Friday, June 3, 2016


Homily for June 4th 2016: Mark 12: 38-44.

In a society without today’s social safety net, a widow was destitute. For the widow in today’s gospel to give all that she had to live on for that day was, most people would say, irresponsible, even scandalous. God looks, however, not at the outward action, but at the heart. For God what counts, therefore, is not the size of the gift, but its motive. The wealthy contributors were motivated at least in part by the desire for human recognition and praise. The widow could expect no recognition. Her gift was too insignificant to be noticed. For God, however, no gift is too small provided it is made in the spirit of total self-giving that comes from faith and is nourished by faith.

Jesus recognizes this generosity in the widow. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant. She could easily have kept one for herself. Prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, trusting in God alone. That is why Jesus says that she has given Amore than all the others.@ They calculated how much they could afford to give. In the widow=s case calculation could lead to only one conclusion: she could not afford to give anything. Her poverty excused her from giving anything at all. She refuses to calculate. She prefers instead to trust in Him for whom, as the angel Gabriel told Mary, Anothing is impossible@ (Luke 1:38)

This poor widow shows us better than long descriptions what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship will always seem foolish, even mad, to those who live by worldly wisdom. This poor widow had a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world: the wisdom of faith. With her small gift she takes her place alongside the other great biblical heroes of faith, from Abraham to Mary, who set their minds first on God=s kingdom, confident that their needs would be provided by Him who (as Jesus reminds us) Aknows that you have need of these things@ (Luke 12:30). This widow is also one of that Ahuge crowd which no one can count@ (Rev. 7:9) whom we celebrate on All Saints= Day B those whose faith inspired them to sacrifice all for Jesus Christ, and who in so doing received from him the Ahundredfold reward@ that he promised (Mark 10:30).

Now, in this hour, Jesus is inviting each one of us to join that happy company: to sacrifice all, that we may receive all. He challenges us to begin today!


June 4th, 2016: Immaculate Heart of Mary. Luke 2:41-51.

          ADid you not know that I must be in my Father=s house?@ Jesus asks his worried parents, worn out from a frantic three-day search for their twelve-year-old son. The question is Jesus= first recorded utterance in Luke=s gospel. He speaks the words in the building which, for all believing Jews of that day, including Jesus himself, was the earthly dwelling place of God. The Temple at Jerusalem was the most sacred shrine of the people God had chosen to be especially his own.

With Jesus= coming, however, God was creating a new dwelling place on earth: not a building of wood and stone, but the living flesh of the twelve-year-old boy who stood in that building and spoke of his need to be Ain my Father=s house.@ 

Here is what Pope Benedict says in his book about the infancy narratives about this exchange between mother and son:

Jesus’ reply to his mother’s question is astounding: How so? You were looking for me? Did you not know where a child must be? That he must be in his father’s house, literally ‘in the things of the Father,’ Jesus tells his parents: ‘I am in the very place where I belong – with the Father, in his house.’ There are two principal elements to note in this reply. Mary had said: ‘Your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.’ Jesus corrects her: I am with my father. My father is not Joseph, but another – God himself. It is to him that I belong, and her I am with him. Could Jesus’ divine sonship be presented any more clearly? (p. 123f)

Today’s gospel reading tells us that Jesus’ parents “did not grasp what he said to them.” As time went on, there would be much more that Mary and Joseph did not grasp and could not understand, at the time it was happening. They continued to trust in their Son, nonetheless, and to believe in him.

What better prayer could we offer, as the Church today celebrates Mary’s immaculate heart, than to ask that her trust and faith may be ours.

Thursday, June 2, 2016


Homily for June 3rd, 2016: Feast of the Sacred Heart: Rom. 5:5-11. 

Let me start with something that Pope St. John Paul II, wrote about our common human experience in the first encyclical of his pontificate, way back in 1979: “We cannot live without love. We remain beings incomprehensible to ourselves, our lives are senseless, if love is not revealed to us, if we do not encounter love, if we do not experience it and make it our own, if we do not participate intimately in it.” (Redemptor hominis, 10)

          This insight, that life is unsupportable without love, is as old as the creation stories in Genesis. In the second one God says, after creating man: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will provide a partner for him” (Gen. 2:18). The creation of woman follows. God fashions her from the man’s rib – a way of showing that the two sexes were made not for rivalry, but to complement and complete each other. The first creation story in Genesis says that this complementarity of male and female reflects the nature of God himself. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image and likeness ...’ So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (1:26f).

In today’s second reading Paul tell us: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The ability to love God and others which Paul refers to there is not bestowed on us simply to give us a warm feeling inside. God’s love is poured out into our hearts so that the image of God may be perfected in us; so that by becoming more divine, we may also become more human. How sad when people refuse this divine gift of love, or fail to develop it. The Spanish philosopher-poet Miguel de Unamumo writes: “It is sad not to be loved. But it is much sadder not to be able to love.”  

          The French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin took this thought a step farther when he wrote: “Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love; and then, for the second time, man will have discovered fire.” On this feast of the Sacred Heart, the feast of God’s love – exchanged between Father and Son through the Holy Spirit, and poured out through this same Spirit into our hearts – let us pray for this divine fire, in the words of an ancient Catholic hymn.  

          O Holy Spirit, Lord of grace / Eternal source of love,

          Inflame, we pray, our inmost hearts / With fire from heaven above. 

          As thou dost join with holiest bonds / the Father and the Son,

          So fill thy saints with mutual love / and link their hearts in one


(O fons amoris, Spiritus, C. Coffin, 1676-1749;

translated by J. Chandler)


Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Homily for June 2nd, 2016: Mark 12: 28-34.

          Which commandment is greatest? Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard question amongst rabbis in Jesus’ day. Jesus answers by citing two well known Old Testament texts, from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, about loving God and others. The question is still being asked today, when people want to know is it more important to worship God, or to serve the poor. The best answer is: both are important.

          If people want to know which is primary, however, then the answer is, worship. If our worship has no consequences in daily life, however, it is hypocrisy which cries to heaven for vengeance. On the other hand, service of others which is not performed for love of God, but for the uplifting feeling of serving a noble cause, or some other human ideology, is not genuine service. Those “served” in this way experience not the warmth of compassion, but the cold impersonalism of bureaucracy, which undermines so many of the best intentioned efforts of the welfare state to help the poor and disadvantaged. 

          We followers of Jesus Christ are called to live at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal. That is where Jesus lived. It is also where he died. The cross, which is itself the literal intersection of the vertical and the horizontal, tore Jesus apart and killed him. For us too the attempt to live where the vertical and horizontal intersect will mean pain, rending asunder, and ultimately death. But this is precisely that dying-in-order-to-live of which Jesus himself speaks often in the gospels. For behind the cross Christians have always seen, and we must always see, the open portals of the empty tomb – the sign and proof that death is not the end.
         Death was not the end for Jesus. It will not be the end for us; it will be rather the gateway to new life, unbelievably more wonderful than this one. It is Jesus’ resurrection which enables us to live as people of hope – and above all as people of joy. 



10th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Luke 7:11-17
AIM: To show Jesus’ special love for the weak and poor, manifested in his concern for the widow of Nain – the love available to us today.
Two processions meet. The first is a procession of death. It is led by the pallbearers of a young man who has died before his time. His grieving mother is a widow; she has already buried her husband. Now she must bury their only son as well.
This procession symbolizes life=s tragic side. What is more tragic than a widowed mother having to bury her only son? This procession also reminds us that we must all die some day. Not all of us, however, will live a normal life span. Some will die, like this widow=s son, before our time; cut down in our best years, leaving behind us unfulfilled hopes and grieving loved ones.
The widow in this first procession is particularly tragic figure. In a society without the safety net of the modern welfare state she symbolizes, like all widows in Holy Scripture, the forsaken, the marginalized, the poor. The procession in which she walks is a picture of human misery and hopelessness.
The second procession is different. It is led by Jesus. He is accompanied, Luke tells us, by his disciples and a large crowd. A procession of hope? So it might seem. In reality, however, this too is a procession of death. For Jesus is bound for Jerusalem, the city where he will die. Unlike the death of the widow=s son, however, Jesus= death was foreseen, and freely accepted. More than once on his way to Jerusalem Jesus emphasized that he went there voluntarily, to lay down his life of his own free will. AThe Father loves me for this,@ Jesus says in John=s gospel, Athat I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely.@ (10:17f)
How could Jesus continue his journey, knowing what lay ahead? He could do so only because of his trusting faith in his heavenly Father=s love. That love was celebrated in the ancient prayers of Jesus= people, the psalms. Jesus started learning them in the synagogue school a Nazareth. He knew many of them by heart.  He would recite one of those psalms as he hung dying on the cross: AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ B the opening words of Psalm 22. It opens on that note of desolation, but closes with words of serene confidence in God=s powerful protection. 
The psalms speak often of God=s protection. AI will extol you, O Lord,@ we read for instance in psalm 30, Afor you drew me clear and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O Lord, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit. ... You changed my mourning into dancing; O Lord, my God, forever I will give you thanks.@
Did Jesus pray that particular psalm as he journeyed to Jerusalem? We cannot know. We do know that it was the faith which the psalms repeatedly express that enabled Jesus to continue his journey.    
Those who followed Jesus that day at Nain did not know, as he knew, that they were walking in a procession of death. By the time they found this out, Jesus= followers had dwindled to a mere handful. At the moment of his greatest need the Aall forsook him and fled@ (Mark 14.50). Only his mother and a few other women followers were present at Calvary, along with Athe disciple whom Jesus loved@ (John 19:26) B deliberately left unnamed, many Bible commentators believe, so that he can stand for the ideal disciple at all times and in all places. 
Because of Jesus= trust in his heavenly Father=s protection, the city of his death became also the city of his new, risen life. Jerusalem was the site of Calvary, but also of the empty tomb. Taken together, as they always should be, the cross and the empty tomb proclaim that death is vanquished, that life is not meaningless, as the widow=s procession at Nain seemed to say. 
In today’s first reading we heard the prophet Elijah invoking God’s power to raise the son of a widow in a place called Zarephath. At Nain Jesus does more. Elijah prayed, invoking God=s= power. Jesus acts, wielding God=s power himself. Touching the litter, Jesus says: A>Young man, I bid you get up.= The dead man got up and began to speak. Then Jesus gave him back to his mother.@ Jesus thus shows himself to be the life-giver. It is no accident that Jesus exercised this divine power on behalf of a widow, the symbol, as we have seen, of helplessness and poverty. Concern for outcasts and the poor is a special theme of Luke=s gospel. We encounter this theme first in this gospel in Mary=s hymn of praise on learning that she is to be the mother of God=s Son: AHe has put down the mighty from their thrones, and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away.@
In his gospel Luke emphasizes that Mary=s son, Jesus, was especially kind to outcasts: tax collectors (7:29), prostitutes (7:37), lepers (17:12-19). When Jesus heals the servant of a Roman military officer, he shows that his compassion embraces even a representative of the hated military government of occupation. And the raising of the widow=s son at Nain is an example, among many others, of Jesus= special concern for women B in a society which treated them as second class citizens: the property at first of their fathers, and later of their husbands. 
The carpenter=s son and wandering rabbi whom we see in the gospels, walking the dusty roads of Palestine, is the same Lord we encounter here in the Eucharist: in his holy word, in the sacrament of his body and blood. Do you want to experience his love and compassion B like the widow at Nain; like the Roman officer pleading with Jesus for the life of his gravely ill servant boy? Then show Jesus your need. Show him not your successes but your failures; not your strength but your weakness; not your victories, but your defeats.
The Church, in one of its most ancient prayers, teaches us to approach God in this way. In the previous version of the first Eucharistic Prayer we used to pray: AThough we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness.” The new translation prays: “To us, also, your servants, who though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies, graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs … and all your saints; admit us, we beseech you, into their company, not weighing our merits, but granting us your pardon, through Christ our Lord.”
It is our need that calls down the Lord=s life-giving, healing power. And what is it that each one of us needs from him most of all? Forgiveness! Ask for that, and you too will experience Jesus as the life-giver. Like the people at Nain so long ago, you will be filled with wonder and gratitude, and say with them: AGod has visited his people.@
I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord;

no tender voice like thine can peace afford.  

I need thee, O I need thee;

every hour I need thee;

O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

I need thee every hour; stay thou nearby;

temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.


I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;

come quickly and abide, or life is vain.



I need thee every hour; teach me thy will;

and thy rich promises in me fulfill.



I need thee every hour, most Holy One;

O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son.




Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Homily for June 1st, 2016: Mark 12: 18-27.

Jesus= critics present him with a hypothetical case about a woman who has been married to seven husbands. Jesus might have told his questioners that the case was too frivolous to merit comment. Instead Jesus shows himself, here as elsewhere, to be a model teacher by using his opponents= attempt to show him up as the occasion for serious teaching about the future life.

Which of the woman=s seven husbands will have her as his wife after death, Jesus= critics ask. Jesus= answer falls into two parts. First, he says that life beyond death is not a prolongation of life on earth. It is something completely new. That is the meaning of Jesus= statement that Athose who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.@ A fundamental purpose of marriage is the continuation of the human race through the procreation of children. Beyond death there is no need for more children to be born. 

The second part of Jesus= answer addresses his critics= contention that the idea of a future life is absurd. On the contrary, Jesus tells them, our own Scriptures clearly imply the resurrection when they represent Moses addressing the Lord as Athe God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.@ Those final words are crucial: all are alive to God, even those who have died. Before him, Jesus is saying, those long dead patriarchs remain alive. 

Jesus= way of interpreting Scripture may not be ours. But his teaching is not hard to grasp. His fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking, but on the nature of God himself. He is not just a philosophical Afirst cause,@ an Aunmoved mover,@ or the Agreat architect of the universe.@ God is all those things, yet he is infinitely more.    

The God whom Jesus reveals is our loving heavenly Father, who enters into a personal relationship with us B a relationship of love. This love relationship cannot be terminated by death, any more than God=s relationship of love with his Son was ended by Jesus= death. I learned this very early, through my mother=s death when I was only six years old. A few days after my mother=s funeral, my father told me: AOur love for Mummy continues, and her love for us. We must continue to pray for her. She is with God. He is looking after her. Our prayers can help her.@ That made sense to me when I was only six. It still makes sense to me more than eight decades later. I pray for my dear mother by name in every Mass I celebrate. I encourage you to pray for your own departed loved ones at the prayer for the dead in the prayer of consecration.


Monday, May 30, 2016


Homily for May 31st, 2016. The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56.

Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as our British cousins say, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With characteristic generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.  

When Mary arrives at her cousin’s house and greets her, Elizabeth, as we have just heard, “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … At moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” Doctors tell us that a new mother (and Elizabeth, though old, was pregnant for the first time) usually begins to feel her baby moving in her womb during the fifth month of pregnancy. Thereafter the movements become increasingly frequent and intense. Considering the time it would have taken Mary to reach her, Elizabeth is now in her seventh month at least. Her baby is now very active. Moreover, medical science has discovered, fairly recently, something called the “startle response,” when the baby moves on hearing a sound outside the mother. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, was reacting to the sound of Mary’s loud cry, greeting with joy, as his mother said, the approach of his younger unborn kinsman, Jesus. How marvelous are God’s works!

With the words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth acknowledges her failure to believe that a woman as old as she was could conceive. And Mary responds with words that proclaim the reversal of normal worldly expectations. She praises God for scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, while sending the rich away hungry.  

Three decades later her Son, in his Sermon on the Mount, would speak remarkably similar words, calling blest (which means happy) the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for holiness, the merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake, and all those insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of Him who spoke these words. (Matthew 5:3-12)

Truly marvelous are God’s works, wonderful indeed!

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Homily for May 30th, 2016: Mark 12:1-12.

          The story in today’s gospel would have reminded Jesus’ hearers of a similar story in the prophet Isaiah, about God planting a vineyard, namely his people whom he had delivered from slavery in Egypt, in a new land. God had lavished care on his vineyard, his people, only to find that they failed to produce the fruit he looked for. For this, Isaiah warned, there would be a day of reckoning. The parable in the gospel reading we have just heard gives a similar warning to the leaders of Jesus’ people, who are about to reject him. The vineyard God had given them would be taken away from them, Jesus warned them, and turned over to others.

          That warning is not obsolete. We can read it as addressed to us American Catholics. The position of influence we enjoy in the Church, because of our numbers and financial resources, will be taken away from us and given to Catholics in Third World countries, if our Catholicism is complacent, conventional, and lukewarm — while theirs is dynamic, daring, enthusiastic. 

          In 1974, forty-two years ago now, a Swiss priest, Fr. Walbert Bühlmann, wrote a book entitled The Coming of the Third Church. Bühlmann’s “Third Church” was the church of the southern hemisphere: Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia. By the end of the twentieth century, Bühlmann said, most of the world’s Catholics would live below the equator. The older churches of Europe and North America would no longer rank first. Folks, it has already happened. The majority of the world’s Catholics now live in the southern hemisphere. For the first time ever our Pope comes from south of the equator.

          As a 18th century English hymn has it: “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”