Friday, May 27, 2016


Homily for May 28th, 2016: Mark 11:27-33.

          In Jesus’ day, and still in rabbinical schools today, it was common to settle disputed matters by asking one another questions. That is what is going on in the gospel reading we have just heard. “By what authority are you doing these things,” the religious authorities at Jerusalem ask Jesus. They want to know who had given Jesus the authority to cleanse the Temple, as Jesus has just done. Jesus responds with a counter-question: “Who gave John the Baptist the authority to baptize?”

          His critics recognize at once that whatever they answer, they will be in trouble. If they say that John baptized and preached by God’s authority, Jesus will ask them why they did not believe John. If the critics say that John the Baptist’s authority came from himself only, they will incriminate themselves with the people, who regarded John as a prophet sent by God. The critics take the safe way out by saying simply: “We do not know.” To which Jesus responds: “Neither shall I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

          What does this tell us? It tells us that we cannot demand from God explanations which make sense to us of things we do not understand -- injustice and suffering, for instance. The Old Testament book of Job is about a man who demanded that of God. Job is an upright and good man who suffers a series of major calamities. Why has all this happened to me? he asks God. Job receives no answer – until finally God appears and asks a series of questions which Job cannot answer. Where were you, Job, when I made, the sea, the land, the stars of heaven; the birds, the beasts, and man himself? The point of these rhetorical questions is to make Job understand that there is no equality between man and God. The book ends with Job accepting that he, a mere man, cannot demand answers of God. “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand,” Job confesses. “I had heard of you by word of mouth. But now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.” (22:2-6).

          Jesus never promised that all would go well with us, or that we would understand when it does not. He promises one thing only: to be with us in good times and bad; and when we encounter suffering and injustice to give us not understanding, but the strength to go on.

Thursday, May 26, 2016


Homily for May 27th, 2016: Mark 11:11-16.

          “My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples,” we heard Jesus saying in the gospel reading. “But you have made it a den of thieves.” He took second phrase  from the prophet Exekiel, (7:11) who uses the uses the words to remind people that worship and prayer can never be a form of barter with God: ‘I’m giving you this, Lord, so you will give me that.’ God is generous with his gifts – far more generous than we are. But we cannot put God under obligation. He gives his gifts in sovereign freedom.      

          Jesus gives this teaching in connection with his cleansing of the Temple at Jerusalem, for Jesus’ people the earthly dwelling place of God. Mark tells us that Jesus “did not permit anyone to carry anything through the Temple area.” The Bible commentators concede that the meaning of this sentence is unclear. They suggest, however, that Jesus may have issued this prohibition to remind people that the Temple area was set apart for God, holy. They must not use it as a shortcut as they went about their daily errands. For us the words are a reminder that church buildings are holy. Our conduct in church must always reflect reverence for the God who dwells here, especially in his consecrated body in the tabernacle.

          Jesus goes on to give an instruction on prayer. If we want the Lord to hear and fulfill our petitions, we must pray with faith. “All that you ask for in prayer,” Jesus says, “believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours.”  He adds another requirement: “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance, so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your transgressions.” The words are an echo of others which we pray daily, in the one prayer that Jesus has given us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

          Just days after his election over three years ago Pope Francis reminded us of something he has repeated often since in various forms: God never grows tired of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Corpus Christi, Year C.  Genesis 14: 18-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17.
AIM: To explain Catholic eucharistic doctrine and spirituality.
What is the most important thing that we, as Catholic Christians, do together?  Beyond question, it is what we are doing right now, as we obey Jesus= command to his friends at the Last Supper, recorded in our second reading, to Ado this ... in remembrance of me.@ The Catechism, citing language from the Second Vatican Council, calls the Eucharist Athe source and summit of the Christian life@ (No. 1324).
On Holy Thursday we commemorate Christ=s command to celebrate the Eucharist. But the Church gives us, in addition, today=s feast of Corpus Christi: two Latin words which mean Athe body of Christ.@ Those words remind us that the Eucharist is one special way in which Jesus comes to be with us until the end of time. Whenever we obey Jesus= command to Ado this@ with the bread and wine, he is present as truly as he was present at the Last Supper in the upper room. One thing only is different: the manner of his presence.
In the upper room Jesus was present physically and visibly. His friends could see him, hear him, touch him. Here Jesus is present sacramentally and invisibly: in, under, and through the sacramental signs of bread and wine. As the Catechism says: AThis presence is called >real= ... because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.@ (No. 1374).
When, as Pastor, I used to preside at the First Communion of young children, I would hold up a piece of the bread which would be brought to the altar to be consecrated and ask: AWhat is it?@ The children all knew the answer: AIt is bread.@ Then I would ask: AIf I were to hold this up again after the long prayer which we call the consecration and ask you, >What is it?= what would you say?@ To which the youngsters would answer: AIt is the Body of Christ.@ When children are old enough to understand the difference between ordinary bread, and the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, they are ready to receive the Lord in Holy Communion.
Outwardly, of course, the consecration changes nothing: what we can see, touch, and taste remains unchanged. Inwardly, however, everything is changed. This inner change B what the Catechism calls Athe conversion of bread and wine into Christ=s body and blood@ (No. 1375) B can be perceived only by the inner eye of faith. The Church asks us to affirm this faith before we receive Christ=s body and blood in Communion. When the minister of Communion says, AThe body of Christ,@ we respond AAmen@ B which means: AIt is B I believe.@ We do the same before receiving the Lord=s precious blood.
More is present in the Eucharist, however, than merely Christ=s body and blood. Present too is his self-offering to the Father, which we call Christ=s sacrifice.  From time immemorial people have offered sacrifices to God. Our first reading, for instance, told about Melchizedek offering God bread and wine, as a thank-offering for Abraham=s victory over his enemies. The purpose of that sacrificial offering, and of all sacrifices, was to establish fellowship between the worshipers and God to whom they made their offering. 
All these material sacrifices shared a common flaw, however. They involved giving to God, who is all-holy, things that were tainted by the sins of those who offered the sacrifice. The only perfect sacrifice ever offered to God took place on Calvary. There Jesus Christ offered his sinless life to his heavenly Father: the gift of a spotless victim by a sinless priest, Jesus himself.
Jesus= self-offering achieved what all previous sacrifices attempted but failed to achieve: the forgiveness of sins and fellowship with the all-holy God. Jesus= sacrifice is a unique past event. As such, it cannot be repeated. In the Eucharist, however, it is sacramentally commemorated. The unique past event becomes, through the sacramental sign, a living reality in the present, as truly as Christ=s body and blood are present. As the Catechism says: AThe Eucharist ... re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross ...@ (No. 1366). Paul says the same when he writes, in our second reading: AAs often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.@
That final phrase, Auntil he comes,@ points toward a third aspect of the Eucharist. In addition to making present both Christ=s body and blood, and his sacrifice, the Eucharist is the continuation of the meals Jesus shared with his friends while he was on earth. As such, the Eucharist reaffirms Jesus= promise that he will receive us at the heavenly banquet of eternal life hereafter.
Our gospel reading recounted a meal Jesus shared with a vast crowd in the wilderness. Here in the Eucharist, as there, Jesus is the host. The priest is only his representative. Priests wear special clothes at the Eucharist to show that we are acting not for ourselves, but for another; so that our own identity can disappear, as it were, beneath the uniform of the One we represent.
That meal which Jesus hosted in the wilderness, and this meal amid the wilderness of our own chaotic age, both point beyond themselves to a future fulfillment. The Eucharist is a pledge and foretaste of the perfect and complete union with our heavenly Father that we shall enjoy when God calls us home to be with him forever. Then we shall enjoy fellowship with God not intermittently but continuously, without interruption and without end.
The Catechism sums up these three aspects of the Eucharist by quoting an ancient prayer of the Church: AO sacred banquet in which Christ is received as food, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace and a pledge of the life to come is given to us@ (No. 1402).    

Here in the Eucharist the risen and glorified body and blood of Christ are sacramentally present B in a spiritual manner, but really and truly. Here Christ=s unique, all-sufficient, and unrepeatable sacrifice is sacramentally present. Here the Lord Jesus holds fellowship with us, his sinful but dearly loved sisters and brothers, as a promise and foretaste of the eternal fellowship meal with God that we shall enjoy hereafter.

Do we realize any of that when we come here to worship? Do we remember that this is a holy place, where we encounter God himself?  When President Ronald Reagan died nine years ago, people who had worked with him in the White House told stories about his respect and reverence for the office entrusted to him, and for the room where so many great decisions had been made: the Oval Office. Entering that room for the first time after his inauguration and sitting down at the President=s desk, Reagan turned to Mike Deaver, who had been with him since Reagan was governor of California, and asked: AMike, do you have goose bumps?@ Months later, after a ceremony in the rose garden on a boiling hot August afternoon, Reagan returned to the Oval Office, drenched in sweat. ATake off your jacket, Mr. President,@ Mike Deaver said. ABe comfortable.@ 

AMike,@ Reagan replied: AI couldn=t take off my jacket in this office.@

What happens here at Mass is of infinitely greater importance than anything which has ever happened in the Oval Office. Are we half as respectful, half as reverent?


Homily for May 26th, 2016: Mark 10:46-52.
Blind Bartimaeus, a name which means “Son of Timaeus,” supports himself through begging. When he hears that the famous rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth, is coming to town, he knows there will be a big turnout. With any luck he=ll have a good day. From his appointed station Bartimaeus hears the sound of an approaching crowd. At once Bartimaeus starts to cry out the flattering salutation which he has rehearsed in advance: AJesus, son of David, have pity on me!@ Indignant that this squalid town beggar should disturb the famous rabbi=s pilgrimage, the bystanders tell Bartimaeus to be quiet. He pays no attention. This is his big chance.  He continues to cry out at the top of his voice.
Though Bartimaeus cannot see it, Jesus has stopped. He is telling his friends to summon the man whose voice Jesus can still hear through the hubbub of the crowd. ATake courage,@ those near Bartimaeus tell him. AGet up, Jesus is calling you.@ Overjoyed, Bartimaeus leaps to his feet, throwing aside the tattered cloak which he uses to enhance the impression of pathetic misery.

AWhat do you want me to do for you?@ Jesus asks. Bartimaeus never expected anything like this. AMaster,@ he hears himself saying, AI want to see.@ AImmediately he received his sight,@ Mark tells us. The words which follow are the most important in the whole story: Bartimaeus Afollowed [Jesus] on the way.@ Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. To follow Jesus on that way means that Bartimaeus has become Jesus= disciple. The fact that this man, alone of all those Jesus healed in this gospel, is named, indicates that he was known to the Christian community for which Mark wrote. He was one of them.

AGet up, Jesus is calling you!@ Was that just long ago and far away? Don=t you believe it! That is the Lord=s message to you, right now. Have you responded to the message? Are you passing on the message to others? If not, what are you passing on? Whether you know it or not, your life is making a statement. Is it a statement for Jesus Christ? or against him?

Perhaps you are uncertain what statement your life is making. Then you need to listen again to the call. Jesus is calling you. The farther you are from him, the more urgently he is calling. You need to do what Bartimaeus did: get up, cast aside the things that hinder you, and come to Jesus. He wants to heal you of your inner, spiritual blindness.

He wants you to follow him, on the way.     

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Homily for May 25th, 2016: Mark 10:32-45.

ATeacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you,@ the brothers James and John say to Jesus. When he asks what that is, they respond: AGrant that in your glory we may sit one at your right hand and the other on your left.@ Despite their presumption, Jesus does not rebuke them. Instead he asks:  ACan you drink of the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?@ AWe can,@ the brothers reply lightheartedly. 

The cup Jesus refers to will contain, this time, not water but blood. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for power and honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. AWhoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.@ Jesus reinforces this teaching with his own example: AFor the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.@ The first citizens of God=s kingdom are those who, like Jesus himself, seek not to be served, but to serve.

The quest for recognition and honor continues in the Church today. It has given rise to the saying in Rome: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.” Recognition and honor are not bad in themselves. We all need them to some degree, to prevent becoming discouraged. They become evil only when the quest for them takes over and becomes central in our lives. Then we inevitably experience disappointment and frustration – because we find that we can never get enough. To find the joy that the Lord wants for us, we must live in the spirit of the evangelical hymn that goes like this:                          

                       Take my life and let it be / Consecrated, Lord, to thee.

         Take my moments and my days / Let them flow in ceaseless praise

Take my hands and let them move / at the impulse of thy love.

Take my feet and let them be / Swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice and let me sing / Always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be / Filled with messages from thee. 

Take my silver and my gold / Not a mite would I withhold.

Take my intellect and use / Every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine, / It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own, / It shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour / At thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be / Ever, only, all for thee.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Homily for May 24th, 2016: Mark 10:28-31.

          “We have given up everything and followed you,” Peter tells Jesus at the beginning of our brief gospel reading. Peter’s words immediately follow Jesus’ command to the rich young man in yesterday’s gospel reading: “Go sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.” 

          In reminding Jesus about what he and the other disciples had sacrificed in order to follow Jesus, Peter was implying the question: ‘What reward will we have?’ Jesus responds by saying, in effect: ‘You will receive, already in this world, a hundred times as much as whatever you have given up for me; and in the world to come eternal life.’ Jesus qualifies this promise with the words, “with persecution.” The persecution which those two words foretold would start not long after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to heaven. It would continue, with varying intensity, for three centuries more.

          Today it has returned: in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where the age of martyrdom has returned with an intensity, cruelty, and brutality not seen since antiquity. The persecution we are witnessing in this and other western countries has not reached that intensity – yet. But it is there nonetheless. The late Cardinal George of Chicago was referring to this persecution in his oft-quoted statement to a priests’ gathering a few years ago: “I expect to die in my bed. My successor will die in prison. His successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Too often omitted, when those words are quoted, is the cardinal’s concluding prophecy: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization as the Church has done so often in human history."

          We pray therefore in this Mass, as Jesus has taught us to do: “Deliver us from evil.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Homily for May 23rd, 2016: Mark 10:17-27.

          “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus says. Note the effect of these words on Jesus’ disciples. Mark tells us that “they were amazed at [Jesus’] words.” Why? Because their Jewish faith told them that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus had just contradicted a fundamental teaching of their faith. No wonder they were amazed – and no doubt totally confused as well.

          Their confusion is clear from the disciples’ question: “Then who can be saved?” By responding, “For men it is impossible,” Jesus is saying that while we cannot be saved without effort on our part, human effort alone is insufficient. Salvation is always God’s gift. That is the meaning of the second part of Jesus’ answer: “All things are possible for God.”

          The whole second part of our gospel reading is Jesus’ commentary on the man who has asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus’ response to the man’s question, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor,” is personal to this particular man. Because of the man’s earnestness, he recommends renunciation. To most of us Jesus recommends not total renunciation but detachment – not clinging to what one has but living with open hands and an open heart: being a Giver rather than a Taker.

          Which are you? If you are a Taker, I’ll promise you one thing. You will always be frustrated: because you’ll never get enough. It is only the givers who have joy in their hearts – the joy which, like salvation, is the gift of God, the giver of every good thing.

          This still leaves us with the question: If salvation if God’s gift, what is the point of all our sacrifices and good deeds? The answer is simple: they are our grateful response to everything God gives us. And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this. Grateful people are happy people.