Friday, April 29, 2016


Homily for April 30th, 2016: John 15:18-21.

          “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first,” Jesus says in today’s gospel.. Does the world really hate us? I’m sorry to tell you: It does. When we say, publicly and openly, that abortion at any stage of pregnancy, is the deliberate killing of a baby, a crime as grave as the killing of a human being at any age between birth and natural death, the world calls us misogynists, haters of women, enemies of their “reproductive freedom,” who are waging a war on women.

          When we say, publicly and openly, that marriage is exclusively the lifelong union of one man and on woman, rooted in our God given human nature, for the sake not only of uniting hearts and minds, but also for parenthood, we are called homophobes, bigots, enemies of equality as reprehensible as those who defended segregated schools, waiting rooms, and lunch counter in yesteryear’s Jim Crow South.

          The world hates us for saying these things and tells us: “You should be ashamed.” These are not merely personal opinions, as a parishioner told me not long ago when I had stated from the pulpit the Church’s teaching about marriage. They are the teaching of the Catholic Church.

          There is a way to avoid this hatred, and it is this: simply be silent about such matters. Then we can continue to go to Mass, and identify ourselves publicly as Catholics without arousing hatred; because the world knows, with a wink and a nod, that there are also “good Catholics”: sensible, modern people who don’t upset anyone by mentioning such matters; because such Catholics agree with those who hate us that the Church’s teachings are outdated, obsolete, and hence, for Catholics, optional and dispensable. Friends, nothing in our Catholic faith is optional or dispensable, any more than any one of the teachings of Jesus Christ is optional. It was Jesus’ refusal to compromise, or be silent, about anything he said that brought him to the cross.

One day each one of us will stand before God in judgment. One of the questions we shall be asked is this: Were you ever ashamed of the gospel? Did you keep silent about any part of it, or did you deny it, out of fear that you would make people uncomfortable or even angry? The answers to those questions will determine, one day, where, how, and with whom, we shall spend eternity. Think about that. More important, pray about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Homily for April 29th, 2016: Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17.

          We heard in yesterday’s first reading about the Church in the first generation after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension deciding a question crucial for the Church’s future: how much of the Jewish law must be required of non-Jews seeking Christian baptism? What we now recognize was the first Church Council decided to erect as few barriers a possible. The Church must not continue to be, as at first, a small group within Judaism. It must be open to all without exception. That we are Catholic Christians today in a land and continent unknown to anyone present at that first Council in Jerusalem is a fruit of what that Council decided.

          Today’s first reading tells of the Council’s decision being communicated to the Church at Antioch. When the letter from Jerusalem was read out in Antioch, we heard, “they were delighted” with what it contained.

          Today the Church wrestles with a problem of similar gravity: how can we continue to remain faithful to the Church’s consistent teaching, based on the Bible, that marriage is the permanent union of one man and one woman, while also trying to minister pastorally to couples whose marriages fail and are now in second unions, often with children? Up to now such people have been forbidden to come to Communion, since they are living in relationships which the Church cannot bless. Pope Francis called a synod of the world's bishops in Rome in October 2014 to discuss this painful question. There was a second such synod a year later which continued the discussion. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will guide those who are seeking a solution to this difficult problem.

          Jesus’ twice repeated command in today’s gospel, “love one another,” is especially important in this connection. Too often Catholics today separate themselves into parties: us and them, pro-life and social justice Catholics, liberals and conservatives. Divisions like that, appropriate in the political realm, have no place in the great family of God which we call the Catholic Church. We are all brothers and sisters; all equally daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, who reconciles us with him and with each other through the poured out blood of his divine Son, Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Homily for April 28th, 2016: Acts 15:7-21.

          The Church’s original members were almost all observant Jews. After the Lord’s return to heaven at the Ascension, they continued to worship in the Jerusalem Temple, and to observe the Jewish dietary laws. Things began to change when a Roman military officer named Cornelius, described as “religious and God-fearing [as was] his whole household,” had a vision telling him to “send for a certain Simon, known as Peter.” About the same time Peter too had a vision in which God commanded him to eat food that the Jewish dietary laws labeled as “unclean,” and not to be eaten. This prepared Peter for the visit of messengers from Cornelius inviting him to come with them to their master.

          When Peter arrived, he found that Cornelius had invited a large crowd of relatives and friends, all presumably Gentiles. Jesus told them about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Whereupon the Holy Spirit descended on the whole company, as he had descended on Peter and his friends at Pentecost. “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized?” Peter asked. Following their baptism, Peter stayed with them several days, despite the Jewish law forbidding house and table fellowship with Gentiles. (See Acts chapter 10.)

          When news of all this reached Jerusalem, it caused consternation in the Christian community there. A meeting of Church leaders assembled to settle the question of what Jewish laws should be required of Gentiles who wished to receive baptism. Our first reading told what happened.
          This first Church Council settled the matter by deciding that Gentile Christians need not observe the whole Jewish law, only certain essential provisions. This decision was momentous – and for the future crucial. It enabled the Church to emerge from its Jewish womb and become what it is today: the Body of Christ for all peoples, races, and nations, without difference or distinction. Pope Francis recently preached about this in one of his daily homilies. “If tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?” he asked. “When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent!" His point was: the Church is for all, without distinction.


Homily for May 1st, 2016.
Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year C.  Revelation 21:10-14, 22-23.
AIM: To show the Church=s spiritual beauty and power, hidden beneath surface shabbiness and weakness.
Shortly after he became Pope in November 1958 John XXIII was asked: AHow many people are working in the Vatican now?@ With the humor that made him beloved all over the world, the Holy Father replied: AAbout half.@  
AAbout half@ is a more than generous estimate of the number of baptized Catholics who will attend Mass today. All of us know one of more of these inactive Catholics. If there is someone in your family who seems to feel no need to practice the faith, don=t argue, and certainly don=t nag. Show that loved one a little of the patience the Lord has shown you in your own life. The decision to forego churchgoing is never final as long as life continues. The example of our lives will always have greater converting power than any words we can speak.
Many inactive Catholics say they continue to worship God B just not in the Catholic Church. Some are Anature worshipers.@ They say they feel closer to God on the golf course, or on a drive or walk through the country, than at Mass. Others have joined the Electronic Church. They watch one of the television preachers B almost all of them fundamentalist Protestants. Estimates of the Catholics in their large audience range up to 30% of the total. Finally, there are the Catholics who still go to church, but not to a Catholic church, and thus not to Mass. All of these Catholics who are no longer with us share one thing in common: dissatisfaction with Mass in their own Church. They find our ordinary Sunday worship cold, impersonal, boring, and irrelevant to their needs.   
How different the picture in our second reading today. Like the second reading last Sunday, it is part of the author=s vision of the worship of God in heaven.  Describing the heavenly church, he says: AIt gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.@ If we were to try to persuade the huge number of inactive Catholics that our Sunday worship was anything like that, they=d think we=d lost our marbles. They find the Church and its worship not radiant like a precious stone, but shabby. At bottom it is this shabbiness, in one form or another, which has caused them to drop out. What has turned them off is something called the scandal of the Church=s particularity.
That is a long name for something very simple. The Church=s particularity means our belief that God is present in particular ways, in particular places, at particular times. Catholics believe, for instance, that when, with a priest, we obey Jesus= parting command to Ado this in my memory,@ the bread and wine on the altar are no longer ordinary bread and wine but truly the body and blood of our risen and glorified Lord. At that particular time, and in that particular place, God is present in a special way. 
That is a tremendous claim. It upsets a lot of people. Especially upset are the nature worshipers. God is everywhere, they say. That=s true. God is everywhere. Since we are not angels, however, but bodily creatures of time and space, we are unlikely to experience God=s presence everywhere unless we experience him somewhere in particular. Hence God gives us certain times and places where he is present with a special intensity: in the Eucharist, for instance, or in a building set apart for worship. God=s presence in such particular places does not diminish his presence elsewhere, however, any more than the sun=s light is diminished when we use a magnifying glass to focus sunlight onto a leaf or piece of paper until it burns. 
It is not only the Church=s particularity which turns many people off, but also its shabbiness. And let=s face it: often the Church is shabby. The Mass may be badly celebrated and the sermon unprepared, rambling, and boring. The people round us are often strangers, some of them perhaps not Aour kind.@  
No wonder that many people find the Electronic Church, or Protestant worship, more attractive. On TV the preacher is always well prepared; the singing is lively and on key; the congregation is squeaky clean. Moreover, much Protestant worship has a genuine warmth and fervor too often lacking in our Catholic parishes. Some years ago an ecumenical service with Lutherans drew a large congregation which filled our enormous Cathedral on Lindell. You could tell it was Protestant because of the volume of singing. You could tell it was Catholic because there was a baby crying. That says it all. Face it: often what goes on in Catholic churches is unattractive, cold, irrelevant B in a word, shabby.
 Yet it is precisely amid this shabbiness that we encounter God. He seems to like shabby surroundings. When God came to us in human form, he chose to be born not in the glamour and sophistication of Athens or Rome, but in a backward village on the fringe of the civilized world. The stable and manger at Bethlehem were not romantic like our Christmas cribs. They were smelly and dirty. Today Mary would shelter her son not in a stable but in a garage.  
The Catholic Church calls itself Athe one true Church@ B another example of that particularity which offends people. In claiming to be the one true Church we are not saying that other churches are false. The Catechism says: AThe sole Church of Christ ... subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines@ (No. 870). The phrase Aone true Church@ means simply that the Catholic Church is, in the fullest sense, the representative today of the body founded by Jesus Christ. In the poetic imagery of our second reading, it means that beneath the Church=s outward shabbiness there is Aradiance like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal.@
The Catechism says that this radiance is visible, however, Aonly [through] faith@ (No. 812). It is not the worldly radiance of wealth, impressive church buildings, or power. Today those outward trappings are being taken from us. The Church=s true radiance is inward and spiritual. We have the precious jewels of Holy Scripture, of the sacraments, of the heroisms large and small of innumerable Christians of all ages and both sexes B some of them here in our own parish. Most of these people are known only to God.

Between the Church on earth and the heavenly church described in our second reading there is, however, an important difference. The author of that reading says: AI saw no temple in the city.@ Of course not! There will be no church buildings in heaven, no sacraments, no priests. None of these will be necessary, for in heaven we shall see God face to face. 

Here and now, however, we do need these particular times and places where God has promised to be with us in special ways. People who claim to worship God everywhere in general but nowhere in particular are starry-eyed romantics, acting as if they were already in heaven while they are still on earth. The same is true of people who look for a Apure@ church with no shabbiness. A pure church would be wonderful, wouldn=t it? Can we be confident, however, that a really pure church would have room for sinners as shabby as ourselves?

For those with eyes to see and ears to hear; for those humble enough to accept God=s ways instead of insisting on their own; for people willing to respond to the Lord=s invitation instead of pursuing their own romantic dreams B for all such people here is all the power of God and all his love. Here is all the radiance of his glory. Here, as we Ado this@ at Jesus= command and in his memory, is medicine for sick sinners: nourishing, strengthening food for us, God=s weary and often shabby pilgrims, as we trudge onward to that heavenly city which is our true and eternal home: the heavenly Jerusalem described in our second reading with no darkness and Ano need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.@    


Homily for April 24th, 2016

Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C.  Acts 13:21-27; Rev. 21:1-5a; John 13:31-33a, 34-35.

AIM:   To show how Jesus fulfills his promise to make all things new.


            Walk down the aisle of any supermarket. Scan the ads in any popular magazine.  Watch the commercials on TV. One word recurs in ever fresh combination: “new.” It if isn’t a new look, it’s a new taste, a new feeling, a new formula. Everyone with something to sell seems to be promising us something new. Self-help books offer us a whole new life, or at least renewed physical and mental health, if only we will follow their directions. And during political campaigns candidates promise us a new society, a new frontier, new ideas, or at least a new approach.

            How many of these promises are fulfilled? Not many. Today’s shiny new car becomes tomorrow’s shabby trade-in. The self-help books turn out to offer not the new life they promise, but at best improvement in the old life we already have. And we all know what happens to campaign promises after the election.

            Is life a cheat? Is the universal longing for newness to which all these promises appeal doomed to be forever frustrated? To these nagging questions our second reading returns a ringing and confident No. “The One who sat on the throne said to me, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’”

            The Book of Revelation, from which those words are taken, describes in language of poetic imagery the author’s vision of heaven. It might seem, therefore, that this promise of One who makes all things new belongs not to this world but to another: “Pie in the sky when we die,” as the old saying has it. Complete fulfillment of this promise does belong to the life beyond death. But it is part of the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ that God offers us here and now a foretaste of that new and better life which, in its fullness, will be ours hereafter.

            The Lord who makes all things new does this in many ways. Let me speak about just one. It is indicated by the words that the author of Revelation heard in his vision: “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them as their God.” 

            That assurance that God is always with us evokes a ready response. Deep in every heart there is a longing for a companion, a friend, a lover, who will accept and love us just as we are; who will support us in sorrow, share our joys, help us to rise above failure and injustice; who will be with us always.

            When we were little children our parents did this for us, if they were good parents.  Few things are more devastating for a small child than to be suddenly separated from Mummy or Daddy. Across the span of eighty-three years I can still recall my feeling of panic when, on my first day at school, I found that my mother had slipped away without my noticing. I realize now that she wanted to spare me a wrenching and tearful farewell. At the time, however, I was crushed.

            We have all had experiences like that. We carry those childhood hurts into adult life, still secretly afraid that we shall be hurt again; that our efforts at friendship and love will be rebuffed; that we shall be let down, hurt, abandoned, by someone we love and trust. When we are, the old wound is reopened, and our fear of loneliness is reinforced.

            To those oppressed by loneliness (and which of us is not, at some time or another?) the Lord proclaims: “Behold, I make all things new.” When no one else understands, there is One who does understand. When everyone else seems to ignore us, to reject us, to condemn us, there is One who accepts us. When I cannot find one other person to accept the love I long to give, and to receive, there is One who does accept: who loved me before I loved him, who loves me more than I can ever love him, who will go on loving me no matter what. His name is Jesus Christ. He is the One who makes all things new.

            Jesus knew greater loneliness than we shall ever experience. The gospel reading we have just heard opens with the departure of one of Jesus’ closest friends, to betray him. Yet Jesus’ first words after this devastating blow speak not of defeat, but of victory: “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.”

            What gave Jesus that breath-taking ability to view betrayal not as defeat but as victory? It was his faith in a God who does indeed make all things new. God fulfilled that promise for his Son, however, not by delivering Jesus from death, but by raising him on the third day to a new life beyond death. In his resurrection Jesus experienced the fulfillment of the great promises contained in our second reading. On Easter morning God wiped away all tears from the eyes of his beloved Son. In his resurrection Jesus was raised to a life in which there is (to quote the words of that second reading again) “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

            For us, as for Jesus on the night when Judas left to betray him, the complete fulfillment of those promises belongs to the future. As St. Paul tells us in our first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”  As long as this life continues, God’s promise to make all things new means not preservation from hardships, but support amid hardships. 

            The Lord’s promise to make all things new is not like all those other promises I mentioned at the start. It is a glorious reality. But it is a reality which is both present and future. We live at the intersection of the “already” and the “not yet.” Already God is with us, supporting us in so many ways: through his holy word; through those personal loving encounters with him called sacraments; through our sisters and brothers. Already God is fulfilling his promise to make all things new.

            Complete fulfillment of that promise belongs, however, to the “not yet.” Only in a future life will God wipe away all tears from our eyes. Only beyond death shall we experience what Jesus experienced in his resurrection: “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” 

            Life is not a cheat. There is One who does make all things new. His name is Jesus Christ. He can make your life new. He longs to do so. He will never do this, however, without your consent. His assurance, “Behold, I make all things new” is certain. One thing alone is uncertain. Do you really want the new life that God is offering you, even now, through his Son Jesus Christ? If so, then pray right now:

            Come into my heart, Lord Jesus

            With the fire of your love;

            With all your purity, your power, your peace. Amen.       

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Homily for April 27th, 2016: John 15:1-8.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Some Bible scholars think that Jesus spoke these words as he crossed the Temple courtyard with his eleven still faithful friends after the Last Supper. It was Passover time, so there would have been a full moon. The golden vine around the Temple wall, which symbolized God’s people, glowed in the moonlight. Pointing first to himself, then to the vine, Jesus says: AI am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower ...@

In calling himself the true vine, Jesus implies a contrast. God=s people, the vine he had brought out of Egypt and planted in a new land, had not been true. Jesus had been true. His death the next day would be Jesus= final act of faithful obedience to his Father=s will. He was calling the little band of friends accompanying him to imitate his faithfulness ABy this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

  To do this, they must remain united with him. ARemain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.@ The person who remains united with him, Jesus says, Awill bear much fruit.@

AMy Father is the vine grower,@ Jesus says. He cares for the branches of his vine in two ways: by pruning those that bear fruit, and by cutting off and burning the unfruitful branches. Jesus= words about these unfruitful branches being thrown into a fire and burned are an implied reference to Judas, who was even then betraying the Lord.

The vine grower=s treatment of the fruitful branches seems at first sight severe: AEvery one that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit.@ The image, easily understood by Jesus= hearers, who were familiar with vineyards and grapes, is that of a gardener pinching off the new green shoots on a vine, so that all the growth can be concentrated in the few early blooming branches which the gardener has selected to bear fruit. 

Faced in life with setbacks, injustice, or suffering B as all of us are, at some time or other B which one of us has not asked: AWhy me? What have I done to deserve this?" Jesus= words in today=s gospel do not answer these questions. Instead his words challenge us to view setbacks, injustice, and suffering as opportunities to grow. He is inviting us to submit to the vine grower=s pruning, and so to glorify him by producing abundant fruit.


Monday, April 25, 2016


          In 2011 a book was published with the intriguing title: The Boy who Met Jesus. It told the story of a 15-year-old penniless boy in the African country of Rwanda named Segatashya who had never been to school or a church, and had never seen a Bible. Resting under a shade tree one day in 1982, he was visited by Jesus, who asked Segatashya if he’d be willing to go on a mission to remind people how to live a life that leads to heaven.

         Segatashya accepted the assignment on one condition: that Jesus answer all his questions  --  about faith, religion, the purpose of life, and the nature of heaven and hell. Jesus agreed to the boy’s terms, and Segatashya set off on what would become a most miraculous journey. Some of what the young man learned confirms things we have heard in our two readings.

“What you need to know is this,” Segatashya told the book’s author. “Jesus knows us all to the very depths of our souls, all our dreams and worries, all hopes and fears, all our goodness

and all our weakness. He can see our sins and faults and wants nothing more than for us to heal our hearts and cleanse our souls so that we can love him as immea­surably as he loves us. When he sends us suffering, he does it only to strengthen our spirits so we'll be strong enough to fight off Satan, who wants to destroy us, so that one day we can bask in the glory of his presence forever.”

            Paul says something similar in our first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  I discovered those words over 70 years ago. They have helped me through I couldn’t tell you how many trials ever since.

          “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you,” we heard Jesus saying in the gospel.” Segatashya must have heard those words, for he told the book’s author: “When I was with him, I never wanted to leave. If he asked me to come and be with him now, I would leave this world for­ever without the slightest hesitation. To be near him is to live in love; no words need be spoken. In his presence, your soul is at peace and completely joyous. Know that his love is real, and that it is eternal and ours to have if we love him and do his will on earth. Ask him into your heart, and all his graces are yours. He will refuse you nothing. If you were able to know only one truth in your life, you should know this truth: Jesus loves you.”

          Sadly, the young man who spoke those words was killed in the Rwandan slaughter of 1984. Our Christian faith gives us reason to hope that we’ll meet him one day in heaven.


Sunday, April 24, 2016


Homily for the Feast of St. Mark: Mark 16:15-20.
Our gospel starts with Jesus’ parting command to his disciples: AGo into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.@ In the measure in which we try faithfully to fulfill this command, Jesus continues today to do what he promised to do when he gave the command: to confirm the gospel message by Asigns.@ In the pre-scientific world of the first century, there were signs appropriate to that age. Mark mentions them: the power to drive out demons, to speak new languages, immunity to deadly snakes and poisons, the power to heal the sick. 
Today=s signs are different: the worldwide example and inspiration of a Mother Teresa, soon to be St. Teresa of Calcutta, of St. Pope John Paul II, who soldiered on to the end despite bodily weakness, attracting at successive World Youth Days larger crowds than any rock star. The century which closed sixteen years ago brought us the sign of some twelve thousand Awitnesses for Christ@: women and men all over the world who, in the bloodiest of all centuries in recorded history, gave their lives for Jesus Christ. AThe age of the martyrs has returned,@ Pope St. John Paul II said as the twentieth century drew to a close. And in a great ecumenical service sixteen years ago in Rome=s Coliseum, where many martyrs shed their blood for Christ in antiquity, the Pope joined other Christian leaders in commemorating these twelve thousand witnesses to Christ.
Impressive as their witness is, and the other signs I have mentioned, perhaps the greatest of all today=s signs, which confirm the gospel message given to us by Jesus at his Ascension, is simply this: that after so much failure by Christians in history, and by the Church=s leaders and members in our own day; after so many frustrations, after so many betrayals – yes, and so many scandals -- and after so many defeats in the struggle to fulfill Christ=s missionary command C nevertheless, after twenty centuries, so many, all over the world, are still trying to be faithful.