Friday, July 15, 2016


Homily for July 16th, 2016. Matthew 12:14-21.

          Jesus “warned them not to make him known.” Why? Jesus did not want celebrity status, based on his ability to heal people and perform the other miracles we read about in the gospels. Mostly Jesus worked quietly. The gospel reading we have just heard describes Jesus’ manner of work in language taken from the Prophet Isaiah.

          “He will not contend or cry out,” Isaiah writes. “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench.” In his 2007 Encyclical on hope, Spe salvi, Pope Benedict XVI tells the story of a woman who was like Isaiah’s bruised reed and smoldering wick, Josephine Bakhita. Born in about 1869 to a wealthy family in the Sudan, she was kidnapped at age 9 and sold and re-sold in the slave market in Darfur. Beaten and flogged by her masters so often that she had 144 scars on her body, she came finally into the possession of the Italian consul in the Sudan. He took Josephine with him when he returned to Italy in 1885. There Josephine heard about a master who was unlike any other: not only just and kind, but one who actually loved her. He too had been flogged. He was waiting for her at the Father’s right hand.

          In January 1890 Josephine was baptized, and on the same day given confirmation and First Communion by the Patriarch of Venice, later Pope St. Pius X. In 1893 she entered the Italian Canossian Sisters, with whom she lived until her death in 1947. Revered by all who knew her because of her gentleness, calming voice, and ever present smile, she was declared a saint by St. John Paul II in 2000.

Asked once, "What would you do, if you were to meet your captors?" Josephine responded: "If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands. For, if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious Sister today.” Because the Church has declared her a saint, we can pray: “St. Josephine Bakhita, Pray for us.”  

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Homily for July 15th, 2016: Matthew 12:1-8.

          “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,” is the third of the Ten Commandments. We find the Commandments twice in the Old Testament: in the 20th chapter of Exodus, and in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. Both versions say that we keep the Sabbath holy by refraining from work. Exodus says that the Sabbath rest commemorates God resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in the previous six days. Deuteronomy doesn’t mention God resting; but it spells out in greater detail what Exodus says more briefly: that the Sabbath rest is for all, domestic animals as well as humans, masters and slaves alike: “for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

          By Jesus’ day the rabbis had developed a list of 39 kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath. Harvesting crops and preparation of food were both on the list. So when the Pharisees, who were among Jesus’ most severe critics, saw his disciples picking off heads of grain as they walked through a wheat field on the way to the synagogue on a Sabbath day and eating the grain to satisfy their hunger, they pounced quickly. “That’s forbidden!” the Pharisees say.

          Jesus defends his disciples by citing an incident in the Old Testament regarding the bread offered to God in the Temple each Sabbath. After a week it was eaten by the priests and replaced with fresh bread. Others were forbidden to eat it. Yet once, when the great King David was hungry, he and his companions ate the bread themselves.

          Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (cf. Mt. 5:17). But he made charity the highest law of all. That is why he healed on the Sabbath, for instance. And that is why Pope Francis, celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison on the first Holy Thursday after his election disregarded the liturgical law which says that only the feet of baptized men should be washed, in order to wash also the feet of some Muslim women. The highest law of all is charity. Or as Jesus said, quoting the prophet Hosea: “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.”

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 10: 38-42.
AIM: To show that service of others must be rooted in listening to God=s word.
It seems terribly unfair, doesn=t it? Even a child can see that it is not right to sit making pleasant conversation with a guest while leaving your sister all alone in the kitchen. How can we make sense of the story? Many years go I attended Mass at a Catholic Church in Edinburgh, on a Sunday when this was the gospel reading.  After reading it, the priest said: ABrethren, this gospel presents a difficulty for a preacher who must prepare a wee talk.@ Unfortunately we found out in the next ten minutes that it was a difficulty for which he had not even the ghost of a solution.  I’ll try to do better.
Before tackling the difficulty it is worth noting that this is one of many instances in the gospels which show Jesus rejecting the second-class status of women in his society. According to the social laws of the day, only men were supposed to sit at the feet of a religious teacher and listen to his teaching. Women were supposed to stay out of sight and appear only to wait on the men. The story shows Jesus clearly rejecting this double standard. The seeming injustice remains, however; and with it the question, how can we make sense of the story?
We can never make sense of it if we read it as a lesson in the duties of hospitality. Nor can we make sense of the story apart from the context. It immediately follows Jesus= parable of the good Samaritan, which we heard last Sunday. In that story Jesus contrasts the behavior of two members of the Jewish clergy, a priest and a Levite, with the behavior of a despised outsider, the Samaritan. Though he lacked the knowledge of God=s law available to the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan fulfilled the law=s spirit better than the legal experts. The parable shows the futility of a religion which has no consequences in daily life.
Today=s story of Mary and Martha turns that lesson around. It shows the futility of active service which, because it is not based on attentive listening to God=s word, and nourished by such listening, becomes mere busyness. When Jesus says to Martha, AYou are anxious and worried about many things,@ he is not criticizing her for performing the duties of hospitality, but for doing so without first attending to his word. Martha, we might say, is the kind of person who likes to go about doing good, especially the kind of good that requires a lot of going about. 
It is a simple story. But we live in such an action-oriented society that we have difficulty understanding it. Perhaps a modern example from the field of social work may help. Many of today=s programs for helping the poor and disadvantaged are criticized because they are developed by professional do-gooders who have no experience of what it means to be poor and disadvantaged. Hence social workers are told that before trying to help people, they should first listen to the ideas and needs of those they wish to serve. Otherwise even the best-intentioned efforts at assistance risk being perceived by the poor as violations of their dignity, and demonstrations of their inability to control their own lives.  
The story in today=s gospel does not ask us to choose between being a Mary or a Martha. The true disciple of Jesus must be both. Mark=s gospel tells us that when Jesus called his twelve apostles, he called them for a dual purpose: Ato be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message@ (Mk 3:14). Which is more important: to be with Jesus, or to proclaim his message others? The question is unanswerable. Both are important. If we ask, however, which must have priority C the relationship or the work C then the answer is clear. Our relationship with the Lord must come first. If we are not willing to spend time with him, sitting at his feet like Mary of Bethany and listening to his words, then all our efforts to do his work are just spinning our wheels. Luke gives us this story to challenge our priorities; to help us see that being with the Lord and hearing his word must be the basis of all we do for him. 
When we act without listening, we are guilty of a subtle kind of pride. We are assuming that we already know what must be done, and need no guidance. Acting without first attending to God=s word can mean doing what we want to do, not what God, or the situation, requires of us. The remedy is to sit at the Lord=s feet, like Mary of Bethany in today=s gospel, and listen to his word. Jesus praises this attentive, patient listening because it requires humility B and faith.
Faith has two components. The Catechism states this clearly: AFaith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself@ (No. 1814, emphasis supplied). To believe in someone means trusting that person. Believing in God means having a personal relationship with him. Like all relationships, faith must be nourished. Without nourishment, the relationship dies.
A young Pilipino priest whose vocation I nourished for four years at least asked me, shortly before his ordination, if I could write him something, from my own 63 years of experience as a priest, which would help him. One of the things I wrote him was this: “Niko, you can’t make it in the priesthood and you certainly cannot be happy as a priest, unless you spend time alone with God every day -- whether you feel like praying or not. The most important part of my day, apart from the celebration of Mass, is the half hour I spend waiting in silence on the Lord, before I go to the altar for Mass.So faith is a relationship of trust, which needs to be constantly nourished. But faith also means assenting to all that God tells us, through his holy word and the teaching of his Church. Faith in this sense, more properly called the faith, is not something we learn once, and then we have it: like learning the alphabet, the multiplication table, or how to ride a bicycle. If our understanding of the truths which we profess each Sunday in the Creed is to be firm, and if it is bear fruit in Christian living, we need to go on listening to God=s word in Scripture, and the teaching of the Church, all our lives. I have been to seminary. I have a doctorate in theology. But I=m still learning. I learned some things about faith in preparing this homily. Good teachers know that they always learn more than their students.
So we need to spend time with the Lord, waiting on him in prayer, and listening to his holy word, proclaimed here at the Eucharist, or read for ourselves; and listening also to the Church=s teaching about our own lives, and about the life of the world around us. And because the Church commissioned me in ordination to proclaim and teach the Church=s faith, I must be constantly reading, studying, reflecting. What I learned decades ago in seminary is not enough. I must be constantly updating my knowledge and keeping it fresh. Without the time I give to prayer, and without study of God=s word and the Church=s teaching, I would be just spinning my wheels. 

What is necessary and possible for a priest is not possible for those with family responsibilities. All of us, however, need to make time for God in our lives. Many people come to Mass on weekdays before embarking on their daily tasks. It is a joy for priest to see you who come to Mass on weekdays. Those who cannot manage that, still need to set aside some time during the day, to spend time with the Lord. We all need that. And the busier we are, the more we need such times of quiet listening. Beyond that, we need also to deepen our knowledge of the faith by listening to God=s word in Scripture, whether proclaimed here at the Eucharist, or read over for ourselves at home; and by listening also to the Pope and our bishops, who are our teachers in faith. 

Whenever we do this we are like Mary of Bethany. To people without faith, sitting at the Lord=s feet and listening to his words seems a waste of time. We who live by faith, however, know that the Lord loves to have us waste our time on him.  Doing so is the best thing we can do with our time. It is the Abetter part@, as Jesus calls it in today=s gospel, which will not be taken from us. Spending time with Jesus Christ, opening our hearts and minds to his words, is the motive and source of all fruitful work for him and for others. Listening to Jesus= words we receive strength to live, as we shall receive also, one day, courage to die.       


Homily for July 14th, 2016: Matthew 11:28-30.

          “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. In Jesus’ day yokes were in daily use. Carved out of wood to fit over the shoulders, they had arms extending out about a foot or more on either side, with a ring on each end supporting a rope or chain from which the person using the yoke could hang a bucket or other container. This made it possible to transport with relative ease loads too large or heavy to be carried by hand.

          It was crucial that yoke fit the shoulders of the person using it. Otherwise the yoke would chafe and the person attempting to use it would soon throw it off. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus says, “and my burden light.” There is an unspoken IF there. The yoke and burden Jesus offers us are easy and light only if we accept them. If we chafe against the yoke and try to throw it off, then it is not easy; and the burden which it supports is heavy and definitely not light.

          To help us accept the yoke Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Meekness and humility do not come to us easily or without prolonged effort and many failures. We must be lifelong learners. Our teacher is the best there is. He understands our difficulties. He is not interested in how often we stumble and fall. He is interested in one thing only: how often, with his help, we get up again, and continue the journey.

          Our teacher’s name is Jesus Christ. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Homily for July 13th, 2016: Matthew 11: 25-27.

          Jesus breaks out in a spontaneous hymn of praise: “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, to you I offer praise; for what you have hidden from the learned and the clever, you have revealed them to the merest children.” The learned and the clever are those who fail to respond to Jesus, because they feel no need for God. Jesus’ disciples are “the merest children.” Their hearts and minds are open to the Lord.

          Who are the learned and the clever today? They teach in our elite universities; they run the great foundations, with names like Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates. They dominate Hollywood and the media. With few exceptions they consider the killing of unborn children whose birth might be an inconvenience to be a wonderful advance in humanity’s ascent from ignorance and superstition to enlightenment and freedom. They charge those of us who consider abortion for any reason a crime and a grave sin with waging a “war on women.” If there is a war, it is not on women. It is a war on selfish, irresponsible men, who put the pursuit of personal pleasure at the center of their lives and take no responsibility for the consequences apart from offering the woman they have used a supposed cheap fix which will leave her with months, years, and in not a few cases decades of regret and guilt.

Today’s learned and clever look down with patronizing scorn, disbelief, and hatred on those who insist that life is precious at every stage: in the womb, but also in old age, when Grandma’s mind has gone ahead of her, and her meaningful life is over. When we contend that marriage is the union of one man and one woman; and that re-defining marriage is an injustice to children, who have a right to a father and a mother, they denounce us as bigots, homophobes, and enemies of equality.

          Who, on the other hand, are today’s merest children? We are! We pray in this Mass that our merciful and loving Lord may keep us always so: aware that God cannot be mocked; that when we violate his laws, we always pay a price; yes, and aware too that we can never make it on our own; that we are dependent every day, every hour, and every minute on the One who came to show us what the invisible God is like; who always walks with us on the journey of life; and who is waiting for each one of us at the end of the road – to welcome us home!


Monday, July 11, 2016


Homily for July 12th, 2016: Matthew 11:20-24.

          A priest was waiting in line to have his car filled with gas just before a long holiday weekend. The attendant worked quickly, but there were many cars ahead of him at the service station. Finally, the attendant motioned him toward a vacant pump. "Sorry about the delay. Father,” the young man said. “It seems as if everyone waits until the last minute to get ready for a long trip.@ The priest chuckled, "I know what you mean. It's the same in my line of work."

          There’s name for that. We call it procrastination. This is what Jesus is talking about in the gospel reading we have just heard. Matthew starts by telling us: “Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.” We can assume that the mighty deeds Matthew refers to were his healing miracles, but also his powerful proclamation of God’s merciful love.

          Those powerful deeds called for a response. Jesus rebukes the people in the towns where he had preached and healed because there had been no response. “They had not repented,” Matthew says.  Repentance means “turning around:” forsaking evil and turning to good. The reaction to his mighty deeds had been no more than a complacent, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

         Jesus rebukes those who had refused to respond to him by reminding them of towns mentioned in the Old Testament which had been destroyed because of their refusal to repent of their evil ways and turn toward goodness. If only they had repented, they would be standing today, Jesus says.

          Procrastinating is so easy, and so common that probably all of us are guilty of it in some measure. “I’ll take care of that tomorrow,” we tell ourselves. Will we? We think we have time. One day, however, the time we’re counting on will end. Our stay here on earth will be over, and God will call us home, to meet him face to face. What will that encounter be like? Will it be a joyful meeting with a familiar and dearly loved friend? Or will we be meeting a stranger, before whom we shrink in fear? The Lord allows us to decide beforehand what that encounter will be like.

It is the most important decision we shall ever have.




Sunday, July 10, 2016


Homily for July 11th, 2016: Matthew 10:34-11:1.

I have come, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, not for peace but for division – even in the same family. We encounter these divisions daily in our society today.

We hear many voices reminding us that in today’s dangerous world we need a strong military defense. We hear less about the need to repair our moral defenses. All the military might in the world will not save our country, however, or any country, if the moral fabric of our national life is rotten. Examples of this rot are not difficult to find:

Schools that are awash in a sea of drugs, physical and general lawlessness; where parents are willing to have their children driven many miles to attend better schools; and where many who would like to be teachers instead of wardens are quitting in disgust. Lying, cheating, and taking unfair advantage of others at every level: in business, government, in labor unions, and in the so-called learned professions. A retired lawyer said to me recently: “When I was admitted to the bar, you could take another lawyer’s word for it. Now you had better get it in writing.”

The indiscriminate and legal killing of unborn children in our country, because their birth might be an inconvenience. There are now a million and a half abortions a year in our country. That is one tiny human life snuffed out every twenty seconds of every hour, day and night, day in and day out.

          Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg – only a small part of the evidence of moral sickness in our society. There are, thank God, also many beautiful signs of moral health, especially in the idealism and willingness to sacrifice of many of our young people. But all this good evidence cannot cancel out the bad. A moment’s reflection discloses part, at least of the reason for this moral sickness: placing private gain ahead of public good; seeking happiness through getting rather than through giving.

          Pointing out such examples of social rot is called unpatriotic, or silenced with the simplistic slogan: “America – love it or leave it.” Anyone who has experienced that kind of hostility knows what Jesus means when he says in today’s gospel: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” The price of following Jesus Christ is high. How could it be otherwise, when the One we follow found that the price of his discipleship was death – but beyond death – for Jesus as also for us if we are trying to build our lives on him – eternal life.