Friday, November 11, 2016


Homily for November 12th, 2016: Luke 18:1-8.

Most of Jesus= parables involve a similarity between the central figure and God. In this case the story turns on the dissimilarity between the corrupt judge and God. It is a Ahow much more@ story. If even so depraved a judge as this one grants the petitioner her request in the end, how much more will God grant the prayers of those who ask him for their needs. God, Jesus is saying, is not like the corrupt judge. It is not difficult to get his attention. God is always more ready to hear than we to pray. God is approachable.

What is the point of praying, however, if God knows our needs before we do, and better than we do? To that question there is no fully satisfying answer. Prayer, like everything to do with God, is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about it, but that what we can understand is always less than the whole. One thing is certain. Prayer does not change God. Prayer changes us. It opens us up to the action of God in our lives, as the sun=s rays open the flowers to their life-giving warmth and the nourishing moisture of dew and rain.

Prayer also reminds us of our need for God. How easily we forget that need, especially when the sun shines on us and things go well. Then we start to think we can make it on our own: by our cleverness, by luck, by pulling strings, by hard work, even by being so good that God will have to reward us.

We need to be reminded again and again that we can never make it on our own. No matter how clever we are; no matter how much luck we have; no matter how many strings we pull; no matter how hard we work or how hard we try to be good. None of those things is certain, Jesus tells us. There is certainty only in God. He alone can satisfy our deepest desires. Hence Jesus= final, insistent question. He is putting it to us, right now:

   AWhen the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on the earth?”


Wednesday, November 9, 2016


Nov. 13th, 2016: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.  Luke 21:5-19.
AIM: To assure the hearers that God is with us in times of trial.
AThere will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.@ That sounds like some kind of antique science fiction. What is Jesus telling us?
Let=s look at the passage in context. To people who were admiring the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus says: AAll that you see here B the day will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.@ The people who heard those words would have thought them either shocking or crazy B as shocking and crazy as the statement of a hypothetical Manhattan tour guide on September 10, 2001, to tourists gawking at the World Trade Center: ATake a good look folks. It won=t be here tomorrow.@                  
Jesus= prediction about the destruction of their beloved Temple was made to people who had been told times without number that they were God=s people. He had chosen them, from all other peoples on earth. He had promised to be with them and to protect them always. How could God permit the destruction of his earthly dwelling place? Small wonder that the people ask: ATeacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?@
Jesus= reply to these questions, as so often, is disappointing. He tells them they don=t need a timetable. They should distrust anyone who offers one. >If you are living as my followers,= Jesus tells them in effect, >future trials and even disasters will not defeat you. Stay close to God and you will have nothing to fear, even when everything around you is collapsing: your nation, your church, your own personal life.=
Luke recorded Jesus= words in his gospel to reassure his own Christian community amid difficulties and persecution. Their trials are not ours. But the truth behind the strange sounding language in today=s gospel remains. Today, as in Luke=s time, we are witnessing a struggle between the forces of good and evil: in the world, in our own county, in the Church, in our own personal lives. We need not look far to see evidence of evil=s power. We find it in the newspaper each morning, and in the evening news on television. We feel in our own hearts and minds the dark forces that threaten to drag us down from what, in the depths of our being, we most deeply long to do and to be.
Jesus never promised to preserve us from trials or even from disasters. He promises to be with us amid disasters. Jesus made that promise out of his own experience. Taunted on Calvary to produce a final dramatic proof of his claim to be God=s Son, by coming down from the cross, he remained silent. Jesus had really to die. Only then could he be raised by God=s power to a new and higher life beyond suffering, disaster, and death. 
If Jesus was not preserved from suffering and death, how can we expect to be immune? Neither the Church, nor any nation, nor any individual has any guarantee from God that things will always work out, that catastrophes will be averted.
Jesus Christ gives one guarantee only. He will always support with the power of his Holy Spirit those who try to be faithful to him; and in the end (though not necessarily before then), the power of good will prove stronger than the power of evil B because it is the power of God. That is the message of today=s gospel.
How should we respond to that message? Jesus tells us in the final sentence of our gospel reading: ABy your perseverance you will secure your lives.@ This perseverance is not something we can summon up from within simply by willpower, by gritting our teeth, holding the right thought, or (as the saying goes) Ahanging in there.@ The perseverance Jesus commands must be given to us from without.
That is why we are here once again: to receive from God strength to endure the humanly unendurable; to hope when we see no reason for hope; to continue the journey when we feel our strength at an end and we are tempted to give up.
We receive this power to persevere in Holy Communion. We receive it also, however, at what the second Vatican Council taught us to call once again, as our Catholic forbears did almost two millennia ago, the table of the word. From the rich storehouse of Holy Scripture listen, in conclusion, to a passage from the prophet Isaiah. Though not in our readings today, it was surely familiar to Jesus. It is quite possible that he knew it by heart. It is the source of the contemporary hymn, AOn eagle=s wings.@
 ADo you not know, have you not heard? The Lord, the everlasting God, creator of the wide world, grows neither weary nor faint; no man can fathom his understanding. He gives vigor to the weary, new strength to the exhausted. Young men may grow weary and faint, even in their prime they may stumble and fall; but those who look to the Lord will win new strength, they will grow wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will march on and never grow faint.@  (Isaiah 40:28-31, NEB)


Homily for November 10th, 2016: Luke 17:20-25.

          We are nearing the end of the year in the Church’s calendar. Two weeks from Sunday, the twenty-seventh of November, is the first Sunday in Advent, the beginning of a new Church year. As we approach the threshold of this new year, the Church gives us readings about what has traditionally been called “the end time,” when Jesus will come again: not as he first came in Bethlehem, in the weakness and obscurity of a baby, born in a little village on the edge of the then known world; but in an event so dramatic that all will know that history’s final hour has struck.  

          From Jesus’ day to this people have wanted to know when this will be. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that even he does not know this. “As for the exact day or hour, no one knows it, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father only” (Mt. 24:36).

Hence, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, when people claim to have a timetable, we should pay no attention to them: “There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look here he is.’ Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.” Jesus’ return will be dramatic, but also unexpected. “For just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will he Son of Man be in his day.”

Then comes a shocker: “First he [the Son of Man] must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”  Friends, this suffering and rejection continue today. Three years ago, Cardinal Dolan of New York, in his final address as outgoing President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, spoke about the worldwide persecution of Christians today. The 20th century, he said, saw the death of half the total number of Christian martyrs since Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in the not yet 17 years of this century, a million Christians have already died because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Those martyrs are our brothers and sisters in the family of God, Dolan said. We must pray for them, as well as for those still living, in Iraq and Syria but also elsewhere, who are facing cruel persecution. Pope Francis has said the same many times. I invite you to do this in a special way in this Mass. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


November 9th, 2016. Dedication of St. John Lateran 
Ezek. 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Cor. 9c-11,16-17; John 2:13-22.
AIM: To help the hearers understand our calling as God=s temples.
          Is the Bible a Christian book? Just about any of us would answer this question in the affirmative. Of course it=s a Christian book, we would say. While that is not wrong, most of the Bible is not about Christians at all, but about Jews.  Even the New Testament is almost entirely about Jews. Jesus was a Jew, like his mother Mary and St. Joseph. Jesus= twelve apostles and almost all his first followers were also Jews. 
The Jewish people possessed, in Bible times, a special place of worship: the Jerusalem temple. It was built by King Solomon, son of the great King David. The  temple was the earthly dwelling place of the God who had chosen them from all the peoples on earth to be his own. As a mark of his special favor God had given them the Ten Commandments: not a fence to hem them in, but ten words of wisdom which, if followed, would lead to happiness and fulfillment for the people and each individual. 
As a devout Jew, Jesus worshiped regularly in the Jerusalem temple. The building he knew was not the one built by Solomon, however. That had been destroyed several centuries earlier by enemies who conquered Jerusalem and carried its inhabitants off to exile in Babylon. After their return to Jerusalem the people built a new temple on the site of the old one.
It was this rebuilt, second temple, which Jesus knew. There he was brought as an infant to be dedicated to God. There, at age twelve, he was found by his anxious parents after a frantic three-day search. There, as we heard in the gospel reading, he overturned the tables of the money-changers, rebuking people for turning God=s house into a marketplace.
That temple did not long survive Jesus. Not forty years after his death and resurrection Jerusalem was again plundered; this time by the Romans, who pulled down the temple that Jesus had known, and in which Peter and the other first Christians continued to worship even after Jesus= resurrection and ascension. Now, Paul writes in our second reading, we are God=s temple: ADo you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?@
Today Catholics all over the world celebrate the dedication of a Christian temple: the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome. Though less well known than St. Peter=s basilica, St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s is the Pope=s cathedral as Bishop of Rome. It is customary in every diocese or local church throughout the world to celebrate the dedication of the cathedral, the bishop=s church. We celebrate this feast in St. Louis on October twelfth.  Because the Pope is the chief shepherd of the whole church, we celebrate the dedication of his cathedral each year on the ninth of November. Only when that date falls on a Sunday, however, do most Catholics become aware of the observance.                                           
The preface to the eucharistic prayer, which we shall hear in a few moments, helps us to appreciate the significance of today=s celebration: AIn your benevolence you are pleased to dwell in this house of prayer in order to perfect us as the temple of the Holy Spirit, supported by the perpetual help of your grace and resplendent with the glory of a life acceptable to you.”  Even as we celebrate the dedication of a building, therefore, the church=s public prayer reminds us that the most important temple is the one built not of stones, but of people. 
The parish which I formerly served as pastor used to attract many visitors.  They would often remark: AFather, you have a beautiful church.@  To which I always replied:
AThank you. And we think the building is nice too.@
The church is people before it is a building. AThe temple of God, which you are,@ Paul writes in our second reading, Ais holy.@  AHoly@ means Aset apart@, removed from ordinary use, set apart for God. It is in this sense that a chalice is holy. It is not an ordinary cup. It is used only for the Lord=s Precious Blood. This building in which we worship is holy: it is not a dance hall, an auditorium, or a theater. It is set apart for worship.

We too are people set apart. When did that happen, you ask? In baptism!  The Catechism says: ABaptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [the newly baptized person] >a new creature,= an adopted son of God, who has become a >partaker of the divine nature,= member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.@ [No. 1265]  The whole of the Christian life, therefore, is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. It is living up to what, through baptism, we already are: temples, dwelling places of God=s Holy Spirit.

Today, therefore, we celebrate not merely the dedication of a building: the Pope=s cathedral in Rome. We celebrate no less our own dedication as people set apart for God. What that means in daily life St. Paul tells us in stirring words in his letter to the Philippians: 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 world of life@ (2:15)

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord: there is no call higher than that, no life more worth living.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Homily for November 8th, 2016: Luke 17:7-10.

          “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” The closing words of our gospel reading today tell us that we never have a claim on God. Even when we have done all that God commands – and which of us has? – we can never sit back and tell God: “I’m waiting for your reward, Lord.”

          That was what the Pharisee did in Jesus’ story of the two men who went up to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. In his prayer the Pharisee tells God all the good things he has done. And he really has done them. He was a genuinely good and devout man. His good works went far beyond anything that was required.

          The tax collector, on the other hand, knew that he had few if any good deeds to appeal to. He could pray only for God’s mercy: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Yet, Jesus says, it was the tax collector who went home justified – which means “put right with God” – rather than the devout Pharisee. His mistake lay in assuming that his good deeds gave him a claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us, and it is an absolute claim 

          Does that mean that there is no reward for faithful service? Of course not. Jesus speaks often of God’s reward. To experience his reward, Jesus is saying, you must appeal, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s mercy. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”


Sunday, November 6, 2016


Homily for November 7th, 2016: Luke 17:1-6.

          Today’s gospel reading gives us an example of Jesus using hyperbole. How so, you ask? Webster’s dictionary says that hyperbole is “a statement exaggerated fancifully, as for effect.” The American humorist Mark Twain was using hyperbole when he said: “The first time I ever saw St. Louis, I could have bought it for 3 million dollars; and it is the mistake of my life that I did not do so.” In Mark Twain’s youth 3 million dollars was like 300 million today. The statement is absurd – but also very funny, which is of course the effect Mark Twain was aiming at.

          Helping people understand the power of faith is the effect Jesus was aiming at when he spoke the words in today’s gospel: “If 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 as absurd as Mark Twain claiming he could have bought Louis for 3 million dollars. No one would want to a plant mulberry tree in the sea. The salt water would kill it.   

          What Jesus is actually saying is that with faith we can accomplish the impossible. What is faith, anyway? Many Catholics would probably say: faith is the list of truths that we profess every Sunday in the creed. That is not wrong. But faith in that sense is properly called the faith.

          The primary meaning of faith is trust. Even in the Creed, we say “I believe in God.” To believe in someone is to trust that person. When we say we believe in God, we’re saying that we trust him enough to entrust our lives to him. Faith in that sense is not something that comes to us naturally. It is a gift. And the one who gives it to us is God.

          Each time we come here we are praying that through his two tables of word and sacrament God will deepen and strengthen our trust in him. We are like the man in Mark’s gospel who comes to Jesus asking healing for his boy, who suffers terrible convulsions. Jesus asks the man if he truly believes that Jesus has power to heal. “I do believe,” the father replies. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). With this gospel reading Jesus is inviting us to make that man’s prayer our own.