Friday, July 22, 2016


Homily for July 23rd, 2016: Matthew 13:24-30.

The suggestion of the farmer’s slaves that they should pull up the weeds in his field was entirely reasonable. The farmer rejects the suggestion nonetheless. There will be a time for separating the weeds from the wheat, he says. But that is later. Until then, he orders, “let them grow together.” 

          The parable is important for people who are scandalized because the Church contains so many hypocrites: people who come to church on Sunday, but whose lives the rest of the week are inconsistent with the words they hear and speak in church. Jesus knows that his Church will always contain people who, because their hearts are far from God, are not part of his kingdom. Every attempt to create a “pure” Church of true believers has ended in failure. Only God can purify his Church; for only God can see people’s hearts 

          Which one of us would not like to have a Church in which everyone from First Communion children to the Pope always practiced what they preached? Wouldn’t that be beautiful? But creating such a pure Church is God’s work, not ours. And the time for God’s final purification is not yet.

          Note that I said “final purification.” Purification of the Church through suffering, repentance, and forgiveness goes on all the time. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church is “always in need of being purified” (LG 8, end). The time for final purification, however, is not yet.

         That “not yet” contains a warning, but also encouragement. The warning is contained in the farmer’s order at harvest time: “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning.” God delays his judgment because he is patient. One day, however, patience will give way to judgment. That is the warning. The story’s encouragement is its message that the Lord’s Church has room for everyone. 

          I’d like to leave you with a question, for your own reflection: If the Church were really as pure as we would all like it to be, can we be confident that there would be room in it for ordinary, weak sinners like ourselves?


Thursday, July 21, 2016


July 22nd, 2016: John 20:1-2, 11-18.

          Mary Magdalene “saw Jesus,” we heard in the gospel, “but did not know it was Jesus.” That was the experience of almost all those to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Why? Jesus had not returned to his former life. He had been raised to a new life, beyond death. His appearance was somehow changed. Mary Magdalene realized it was the Lord standing before her only when he spoke her name. The gospel reading does not tell us how she reacted. We can easily infer this, however, from Jesus’ words:  “Do not cling to me!” Immediately followed by the command: “Go to my brothers with the news that [I am] risen.

          A young man thinking of priesthood told the priest who was helping him with his vocational decision that he had finally found courage to send in his application for admission to one of the Church’s religious orders for men. A few days after he received word of his acceptance into the novitiate, he was driving down the highway when he thought of a girl he had known. “She’d be the perfect wife for me,” he thought. “Am I crazy, throwing away that chance for happiness?” He got so upset that he prayed: “’Lord, you’re going to have to help me.’ Immediately, he said, “the Lord came to me so strongly that the tears ran down my cheeks, and I had to pull off the road.”

          “Johnny,” the priest told him, “the Lord came to you to strengthen your faith and your decision to serve Him as a priest. You must be thankful for that. But don’t try to hold on to that spiritual experience by running the video over again in your head. That is spiritual gluttony.”

          Then the priest told him about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Lord, and Jesus’ command to her: “Do not cling to me,” but go to my brothers with the news of my resurrection. Every encounter with the Lord is given to us not just for ourselves, the priest told the young man, to give us a nice warm spiritual experience inside. The Lord comes to us to send us to others – his brothers and sisters; yes, and ours too.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Genesis 18:20-32; Luke 11:1-13.
AIM: To explain prayer of petition and intercession.
Why do we ask God for things in prayer? Are we trying to get God to change his mind? And why ask at all if God already knows our needs before we pray?  Which of us has never wondered about questions like these? What better time to consider them than on this Sunday, when two of our readings are about asking God for things in prayer?
In the first reading Abraham bargains with God over the fate of Sodom.  Abraham starts by putting God on the defensive with the accusing question: AWill you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?@ In the lengthy haggling that follows, Abraham seems almost to back God against the wall with his persistence. What seems strange or even shocking to us was entirely normal for those for whom this story was written. Lengthy haggling in the bazaar was as much part of their daily experience as waiting at the supermarket checkout line is for us. 
The gospel mentions Jesus= own prayer, and follows this with his disciples’ request: ALord, teach us to pray...@  Jesus responds with what scholars believe is the earliest form of the Lord=s Prayer. The version we use is longer B the result of expansion and embellishment by the Church in the first Christian generation. The Achanges in the liturgy@ which upset some people today began very early!
The story about the friend coming at midnight which follows Jesus= model prayer B the only one he ever gave us B emphasizes two things: the need for persistence in prayer, and God=s readiness to hear us: AAsk and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.@
Our first reading shows Abraham=s persistence. Abraham was out to win. He The story about the friend coming at midnight which follows Jesus= model prayer B the only one he ever gave us B emphasizes two things: the need for persistence in prayer, and God=s readiness to hear us: AAsk and you will receive, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.@
Abraham refused to take No for an answer. When we pray, are we as persistent as Abraham was? We lack persistence (though we probably don=t realize it), if we pray only when we=re in a jam. Those of us who are old enough to remember World War II recall the saying: AThere are no atheists in the foxholes.@ In times of mortal peril, almost anyone will pray. To continue praying when the crisis has passed requires persistence, and faith.    
Continuing to pray when God seems to answer only with silence increases our desire and strengthens our faith, as physical exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. St. Gregory the Great, who was Pope from 590 to 604, wrote: AAll holy desires grow by delays; and if they fade because of these delays, they were never holy desires.@ Persistence in prayer is undermined by lack of faith. That is why Jesus tells us in Mark=s gospel: AWhatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours@ (Mk 11:24).
To illustrate his teaching about prayer, Jesus reminds us that God is our loving heavenly Father, and we are his children. God is more loving, however, than the even best human father or mother B and wiser. Hence he will not always answer our prayers in the way, or at the time, that we think he should. When God refuses something we pray for, it is always in order to give us something better.   
Jesus discovered this when he prayed, the night before his death: AAbba (O Father), you have power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I@ (Mark 14:36). Jesus= Father responded to that agonized prayer not by taking away the cup of suffering, but by giving his Son strength to drink the cup to the dregs. The Father crowned this gift by raising Jesus from the tomb to a new life beyond death. 
That was better than the deliverance Jesus had prayed for in advance. It was possible to see that it was better, however, only in retrospect. At the time, Jesus seems to have thought his prayer had gone unanswered, as we learn from his dying cry on the cross: AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ (Mark 15:34).
Jesus= experience shows that prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us.  Each time we place our needs before God in prayer, we are opening ourselves to the action of God in our lives. This helps explain why Jesus teaches us to pray for our needs, even though God knows them in advance. Whenever we pray we are acknowledging our dependence on God. 
God does not need that reminder. We do, however. When the sun shines on us and everything seems to be going well, it is easy to forget our need of God.  Such forgetfulness is often the prelude to a humiliating fall. The best insurance against such falls is to keep on placing our needs before God in prayer, in good times and in bad. 
The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story about a little girl who prayed, before Christmas, for a hundred dolls. She didn=t get even one. Her unbelieving father, who had taunted both her and her mother for praying at all, couldn=t resist saying on Christmas day: AWell God didn=t answer your prayers, did he?@ To which the child gave the beautiful answer: AOh yes, He did. He said No!@ In my own eighty-ninth year, I am grateful to have lived long enough to be able to thank God for answering some of my prayers, Not yet; and others, No.
Even when we have done our best to explain and understand prayer, however, it remains a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about prayer, but that what we can understand is partial only. We can no more explain Ahow prayer works@ than we can explain how the human mind works, or the human heart. Even someone as experienced in prayer as the apostle Paul confessed that much about prayer remained a mystery to him. AWe do not know how to pray as we ought,@ he writes in his letter to the Romans. ABut the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means ...@ (Rom. 8:26f).   

Above all, therefore, we need to ask for the gift of God=s Holy Spirit. That prayer will always be answered. Jesus promises us this at the end of today=s gospel: AIf you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?@



Homily for July 21st, 2016: Matthew 13:10-17.

          “To anyone who has, more will be given, and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Those words from today’s gospel reading  seem terribly unfair, don’t they? To understand what Jesus is saying, we must note first that he speaks in the passive: “more will be given;” and “what he has will be taken away.” As I have told you before, that is what Bible scholars call “the theological passive.” It is a way of saying the God will give more to anyone who has, without actually pronouncing the word “God,” which was forbidden to Jews; and that God will take away from anyone who has not.

          Even when we have understood this, however, we are still left with the seeming injustice. What Jesus is saying is this. Those who open themselves in faith and hope to Jesus’ message of God’s love and salvation quickly grow in understanding of the message. Those who close themselves to the message, demanding some “sign” – a dramatic proof which will compel them to believe – are unable to understand the message, and forfeit the offer of salvation.

          Teachers see something similar in the classroom all the time. Students who work hard, do their homework, and listen closely, grow rapidly in understanding. Those who are lazy, or think they know it all already, quickly fall behind and, over time, understand little or nothing. This is not a question of justice or injustice. It is simply the way things are.

          Jesus’ concluding words, “Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear,” are his grateful tribute to those who have opened the minds and hearts to him. Remembering that the word “blessed” also means “happy,” we pray:

          “Lord, if today we hear your voice, harden not our hearts.”


Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Homily for July 20th, 2016: Matthew 13:1-9.
Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Only at the end of the story does Jesus tell us: “Some seed, finally, landed on good soil and yielded grain that spring up to produce at a rate of thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold.”
          A Bible commentator writes: “A 20-to-1 ratio would have been considered an extraordinary harvest. Jesus’ strikingly large figures are intended to underscore the prodigious quality of God’s glorious kingdom still to come.”
          The parable is Jesus’ antidote to discouragement and despair. So much of our effort seems to be wasted. So much of the Church’s work seems barren of result. The Christian community for which Mark wrote his gospel was discouraged, as we are often discouraged. They had been banished from the synagogue which they loved. They faced the same hostility as their Master. Despite the rising hostility Jesus could see all round him, he refuses to yield to discouragement. He remains confident — and tells this story to give confidence to others. “Jesus is not only the sower who scatters the seed of God’s word,” Pope Benedict XVI writes. “He is also the seed that falls into the earth in order to die and so to bear fruit.” 
          Are you discouraged? You have made so many good resolutions. How many have you kept? You seem to make no progress in prayer. When you come to confession, it is the same tired old list of sins. You wanted so much. You’ve settled for so little. If that — or any of that — applies to you, then Jesus is speaking, through this parable, very personally to you. Listen.
          ‘Have patience and courage,’ he is saying. ‘Do your work, be faithful to prayer, to your daily duties. God has sown the seed of his word in your life. The harvest is certain. When it comes it will be greater than you can possibly imagine. The harvest depends, in the final analysis, not on you, but on God. And God’s seed is always fruitful, his promise always reliable.’

Monday, July 18, 2016


Homily for July 19th, 2016: Matthew 12:46-50.

          Told that his mother and other close relatives are “outside, wishing to speak with him,” Jesus seems to be dismissive. “Who is my mother?” he asks. “Who are my brothers? And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he says, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’” What seems to us to be dismissive is in reality inclusive. Jesus makes this clear by adding at once: “Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”

          Jesus lived, died, and rose again fully two millennia ago. Yet we are never distant from him, save by our own choice. As long as we are trying to be faithful to him, by doing his Father’s will, we are as close to Jesus as his blood relatives. Note, that I said “trying.” That is what is crucial: our effort, not our success. Mother Teresa, soon to be St. Teresa of Calcutta, used to tell her Sisters: “The Lord He does not ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful.” When we fail in faithfulness, we need to remember what our wonderful Pope Francis never tires of telling us: “The Lord never tires of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.”

          Who were the “brothers” who wished to speak with Jesus in today’s gospel reading? The Church has always believed that Jesus was Mary’s only child. Why? Having given herself completely to the Lord when she told the angel Gabriel, “Be it done to me according to your word,” Mary was so totally united to God that she could never give herself to another, not even to Joseph. The “brothers” of Jesus mentioned here and elsewhere in the gospels were either cousins, or possibly half-siblings: children of Joseph with a wife who had died before he married Mary.

          Crucial for us is Jesus’ assurance that we who live remote from him in time, are still as close to him as his blood relatives, as long as we are trying to do each day what God asks of us.


Sunday, July 17, 2016


Homily for July 18th, 2016: Matthew 12:38-42.  

          “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,” Jesus says. He is referring to the repeated demand of his contemporaries for a miracle so dramatic that it will force them to believe. But belief cannot be forced any more than love can be forced. Jesus’ miracles confirm the faith of those who already believe. They do not compel belief in those whose hearts and minds are closed to him and his message.

          Jesus then mentions two such confirming signs: Jonah, and the so-called queen of the south, Sheba. The book Jonah is fiction, not history. Like much great fiction, notably Jesus’ parables and Shakespeare’s plays, Jonah is the vehicle for important truth about God, humanity, and life. The sign of Jonah is not his survival in the belly of the great fish. It is rather the immediate repentance of the people of Nineveh – Gentiles without the gift of God’s law – in response to Jonah’s preaching. Jesus contrasts the swift response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching with the failure of so many of his own people to respond to his message.

          The sign of Queen Sheba is different, though in one respect the same. Like Jonah, she came from afar, motivated however not by a divine command, but by the report that King Solomon possessed wisdom greater than that of all other rulers or sages. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus says. Who is the one greater than Solomon? Jesus! He not merely possesses wisdom: Jesus is wisdom personified. Similarly the statement that “there is something greater than Jonah here” means that Jesus’ message is more compelling than Jonah’s -- yet the people still do not respond. Jesus sums up by saying that the Ninevites and Queen Sheba showed a readiness to respond which his own people do not.

Are we responding? “I have come,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). Are we embracing Jesus’ offer of life to the full? Or do we think of our faith as observing enough of the Church’s complicated rules and regulations to be able, on Judgment Day, to squeeze our way into heaven?

          Think about that. Better – pray about it.