing them, and attacking them sexually as well.

          The people who decided to take the ark with them into battle reasoned that the God, whose protection the ark symbolized and guaranteed, would assure their victory over their enemies. This hope remained unfulfilled. Struck with fear by the shouts of joy that rang out at the arrival of the ark, the Philistines fight harder than ever and inflict what the text calls “a disastrous defeat” on God’s people. The wicked priests Hophni and Phinehas are killed; their aged father Eli drops dead when the news reaches him. And the Philistines carry off the ark in triumph.

          What had gone wrong? The people who thought victory was certain if the ark was with them were practicing bad religion. God, they assumed, was at their disposal. God is never at our disposal. We are at his disposal. God always hears and answers our prayers. But he does not always answer them at the time, or in the way, that we wish. 

          Whenever we ask the Lord for something, we need to pray, as Jesus himself did when he asked his Father, in the garden of Gethsemane before his arrest, for deliverance from the cup of suffering: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 2:42).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Homily for January 13th, 2016: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-20.

          The child Samuel, for whom his mother, Hannah, long unable to conceive, prayed with tears, is now some twelve years old. Since his mother, as we heard yesterday, has promised him to the Lord, he is already serving the Lord in the temple at Shiloh, supervised by the old and almost blind priest Eli.

          Asleep in the temple one evening, Samuel hears someone calling his name. Because the temple doors have been locked for the night, he assumes that Eli has called him. He goes to the old priest and says: “Here I am. You called me.” “No I didn’t call you,” Eli responds. “Go back to sleep.” When this happens twice more, Eli realizes that the Lord was calling the boy. Again Eli sends Samuel back to bed, telling him: “If you are called, reply, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

          For centuries Samuel’s response to the first three calls, “Here I am,” would be spoken in the rite for the ordination of priests. When the name of each candidate was called out, he would reply with the single Latin word, adsum, which means, literally, “Here I am.” Today the candidate says the English word, “Present,” which means the same thing. The word, whether spoke in Latin or English, means the same thing: ‘Here I am, Lord, ready for service.’

          A priest ordained at the end of his thirties was asked how he came to priesthood. His reply: “I got tired of saying no to the Lord.” Now in his mid-forties, he is happy and fulfilled in the service of God and of his holy people.

          Are you unhappy, resentful, frustrated, unfulfilled? Then, perhaps, you are saying no to the Lord. Turn that no into a yes. Say, with the boy Samuel and ten thousands of priests down the ages: ‘Here I am, Lord. Speak, for your servant is listening. Take me, shape me, mold me. Give me the flame of your love in my heart.’ The moment you say that, and truly mean it, you will be more than rich; and you will desire nothing more.

Monday, January 11, 2016


Homily for January 12th, 2016: 1 Samuel 1:9-20.

          Our first reading tells the story of an unhappy woman to whom the Lord gives happiness and joy. The woman is Hannah, married to a man named Elkanah, who, according to the custom of those days, has another wife as well, Peninnah. At the beginning of the chapter from which today’s reading is taken we read that “Penninah had children, but Hannah was childless” (1:2). Penninah used to taunt Hannah for her inability to conceive.

Elkanah regularly took his family to the sanctuary at Shiloh, to offer sacrifice to the Lord, followed by a celebratory meal. Whenever he did this, the text tells us, “he used to give a portion each to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters, but a double portion to Hannah because he loved her, though the Lord had made her barren.” This went on “year after year,” the text says. Each time Penninah would taunt Hannah, who would weep bitterly and refuse to eat. Her husband Elkanah used to ask her, “Hannah, why do you weep, and why do you refuse to eat? Why do you grieve? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (vs. 8)

On one of these visits, our first reading tells us, Hannah left the table to pour out her grief to the Lord in the sanctuary. “O Lord of hosts,” she prays, “if you look with pity on the misery of your handmaid, if you remember me and do not forget me, if you give your handmaid a male child, I will give him to the Lord for as long as he lives.” Hannah must have received there in the sanctuary some assurance that the Lord had heard her prayer. For the reading tells us that afterward “she ate and drank with her husband, and no longer appeared downcast.”

In time the Lord gave Hannah the son she had asked for. “She called him Samuel,” the reading tells us, “since she had asked the Lord for him.” The name Samuel means “his name is God.” He was the last of Israel’s so-called “judges,” and the first of its prophets. Later he would anoint Israel’s first two kings: Saul, and his successor David.

This touching story invites us to pray, in this Mass especially, for all women today who long for a child, and are unable to conceive.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


Homily for January 11th, 2016: Mark 1:14-20.

“Come after me,” Jesus says to the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, busy with cleaning their nets after a night of fishing on the lake, “and I will make you fishers of men.” He says the same shortly thereafter to a second pair of brothers, also fishermen: James and John. “They left their nets and followed him,” Mark tells us. They were burning their bridges behind them. Why? If we could have asked them, I think they might have said something like this: AYou would have to have known this man Jesus. There was something about him that made it impossible to say No.@

Jesus is still calling. He calls each one of us, as he called those four rough fishermen in today=s gospel. 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.

Maybe you’re thinking: AI could never do that.@ You=re wrong. Here is a list of some of the great people in the Bible. Someone, I no longer know who, sent it to me by e-mail, ages ago. 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. 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 both 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. Job went bankrupt. Martha was a perpetual worrier. The Samaritan woman 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. As St. Francis of Assisi said: “Preach always. When necessary, use words.”