Friday, September 16, 2016


Homily for September 17h, 2016: Luke 8:4-15.

          Jesus’ favorite form of teaching was through stories. We call them parables. Most of them are so simple that they can be understood even by children; yet so profound that scholars are still writing books about them. The parable of the sower and his seed occurs in three of the four gospels. At the most basic level, the story offers encouragement in the face of failure. It is Jesus’ answer to the rising tide of opposition which his teaching and ministry provoked. Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Despite this waste, the story promises a “hundredfold” harvest. A modern 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.”

          Today’s gospel reading gives the story another interpretation. By speaking about the different kinds of soil on which the farmer’s seed falls, Jesus directs our attention to our role in the harvest. It comes from God, yes. But it requires our cooperation.

          The different kinds of soil symbolize the many kinds of people who heard Jesus’ message: in his lifetime, and still today. “Those on the path are the ones who have heard,” Jesus says, “but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.” There are people like that in every parish, the world over.  

So also for those on rocky ground. They receive Jesus’ words with joy. But they have no root, so in times of temptation, they fall away. The seed falling among thorns represent people unable to bring any fruit to fruition, because they are so busy with other things: anxiety, and the pursuit of the false gods of pleasure, possessions, power, and honor.  

The super-abundant harvest of which the story speaks comes only for those who internalize Jesus’ words, praying over them, and making them the foundation of their lives. In response, then, we pray: “Take hold of me, Lord. Help me to know that you are always with me; that I can find happiness only by fulfilling the purpose for which you fashioned me in my mother’s womb: to praise, serve, and glorify you here on earth; and so to be happy with you forever in heaven. Amen.”

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Homily for Sept. 16th, 2016: Luke 8:1-3

          Who were Jesus’ disciples? The Twelve, first of all, chosen by Jesus to represent Jesus’ desire to reconstitute the twelve tribes of Israel. They were all men. Traveling along with them, Luke tells us in today’s gospel, were women as well. A modern Bible commentator writes: “It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for [a woman] to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ travelling companions.” Today’s gospel is one of the many pieces of evidence we have that Jesus rejected the second-class status of women in his society.

          The first woman mentioned, Mary of Magdala, a small town in Galilee, is clearly not the woman “known in the town to be a sinner.” [Luke 7:37]. Luke is clearly telling us about a woman he has not previously mentioned. The information that “seven demons had gone out of her” refers to healing from sickness. The number seven in biblical thought represents fullness. Her healing is now complete.

            The next woman mentioned, Joanna, is married to a high government official: Chuza, the manager of the estates of Palestine’s ruler, Herod Antipas. This Herod was hostile to Jesus. If his steward Chuza was the royal official mentioned in the 4th chapter of John’s gospel who asked Jesus to heal his son, as some commentators believe, and who “became a believer” when the boy was cured, this would explain why he allowed his wife to minister to Jesus.

          Later it would be women, not men, who were the first witnesses and messengers of the resurrection. Despite all this evidence of the importance of women for Jesus, it was to men alone that he gave the command at the Last Supper, to “do this in my memory.” This helps explain why still today only men are ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II told us that the Church has no power to alter Jesus’ clear intention and command.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Amos 8:4-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-8; Luke 16:1-13

AIM: To show the need for a decision for Jesus Christ that carries over into daily life. 

          “Prepare a full account of your stewardship because you can no longer be my steward.” The man in the story we have just heard has been squandering his employer’s property and is about to lose his job. Following the custom of the day, Jesus calls the man a steward. We would call him a manager. Jesus’ world knew nothing of bookkeeping or audits. A wealthy estate owner, like the man in this story, simply had to trust the man who ran things for him. In this case the owner finds out that his trust has been abused. Probably the manager has been lazy and irresponsible, running the business entrusted to him in a slipshod and careless manner. Most likely his employer has warned him before, perhaps many times, telling him that if doesn’t shape up, he will be history. 

          Now, with the knife at his throat, the manager suddenly develops enterprise and initiative which, if only he had shown these qualities before, would have made the business prosper rather than stagnate. Facing ruin, the manager calls in all his employer’s customers and tells them that if they will make partial payment on the amounts they owe, he will mark their accounts “Paid in full.” He is counting on these people to take care of him after he’s fired. Instead of altering their IOUs himself, and risking discovery of the swindle when a later investigation shows that the fraudulent documents are all in his hand, he has the debtors write up the new receipted bills themselves.

          Now comes a surprise. “The master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.” From antiquity Bible commentators have disputed about who is meant by “the master.” Is he the man’s employer – or Jesus himself? It is difficult to believe that the praise can have come from an employer who has just told his manager that he is about to be fired. So the praise must come from Jesus himself.  How is that possible? Prudent the manager may have been. But honest? Hardly.  How can Jesus praise what all can see is a swindle?

          Jesus does not praise the manager’s dishonesty. He praises the man’s ability to recognize his desperate situation. For him, it is now or never. Jesus addresses the parable to those who remain indifferent to his message. The story is Jesus’ attempt to shake them out of their complacency. His message confronted them with the need to decide: for him, or against him. To postpone this decision, to continue living as if nothing had changed, with the attitude of “business-as-usual”, was in fact to decide against Jesus. That meant disaster. Trapped in what looks like a hopeless situation, the manager cleverly found a way out and acted while there was still time. It is this cleverness and enterprise which Jesus commends, not the man’s dishonesty.

          Jesus Christ asks us for the same decision today: for him, or against him. It is not a once-for-all decision – something like learning to ride a bicycle: once you’ve learned, you know it for life. Our decision for Jesus Christ needs to be renewed every day. For me it starts with something as simple as getting out of bed when my clock radio comes on at 5.15 in the morning. Only if I rise then can I prepare for the Mass I celebrate five days each week at 6.30 by waiting upon the Lord in silence for a full half-hour beforehand. That time with Him, and the Mass which follows, nourish me. They are the sunshine of my whole day. Without that hour spent with the Lord whose uniform I wear, though unworthy, I’d just be spinning my wheels.

          Our first reading tells us, however, that the decision which Jesus asks of us goes beyond prayers and church-going. The people whom the prophet Amos was addressing in that reading were like some Catholics today. They knew all their religious obligations. They were careful to fulfill them. Once they had done so, however, they considered that the rest of their lives was theirs to live as they pleased. Careful to observe the law of Sabbath rest, they could hardly wait for the Sabbath to be over so that they can resume cheating the poor on weekdays.

          They fix their scales and measures to give people less than they are paying for. They take advantage of people temporarily unable to pay their debts, like a ruthless money-lender who forecloses a mortgage after a single missed payment, so that he can buy the property himself at the sheriff’s sale for a fraction of its true worth. Amos even portrays these people gloating over their profit from the sale of junk food: “Even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”  The prophet’s condemnation of these outwardly religious but deeply dishonest people is crushing: “The Lord has sworn ... Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

          That first reading is a warning against an over-spiritualized religion, which puts church-going into a separate compartment from what we do the rest of the week. The second reading extends that lesson. The command Paul gives there to pray “for kings and all in authority” sounds routine to us. In our country those in authority are still relatively friendly towards Christians. Sadly we must say “relatively,” because we are witnessing a growing and powerful tide of opinion in our country which insists that religion is a purely private affair which must never influence public policy. When we protest, for instance, that abortion victimizes both women and their unborn children, we are told that this is a private religious view which must not be imposed on society. In protesting abortion, however, we are not imposing anything. We are proposing, with arguments to support our position. Those arguments are not drawn from religion. They are based on what medical science tells us about human life at its beginning. We propose. We give reasons. Then we vote. That is how democracy works. 

          These three readings have a message for us today. The gospel confronts us with the need for a decision: for Jesus Christ, or against him. Amos’ denunciation of rich, hypocritical worshipers in the first reading reminds us that church-going is not enough. If our decision for Jesus Christ does not carry over into daily life, then all our Masses and prayers are worse than useless: they can bring down heaven’s condemnation. Finally, Paul’s command in the second reading to pray even for godless and anti-Christian rulers warns against an over-spiritualized religion. Our Catholic faith may indeed have to do with heaven. So long as we are here on earth, however, our faith has to do first with the here-and-now. We are called to work with all people of good will to build a just society, insisting as we do so that morality is not merely a matter of personal opinion, but that there are moral truths which are applicable to all.

          Is that a tall order? You bet it is! That is why the Lord Jesus gives us the guiding light of Holy Scripture, the teaching of his Church, and the strengthening power of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Thus enlightened and strengthened, he sends us back to our everyday lives. It is there, outside church walls, that our decision for Jesus Christ is put to the test. There, in everyday life, we encounter God afresh: not as we encounter him here, in his word and sacrament; but in the world he has made and in those who, like us, are God’s daughters and sons.


Homily for Sept. 15th, 2016. Our Lady of Sorrows: John 19:25-27.

Decades ago it was common on Good Friday to preach seven sermons based on Jesus= seven last words from the cross. I preached those sermons myself, over half a century ago. The AThree Hours= Agony,@ as it was often called, started at noon and ended at three, traditionally the hour of Jesus= death, with the church bell tolling 33 times, once for each year of Jesus= earthly life. Interspersed between each sermon or meditation was a hymn and one of more prayers, allowing worshipers who could not remain for the full three hours opportunities to come and go. 

We have just heard the third of Jesus’ seven last words: AWoman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.@ The second half of this word from the cross is addressed to Athe disciple whom Jesus loved,@ as he is always called in the Fourth Gospel -- deliberately left anonymous, many commentators believe, so that he can stand for all those whom Jesus loves, ourselves included. It is because of this third word from the cross that Catholics call Mary Aour blessed Mother.@

          We do not pray to Mary B or to any of the saints B in the same way we pray to God. We ask Mary and the other saints to pray for us. If it is right to ask our earthly friends to pray for us, how much more fitting to ask the prayers of our heavenly friends, especially of Mary, given to us by her dying son as our spiritual mother. The Catechism recommends such prayer in the following words: “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.” (No. 2682)

          As we remember today the sorrows of Jesus’ mother, we pray, once again, the familiar and well loved words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”


Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Homily for Sept. 14th, 2015: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.

At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.

Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power?  The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.

Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@  with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me.  It sounds like horribly bad news.

The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in our parish pre-school. I would go at noon each day to meet Doris when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door, waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.

The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).

Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do that, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.

AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ],” we heard in the gospel, “will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@ The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ.  He is waiting for your response, right now.


Monday, September 12, 2016


Homily for Sept. 13th, 2016: Luke 7:11-17.

          Can there be anything more tragic than parents having to bury a son or daughter? The tragedy is deepened in the story we have just heard by the fact that the mother who must bury her son is a widow, who has no other children. It was a man’s world. Women were the property of men in Jesus’ day: the property of their fathers until they married, then the property of their husbands. The Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” lists a man’s wife among the things one must not covet. With her husband already dead, and now her son as well, this widow of Nain has no man to speak for her or protect her.

          This tragedy has parallels even in an age of women’s liberation. I remember as if it were yesterday standing as a young priest in a bleak and rocky cemetery in Arizona, where I had just laid to rest beside his long deceased father the only son of a widow named Nellie. Her deep Christian faith strengthened my faith then, and I continue to pray for her today. “There are my two men-folk,” Nellie told me when the prayers of committal were over.

          How could Jesus be indifferent to such grief? We heard in yesterday’s gospel about Jesus healing the gravely ill slave of a Roman military officer, to whom the sick slave was “very dear.” The young man being carried to burial at Nain is no less dear to his mother. Disregarding the Jewish law of ritual purity which said that one must not touch a corpse, Jesus unhesitatingly reaches out to touch the coffin saying: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Whereupon, Luke tells us, the young man “sat up.” The Scripture commentators tell us that the Greek word which Luke uses for “sit up” is a medical term – hardly surprising when we know that Luke was what passed in those days for a medical doctor. The people who witnessed this miracle respond with the simple but powerful words: “God has visited his people.”

          What better response could we make to this moving story than to pray the words of an old evangelical hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear! / What a privilege to carry / Everything to God in prayer. / Are we weak and heavy laden, / Burdened with a load of care? / Precious Savior, still our refuge / Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Sunday, September 11, 2016


Homily for Sept. 12th, 2016: Luke 7:1-10.

          The centurion who asks Jesus to heal his serving boy is a Roman military officer, something like a colonel today. This is clear from his response when Jesus sets off at once to heal the boy. The officer shows both courtesy to Jesus and respect for the Jewish law by saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” The officer’s Jewish friends have already told Jesus this Roman officer has taken a genuine interest in their religion, and has even built them a synagogue. The officer knows, therefore, that in entering a Gentile house Jesus could become ritually unclean. Hence, Luke tells us, the officer suggests an alternative: “Just give an order and my boy will be healed.” I do that all the time, he says. I give orders to those under my authority, and they do what I command.

          Upon hearing these words, Luke tells us, Jesus “showed amazement.” Normally it is the witnesses of Jesus’ healings who are amazed. Here it is the Lord himself who shows amazement. I have not found faith like this from my own people, Jesus says. This outsider, who has neither our divine law, nor our prophets, he tells the people, shows greater faith than you do.

          The centurion’s words continue to resound two millennia later. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” we say as we approach the Lord’s table to receive his Body and Blood, “but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Even after a good confession, we are still unworthy of the Lord’s gift. He gives himself to us for one reason: not because we are good enough; but because he is so good that he longs to share his love with us.  

          How do we respond? By gratitude! By trying to walk before the Lord in holiness and righteousness all our days, trusting that when the Lord calls us home to himself, we shall hear him saying to us, very personally and with tender love: “Well done. … Come and share your master’s joy.” (Matt. 25:21).