Friday, October 28, 2016


Homily or October 29th, 2016: Luke 14: 1, 7-11.

Jesus seems to be offering shrewd advice to the person who wants to get ahead in society. When you are invited to a banquet, he says, don=t head straight for the head table. You might be asked to give up your place for someone more important. That would be embarrassing. Take your place far away from the head table. There you don=t risk being pushed aside. And if you=re lucky, your host will ask you to move up to a better place, where everyone can see what good connections you have.     

In reality, Jesus gave this shrewd advice Atongue in cheek.@ Can we imagine that Jesus cared where he sat at table? If there is one thing Jesus definitely was not, it was a snob. By seeming to take seriously the scramble for social success, Jesus was actually making fun of it. He was showing up snobbery for the empty and tacky affair it always is.

But Jesus= words have a deeper meaning. This is clear from his opening words: AWhen you are invited to a wedding banquet.@ A wedding banquet is a familiar image in the Bible. Israel=s prophets speak often of God inviting his people to a wedding banquet. That was the prophets= way of saying that their people=s sins would not always estrange them from the all-holy God. There would come a time when God would take away sins, so that his people could enjoy fellowship with the one who had created them and still loved them.

  Jesus came to fulfill what the prophets had promised. He told people that the wedding banquet was ready. Now was the time to put on the best clothes, he said, and come to the feast. Some of the most religious people in Jesus= day, the Pharisees, were confident that the best seats at God=s banquet were reserved for them. Hadn=t they earned those places by their zealous observance of every detail of God=s law? Jesus= seemingly shrewd advice about how to be a success in society was a rebuke to those who assumed that the best seats at God=s banquet were reserved for them. Jesus was warning them that they were in for a surprise, and that it would be unpleasant.

Today’s gospel reading is at bottom, about humility. Humility means being empty before God. And it is only the person who is empty whom God can fill with his joy, his love, and his peace.



Thursday, October 27, 2016


Homily for Oct. 28th, 2016: Luke 6:12-16.
 From his disciples, we heard in the gospel, Jesus chose twelve. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose to lead his new people were undistinguished. If they had one common quality it was mediocrity. About most of them we have only legends. And the lists of names in the different gospels don’t even agree in all cases.
He calls these mostly quite ordinary men “apostles.” What is an apostle? The word means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to another country to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.
Who are today’s apostles? One answer is “the bishops.” We call them the successors of the apostles. Each one of them must have been ordained bishop by at least one previous bishop who is, as the books say, “in the apostolic succession.” That means that he too must have been ordained by a bishop who received his sending from a bishop who can trace his call back to one of the twelve originally sent out by Jesus and named today’s gospel.
In baptism and confirmation, however, Jesus has also sent each one of us to be his apostles, his messengers. How do we do that? You probably know St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to this question. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.” How wise that is. Personal example is always more powerful than words. “What you are,” someone said, “speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.” And Pope Paul VI said the same when he wrote: “People today listen more willingly to witnesses than to teachers. And if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.
So what are we? In baptism we were made God’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, and heirs of his kingdom. The whole of our Christian life, therefore – all our prayers, sacrifices and good works -- are not a striving after high and distant ideals that constantly elude us. They are efforts to live up to what in baptism, we have already become. We come here, therefore, to receive, at these twin tables of word and sacrament, the inspiration and strength to be messengers of God’s love, and bringers of his light, to a dark and mostly unbelieving world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


Homily for October 27th, 2016: Ephesians 6:10-20.

          “Pray at every opportunity in the Spirit,” Paul writes in our first reading. He says the same, even more strongly, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, when he writes: “Pray without ceasing” (5:17). Is that realistic? Taken literally, it is not. There are many daily activities which require our full attention. We cannot be thinking of God consciously at every waking moment of our lives.

          We can pray to God “at every opportunity,” however. And the opportunities for doing so are far more frequent than we mostly suppose. In every life there are, each day, empty times when we can recall God’s presence and turn to him with an upward glance of the heart, a thought, or a word of prayer. There are many times each day when we must wait: in line at the post office or bank, at the supermarket, at the doctor, in traffic – and when we walk to or from our cars. Why not turn these empty times into times for prayer? Short prayers or phrases are best: “Jesus, help me;” “Thank you, Lord;” “Lord, have mercy.” Or simply the Holy Names, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” – or the name of Jesus alone – repeated with every step, every breath, or every heartbeat. These are perfect prayers which take us straight into presence of Him who loves us more than we can ever imagine, and who is close to us always, even when we stray far from Him.

          As a 21-year-old seminarian I resolved to turn to the Lord God whenever I went up or downstairs – something I would be doing all my life, I reflected, until I got old and was felled by a stroke – when I could continue this practice in elevators. I’ve been working on this now for 67 years. I could never tell you how much it has helped me and how much joy it has put into my heart.

          Why not do something like this yourself? Find the empty times in your own life. Use them to turn inwardly to God. Each time you do so, you will find that he is there, waiting for you.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Homily for Oct. 26th, 2016. Luke 13:22-30.

ALord, will only a few people be saved?@ Jesus is asked in our gospel reading. The question was asked out of mere curiosity. Jesus never answered such questions. Here he turns 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. Many others, however, who do not belong to God=s chosen people, will be saved, Jesus says. 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.@ God offers salvation not just to one people, but to all peoples. The lesson for us Catholics 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 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 trials and sufferings are the homework we are assigned in the school of life. Our teacher in this school is Jesus Christ. Whatever trials and sufferings we encounter, his were heavier. 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.@ For Jesus, our teacher in life=s school, Jerusalem meant Calvary. There he passed through his 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 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, he gives us 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.     

Monday, October 24, 2016


Homily for October 25th, 2017: Luke 13: 18-21.

          The kingdom of God, Jesus says, is “like a mustard seed … the smallest of all seeds.” From tiny beginnings comes a great bush, large enough to shelter birds, who build their nests in its branches. God’s kingdom is not identical with his Church. Yet what Jesus says about the kingdom in this little parable is also true of the Church. Who could have predicted that the little band of humble friends of Jesus whom we read about in the gospels would grow into the worldwide Church we see today? Nobody! Yet so it is. Jesus knows what he is about. With this comparison of God’s kingdom to mustard seed, he spoke the truth.

The kingdom is also, Jesus says, “like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Do those words reflect a childhood memory: Jesus recalling how he had watched his mother mixing leaven with dough, kneading it, and then setting it in the sun, which caused the dough to rise, so that it could be baked in the oven? We cannot say; but it is entirely possible. The meaning of this parable is similar to that of the mustard seed. From small, seemingly insignificant beginnings, comes growth that no one could have predicted.

Why do you suppose Jesus chose parables as his favorite form of teaching? Well, who doesn’t like a good story?  Stories have a universal appeal, to young children, but also to adults. But there is another reason why Jesus chose to teach through stories. Because stories are much easier to understand than abstract explanations. In his book, Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI writes: “Every teacher who wants to communicate new knowledge to his listeners naturally makes constant use of example or parable. ... By means of parable he brings something distant within their reach so that, using the parable as a bridge, they can arrive at what was previously unknown.”  

The two little parables we have heard today proclaim God’s love – but also our need to respond with love: for him and for others.    


Sunday, October 23, 2016


Homily for October 24th, 2016: Luke 13:10-17.

          “Woman, you are set free . . . ” Jesus tells a nameless woman, unable to stand erect, whom he encounters in a synagogue on a Sabbath day. “He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God,” Luke tells us. There is no indication that the woman asked to be healed. Moreover, men and women sat separately in synagogues – as they still do today in Orthodox synagogues. “When Jesus saw her, he called to her,” Luke writes. The healing was entirely his initiative.

It is one of countless examples in the gospels of Jesus’ compassion. More importantly, it is an example Jesus’ rejection of the second-class status of women in his society. Another is Jesus’ lengthy conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4 of John’s gospel. The social laws of the day forbade all but the most superficial public contact with a woman not related to a man. Moreover, as a Samaritan the woman belonged to people whom Jews in Jesus’ day hated. Jesus also rejected the second-class status of women when he praised Mary of Bethany for sitting at his feet, listening to his teaching, while her sister Martha toiled in the kitchen. Again, the laws of the day said that was where Mary too belonged.

The fourth Commandment told God’s people to rest from work on the Sabbath because God had rested on the seventh day, after finishing his work of creation. (cf. Exod. 20:11) The Sabbath rest was thus a weekly reminder that God must have the central place in his people’s lives.

When the synagogue leader complains that the healing Jesus has performed violates the Sabbath rest, Jesus responds by telling the man that he would not hesitate to untie and lead to water a domestic animal on the Sabbath. Was this “daughter of Abraham,” as Jesus calls her, less worthy of compassion than an animal? Ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath, Jesus asks. By framing what he has done in terms of liberation, Jesus reminds us of his central and most important work: setting us free from our heaviest burden: sin and guilt. Jesus never grows tired of doing this, our wonderful Pope Francis reminds us. It is we who too often grow tired of asking for forgiveness.