Friday, October 7, 2016


Homily for Oct. 8th, 2016: Luke 11:27-28.

          “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed,” a woman in the crowd cries out as Jesus is speaking. Jesus’ response to this tribute to his mother surprises us. He might have said, “Truly,” “Indeed,” or perhaps just “Thank you.” He owed his mother so much: his humanity, loving care from infancy through childhood, youth, and adolescence. Yet he says none of those things. The response Jesus actually makes seems almost to contradict what the woman in the crowd has cried out. “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In reality this is not a contradiction. For Mary is the first hearer of God’s word. It came to her first when the angel Gabriel told her that she was to be the mother of God’s Son. How much of that word did Mary understand? Well, she understood at least this: that in a small village where gossip was rife and everybody knew everybody else’s business, she was to be an unmarried mother. Despite this bleak prospect, Mary immediately said yes: “Be it done to me according to your word.”

Mary’s attention to God’s word did not stop there. After Mary and Joseph’s frantic search for their 12-year-old son who, unbeknownst to them, had stayed behind in Jerusalem, they heard the boy’s puzzling questions: “Why did you search for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?” On the threshold of his teens, Jesus already knew that God, and not Joseph, was his Father.

Luke (alone of the four gospel writers) tells us that Mary and Joseph “did not understand” what their son had said to them (2:50). After returning to Nazareth, however, Mary continued to “ponder these things in her heart” (vs. 51).

The Lord asks us to do the same. More, he promises that when we do listen to his word, ponder in our hearts what he says to us, and put his teaching into action, we are “blessed.” And that word, in Luke’s original Greek text, makarios, means “happy.”

Thursday, October 6, 2016


Homily for Oct. 7th, 2016: Luke 11:15-26.

          At the start of today’s gospel Jesus has just given back the power of speech to a man unable to speak, probably from birth. People in those days attributed a condition like that, indeed all illness, to demons. This is reflected in the opening words of today’s gospel: “Jesus had driven out a demon.” Usually those who witness Jesus’ healings are amazed. Here they say, in effect: ‘That’s no big deal.’ Some ascribe Jesus’ ability to heal to his having entered into a pact with the demons who cause illness. Others demand that Jesus show them a sign more dramatic than a mere physical healing: a “sign from heaven,” they call it.  

          The gospels record this demand for a sign in a number of places: some proof so dramatic that it will compel belief. But belief cannot be compelled, any more than love can be compelled. Jesus’ most dramatic sign was the empty tomb of Easter morning. That did not compel belief in anyone. The only people who believed in the risen Lord were those who had known and believed in Jesus before his resurrection. And even they were initially skeptical. The one exception was the man called in the gospel that bears his name, John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Upon entering the empty tomb this disciple “saw and believed,” John’s gospel tells us (20:8). The others came to believe only after seeing the risen Lord.

          Jesus’ closing words about an unclean spirit returning to a house that has been cleansed with seven other even worse spirits tells us that it is not enough to banish bad habits. We must develop good ones. Here is an example. A parent confesses being impatient with the children. The priest gives this advice.
         "Don’t bother with making fist-clenching resolutions not to lose your temper with your children. Resolve instead that when you do lose your temper, you’ll be looking for an opportunity as soon as possible to show your children that there is a more loving side to Mummy or Daddy. Praise or thank the children, for instance, for doing something well, no matter how small it may be. In other words, don’t try to pull up all the weeds in your life – your bad habits, weaknesses, and sins. That will never work. Concentrate instead on sowing flowers – the virtues."

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


Homily for Oct. 6th, 2016: Luke 11:5-13.

This story about the friend coming at midnight emphasizes two things: the need for persistence in prayer, and God=s readiness to hear us: AAsk and you will receive,” Jesus says. “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.@ Continuing to pray when God seems to answer only with silence increases our desire and strengthens our faith, as physical exercise strengthens the heart, lungs, and muscles. St. Gregory the Great, who was bishop of Rome from 590 to 604, wrote: AAll holy desires grow by delays; and if they fade because of these delays, they were never holy desires.@

To illustrate his teaching about prayer, Jesus reminds us that God is our loving heavenly Father, and we are his children. God is more loving, however, than the even best human father or mother B and wiser. Hence he will not always answer our prayers in the way, or at the time, that we think he should. When God refuses something we pray for, it is always in order to give us something better.  

 The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen told a story about a little girl who prayed, before Christmas, for a hundred dolls. She didn=t get even one. Her unbelieving father, who had taunted both her and her mother for praying at all, couldn=t resist saying on Christmas day: AWell God didn=t answer your prayers, did he?@ To which the child gave the beautiful answer: AOh yes, He did. He said No!@ In my own eighty-eighth year, I am grateful to have lived long enough to be able to thank God for answering some of my prayers, Not yet; and others, No.

Even when we have done our best to explain and understand prayer, however, it remains a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about prayer, but that what we can understand is partial only. We can no more explain Ahow prayer works@ than we can explain how the human mind works, or the human heart.

Above all, therefore, we need to ask for the gift of God=s Holy Spirit: the fire of God’s love, to burn away everything in us that is contrary to God, and to light up our way; his wisdom to see what it right and true, and to embrace it when seen. That prayer will always be answered, Jesus promises us. AIf you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?@

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


Homily for October 5th, 2016: Luke 11:1-4.

          With his gift of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, he offers us a pattern for all our prayer, especially private prayer. “Father,” Jesus begins. When we begin like that, we are acknowledging that we can’t make it on our own. From infancy to old age we are dependent on Another: the One whom Jesus addressed with the intimate word, Abba – akin to “Daddy” in English.

Three petitions follow, having to with our heavenly Father himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to, for God acts in sovereign freedom.

          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.

          The four petitions follow have to do not just with own needs, but also with those of our brothers and sisters in God’s family: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.

          Here is a suggestion which can help you to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer more deeply. Rather than just rattling it off, as Catholics mostly do, take at least five or ten minutes to pray it slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Ponder the full meaning of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of others -- your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on the next day to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will help you realize that the words are not just a pious formula. Rightly prayed, they bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Monday, October 3, 2016


Homily for October 4th, 2016: Luke 10:38-42. 
It seems terribly unfair, doesn=t it? Even a child can see that it is not right to sit making pleasant conversation with a guest while leaving your sister all alone in the kitchen. How can we make sense of the story?
We can never make sense of it if we read it as a lesson in the duties of hospitality. It immediately follows Jesus= parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus contrasts the behavior of two members of the Jewish clergy, a priest and a Levite, with the behavior of a despised outsider, the Samaritan. Though he lacked the knowledge of God=s law available to the priest and the Levite, the Samaritan fulfilled the law=s spirit better than the legal experts. The parable shows the futility of a religion which has no consequences in daily life.
Today=s story of Mary and Martha turns that lesson around. It shows the futility of active service which, because it is not based on attentive listening to God=s word, and nourished by such listening, becomes mere busyness. When Jesus says to Martha, AYou are anxious and worried about many things,@ he is not criticizing her for performing the duties of hospitality, but for doing so without first attending to his word. Martha, we might say, is the kind of person who likes to go about doing good, especially the kind of good that requires a lot of going about.
The story in today=s gospel does not ask us to choose between being a Mary or a Martha. The true disciple of Jesus must be both. Mark=s gospel tells us that when Jesus called his twelve apostles, he called them for a dual purpose: Ato be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message@ (Mk 3:14). Which is more important: to be with Jesus, or to proclaim his message others? Our relationship with the Lord must come first. Being with the Lord and listening his word must be the basis of all we do for him. 
When we act without listening, we are guilty of a subtle kind of pride. We are assuming that we already know what must be done, and need no guidance. Acting without first attending to God=s word can mean doing what we want to do, not what God, or the situation, requires of us. The remedy is to sit at the Lord=s feet, like Mary of Bethany in today=s gospel, and listen to his word. Jesus praises this attentive, patient listening because it requires humility B and faith.
So we need to spend time with the Lord, waiting on him in prayer, and listening to his holy word, proclaimed here at the Eucharist, or read for ourselves; and listening also to the Church=s teaching about our own lives, and about the life of the world around us. Whenever we do this we are like Mary of Bethany. To people without faith, sitting at the Lord=s feet and listening to his words seems a waste of time. We who live by faith, however, know that the Lord loves to have us waste our time on him.  Doing so is the best thing we can do with our time. It is the Abetter part@, as Jesus calls it in today=s gospel, which will not be taken from us. Spending time with Jesus Christ, opening our hearts and minds to his words, we receive strength to live, as we shall receive also one day courage to die.       

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Homily for Oct. 3rd, 2016. Luke 10:25-37.

          A “scholar of the law” (the Ten Commandments) asks Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” He wants to know: what are the limits to my obligation? Jesus never answers that question. Instead he tells a story about what it means to be a neighbor. And he concludes the story with a question of his own: “Which of these three was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” The answer is obvious: the Samaritan. But Jesus’ questioner can’t bring himself to say that hated word. Samaritans were despised by Jews. So he resorts to a circumlocution: “The one who treated him with mercy.” To which Jesus responds: AGo and do likewise.@ The man had asked about the limits of his obligation. The parable says in effect: >there are no limits.=

          How, we ask, can Jesus make such a radical demand? For one reason alone: because this is the way he, Jesus Christ, treats us. Jesus is the despised outsider. Jesus is the one who finds us lying mortally wounded along life=s way. For no merits of our own, but simply because of his infinite compassion, Jesus comes to our aid. He binds up our wounds, pouring upon us the healing oil of his forgiveness in the sacraments of baptism and penance, the exhilarating wine of his love in his holy word and in the Eucharist.

He entrusts us to the care of his Church, promising to come again and again as often as may be necessary, to tend to our every need. Because of this total generosity toward us in our need, a readiness to help which caused Jesus to lay down his life for us, he is able to say to us: ‘See how much I have done for you C look what I am doing for you even now! Then go and do the same for others.’         

The man who asks Jesus, AWhat must I do to inherit eternal life?@ is like many sincerely religious people today. Wanting to do what is right, he develops a spirit directly contrary to God=s law, even when he thinks he is obeying the law. His question, AAnd who is my neighbor?@ shows that he was unable to get beyond the law=s details. To be cured, he needed to encounter the Lawgiver. 

His name is Jesus Christ.