Friday, July 1, 2016


Homily for July 2nd, 2016: Matthew 9:14-17.

          To understand the question about fasting in today’s gospel we must know that in Judaism fasting is a way of mourning. It is also a way of expressing sorrow for sin. Still today observant Jews fast on the Day of Atonement, when God’s people fast to express sorrow for the sins they have committed in the past year. The people who ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast are disciples of John the Baptist. He taught them to fast, because repentance was central in his preaching.

          Responding to the question about why Jesus has not taught his disciples to fast, he replies simply that as long as he is with them, fasting is inappropriate. This is a time not for mourning, Jesus says, but for joy. God has come to earth in human form. Taking up a theme which is frequent in the Old Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom. Israel’s prophets said repeatedly that despite the sins of God’s people, God would not always remain estranged from them. He was going to invite them to a joyful banquet, a symbol of unity between God and humans. (See Isaiah 25.)

          This invitation is renewed every time Mass is celebrated. Despite our unworthiness God uses us priests to extend his invitation: “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” God, the host at this banquet, longs to have you with him. He wants to fill you with his goodness, his power, his purity, his love. 

          He cannot fill you unless you come.

          He cannot fill you unless you are empty.

He cannot fill you unless you confess your need, which means preparing by acknowledging your unworthiness.

          How often have you heard this invitation before? How often will you hear it again? One day you will hear it for the last time. Then you will receive another invitation: to appear before your divine Master, your King, your Creator, your ever loving Lord. Will that encounter fill you with fear and dread? Or will you overjoyed to encounter a dearly loved friend? The Lord in his goodness allows us to choose. It is the most important choice we shall ever have. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016


Homily for July 1st 2016: Matthew 9: 9-13..       

          Jesus speaks just two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. Other disciples of Jesus have already done the same, when, at Jesus’ command, they abandoned the tools of their trade as fishermen, their boats and nets, to follow Jesus. What motivated this immediate obedience? I think that if we could have questioned any of them, Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          Unlike the fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him, men whom we would call blue collar workers, Matthew was a member of a despised and hated minority: the tax collectors -- not civil service workers or government officials, like those who collect taxes today, but ripoff artists. They entered into an arrangement with the hated Roman government of occupation to supply a steady stream of revenue. How they got the money, and how much remained in their own pockets, was of little concern to the officials, as long as the money kept coming.

          Matthew was accustomed to being rejected by his fellow citizens. Delighted by Jesus’ call, Matthew invites the Lord to dinner in his house. “Why does the Teacher eat and drink with tax collectors and those who disregard the law?” Jesus’ critics ask indignantly. Jesus overhears the question and answers it himself. “People who are in good health do not need a doctor,” Jesus responds, “sick people do. . . . I have come not to call not the self-righteous but sinners.”

What is the message for us? To receive Jesus’ call and his loving care, we need to recognize and confess our need. And the first thing every one of us needs from Jesus is forgiveness.


Wednesday, June 29, 2016


14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.
AIM: To warn against nationalism and encourage patriotism.                  
Tomorrow we shall celebrate the 240th anniversary of our country=s independence. The gospel reading we have just heard speaks, however, not of independence but of dependence. AI am sending you like lambs among wolves,@ Jesus tells his disciples. Sheep are grass eating animals which spend much of their lives grazing. Wolves on the other hand are meat eating, always on the prowl for unsuspecting prey. Sheep, and especially young lambs, are among their favorites.       
So when Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending them like lambs among wolves, he is reminding them of their vulnerability. Far from instructing them to outfit themselves with equipment to reduce this vulnerability and make them independent, however, he orders them to do the opposite. They are to leave behind even such basic necessities as shoes, food, and money B items which would make them inviting targets of wolfish greed. They are to remain sheep-like and vulnerable, completely dependent on him as shepherd.
We Americans need no reminder of our vulnerability as we celebrate Independence Day this year. The morning headlines, and the evening television news, show us daily the terrorist wolves which surround us. The limits to our cherished independence are painful for us Americans. For well over a century, roughly until the First World War of 1914-1918, we were confident that two broad oceans protected us from foreign wars and enemies. No more. The terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, removed forever any doubt on that score. What is the appropriate response?
To that question there is no lack of answers. In the end they come down to two.  The first is the response of nationalism. The second seems similar, but is in reality quite different: patriotism. 
A spokesman for nationalism is the American naval hero, Stephen Decatur. Born in Maryland as the son of a naval officer in 1779, he entered the navy himself age the age of nineteen. In 1804, when only twenty-five, he commanded an American warship which sailed into the harbor of Tripoli in North Africa, where the U.S. frigate Philadelphia had been captured, after running aground. To prevent those who had taken the ship from enjoying their prize, Decatur set the frigate afire and bombarded the town. This was the first of many similar exploits which, in the words of the encyclopedia article from which I have taken this information, earned him a reputation for Areckless bravery and stubborn patriotism.@ Whether Stephen Decatur was truly patriotic I want to consider in a moment. There is no doubt, however, that he was reckless. He died in 1820, when only forty-one, from wounds suffered in a duel: an attempt to prove who was Aright@ at the point of a gun B something not merely reckless but insane.
Decatur is best remembered for his frequently quoted toast at a banquet in Norfolk, Virginia. He asked the guests to drink to AOur country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.@ That is a classic expression of nationalism. Nationalism recognizes no standard higher than that of one=s own country. It finds expression today in the mindless simplicity of the bumper sticker: AAmerica. Love it or leave it!@            
Nationalists resent and repudiate any suggestion that criticism of one=s country might be an expression of love for country B for failing to live up to the highest and best in its history and tradition. Few forces in the world today are more destructive of peace and happiness than nationalism B the exalting of one=s own country over all others, regardless of the cost in human misery and suffering.
Patriotism, on the other hand, is love of one=s country not because it is in every respect Abest@; and certainly not because it always has been or always will be Aright@ B but simply because it is ours. Isn=t that how parents love their children? Last Christmas a friend of mine who is a professor in one of our law schools sent me a Christmas card with a picture of his five children, several of them teenagers. In an e-mail I said: AHow proud you must be of your children.@ He responded: AI=m proud of them 90% of the time.@ When I told that to a father of teenagers here in our parish, he commented: AThat=s a very high percentage.@ Both those fathers, however, dearly love their children; not because they are Athe best,@ and certainly not because they are perfect, but simply because the children are theirs: the fruit of their parents= love. 
Patriots love their country in a similar way. A spokesman for patriotism is the German-American Carl Schurz. Born in Cologne, Germany, in 1829, he came to this country in 1852. An admirer of Abraham Lincoln, Schurz fought for the Union in our Civil War, rising to the rank of Major General. After the war he was owner and editor of a German language newspaper here in St. Louis, the Westliche Post. From 1869 to 1875, Schurz was one of Missouri=s two Senators in Washington, where he opposed the punitive AReconstruction@ policy imposed on the South by his own party after the Civil War. Taught as a schoolboy at his Jesuit school in Cologne that there is a higher law which stands above all human laws and judges them, Carl Schurz believed, like his fallen hero, Lincoln, that this higher law required not punishment for the southern states but reconciliation, to bind up the nation=s wounds.
In a Senate speech Carl Schurz quoted Stephen Decatur=s words and responded to them. AOur country, right or wrong! When right, to be kept right; when wrong to be put right!@ That is the voice of patriotism, which is a Christian virtue. Nationalism, which is pride on a public scale, is incompatible with our Christian and Catholic faith. 
The celebration of Independence Day should remind us as Catholic Christians we have dual citizenship. We are citizens of our country, which we love because it is ours. But we are citizens also of a higher realm: the invisible and spiritual kingdom of heaven. As citizens of our country we work with all people of good will for justice and peace: in our community, in our nation, and in the world. As citizens of God=s kingdom we acknowledge a higher law than those made by Legislatures or Congress. When those human laws command B or, as in the case of abortion, when they permit B what God=s law forbids, we respond as the apostle Peter (whom we celebrated with his companion Paul last Wednesday) responded to the unjust commands of authority in his day: AWe must obey God rather than men@ (Acts 5:29). 

Appeal to this higher law evokes today the angry protest that it amounts to imposing our special morality on a pluralist society. Slave holders brought the same charge in the 1850s against those who wanted to abolish slavery. AWe=re not forcing you to own slaves,@ slaveolders said. ABut don=t force your special morality on us.@  Those who call themselves Apro-choice@ make the same argument today.

You have probably seen the bumper stickers which say: AAgainst abortion? Don=t have one!@ Would the people who display that slogan put a sticker on their cars which said: AAgainst slavery? Don=t own one!@ They’d be ashamed. We are ashamed today of laws which permitted slave holders to treat human beings as property. The day will come when we will be no less ashamed of laws which permit us to treat innocent babies in the womb as disposable bits of tissue which can be cut out like an appendix and thrown away.     

The Declaration of Independence, which we shall celebrate tomorrow, lists in first place among those truths which it calls Aself-evident@ the Aright to life.@ Defending this right for all B not just for the strong, the healthy, and the self sufficient but also for the unborn, the aged, and the gravely ill B earns us today the scorn and hatred of people who consider themselves sophisticated and enlightened. They too are among the wolves that threaten us today. In confronting them we have Jesus= assurance from today=s gospel reading: AI have given you power to >tread upon serpents= and scorpions, and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. ... Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.@     


Homily for June 30th, 2014: Amos 7: 10-17.

Should the Church get involved in politics? Many people say, ANo way. Religion and politics don=t mix.@ Others disagree. Whenever fundamental moral issues are at stake, these people maintain, the Church must get involved. Our first reading today introduces a religious figure who was severely condemned for involvement in politics. Like his countryman, Jesus, centuries later, Amos was a layman. God called Amos while he was still a shepherd and farmer, and commanded him: AGo, prophesy to my people Israel.@
         Amos had no crystal ball to predict the future. Instead Amos, like all true prophets, was summoned summoned to speak Aa word of the Lord@ to the people of his day: to warn, to admonish, to rebuke, and to encourage. As a simple countryman, Amos was scandalized by his glimpses of city life during his visits to market. “They sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak … and force the lowly out of the way.” Without mincing his words, Amos pronounced his corrupt society ripe for God=s judgment.

If Amos were to come back today, what are some of the things he would denounce in our society and tell us we needed to repent of? One which was often mentioned by Pope St. John Paul II, and by his two successors, is consumerism: the false idea that we can buy happiness by amassing more and more possessions.

Something else which cries out for repentance is hedonism: the mindless philosophy that says, AIf it feels good, do it.@ Hedonism wrecks lives, relationships, and marriages, every day. We need to repent also of the hard-hearted selfishness which ignores the needs of the poor and oppressed in our midst; or which thinks that our obligation to them can be discharged by gifts to charity from our surplus goods, with no examination of unjust conditions in society that cause poverty and oppression. 

That is a short though incomplete list of the things in today’s society that require repentance. Jesus speaks of this often in the gospels.  And the repentance to which he summons us is not somewhere else, tomorrow. It is here, and it is now. And repentance begins not with someone else. If it is to begin at all, repentance must begin with ourselves.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016


Homily for June 29th, 2016: Matthew 16:13-19.

AYou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church.@ In Jesus= language, Aramaic, the words for Peter and Rock were the same. In calling his friend, Simon, APeter,@ Jesus was giving him a new name: ARock.@

In reality, Peter was anything but rocklike. When, on the night before he died, Jesus told Peter that within hours Peter would deny him three times, Peter protested: AEven though I have to die with you, I will never disown you.@ (Mt. 26:34f) We all know the sequel: Jesus was right, Peter wrong.

Jesus gave the position of leadership of his Church to the friend whose love was imperfect; whose impetuosity and weakness made the name Jesus gave him C Rock C ironic: as ironic as calling a 350-pound heavyweight ASlim.@  Before he was fit to become the Church=s leader, however, Peter had to experience his weakness. He had to become aware that without a power greater than his own, he could do nothing.

With Peter the Church honors the Apostle Paul. His call was as surprising as the choice of Peter to be the Church=s leader. Who could have imagined that the Church=s arch-persecutor, Saul, would become its first and greatest missionary, Paul? If Peter was impulsive, impetuous, and often weak, Paul was hypersensitive, touchy, subject to wide swings of mood: at times elated, at others tempted to self-pity. No one who knew Paul would ever have accused him of Ahaving it all together@ C to use modern jargon.

Is there anything like that in your life? When you look within, do you see any of Paul=s touchiness, or Peter=s impetuosity and weakness? Take heart! You have a friend in heaven C two friends, in fact: Peter and Paul. The same Lord who gave the vacillating Simon the name of ARock@; who summoned the Church=s arch-enemy, Saul, to be her great missionary, Paul, is calling you. In baptism he made you, for all time, his dearly loved daughter, his beloved son. He called you to be not only his disciple, but an apostle: his messenger to others. You say you=re not fit for that? You=re right. Neither am I! God often calls those who, by ordinary human standards, are unfit. But he always fits those whom he calls.  

God has a plan for your life, as surprising and wonderful as his plans for Peter and Paul. Knowing this, and aware of how God was accomplishing his plan in Paul=s own life, Paul could write: AI am sure of this much: that he who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion, right up to the day of Christ Jesus@ (Phil. 1:6).

Those words are part of the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And the best news of all is simply this. The only thing that can frustrate the accomplishment of God plan C for you, for me, for any one of us C is our own deliberate and final No.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Homily for June 28th: Matthew 8:23-27.

          Jesus has dealt with the two would-be disciples whom we met in yesterday’s gospel reading. One promised to follow the Lord wherever he might go. Jesus warns him that discipleship may have a higher price than the man had reckoned. “The Son of Man,” he says, “has nowhere to lay his head.” The second man, already a disciple, wants to bury his father before responding to the Lord’s call. 

          Only now is Jesus able to break away from the crowd and embark in the boat with his friends. Following a long day of teaching and healing, Jesus is totally exhausted. He is  fast asleep when a violent storm comes up, without warning, throwing up steep waves which threaten to swamp the boat. “Lord, save us!” the disciples cry out as they wake him. “We are perishing!” Awake now, Jesus says calmly, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” Then he rebukes the winds and the sea. “And there was great calm,” Matthew tells us.

          Immediately the disciples’ panic is replaced with amazement, as one of them asks the question that is in everyone’s mind: “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?” The Jewish Scriptures, especially the Psalms, speak often of God ruling the sea and the waves. Now Jesus’ disciples have seen him act as only God acts.

          The story is Matthew’s gift to the Church, and to each of us who have become members of the Church in baptism. Time and again the Church, and we its members, are storm tossed. That we are frightened at such times is only natural. The story is the Lord’s assurance that he is always with us. No matter how often we have strayed from him, he remains close. He saves us for one reason alone: because he loves us – with a love that will never let us go. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016


Homily for June 27th, Matthew 8:18-22.

          Jesus has spent a whole day healing. He is drained: physically, but also spiritually. Immediately before the start of today’s gospel reading Matthew writes: “Seeing the people crowd around him, Jesus gave orders to cross to the other shore.” Before he can get into the boat with his friends, however, there are two other petitioners he must deal with. The first is a Jewish scribe who tells Jesus he wants to join him: “Teacher, wherever you go, I will come after you.” Jesus tells him that discipleship has a price. “The foxes have lairs, the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Matthew does not tell us whether the scribe was put off by this or not.

Another man, already a disciple of Jesus, says: “Lord, let me go and bury my father first.” To which Jesus replies, no less sternly: “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.” Burying the dead was a sacred duty for Jews. For Christians it is one of the so-called seven corporal works of mercy. Yet Jesus does not hesitate to say that the call to follow him as precedence over every other call.

            Jesus’ standards are high, no doubt about it. For unaided human nature they are too high. That is why he offers the help of his Holy Spirit to those who ask for it. When the tasks that Jesus sets before us seem impossible, we need to pray for that help. Here are some verses of an evangelical hymn that do just that. They go like this:

         Precious Lord, take my hand

         lead me on, let me stand,

         I am tired, I am weak, I am worn

         Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light,

         Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.