Friday, June 10, 2016


Homily for June 11th, 2016, St. Barnabas: Matthew 10:7-13.

“Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic,  or sandals, or walking stick,” Jesus tells the Twelve as he sends them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He wants those whom he commissions as his messengers to travel light. They are to depend not on material resources, but on the Lord alone.

          Jesus’ words are especially relevant today. All over the world, the forces hostile to the Church are rising. In our own country the government is trying to impose on Catholic organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, requirements which we cannot, in conscience, accept. We are being asked, for instance, to pay for sterilization and abortion. In Ireland, unlike the United States a historically Catholic country, there is even an attempt to pass a law which would compel priests, in certain instances, to violate the seal of the confessional. TV entertainers air gross jokes about Catholic priests which they would not dare make about Muslim imams or Jewish rabbis. And the media show little interest in reporting studies which show that Christians are the Number One target of religious persecution in the world today.

          We rightly lament this tide of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiment. But it has a positive side as well. Whenever in its two thousand year history, the Church has been favored by worldly powers, whether financially or in other ways, it has grown spiritually flabby and weak. The Church is always at her best in times of persecution. When persecution is raging it is difficult, mostly impossible, to see this. Things become clear only when we look back. So let’s look back.

In recent centuries the most violent attack on the Church came in the French Revolution, which started in 1789 and lasted more than a decade. Thousand of priests were murdered under the guillotine. Most of the French bishops fled the country. Those who remained had to accept restrictions on their ministry which they justified on the plea that there was to other way to continue offering the sacraments to God’s people. 

As the Church moved into the nineteenth century, however, there was an explosion of religious vocations in France, and the foundation of an unprecedented number of new religious orders, for both men and women.

          When we grow discouraged at the hostile forces confronting us, we need to remember: God can bring good out of evil – and he does, time after time!

Thursday, June 9, 2016


Homily for June 10th, 2016. 1 Kings: 19:9a, 11-16.

          The prophet Elijah, whom we encounter in today’s first reading, is one of the great figures in the Old Testament. He and Moses appeared with Jesus at his Transfiguration, when Jesus’ face and clothes shone with an unearthly, heavenly light. Elijah has just achieved the greatest triumph of his life. In a contest atop Mt. Carmel the disciples of the false god Baal have failed to receive any answer at all to their prayer for fire from heaven to consume the sacrificial offering they have prepared for their god.

          Elijah prepares his own altar and sacrifice. To make his achievement more dramatic, and to demonstrate the power of the true God of Israel to do the humanly impossible, Elijah orders the altar and the sacrificial gifts he has placed upon it to be drenched with water. Then, at his prayer, fire comes from heaven to consume everything Elijah has prepared.

          Enraged at Elijah’s triumph over the Baal worshippers, whom she favors, the wicked queen Jezebel vows death for Elijah, who flees for his life to the cave at Horeb, where we meet him in our first reading. Deeply disillusioned, he pours out his complaints to the Lord God. “I have been the most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts,” he cries out. . . . “I alone am left,” he tells God, “and they seek to take my life.”

The Lord’s response to these understandable complaints is to send Elijah on a new mission. “Go, take the road back to the desert near Damascus,” the Lord commands. “When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king of Aram. Then you shall anoint Jehu . . .  as king of Israel, and Elisha . . . as prophet to succeed you.”

          What does this tell us? No individual, no matter how great his or her achievement and character, is indispensable. Elijah’s work is finished. He must prepare others to carry it on.

          So must each one of us, one day: when the Lord calls us home to be with him, and with the loved ones have preceded us, forever.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  2 Samuel 12:7-10,13; Galatians2:16,19-21; Luke 7:36-8:3.
AIM: To show how all three readings teach that justification is God=s free gift.
Does God love people of bad moral character B people, for instance, who sleep around, cheat on their spouses, who lie and steal, who hurt others? Or is God=s love reserved for good, religious people who can claim a reward from God because of their upright lives?
All three of today=s readings address these questions. The first reading and the Gospel are about serious sinners. The second reading describes, in somewhat technical language, the lesson to be drawn from God=s treatment of serious sinners.
The first reading is about King David=s fall into serious sin: adultery with the wife of one of his generals, while the husband was at the front placing his life on the line for the sake of King David. When David discovers that the woman is pregnant with his child, he arranges to have her husband killed in battle. David=s sin started with impetuous passion. It ends with cold, calculated murder. It is a clear case of what Catholic theology calls Amortal sin.@
The first reading tells about God sending the prophet Nathan to rebuke David. Nathan reminds the king of all God has given him. He raised David from a simple shepherd boy to the pinnacle of worldly power. David grasped it all with outstretched hands, and reached out for more.
Nathan=s words hit home. David repents at once. Without offering any excuses he confesses: AI have sinned against the Lord.@ Moved by the king=s swift repentance, Nathan tells him: AThe Lord ... has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.@
David=s fall into serious sin was a dark chapter in an otherwise upright life.  The same cannot be said of the woman we meet in the Gospel. Luke calls her Aa sinful woman in the city@B a euphemism for a prostitute. Her extravagant behavior B kissing Jesus= feet, and letting down her hair to wipe away her tears B is the woman=s emotional display of gratitude for Jesus= message: that God loves everyone without distinction, even outcasts like her.
 Jesus= deeply religious host, Simon, is scandalized both by the woman=s extravagant behavior and by Jesus= acceptance of the woman. Jesus responds with his story about two debtors. Both have their debts cancelled B not as a reward for anything they have done, but simply because their creditor is generous. One man owed ten times as much as the other. Which of them would be more grateful for the cancellation of his debt, Jesus asks. His host=s reply is icy: AThe one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.@ Overlooking the resentment clearly present behind this reply, Jesus immediately applies the story to the sinful woman before him.
This woman has shown gratitude for my message of God=s freely granted love and forgiveness, Jesus tells his host. You, on the other hand, are scandalized at the suggestion that God could love an outcast like her. Instead of rejoicing in God=s unlimited goodness, you set yourself up as a judge of others. Despite all your efforts to keep all the precepts of your faith, Jesus tells Simon, you are actually farther from God than this woman. True, her life is disordered and sinful. But she realizes her need of God=s forgiveness, and is grateful for it. You see no need for forgiveness, Jesus tells his host. No wonder that you feel no gratitude. Jesus concludes by assuring the woman that her sins are indeed forgiven.
The second reading contains Paul=s statement of the lesson to be drawn from God=s forgiveness of King David, and Jesus= forgiveness of the prostitute: AA person is not justified by works of the law,@ Paul writes. AJustified@ is a technical term for Paul. It means God=s loving acceptance of us: God=s blessing in this world, heaven in the next. What Paul is saying is this: God does not accept us on the basis of our good-conduct record. We cannot buy our way into God=s favor, or into heaven, not even by keeping all the commandments perfectly (and which of us has?). ABy works of the law no one will be justified,@ Paul explains. In other words, God accepts us not because of our goodness, but because of his generosity.
Does this mean that the commandments are unimportant, that we can forget about them? Of course not. God=s commandments remain important. But they are not a kind of moral test in which we must get a passing grade before God will accept and love us. Rather the commandments are the description of the grateful life B the life of people who know that, even after their best efforts to leave good lives, they still fall short of God=s standards and have no claim on him; yet who know that God accepts them in love nonetheless, because of the sin-offering made on Calvary by Jesus Christ.
Here is how Paul describes his own response to God=s freely given love, in another translation of the second reading than the one we heard a few moments ago:  AI have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I will not treat God=s gracious gift as pointless.@ [New American Bible] 
Treating God=s gracious gift as pointless means failing to show gratitude, like Jesus= host, Simon, in the Gospel. It means assuming that because we are regular at Mass, keep the other precepts of the Church, and have never been in trouble with the police, we have some kind of claim on God. We never have a claim on God.  God has a claim on us B and it is a total claim.

The first thing God claims from us is gratitude for his freely given love and forgiveness. God looks, however, for a gratitude that goes beyond words. Genuine thanksgiving for God=s blessings must be expressed in deeds. To strengthen and empower us for lives of grateful service to him, and to our sisters and brothers, the Lord Jesus offers us here his body and blood: all his power, goodness, and love.  Refreshed with these free gifts, we go out from the Lord=s table to our daily duties, saying with St. Paul in the second reading: AThe life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.@

"BUT I SAY TO YOU . . . "

Homily for June 9th, 2016: Matthew 5:20-26.

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about the central concern of Jewish religion: God’s law. He does so differently, however, from other teachers of God’s law. They cite a Commandment and then discuss its interpretation, Quoting the interpretations of other famous rabbis. The Commandment to “Keep holy the Sabbath day,” for instance, raises the whole question of what kinds of work are forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus speaks not, like other rabbis, as an interpreter of the law. He speaks as himself the Lawgiver.

“You have heard, ‘You shall kill.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Or – “You have heard, “Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you whoever looks lustfully on a woman, has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts.” Or again – “You have heard, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Or finally – “You have heard, ‘Do not take a false oath.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all.”

Do you see what Jesus is doing? Two things. First, by speaking not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as the Lawgiver, Jesus is manifesting his divinity. He does the same when he forgives sins. Second, he is plugging the loopholes in the law developed by legalistic interpreters – “the scribes and Pharisees” mentioned at the beginning of today’s gospel. If the Commandments really mean what Jesus says they mean, then who can fulfill them completely?  

Many people think of the Commandments as questions in a moral examination in which we must first get a passing grade before God will love and bless us in this life, and admit us to heaven in the next. That’s wrong! God loves us already, just as good parents love their children from birth, or even from conception, without waiting to see how they’ll turn out. The Commandments tell us how to respond gratefully to the free gift of God’s love. And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this: grateful people are happy people – no exceptions!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Homily for June 8th, 2016: Matthew 5:17-19.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets,” Jesus says. “I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” We sometimes hear that the Old Testament presents a God of law, the New Testament a God of love. That’s not true! While law is indeed central in the Old Testament, it presents God=s law as an expression of his love B a gift granted to his chosen people, and not to others. We read in Deuteronomy, for instance, about God telling his people to be careful to observe his commandments, “for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ … Or what great nation has statues and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am settling before you this day.” (Deut. 4:6-8)

While the New Testament does emphasize God=s love, almost the whole of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from which the gospel readings this week and next are taken, consists of examples and stories of how God’s law is lived out in daily life. And at the Last Supper he gives his apostles Aa new commandment: Love one another@ (John 13:34). Both parts of the Bible proclaim the same God. If God=s self-disclosure is fuller in the New Testament, this is because in it God comes to us in person, through his Son. As we read in the opening verse of the letter to the Hebrews: AIn times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son ...@

Human laws command us to respect the rights of others. But I can respect your rights without having any human contact with you. Hence the enormous amount of loneliness in our society. Mother Teresa called loneliness Athe worst disease of modern times.@  There is only one cure for loneliness: love. We come here to receive love: a free gift, not a reward for services rendered. The One who gives us this gift does so under one strict condition: that we here receive, we generously share with others.

Monday, June 6, 2016


Homily for June 7th, 2016: Mathew 5:13-16.

Jesus spoke in simple, everyday language that even children could understand. What could be simpler than the two images Jesus uses in our gospel reading: salt and light? In Jesus’ day soldiers received an allotment of salt as part of their pay. Because the Latin word for salt is sal it was called their salarium, from which we get our word salary. Even today, when someone doesn=t measure up or do his duty we say he=s Anot worth his salt.@ So when Jesus says, AYou are the salt of the earth,@ he is telling us that we are that ingredient in the world which, like salt, may be small in quantity, but which makes all the difference in quality..

Jesus also tells us: AYou are light C the light of the world.@ The first creation tale in Genesis says that creation began when God said: ALet there be light.@ When, in the fullness of time, God=s Son came into the world, he said: AI am the light of the world.@ (Jn 8:12) Pondering those words, and the story of creation in Genesis, Christians came to discern Christ=s role in creation. Hence we say in the Creed: AWe believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, ... through whom all things were made.@

How dark the world would be if he had never lived! When Jesus says, AYou are the light of the world,@ he is not telling us to become the world=s light, any more than he tells us to become salt. As followers and friends of Jesus Christ, given a share of his life in baptism, we already are salt and light for the world. ABe what you are!@ Jesus is saying. 

Does that mean isolating ourselves from modern society? Some Christians favor that. They are good people. But they are mistaken. To isolate ourselves from others is like putting the lamp which lighted the small one-room house of Jesus= day under a basket. The people who heard Jesus knew that wasn=t what you did with a lamp. You put it on a lampstand where, as Jesus says in today=s gospel, Ait gives light to all in the house. Just so,@ Jesus continues, Ayour light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God.@ Why? Because God is the one who inspires us to do good deeds. And it is God alone who gives us the power to do good C to be what we are: salt to flavor and preserve; and light to shine in the darkness of our world.

Here at these two tables of word and sacrament the Lord first takes us up into his light and then sends us forth to pass on that light to others in a dark world, through a life of joyful service and generous love.

Sunday, June 5, 2016


Homily for June 6th, 2016: Matthew :1-12.

We call these sayings of Jesus the Beatitudes. They contradict just about everything our culture tells us. There is no way we can accept these teachings of Jesus, and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Does that mean we must opt out of society? Not at all. It does mean, however, that if we are serious about being Jesus’ disciples, we must live by standards that are different from those of many around us — even when they are good people. Nor can we choose among the Beatitudes, selecting the one that best suits us. The Beatitudes are not descriptions of nine different people. They are nine snapshots of one happy person: happy because he or she lives a life centered on God. 

          The Beatitudes challenge us. They summon us to put God first in our lives. To the extent that we try to do that, and keep on trying despite our many failures and discouragement, we discover that a life centered on God is a happy life. It is a fulfilled life, and one that brings true peace. Why? Because God is the only source there is of true happiness, of fulfillment, and genuine peace. To all those who respond to this challenge, Jesus says: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” 

          Only in heaven? No, the reward Jesus promises begins here on earth! The beatitudes describe a life that is shot through with generosity: generosity to God, but to others as well.  Generosity doesn’t make us poor. It makes us rich. Winston Churchill, not a notably religious man, said once: “We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give.” Jesus Christ says it best: “Give and it shall be given to you. 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.” (Lk 6:38) 

          Is living by the Beatitudes beyond human powers? It is. To live as Jesus tells us to live in these nine sayings we need a power greater than our own. That is why we come here to the Eucharist: to be strengthened uplifted, shaken up, and set ablaze with joy unbounded by the love that will never let us go.