Friday, January 22, 2016


Homily for January 23rd, 2016: Mark 3:20-21.

          No sooner has word got out that Jesus has come to their town than crowds storm the house where he is staying in such numbers that it was “impossible even to eat,” Mark tells us. Even more shocking is the reaction of his family: “When his relatives hear of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” People are still saying that of Jesus Christ and of those determined to follow him. Here are three examples.

          A man married for well over twenty years tells a priest: “Father, my wife is so sensitive. For the whole of our marriage I’ve been walking on eggshells, always afraid that I’ll say or do something that will upset her. It’s driving me nuts.” Further conversation discloses that there is another woman in the picture who understands and affirms him. “I’ve thought about getting a divorce and marrying her,” he says. “But then I think of the children – and of the promises I made when we married. So I’ve decided to stay married and tough it out. All my buddies tell me I’m out of my mind.”

          Then there is the girl at college who discovers that she is pregnant. The man responsible, and all her girlfriends, tell her to get an abortion. At first terrified that her parents will find out, she finally screws up courage to tell them. “You’re still our daughter,” they say. “You mustn’t kill the child you’re carrying. We all make mistakes. We’re going to help you – with the birth, and by caring for your baby afterwards.” When other members of the family find out about this they’re outraged. “Are you out of your mind?” they ask. “An abortion may not be cheap. But it’s nothing compared with the expense of raising a child no one wants. And think of the embarrassment when everyone finds out.” The child is a girl, three years old now. Everybody loves her.

          Finally there is the young man who tells his parents he wants to go to seminary – or it could be his sister (the only other sibling in the family) wanting to enter a convent. This time it’s the parents who are outraged. “You need to marry, have children,” they say. “And we want grandchildren who will have Dad’s name. You’re throwing your life away. Are you out of your mind?”

          None of the people in these examples are out of their minds. Rather, through faithfulness to the Lord, supported by much prayer, they have developed the mind of Christ.

Think about that. More important: pray about it.          

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Third Sunday of Ordinary Time Year C (Jan. 21, 2007)
1 Cor. 12: 12-30
AIM: To explain the doctrine of the mystical body and show its implications for each believer.
A bishop told one of his priests that he was sending him to be Pastor of a really difficult parish B so difficult, in fact, that it had become known among the priests as Athe graveyard of Pastors.@ 
AI=ve been advised to close the place,@ the bishop said.  ABut I=d like to make one last attempt. I=m asking you to go there and see what you can do.@
The priest had not been in his assignment a month when he found that everything he had heard about the parish was true. Attendance at Sunday Masses was pathetic. The only thing parishioners seemed to be good at was malicious gossip, backbiting, and criticism. 
So one Sunday the Pastor announced: AI have some bad news for you.  I hate to tell you, but this parish is dead. So at 10 o=clock next Sunday we=re going to celebrate a funeral Mass for this parish.@ 
In the days following news of this sensational announcement spread like wildfire. At 10 o=clock the following Sunday the church was full. There were funeral wreaths up front, and an open coffin. The Pastor announced that before beginning the Mass, he wanted everyone to come forward to pay their respects to the deceased. As people filed by, they got a shock. The coffin was empty B save for a large mirror. Each person looking in at the deceased saw a picture of himself or herself.
I have told you that story B and of course it is just a story B because Paul is saying something very similar in our first reading.  AYou are Christ=s body,@ he writes, Aand individually parts of it.@ And Paul goes on to say that though Christ=s body has many different parts, each with its own function, there are no unimportant parts. 
Where did Paul get this idea that the Church is Christ=s body? He got it in the event which changed his life: Paul=s dramatic encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus. That encounter was so important to Paul that it is recounted three times over in the Acts of the Apostles. We find it first in chapter 9. You know the story. AAs Saul [his Jewish name, for he had not yet received his Christian name of Paul in baptism] approached Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed about him. He fell to the ground and at the same time heard a voice saying, >Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?= >Who are you, sir?= he asked. The voice answered, >I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.=@
Note Jesus= question: not, AWhy are you persecuting my followers, or my Church?@, but AWhy do you persecute me?@ Paul=s insight, that Jesus= followers, born into the Church by baptism, comprise Christ=s body, came straight from that question, and that encounter.
But what do we really mean when we say that the Church is Christ=s body?  No one has stated it better than the sixteenth century Spanish Carmelite, St. Teresa of Avila.  This is what she said:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which he is to bless people now.
Do we really believe that? Do we believe that the Church is not just the clergy and other religious professionals, but all of us? Many Catholics today do believe that. But not all. Old habits die hard. Some of our ways of speaking  betray a different view. We hear people saying, for instance: AWhy doesn=t the Church do something@ about this or that problem? Or when a young man is ordained a priest, people say: AHe went into the Church.@  In both of those examples the assumption is that the Church is synonymous with the clergy C and today perhaps other religious professionals who work with the clergy. 
That older view of the Church sees the laity as something like customers in a filling station. If they are good customers, they drop into the station weekly to top up their tanks. When they need a tune-up they may go to confession. Otherwise the customers are content to leave the running of the station to others. There are still Catholics who think that way, and act that way. They like that model of the Church.  It is easier, and less bother. 
I called that the older view of the Church. It is not the oldest view, however, and certainly not the original view. The original view is the one set forth by St. Paul in our second reading. The Church is Christ=s body. That means that the Church is all of us. We don=t just go to church. We are the Church. If the Church is truly Christ=s body, and not just a spiritual service station, then there can be no passive customers. We are all called to be active messengers of Christ=s mercy, healing, and liberating love.   
We can take this a step farther.  If baptism has made us active members of Christ=s body, on whom he depends to continue his work in the world, then our relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the head of the body, cannot be a merely one-to-one, private affair. As members of Christ=s body we are related not merely to Christ our head, but to all the other members of his body as well. As Paul says in our second reading: AIf one part [of the body] suffers, all parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.@     
Jesus says something similar in his great parable of judgment, which speaks of the division of sheep and goats. To the sheep on his right hand, the king says: AAnything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.@ (Mt 25:40) The lesson of the parable is clear. There is no service of others which is not a service of Jesus Christ. There is no neglect of sister or brother that is not neglect of Jesus Christ.

So often we think of our religion as a striving after high and distant ideals which constantly elude us. That is wrong! Being a follower of Jesus Christ never means trying to become something we are not. It means living up to what, through baptism, we already are. In baptism we were born into the great family of God called the Catholic Church. We became, in Paul=s language, members of Christ=s body. None of the members is unimportant. None is passive.

The differences between the members of Christ=s body are differences of function. Paul lists some of these functions at the end of our second reading: apostles, prophets, teachers, the doers of Amighty deeds,@ healers, administrators.  All are equally important. And all of us, as members of Christ=s body are joined in intimate fellowship with one another. Together we all have an intimate relationship with the head of the body: Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord B but also our brother, our lover, our best friend.


Homily for January 30th, 2016: 2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17.

          We heard yesterday about David’s grave sin. A good man, a man of great courage, but also a man of deep compassion for the old king Saul, who both admired David and deeply envied him, David has grown soft. He sends others out to fight for him, while remaining in his splendid palace in Jerusalem. There he has an affair with Bathsheba, wife of the Gentile soldier Uriah, who is fighting in David’s army. When he learns that Bathsheba is pregnant, he tries to cover his tracks by summoning Uriah from the front and encouraging him to sleep with his wife, so that when Bathsheba’s child is born, all will assume that Uriah is the father.

When Uriah says he cannot sleep with his wife while his comrades are risking their lives in battle, David is desperate. He sends Uriah back to the front with a sealed letter ordering his arranged death in battle. David breathes easier, thinking he has had a narrow escape from disaster. The chapter describing all this ends with the verse: “But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.”

          He had every reason to be displeased. David’s adultery with Bathsheba was a sin of passion. His order for her husband to be killed was cold, calculated murder.

          At this point the Lord sends the prophet Nathan to David. Rather than rebuking the king openly, which would put him on the defensive, Nathan tells him the heart rending story we have just heard, about a rich man with great flocks of sheep, and a poor man with nothing but a ewe lamb to which he is so attached that he keeps the animal with him always, like a dearly loved pet.  When a guest visits the rich man, he is not willing to sacrifice even one sheep from his vast flock, but instead steals the poor man’s lamb to satisfy the duty of hospitality for a visitor. David is outraged. “The man who has done this merits death!” he declares.

          With those words David is convicted out of his own mouth. “You are the man!” Nathan tells David. Moreover what he has done will have consequences, Nathan says. Struck to the heart – for despite his grave double sin he remains a good man – David confesses: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan assures him of God’s forgiveness. This will remove the guilt of David’s sin -- but it does not remove its the consequences. The first consequence is the death of the child David has sinfully fathered. We shall learn next week that there are other consequences as well.



Homily for January 22nd, 2016: Mark 3:13-19.  

          Jesus “appointed Twelve,” our gospel has just told us, “whom he also named Apostles.” Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.

He chose them, Mark tells us, “that they might be with him and [that] he might send them forth.” There seems to be a contradiction there. How could they be with Jesus while at the same time being sent forth into the world? This seeming contradiction is the tension of the whole Christian life. It is the tension between the vertical and the horizontal; between our duty towards God and our duty toward others – between transcendence (vertical) and immanence (horizontal).

Ideally there is no conflict between the vertical and the horizontal. The first (our relationship with God) is the support of the second (our duty toward others). And the second (service of others) is the active expression of the first. Prayer and our whole relationship with God make it possible for us to have something to give to others. And active, self-sacrificing love of others is the expression and proof of genuine love of God.

Jesus’ life was the perfect combination of the vertical and the horizontal; of total consecration to his heavenly Father, combined with unrestricted service of others. That was why his earthly life ended where the vertical and horizontal intersect: on the cross. Note: I said Jesus’ earthly life. Beyond that his heavenly and eternal life continued. Raised on the third day through the power of God’s Holy Spirit from the tomb where his heart-broken friends had laid him, Jesus started appearing to his initially frightened but then overjoyed friends to inspire and empower them to live as he lived: totally devoted to his heavenly Father, yet totally at the service of others.
That is why we are here: to worship and adore our crucified but risen Lord, and to receive his power to live as he lived: at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal: devoted and consecrated to him, while serving others by sharing with them the love he pours out on us through his Holy Spirit.                          

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Homily for January 21st, 2016: 1 Sam. 18:6-9; 19:1-7.
          When Saul and David return, after David’s slaying of the Philistine giant, Goliath, they are met by women cheering this great victory, dancing for joy and singing: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” Saul, we heard in the first reading, was “very angry and resentful of the song, for he thought: ‘They give David ten thousands, but only thousands to me. All that remains for him is the kingship.’ And from that day on, Saul was jealous of David.”
          Despite his jealousy, Saul does not permit David to return to his father in Bethlehem. He retains David to play the harp for him, because of the music’s soothing effect. One day, while David is playing the harp, Saul bursts out in a rage and twice throws a Javelin at David. Both times David is able to save his life by dodging the weapon, which becomes implanted in the wall. This incident, which is omitted from our reading for the sake of brevity, shows the violence of the king’s anger, the fruit of his jealousy.
          Omitted too is the story of David’s pact of friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, which Jonathan seals by taking off his tunic and cloak and giving them to David. The love between the two is genuine and deep. It is a happy contrast to Saul’s envy and hatred, which the biblical account ascribes to an “evil spirit of the Lord” overcoming the king.
          By means of what we would call today “shuttle diplomacy” Jonathan is able to pacify his father, at least for a time, by reminding the king of David’s bravery and the great service he has done for Saul and his people, by killing Goliath and fighting off the Philistines.
          The jealousy which inflicts Saul is one of the capital sins, so-called because they cause other sins – in Saul’s case his attempts to kill David. Jealousy is the one sin which brings its own punishment with it. For when we give way to jealousy we are miserable. What is the remedy for such dark thoughts? Gratitude! If we are thanking God daily and even hourly for all the things we do have, we will find that, over time, fretting over the things that others have, and we do not, disappears – to be replaced by the joy over the good things God bestows on us, always so much more than we deserve.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Homily for January 20th, 2016: 1 Samuel 17:32-33, 37, 40-51.

           Samuel’s anointing of David as Israel’s king, which we heard about yesterday, was private. Afterwards David, probably only a teenager, returns to looking after his father’s sheep. Saul, though rejected by the Lord for disobedience, remains king of Israel. But he falls into what we would call today a deep depression. The Bible says that “he was tormented by an evil spirit sent by the Lord” (16:14). His servants suggest that listening to harp music will soothe him. One of them reports that the youngest son of Jesse plays the harp. So they send for David, whose music cheers the old king so much that Saul becomes very fond of him and makes him his armor bearer (16:21). As we shall hear later, it is, on Saul’s side, a love-hate relationship

          This is the prelude to the story of the encounter between David and the Philistine giant, Goliath, described in today’s first reading. Once again, it is severely edited, for the sake of brevity. For forty days, the text says, Goliath taunts the Israelites to send him a warrior to settle their differences in single combat.

          Young David, still tending his father’s sheep, hears about Goliath’s challenge when David’s father sends him to the Israelite army with provisions for his older brothers, who have volunteered for service under Saul. “I’ll fight this giant Philistine,” David says. Saul and those with him say that is impossible: David won’t last five minutes against such a mighty opponent. David tells the king that he has personally killed lions and bears who threatened his father’s sheep. “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.”

          After Goliath has taunted David, saying he will make him mince meat “for the birds of the air and the beasts of the field,” David responds: “You come against me with sword and spear, but I come against you in the name of the Lord of hosts.” In minutes the conflict is over. David launches a stone from his sling shot, hitting Goliath on the forehead, knocking him unconscious, and allowing David to finish off the giant with the latter’s own huge sword.

          The story contrasts human power with the power of God. In reliance on Him, we can do all things, even the humanly impossible. 

Monday, January 18, 2016


Homily for January 19th, 2016: 1 Samuel 16:1-13.

          “How long will you grieve for Saul?” the Lord asks the prophet Samuel. We heard yesterday about God rejecting Saul for failing to obey the Lord’s command, and for fabricating a dishonest excuse when confronted with his disobedience. God now tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem, to anoint as Saul’s replacement one of the sons of a man named Jesse.

          Samuel fears for his life – understandably. Should Saul get wind of what is afoot, he will have Samuel killed for treason. To cover his tracks, Samuel is instructed to take a heifer with him and say that he has come to offer sacrifice. When Samuel enters Bethlehem, it is the elders of the city who are terrified. Word of how Samuel has dealt with Saul has spread. What fate has he in store for us, the elders of Bethlehem wonder.

          Samuel reassures them. His coming is peaceful, he says. He has come to offer sacrifice to God. He invites Jesse and his sons to join him. The first son is an impressive tall man named Eliab. Surely, Lord, this must be the one you have chosen, Samuel tells God. No, not him, the Lord replies. This is repeated for six more of Jesse’s children. Each time God tells Samuel: No, not him.

          “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks Jesse. “There is still the youngest,” Jesse replies. “He is tending the sheep.” Send for him, Samuel tells Jesse. We cannot begin the sacrificial banquet until he is here. When he appears, “a young man handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance,” the Lord tells Samuel: “He’s the one. Anoint him.” Samuel anoints the young man, in the midst of his brothers. Then comes the wonderful sentence: “From that day on, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

          What does this tell us? First, it shows once again, that God is the God of surprises. He chooses this handsome adolescent over his seven older brothers. And in the words about the Lord’s Spirit “rushing” upon David, we hear a hint of great things ahead. God has taken possession of this teenager.

He did the same for each one of us, at our baptism and confirmation. We can be happy only if we live as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, possessed for all time by his heavenly Father – and ours.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Homily for January 18th, 2016: 1 Samuel 15:16-23.

          The first reading on Saturday told about Samuel anointing Saul as Israel’s first king. He did so privately. Only later did Samuel present Saul to the people as their king, so that they could pledge loyalty to him. The background of today’s reading is the Lord’s command to Saul to make war against the Amalekites, to punish them for attacking God’s people after they were delivered from slavery to the Egyptians. Saul was to see to it that his soldiers did not take the Amalekites’ domestic animals as spoils of war. They were all to be killed, which in the thought world of the Bible meant that they were given to God.

          Saul proves himself a weak leader. Disobeying the Lord’s command, he allows his men to spare the animals. When Samuel rebukes the king for disobedience, Saul defends himself by saying that the men have only taken the animals so that they could use them for sacrifice. That was a lie. The animals had been taken for the soldiers’ own use. A king stronger than Saul, and more faithful to the Lord, would have been able to enforce the Lord’s command. 

          The prophet Samuel castigates the king for his shabby and untruthful defense. You have disobeyed the Lord’s command, Samuel tells Saul. You say the animals were taken for sacrifice. But “obedience is better than sacrifice,” Samuel says, adding: “Because you have rejected the command of the Lord, he, too, has rejected you as ruler.” Translated into modern terms, Samuel was saying: obedience to God and to his moral law is more important than prayers.

          Some years ago one of the Godfather films ended with a dramatic scene vividly illustrating this lesson. The Godfather is standing in a parish church, with other members of his family, at a font  where a priest is baptizing the Godfather’s infant grandson. Using the old Latin prayers, we hear him repeating the words per vitam aeternam – “for eternal life.” The camera cuts away to show people being killed all over the city on the orders of the man standing piously at the font saying his Amens to the prayers for eternal life.

          God is not mocked. All the prayers and rosaries and Masses in the world cannot expunge the guilt of deliberate and unrepented disobedience to God’s laws.