Friday, October 21, 2016


Homily for Oct. 22nd, 2016: Luke 13:1-9.

Jesus= hearers tell him about two recent disasters: an atrocity perpetrated by the hated Roman governor, Pontius Pilate; and a construction accident which had killed eighteen unsuspecting people. In Jesus= day people assumed that the victims of such tragedies were being punished for their sins. Twice over Jesus contradicts this view. The victims were no worse sinners than anyone else, Jesus says. But their deaths were a warning, Jesus says: AI tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!@ The story which follows, about a farmer and his barren fig tree, drives home this warning.

Fig trees grew wild in Palestine in Jesus= day. A newly planted fig tree takes three years to bear fruit. So when the owner of this fig tree tells his gardener that he has been looking for fruit from it for three years, this means it had been there for six years in all. The order to cut it down was entirely reasonable. The gardener is an example of the incurable optimist. He wants to dig round it, to allow the rain to reach the roots, and to fertilize the tree. Nowhere in Scripture do we find any reference to fig trees being cultivated or fertilized. The gardener is suggesting extraordinary, heroic measures. He agrees with his employer, however, that if the tree is still without fruit after another year, it will have to come down.

The story contains a warning, but also encouragement. God is like the owner of the fig tree, Jesus is saying. God looks for results. There will be a day of reckoning. That is the warning. But God is also patient. He is willing to wait. He will even wait longer than necessary. Behind the figure of the gardener in the story C pleading for one more growing season, for extraordinary, heroic measures C we glimpse Jesus himself. Jesus, our elder brother and our best friend, knows our weakness. If we haven=t done too well up to now, Jesus pleads on our behalf for more time. That is the story=s message of encouragement.

In the gardener=s suggestion to wait one more year, to use extraordinary measures, we see God=s patience and generosity. In the agreement of owner and gardener alike, that if the tree remains without fruit another year, it must be cut down, Jesus warns us of the certainty judgment.

God’s judgment is not the adding up of the pluses and minuses in some heavenly book. It is simply God’s ratification of choices we make every day: for God, his love, his goodness, and his light; or our choice to reject those things. If we are trying to choose Him, the Lord God who loves us beyond our imagining things, need not fear judgment. We can be confident.


Thursday, October 20, 2016


Homily for October 21st, 2016: Luke 12:54-59.

          In today’s short gospel reading, just six verses in Luke’s gospel, Jesus expresses his disappointment, bewilderment, and sorrow that people who know how to read the signs of the time in worldly matters are clueless when it comes to judging spiritual signs, which are far more important.

“When you see a cloud rising in the west you say immediately that is going to rain. . . When you notice that the wind is blowing from the south you say it is going to be hot.” Jesus’ examples are as up-to-date as the morning newspaper. So is his challenging question: Why, then, can you not see, Jesus asks in effect, that my presence, and my words, require a response.    

          No less up-to-date is Jesus’ example from the law courts. If you are entangled in a legal dispute, he says, beware of pressing the matter for decision before third parties -- a judge and jury. That could turn out very badly for you. Try, if you can, to reach a settlement with your opponent before the matter comes to trial. Good lawyers continue to give this advice to their clients today.

          How easy it is to delay our response to the Lord, especially when we are young. I’ll deal with that later, we tell ourselves. Right now I want to get on with my life, to live it up! None of us knows how much time we have left. The only time we ever truly have is the present time, right now. The Lord looks for our response to him today, not sometime in the future. And the response he seeks can be expressed in one short word: Yes.

“Yes, Lord, I believe in you; I trust you; I want you in my life – and at the center of my life. You alone can give me the happiness I seek, and true joy. Come then, dear Lord Jesus, come into my heart; fill me with your love, your joy. Then I shall be truly happy, and desire nothing more -- when I am living completely for you, and for you alone. Amen.”    

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Homily for October 23rd, 2016: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 
         Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14.
AIM: To help the hearers trust in God=s mercy, not in their own achievements.
Frederick the Great, King of Prussia from 1740 to 1786, is said to have visited a prison one day. Each of the prisoners he spoke with told the king he was innocent: the victim of misunderstanding, prejudice, or simple injustice. Finally King Frederick stopped at the cell of an inmate who remained silent. I suppose you=re innocent too,@ Frederick remarked. ANo, sir,@ the man replied. AI=m guilty.  I deserve to be here.@ Turning to the warden, the king said: AWarden, release this scoundrel at once before he corrupts all these fine, innocent people in here.@ What better example could we have of the words in our first reading: AThe prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds@?
The story could also serve as an introduction to the parable we have just heard in the gospel about the two men going into the Temple to pray. Both believed in the same God. One went home at peace with God. The other did not. Well sure, we think. Our image of the Pharisees is so negative that the story=s conclusion doesn=t surprise us. For Jesus= hearers, however, the conclusion was not only a surprise. It was deeply shocking. They knew that the Pharisees were deeply religious. The Pharisee in the story was no hypocrite. He really had done all the things he listed in his prayer. 
The Jewish law enjoined fasting only once a year. The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable fasted twice a week. Many things were exempt from the law of tithing. This Pharisee made no use of the exemption: he gave back to God, out of gratitude, ten percent of everything he received. The modern equivalent of the Pharisee in Jesus= story would be a Catholic who goes daily to Mass and Communion, performs many good works, and returns a full tithe of his or her income to Church and charity. 
The tax collector, on the other hand, belonged to a class despised by all decent Jews in Jesus= day. Tax collectors worked for the hated Roman government of occupation. They used all kinds of shakedowns and protection rackets to extract money from people. Much of it went into their own pockets. For Jesus= hearers this tax collector was a public sinner on the road to hell. And like the prisoner who confessed to the Prussian king that he really was guilty, the tax collector knew that his bad reputation was well deserved. His visit to the Temple shows, however, that he still believes in God. Unable, like the Pharisee, to point in his prayer to any semblance of a good conduct record, he appeals simply to God=s mercy: AO God, be merciful to me, a sinner.@ 
Though both men believe in God, their image of God is quite different. The tax collector prays to a God of mercy. The Pharisee prays to a God who rewards good people like himself, and comes down hard on bad people like tax collectors.  Jesus addressed the story, the gospel writer Luke tells us at the outset, Ato those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.@ The Pharisee=s image of God was wrong. 
Wrong too was the Pharisee=s attitude. He measured himself not by God=s law, but by those around him. Measuring ourselves against others is always a mistake. If we see, like the Pharisee, that we are better, we become complacent and proud. If we see that we are worse, we can become discouraged. Comparisons with others are meaningless. If others have done better than we have, this may have been because they had advantages we never enjoyed. If they have done worse, this could be due to difficulties of which we have no conception. If you must measure yourself at all, compare yourself not with others, but with Jesus Christ. Instead of looking around at others, and looking down on those whom you consider bad people, place yourself beneath the cross of Jesus. Look up at the One who hangs there. Judged by his standard, we all fall short. 
Like both men in Jesus= story, we have come into God=s house to pray, to worship. We want to go home reconciled with God and others, and at peace. To do so we must avoid two common mistakes. The first is thinking that we are so bad that God is angry with us and cannot forgive us. That is wrong. God never stops loving us. No matter how badly we have fallen, God is always ready to forgive. To receive his forgiveness, we need only say, with the tax collector: AO God be merciful to me, a sinner.@ If our sin was grave and deliberate, we need to receive God=s forgiveness in the sacrament of penance, or confession. 
The second common mistake which keeps us from going home reconciled with God and at peace is thinking that we have a credit balance in some heavenly account book which God is bound to honor. That was how the Pharisee thought. God owes us nothing. We owe him everything. Does that mean that God is not generous? That there is no reward for all our efforts to be good? Of course not!  God is unbelievably generous. And Jesus speaks of reward often in the gospels. To experience God=s generosity, however, we must stand before him with empty hands, appealing not to our deserving, but to his mercy.   
That is what the tax collector did. Jesus gives us this story to help us do the same. Let me conclude by telling you what Pope Benedict says about these two men in his book, Jesus of Nazareth [pp. 61f]:
AThe Pharisee can boast considerable virtues; he tells God only about himself, and he thinks that he is praising God in praising himself. The tax collector knows that he has sinned, he knows he cannot boast before God, and he prays in full awareness of his debt to grace. [AGrace@ is the technical term for God=s freely given love, something we can never earn.] ... The real point is ... that there are two ways of relating to God and to oneself. The Pharisee does not really look at God at all, but only at himself; he does not need God, because he does everything right by himself. He has no real relation to God, who is ultimately superfluous B what he does himself is enough. 
AThe tax collector, by contrast, sees himself in the light of God. He has looked toward God, and in the process his eyes have been opened to see himself.  So he knows that he needs God and that he lives by God=s goodness, which he can not force God to give him and which he cannot procure for himself. He knows that he needs mercy and so he will learn from God=s mercy to become merciful himself, and thereby to become like God. ... He will always need the gift of goodness, or forgiveness, but in receiving it he will always learn to give the gift to others.@
Happy are we if those words describe us: people who know we shall always need the gift of God=s goodness, and of his forgiveness; and if, in receiving these gifts we learn to pass them on to others. Let me conclude with a personal statement.
When I come to stand before God in judgment one day, I won=t say: ALord, I have celebrated twenty thousand Masses and preached at least as many homilies; I have spent ten thousand and more hours in the confessional bringing your mercy to the people you love beyond their imagining; I have written 15 books and hundreds of articles and book reviews.@ I won=t mention any of that. Instead I shall say one thing, and one thing only:
ALord, be merciful to me, a sinner.@


Homily for Oct. 20th, 2016: Luke 12:49-53.

AI have come to set fire to the earth,@ Jesus says, Aand how I wish it were already kindled.@ That fire was kindled on the first Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ friends in “tongues as of fire” (Acts 2:3). And that fire is still burning. That we are Catholic Christians in a continent undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem then is proof that the fire kindled then was not lit in vain.

It is our task to pass on the flame to others, so that they may catch a spark from the fire of God=s love burning within us. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught. As fire burns it gives light. We are called to be prisms or lenses of God=s light, so that it may shine in a dark world. The inner quality of our lives is determining, right now, the brightness, or the darkness, of that part of the world in which God=s providence has placed us. St. Paul tells us what this means in characteristically memorable words. AShow yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world, and proffer the word of life.@ (Phil. 2:12-16)  

What is this word of life we have to proclaim? It is very simple, really. We are to proclaim, at all times by the quality of our lives, and when necessary by words, that God is C that he is real. That he is a God of love, who loves each one of us as if, in the whole universe, there were only one person to love; and that he looks for our loving response to his love. And we are called to be witnesses to the existence of a world beyond this one: the unseen, spiritual but utterly real world of God, of the angels, of the saints; the dwelling place of our beloved dead C our true homeland, as Paul reminds when he writes, Awe have our citizenship in heaven@ (Phil 3:20).    

Does any of that come through in your life? Is the Spirit=s fire burning in your heart? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere physical presence at Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

We come here that the Spirit’s fire may be rekindled if it has burned low within us. Listen then to an ancient prayer of the Church for the rekindling of this fire.

Come down, O love divine, seek thou this soul of mine,

and visit it with thine own ardor glowing;

O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,

and kindle it thy holy flame bestowing.


O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn

to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,

and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.


Let holy charity my outward vesture be,

and lowliness become my inner clothing;

true lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,

and o=er its own shortcoming weeps with loathing.


And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long.

Will far outpass the power of human telling;

for none can guess its grace, till he become the place

wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.


(Bianco da Siena, d.1434; translated by R.F.Littledale, d. 1890)



Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Homily for Oct. 19th, 2016: Luke 12: 39-48.

AMy master is delayed in coming,@ the unfaithful servant in Jesus= story says. Behind those words lies the thought: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.=  Then this unfaithful servant begins to act as if he were the master himself, abusing his fellow servants and breaking into his absent employer=s wine cellar to stage wild parties for his free-loading friends.

The unfaithful servant=s words, AMy master is delayed in coming,@ had special meaning for the community for which Luke wrote his gospel. They believed that Jesus was going to return soon, within the lifetime of some of them at least. As time went on and the Lord did not return, many in Luke=s community were tempted to say: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.=

Jesus= story warns them not to yield to such thoughts; not to forget that they are servants who, one day, will have to give an account of their service. People who live as if there will never be an accounting have broken faith, Jesus warns. For such faithless servants the day of reckoning will be unexpected, and painful. AThat servant=s master will come,@ Jesus says, Aon an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely.@

That failure of faith is always a temptation for the Church, and for each of us who are the Church. We yield to this temptation when we use the blessings that God gives us through his Church solely for ourselves. That is why the Church is, and always must be, a missionary Church. We can=t keep God=s gifts unless we give them away. And when we do give them away, handing on to others the faith God has given us, we don=t become poorer. We grow richer. In passing on our faith to others, our own faith is deepened and strengthened.

Whenever in its 2000-year history the Church has forgotten its servant role; whenever the Church has settled in too comfortably and accumulated too much worldly power, prestige, and wealth, it has become inwardly flabby and spiritually sick. What is true of the Church is true also of each of us, the Church=s members. We are servants: servants of the Lord, and servants too of our sisters and brothers. And we are people on a journey: pilgrims underway to our true homeland with the Lord B pitching our tents each evening, as we lie down to rest for the next day=s journey, a day=s march nearer home.       


Monday, October 17, 2016


Homily for Oct. 18th, 2016: Luke 10:1-9

“The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” Was that just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The Lord is still sending disciples to recruit new disciples by showing people the joy of a life centered on Jesus Christ.

One of them, a man now in his second year in seminary whose call to priesthood I have been nourishing, wrote recently about joining an Evangelization Club at his seminary. It started when some of the seminarians returned from visiting a state university on fire from the incredible response they had received from college students who came to know Jesus Christ from conversations with the visiting seminarians.

“We are excited about the work done through the group,” my seminarian friend wrote, “and I've personally felt a certain aliveness in the Holy Spirit for proclaiming Christ.”

 “But of course,” I responded to him in an e-mail. “When we share our faith with others, we deepen our own faith. Teachers experience this all the time. They learn more than their students, because in order to communicate clearly the material they are teaching, teachers must first get a firm and clear grasp on it themselves.”

          “Go, and proclaim the gospel of the Lord,” we often hear at the end of Mass. But how? St. Francis of Assisi answers this question as follows: “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Personal example is always more effective than words. If we center our lives on Jesus Christ; if we give thanks daily and even hourly for all the blessings the Lord showers upon us – so many more than we deserve – people will notice that we’re people of joy. They’ll want to know where this joy comes from. That gives us our opening: to tell them it comes from the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine; who is always close to us, even when he stray far from him.

His name, we’ll tell our questioners, is Jesus Christ.


Sunday, October 16, 2016


 Homily for Oct. 17th, 2016: Luke 12: 13-21.

          What is the greatest sin in the Old Testament? It is idolatry – worshiping a false god who cannot answer our prayers, because he is deaf, dumb, and blind.  For the Old Testament the greatest sin is violation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods but me.” The gospel we have just heard is about a man who worshipped the false god of money and possessions.

          This false god seduces thousands. God alone knows how many people in our society sacrifice health, family, general well-being, and morality on the altar of this idol. A classic example is the hard-driving American business man who accumulates great wealth, neglecting his family and health as he does so, only to drop dead of a heart attack at fifty-five. 

          The issue is not money. The issue is our relationship to money and possessions. The checkout counters at the supermarkets are full of trashy magazines with reports of wealthy celebrities who have it all – except happiness. The rich fool in Jesus’ parable made the mistake, of assuming that possessions and money could guarantee security and happiness. The man is shocked to discover, just when he thinks he has achieved total security, that life is God’s to give, and God’s to take away. Jesus’ comment is simple and direct: “Thus it will be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”

          Being rich in what matters to God means realizing that there is something more important than getting – yes, and far more satisfying;: and that is giving. A man who stated this well was England’s World War II Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. No Catholic, and not an especially religious man, Churchill said once: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”