Friday, February 19, 2016


Homily for February 20th, 2016: Matthew 5:43-48.

          Nowhere in the Bible do we find the command which Jesus cites in the gospel reading today: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Jesus is citing not Scripture but general public opinion when he refers to a command to hate your enemy. Speaking not as an interpreter of the law, but as the Lawgiver (we saw yesterday that he does this repeatedly in the Sermon on the Mount), Jesus states what we could call the new law of God: “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” The book Leviticus has something similar, but limits its application to Jews: “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.” (19:18) Jesus, in effect, lifts the limitation to Jews and makes the command universal. How could he do this? Because this is how Jesus himself lived.

          The 12th century English Benedictine, Abbot Aelred writes about this in a work called The Mirror of Love. Here is what he says.

“He who is more fair than all men offered his fair face to be spat upon by sinful men ; he allowed those eyes that rule the universe to be blindfolded by wicked men; he bared his back to the scourges; he submitted that head which strokes terror in principalities and powers to the sharpness of the thorns; he gave himself up to be mocked and reviled, and at the end endured the cross, the nails, the lance, the gall, the vinegar, remaining always gentle, meek, and full of peace.”

Jesus also prayed for his tormentors, Aelred reminds us, saying “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And so, Aelred writes, “If someone wishes to love himself … he must enlarge the horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord. … If he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Savior [Jesus Christ].” (Breviary Office of Readings, Friday of the first week of Lent.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Homily for February 19th, 2016: Matthew 5:20-26.

          Four times in this first week of Lent the gospel reading is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. On Tuesday Jesus told us how to pray by giving us the Our Father. Yesterday’s gospel continued this teaching with Jesus encouraging faithfulness to prayer by telling us to ask, to seek, and to knock. Today and tomorrow Jesus speaks about the central concern of Jewish religion: God’s law. There is an important phrase that we heard twice today and that shall hear again tomorrow: “But I say to you …” With those words Jesus distances himself from normal Jewish practice.  

          Other teachers of God’s law cite a Commandment and then discuss its interpretation, citing the interpretations of other famous rabbis. The Commandment to “Keep holy the Sabbath day,” for instance, raises the whole question of what kinds of work are forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus speaks not, like other rabbis, as an interpreter of the law. He speaks as himself the Lawgiver.

“You have heard, ‘You shall kill.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Or – “You have heard, “Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you whoever looks lustfully on a woman, has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts.” Or again – “You have heard, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Or finally – “You have heard, ‘Do not take a false oath.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all.”

Do you see what Jesus is doing? Two things. First, by speaking not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as the Lawgiver, Jesus is manifesting his divinity. He does the same when he forgives sins. Second, he is plugging the loopholes in the law developed by legalistic interpreters – “the scribes and Pharisees” mentioned at the beginning of today’s gospel. If the Commandments really mean what Jesus says they mean, then they are beyond our power to fulfill completely.  

Many people think of the Commandments as questions in a moral examination in which we must first get a passing grade before God will love and bless us in this life, and admit us to heaven in the next. That’s wrong! God loves us already, just as good parents love their children from birth, or even from conception, without waiting to see how they’ll turn out. The Commandments tell us how to respond gratefully to the free gift of God’s love. And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this: grateful people are happy people – no exceptions!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C.  Lk 9:28-36
AIM: To help the hearers see that those with us are more than those against us. 
A story in the Old Testament tells about the prophet Elisha finding himself surrounded one morning by enemy troops. (2 Kgs 6:15ff) They want to kidnap him, because Elisha has been giving intelligence information to the king of Israel.  Seeing their desperate plight, Elisha=s servant panics. ADo not be afraid,@ Elisha tells him, Afor those who are with us are more than those who are with them.@       
How could the servant believe that? He and Elisha were alone and encircled.  Their situation was hopeless. So Elisha does what prophets do best. He prays: AO Lord, open his eyes, that he may see.@ The story continues: AAnd the Lord opened the eyes of the servant, so that he saw the mountainside filled with horses and fiery chariots around Elisha.@ With the protection of these heavenly warriors, God=s angels, Elisha has an easy victory over his enemies that day.
At the start of today=s gospel, the friends of Jesus are likewise afraid. Shortly before, Jesus has told them: AThe Son of Man must ... endure many sufferings, be rejected .. and be put to death ...@ (Lk 9:22). How shocked the disciples must have been. Apparently Jesus was not the Messiah they expected B a powerful figure who would confront the hated Roman army of occupation in their country and restore the kingdom to Israel. Should we bail out now, they must have asked themselves, before it=s too late?
 At this point Jesus does what Elisha did. He goes up a mountain to pray, taking with him Peter, and the brothers James and John. As he prays, these friends of Jesus see something they have never seen before. This friend of theirs, whom they know as a man like themselves, is for a few shining moments utterly unlike them. He is clothed in heavenly glory, Ahis face changed in appearance and his clothing ... dazzling white.@ They hear a voice from heaven proclaiming that this man Jesus is more than human: AThis is my chosen Son; listen to him.@ 
It=s true after all, they realize. Jesus is truly God=s anointed servant, the long awaited Messiah. Those few moments of glory on the mountain gave them courage not to bail out, but to listen to Jesus; and to follow him all the way to the suffering and death in Jerusalem which he had so recently predicted. No matter what happens now, they are sure of one thing: God is on the side of Jesus; final victory will be his.      
Somewhere in this church right now there is a person who is fearful. Things haven=t gone the way they were supposed to. Perhaps it is a marriage strained, you fear, almost to the breaking point. Maybe a son or daughter is making life choices which you see can bring that young person whom you love so dearly only grief and misery. You may are experiencing some terrible injustice. Perhaps you are facing a serious illness: your own or that of a loved one. The future looks dark. Is there a God at all? you ask. And if there is, why does he seem to answer my prayers only with silence?
I encountered such a person a couple of years ago on a flight home from Texas. I try always to wear clerical dress when I travel, so people will know I am a priest. As I waited for my flight in the Houston airport, a woman asked me to bless her. I did so, and thought no more about it. When I was in the air, an hour later, a male flight attendant came to me and said: “We have a passenger on board who is very distraught. Would you be willing to talk to her?” “Of course,” I replied. When the attendant ushered her into the empty seat next to me, I saw that she was the same woman whom I had blessed in the airport an hour earlier. She told me she was flying to St. Louis to be with her 49-year-old sister, terminally ill with cancer, whom the doctors has given only a few days to live. “I don’t understand,” she said sobbing. “I don’t understand.”
“There are many things we don’t understand, dear,” I told her. “I have never understood why, when I was only six years old, my mother died of pneumonia the day after Christmas, after only a week’s illness. I didn’t understand it then. I cannot understand it today. That was a terrible tragedy. From this tragedy, however God brought something wonderful. A year or so after my mother’s death, it came home to me one day, with blinding certainty, that I would see my mother again, when God called me home. From that day to this the unseen spiritual world – the world of God, the angels, the saints and our beloved dead, has been real to me – because I know someone who is there: my mother first and now so many others who have gone home to God. That was the seedbed in which my call to priesthood grew. I wanted to be close to that spiritual world. From age twelve, I have wanted to be a priest. I have never wanted anything else.”
I told her how wonderful it was that she was going to see her dying sister. “One day, you will hear the Lord saying to you, with tender love and very personally: ‘I was sick, and you visited me.’” There was more to our conversation of course. But that was the essence. When she returned to her seat, she was distraught no longer. Through my stumbling words, the Lord had touched her and given her a measure of peace.
 Whatever cross life has brought you, to carry it you must do what Jesus did.  You must pray, like Elisha: ALord, open my eyes that I may see.@ Ask him to show you that those who are with you are greater by far than those against you. With you is the whole host of heaven: God=s angels to guard and protect you in all your ways.  Supporting you are the prayers of the Lord=s mother Mary and all the saints. They too knew suffering, every bit as bitter as any you face, most of them more. They never gave up, though they wanted to do so often. They are praying for you right now. 
With you is the Lord himself. He walks with you every step of the way, especially when the road is steep and you are so tired, so discouraged, and so filled with fear and doubt that you don=t think you can take another step. Yes, and he is waiting for you at the end of life=s road C waiting with joy to welcome you into that place which he has gone ahead to prepare for you, in his Father=s house, which is also yours. 

That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news. Those who are with us are more than those against us. Do not be afraid. Place your hand in the unseen but real hand of God. He is with you now. He remains with you always.


Homily for February 18th, 2016: Matthew 7:7-12.

          I received an e-mail recently about a man who had complained that God hadn’t answered his months-long prayer that he would win the lottery. God answered the man’s complaint by telling him: ‘Give me some help, will you? Buy a ticket.’ Jesus tells us something similar when he says: “Ask and you will receive.” The very act of asking is an expression of faith.

But why ask when God knows our needs already? Doing so reminds us of our dependence on God. When things are going well for us and the sun is shining, it is easy to forget that we still need the Lord. Asking also strengthens our desire, much as regular exercise strengthens the heart, muscles, and lungs. St. Gregory the Great, who was pope from 590 to 604, wrote: “All holy desires grow by delay. And if they do not grow, they were never holy desires.”

Jesus also says, “Seek and you will find.” The Trappist monk who helped me over the threshold of the Catholic Church over a half-century ago wrote: “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances; to seek him the greatest human adventure; to find him the highest human achievement.”

Jesus tells us finally: “Knock and the door will be opened to you.” If we know that a house, or a room, is empty, we don’t bother to knock. So knocking too is an expression of faith – that there is someone there to open the door.

To strengthen our faith, Jesus asks two rhetorical questions: “Would you give your son a stone if he asked for bread, or a snake if he asked for fish?” Our wonderful Pope Francis asks simple, challenging questions like that. If his hearers don’t answer the question, he will repeat it until they do. You are certainly not saints, Jesus says; yet you know how to give gifts to your children. Do you suppose, then, that your heavenly Father will be less generous than you are? That is a “how much more” question, and Jesus uses it often. “How much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”

Today’s gospel reading closes with the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” That is not unique to Christianity. We find it, in some form, in all the great religions of the world. Treat others, the rule says, as you would like them to treat you.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Homily for February 17th, 2016: Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32.

          “The word of God came to Jonah a second time,” our first reading began. The first time God had spoken to Jonah, he told him to go the Gentile city Nineveh to preach repentance to its citizens, Jonah not only refused. He took a ship going in the opposite direction from Nineveh. When the ship got into a terrible storm, the crew thought God had sent the storm to punish Jonah for his disobedience. So they threw poor Jonah overboard. He was saved in the belly of what the Bible calls “a great fish” – who after three days vomited Jonah up on land. It was at this point that the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time – and with the same command. Jonah had refused God’s command the first time, because he didn’t want Gentile outsiders to experience the love and mercy of Israel’s God. That was for Jews only, Jonah thought.

Now Jonah, though still resentful, goes to Nineveh, preaches repentance, and the people immediately obey! Whereupon Jonah is angry. ‘That’s just what I told you would happen,’ he complains to God. ‘That’s why I didn’t want to come here. Now I’d rather die.’ Jonah is the quintessential sorehead.

In the gospel Jesus reminds his fellow Jews of this old story, and tells those who have been demanding a “sign” before they will believe in him – some miracle so dramatic they it will compel belief – that the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah. At his preaching the Gentile Ninevites, who didn’t have the Ten Commandments and all the other blessings that God had showered on Jonah’s people down through the ages, believed at once, without demanding a sign, repented, and received God’s merciful love.

Lent challenges us, as Jesus challenged his own people. Is our belief in him strong enough to make us willing to change in areas where he wants us to change? I’ll be on retreat next month. I have been praying that during the retreat the Lord will show me the areas in my life which need to change, so that I may be more pleasing to Him, and more useful to the people whom the Church ordained me to serve.

Perhaps you’d like to offer a similar prayer for yourself.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Homily for February 16th, 2016, Lord’s Prayer: Matt. 6:7-15.

          I’ve told you last Friday that Lent is a kind of spiritual spring training. It focuses on three essential practices: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Today’s gospel gives us Jesus’ teaching about prayer. “Do not babble like the pagans,” Jesus says. The pagan gods of Jesus’ day were manipulative. They were in competition with one another. To get on their good side, the worshipper had to say the right words, and repeat them as often as possible. You can forget all that, Jesus says. The God to whom you pray is your loving heavenly Father. He “knows what you need before you ask him.”  

          Jesus then lays out the pattern for our prayer. We don’t have a private me-and-God religion. By praying our Father, and not my Father, we acknowledge that we approach God as members of his people. Three petitions follow, having to with God himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want.

          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.

          Four petitions follow which have to do with our brothers and sisters in the family of God: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.

          Here is a Lenten suggestion. Take at least five or ten minutes to pray the Our Father slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Reflect on the implications of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on in your next prayer time to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Sunday, February 14, 2016


Homily for February 15th, 2016: Matthew 25: 31-46.

          Often overlooked in this familiar parable is the surprise of both groups at the judgment pronounced upon them. Those whom the king commends are not aware of having done anything special. Those he condemns are indignant. As far as they know, they have observed all the rules. And now they find themselves rejected for things they never knew were in the rule book.

          What a lesson there is there for us Catholics! The parable is a warning. It tells us that everything we do in life, as well as the things we leave undone, have eternal consequences. The choices we make each day and hour are determining, even now, our final destiny. Judgment is not a matter of adding up the pluses and minuses in some heavenly account book. Judgment is simply God’s confirmation of the choices, or judgment, we have already made by the way we chose to live our lives. That is the warning.

          The parable’s encouragement is the assurance that we need not fear judgment, as long as we are trying to help people in need whom we encounter along life’s way. It is not that our good deeds gain us a row of gold stars in some heavenly account book which help balance out the black marks. Jesus is saying something quite different. He is telling us that the person who is genuinely trying to serve others’ needs will not fail to attain moral goodness in other areas as well. And such failures as remain (and we all have them) will be forgiven by God.  

          Do you come here discouraged? Your life is a tangle of loose ends, failed resolutions, and broken promises? You pray poorly, you lose your temper, you’re impatient, you are unable to overcome some bad habit or, as they say, to “get it all together.” Take heart! If that, or any of that, is your story, then the parable of the sheep and the goats is Jesus’ encouragement for you. It is his way of telling you that your failures are not ultimately important, if you are looking for opportunities of helping others, and using those opportunities when you find them. Anything good you try to do for others, no matter how insignificant, is of infinite worth. It is done for Jesus Christ. One day you will discover, to your astonishment, that you have been serving Him all along, without ever realizing it. You will hear the voice of your shepherd-king saying to you tenderly, and very personally: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

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