Friday, June 17, 2016


Homily for June 18th, 2016: Matthew 6:24-34.

          “Do not worry about your life,” Jesus says, nor about what you will eat, drink, and wear. In Jesus’ day Galilee, where he spoke those words, was relatively prosperous. Were he speaking in a region of dire poverty, like many places in the Third World today, his words would seem heartless, and he would have spoken differently. The Greek word translated “worry” really means “be concerned about,” or “be preoccupied with.”

          Jesus uses examples from nature to encourage trust in God’s care. The people who first heard Jesus’ words lived close to nature. When he spoke about the birds, they knew how hard birds work. A collection of photos of birds’ nests that landed in my e-mail box recently showed intricate constructions that must have required weeks to build.

          Jesus goes on to speak about the beauty of nature, exemplified by wildflowers. His hearers did not live, like so many today, in concrete jungles. They looked out daily on God’s handiwork. Jesus’ conclusion: “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not

worry  …”

          Here is what a man of science says about worry. Dr. Charles H. Mayo, one of the founders of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, writes: “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many who died from doubt.”

What is the cure for worry? I know none better than the message of an evangelical hymn:

Cast your eyes upon Jesus / Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace

O soul are you weary and troubled? / No light in the darkness to see
There's light for a look at the Savior / And life more abundant and free

His words shall not fail you, He promised / Believe Him and all will be well
Then go to a world that is dying / His perfect salvation to tell.


Thursday, June 16, 2016


Homily for June 17th, 2016: Matthew 6:19-23.

          At a fund raising dinner for St. Louis University many years ago, the principal speaker was the then Chancellor of the university, Fr. Paul Reinert SJ. “They say you can’t take it with you,” he told the crowd. “But you can send it ahead.” The roar of laughter from the more than five hundred people attending went on for a full minute at least.

          Laugh if you like, but this is what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.”  

          A man of great wealth said once: “Whoever thinks that having a ton of money will make you happy has obviously never had a ton of money.” Jesus speaks about thieves who break in and steal. People of great wealth today have to worry about much more than thieves. If they have children they must hire guards to prevent kidnapping. They cannot keep fixed and regular hours, lest they themselves be waylaid and harmed. They must constantly worry about servants and other employees ripping them off and harming them financially or in other ways.

          “Store up treasure in heaven,” Jesus says. Heavenly treasure cannot be lost. And you will be happy both in this life, and in the life to come. How do we store up treasure in heaven? By doing good to others; by putting God first, others second, and ourselves last; by letting no day pass without spending some time at least with God in prayer. And we don’t need to wait for heaven to receive a reward. People who try to do those things are happy here and now – no exceptions!

Our life here on earth is sometimes compared to the weaving of a tapestry. Those who work on it weave it from the back. They cannot see the pattern, or only dimly. That is because the pattern is visible only from the front.

One day, however, when the Lord calls us home, we’ll see the tapestry from the front. What looks to us now like a tangle of loose ends will be something wonderful. “How beautiful!” we’ll say. And then we’ll ask: “Did I do all that?” And the Lord God will answer: “Well, you did some of it. I did the rest.”


Wednesday, June 15, 2016


12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Galatians 3:26-29; Luke 9:18-24.
AIM: To explain the difference between the biblical doctrine of human equality, and that of secular humanism.
AAll of you who were baptized into Christ,@ Paul writes in our second reading, Aare one in Christ Jesus.@ Paul affirms this oneness in the face of the three great divisions in his world: racial divisions, social divisions, and divisions of gender. AThere is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave no free person, there is not male and female” Paul writes, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.@
AHow modern,@ we say B and to a certain extent Paul=s teaching about equality is modern. In other respects, however, there are important differences between what Paul is saying, and many modern ideas about human equality. To see how this is so, let=s look at the three kinds of inequality Paul writes about, and compare his teaching with modern ideas. We shall see that if we follow Paul, we shall be able happily to say Yes to many of today=s ideas about equality. To others, others, however, we must sadly say No.
1.       Racial equality is often taken today to mean: AThe color of a person=s skin makes no difference.@ Who can argue with that simple statement? In reality, however, things are not so simple. Increasingly we have come to realize that racial and ethnic differences are not barriers to be overcome. They are treasures to be valued and preserved. This realization is behind what is today called Black Pride. It is the reason why we have celebrations of the many different national and ethnic groups in American society: Native American, Greek, Italian, Polish, Hispanic, German, Asian B and many others. Paul would understand this. Even after accepting Christianity, Paul never rejected his Jewish heritage. He remained fiercely proud of Judaism, and of his own birth as a Jew, all his life long.
2.       Social equality involved, for Paul, transcending the great division in his world between slaves and free persons. Demands for social equality in our society usually cite a truth which our wonderful Declaration of Independence calls Aself-evident@ B something which doesn=t have to be proved: that Aall men are created equal.@ If we understand those words to mean that we are all equal before God; and that all should be equal before the law (as, sadly, was not the case for slaves until decades after our Civil War), who can quarrel with the statement? As a description of real life, however, the statement that all people are created equal is neither self-evident nor true. Clearly we are unequal in all kinds of ways: in intelligence, in physical strength, in talents, and in temperament. Paul recognized such human inequalities when he told the Christians at Corinth that if they looked at themselves, they would see that God had not called the highly born, the sophisticated, the strong, or the powerful.  Instead he called Athose whom the world considers foolish ... the weak ... the lowborn and despised, those who count for nothing ...@ (1 Cor. 1:26-30). 
3.       Gender equality was not even a distant dream in Paul=s world. Women did much of the heavy lifting in the ancient world, while men discussed weighty problems, or made war B a situation which one can still find in parts of the Middle East today. In the ancient world women were the property of men until they married, when they became the property of their husbands. The ninth Commandment, AThou shalt not covet,@ lists a man=s wife among the things one must not covet. Today, equality between men and women is a fundamental demand of feminism. Like liberalism and conservatism, feminism is a catchall name for a movement which includes many different ideas. Insofar as feminism represents the remedying of legal and social discrimination against women, it is a demand for simple justice, and something that we Catholics can and must support. Some feminists go farther, however, demanding not only that jobs and careers should be open to women at equal pay with men, but making women who do not work outside the home feel they have chosen something second-best.
         The raising of children is an onerous and demanding task. It is not just Astaying at home and baking cookies,@ as a well known feminist politician called it some years ago. Here is something Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1981 encyclical: Familiaris consortio:
There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of men and women fully justifies women=s access to public functions. On the other hand, the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role ... Therefore the Church should help modern society by tirelessly insisting that the work of women in the home be recognized and respected by all ... While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men to perform various public functions, society must be structured in such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to work outside the home ...  (Familiaris consortio [Nov. 1981] No. 23; italics in original)      
Feminists who look down on women who do not opt for careers outside the home are motivated not by Christian principles, but by something very different: secular humanism. This is the idea that humanity, and the supposed greatest good of the greatest number, are the highest values. Secular humanists regard God and religion as purely private matters: optional extras, for people who happen to like that kind of thing. No follower of Jesus Christ can accept that philosophy.
Secular humanists press for a Aunisex@ society in which those who make and administer our laws are forbidden to take any notice of the difference between men and women. No one who accepts the biblical doctrine of humankind can possibly support that. The Bible teaches clearly that the difference between male and female is God-given: a treasure to be preserved, not an obstacle to be overcome. Gender differences, like the differences of race, nationality, culture, and temperament, contribute to the variety and beauty of human life. They reflect the infinite perfection of God, our creator, in whose image we were made. As Catholic Christians, therefore, we say Yes to equality. When equality is interpreted, however, to impose sameness, we say No.    

That No is grounded in what Paul says in our second reading. He does not say there that racial, social, and gender differences can be ignored. He says, rather, that for those who in baptism have Aput on Christ@, these differences are transcended: AThere is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free person, not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.@ What we become in baptism, Paul says, is of such fundamental importance that all other differences between Christians sink into insignificance.

Standing in opposition to modern ideas of equality based on secular humanism B saying Yes to equality, but No to sameness B means swimming against the tide of enlightened public opinion today. It means being counter-cultural. We cannot expect to be popular, or even respected. Nor should that surprise us. Patiently enduring misunderstanding, hostility, and rejection is part of our faithfulness to the One who tells us in today=s gospel: AIf anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.@   

We carry the cross, yes. But we need to remember that the cross also carries us.


Homily for June 16th, 2016: Matthew 6:7-15.

          With his gift of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, he offers us a pattern for all our prayer, especially private prayer. “Father,” Jesus begins. When we begin like that, we are acknowledging that we can’t make it on our own. From infancy to old age we are dependent on Another: on the One whom Jesus addressed with the intimate word, Abba – akin to “Daddy” in English.

Three petitions follow, having to with our heavenly Father himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to, for God acts in sovereign freedom.

          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.

          Four petitions follow which have to do not just with own needs, but also with those of our brothers and sisters in God’s family: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.

          Here is a suggestion which can help you to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer more deeply. Rather than just rattling it off, as Catholics mostly do, take at least five or ten minutes to pray it slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Ponder the full meaning of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of others -- your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on the next day to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will help you realize that the words are not just a pious formula. Rightly prayed, they bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


Homily for June 15th, 2016: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

          Continuing his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Traditionally associated with Lent, these religious practices are spiritually profitable at all times – provided (and this condition is essential) that they are done for God, and not to obtain human recognition and praise. The Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus, makes the same point when he writes: “Whoever wants to publicize his virtue labors not for virtue but for glory.” Jesus says the same with his thrice repeated statement, “they have received their reward.” The reward he is referring to is human recognition and glory – and beyond that nothing. To receive a reward from God (and Jesus never tells us to be indifferent to rewards, provided they come from God) our good deeds must be quiet, if possible anonymous. Then, Jesus says, “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

          Similarly with prayer. Jesus is speaking here not about public worship; he himself took part in such worship in the Temple and in synagogues. He speaks about private prayer: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” The 4th century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, explains that Jesus is not talking about “a room with four walls separating you physically from others, but the room that is within you, where your thoughts are shut up, the place that contains your feelings. This room of prayer is with you at all times, wherever you go it is a secret place, and what happens there is witnessed by God alone.” (On Cain and Abel B 1:34)

          Fasting too must be secret, Jesus says. There are two reasons to fast. First, to strengthen our wills. Voluntarily denying ourselves food and drink that we may legitimately enjoy helps us to say no to pleasures that God’s law forbids. And the sacrifice which fasting requires strengthens our prayer for the things, people, and causes for which we pray. The Lord who sees in secret recognizes that the intentions for which we pray are so important to us that we are willing to forego hunger and thirst that they may be granted.





Monday, June 13, 2016


Homily for June 14th, 2016: 1 Kings 21:17-29.

          Today’s first reading gives the conclusion to yesterday’s account of Queen Jezebel engineering the judicial murder of the poor man, Naboth, because he refused to sell his vineyard to Jezebel’s weak husband King Ahab. God sends the prophet Elijah to Ahab to rebuke him for the evil he has done, “urged on by his wife Jezebel,” the text tells us. Elijah had already confronted the royal couple when he defeated the four hundred prophets of Baal (the false god of whom Jezebel was a fanatical worshiper) in the contest atop Mount Carmel over who could call down fire heaven. (1 Kings 18) Addressing both Ahab and Jezebel, Elijah tells them that the evil they have done will bring even  greater ruin on their descendants. Cut to the heart by Elijah’s words, Ahab repents so sincerely that God relents – but only so far as to say that the punishment promised by Elijah will be postponed. Even when God has forgiven the guilt of our sins, the consequences of what we have done remain.

King David discovered this after his adultery with Bathsheba. Rebuked by the prophet Nathan, David repented sincerely and at once. Nathan tells him that God has removed the guilt of his sin. But the consequences remain: death for the child David’s adultery has produced; and chaos in David’s family thereafter, starting with the attempt of David’s dearly loved son Absolom to steal the kingdom from his father. (2 Samuel 12 & 18).

God is not mocked. Our sins have consequences, even after their guilt has been removed by sincere repentance. The college student who loafs and parties all semester and then, at exam time, goes to confession and repents, has the guilt of his sin removed. But not the consequences: ignorance of the subject matter, and a failing grade in the exam. Theologians call these consequences sin’s “temporal punishment,” because they extend over time.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"AN EYE FOR AN EYE . . . "

Homily for June 13th, 2016: 1 Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:38-42.

In today’s first reading we heard the story of an injustice which cries to heaven for vengeance. King Ahab of Samaria, a man with absolute power over his subjects and already rich, as all kings were in those days, would like to upgrade his property by taking over the adjoining vineyard of his poor neighbor, Naboth. He could have simply confiscated it. That is what kings did in those days. Instead he offers compensation: a vineyard elsewhere, or purchase at a reasonable price. When Naboth refuses to part with his vineyard at any price, Ahab is so frustrated that he takes to his bed and refuses to eat.  

Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, is made of sterner stuff than her husband. “What are you,” she asks him in disgust, “a wimp? Leave it to me. I’ll get that vineyard for you.” She then writes letters to the authorities, sealed with the king’s seal, accusing Naboth of high treason. Her frame-up, as we would call it, succeeds. After a public show trial, Naboth suffers death by stoning. As the story ends, King Ahab is on his way to take over the now ownerless vineyard. ‘What an outrage!’ we think. 

          In the gospel Jesus speaks about the question of how to respond to injuries received. Jesus’ words, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” are a quotation from the Old Testament, where they were actually a limitation on vengeance: only an eye for an eye, no more. Vengeance must not exceed the injury received. (cf. Deut. 19:21) A later Old Testament passage states what is sometimes called the Silver Rule: “Do to no one what you yourself dislike” (Tobit 4:15). Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus changes this into the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you would have them treat you” (Matt.7:12). When we take the initiative in doing good to those who have injured us, we elevate the moral level, creating an atmosphere of positive good will.

          Jesus’ words in today’s gospel, “Offer no resistance to one who is evil,” do not counsel indifference to injustice. They are a strategy for winning – by shaming our adversary into better behavior. In modern times this strategy of non-violence, as it is called, has been used successfully by Gandhi in India, and by Martin Luther King in our own country. St Paul, writing before any of the gospels existed, shows himself fully aware of Jesus’ teaching when he writes: “If possible, live peaceably with everyone. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves; leave that to God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord.” (Rom. 12:18f)