Friday, May 13, 2016


Homily for May 14th, 2016: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26; John 15:9-17.

          Our first reading shows us the Church performing what might be called her first juridical act: finding among Jesus’ disciples one to take the place of Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed the Lord and, unlike Peter who repented, had despaired and taken his own life. Peter, by the Lord’s appointment the Church’s chief shepherd, takes the lead. The man chosen, he says, must be one who has been with us from the day of Jesus’ baptism, until his death, resurrection, and ascension, so that he could be, with us remaining eleven apostles, a witness to [Jesus’] resurrection. 

          Note how carefully they proceed. Not trusting to human judgment, they choose two of their number who fulfill Peter’s requirement. Then they pray that the Lord will show them which of the two He has chosen. This is the first corporate prayer recorded in the New Testament.  Following this, they cast lots. A common Jewish practice, this was done by taking two stones, writing the name of one candidate on each, and then placing both in an open jar. The jar was then shaken until one of the stones fell out.        

Who was this Matthias, we want to know? The honest answer is: we don’t know. There are stories about him, but they are legends only. Careful as Peter had been to leave the choice to God, it seems that the Lord had another in mind, a man about whom we know a great deal: a devout Jew named Saul, zealous defender of his Jewish faith, who in baptism became Paul, the great apostle to the wider Gentile world. He is a man to whom Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading apply, if they ever applied to anyone: “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.”

In all this we see, once again, what the Bible shows us repeatedly: that God is the master of surprises, the God of the unexpected. Hence the old saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Homily for May 13th, 2016: John 21:15-19.

          It is after Easter. Peter and his friends have gone back to fishing. All night, they catch nothing. At dawn a man on the shore whom they don’t recognize calls out: “Cast your net on the starboard side.” They do so and feel the net heavy with fish. The disciple always identified in John’s gospel as “the one Jesus loved” calls out: “It is the Lord!” They hurry ashore with their rich catch and find Jesus standing by a fire. He has made breakfast for them.

          After they have eaten, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter assures the Lord that he does. “Peter was distressed,” we heard in the gospel when Jesus asked the question the third time. Of course he was distressed. Jesus= thrice repeated question reminded Peter of his own threefold denial of the Lord by another fire, in Jerusalem, the night before Jesus’ crucifixion.

In response to each pledge of love, Jesus assigns Peter responsibility: to feed Jesus= sheep. It is noteworthy, however, that the flock entrusted to Peter=s care remains the Lord=s: Amy lambs ... my sheep.@ Jesus himself is Athe chief shepherd.@ (cf. 1 Peter (5:4).   

Why did Jesus give this responsibility to Peter, of all people? As long as Peter thought that he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful, Peter was not ready for leadership. For that Peter had to experience his weakness. He had to become convinced that without a power greater than his own, he could do nothing. One way he learned his weakness was through his failure at fishing.

Do you sometimes feel weak? You have made so many good resolutions. Some you have kept, others not. You have high ideals. How often you have compromised. You had so many dreams, hopes, plans. You wanted so much. You have settled for so little. If that is your story, you have a friend in heaven. His name is Simon Peter. 

If Peter=s story is yours C boasting followed by humiliating failure; impetuosity and then indecisiveness; pledges of loyalty no matter what, and then swift betrayal C if you see any of that in your life, or even all of that, then Jesus has a task for you. He is saying to you right now what he said to Peter: AFollow me.@ He doesn’t ask you to be always strong, for he knows your weakness -- better than you do. He asks you one thing only: to trust him. His strength will always be enough. You have only to ask, and Jesus is there.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Pentecost, Year C.  Acts 2:1-11; John 20:19-23.
AIM: To explain the gift of the Spirit and encourage prayer for this gift.
When was the Holy Spirit given? Today=s readings seem to give two different answers to this question. The first reading says that the Spirit came dramatically at Pentecost. The gospel, on the other hand, places Jesus= gift of the Spirit on the evening of his resurrection. Instead of a Astrong driving wind,@ and Atongues as of fire,@ Jesus breathes on his eleven frightened disciples and says: AReceive the Holy Spirit.@  
Why does the Church place these two readings side by side on this feast of Pentecost, despite their seeming contradiction? It does not hesitate to do so, because the Church knows that the primary intention of the biblical writers is not to give historical details. The gospels differ about a number of historical details. John, for instance, places Jesus= cleansing of the Jerusalem Temple at the beginning of the Lord=s public ministry (2:13-22). In the other three gospels the cleansing of the Temple comes toward the end, when Jesus visits the holy city for the first time since his childhood. They also say the Last Supper was the Passover meal. John places it on the day before Passover.
The gospel writers don=t have our modern interest in Ajust the facts.@ They are more interested in the spiritual significance of the facts. The gospels are religious narratives, written to produce and nourish in others the faith which inspired their authors. John=s gospel states this explicitly when it says that it has recorded the Asigns@ Jesus performed Ato help you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, so that through this faith you may have life in his name.@ (20:31)
In their different ways both accounts of the Spirit=s coming in today=s readings tell us that the Spirit is the Church=s principle of unity. The first reading symbolizes this unity by the gift of tongues. From the dawn of history people have been puzzled by encountering other human beings with whom they could not communicate, because they spoke another language. The ancient Greeks called such people barbaroi because their speech sounded like Aba-ba-ba@ B gibberish. The term lives on in our English word Abarbarian.@
The Old Testament book Genesis explains the existence of different languages by the Tower of Babel story. When people threatened to build a tower that would reach to heaven, the story says, God frustrated their design by confusing their speech so that they could no longer communicate with each other.
The gift of tongues at Pentecost did not reverse this confusion. Those upon whom the Spirit came spoke not in a single language, but in the different tongues of the many nationalities present that day at Jerusalem. The unity effected in Christ=s Church by the gift of his Spirit is not uniformity. It is unity amid real diversity.
The gospel reading symbolizes this unity through the gift of forgiveness.  Breathing on the eleven, Jesus says: AReceive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive, are forgiven them ...@ Forgiveness means wiping the slate clean, starting over. Without this there can be no unity but only an ever lengthening tale of injury, resentment, reprisal, and escalating hatred B as we see in the Middle East today.       
In both accounts the Spirit is given for all. The Adevout Jews from every nation under heaven@ mentioned in the first reading symbolize all races and people on earth. Their response to the Spirit=s coming is a description of the Church=s work down through history. AEach of us hears them speaking in his native language ... of the mighty acts of God.@ 
The gospel expresses this universality less dramatically but no less definitely in Jesus= words: AAs the Father has sent me, so I send you.@ Jesus was sent by his Father to all. No one was ever excluded from his concern or love: not the Awoman known in the town to be a sinner,@ who washed Jesus= feet and dried them with her hair (Lk 7:37f); not the Samaritan woman at the well with her five husbands (Jn 4:18); not the repentant thief crucified next to Jesus (Lk 23:43). Following his resurrection, therefore, Jesus entrusts this universal mission to the Eleven, who represent all of Christ=s followers in all ages, ourselves included.
So when is the Spirit given? Continually! Christ=s gift of the Spirit was not just long ago and far away. The risen Lord bestows his Spirit on his Church and each of its members in all ages. Far from being an embarrassment to be explained away, therefore, the two different accounts of the Spirit=s coming in today=s readings illustrate an essential aspect of Christ=s continuing concern for his Church.
There is never a time when the risen Lord is not bestowing the gift of his Spirit. The Spirit comes whenever two or three are gathered together in Christ=s name (cf. Mt 18:20); whenever we celebrate one of the Church=s sacraments; whenever we read or hear God=s word; whenever, in Christ=s name, the hungry are fed, the naked clothed, the sick or imprisoned visited, or strangers sheltered (cf. Mt. 25:35-40). 
Can we predict or control the Spirit=s coming? We cannot. God gives himself in sovereign freedom. Always, however, the Lord gives his Spirit in some manner, and at some time, to those who pray. With joyful hearts, therefore, we join on this feast of Pentecost in the Church=s unceasing prayer for the Spirit=s gift. 

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,

And visit it with thine own ardor glowing;

O Comforter draw near, within my heart appear,

And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.  


O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn

To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

And let thy glorious light, shine ever on my sight,

And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.


Let holy charity my outward vesture be,

And lowliness become my inner clothing.

True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,

And o=er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.


And so the yearning strong with which the soul will long,

Shall far outpass the power of human telling;

For none can guess its grace, till he become the place

Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.


Homily for May 12th, 2016: John 17:20-26.

          Once again Jesus lifts up his eyes to heaven, as he continues what has come to be called his High Priestly prayer. If the theme of his prayer hitherto has been the glory that Jesus shares with the Father and wishes to share with his friends, here the theme is unity. Jesus and his Father are one, bound together by their love for one another. And this love is the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit Jesus’ disciples are made one.

          The unity among his friends for which Jesus prays extends far beyond those who hear his words. Jesus is looking toward the future, at what would become his Church. This is clear from his opening words: “I pray not only for these [those present with him in the Upper Room] but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Sadly Christians are not all one; and our divisions make it impossible for many in our world to believe that Jesus is God’s divine Son, sent by him into the world in human form. That is why ecumenism, which involves the search for Christian unity, is not an optional extra for the Church but an essential duty. The Second Vatican Council said: “The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike,” adding: “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion.” The search for the unity for which Christ prayed starts, in other words, at home: with us, and the deepening of our faith. “Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way,” the Council said, “to that continual purification of which she always has need.” [Decree on Ecumenism, Nos. 5-6]

Jesus concludes this moving prayer by asking his Father “that the love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” To which we gladly say: Amen, so may it be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Homily for May 11th, 2016: Acts 20:28-38.

          Today’s first reading portrays Paul’s farewell to the Christian community at Ephesus. Paul’s words are addressed to “the presbyters of the Church of Ephesus.” “Presbyter” is a Greek word which means “elder.” It is still today the proper title of a man who has been ordained to the Church’s priesthood. I am technically not a priest in the full sense. I am a presbyter. The fullness of priesthood is given only to presbyters who are ordained bishops. Paul, therefore, is addressing the elders of the Church at Ephesus; their priests, we would say today.

“Keep watch over yourselves,” he tells them, “and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the Church of God that he acquired with his own Blood.” Enemies will come, he warns them, to pervert the truth. Paul reminds them of all he had done for them during his three years with them. Paul was a worker-priest, and proud of it. He never took a salary. That is what he is referring to when he says: “You know that these very hands have served my needs and my companions.”

Then comes a reference to some words of Jesus that we don’t find in the gospels, only here. The gospels had not yet been written. The words and work of Jesus were already being handed on orally. Paul reminds them of a saying obviously well known at Ephesus: “Keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” The Greek word Paul uses for “blessed” also means “happy.”

If a long life has taught me anything, it is this. At the end of the day there are two kinds of people: givers and takers. Which are you? If you are a taker, I’ll promise you one thing: you will always be frustrated and unhappy, because you will never get enough.

It is only the givers who are truly happy. The person who has never discovered that is poor indeed, no matter how large the size of his or her house, bank account, or stock portfolio.  “Give, and it shall be given to you,” Jesus says in Luke’s gospel. “Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” (6:38)

Think about those words. Better still, pray about them.

Monday, May 9, 2016


Homily for May 10th, 2016: John 17:1-11a.

          In today’s gospel we come to one of the most majestic passages in John’s gospel, Jesus’ so-called High Priestly prayer. Knowing that his life is drawing to its close, Jesus stands before us not to offer sacrifice – that will come the next day, on Calvary. Rather he stands before his heavenly Father, offering intercession for his friends – ourselves included.

          The passage begins by telling us that Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven.” He did the same at the Last Supper, as we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took break in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples …"

          Reading the words of his prayer, we get the impression that Jesus has already crossed the threshold between time and eternity and is now on the way to his Father. The twice repeated word “Father” gives Jesus’ prayer a note of special intimacy. He asks nothing for himself, so that his words are more a prayer of union than of petition.

Jesus does ask for “glory.” But his glory is not distinct from the glory of the Father. During his earthly life Jesus’ glory was visible through what John’s gospel calls “signs” – miracles such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ healings, the stilling of the storm on the lake, his feeding of a vast crown in the wilderness. At Cana Jesus said: “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4) Now Jesus’ “hour” has come. We pass from signs to reality. “The hour” is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ earthly life ends with his return to his Father.  

In a real sense, however, his real work is only beginning. We know this from Jesus’ words about “the ones you have given me”: “Now they know that everything you gave me is from you … they accepted [my words] and truly understood that I came from you, and have believed that you sent me.” The understanding of which Jesus speaks here includes obedience to God’s Commandments. Knowing that we cannot do this without God’s help, Jesus says: “I pray for them.” This prayer for us, Jesus’ friends, continues today, and until the Jesus returns in glory, at the world’s end.

Sunday, May 8, 2016


Homily for May 9th, 2016: John 16:29-33.

          “Take courage,” Jesus says. “I have conquered the world.” To understand these words we must know that in John’s gospel the word “world” is used in two senses: good and bad. When Jesus says, earlier in the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” [3:16] he is using the word in a good sense. He is speaking of the world as it comes from the hand of God, the world of God’s making. God must love that world, for he does not make anything that is not lovable.

          When he tells his friends to take courage because he has “overcome the world,” he is speaking not about the world of God’s making, but the world of human marring: the world deformed by human sin, centered not on God but on our own selfish desires, the world not of giving, but of getting.   

          “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. Other translations say not trouble but “suffering” or “tribulation.” Can we Catholic Christians in the comfortable and rich country of the United States honestly claim to have trouble, suffering, and tribulation? If we refuse to abbreviate the gospel, yes we do. When we call the killing of unborn babies a grave crime, equivalent to murder, we are accused of “waging a war on women.” When we insist that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman; and that, once established, it can be terminated only by death, we are accused of “hate speech,” and vilified as homophobes and opponents of human equality.

The trouble and suffering of Christians worldwide, however, is far greater than anything we experience. In his richly documented new book, The Global War on Christians, journalist John Allen writes: “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. 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.”

Jesus speaks to us today the same words he spoke to the apostles at the Last Supper two thousand years ago: “In the world you will have suffering, but take courage. I have overcome the world.”