Friday, February 5, 2016


Homily for February 6th, 2016: Mark 6:30-34.
The Twelve return to Jesus after a time of arduous labor, to report Aall that they had done and taught.@ Jesus knows that after this strenuous activity they need to withdraw C time, we would say today, to recharge their spiritual batteries. So Jesus invites them to Acome away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a little.@ We all need such times of refreshment. The most important hour of my day is the half-hour I spend here in church, waiting in silence on the Lord, and the Mass which follows. Without that time with the Lord who called me to his service on my ordination day, almost 62 years ago, I=d just be spinning my wheels.       
          How can we find time in our busy lives for the rest and refreshment we all need? Here are a few suggestions. In every life, no matter how crowded, there are empty times C times when we must wait. We wait in the check-out line at the supermarket. We wait in traffic, at the post office, at the bank, dentist, or doctor. We walk to and from the cars at our places of work, or at shopping centers. Such empty periods in the day can be turned into Atimes for God.@ As you wait, as you walk to or from the car, lift up your heart and mind to God. Hold up to him those whom you love. Ask him to bless them in the way he knows they need to be blessed. Hold yourself before your heavenly Father with all your weakness and need, all the loose ends in your life, your brokenness, compromises, failures. Long prayers are not necessary. Simple, short prayers are best.
AJesus, help me.@ AMy Lord and my God.@ ALord Jesus, I love you.@  AGood Physician, make me whole.@ AMary, mother, bless your child@
Or simply the holy names, AJesus, Mary, Joseph@ C or the holy name of Jesus alone, repeated with every step, every breath, every heartbeat: all these are perfect prayers that go straight to the loving heart of our heavenly Father.
The more often you make time for the Lord in your life, the more you will discover that the words of psalm 23, the best known and most loved of all 150 psalms, are true C true for you:

 AThe Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.

In verdant pastures he gives me repose;

beside restful waters he leads me;

he refreshes my soul.@

Thursday, February 4, 2016


5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor. 15:1-11;
Luke 5:1-11.
AIM:  By reference to the calls of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, to show that times of crisis are times of unique opportunity.  
There are, in every life, moments we never forget: an unexpected job offer or a promotion; a proposal of marriage; the devastating loss of a job; the phone call that tells us a loved one has died. Things like that we never forget. Today=s readings tell us of such unforgettable moments in the lives of three of the great men of Scripture: Isaiah, Paul, and Peter.
For Isaiah, the moment he never forgot, which changed his life forever was, he tells us, AIn the year King Uzziah died.@ Uzziah had been king for some four decades. His death, and the accession of a new monarch, were a breakup of  landslide proportions. Golden opportunities await, at such times, young men with good connections. Isaiah was young. He had the right connections.
So in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had every reason to be excited about the dazzling prospect of a new career opening up before him. And precisely at that time of unique opportunity, he found the way blocked. A more exalted king than any who ever sat upon an earthly throne summoned this brilliant, well-connected young man to higher service. Isaiah never forgot it. The indelible impression left on the young man=s mind by his vision of the invisible God is evident in Isaiah=s lapidary description of his experience: AIn the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.@ 
For Paul, the author of our second reading, the moment he could never forget, came outside the city gate of Damascus, where Paul was going to defend his fiercely loved Jewish faith by rooting out false teaching. Like Isaiah, though in quite different circumstances, Paul suddenly found his path blocked, his expectations demolished in a blaze of blinding light. Thrown to the ground by the suddenness and intensity of the encounter, Paul heard a voice addressing him by his Hebrew name: ASaul, Saul, why do you persecute me?@
That encounter changed Paul=s life. He never forgot it. Today=s second reading makes clear that Paul was convinced that there outside Damascus he had seen the risen Lord. For after listing the other witnesses to the resurrection, Paul adds: ALast of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.@ And then, remembering the man he had been before that encounter which changed his life, Paul declares: AI am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am.@
Peter=s unforgettable, life-changing experience came when Jesus asked him to do something that violated everything Peter knew about the activity which was his livelihood: catching fish. After a discouraging night of toil on the lake, the net coming back empty time after time, until Peter and his companions were bone weary, Jesus tells Peter to try again in broad daylight. Peter knew that would be an exercise in futility: “Master, we have worked all night, and taken nothing.” But then, perhaps just to humor the Lord, Peter adds: ABut at your command I will lower the nets.@ Peter=s willingness to do the unthinkable enables him to experience the impossible. No sooner have they started to pull in the net, than they feel it heavy with fish.
Peter=s reaction to his astonishing, indeed miraculous, catch is very like Isaiah=s reaction to his awesome vision of the Lord in the Temple: AWoe is me [Isaiah cried], I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.@
In the simpler language of the working man Peter says the same. Throwing himself at the feet of Jesus, with the fish flopping all around him in the boat, Peter can only blurt out: ADepart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.@ To which Jesus responds with words of reassurance: ADo not be afraid: from now on you will be catching men.@ In that moment, Peter=s life is changed. AThey brought their boats to shore,@ Luke tells us, Athey left everything and followed [Jesus].@ Peter never forgot it.
Dramatic experiences like those which came to Isaiah, to Paul, and to Peter, are rare. What is not rare, indeed what is very common, is the shattering of plans or expectations, the sudden blocking up of progress along our chosen path, which each of these three men experienced in their unforgettable moments of crisis.
Perhaps there is someone in this church today who is passing through such a crisis. Your life seems to be coming apart at the seams. You cannot see the way ahead. All the plans you made have been frustrated, your hopes demolished. You do not know which way to turn. If that, or any of that, is your story, then listen. The Lord has good news for you.
Times of crisis are always times of opportunity, times of growth. Sometimes the only way God can get at us is by breaking us B or allowing us to be broken. To set us on the right way, God must sometimes block up the way we are on B even it is in itself a good way.
We all want success. Yet failure can teach us far more than success. I have known great success in my life. I have also experienced humiliating failure. I have to tell you: I have learned far more from failure than I ever learned from success.  To be beaten down by failure until you are flat on the ground with weariness and a sense of life=s futility is to be brought, at last, truly close to God. It is failure that opens the door to God.

What looks to you like the end of all your hopes, the destruction of every plan and aspiration you ever entertained, may be the Lord=s summons to a closer, if more difficult, walk with him. God never closes a door in our lives without opening another. The Lord has shown me that in my life B again and again.

APut out into the deep water,@ the Lord says to Peter. He is saying the same to each one of us right now. Do not abandon the quest, though it seems fruitless.  Leave the shallow waters near shore. Forsake what is familiar and secure for the challenge of the unknown deep. Dare, like Peter, to do the unthinkable. Then, like him, you too will experience the impossible. 

As we travel life=s way, with all its twistings and turnings, its many small achievements and more numerous defeats, we who in baptism have become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ should be sharpening our spiritual vision. For it is only with the eyes of faith that we can perceive the unseen, spiritual world all round us: beneath, behind, above this world of sense and time. Faith assures us that the Lord is watching over us always, in good times and in bad:

C       the same God who appeared to Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died, on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple;

C       the same God whose Son, gloriously risen from the dead, appeared in blazing light to Paul outside the Damascus gate;

C       who challenged Peter, devastated by failure at the one thing he thought he knew something about, to APut out into deep water.@

Glimpsing this mighty God, our loving heavenly Father, with the eyes of faith, we too join B as in a moment we shall B in the angels= song first heard by Isaiah:

 AHoly, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!  All the earth is filled with his glory!@   


Homily for February 5th, 2016; Mark 6:14-29.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry the wife of his still living brother Philip, a woman named Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and his new partner, Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, whom Herod has imprisoned to keep him out of the public eye.  

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: Muslims threatened with death, or actually killed, for converting to Christianity; a Christian missionary sentenced to death for preaching Christ in an Islamic country, and saved only by a worldwide outcry; the teenage girl in Afghanistan who survived an assassination attempt by terrorists who oppose education for women. Fortunately she was nursed back to health in England, and lived to tell her story before a meeting of the United Nations in New York.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the countless victims of injustice and terror in the world today?


Wednesday, February 3, 2016


Homily for February 4th, 2016: Mark 6:7-13.

          Sending out his disciples to proclaim the gospel, Jesus tells them: “Take nothing with you but a walking stick.” This lack of concern for material things shows the urgency of the missionary task, and the need to depend on God to supply whatever may be necessary. Could we do that?

          Let me tell you about someone who did. She was born in 1910 in what is now Albania and given the name Agnes in Baptism. As a girl she was told about missionaries in India and dreamed of joining them. A Jesuit told her that the Loretto nuns, based in Dublin, worked in India. At age 18 Agnes, not knowing a word of English, journeyed to Ireland to become a Sister of Loretto. She would never see her home, or her mother, again.

          After only 6 weeks in Dublin, Agnes arrived in Calcutta. When she took vows as a Sister she took the name of the French Carmelite, Teresa. For some 15 years she taught in the Loretto Sisters’ schools for Indian girls, becoming headmistress of a school for 300 pupils.

          In 1946 Sister Teresa was traveling by train to her annual retreat when she received what she called ever after “a call within a call: to give up all and follow Jesus into the slums, ministering to the poorest of the poor. I knew it was God’s will and that I had to follow him. It was an order. I knew where I belonged, but I did not know how to get there.” Teresa exchanged her religious habit for the rough cotton sari of the poor, and went to live in a single room in the slums. Her only resources were 5 rupees, about a dollar. One by one former pupils joined her. They rose at 4:30, spent 2 hours in meditation and Mass, and then after a hurried breakfast set out for the slums, bearing baskets of food and medicines.

          Training her Sisters was a primary concern. They were not to be social workers, but contemplatives, able to see in the gravely ill and wretchedly poor, “Christ in his distressing disguise.”

          At Mother Teresa’s death in September 1997 almost 4000 women had joined Missionaries of Charity in houses all over the world, some here in St Louis. I invoke her prayers every day. I invite you to do the same, asking you to respond as I say: “Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – Pray for us.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Homily for February 3rd, 2016: Mark 6:1-6.
When Jesus returns to Nazareth, he speaks in the synagogue with an eloquence and power which astonish his hearers. “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” they ask. Those last three words suggest a hostile insult. In Jewish usage a man is normally identified with his father’s name: in Jesus’ case, “son of Joseph.” So the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned here, and elsewhere in the gospels, are not necessarily full siblings. “They took offense at him,” Mark tells us.
People are still taking offense at Jesus today. They take offence, for instance, when they hear Jesus speaking about marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman, terminable only by death. When they hear our wonderful new Pope saying that we must also remember to be kind and compassionate to people who have difficulty living up to Jesus’ standards, they rejoice that at least this pope, unlike his mean and heartless predecessors, finally “gets it” and is starting to change Church teaching accordingly.
That is pure wishful thinking and utter nonsense. Pope Francis has changed nothing. “I am a son of the Church,” he said shortly after his election. He teaches exactly what his predecessors have taught. A professor at Notre Dame University wrote an article, which the New York Times was only too happy to print (no surprise there!), suggesting that Pope Francis might soon tell us that there were cases when abortion was perfectly OK. What nonsense! 
Jesus responds to those who take offense at him with words that have become proverbial: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”
Mark concludes his report of Jesus’ home visit by writing: “So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there … He was amazed at their lack of faith.” It is faith which opens the door to the action of God in our lives. What prayer could we better offer in this Mass than that of the man seeking healing from Jesus, who prayed: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”


Monday, February 1, 2016


February 2nd, 2016: Luke 2:22-40.

          Today’s feast has three names: the Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Candlemas. To understand the first two we must start with Jewish law about childbirth in Jesus’ day. This said that following the birth of a boy the mother was considered ritually impure. On the eighth day the boy was circumcised. Thereafter the mother remained at home for a further thirty-three days for her blood to be purified. Hence the first title for today’s feast is the Purification of Mary.

After forty days of rest and seclusion, the Jewish mother presented a purification sacrifice: a lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering. Poor mothers needed to offer only two turtle doves or two young pigeons. That is what Mary and Joseph offered. They were poor.

Mary needed no purification. The child she bore would purify the world through his sacrificial death and resurrection. But as a devout Jew, Mary observed the law of her people nonetheless. Jewish law also said that a firstborn son belonged to the Lord. This was because, in the final plague inflicted by God on the Egyptians, he had killed all their firstborn children and animals. But he spared the firstborn among his own people, the Jews. Firstborn Jewish children belonged, therefore, to the Lord. So Mary and Joseph take their infant son to the Jerusalem Temple, to present him to the Lord. This explains the second title for today’s feast: the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. From that day Jesus belonged completely to God. By age twelve he knew this. For when his parents found him in the Temple after a frantic three-day search, he asked them: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”         

When Mary and Joseph entered the Temple with their infant son, 40 days after his birth, they found that the Lord had two surprises for them. How often he surprises us. The first surprise was the appearance of the old man Simeon. He was “righteous and devout,” the gospel writer, Luke, tells us, “awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen “the Christ,” which means the Lord’s anointed servant, promised for so long by Israel’s prophets. When Simeon saw the child, he knew in his heart at once, that this was the one: the Lord’s anointed servant, the Messiah.

Taking the child in his arms, Simeon speaks the short hymn of praise to God that we heard in the gospel. It is called the Nunc dimittis, from its first two Latin words. From early times it has been chanted during the night prayer of the Church in both East and West. Praising God for fulfilling his promise, Simeon says he is now ready to go home to the Lord. The hymn also praises the child as Israel’s glory, and for the Gentiles a light – which helps explain why we bless candles on this feast and why it has a third name: Candlemas.

Simeon goes on to say that this child will be “a sign of contradiction.” Some will accept him, others will not. This contradiction continues today in those who regard the whole notion of God as a limitation of human freedom, and his law a fence to hem us in. In reality, God’s laws, first given to the leader of God’s people, Moses, in the Ten Commandments, are sign posts pointing the way to human happiness and flourishing.

Finally, Simeon warns Mary that the rejection of her Son by many will be a sword piercing her own heart. This prophecy would be fulfilled, according to the traditional dating, thirty-three years later on Calvary, where Mary stood beside her crucified Son, as he spoke his final words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The second surprise for Mary and Joseph is the appearance of the 84-year-old widow, Anna. Completely at home in the Temple, she has spent decades in fasting, adoration, and prayer – like contemplative nuns today. She now gives thanks for the child, Luke says, and speaks of him “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Having fulfilled all the provisions of God’s law, Mary and Joseph return with their child to their home in Nazareth, where (Luke tells us) “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It was there, in hiddenness and silence, in faithfulness to daily work and prayer, that Jesus became the man who could say to rough workingmen, “Come, follow me,” and have them obey him on the spot; and to utter words that he is still saying to us today: “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

[The homily draws upon the presentation by Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives pp.80-88.]

Sunday, January 31, 2016


Homily for February 1st, 2016: Mark 5: 1-20.

          The story we have just heard in the gospel reading is one of the strangest in the New Testament. Jesus heals a man of insanity. He has been living like an animal in a cave. According to the ideas of that day, he is possessed by evil spirits. Jesus drives out the spirits, who enter a herd of wild pigs feeding nearby. The animals rush headlong over a cliff into the lake, and are drowned.

          We must leave these bizarre details to the Scripture scholars. Important for us is what happens to the man after his healing. No wonder the man begs Jesus to take him with him. And how crushed he must have been when Jesus refuses and tells him instead: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” 

          “To my family?" we can imagine the man thinking. They were the people who had driven him out of his mind in the first place. At home everyone would point him out, whisper about him, laugh at him. What would happen to his new-found sanity and peace of mind then?

          With a cold, dead weight on his heart the man watches Jesus and his friends get into the boat. They row out a little way from shore and set the sails. Gradually the boat gets smaller and smaller, until it is only a speck on the horizon. And the man thinks: “Out there is the man who has changed my life: the kindest, the most wonderful man I have ever met.” It must have been a long time before the man finds the courage to turn round and climb the cliff gain, obeying Jesus’ command: “Go home . . . ”

          In a few minutes the Lord will give you that same command. Perhaps you’d prefer to stay. How good it is to be with Jesus. It is quiet and peaceful in church at this early morning hour. How difficult it is to return to the rough and tumble of daily life, to the demands that await you as soon as you do return. But return you must. We live not on the mountain tops of great spiritual experiences. Most of life’s journey is spent in the valleys; and for each of us there are times when those valleys are dark. When you must walk in darkness, remember the beautiful words of the most loved of all the 150 psalms, Psalm 23: “Even though I walk in the dark, I fear no evil; for you are at my side, with your rod and your staff that give me courage.”