Friday, May 6, 2016


Homily for May 7th, 2016: John 16: 23b-28.

          “The Father himself loves you,” Jesus tells his apostles at the Last Supper, “because you have loved me and have come to believe that I come from God.” St. Augustine says, “His object in loving us was to enable us to love one another.” Love is something that must be given to us from without. And the first one to bestow his love on us was our heavenly Father and Creator. It is important to know that the love Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel reading is not primarily a matter of feelings. It is an attitude of concern. Feelings come and go, influenced by the weather, the state of our mental and physical health, our changing moods.

          None of those things matter for God. God cannot change. He is always the same. From the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb, God wanted the very best for us. God loves us, Augustine writes, “so that we may be brothers of his only Son. . . His object in loving us was to enable us to love each other. By loving us himself, our mighty head has linked us all together as members of his own body, bound to one another by the tender bond of love.” [Office of Readings, Thursday of the Fifth week of Easter]

          The love that God has for us, his creatures, enables us to approach him with confidence. “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you . . . ask and you will receive, so that your joy will be complete.” The French Jesuit priest, Teilhard de Chardin, who died in New York City on Easter Sunday 1955, at the age of 73, used to call joy “the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

          How sad that so many of Jesus’ friends show little evidence of joy. To have it, you must cultivate thanksgiving. Let no day pass without thanking your heavenly Father for all the blessings he showers upon you. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: I couldn’t tell you how many times I say, every day: “Lord, you’re so good to me; and I’m so grateful.” And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this. Thankful people are happy people, and joyful people – no exceptions. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Homily for May 6th, 2016: John 16:20-23.

          “You will weep and mourn,” Jesus says, “while the world rejoices.” In both halves of this statement Jesus is telling his friends what will happen at his impending death. That his friends will weep and mourn is obvious. But why will the world rejoice at Jesus’ death? Because the One whose whole life and words were a rebuke to all who live for themselves, and not for God and others, is no longer there to make them uncomfortable. 

          In his resurrection, however, this pattern of grief and joy will be reversed. Now it is “the world” which will grieve. “The world” in John’s gospel refers to those who organize their lives without reference to God and against God, experiencing in consequence emptiness, frustration, and loneliness. Mother Teresa, soon to be St. Teresa of Calcutta, used to say: “Loneliness is the greatest suffering today: being unloved, just having no one.” The only one who can completely remove this loneliness is God. For those who reject God, therefore, and live as if he did not exist, loneliness remains, and with it the grief of which Jesus speaks here.

          “But I will see you again,” Jesus says, “and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” Jesus is referring not merely to his resurrection appearances, which were few, brief, and transitory. He is speaking about his sending of what is called, variously, the Comforter, Paraclete, or Advocate – in other words, the Holy Spirit. Following his return to heaven Jesus is present with us now through his Spirit, available to all, at all times, throughout the whole world. This explains why Jesus said earlier in this sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel: “It is expedient for you that I go away. If I fail to go the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you” (vs. 7).  

          Those filled with the Spirit are so united to Jesus that their prayers in his name will be in accord with his Father’s will, and so can be granted. Jesus is not speaking just about prayer for our everyday needs. His words about asking in his name refer to asking for whatever will deepen the eternal life for which we are destined, and make fruitful the Spirit’s work.

          How better can we respond to today’s gospel than by praying the age-old and powerful prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Wednesday, May 4, 2016


Ascension, Year C. Acts 1:1-11; Luke 24:46-53.
AIM: To challenge the hearers to be witnesses to the risen Lord. 
The French have a saying: AEvery time we say goodbye, we die a little.@  Farewells are sad because they remind us, even if only subconsciously, of the great farewell that awaits us all one day, when we must take leave of everyone and everything and go home, at God=s call, to Him.
Jesus= parting from his eleven apostles, described by Luke in our first reading and again in the gospel, was not sad, however. It was joyful. The apostles, we have just heard, Areturned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God.@
What explains their joy? It was the realization that though their beloved Lord and Master was no longer with them physically, he remained with them though the power of his Holy Spirit.  Both readings mention the Spirit. AYou will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,@ Jesus tells them in our first reading.  The gospel confirms this when it reports Jesus= command to Astay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.@ A week from today, on Pentecost, we shall celebrate the fulfillment of Jesus= promise which that command contained.  The nine days between the Ascension, originally celebrated on Thursday, and Pentecost were the origin of the novena, the practice of praying on nine consecutive days for a particular intention.   
  The eleven apostles filled with joy and praising God continually in the temple are a picture of the Church in miniature. That is what the Church is: the company of those who are filled with joy because of their continuing union with the risen Christ, victorious over sin and death, and constantly speaking God=s praises for all he has done, and continues to do, through his Son, in the power of his Holy Spirit.
Yet the Church is more. This is indicated by a word which is emphasized in both of the readings we have been considering: Awitness.@ In our first reading Jesus tells his apostles: AYou will be my witnesses ... to the ends of the earth.@ His words in the gospel are similar: AThus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.@
The call to be Christ=s witnesses is not reserved for religious professionals. In baptism and confirmation we have all been called and commissioned as witnesses to the risen Lord. How can we obey this call in a world which often seems indifferent to Jesus Christ, and which regards religion of any kind as an optional extra, like jogging or stamp-collecting, for people who happen to like that kind of thing? One thing is certain. We witness to Jesus Christ more effectively by deeds than by words. You probably know the saying: AWhat you are speaks so loud I cannot hear what you say.@                      
Society=s seeming disbelief today is a surface phenomenon only. Underneath there is deep spiritual hunger. People today are looking for assurance that life has meaning despite suffering, injustice, terrorism, and the certainty of death. This is our opportunity. We seize the opportunity by living as people who are convinced that life does have meaning; that this world with all its horrors is still God=s world; that the most powerful force in this world is not hatred but love, not death but life.
That is our opportunity B and our challenge. Today=s celebration of the Lord’s Ascension assures us that Christ continues to be with us, in the power of his Holy Spirit. Like those first friends of Jesus, however, we are not simply to stand gazing up into the heavens, but to get on with the business of being witnesses to our risen and glorified Lord in a world that is hungry for him and his love. Like those first friends of Jesus, we too have received Apower from on high.@ Like them, we have every reason to be filled with joy, and constantly to speak the praises of our loving God, who gives us always so much more than we can either desire or deserve.
In a world filled with so much darkness, destruction, and death, we can still join joyfully in the words of our responsorial psalm: AFor king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise. God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne. Amen”  (Psalm 47:5, 7-8)
Let me close with a personal anecdote. Some time ago I attended a concert of the St. Louis Symphony orchestra in Powell Symphony Hall. The featured soloist that evening was the internationally celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma. If you have ever seen and heard him, either in person or perhaps through a video clip on the Internet, you know that he really gets into the music he plays, swaying back and forth, and visibly carried away by the beauty of the music he is playing. In a graceful introduction to his appearance the evening I heard him, David Robertson, Music Director of our Symphony orchestra, outlined some of the highlights of Yo Yo Ma=s musical career, and concluded with the remark: AEverywhere he goes, Yo Yo Ma spreads joy.@ How wonderful if people could say that of us.
If we are trying to stay close to Jesus Christ, and center our lives on Him,
they will!


Homily for May 5th, 2016: John 16:16-20.

          “What does this mean that he is saying to us, ‘A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me,’” Jesus’ disciples ask one another. “We do not know what he means.” How often preachers, and readers of the gospels as well, repeat that statement; if not aloud, at least in thought: “We do not know what he means.” Not everything in Scripture is clear, simple, or obvious, by any means.

          If we believe that Jesus spoke these words in connection with the Last Supper, then Jesus’ “little while” would refer to the time between Jesus’ burial and his resurrection on the third day. That is the view of most of the Eastern Church Fathers. There is a difficulty with this interpretation, however. Jesus tells his disciples, “You will grieve, but your grief will become joy,” adding two verses later: “Then your hearts will rejoice, with a joy that no one can take from you;” and thereafter “You will have no more questions to ask me.” (vs. 22f) However, the appearances of the risen Lord to his friends were transitory and brief. Were they not only sufficient to give Jesus’ friends “a joy that no one can take from you,” but also to justify Jesus’ further statement that “you will have no more questions to ask me”?

St. Augustine solves this difficulty by saying that Jesus’ “little while” is the period between Jesus’ ascension to heaven and his return at the end of time in glory. This overlooks the joy which his friends experienced as soon as they saw him alive again, in flesh and blood – though also so changed that at first most did not recognize him.

We need not choose between these two interpretations. There is truth in both. Jesus’ resurrection appearances did indeed fill his friends with joy. But only at the end of time will we have no more questions to ask him. Meanwhile we thank God the Father for raising his Son from the dead, but also for the Son’s promise, which we shall hear in Saturday’s gospel: “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.”



Tuesday, May 3, 2016


Homily for May 4th, 2016: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1.

          St. Paul normally began his preaching with appeals to Holy Scripture – for him the Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament. The New Testament books were not written until after Paul’s death. Paul’s letters and accounts of his preaching in the Acts of the Apostles contain numerous examples of his Scripture based preaching. Paul’s address reported in our first reading today is an exception to this rule. He is in Athens, the center, in Paul’s world, of learning and sophisticated culture. What the Athenians knew about the Jewish Scriptures was comparable to what most of us know about the Koran: next to nothing.

          So Paul tries a different approach this time. He starts not with Scripture but with the actual situation in Athens, with its many temples to numerous gods and goddesses. This is an example of his becoming “all things to all people,” about which Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians (9:22). Paul begins then: “I see you are very religious.”  That is called, in rhetoric, a captatio benevolentiae: capturing the hearers’ attention and goodwill with benevolence or kindness – in this case with flattery. Referring to all the temples which he sees on the hill Areopagus in the center of Athens, Paul says that one in particular has caught his eye, because of the inscription it bears: “To an Unknown God.” The Athenians who erected it obviously wanted to cover all the bases.

          “What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you,” Paul says. This Unknown God is the one who created all that is, he continues. He has come down to us in the person of a man named Jesus, whom he raised from the dead. The mention of resurrection causes some to scoff. Everyone knows that is absurd: when you’re dead, you’re dead. Others react more politely, but still with condescension: “We’d like to hear more about this – just not now. Another day, perhaps.”

          Some, however, accept Paul’s message, and become believers. One is obviously a man of importance: a member of the Court of the Areopagus. Another is a woman of whom we know only her name, Damaris. Paul’s attempt to “become all things to all people” seems have had only modest success. It is a picture of the Church’s evangelism in every age. As in Jesus’ parable of the sower and his seed: despite the waste of so much of the farmer’s efforts, “some seed falls on good ground and produces a rich harvest, at a rate of thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:8).

Monday, May 2, 2016


Homily for May 3rd, 2016: 1 Cor. 15:1-8.

          “Last of all, he was seen by me, as one born out of due time,” Paul writes at the end of today’s first reading for feast of the Apostles Philip and James. To have personally seen the risen Lord was one of the original qualifications for the office of apostle. In just eleven days, on the feast of the apostle Matthias, chosen to replace the traitor Judas, we will hear Peter saying that the one chosen to fill out the number of twelve apostles must be “one of those who was of our company when the Lord Jesus moved among us, from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us.” Only such a person, Peter said, was qualified to be a “witness with us to the resurrection” (cf. Acts 1:21f).

          The eleven remaining apostles chose two men who fitted the requirements stated by Peter. By casting lots between them, they left the choice of the substitute apostle to God. They did everything correctly. Yet God seems to have had other plans. For after the day of his naming as an apostle, Matthias disappears into obscurity, and we hear nothing more of him.

          The man about whom we hear a great deal is the zealous defender of his Jewish faith, Saul, given the name Paul in baptism following his dramatic conversion to faith in Jesus Christ in the encounter with him outside Damascus.

From that day on Paul insisted that on that day he had seen the risen Lord. For after listing the other resurrection appearances – the one to “five hundred brothers at once,” and to the apostle James, known to us only from this passage – Paul says: “Last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of the normal course.” This qualified him, Paul always insisted, to be a “witness to the risen Lord,” and as such an apostle.   

Paul’s story is fascinating – another example of God disclosing himself, as he does over and again in Holy Scripture, as the God of surprises -- indeed the God of the humanly impossible.

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Homily for May 2nd, 2015: John 15:25-16:4a.

          Just two days ago we heard Jesus’ words: “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first.” In today’s gospel, Jesus returns to the same theme. “They will expel you from the synagogues; in fact the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God.” Is that just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it.  

A recent book, entitled The Global War on Christians, by the American journalist John Allen shows that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world today. From Iraq and Egypt to Sudan and Nigeria, from Indonesia to the Indian subcontinent, Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. The secular International Society for Human Rights says that 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. Our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the fact that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority -- Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea.
           Most people in Western countries have little idea that this global war on Christians is even happening. “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States fought over issues like whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps,” Allen writes. “We’re talking about a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. Christians today form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”

          In the supposedly Christian country of Colombia, since 1984, 70 Catholic priests, two bishops, eight nuns, and three seminarians have been slaughtered, most falling victim to the nation’s notorious narco-cartels. Scores of Pentecostal and Evangelical pastors and faithful also have lost their lives. This shows two things. First, that Christians are a majority in a given country it doesn’t mean they’re safe; and second, radical Islam is hardly the only threat out there.

          What can we do about this persecution? “Don’t dismiss the power of prayer,” John Allen says. Also by supporting organizations that help victims we can make sure they don’t feel abandoned and alone. And we must also refuse to be cowed into silence about Church teachings on marriage and the sanctity of life by today’s bullying guardians of political correctness.