Friday, August 5, 2016


Homily for August 6th, 201, The Transfiguration: 2 Pet. 1:16-19; Luke 9.28b-36.

          The mysterious event which we celebrate today, called the Transfiguration, gives a glimpse, however brief, into eternity. For a moment, before the descent of the cloud, the three friends of Jesus see their friend and Master transformed beyond anything they could have imagined. It was as if his humanity had no limits.

“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” Peter writes in our second reading.” The Transfiguration is a manifestation of Christ’s divinity, for a moment breaking through the veil of his humanity. But it is more. It also shows us our potential to become divine.  

          If the goal of the spiritual life is to grow in likeness to God, then the more we progress, the more we participate in God’s own life. When our journey reaches its end, and we have been stripped of all the obstacles to holiness, God’s life will become our life, and we shall be one with God. Then our earthly pilgrimage beneath an often overcast sky will yield to the uninterrupted vision of God’s glory. We too shall shine with an unearthly light — the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ: our Master, our Savior, our Redeemer — but also our passionate lover, and our best friend. We shall have reached our true homeland, the heavenly city which (as we read in Revelation) needs neither sun nor moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21.23).

          As we journey onward to our heavenly homeland the words of an Evangelical hymn, unknown to Catholics, can help us:

          Cast your eyes upon Jesus, / Look full in his wonderful face,

          And the things of earth will grow strangely dim /

                    in the light of his glory and grace.

          Now, however, is the time above all for hearing. We listen for the Father’s voice and heed his command, as he speaks to us the words first uttered to those three friends of Jesus on the mountain two thousand years ago:

          “This is my beloved Son, on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”


Thursday, August 4, 2016


Homily for August 5th, 2015: Dedication of St. Mary Major.

          The Church celebrates today the dedication of one of Rome’s major basilicas, St. Mary Major. A legend says that a wealthy Roman and his wife, who were childless, made a vow that at death they would leave their possessions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. They prayed that she would show them how to do this. On the night of August 5th, at the height of the Roman summer, snow fell on the Esquiline Hill in Rome, where the Basilica of St. Mary Major now stands. And in the same night the couple had a vision telling them to build a church there. Though long recognized as a legend, the story explains why the church is also known as “Our Lady of the Snows.” It is also called “St. Mary of the Manger,” because it contains the supposed relic of the manger in which Mary placed her baby after his birth.

          More important than these historical trivia is the reason why we honor Mary as “Mother of God.” Most Protestant Christians reject the title on the ground that God, being eternal, cannot have a mother. The title comes from the Council of Ephesus, held in 431. The big question at that council was whether Jesus was truly divine; or whether he was simply the most godlike man who had ever lived, as claimed by a powerful group in the Church at that time, called Arians. The Council defined solemnly that Jesus, while truly and completely human like us (but unlike us, without sin), was also truly and completely divine. To express this truth the council gave Mary a Greek title: theotokos, which means “God bearer.” Translated into English, this is “mother of God.” Her child was and is truly God. In reality the statement says more about Mary’s Son than about her. 

          When we speak about praying to Mary or any other saint, what we really mean is that we are asking them to pray for us. The blessings we receive in answer to the prayers of our heavenly friends come not from them. They come from God, in answer to the saints’ prayers. And so we pray, once again, the prayer Catholics have loved to pray for close to two thousand years: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”



Wednesday, August 3, 2016


 Homily for August 4th, 2016: Matt 16:13-23.

     “You are Peter,” the Lord says. Peter’s original name was Simon. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the name Peter was identical with the word for rock. In reality Peter was anything but rocklike. He was quick to proclaim undying loyalty to the Lord whom he loved; yet, as we know, quick to deny him three times on that evening when Jesus was on trial for his life in a nearby room. So the new name the Lord gave Simon -- Peter, the Rock -- was ironic. It was something like calling a 350-pound heavy-weight “Slim.”

     As long as Peter thought he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all the others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful — he was unfit for leadership. He had to become aware of his own weakness. He had to be convinced that without a power greater than his own he could do nothing. Then, and only then, could Jesus use him. 

     We tend to think of Peter as weak before Jesus’ resurrection, but strong afterwards, when on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on Peter and his fellow apostles in tongues of fire, and in a rushing mighty wind. Pope Benedict XVI liked to remind us that something of Peter’s old weakness remained with him to the end.

     An ancient legend bears witness to this. It says that toward the end of his life Peter escaped from the jail where the Roman Emperor had imprisoned him and fled from Rome under cover of night. Outside the city, he saw in the darkness the figure of a man walking toward him. When the figure got close, he recognized that it was Jesus.    
     "Where are you going, Lord?” Peter asked. “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied. Filled with shame, Peter turned around and re-entered the city. When they led him out the next day to nail him to a cross, Peter demanded that they crucify him upside down.   

     The story helps us understand why we pray for Peter’s successor, the Pope, in every Mass. He is an ordinary weak sinner like every one of us. We pray that the Lord will strengthen his trust in the rock on which Jesus built his Church: Peter’s faith. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Homily for August 3rd, 2016: Matthew 15:21-28.

          Today’s gospel poses a question which we cannot answer. Why did Jesus initially refuse the request of a Gentile woman that he heal her daughter? It cannot be because Jesus lacked compassion. The gospels show that he was a man of total compassion. Did Jesus want to test the depth of this mother’s love for her sick child? If so, she passed the test with flying colors. Throwing herself at Jesus’ feet, she shows that she is out to win. Her daughter means everything to her. She refuses to take no for an answer.

Jesus’ words about the children being fed first seem to be a reference to his mission of feeding his own people first. When Jesus says it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs, he is using traditional Jewish language. Jews in his day often referred to Gentiles as dogs. Jesus softens the word, however. The word he uses means not dogs but  puppies. Even this does not discourage the woman. Without missing a beat she comes right back with the remark: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” To understand what she is saying, we must know the eating habits of the day. Food was eaten with the fingers, which were wiped afterwards with pieces of flat bread that were then cast aside to be eaten by the household dogs.

          Or was Jesus testing the woman’s faith? If so, she passed that test too. For Jesus responds: “For such a reply, be off now! The demon has already left your daughter.” In Jesus’ day illness of all kinds was thought to be caused by demons.

          The beautiful conclusion of this moving story follows at once. “When the woman got home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

          This desperate and nameless woman is a model of love and faith. We pray in this Mass for the Lord to give us her perseverance, and her faith.




Monday, August 1, 2016


Homily for August 2nd, 2016: Matthew 14:22-36.

          What began as a routine evening crossing of the lake soon turns into a nightmare for Jesus’ friends in their small boat. The storm which breaks on the disciples so unexpectedly this evening comes from just the direction in which they are heading. This explains why they are still far from their destination in “the fourth watch of the night.” Small wonder that they cry out in fear as they see a human figure approaching across the wind-whipped waves. It is Jesus. “Take courage,” he calls out. “It is I; do not be afraid.”

          One man in the boat is more impulsive than his companions. He no sooner recognizes Jesus than he wants to be with him. He will react in the same way after Jesus’ resurrection, upon recognizing the risen Lord on the shore after a fruitless night of fishing in the lake. (Cf. Jn. 21:7) It is Peter. “Lord,” Peter calls out, “if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus replies.

          Peter’s willingness to do the unthinkable enables him to experience the impossible. He climbs out of the boat and starts to walk to Jesus across the storm tossed waves. “But when he saw how strong the wind was,” Matthew tells us, “he became frightened. And, beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’”

          Jesus had a special role for Peter. He was to be the leader of Jesus’ friends and thus of the Lord’s Church. This terrifying experience was part of Peter’s preparation. Years later he would remember: as long as he had kept his eyes on the Lord, he was safe. When he looked down, and saw the danger, he began to sink.

          The story assures us that when the storm rages and the night is blackest; when we cannot see the way ahead; when we are bone weary with life’s struggle and our hearts fail us for fear, Jesus is close. He only seems to be absent. In reality he is never far from us. He knows at every moment the difficulties against which we contend. Across the storm waters of this world he comes to us and chides us, as he chided Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

          Happy if we today, in this hour, can respond to the Lord’s saving presence and power as his friends did in that boat. Happy if we too can bow before him in awe-struck worship and say, with those first friends of Jesus:

          “Truly, you are the Son of God!”

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Homily for August 1st, 2016: Matt. 14:13-21.

          As the sun starts to sink and the shadows lengthen, Jesus’ disciples approach him with an urgent request. “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.”

          Jesus’ response surprises us: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” He was having fun with them – teasing them. Jesus knew perfectly well what he was going to do.

          Not realizing this, the disciples point out that what Jesus has asked them to do is impossible: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” To which Jesus responds simply: “Bring them to me.”

          When the disciples have done this, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses these hopelessly inadequate supplies, and gives them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. “They all ate and were satisfied,” Matthew tells us, adding: “and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full.” But of course: there were twelve men doing the distribution.

          What does this tell us? Two things. First, when we entrust our pitifully inadequate resources to the Lord, they are inadequate no longer. Second, when the Lord gives, he gives not only abundantly, but super-abundantly. We come repeatedly not because the Lord limits his gifts, but because our ability to receive them is limited.

          The early Christian community loved this story so much that we find it told six times over, with variations, in the four gospels. The reason is clear. It reminded Jesus’ friends of what he does in the Eucharist. We offer him a little bread and wine – and these modest gifts come back to us transformed into his Body and Blood: all his goodness, all his love, all his compassion, patience, and purity. And when have him, we have everything!