Friday, July 8, 2016


Homily for July 9th, 2016: Isaiah 6:1-8.
AIn the year King Uzziah died. I saw the Lord,@ the prophet Isaiah tells us in our first reading. Uzziah had been king for some four decades. His death, and the accession of a new monarch, were a breakup of landslide proportions. Golden opportunities await, at such times, young men with good connections. Isaiah was young. He had the right connections.
So in the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had every reason to be excited about the dazzling prospect of a new career opening up before him. And precisely at that time of unique opportunity, he found the way blocked. A more exalted king than any who ever sat upon an earthly throne summoned this brilliant, well-connected young man to higher service. Isaiah never forgot it.
Dramatic experiences like that are rare. What is not rare, indeed what is very common, is the shattering of plans or expectations, the sudden blocking up of progress along our chosen path, which Isaiah experienced. Perhaps there is someone here today who is facing the collapse of hopes, plans, or dreams. Your life seems to be coming apart at the seams. You don’t know which way to turn. If that, or any of that, is your story, then listen. The Lord has good news for you.

Times of crisis are always times of opportunity, times of growth. Sometimes the only way God can get at us is by breaking us B or allowing us to be broken. To set us on the right way, God must sometimes block up the way we are on B even it is in itself a good way. What looks to you like the end of all your hopes, the destruction of every plan and aspiration you ever entertained, may be the Lord=s summons to a closer, if more difficult, walk with him. God never closes a door in our lives without opening another. The Lord has shown me that in my life B again and again.

As we travel life=s way, we who in baptism have become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ should be sharpening our spiritual vision. For it is only with the eyes of faith that we can perceive the unseen, spiritual world all round us: beneath, behind, above this world of sense and time. Faith assures us that the Lord is watching over us always, in good times and in bad: the same God who appeared to Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died. Glimpsing this mighty God, our loving heavenly Father, with the eyes of faith, we too join B as in a moment we shall B in the angels= song first heard by Isaiah:  AHoly, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!  All the earth is filled with his glory!@  


Thursday, July 7, 2016


Homily for July 8th, 2016: Matthew 10:16-23.

          A priest fifteen or perhaps more years ordained, told me recently that he was concerned about the overly rosy image of priesthood being offered to today’s seminarians. The recruitment material sent out by Vocation Directors is full of success stories. The photos on the websites of today’s seminaries show young men laughing, smiling, and joking. None of this is false. Thousands of priests testify to the joy of serving God and his holy people as a priest. I’m happy to be one of them. The late Chicago priest-sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew Greely said: “Priests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.” And he cited sociological surveys to back up this statement.

          The result of all this happy talk, my priest-friend told me, was that young priests who have a bad day, a bad week, or who encounter rejection or failure, start thinking that perhaps they have chosen the wrong vocation and should abandon priesthood. Jesus never promised his disciples that they would have only joy, success, and happiness. Our gospel reading today is about the price of discipleship. “You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. Only after these words warning about the cost of discipleship does he proclaim the good news: “But whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

Friends, the days of socially respectable Catholicism are over. Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the Gospel — ashamed of our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Our courts, the entertainment industry, and the powerful shapers of opinion in today’s media, insist that the Church’s teachings are out of date, retrograde, insensitive, uncompassionate, illiberal, bigoted. They insist day in and day out that we who defend Church teaching are hateful people. They threaten us with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil good. They command us to conform our thinking to their orthodoxy, or else say nothing at all.

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests about the increasing secularization of our society, the late Cardinal George of Chicago said, in what he later admitted was an “overly dramatic fashion”: “I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison; and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Mostly omitted by those who quote these words, is the good news which the cardinal spoke in conclusion: “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.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016


15TH Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 10:25-37.
AIM: To show the meaning of the good Samaritan parable for us today.
The story we have just heard is so well known that its title, AThe good Samaritan@, has entered into everyday speech. Even people unfamiliar with the New Testament know that Aa good Samaritan@ is someone who helps a person in need.
Asked by Aa scholar of the law@ B a man who has studied the Ten Commandments and the centuries of rabbinic commentary on God=s law B about the conditions for eternal life, Jesus poses a counter-question: AWhat is written in the law?  How do you read it?@ As a good teacher, Jesus knew that people remember best the answers they have found themselves. Answers given us by the teacher cost us nothing and are easily forgotten. The man=s response combines two scriptural texts: the command to love God completely in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the command to Alove your neighbor as yourself@ from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus= reply affirms this answer: AYou have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.@
The man says he still has a difficulty. It is not a moral difficulty C how to love God and neighbor. His difficulty is intellectual: how far does his obligation extend?  AAnd who is my neighbor?@ With his unique ability to read hearts and minds, Jesus perceives the man=s real difficulty at once. By assuming that he has all the ability to love that is required and needs only to know the limits to which he must extend his love, the man has disclosed that his love is seriously deficient. Jesus recognizes that what the man really needs is not instruction but conversion. With great tact, and without allowing the man to feel rebuked, Jesus tells a story.
The seventeen-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho leads, even today, through trackless sand dunes with no sign of human habitation save the occasional Bedouin tent. In Jesus= day, robberies and muggings were frequent along this lonely way. In the prevailing daytime heat a severely wounded man=s chances of survival were slim without first aid. The victim in this story has been beaten and stripped of his clothes. He has lost a great deal of blood and is in shock. He lies unconscious, his condition critical. Jesus himself calls the man Ahalf-dead.@
The first two travelers to come by, first a Jewish priest and then a Levite, are returning to Jericho, a town with a large population of clergy, after their eight-day tour of duty at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both Asaw him [but] passed by on the opposite side.@ We need not assume that they were indifferent to the man=s fate. They might have feared that the muggers were still lurking nearby, waiting to strike again. In that case it would be best not to linger. Another motive for not stopping, especially if the man was dead, was unwillingness to incur ritual impurity through touching a dead body.
In Jesus= day, as in ours, people were familiar with stories that had three characters. Following the appearance of two clergy, therefore, Jesus= hearers would have expected that the next passerby would be a Jewish layman. As so often, however, Jesus surprises us. When the next passerby turns out to be a Samaritan, Jesus= hearers are shocked. The hostility between Jews and Samaritans was notorious, something like that between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq today. Shortly before the passage we are considering, Samaritan villagers refuse to give Jesus lodging, because they recognize him as a Jew, Aon his way to Jerusalem@ (Lk 9:53).
Devout Jews had a special aversion to Samaritans because, though ethnically related to God=s people, they did not recognize the Jewish prophets and did not observe God=s law. The actions of this Samaritan show, however, that he is living the law=s spirit far better than Jesus= questioner with all his knowledge of the law=s letter. Like the priest and Levite, the Samaritan Asees@ the man. Unlike them, however, he is Amoved to compassion.@
The Samaritan gives the unconscious victim first aid: oil for its soothing properties, wine as a disinfectant. Taking him to the nearby inn, he remains with him overnight. Jesus makes this clear by saying that the man gave the innkeeper two silver pieces Athe next day.@ Commentators have calculated that this would pay for the man=s care for twenty-four days. His injuries are obviously grave if he must remain so long. Innkeepers in Jesus= day had a reputation like that of taxi drivers in some parts of the world today. Without this generous payment, and the Samaritan=s promise that he would return to take care of any further expenses, the victim would have been at the innkeeper=s mercy.
As the story ends, Jesus has still not answered the question, AAnd who is my neighbor?@ Instead he has shown how a true neighbor behaves. He remains tactful with his questioner, however. He might have asked: AWhich of these three most resembles yourself?@ Such a question would have put the man on the defensive, blocking the change of heart he needed. Rather than confronting his questioner with a lesson difficult for him to accept, Jesus invites the man to draw his own conclusion. AWhich of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers= victim?@
The answer is obvious: AThe Samaritan.@ We see just how difficult it was for the man to state the obvious, with its uncomfortable implications, from the fact that he cannot even utter the name of the despised outsider. He resorts to a circumlocution: AThe one who treated him with mercy.@
Only when the man has himself stated what no one hearing the story could fail to see, does Jesus confront him directly: AGo and do likewise.@ At last the man has his answer C though even now only by implication. His neighbor, the one who has a claim on him C on his time, his trouble, his purse C is anyone at all who is in need. The man had asked about the limits of neighborly obligation. The parable says in effect: >there are no limits.=

 Only when the man has himself stated what no one hearing the story could fail to see, does Jesus confront him directly: AGo and do likewise.@ At last the man has his answer C though even now only by implication. His neighbor, the one who has a claim on him C on his time, his trouble, his purse C is anyone at all who is in need. The man had asked about the limits of neighborly obligation. The parable says in effect: >there are no limits.=

 Only when the man has himself stated what no one hearing the story could fail to see, does Jesus confront him directly: AGo and do likewise.@ At last the man has his answer C though even now only by implication. His neighbor, the one who has a claim on him C on his time, his trouble, his purse C is anyone at all who is in need. The man had asked about the limits of neighborly obligation. The parable says in effect: >there are no limits.=

That is breathtaking. It would be breathtaking, that is, if the story=s sharp cutting edge had not been dulled for us, like so much of Scripture, by familiarity.  How, we ask, can Jesus make such a radical demand? For one reason alone: because this is the way he, Jesus Christ, treats us. Jesus is the despised outsider, hated and rejected by those who ought to have known, recognized, and welcomed him.

Jesus is the one who finds us lying bruised, battered, mortally wounded along life=s way. Without the help that he alone can supply, our situation is hopeless. For no merits of our own, but simply because of his infinite compassion, Jesus comes to our aid. Heedless of the cost to himself, he binds up our wounds, pouring upon us the healing oil of his forgiveness in the sacraments of baptism and penance, the exhilarating wine of his love in his holy word and in the Eucharist. He entrusts us to the care of his Church, promising to come again and again as often as may be necessary, to tend to our every need. Because of this total generosity toward us in our need, a readiness to help which caused Jesus to lay down his life for us, he is able to say to us: ASee how much I have done for you C look what I am doing for you even now! Then go and do the same for others.@        

The man who asks Jesus, AWhat must I do to inherit eternal life?@ is like many sincerely religious people today. Wanting to do what is right, he develops a spirit directly contrary to God=s law, even when he thinks he is obeying the law. His question, AAnd who is my neighbor?@ shows that he was unable to get beyond the law=s details. To be cured, he needed to encounter the Lawgiver. 

His name is Jesus Christ. 
















Homily for July 7th, 2016: Matthew 10:7-15.

“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!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016


Homily for July 6th, 2016: Matthew 10:1-7.

 From his disciples Jesus chooses twelve to be apostles. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and more particularly the head of state who sends him.

If the disciples of Jesus whom he chose to become apostles had one thing in common, other than their love for the Lord, it was their very ordinariness. They were not learned or sophisticated. About most of them we know little, apart from legends. Nor is there complete agreement even about their names. The gospel lists differ in several cases. 

This tells us something important. God does not call people who are fit, according to human reckoning. Instead he often calls people who are, humanly speaking, unfit. Through his call, however, and through what they experience when they respond to God’s call, he makes them fit. 

Was Peter fit to be the leader of God’s Church – the man who was quick to profess loyalty even though when all others might fall away, and yet, when the time of testing came, three times denied that he even knew the Lord? That humiliating failure, and no doubt others besides (including Peter’s inability, according to the gospel record, to catch even a single fish without Jesus’ help) taught Peter that to do anything of consequence he needed Jesus’ help.

In baptism and confirmation Jesus sends each one of us to be his apostles, his messengers. How do we do that? You probably know St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to this question. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.” How wise that is. Personal example is always more powerful than words. “What you are,” someone said, “speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

          How better could we respond to Jesus’ call of the Twelve than with the classic prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola: “Take, O Lord, and receive, my entire life: my liberty, my understanding, my memory, my will. All that I am and have you have given me. I give back to you all, to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of your presence, and the joy of your love. With these I shall be more than rich, and shall desire nothing more.”


Monday, July 4, 2016


Homily for July 5th, 2016: Matthew 9:32-38.

          The brief gospel reading we have just heard is a kind of bridge between the reports Matthew has been giving us about Jesus’ deeds of compassion on the one hand, and his call to others to share in this compassionate care of God’s people. The summary is contained in a single sentence: “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.” The sentence following describes Jesus’ reaction to the needs of those who flocked around him, to hear his words and receive healing. “His heart was moved with pity,” our translation says. In the original Greek the word for heart refers to the inner organs in general. Matthew is saying that Jesus was all ‘churned up in his gut’ at the needs he saw all round him. They were “troubled and abandoned,” Matthew tells us, “like sheep without a shepherd.”

          “The harvest is abundant,” Jesus says then, “but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Those are the last words in chapter nine of Matthew’s gospel. Chapter ten, which we shall begin tomorrow, starts with Jesus’ call of twelve men from his disciples, to be apostles.

          We need to take Jesus’ call for laborers seriously. We should be praying often, even daily, that many of our young people will hear and heed the call to serve him as priests, deacons, and religious Sisters. But we need to do more. If you know someone who you believe would serve well in one of those roles, speak to him or her about it. If that is too difficult, then tell a priest about that person, so he can do the recruiting himself. In today’s world pursuing a religious vocation is so counter-cultural that candidates need all the encouragement and support we can give them. Moreover, many young people are just waiting to be asked. And if we don’t ask them, who will?

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Homily for July 4th, 2016. Independence Day.     

             The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia 238 years ago today pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Have you ever wondered what happened to them? 

Five signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants; nine were farmers and large plantation owners: men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that if they were captured, the penalty would be death.
         Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts, and died in rags. Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Continental Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of 8 others [Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton].

At the battle of Yorktown , Thomas Nelson, Jr., noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid to waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

As we give thanks to God for the courage and generosity of these founders of our beloved country, we need to remember: Freedom is never free!