Thursday, March 24, 2016


Easter. Acts 10:34a, 37-43; John 20:1-9.
AIM: To instill hope by proclaiming the resurrection; and to encourage the hearers to be messengers of this hope.
When we say No, God says Yes. That is the message of Easter. On Good Friday human beings said No. On Easter God overruled this No with his triumphant Yes. That is the earliest Christian understanding of Easter. It explains why a favorite text for preachers in the first generation after the resurrection was the verse from today=s responsorial psalm, which speaks of God choosing what human beings have rejected: AThe stone which the builders rejected has become the corner-stone.@ When we say No, God says Yes.
When we look at all the evil and suffering in the world and say there is no hope, God says there is hope. God himself is our hope. He is stronger than all the forces of evil. 
When we look at all the suffering and injustice in the world and say that there is no meaning in life; that there is no point in sacrifice, in trying to live for the best and highest we know, because self-sacrifice is always defeated, and idealism has no future: God says Yes! There is a future for us. God himself in our future. 
On Good Friday the friends of Jesus thought evil had triumphed. They were wrong. AThey put him to death,@ Peter says in our first reading today, Aby hanging him on a tree.@ But C and it is the most important Abut@ in history: AThis man God raised on the third day.@ Not Satan and evil but Jesus Christ had emerged victorious from that cosmic conflict. The sign of that victory is the empty tomb of Easter morning. It is a sign only, not a proof. A proof compels belief. A sign points beyond itself to something more and invites belief, without compelling it. Of the two disciples in today=s gospel reading who saw the empty tomb, one only understood the sign and believed. The other came to belief only later, when he had seen not only the empty tomb, but the risen Lord.
When we contemplate the finality of death, and are tempted to think that there is nothing beyond death, no goals beyond such happiness as we may be able to achieve in this world, and in this life; God says Yes! There is life beyond death. This life is a preparation for that life.   
This message of our No and God=s Yes is central in the letters of St. Paul, who encountered the risen Lord not at Easter, but on the Damascus road, as Paul was on the way to say his own No to Jesus Christ, by hunting down and persecuting Jesus= followers. AThe language in which we address you,@ Paul wrote later, Ais not an ambiguous blend of Yes and No. The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us ... was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God=s promises, every one of them.@ (2 Cor.1, 18ff: New English Bible)
If God=s triumphant Yes, first uttered on Easter morning, is to be heard in our world, it will be heard only through us. AThis man God raised on the third day,@ Peter says in our first reading, Aand granted that he be made visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.@
This Eucharist is the continuation not only of the Last Supper, but of those meals Peter was talking about which Jesus shared with his friends after his resurrection. Here, as we obey Jesus= command to Ado this in my memory@, the risen Lord renews his Yes. And here he commissions us, as he commissioned Peter and his companions, to be witnesses of that joyful and triumphant Yes to a weary and discouraged world. We bear our witness not so much by words C for words are cheap, and people today are inundated by words. Rather we bear our witness to the risen Lord by the inner quality of our lives: by living as people who know that because of Easter this world is not without hope, life does have meaning, death is not the end.

At this eucharistic meal with our risen Lord he empowers us to live as people who know that this world, with all its horrors and suffering and darkness and evil, is still God=s world. Here the risen Lord renews the commission we received in baptism and confirmation: ATo shine like stars in a dark world and to proffer the word of life, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation@ (Phil 2:15f). That is our high calling as God=s daughters and sons, our thrilling destiny as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ. Can there be a life, and a calling, more glorious than that?

To the extent that we fulfill this calling we, like Peter, are witnesses to the risen Lord and to his power. We are proclaiming, through lives which speak more eloquently than words, that Jesus Christ, risen triumphant from death today, is truly Athe stone which the builders rejected, [who] has now become the cornerstone.@ We are proclaiming that Jesus Christ Ais not a blend of Yes and No, but that with him it was and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God=s promises, every one of them.@                                                                    


Good Friday
AIM: To proclaim the centrality of the cross. 
There are three religious symbols that are recognized the world over: the crescent of Islam, the six-pointed star of David for Judaism, and for Christianity the cross. The cross is at the center of every Christian church the world over, Catholic or Protestant. 
The cross hangs round the necks of millions of people in our world who give no particular evidence of deep religious faith or practice. Teachers of young children report that if they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and invite them to choose one, they will almost always select the picture of Jesus on the cross.
How can we explain this continued fascination with a horrifying instrument of torture and death? The cross has a magnetism that can never fade because it is a picture of how much God loves us. ANo one has greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (Jn.15:13).
Those present on Calvary viewed the cross as an instrument of defeat. In reality, the cross is a symbol not of defeat but of victory. What looked to the bystanders like a display of weakness is in reality a source of power. A scene of utter degradation and shame is actually a place of glory. 
We can perceive the cross as a place of victory, power, and glory, however, only if we see behind it the open portals of the empty tomb. Too often we separate the two. The cross alone C Good Friday without Easter C gives us a religion of grimness and gloom. The empty tomb without the cross, on the other hand, is nothing but superficial optimism and empty sentiment. The late Bishop Fulton Sheen said it well: AThe law of Christ is clear. Life is a struggle; unless there is a cross in our lives, there will never be an empty tomb; unless there is a Good Friday, there will never be an Easter Sunday.@
Jesus could not have the one without the other. Neither can we. Take the cross out of Christianity, and you have ripped the heart out of it. Today more than ever a religion is credible only if it is costly. People today say, with the apostle Thomas on the evening of the first Easter day: AUnless I see in his hands the print of the nails ... I will not believe@ (Jn. 20:25).
Perhaps there is someone in this church this evening who is thinking: >What does a priest know about suffering?= And just possibly, you are right C though I can assure you that a priest=s life has, along with great joys, its share of suffering as well: loneliness, misunderstanding, unjust criticism, frustration, disappointment, and for some priests bitter injustice.
But for the sake of argument, I am willing to grant the objection. Say, if you like, that I know little of suffering; that I have a soft and easy life: pampered, coddled, cosseted, put on a pedestal by a certain kind of Catholic; that I am a man with soft hands, clean fingernails, and no aches or pains from heavy lifting. Say, if you will, that I am a stranger to suffering.  
But you cannot say that of my Lord. Whatever pain you suffer, Jesus suffered more. Whatever injustice you bear, Jesus bore it first. Whatever loneliness you experience, Jesus was lonelier. As our second reading tells us: AWe do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin@ (Heb. 4:15).
Suffering comes to us all, in one form or another, sooner or later. Why it is so, our Christian faith does not tell us. The existence of suffering in a good world, created and upheld by a loving God, is a dark mystery. Because of the cross, however, because Jesus tasted human suffering in all its bitterness and pain, any suffering we experience becomes the key that one day will help unlock for us the gate of heaven.  Let me quote Bishop Sheen again:

AAll of you who have lain crucified on beds of pain, remember than an hour will come when you will be taken down from your cross, and the Savior shall look upon your hands and feet and sides to find there the imprint of his wounds which will be your passport to eternal joy.@

To learn the deepest meaning of our Christian faith we must take our stand beneath the cross and contemplate in silent awe and reverent love the One who hangs there. All the great lessons of life are learned at the foot of the cross.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


Holy Thursday.  1 Cor. 11:23-26.

AIM: To help the hearers see the centrality of the Eucharist and the significance of the foot-washing.

          “Do this, in my memory,” Jesus tells us. Was ever a command so obeyed? Down through the centuries, and continuing today, the friends of Jesus Christ have obeyed his command to do this in his memory.

          In Rome today our Holy Father has done this. Somewhere in a prison in China a priest or a bishop of the so-called underground Church has done this today, with a morsel of bread and a little wine smuggled in to him by friends. Bishops all over the world have done this, surrounded by their priests, at the only Mass other than this one which the Church permits on Holy Thursday: the Chrism Mass at which the bishop consecrates the oils to be used in the year following for baptisms, confirmation, the sacrament of holy orders, and the anointing of the sick. In our Cathedral this morning our archbishop did this, surrounded by some 200 of his brother priests. We renewed our ordination promises to serve you, God’s holy people.

          In Lent 2000 a Vietnamese bishop, Francis Xavier Van Thuan, preaching the annual Lenten retreat to Pope John Paul II and the Roman curia, told them of how he had obeyed Jesus’ command to do this, in a Communist prison in Vietnam. Here is his story, in his own words.

          “When I was arrested I had to leave immediately with empty hands. The next day I was permitted to write to my people in order to ask for the most necessary things: clothes, toothpaste ... I wrote, ‘Please send me a little wine as medicine for my stomach ache.’ The faithful understood right away.

          “They sent me a small bottle of wine for Mass with a label that read, ‘Medicine for stomach aches.’ They also sent some hosts, which they hid in a flashlight for protection against the humidity.

          “The police asked me, ‘You have stomach aches?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Here’s some medicine for you.’

          “I will never be able to express my great joy! Every day, with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the palm of my hand, I would celebrate Mass. This was my altar, and this was my cathedral! It was true medicine for soul and body ... Each time I celebrated the Mass, I had the opportunity to extend my hands and nail myself to the cross with Jesus, to drink with him the bitter chalice. ... Those were the most beautiful Masses of my life!” [Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Testimony of Hope (Pauline Books, Boston, 2000) p. 131] 

          Young men of twenty-five, fresh from their priestly ordination, surrounded by family and friends, nervous but joyful, do this for the first time. Somewhere today more than one priest, and perhaps a bishop or two, has done this for the last time: encountering the Lord under the outward forms of bread and wine for the final time before he encounters him face to face in heaven.

          We do this when Christians marry. We do this for birthdays, for anniversaries of marriage and ordination. We do this at life’s end, to pray for our departed loved ones, coming closer to them through our obedience to Jesus’ command than we can in any other way here on earth.

          No matter what the outward circumstances, whether accompanied by splendid ceremonial, gorgeous music, in a stately cathedral — or under makeshift conditions, in a primitive hut, a prison cell, or on the hood of a military jeep under the open sky — our obedience to Jesus’ command, “Do this in my memory,” is in every essential respect the same. When we do this with the bread and wine Jesus is with us as truly as he was with his twelve apostles in the Upper Room on this evening, with but one exception: we cannot see him with our bodily eyes, only with the eyes of faith.

          If our fulfillment of Jesus’ command were merely an act of obedience, it would still be impressive. But there is more to it than obedience. We do this with the bread and wine so that Jesus may empower us to do in daily life what he did before he gave us this command — and what I shall shortly do in literal imitation of Jesus. The washing of feet is a symbol of what all of us are called to do as followers and friends of Jesus Christ: to serve the needs of others whom we encounter on life’s way. 

          If we are faithful to that calling, one day we shall hear the Lord saying to us, very personally: “Come, you have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to me. ... As often as you did it for one of my least brothers [or sisters], you did it for me” (Mt. 25:35f, 40).

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Homily for March 23rd, 2016: Matthew 26: 14-25.

          “One of you will betray me,” Jesus tells his twelve apostles gathered in the upper room for the last supper. The gospel writer tells us that they were “deeply distressed” – and no wonder. And no wonder too that they ask, one after the other, “Surely it is not I, Lord?” Even Judas asks that question. To which Jesus replies: “You have said so.”

          Why did Judas betray the Lord? People have speculated about that question for two millennia. One theory is that Judas expected a Messiah who would come in power and glory, throw off the hated Roman yoke, and lead his people to new triumphs. When Jesus proved to be a very different kind of Messiah, Judas was angry and decided upon revenge.

Writing about John’s account of Judas’ betrayal, which we heard in yesterday’s gospel, Pope Benedict XVI says: “For [the gospel writer ] John what happened to Judas is beyond psychological explanation. [Judas] has come under the dominion of another. Anyone who breaks off friendship with Jesus, casting off his ‘easy yoke’, does not attain liberty, does not become free, but succumbs to other powers. To put it another way, he betrays that friendship because he is in the grip of another power to which he has opened himself.” (Jesus of Nazareth vol. 2 p. 68)

How important it is for us to know that, and to reflect on it. One of the most effective lies that Satan, a liar and the father of lies, has in his armory is the seductive lie: ‘Throw off the yoke of the moral law. Come with me, and you will be free, free at last.’ Exactly the opposite is true.

Judas’ betrayal has yet another lesson for us. Whatever harm the open enemies of Christ and his Church do, the damage done by the Lord’s friends is worse. As we stand on the threshold of the Triduum, the solemn three days before Easter, we pray that we may not be among those unfaithful friends; and that when, like Peter, we do fall, we may repent, as he did, and receive the Lord’s forgiveness and the embrace of this best of friends and passionate lover, whose love will never let us go.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Homily for March 22nd, 2016: John 13:21-35, 36-38.

          “One of you will betray me,” Jesus says. Here, as in many of the gospel readings we have been hearing as Lent proceeds to its climax on Good Friday, we see that Jesus remains in charge. His passion and death were not imposed on him. He accepted them freely. Jesus knows of his betrayal in advance. And he knows his betrayer. In a final gesture of love for one of his chosen circle of intimate friends, Jesus reaches out to Judas Iscariot by offering him a morsel of food from the common dish. At this point, the writer tells us, “Satan entered him.” Yet Jesus continues to act with sovereign freedom, telling Judas: “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

          “And it was night,” the writer tells us. Yet even now, in what might be considered his darkest hour, Jesus’ faith lights up the darkness. “Now is the Son of Man glorified,” he cries out, “and God is glorified in him.” How thrilling those words are, and how magnificent.

          There was another betrayer at that table in the upper room. With characteristic impetuosity he pledges loyalty even unto death: “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus knew that Peter could not match those words with deeds. “The cock will not crow before you deny me three times,” he tells Peter.
          We know the sequel. Despairing of forgiveness, Judas compounds his guilt by adding suicide to betrayal. Peter washes away his betrayal with tears of penitence to fulfill the destiny Jesus had foretold for him: to become, through his faith, the Church’s rock, and one of her earliest martyrs.

          I repeat something I have told you before: every saint has a past; every sinner has a future. Praised be God through Jesus Christ his Son!

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Homily for March 21st, 2016: John 12:1-11.

          “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred days’ wages and given to the poor?” Judas asks. Three hundred days’ wages represents the annual income of an ordinary working man in Jesus’ day, in today’s terms perhaps thirty-thousand dollars – valuable perfumed oil indeed!
          The complaint of Judas continues to be made today. It takes genuine faith to appreciate the expenditure of money for things that cannot be justified in utilitarian, worldly terms: the building of a beautiful church, for instance, the beautification of an existing church, the purchase or upgrading of a pipe organ, rather than settling for a cheaper electronic instrument. There are always people who will ask, when such things are proposed or undertaken: “Why this waste?” The answer to that question is simply: “God deserves the best.”   

          People complain about waste when a young person decides to forego marriage and parenthood in order to be a priest or a religious sister. The media reported recently about a highly accomplished young woman in Washington DC in her late 20s who has decided to abandon a successful career to enter a rapidly growing congregation of Dominican Sisters. There are people who’ll tell you that she’s throwing her life away. They ask, with Judas: why this waste? Without faith that question cannot be answered. With faith no answer is necessary.

          We have several communities of so-called contemplative Sisters in our diocese, women who stay always in the convent and have no work outside: Carmelites, Passionists, Poor Clares, the so-called Pink Sisters, and others as well. They have given their lives to the Lord God. They pray for us. Without them the Church would be poorer.

          Nothing we do for the Lord God is wasted. And nothing we do for the Lord is sufficient to express our gratitude for the blessings he showers upon us, always more than we deserve, on any strict accounting. Do you sometimes have doubts about whether the sacrifices you make for God and for others are worth making? Then pray the closing verse of today’s Responsorial Psalm: “I believe I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”