Friday, July 29, 2016


Homily for July 30th, 2016: Matthew 14:1-12.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herodias was married to Herod’s still living brother, Philip. Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, who was even then languishing in Herod’s prison.

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq with a 1600-year-old Christian community, Moslem terrorists have told all Christians to leave at once or be killed. They lose their houses, clothes and other possessions, including cars. Some time ago a young married woman in the Sudan was sentenced to 100 lashes and then (if she was still alive) to be hanged because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. Her very young son was with her in prison, where she gave birth to another child, with her feet still shackled. Released due to international protests, she was arrested again at the airport the next day when she tried to eave the country, but allowed to flee to the American embassy, where she stayed for a month. After the Italian government succeeded in getting her released, she was flown to Rome with her husband and two small children. There Pope Francis received them and thanked the young woman for her bravery in refusing to renounce her faith. They arrived in this country shortly thereafter.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the many victims of injustice and terror in the world today?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23; Colossians 3:1-5, 9-11; Luke 12:13-21.
AIM: To move the hearers to deeper conversion. 
AWhat profit comes to a man from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which he has labored ...? All his days sorrow and grief ... even at night his mind is not at rest. This also is vanity.@ Is that good news? Hardly. The book from which those words in our first reading are taken, Ecclesiastes, has as its constantly repeated refrain the words: AVanity of vanities! All things are vanity!@ Ecclesiastes has been called the most cynical book in the Bible. It contains the bad news that we need to hear to prepare us for the good news brought to us by Jesus Christ.
The bad news is that life is indeed empty B Avanity,@ as Ecclesiastes calls it B if we organize our lives apart from God. The rich fool in the gospel did that. He made the mistake, which is always fatal, of assuming that possessions and money can guarantee security and happiness. Organizing his life without reference to God, he assumes that his destiny is entirely in his own hands. He never realized that life is not a possession. It is a trust. The man is shocked to discover, just when he thinks he has achieved total security, that life is God=s to give, and God=s to take away. Then, when it is too late, he discovers that the bad news of Ecclesiastes is true. Life lived without reference to God is nothing but sorrow and grief, emptiness and vanity. Jesus= comment is simple and direct: AThus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.@
Being Arich in what matters to God@ means realizing that there is something more important than getting B and that is giving. The World War II British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill B not an especially religious man B said once: AWe make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.@ Being Arich in what matters to God@ means remembering that the things we think we own are not absolute possessions. They are gifts that have been entrusted to us for a limited time. Few of us have a century. One day we shall have to give an account of how we have administered this trust. Being Arich in the sight of God@ also means, therefore, organizing our lives not around ourselves, but around the One to whom shall one day have to give our accounting for all he has entrusted to us B and that is God.
The rich fool in Jesus= story did the opposite. He organized his life around his own desires and pleasures. Is there someone here who has done that?  Probably not.  Your presence here at Sunday Mass shows that God does have a place in your life.  The question Jesus= story poses for most of us, therefore, is not: ADoes God have a place in my life?@ The question for us is: AWhat place does God have in my life? Is he at the center? Or have I pushed God out toward the fringe of my life?@   
Catholics who push God out to the fringe of their lives prefer a distant relationship with the Lord. Choosing always to come late to Mass and to hurry away early, they treat God in a way they would be ashamed to treat someone they truly loved, or whose good opinion they valued. If they come to confession at all, the only sin they can think of is how many times they missed Mass. They overlook other serious sins: meanness to those with whom they live and work; hard-heartedness to people who need their help or sympathy; gossip and tale-bearing that tear people down and destroy their good names; spending lavishly on themselves and then tossing God a cheap tip from the loose change that is left over B while complaining that church and charities are unrealistic in their financial demands, and that all we ever hear about in church is money. For such Catholics religion is really a kind of heavenly life insurance policy on which they grudgingly pay premiums, on the principle that you never know when you might need it B and it=s too dangerous to be without it. If your religion is anything like that, you have discovered long since that it brings you no joy.
Let me tell you why. A God who is on the fringe of life will always be a threat to you. He will always be trying to move into the center. If you want your religion to be a source of joy rather than of sadness, something that lifts you up instead of weighing you down, then you must put God at the center of your life. 
Paul writes about such a God-centered life in our second reading. Addressing adult converts, he says that when they emerged from the waters of Baptism, AYou were raised with Christ.@ The new life given to us in Baptism is meant to be centered not on ourselves but on God. It gives first place not to getting, but to giving. That means, Paul says, that we must Aseek what is above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not what is on earth.@ 
More than one person here in this church today knows from personal experience what Paul is talking about in that second reading. God can never be a threat to you. He will never try to encroach on a part of your life which you have reserved yourself. Because there are no fenced off corners in your life, where God is not allowed. For you God is at the center, not on the fringe. 
People who put God at the center of their lives have a religion not of law, but of love: a faith that is a source of joy in good times, and of strength in times of suffering and trial. Paul writes of such people: AYou have died@ B died, he means, to self-centeredness B Aand your life is hidden with Christ in God.@ Such people live their lives not merely with reference to God. They live their lives for God. As a consequence they experience what Paul calls in his letter to the Philippians Athe peace of God that passes all understanding,@ as (4:7). 

Do you want that peace? Do you want a faith that fills you with joy? Which of us does not? To have that peace and joy you must do just one thing. You must allow God to move from the fringe of your life to the center. When you do that, then some other words of Paul from our second reading come true for you: AWhen Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.@



Homily for July 28th, 2016: Matthew 13:47-53.

          “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea.” It is what we call a dragnet. Dragged along the bottom, it collects everything in its path. In Matthew’s gospel it immediately follows the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Both parables have a similar message, one which Jesus’ first hearers would easily have understood. They were familiar with dietary laws, which separated unclean foods from those they were permitted to eat. Sea creatures without fins or scales were unclean, and hence could not be eaten. So once the net is brought ashore, there must be a selection. The clean fish are put into buckets and taken to market. Everything else is thrown away. “Thus it will be at the end of the age,” Jesus tells us. “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.” In the parable of the wheat and the weeds they do the same with the weeds.

          God is not mocked, Jesus is telling us. The power of evil, of which we see signs daily in the morning headlines, and on the evening news on TV, is temporary. In the end, goodness will triumph, Jesus is telling us, and evil will be burned up in the flames of God’s justice.

That too is the gospel. That is the good news.      

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


 Homily for July 27th, 2016: Matthew 13: 44-46.

          The day labor who unexpectedly finds in his employer’s field a buried treasure that can change his life is living at the subsistence level. The merchant searching for fine pearls is rich. Despite this great difference between them, the two are in other respects alike. Both are surprised by their unexpected discovery and filled with joy.

          The two are alike in another respect as well. Obtaining the treasure each has found will cost each one all that he has. The closing sentence of the parable says this explicitly when it tells us that the merchant “goes and sells all that he has,” in order to possess the treasure he has discovered.

          “God’s kingdom is like that,” Jesus is saying. Neither of these two men thinks for a minute of the sacrifice he is making. Both think only of the joy of their new possession. Both know that the great treasure they have discovered is worth many times over what they are paying to possess it. 

          Must we pay a price to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? Of course.  And yes, sometimes that price is high. But when we think only of the cost of discipleship, we make our religion grim and forbidding. In these two linked parables Jesus is emphasizing not the cost, but joy at the infinitely greater reward that the Lord gives to all who are willing to sacrifice all for him. 

          Jesus came to bring us that joy. “All this I tell you,” he says in John’s gospel, “that my joy may be yours, and that your joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:11).

Monday, July 25, 2016


Homily for July 26th, 2016: Matt. 13:36-43.   

         “The righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father,” Jesus tells us at the end of his explanation of his parable of the weeds among the wheat. That story directs our attention to the greatest difficulty for religious belief: the so-called “Problem of Evil.” How is it possible that, in a world created and ruled by a good and loving God, there is so much evil, injustice, and suffering? The weeds sown among the wheat are, Jesus explains, “the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.”

          Why does God tolerate evil in the good world he has created? God’s words to Moses in our first reading give us a clue to the answer: because “the Lord is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.” But not forever! Today’s gospel reading proclaims the good news that the power of evil is temporary. There will come a time when justice and goodness will triumph. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers [and] throw them into the fiery furnace …”

          When that happens, Jesus says, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” We became citizens of that kingdom at baptism. This life, with all its trials and suffering, and ending with death, is a preparation for a life without end, without suffering; where the deepest desires of our hearts, never fully satisfied in this life, will find fulfillment beyond our imagining; where we shall experience not just joy but ecstasy, for we shall see God face to face.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Homily for July 25th, 2016: Matthew 20:20-28.

          “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. It is his response to the request made by the mother of the brothers James and John that he give them places of special honor in his kingdom. The petition may have come from the mother. It is clear, however, that she had the full backing of her two sons. For when Jesus asks if they can share the chalice of pain and suffering from which he will drink, the two brothers respond eagerly, “We can.” Clearly they have no idea what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere.

It quickly becomes clear that the other disciples are equally clueless. They become indignant at James and John for staking out a claim before the other disciples can assert theirs. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” And immediately Jesus ratifies this teaching with his own example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The quest for recognition and honors is, sadly, still alive and well in the Church. Evidence for this is the cynical but amusing Roman saying: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.”

          We all need a measure of recognition and affirmation. But if finding that is central in your life, I’ll promise you one thing. You’ll never get enough -- and you'll always be frustrated. Look, rather, for opportunities to serve others and you will find happiness: here and now in this world -- and in the next the joy of eternal life with the Lord who tells us, later in this gospel according to Matthew: “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.”