Friday, August 19, 2016


Homily for August 23rd, 2014: Mathew 23:1-12.
          “Call no one on earth father,” Jesus says. Evangelical Christians charge that the practice of calling Catholic priests “Father” violates Jesus’ command. There is a simple response to this charge. Taking Jesus’ words literally would forbid us to use this word for our biological fathers. Nor can we take literally the following verse: “Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ.” Taken literally this would forbid us to call anyone “Mister,” since this title is merely a variation of the English word “master.” If despite this passage, it is legitimate to call men in our society “Mister,” and to call our biological fathers “Father,” why should it be wrong to call priests “Father”?
          All this is true. But we make things too easy for ourselves if we leave the matter there. We need to see the principle behind Jesus’ rejection of titles like “Father” and “Master.” What Jesus is condemning is not the titles themselves but an underlying mentality. Jesus is warning against the temptation of those who have spiritual authority in his Church to forget that they are first of all servants; and that they will themselves be judged by the authority they represent to others. The scramble for titles is alive and well in the Lord’s Church. There is a saying in Rome which confirms this: “If it rained miters, not one would touch the ground.”
          Jesus’ warnings in today’s gospel have an obvious application to us clergy. Do they apply, however, only to Church leaders? Who are the people today of whom it could be said: “They preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen.” 
          It is not hard to find people in public life to whom those words apply. Many public officials are truly public servants. Sadly there are also many exceptions. Hypocrisy, the yawning credibility gap between words and deeds, is a danger for all of us. The American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne writes: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”
          It is God’s love, and his love alone, that gives us the courage to throw away our masks, to stop pretending to be other than we are. That is what God wants for us. Deep in our hearts that is what we too desire: just to be ourselves; to know that we are loved not in spite of what we are, but for who we are: daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ.
          Once we stop pretending and truly accept the love God offers us as a free gift, we begin to discover what Jesus called “the peace which the world cannot give.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016


Homily for August 19th, 2015: Matt. 22:34-40.

          “Teacher, which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard test question in Jesus’ day. Studying the Ten Commandments and disputing about how they should be lived in daily life, the rabbis by Jesus’ day had developed 613 commandments: 248 positive laws, and 365 prohibitions. If those numbers seem high, they are modest compared to the 1752 laws in the Church’s book of canon law today.  

          Jesus answers his questioners by citing the command to love God completely in Deuteronomy chapter 6, and the command to love one’s neighbor in Leviticus 19. There was nothing novel about this response. Any rabbi would have approved Jesus’ answer. What was novel was Jesus’ insistence that the two commandments were on the same level. Up to then, the rabbis subordinated love of neighbor to the primary duty of loving God.

          Important for us today is understanding what Jesus means by “love” in his summary of the law. When we hear that word today, we immediately think of feelings. Not so Jesus. Feelings come and go. They are dependent on the weather, our digestion, our mood. In telling us we must love God completely, and our neighbor as well, Jesus is talking about an attitude.

          He is telling us that in every situation, God must come first for us. He must be at the center of our lives, not somewhere out on the fringe. And he is telling us that, in every situation, we must treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. That is the so-called Golden Rule. ‘Love others as you love yourself,’ Jesus says. Do we always have warm loving feelings about ourselves? Of course not. But (unless we are mentally ill) we always wish the best for ourselves.

          Though we often experience tension between our duty toward God and neighbor, Jesus tells us later in Matthew’s gospel that in reality there is no tension. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46) Jesus tells us: ‘Whatever you do for others – or fail to do – you do, or fail to do, for me.   

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


21st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Isaiah 66:18-21; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30.
AIM: To help the hearers see trials as opportunities to grow.
ALord, will only a few people be saved?@ Jesus is asked in the gospel we have just heard. The question was asked out of mere curiosity. If you read through the gospels carefully, you will see that Jesus never answered such questions. Asked by his disciples before his ascension, ALord are you going to restore the rule of Israel now?@ Jesus replied: AThe exact time is not yours to know. The Father has reserved that to himself.@ (Acts 1:6f) 
Here too Jesus refuses to satisfy his questioner=s curiosity. Instead he responds to a different question B and a far more important one: AHow can I be saved?@ Many, he warns, will not be saved. People who are complacent, who think they can postpone their decision for God, will find themselves shut out from God=s presence. Then, when it is too late, they will protest about injustice and misunderstanding. As members of God=s chosen people, they will insist, they are entitled to salvation. On the contrary, Jesus warns, their exclusion from God=s presence will be due neither to injustice nor to misunderstanding, but to their own overconfidence and lack of effort.
That is not the end of Jesus= answer, however. Though the overconfident and complacent cannot expect salvation, Jesus says, many others who do not belong to God=s chosen people and hence (in the minds of his Jewish hearers) have no ground for confidence, will be saved. APeople will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God.@ Jesus was reaffirming an ancient but often overlooked belief of his people which we heard in our first reading. There the prophet Isaiah represents God as saying: AI come to gather nations of every language.@ God offers salvation not just to one people, but to all peoples. 
In reaffirming this teaching about salvation for all, however, Jesus gives it a twist that would have shocked his Jewish hearers. They assumed that even if there were to be some non-Jews in heaven, they themselves would have the best places.  Jesus warns them that if they think their birth as members of God=s chosen people guarantees them the best places at God=s heavenly banquet, they risk having no places at all. Outsiders will take the places they are forfeiting by their laziness and complacency. AThere will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out.@
 The lesson for us Catholics today is clear. A Catholic baptismal certificate and attendance at Sunday Mass do not guarantee salvation. Our Catholic faith must produce fruits in daily life. If it does not, we too risk hearing one day the terrible words that Jesus speaks in today=s gospel: AI do not know where you are from.  Depart from me, all you evildoers!@
AStrive to enter through the narrow gate,@ Jesus says. That Anarrow gate@ stands for every situation in which God=s demands weigh heavily on us and seem too hard to bear. Our second reading is addressed to people in such situations.  Having entered the Church as adults, through baptism, they assumed that their troubles were behind them. God would protect them from all future trials. Their experience was different. Instead of the peace and security that had expected when they made their decision for Jesus Christ and his Church, they found themselves launched on a fresh sea of troubles. Was it really worth going on, they wondered?
Is there someone here today who is asking that question? Then that second reading is for you. It tells you that life=s trials and troubles are signs not of God=s absence, but of his presence. Everything that threatens our peace of mind, or even life itself, is a challenge, and an opportunity to grow. Our trials and sufferings are the homework we are assigned in the school of life.
The idea that God is a supernatural protector who guards his own from all suffering is not a Christian idea, but a pagan one. Why is there suffering in a good world, created and upheld by a good and just God? Which of us has never asked that question? Our faith does not answer it. Faith gives us not an answer; it gives us instead the strength to endure amid of suffering.
As a help to this endurance, the second reading encourages us to look on trials as God=s way of disciplining us, as parents discipline their children. Good parents impose discipline not in anger, to pay their children back for being bad; but out of love, to help the children to be good. AEndure your trials as >discipline=,@ the second reading says. AGod treats you as sons.@ 
Our teacher in this school is Jesus Christ. Whatever trials and sufferings we encounter, his were heavier. This same letter to the Hebrews says of Jesus: ASon though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him ...@ (Heb. 5:8f).
This is the Anarrow gate@ of which Jesus speaks in the gospel: the patient endurance of all the hard and difficult things that life sets before us. Jesus never promised that God would protect us from trials and sufferings. He promises that God will be with us in trials and suffering. 
Today=s gospel begins by saying that Jesus was Amaking his way to Jerusalem.@ Luke, the writer, and every one of his readers knew what happened at Jerusalem. Jesus also knew in advance what would happen there. He was not blind. He was no fool. Though he continued to hope, Jesus knew with increasing certainty, as he made his way to Jerusalem, that if he continued on that way, it could end in only one way. For Jesus, our teacher in life=s school, Jerusalem meant Calvary. There he passed through his own Anarrow gate.@ There he had his final examination in life=s school.

John=s gospel tells us that Ain the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb ...@ (19:41). In that garden tomb, hard by Calvary, the Lord=s devoted but heartbroken friends laid his dead body on Good Friday afternoon. From that tomb Jesus was raised on the third day to a new and glorious life beyond death. He had passed his final examination. He had graduated.  For him there would be no more school, no more examinations, no more suffering.

Jesus invites us to walk the same road he walked. Here in the Eucharist, where he gives us his body and blood, he provides us with the food we need for our journey. He invites us to make our way to Jerusalem, there to pass through our narrow gate to Calvary B but beyond Calvary to resurrection and the fullness of eternal life with him.     


Homily for August 18th, 2016: Matthew 22:1-14.

          Bishops from all over the world are required to visit the Pope every five years. Speaking to the bishops of Switzerland in November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired, spoke about the parable of the great banquet which we have just heard. Here is what he said.

            “Those who were invited first decline. God’s hall remains empty, the banquet seems to have been prepared in vain. This is what Jesus experienced in the last stages of his activity: official groups, the authorities, say No to God’s invitation. They do not come. His message, his call, ends in the human No.

          “However, the empty hall becomes an opportunity to invite a larger number of people. God’s love, God’s invitation, is extended more widely … beyond the boundaries of his own people, to all the world. Those who do not belong to God, according to Jewish ideas about the chosen people, are now invited to fill the hall. Thus the gospel becomes universal, influencing everything, eventually even at Rome, the great capital of Jesus’ world. There, as we read in the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, Paul summons the heads of the synagogue and proclaims the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, when only a few accept Paul’s message, he tells them that he will proclaim it to Gentiles, and they will believe. 

          “What does all this mean for us?  First, it means one thing of which we can be certain: God does not fail … because through this [seeming failure] he finds new opportunities for far greater mercy. He finds ever new ways to reach people and to open wider his great house so that it is completely filled. He does not shrink from asking people to come and sit at his table, to eat the food of the poor in which the precious gift is offered, the gift of God himself. 

          “In the West, in Europe especially, the new ‘first guests’ now largely excuse themselves, they have no time to come to the Lord. On their visits bishops tell me about these refusals, and much other bad news as well. Yet at the same time I also hear this, precisely from the Third World: that people listen, that they come, that even today the message spreads along the roads to the very ends of the earth, and that people crowd into God’s hall for the banquet.”

          Even today, then, and despite all refusals, God’s hall is filled with guests. Praise and glory to Him, our divine host!


Tuesday, August 16, 2016


Homily for August 17th, 2015: Mathew 20:1-16.

          It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? To understand the story we must know that it is not about social justice. It is about God’s generosity. Here’s how it might go today. A rancher in one of the “salad factories” of California’s San Fernando valley is eager to harvest his crop before a threatened change in the weather. So at dawn he’s off to the hiring hall in town. The men he finds there bargain about the conditions of work, and their wages.

          At intervals during the day, the foreman tells the rancher that more workers will be needed to get in the whole harvest in time. So the rancher makes repeated trips to town to hire more help. Each time the workers he encounters are less promising. The men he finds lounging around in mid-afternoon are the dregs of the local labor market: drifters, panhandlers, winos. There is no bargaining with men like that. “Get into the truck, fellows,” he says. “There’s work for you out at my place.”

          At quitting time, those hired last are first in the pay line. The first man rips open his pay envelope — and can’t believe his eyes. It contains a whole day’s pay! Meanwhile, news of what the first men in line are receiving is being passed back to those in the rear. They calculate how much they will receive at the same hourly rate. Imagine their indignation when they receive exactly what they had bargained for in the early morning.

          We are left with the injustice. The story begins to make sense only when we ask: who was happy? who was disappointed? and why? Those who were happy were the men hired last. They had not bargained. They were little better than beggars. It was these beggars, however, who went away happy, while the bargainers were unhappy.

          What are you, with God -- a bargainer, or a beggar? If you want to experience God’s justice, be a bargainer. He’ll never short-change you. When you discover, however, how little you deserve on any strict accounting, you’ll probably be disappointed, perhaps even shocked.

          So perhaps you’d rather experience God’s generosity. Then learn to be, before God, a beggar. Then you will be bowled over with the Lord’s generosity. Ask the Lord who bestows his gifts not according to our deserving but according to his boundless generosity to give you that hunger which longs to be fed; that emptiness which yearns to be filled. Stand beneath his cross and say, in the words of the old evangelical hymn:

          Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Homily for August 16th, 2016: Matthew 19:23-30.

          Jesus’ disciples are astonished, today’s gospel tells us, to hear the Master say that riches are a bar to entrance into God’s kingdom. Their religion taught them that material blessings were a sign of God’s favor. No wonder that the disciples ask: “Then who can be saved?” The figure used by Jesus of a camel passing through the eye of a needle is, the Scripture scholars tell us, a typical oriental exaggeration – something impossible even to conceive, let alone happen.

Jesus did not tell the young man with many possessions to sell everything because riches are evil. Rightly used, wealth is good. Riches become a danger for us, however, when we hang on to them too tightly B and whenever they give us a false sense of security.

Jesus summons us, as he summoned the rich young man in yesterday=s gospel, to trust in God and in him alone. For unaided human powers the demands Jesus makes on us are impossible. They are impossible, that is, for everyone except God. AFor God all things are possible,@ Jesus tells us.

When life seems too much for you; when you are weighed down by anxiety, illness, injustice, the claims of others, or the nagging sense of your own inadequacy; when God=s demands on you seem too great B whenever, in short, you come up against the impossible; then you are up against God. He is the God of the impossible. In every impossible situation, in every trial that is too hard for you to bear, his divine Son and your best friend is saying to you, with tender love: 

AFor you it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.@