Friday, March 4, 2016


Homily for March 5th, 2016: Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees have had such a bad press that we think the first man in this story must be a hypocrite. He was not. He really has done all the things he lists in his prayer. The tax collector, on the other hand, is a public sinner. He collects taxes for the hated Roman government of occupation. Much of the money goes into his own pocket. Unable, like the Pharisee, to point in his prayer to any semblance of a good conduct record, he appeals simply to God=s mercy: AO God, be merciful to me, a sinner.@ 

Here is what our Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI says about these two men in his book, Jesus of Nazareth [pp. 61f]:

AThe Pharisee can boast considerable virtues; he tells God only about himself, and he thinks that he is praising God in praising himself. The tax collector knows that he has sinned, he knows he cannot boast before God, and he prays in full awareness of his debt to grace. [AGrace@ is the technical term for God=s freely given love, something we can never earn.] ... The real point is ... that there are two ways of relating to God and to oneself. The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous B what he does himself is enough. 

AThe tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself.  So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God=s goodness, which he can not force God to give him and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows that he needs mercy and so he will learn from God=s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God. ... He will always need the gift of goodness, or forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to give the gift to others.@

Happy are we if those words describe us: people who know we shall always need the gift of God=s goodness and forgiveness; and if, in receiving these gifts we learn to pass them on to others.


Thursday, March 3, 2016


Homily for March 4th, 2016: Matthew 5: 17-19.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and prophets,” Jesus says. “I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” We sometimes hear that the Old Testament presents a God of law, the New Testament a God of love. That’s not true. While law is central in the Old Testament, it presents God=s law as an expression of his love B a gift granted to his chosen people, and not to others.  (Cf. Deut. 4:6-8) And while the New Testament does emphasize God=s love, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus that he has come not to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:7). At the Last Supper he gives his apostles Aa new commandment: Love one another@ (John 13:34). Both parts of the Bible proclaim the same God. If God=s self-disclosure is fuller in the New Testament, this is because in it God comes to us through his Son. As we read in the opening verse of the letter to the Hebrews: AIn times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son ...@

Love of God and neighbor are the heart of Jesus= summary of the law in today=s gospel. When his questioner says that love is better than Aall burnt offerings and sacrifices@ B better, that is, than formal worship B Jesus tells him: AYou are not far from the kingdom of God.@ With these words Jesus is saying that God=s kingdom is present wherever love is present. 

But how can we tell when this love, which is the heart of God=s law, is truly present? Jesus= answer is clear. The test of our love for God is whether we love our neighbor. (Cf. 1 John 4:20) And love for our neighbor is genuine only if it means sharing with others the unmerited love that God lavishes on us. This is the love for neighbor which God commands in his law, a matter not of feeling, but of deeds. 

Human laws command us to respect the rights of others. But I can respect your rights without having any human contact with you. Hence the enormous amount of loneliness in our society. Mother Teresa called loneliness Athe worst disease of modern times.@ There is only one cure for loneliness: love. We come here to receive love: a free gift, not a reward for services rendered. The One who gives us this gift does so under one strict condition: that we share his love with others.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


Lent 4C.  2 Cor. 5: 17-21; Lk 15: 1-3, 11-32
AIM: To help the hearers understand the good news of God=s love, free but not cheap  
A preacher held up a crisp new $20 bill. AHow many people here would like to have this?@ he asked. All hands went up. Then he crumpled the bill into a ball and asked again: AHow many people would like to have it now?@ Again all hands were raised. So he threw the crumpled bill on the floor and stomped on it. AAnd now, how many would like to have it.@ Still all hands were raised. 
AWhat I have just shown you,@ he explained, Ais that the difference between a crisp new $20 bill and a soiled one in our eyes is the difference between a good person and a bad person in God=s eyes. God loves them both equally.@ Why?  Paul gives us the answer in Romans 3:23, AAll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.@ 
At the beginning of today=s gospel Jesus= critics protest angrily: AThis man welcomes sinners and eats with them.@ Jesus answers that complaint with one of his best loved stories. It has just three characters. Each is important, as we shall see. The story begins with C
The younger son. 
AFather, give me the share of your estate that should come to me,@ the young man demands one day. He is bored, fed up, and rebellious. He wants to get out, live it up, do his own thing. Sin, of any kind originates in the idea that my desires are the most important thing in the world; that the only thing which stands between me and happiness is my inability to do or to have what I want. The younger son assumes that once he is free to do his own thing, his life will be transformed and wonderful.  Transformed it is. Wonderful it is not. 
AAfter a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings, and set off to a distant country, where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.@ In a single sentence Jesus paints a picture of wasted talents, wasted time, wasted human potential. The young man is not only physically distant from home. He has also traveled far from the atmosphere of love which had surrounded him there, and which he mistook for interference with his freedom. When he has run through all his money he is forced to take work far more degrading than any he had to do at home: feeding pigs. Jewish dietary laws brand pigs as unclean. Even today observant Jews eat no pork.
AComing to his senses,@ Jesus tells us, the young man reflects that he is worse off than the lowliest servant back home. He realizes that there must be yet another change in his life. The carefully rehearsed speech which he prepares for his homecoming shows, however, that this change is only skin deep. What actually motivates his return is not regret for wasting his father=s money, and wounding his father=s love, but still concern for himself. To put food in his belly, and a roof over his head, he is willing to accept a certain amount of embarrassment. Skillfully Jesus now directs our attention to the second character in the story C 
The father. 
He is clearly an affluent farmer and landowner. AWhile he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.@ How was it that the father saw his son Awhile he was still a long way off@? He was looking for him!  He grieved for his absent boy. At once the father runs down the road to greet him, to fold him in his arms. That detail would have shocked Jesus= hearers. In the patriarchal society of that day the sight of a wealthy head of a family running was as unthinkable as, for us, the spectacle of a bishop entering his cathedral on a skateboard. There is no word of reproach. He won=t even permit his son to finish his well rehearsed speech.  Immediately the father orders a celebration.
This is the heart of the story. AThat is how good God is,@ Jesus is saying. God is not a stern judge, who must be appeased by prayers and sacrifices and good works.  God is not difficult to satisfy, a fault-finder to be feared. God is a God of love. Like the father in this story, God forgives us when we wander off into distant places, when by our own fault we squander and waste our Father=s gifts in ways which may bring us short-lived thrills but no true happiness C only misery, servitude, and shame. The son in his father=s arms is a picture of what the theologians call Agrace@: God=s forgiveness and love C granted not as a reward for services rendered, but as a free gift. God=s grace is free. But it is not cheap.
Paul tells us the price of God=s forgiving love in today=s second reading. AFor our sake [God] made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.@ Those words refer to Calvary, where Jesus, dying a criminal=s death, cried out: AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ (Mk 15:34). In that moment Jesus felt that he was in a distant country, far from his Father=s love. Jesus, who did not know sin, freely took his stand, on the cross, where we are, as sinners: under the wrath of God, alienated from God=s love. He did this so that we might become what Jesus is: Athe righteousness of God.@ Jesus= agonizing death, with its feeling of being shut out from God=s love, is the price of God=s forgiving love, which we see in the father=s free forgiveness of his younger son. I repeat: God=s grace is free. It is not cheap. It cost the lifeblood of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. This second scene in Jesus= story ends on a note of joy: AThen the celebration began.@  There is one, however, who refuses to share this joy C
The older brother.
He stands for Jesus= critics, who complain: AThis man receives sinners and eats with them.@ He stands today for people who, when they are told that God loves sinners, are indignant. How outrageous, they protest, to suggest that God loves people of bad moral character: drunkards, spouses who cheat on each other, people who lie, steal, destroy people=s good names through gossip; people who go to singles bars, gays. AYou=re telling me God loves scum like that, Father? People who never go to church? I don=t buy it.@ God is supposed to love faithful, Mass-going Catholics; members of the Knights of Columbus, the Legion of Mary, the Blue Army.

The older brother=s litany of complaint shows that he too is in a distant country: physically at home, but far removed from his father=s attitude of love. He has never noticed his father=s grief all the time his brother was away. Now that he is home again, the elder brother refuses to acknowledge him. AYour son,@ the older brother calls him, as if to say: AYour son, perhaps, but no brother of mine.@ He is filled with resentment, envy, and hate. The father does not condemn this son either: AEverything I have is yours,@ he reminds him. Farther than that love cannot go. 

AWho in the story suffered the most?@ a Sunday school teacher asked the class after reading them this story. One of the brightest children answered at once: AThe fattened calf.@ Next to the fattened calf, however, comes the older brother who remains outside while the party goes on inside. He does not even taste the fattened calf he himself probably helped to raise. 

Or did he? Did he change his mind and go in after all? Jesus doesn=t tell us.  Jesus leaves the story open-ended. He does so because us wants us to supply the ending. This Mass C every Mass C is a celebration of our heavenly Father=s freely given love and forgiveness. The price of that forgiveness was the poured out blood of his Son, who did not know sin, but whom God made to be sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him. We supply the ending to the story by confronting honestly the questions Jesus is putting to each of us right now:

Is the Mass for you a celebration of joy? Or is the Mass for you merely an obligation to be fulfilled?  In other words C Have you heard the good news? Are you joining in its celebration?


Homily for March 3rd, 2016: Luke 11:14-23.

        We are just half-way through Lent. Today is the 20th of the 40 days. As our pilgrimage to Easter continues, the gospel readings at Mass show the opposition to Jesus mounting. Today, when Jesus heals a man previously unable to speak, some are amazed; others are critical. And some of the critics charge that Jesus is able to do such things only because he has entered into a pact with Satan. Still others find the miracle of healing unpersuasive. They demand “a sign from heaven.” All agree on one thing, however: Satan is a real person, of great power.

        That is anything but modern. Most people today, even many Christians, think of Satan as just one of the many legends from the past which we enlightened moderns have discarded. We still pray, however, in the words of the one prayer which Jesus gave us, “deliver us from evil.” Here is what the Catechism says about that prayer.

   “In this petition, evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the Evil One, the angel who opposes God.” In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the name for the Devil is diabolos. That gives us the English word which describes the Devil’s work: “diabolic.” The first part of the Greek word, dia, means “through” or “across.” Bolos is from the Greek word for “throw.” The Catechism says, therefore, “The devil (diabolos) is the one who ‘throws himself across’ God’s plan and his work of salvation accomplished in Christ.” (No. 2851) Satan is no long discarded legend. He is person of real power. Both Scripture and the Catechism call him “a murderer from the beginning … a liar and the father of lies, the deceiver of the whole world.” (No. 2852)

        When we ask, in the final petition of the Lord’s Prayer, to be delivered from the Evil One, “we pray as well [the Catechism says] to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world. Along with the evils that overwhelm humanity, the Church implores the precious gift of peace and the grace of perseverance in expectation of Christ’s return. By praying in this way, she anticipates in humility of faith the gathering together of everyone and everything in him who has ‘the keys of Death and Hades,’ who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (No. 2854)


Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Homily for Week 3 in Lent, Wednesday: Deut. 4:1, 5-9.

          God’s chosen people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt for more than four centuries, over double the life of slavery in our country. Oppressed people follow the law of the jungle, inflicting on one another the cruelty and oppression inflicted on them by their oppressors. 

So the ragtag group of people who crossed the Red Sea with Moses had grown accustomed for centuries to a life of lawlessness. The Ten Commandments, given by God to Moses, were designed to bring order out of chaos, to establish justice and peace among a people who had long since forgotten the very meaning of those words. The Commandments were not then, nor are they now, fences to hem people in. They were and are ten signposts pointing the way to human flourishing, freedom, and peace.   

          That is why Moses tells the people in our first reading to observe God’s Commandments “that you may live.” Doing that, Moses says, “you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence” to other nations. But Moses tells them that they must do more. “Take care … not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” What things is Moses referring to? He is speaking about the whole marvelous, indeed miraculous, story of his people’s deliverance from their more than four centuries of slavery.

          Why is this remembering so important? Why does Holy Scripture so often record the story of God’s mighty deeds in the past? Because God never changes. The record of God’s miraculous care for his people in the past assures us of his care today, and its continuance into the future. As we read in the letter to the Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, yes and forever” (13:8).

          The Church’s central act of worship, the Mass, is a recalling of what God’s Son, Jesus, has done for us at the Last Supper, on Calvary, and at his Resurrection. But this is not merely a mental recalling. Because the Mass is a sacrament, it makes present, spiritually but truly, that which it commemorates. We are there with the apostles in the Upper Room. We are there with the Beloved Disciple, Mary, and other women on Calvary; and we are with them also, astonished, at the empty tomb, with but one exception. We cannot see him with our physical eyes; but we do see him with the eyes of faith. And seeing, we adore.

Monday, February 29, 2016


Homily for March 1st, 2016: Mathew 18:21-35

          “Lord, when my brother wrongs me,” Peter asks Jesus, “how often must I forgive him? Seven times?” “No,” Jesus replies, “not seven times; I say, seventy times seven times.” Jesus was saying that the duty of forgiveness was unlimited. Then, as so often, Jesus tells a story to illustrate his teaching.

          The story’s opening is ominous. A king, for Jesus’ hearers, was a man with power of life and death over his subjects. The people with whom he intends to settle accounts are officials responsible for collecting the king’s taxes. “One was brought in, who owed a huge amount.” A lifetime was insufficient to pay it. The king’s cruel punishment, ordering not only the man himself but his whole family to be sold into slavery, would have shocked Jesus’ hearers. Then comes a surprise. When the man pleads for time to pay the debt, the king suddenly shows mercy: “Moved with compassion, the master … forgave him the loan.”

          No sooner delivered from his desperate plight, the official finds a colleague who owes him “a much smaller amount,” and demands immediate payment in full. The second official’s reaction to the demand that he pay his debt mirrors that of the first. “Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.” The sole difference is that the second official’s debt could easily be paid, given reasonable time. How shocking for those hearing the story for the first time to learn of the first official’s harsh response. Seizing his colleague by the throat and throttling him, he insists that the man be imprisoned until the debt is paid.

          In the story’s conclusion the colleagues of the two debtors go and report the injustice to the king. Summoning the first official again, the king reminds him of the unmerited mercy he has received and, in an act of grim irony, grants the man what, in his original desperation, he had requested: time. Now, however, the time will be spent not in repayment but in prison, under torture. This detail would have deeply shocked Jesus’ hearers. In Jewish law torture was unknown.  

The story’s lesson is simple: if we are not forgiving toward others, as God is already forgiving toward us, we risk discovering one day that the forgiveness God has extended to us has been canceled. Jesus is telling us, in short, that our treatment of others, here and now — and especially of those who have wronged us — is already determining where, how, and with whom we shall spend eternity.   

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Homily for February 29th, 2016: 2 Kings 5:1-15.

          Read the Bible through, and you will find every type of person you will ever encounter or even read about. The Syrian General Naaman, whose story we heard in our first reading, and whom Jesus recalls in the gospel, is the original V.I.P. – a Very Important Person. We see this in the retinue he takes with him on his visit to what he considers the unimportant little country of Israel. He brings with him a treasure in silver and gold, ten sets of elaborate court dress, the horses and chariots necessary to transport all this booty, and the personnel necessary to keep everything in order and to ensure that Naaman himself has a safe journey, with all the comforts he requires.

          The reason for his trip is the report which has reached him from one of his wife’s servant girls that there is a prophet in Israel who can cure people of Naaman’s disease: leprosy. Naaman deals initially with Israel’s king. You wouldn’t expect a man of his importance to go traipsing through a piddling little foreign country looking for a mere prophet, would you? When the king sends him on to Elisha, and Naaman finds out, upon arrival at the prophet’s modest abode, that Elisha won’t even come out to greet him, but sends him a note instead, he is indignant. When he reads the note, his indignation turns to outrage. It tells him that if is looking for a cure he should wash seven times in the nearby river Jordan. ‘You call that a river?’ Naaman protests angrily. ‘Back where I come from, that’s nothing but a muddy creek. I’m going home.’

          At this point the real hero of the story appears: someone in Naaman’s entourage who finds courage to say to the Great Man: ‘What have you got to lose? Why not try what the prophet says?’ Naaman does so – and he is healed! He returns to Elisha, who comes out now, and hears Naaman confess: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” Naaman’s cure is not only physical. It is mental and spiritual as well. His mind, and with it his soul, have been changed. He realizes that it’s not all about himself, his ideas, his expectations.

          What about us? Are we open to the other – open to God? Are we willing to acknowledge that our own ideas, our goals, our dreams, may fall short of what the Lord God, who loves us more than we can ever imagine, wants for us – and yes, has in store for us -- if only we can stop thinking it’s all about me, me, me, and tell God: “Not what I want Lord, but what you want?”