Friday, September 30, 2016


Homily for Oct. 1st, 2016: Ste. Thérèse of Lisieux.

          The young woman whom we commemorate today – she died at only 24 – was a spiritual child prodigy. Born Thérèse Martin on the 2nd of January 1873 to deeply devout Catholic parents in northwestern France, she was the youngest of five sisters and her father’s little “queen,” as he called her. Her mother’s death when Thérèse was only 4 plunged her into terrible grief which would last into adolescence. At age 9 Thérèse received a second blow, when her older sister Pauline, who had been a second mother to her, entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, where the family was living. Thérèse decided that Carmel was the place she too wanted to be – “but not for Pauline, for Jesus.” So certain was Thérèse of her vocation, that she started to ask permission to enter Carmel when she was only 14. It finally came, in a letter from her bishop, on January 1st, 1888, a day before her fifteenth birthday. Three months later she was received into the community where she had longed to be from age 9. 

Thérèse soon discovered the shadow side of Carmelite life. “Of course one does not have enemies in Carmel,” she wrote, “but still there are natural attractions, one feels drawn towards a certain sister, whereas you go a long way round to avoid meeting another.” Thérèse resolved to counter these difficulties by going out of her way to be kind to the Sisters who most irritated her. Over time this would become what she called her “little way.” Since she could not do great things, she would do little things as an offering to God. One of those little things was her request to remain a novice. To her life’s end she had to ask permission to do things her fellow Sisters could do on their own.

For the last 18 months of her short life, Thérèse was suffering from tuberculosis, for which there was then no real treatment. She also suffered spiritual darkness, like a later sister with her name, now St. Teresa of Calcutta. Death came on the evening of Sept. 30th, 1897.

A year later the account of her short life which she had been commanded to write was published in a limited edition of 2000 copies, under the title, The Story of a Soul. Translated over time into 40 languages, it would produce what Pope Pius XI said at Thérèse’s canonization in 1925, before half a million people “a storm of glory.” People read Thérèse’s story, invoked her intercession, and found their prayers answered. Words she had spoken toward the end of her life came true: “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.” Today we pray, therefore: “Ste. Thérèse, pray for us. Amen.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Homily for September 30th, 2016: Job 38:1,12-21; 40:3-5.

          Why do bad things happen to good people? That is the central question of the Old Testament Book of Job, which we have been hearing at Mass all this week. The book introduces us to a devout and God-fearing man, Job, whom God has blessed with a wonderful large family and earthly riches in abundance. Within the space of hours, he loses everything. Why?

          Job’s so-called Comforters visit him to tell him that it all makes sense, if only he will think about it. Their pat and comfortable arguments are typical of the answers given throughout history, and still today, by the self-appointed Defenders of the Faith who look out upon a black-and-white world, in which there are no mysteries. Job rejects all their arguments, and demands, again and again, a one-on-one confrontation with God, who has at least permitted, if not caused, all the tragedies which have befallen him.

          In today’s first reading Job finally receives what he has been demanding. God speaks to him directly. He gives Job, however, not what he has been has been asking for – an answer to what is called the Problem of Evil – but rather a series of challenging questions. ‘Where were you, Job, when I was creating the earth, the sea, and everything that is?’ God’s questions shock Job into realizing that he cannot dispute with God. God lives on an infinitely higher plane. “Behold, I am of little account,” Job acknowledges. “What can I answer you?” Tomorrow we shall hear more of Job’s response: “I have dealt with great things that I do not understand,” Job says; “things too wonderful for me to know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”

          At the book’s end, God rewards Job for acknowledging mystery. And he rebukes Job’s Comforters for denying life’s mysteries. Those Comforters are still with us. It was 20 years ago, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. A wonderful Catholic woman, mother of a large family, and active in the pro-life movement, was struck down at age 41 by cancer. The preacher at her funeral, a widely respected monsignor who has since gone home to God, addressed the question, Why? It was very simple, he told us. God decided she had lived long enough. Did that simple answer comfort her devastated husband? Did it console her heart-broken children?

God does not tell us why bad things happen to good people. He gives us instead something better: the strength to go on despite unmerited suffering and even the most terrible tragedy. That is what his divine Son did, when he said to the Good Thief on the cross next to him: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” He’ll say the same to each of us when he sends his angel to call us home, to be with Him forever.    


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Luke 17:5-10.
AIM: To show why abortion is wrong and to encourage efforts to defend life.
AHow long, O Lord? I cry out to you, >Violence!= but you do not intervene. ... Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and clamorous discord.@
How appropriate are these words of our first reading in the midst of political strife at home and continuing violence in the Middle East.
On this Respect Life Sunday our bishops ask us to reflect on another kind of violence: the violence inflicted on women in problem pregnancies by those who promise them a quick fix and leave them instead with a lifetime of guilt and regrets; the violence which in our country alone takes annually the lives of a million and a half babies before birth. This violence has become so common that it no longer shocks. Its proponents call it a sacred right, championing it as a great advance for women. Women who have undergone abortion testify that it is something else entirely: the exploitation of women by selfish, irresponsible men. 
Surveys show that many Catholics are confused by the propaganda of those who support this violence in our society. It is worth taking time on this Respect Life Sunday, therefore, to lay out, calmly but also clearly, the reasons why abortion is wrong. These reasons do not come not from our religious faith. They come from what medical science tells us about life=s beginning B something we all share in common, believers and non-believers alike.  
Defenders of abortion claim that the unborn are only Apotential life@, a part of the mother=s body which can be cut out, like tonsils or the appendix. Medical science tells a different story. It tells us that human life is present from the first moment of conception. This is how we all began. Although a pregnant mother does not normally feel the new life within her until the sixteenth week of pregnancy or later, already at the twelfth week of pregnancy what pro-abortionists claim is Amerely a group of cells@ to be disposed of at will can kick its legs, turn its feet, curl and fan its toes, move its thumbs, make a fist, bend its wrist, turn its head, squint, frown, suck its thumb, swallow fluid, and make inhaling and exhaling motions. Is that Apotential life@? or is that a baby?
A young couple who are dear friends of mine told me that months before the birth of their first child, they started talking to the baby as they lay in bed, before going to sleep. They gave the little one a name. AWhat do you tell the baby?@ I asked. AWe tell the baby intimate things,@ they said, Aeverything we did that day.@ Those parents are not Catholics. They are not even Christians. They are happy pagans from Communist China. They knew, months before the birth, that it was a baby. That child was in our parish pre-school nine years ago. She turned twelve this August. She is the happiest child I know, and a joy to all who know her.
Since the Supreme Court decision of 1973 it is now legal to kill pre-born babies for any reason at all, however trivial, right up to birth. The courts even refused subsequently to outlaw the killing of a baby during birth (called partial birth abortion). Congress finally outlawed this barbarous procedure. Several unelected judges decreed that it must continue.
How has society come to accept this widespread violence? In part through the clever use of language which disguises what is going on. Defenders of abortion never speak of its victims as babies. Instead they call them fetuses. That is a perfectly good medical term. Even doctors, however, listening to the heartbeat in the womb of a pregnant woman, tell her: AYour baby=s coming along fine.@ Only when she has decided she does not want the baby does it become something different: a Afetus@, an impersonal Ait@ to be disposed of at will. Until legalized abortion, the physician=s care embraced two patients: mother and her unborn child.  Now, at the mother=s request, he is expected to care for her alone, and kill her child. Thank God for the growing number of doctors who remain faithful to their medical oath: AFirst, do no harm.@
The most successful use of language to disguise what is at stake in abortion is the term Apro-choice.@ >We=re not forcing you to have an abortion,= say those who call themselves pro-choice, >but don=t try to impose your special morality on us.= Bumper stickers say it more succinctly: AAgainst abortion? Don=t have one.@  A century and a half ago the defenders of slavery in our country used the same argument. They too claimed to be pro-choice. We=re not forcing anyone to own slaves, they said. We=d just like to be left alone to own slaves ourselves. Slave-holders from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Jefferson Davis were upright, respected pillars of the community. Pro-choice people today are also respected and powerful: they dominate our media, our universities, and the great foundations which fund good works. 
Slave-holders said: ADoesn=t a man have a right to do what he wants with his property?@ Pro-choice people today say: AA woman has a right to do what she wants with her body.@ This too has been put on bumper stickers. They say: AKeep your laws off my body.@ In both cases C slavery in the nineteenth century, abortion today C neutral language is used to conceal the fact that human lives are at stake. Then there are the bumper stickers I’ve already mentioned which say: AAgainst abortion?  Don=t have one.@ Would those who display that sign put on their cars another which said: AAgainst slavery?  Don=t own one.@ They=d be ashamed. 
Is abortion really the great step forward for women claimed by those who call themselves pro-choice? Those who have undergone it testify that it is not.  Here is the testimony of one woman. She speaks for thousands like her.
AI was 17 years old and very promiscuous. I got pregnant and my friends helped me get an abortion. They took me to Medical Office where I lied about my age. They got me an appointment right away. I was at the end of my first trimester.  I went into the hospital by myself. I was put to sleep and I woke up in a room with another woman. She was crying and I tried to comfort her and I began to cry. I was told by the nurse to "shut up". I stopped mourning and didn't cry about my abortion for years to come.
AIt affected me because not only was I a tramp, but now I was a murderer also. I hated myself even more. Also, I had to keep it all a secret from my family. To this day, my family does not know about my abortion. It has affected my relation with my husband ‑ learning to trust him ‑ and my children. I feared abusing them and at the same time I was over‑protective.
AI have learned to trust God for my healing. I've attended Post-Abortion Seminars and I am a group leader for a Post-Abortion Seminar Bible study at our local Pregnancy Center. I have also shared my testimony at different times. It has made me distrustful, especially of men. I've learned to be more compassionate of sinners and the "hopeless". I'm always wondering what difference there would have been if I'd kept my baby. I'm sure it was a boy. He'd be 20 years old this year.@
No woman should have to undergo what she experienced. Women in difficulties deserve our support. Too often what they get instead is the message: AHere=s $300, honey. Get rid of it.@ That is from men who feel some responsibility. Many do not. Is it really surprising that surveys show the support for abortion to be stronger among men than among women? Or that much of the leadership of the pro-life movement comes from women?
We must also support women who have undergone abortion.  Listen to what Pope John Paul II said in his encyclical Evangelium vitae:  
AI would like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.@

Pope Francis put it more briefly, but no less clearly when he said: ‘‘Every child that isn’t born, but is unjustly condemned to be aborted, has the face of Jesus Christ, the face of the Lord.”

The struggle to defend life amid what Pope John Paul called C quite rightly C a culture of death has gone on for four decades in our country. Despite growing support for the pro-life cause, the end is nowhere in sight. We cannot sustain the struggle without prayer and faith. Jesus is speaking of the kind of faith we need when he says in today=s gospel: AIf you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, >Be uprooted and planted in the sea,= and it would obey you.@ That is hyperbole: deliberate exaggeration to drive home a point. No one is interested in planting a tree in the ocean. The salt water would kill it. Jesus= point is: with faith we can accomplish the impossible. 

The one who give us this faith is Jesus himself. Through his holy word and the Eucharist he nourishes and strengthens our faith when we grow discouraged and weak. 


Homily for September 29th, 2016: John 1:47-51.

          “Truly, I say to you, you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus speaks these words to his newly recruited disciple, Nathaniel. Elsewhere in the gospels he is identified as the apostle Bartholomew. The words tell us that Jesus is the contact person between earth and heaven, between humanity and God. 

We contact God by offering prayers to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus, in and through the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to pray and supports us as we do so. The ascending angels are carrying our prayers heavenward. And the descending angels are bringing us the Father’s blessings in answer to our prayers. 

The Bible identifies three special angels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, called archangels. We commemorate them today. Michael, whose name means, “Who can compare with God?” is mentioned in the book of Revelation, where we read: “War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. Although the dragon and his angels fought back, they were overpowered and lost their place in heaven.” The archangel Michael represents God’s power, defending us against the forces of evil.

Gabriel is God’s messenger. He appeared to the Old Testament prophet Daniel to help him understand a vision Daniel had about the world’s end (cf. Dan. 8:16 & 9:21). Later he appeared to a teenaged Jewish girl called Mary, to tell her she was to be the mother of God’s Son.

The archangel Raphael is traditionally the angel of healing. Chapter 12 of the Old Testament book Tobit speaks of his healing power. And chapter 5 of John’s gospel speaks of sick people waiting to be healed at a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda. An ancient verse which is missing in modern Bibles speaks of an angel, identified in Catholic tradition as Raphael, coming to stir up the waters, to release their healing powers.

In 1886 Pope Leo XIII composed a prayer to the archangel Michael which was prayed at the end of every Mass until 1968. It goes like this:

“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host - by the Divine Power of God - cast into hell, Satan and all the evil spirits, who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”  


Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Homily for September 28th, 2016: Luke 9:57-62.

          Three potential disciples come to Jesus. The first pledges total loyalty: “I will be your follower wherever you go.” The man’s good will is obvious. With his unique ability to read minds, Jesus sees a potential defect in the man’s stated willingness to serve. He may find the road more difficult that he has reckoned: “The foxes have lairs, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 

          The next recruit responds to Jesus’ call, “Come after me.” There is something he wants to do first, however. “Let me bury my father.” An important duty for Jews, burying the dead has been taken over by Christians as the last of the seven corporal works of mercy. When Jesus calls, however, this takes precedence over all else. “Let the dead bury the dead,” Jesus tells him. “Come away and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

          The third recruit, like the first, volunteers for discipleship: “I will be your follower, Lord,” he says. But like the second man, he sets a condition: “First let me take leave of my people at home.” With seeming coldness, Jesus tells him he is not truly qualified: “Whoever puts his hand to the plow but keeps looking back is unfit for the reign of God.” Jesus’ message to all three is the same: the Lord’s call takes precedence over all else. Is that possible? For some it is. Let me tell you about one.

          She was born in Albania in 1910 and baptized with the name Agnes. As a young girl she was fascinated by stories of missionaries in India. At age 12 she decided to join them. A Jesuit told her that the Loreto nuns, based in Dublin, worked in India. At age 18 Agnes, not knowing a word of English, journeyed to Ireland to become a Sister of Loreto. She would never see her home, or her mother, again. After only 6 weeks, she was sent to Calcutta, where she received the religious name Teresa, after the then recently canonized French Carmelite whom we shall commemorate on Saturday  In the years following she became a teacher and later Principal of a girls’ school.

          On a train journey in 1946, she received what she called “a call within a call”: to leave the security of the convent to live among and serve the poor. Slowly former pupils and others joined her. At her death in 1997, at age 87, the Missionaries of Charity, whom she had founded, numbered over 3,800 in 122 countries – and that in a day, when in the United States alone, over 1000 Sisters left the convent to pursue other paths. Another thousand have joined the order since. On the 4th of this month Pope Francis enrolled her among the canonized saints.

          Toward the end of her life Mother Teresa summed up her life in a single sentence: “I am but a small pencil in the hand of a writing God.” Happy are we if we can say the same.  

Monday, September 26, 2016


Homily or September 27th, 2016: Luke 9:51-56.            

          In Jesus’ day the enmity between Jews and Samaritans was proverbial. We might compare it to the enmity between Sunni and Shia Moslems today. Samaritans were especially resentful of Jews passing through their territory on pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. This explains why the Samaritan villagers mentioned in today’s gospel reading “would not welcome” Jesus and his friends. Because there were twelve of them, thirteen with Jesus, Jesus had sent messengers ahead to let the villagers know he was coming, and wanted accommodation for the night.

          Mark’s gospel tells us that the brothers, James and John, sons of the fisherman Zebedee, were given the name “Boanerges,” or Sons of Thunder (Mk. 3:17). Their hot-tempered anger at the refusal of hospitality by these Samaritan villagers helps explain the reason for their nickname. The two brothers’ desire to “call down fire from heaven,” reminds us of what the Old Testament prophet Elijah had twice done to destroy his enemies (2 Kings 1:10 & 12). It was the biblical equivalent of the modern slogan: “Don’t get mad, get even.”

          Luke has already reported Jesus’ rejection of such revenge. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says in the sixth chapter of Luke’s gospel. “Do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you” (6:27f.) Acting in that way is never easy. But those who, with the Lord’s help, overcome the longing for revenge which comes naturally not only to us adults, but even to young children, call down a different fire upon those who maltreat them. It is the fire of love, which alone can overcome and burn out hatred. And so we pray in this Mass: “Lord, pour out into my heart the all-consuming fire of your love, that I may share that love with others.”

Sunday, September 25, 2016


Homily for Sept. 26th, 2016: Luke 9:46-50.

          “An argument arose among them about which of them was the greatest.” So what else is new? we ask. The argument continued at the Last Supper (cf. Lk. 22:24). It continues today: we clergy are especially susceptible. Even canonized saints have engaged in the contest for position and honor. We would have celebrated one of them yesterday, had it not been a Sunday: St. Vincent de Paul. He decided to be a priest, even managing to get himself ordained several years before the minimum age, because he thought priesthood was a career, rather than a service. Only years later did he come to realize his error, acknowledging it with the words: “If I had known what priesthood was all about, as I have come to know since, I would rather have tilled the soil than engage in such an awesome state of life.” In an attempt to put a damper on this contest about greatness, Pope Francis has put at least a temporary stop on the granting to priests of the honorific title of “Monsignor.”

          Our gospel reading makes it clear that Jesus didn’t overhear what his friends were arguing about. He didn’t need to. He could read people’s thoughts. This is one of a number of occasions in the gospels when he did so.

Jesus responds to the argument about greatness by calling a young child to his side. “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,” he tells his disciples. “And whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is greatest.” We grasp the full meaning of Jesus’ action and words only when we know that he lived in a society which was anything but child-centered. In Jesus’ world children, like women, were supposed to be seen and not heard.   

When I entered seminary just over 68 years ago, we newcomers were given a book of “Principles,” as they were called, to guide our lives. One of them went like this: “Choose for yourself the lowest place, not because of modesty, but because it is most fit for you. There is always someone whose burden is heavier than yours. Find him out, and if you can, help him.”

I’ve never forgotten that. Nor should you.