Friday, March 11, 2016


Homily for March 12th, 2016: Jeremiah 11:18-20; John 7:40-53.

          “A division occurred in the crowd because of him,” we heard in the gospel. Some said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others, who were already believers, confessed openly: “This is the Christ.” At which still others scoffed, saying that was absurd. Everyone knew that the Messiah would be descended from David and come from David’s town, Bethlehem, only six miles from Jerusalem.

Jesus was known as the rabbi from Nazareth in Galilee, a little hick village up north – in the boondocks, we would say. The Jewish authorities held this snobbish view. They scoff superciliously: “Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law, is accursed.”

To think of a modern equivalent we might imagine the mayor of a small town in our deep South, or in the Nevada desert, with a population of less than 500, appearing in Washington to offer a solution to one of our major problems – immigration, say, or health care. No one in the White House or in Congress would take him seriously.

When the authorities send the police to stop all this unrest and controversy by arresting Jesus, they come back empty handed. Asked why they have not accomplished their mission, the cops defend themselves by saying: “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

One member of the ruling class, Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of Israel, protests against his colleagues’ contemptuous dismissal of Jesus. Readers of John’s gospel have met him before, when he came to Jesus by night, so that his visit would remain secret. Jesus told him he must be “born again.” Nicodemus didn’t understand that. But he clearly remained fascinated by this unusual rabbi from Nazareth.  Now he protests: “Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him?”

Nicodemus has been called “a tentative disciple”: drawn to Jesus, but unable to make the total commitment that Jesus asks. There are many like him. We pray in this Mass that we may move beyond tentative discipleship and give ourselves totally to the Lord, who surrendered himself totally for us, even unto the shedding of his life’s blood.    

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Homily for March 11th, 2016: Wisdom 2:1a, 12-22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30.

          “They tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand upon him because his hour had not come.” This closing sentence from today’s gospel reading repeats Jesus’ words to his mother, when she told him that there was no more wine at the wedding feast in Galilee: “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:4). When it did come, Jesus laid down his life voluntarily. He remained in charge. The shortest of our Eucharistic prayers, the one we use most often on weekdays reminds us of this: “At the time he was betrayed, and entered willingly into his Passion.”

          Why did Jesus’ enemies kill him? For two reasons. First, because he healed on the Sabbath day. Second, because he made himself equal with God. When he spoke, in the Sermon on the Mount, about God’s law, he did not speak (like other rabbis) as an interpreter of the law. He spoke as the law-giver. ‘You have heard that it was said of old

. . . But I say unto you …’ And he acted as only God can act: in his miracles of healing, the stilling of the storm on the lake, the feeding of a vast crowd in the wilderness, in forgiving sins. Those were the things that enraged his critics.

          The Church gives us today, in our first reading, the thoughts which motivated Jesus’ enemies: “His life is not like that of others … He judges us debased; he holds himself from our paths as from things impure … He boasts that God is his Father.”

As we move, on our Lenten pilgrimage, closer to Easter, we should be reflecting on all this, recalling that Jesus laid down his life for us not because he had to, but of his own free will. Why? Jesus answered this question himself when he said: “Greater love has no one than this, that a man should lay down his life for a friend.” 

Sit, or kneel, in these late Lenten days, beneath the cross of Jesus Christ: your brother, your lover, your best friend; but also your Savior, your redeemer, your Lord. Contemplate the One who hangs there – for you. Do that, and you will make a great discovery: all the great lessons of life are learned at the foot of the cross.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year C.  John 8:1-11.
AIM: To show the gravity of spiritual sins, without rendering sexual sins indifferent.
          A man in the crowd streaming out of Sunday Mass many years ago said to me: “I really like your sermons, Father. But why don’t you preach a really hard-hitting sermon against pornography.” If there had been time for a proper response.  I might have told him: ‘Pulpit condemnations of pornography are almost as futile as sermons denouncing people for not coming to Mass. Those who most need the message are least likely to be present.’ 
          That was thirty years ago. Today I could not say what I might have said them. The reason is the Internet. Universally available and used most often by the young, the Internet brings pornography right into our homes.
          Is pornography really such a big deal, some people ask? Who is harmed?  Everyone involved is harmed. Those who pose for the pictures or act in the films are robbed of their human dignity. There is harm to the viewers as well. When we view pornography, we are feeding our imaginations poison, something as toxic as whiskey for an alcoholic or heroin for a drug addict. Pornography quickly becomes addictive. Experts tell us that over time pornography causes chemical changes in the brain; that it is as addictive as heroin or cocaine.
There are other victims of pornography as well. Here is a young woman engaged to marry. She is troubled because her fiancĂ© is using pornography. “Don’t marry him,” I tell her. “You’ll never be able to satisfy him. The pictures he looks at will always be more exciting than any flesh-and-blood wife.” Wives too are victims. God alone knows how many wives suffer depression when they discover their husbands are using pornography. They feel they’re not good enough. My long ago questioner may have been a little ahead of the times. But he was right: pornography is an important issue – for all of us.   
          The people who come to Jesus in today’s gospel, dragging with them a young girl caught in adultery, pretend to be concerned about pornography. Their real concern, however, is to put Jesus on the spot. They have heard that he is (as we might say today) ‘soft on sin’ – especially a certain kind of sin – and they don’t like it. They are the same people who complained in last Sunday’s gospel: “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Lk 15:2). Jesus’ response then was the story we know as the parable of the prodigal son. A better title for it, as I explained last week, would be the parable of the merciful father, and the two lost sons.  Jesus’ response to the demand that he take a public stand about the woman caught in adultery was equally disappointing the zealous defenders of morality.
          The Jewish law in such a case was clear. A woman guilty of adultery must be stoned. This is still the law in some parts of the world.  Only a few years ago a woman convicted of adultery in a Moslem dominated part of Nigeria, and condemned to death by stoning, was spared only after a worldwide outcry. In Saudi Arabia women guilty of adultery are publicly beheaded.  
          Jesus’ first response to the demand that he take a stand is silence.  Stooping down, he begins to write on the ground. Some Scripture scholars see symbolism in his action. Perhaps, however, Jesus is simply embarrassed. Or maybe he is filled with indignant shame that religious leaders could act so heartlessly.
          And heartless the woman’s accusers were. Our gospel translation calls her a woman. The Scripture scholars say that she was probably a young teenager.  Whatever her age, her accusers had no interest in her at all. They asked no questions about the circumstances of her sin: whether it was a single slip or an ongoing relationship; whether she had been seduced; whether the availability of witnesses meant that she was a victim of entrapment; whether she was penitent or brazen. Her accusers were really interested in one thing only: setting a trap for Jesus, “so that they could have some charge to bring against him,” as John tells us.
          When they insist that Jesus give some answer, he straightens up and speaks the well known words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus is not suggesting that the girl’s accusers are all guilty of her sin – though some of them may well have been. He is saying that the spiteful, self-righteous spirit in which they approach him is itself sinful.
          Jesus’ challenge strikes home. When all the accusers have departed, leaving Jesus alone with the unfortunate girl, the condition he has set for her condemnation is fulfilled. Jesus is without sin.  If anyone was entitled to condemn her, he was.  He refuses to do so.  Jesus declines to deal with the girl on the legal level.  Instead he meets her on the personal level. More important than punishment is the girl’s rehabilitation. Jesus’ final words challenge her to begin: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
          Jesus is not saying that sexual sins are unimportant. On the contrary, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that even deliberately entertained lustful desires are sinful: “If a man looks on a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). You can’t set the bar higher than that.
          Against sin Jesus was uncompromising. With sinners he was compassionate.  And with none was he more compassionate than with people guilty of the so-called sins of the flesh. The only people with whom Jesus is severe in the gospels are those guilty of spiritual sins: hard-heartedness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, pride.  
          Those were the sins of the girl’s accusers. To her Jesus extends God’s mercy. This alone could give her hope, encouraging her to turn from a destructive life of sin to a constructive life for God and for others – which is the only way to fulfillment, happiness, and peace.
          God is not a wet blanket. He is not a killjoy. His commandments are not limitations on our freedom. On the contrary, the commandments are signposts pointing to fulfillment and joy. Today’s permissive society is wrong not because it allows people too much fun, but because it robs God’s gift of sexuality of its beauty and mystery, dragging people down to the level of animals.The mindless philosophy which says, “If it feels good, do it,” is no friend of human happiness, but its enemy.  
          The conclusion of today’s gospel, in which Jesus confronts this nameless and terrified girl, is one of the great scenes in all of Scripture. The miserable one stands before the merciful One. Jesus’ parting words, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” call sin by its proper name, yet speak forgiveness and hope to the sinner. The incident shows both Jesus’ severity, and his tenderness. With the girl’s accusers, Jesus is severe.  With her he is tender.
          Which would you like to experience from Jesus Christ? His severity, or his tenderness? You can choose. Show him the sins of others; set yourself up as a judge of others; show Jesus how hard you are working to uphold morality, to stamp out sin, to maintain religion, law, and order – and you are likely, like the accusers of this poor girl, to experience Jesus’ severity.
          But show Jesus your own sins, your moral failures and compromises; show him how much you need his forgiveness, his healing words and touch which alone can mend the brokenness of your life with all its loose ends, failed resolutions, and compromised ideals. Show Jesus Christ your own faults, rather than the faults of others. Then you too will experience not his severity, but his tenderness. Like the poor, humiliated, cruelly abused girl in this story, you will be bowled over by the wonderful generosity of this unbelievably merciful Savior and compassionate friend, saying to you, as he said to her: “Neither to do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
          Which do you want from Jesus Christ? Severity or tenderness? The choice is yours. 


Homily for March 10th, 2016. John 5:31-47.       
“You do not believe the one [the Father] has sent,” Jesus says in the gospel we have just heard. The common expectation was that the Messiah would be a figure of glory and power. How could people raised on such expectations reconcile them with this man Jesus who been born and raised in their midst? AWe know where this man is from,@ they say in John=s gospel. ABut when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.@ (Jn 7:27) Matthew reports a similar reaction to Jesus when he returned to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and taught in the synagogue there. AIsn=t this the carpenter=s son?,” they asked. “Where did he get all this? They found him altogether too much for them.@  (Mt 13:55f)   
God comes to us most often in the normal events of everyday life. God came to me some sixty years ago through a child=s voice in the confessional saying: AI stamp my foot at my mother and say No.@ That hit me hard. That little one is so sorry for that small sin, I thought. My own sins are worse B and I=m not that sorry. I believe that the Lord sent that child into my confessional to teach me a lesson. I=ve never forgotten what that little one taught me.
An African proverb says: AListen, and you will hear the footsteps of the ants.@ God=s coming to us is often as insignificant as the footsteps of ants. God is coming to each one of us, right now. He is knocking on the door of our hearts. He leaves it to us whether we open the door. How often we have refused to do so, trying to keep God at a distance because we fear the demands he will make on us.  Yet God continues to come to us, and to knock. He never breaks in. He waits for us to open the door. As long as life on this earth lasts, God will never take No as our final answer.

Refusing to open the door means shutting out of our lives the One who alone can give our lives meaning; who offers us the strength to surmount suffering; the One who alone can give us fulfillment, happiness, and peace. Keeping the door of our hearts shut to God means missing out on the greatest opportunity we shall ever be offered; failing to appear for our personal rendezvous with destiny.

Opening the door to God, letting him into our lives, means embarking on life=s greatest adventure. That is the most worthwhile thing we can do with our lives C at bottom the only thing worth doing. A Trappist monk who helped me cross the threshold into the Catholic Church over 65 years ago said it best when he 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.”


Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Homily for March 9th, 2016: Is. 49:8-15; John 5:17-30.
AZion said, >The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.=@ Those were the closing words of our first reading. Have you ever felt like that? You pray, and the Lord seems to answer with silence. In that first reading it is the whole of God=s people who ask whether God cares. In one of the most beautiful verses of Scripture, God answers their plaintive question. ACan a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even if she should forget, I will not forget you.@
Scripture portrays God as our father many times over. God=s loving care for us includes qualities usually regarded as masculine: strength, power, sternness in discipline, and generosity in reward. But God is more than a father. Here he speaks, through his prophet Isaiah, to tell us that, like a mother, his concern for us includes qualities we think of as feminine: gentleness, tenderness, and warm, protective love.
Indeed, God=s tender concern for us, his children, exceeds that of the best father and mother combined. He knows our needs before we do, even as a good mother senses in advance the needs of her baby. Nature itself shows God=s loving care for everything he has created. Look at God=s handiwork in the flowers, his care for the birds. Can we suppose for one minute that we are of less value than these? If so, we have little idea of our true worth in the eyes of our heavenly Father.
In the gospel Jesus speaks of the intimate relationship between himself and his heavenly Father. “The Son cannot do anything on his own,” Jesus says, “but only what he sees the Father doing.” The union between Father and Son could not be more complete than that.
          Moreover, if we are trying to live as Jesus lived, united with his heavenly Father and ours, and trying to do good to others, we have eternal life already, here and now, Jesus tells us. “Whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life,” Jesus says. Note: not “will have,” pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, but here and now. Such people, Jesus assures us, “will not come to condemnation, but [have] passed from death to life. “ That is the gospel. That is the good news.  


Monday, March 7, 2016


Homily for March 8th, 2016: Ezek. 47:1-9, 12; John 5:1-16.

          “Do you want to be well?” Jesus asks the paralyzed man unable to get to the healing waters because of the crush of others ahead of him. Not all sick people do really want to get well. Their illness gains them sympathy which they lose, once they are healed and become ‘like everyone else.’ Moreover, Jesus (who as we see often in the gospels) can read minds and hearts, surely saw that this man was a simple soul indeed. After his healing he doesn’t even ask Jesus’ name, but lets the man who has changed his life slip away into the crowd unidentified. He discovers Jesus’ identity only later, when Jesus himself takes the initiative to look for the man he has healed. And then the man repays Jesus by identifying him to the authorities. A dull soul indeed.

The Church gives us, in the first reading, an account of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the stream of healing waters flowing from the Temple to be rebuilt following the return of God’s people from their exile in Babylon. The Temple was the earthly dwelling place of God. With the birth of Jesus, who is God’s divine Son, God transferred his earthly dwelling place to a new temple: the body Jesus himself. (See John 2:21). That is why, at Jesus’ death, the Temple veil, concealing the Holy of Holies, the place of God’s dwelling, was “torn in two” (Mark 15:38 and parallels). God had withdrawn his presence: a veil was no longer needed.

In this story we see that the healing previously flowing (in Ezekiel’s prophecy) from the Temple now comes from Jesus himself. Rather than helping the man reach the healing waters, Jesus heals him with a mere word. He continues to exercise his healing power. He heals us from the inherited guilt of original sin in the water of baptism. Through the word of a priest authorized to speak in Jesus’ name, he heals us in the sacrament of penance from the guilt of actual sin. With good reason, therefore, Jesus has been called, since biblical times and still today, “the good physician.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016


Homily for March 7th, 2016: John 4:43-54

          The royal official who asks Jesus to come with him to heal the official’s son, who is near death, is a pagan. Jesus’ initial response to the man’s request seems harsh. “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” Why does Jesus respond in this way?  The most likely answer is that Jesus wants to teach the man to have faith, to trust. The official, it seems, would believe only if Jesus went with him to his house. He wanted to see Jesus healing. Most of us have this attitude. We are not aware that it shows lack of faith.

The official loves his dying son so much that he won’t give up. “Sir, come down before my son dies,” he pleads. Jesus still won’t budge. “You may go,” he tells the man, “your son will live.” And now comes a crucial sentence in this story. “The man believed what Jesus had said to him and left.” That shows faith. The man no longer insists on Jesus coming with him. Without any guarantee save Jesus’ word, the official believes. Before he reaches home, his servants come to him with the joyful news that the crisis is past. His son will live. When he asks when the boy began to recover, he learns that it was at the very hour when Jesus had assured him: “Your son will live.” How he must have rejoiced! And how Jesus must have rejoiced at the official’s faith. Later, a week after his resurrection, he would say to his apostle, Thomas, who refused to believe until he actually saw the risen Lord: “You [Thomas] became a believer because you saw me. Blessed are they who have not seen and believed” (John 20:29). This pagan official was one of that blessed company.

The story concludes with another significant sentence: “This was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.” Only in John’s gospel are Jesus’ miracles always called “signs.” The first of these signs was the changing of water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. A sign points beyond itself to something else. The sign at Cana shows that when Jesus gives, he does not only abundantly, but super-abundantly. The quantity of water made wine would have kept the party going for a week! The sign in today’s gospel shows that Jesus’ love embraces all. He turns no one away. He asks for faith. And when we show even the smallest beginning of faith, he grants us healing, that our faith may grow and become complete.