Friday, November 18, 2016


Homily for November 19th, 2014: Luke 20:27-40.

          Our lives are a journey. The journey begins at birth, most people would say, and ends at death. Christians know that the second part of that statement is false. Death is not the end of our journey. We journey on beyond death – to God. But what will our life beyond death be like?  Priests get this question often. Perhaps this answer will help.

Go back in imagination, if you can, to a week before you were born. You were in your mother’s womb. You recognized the sound of her voice. You were moving about, but could not see. You could not possibly imagine what lay ahead of you: emerging into an initially frightening world; learning to move more freely, first to crawl, then to walk; learning to talk, to write, to read; learning later, perhaps, to play a musical instrument, to draw, to speak and read a second language. You could not possibly have imagined any of this in advance. Life beyond death, is something like that – yet infinitely more wonderful.

St. Thomas Aquinas, one the Church’s greatest theologians, writes: “Eternal life is the perfect fulfillment of desire; inasmuch as each of the blessed will have more than he desired or hoped for. The reason for this is that in this life no one can fulfill his desires, nor can any creature satisfy a person’s craving; for God alone satisfies and infinitely surpasses our desire ... Eternal life consists in the joyful companionship of all the blessed, a companionship which is full of delight; since each one will possess all good things together with all the blessed, for they will all love one another as themselves, and, therefore, will rejoice in one another’s happiness as if it were their own, and consequently the joy and gladness of one will be as great as the joy of all.”

The English Benedictine, Cardinal Basil Hume, one of the great men of the Church in the late twentieth century wrote, shortly before his death of cancer on June 17th 1999: “We each have a story, or part of one at any rate, about which we have never been able to speak to  anyone. Fear of being misunderstood. Inability to understand. Ignorance of the darker side of our hidden lives, or even shame, make it very difficult for many people. Our true story is not told, or, only half of it is. What a relief it will be to whisper freely and fully into the merciful and compassionate ear of God. That is what God has always wanted. He waits for us to come home. He receives us, his prodigal children, with a loving embrace. In that embrace we start to tell him our story. I now have no fear of death. I look forward to this friend leading me to a world where I shall know God and be known by Him as His beloved son.”

Thursday, November 17, 2016


Homily for November 18th, 2016. Luke 19:45-48.

          For Jesus’ people, the Jews, the Temple in Jerusalem was the earthly dwelling place of God. God, the creator and ruler of the world, was there as truly as he is the tabernacle today in every Catholic Church the world over. A modern biblical scholar writes: “When Jesus enters the Temple, or is in the Temple, the Temple is really the Temple.” What those words mean is this: when Jesus, who is God made visible in human form, is in the Temple, then God’s presence, normally invisible, becomes visible.

          St Paul tells us that we too are God’s temples or dwelling places: “You must know,” Paul writes in his first Letter to the Corinthians, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own.” (6:19) And the Catechism says we become God’s temples at baptism. “Baptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [a technical term for a newly baptized Christian] ‘a new creature,’ an adopted son [or daughter] 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, emphasis supplied).

          This truth of faith, that in baptism we become temples or dwelling places of God, corrects a widespread but false conception of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christian discipleship is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. Rather it is living up to what, through baptism, we have already become and are: God’s adopted sons and daughters, partakers of God’s nature, members of Christ’s body, co-heirs with him of God’s kingdom, and temples – dwelling places -- of God’s Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


November 20th, 2016: Christ the King, Year C. 2 Samuel 5:1-3; Luke 23:35-43.
AIM: To show the function & limits of state power, and the nature of Christ=s kingship.
 Is the government our friend, or our enemy? During political campaigns there are plenty of people telling us the government is our enemy. We need to Aget the government off our backs,@ these people contend, to stop looking for handouts from Big Daddy, and take responsibility for our own lives. There is much to be said for this view.
Clearly, however, we cannot do without government entirely. Where would we be, for instance, without a police force or Fire Department? In a world filled with terrorism, how could we protect ourselves without a strong military? And though politicians may argue about particular aspects of Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid for the poor, these programs have accomplished much good. The jury is still out about whether that is also true of Obamacare. So if we ask if the government is our friend or our enemy, we=ll have to say: sometimes it=s one, sometimes the other.
The biblical writers were similarly divided about the nature of government.  For them the government was usually a king. Sometimes they viewed the king as a friend, sometimes as an enemy.
The author of our first reading clearly saw the king as a friend. The reading portrays God=s people accepting King David as their ruler because he is one of them: AHere we are,@ they say, Ayour bone and your flesh.@ David was anointed king not to lord it over people, but to serve them. That is clear from God=s command to David in that first reading to Ashepherd my people Israel.@ David was to sacrifice his own comfort, to guide the flock over difficult ground, to protect the people from danger.
In the generation before David, however, when the monarchy was instituted, the prophet Samuel had warned the people that the king they demanded would be not a friend but an enemy. He would compel people to serve him as soldiers and laborers, enslaving them and imposing heavy taxes on them. AWhen this takes place,@ Samuel warned, Ayou will complain against the king whom you have chosen, but on that day the Lord will not answer you@ (1 Sam. 8:18). >Be careful what you pray for,= Samuel was saying.  >You may get it.=
The New Testament is also ambivalent about whether the government is the friend or enemy of God=s people. Paul says that even pagan rulers who are hostile to Christians are to be obeyed, Afor there is no authority except from God, and all authority that exists is established by God@ (Rom. 13:1). Christians, he says, must Abe loyally subject to the government and its officials@ (Titus 3:1) and pray for Akings and those in authority, that we may be able to lead undisturbed and tranquil lives in perfect piety and dignity@ (1 Tim. 2:1f). The first letter of Peter says that Christians must respect even the Roman emperor (1 Peter 2:17). The book of Revelation, on the other hand, reflecting the persecution of Christians that was raging when the book was written, depicts the Roman emperor as the great enemy, making war on God=s people (cf. Rev. 13:1-8).
These two attitudes toward governmental authority are both alive and well today. At the coronation of a king or queen in England the sovereign is anointed with oil, like a priest or bishop at ordination, and clothed with a stole and other priestly vestments. The ruler is consecrated, as King David was in our first reading, for the service of the people. The framers of our American Constitution, on the other hand, had experienced the dark side of monarchy and regarded the king as an enemy. Hence they drew up a system of checks and balances to curb government power. 
How should we regard government? Our attitude must reflect the truth that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have dual citizenship. We are citizens of our country. But we are also citizens of another realm: the invisible and spiritual kingdom of heaven.
As citizens of our country, we work with those of all faiths and none to see that, as far as possible, the government reflects the picture of state authority in our first reading: that it remains close to the people, serving them rather than lording it over them. At the same time we must never forget that government, even in the hands of people of goodwill, can become the enemy of the good and the enemy of God. When that happens we take our stand with Peter, who responded to the unjust commands of authority in his day: ABetter for us to obey God than men!@ (Acts 5:29).
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we acknowledge the rule of a king who fulfills the ideal picture of kingship in our first reading as no earthly ruler or government ever can. The gospel reading tells us what this perfect king suffered at the hands of the government of his day.
Over the cross where Jesus freely submitted to a cruel and unjust death, the ruler of Palestine in that day, Pontius Pilate, put up a sign: ATHIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.@ He intended these words as a warning that anyone who tried to set himself up as a king would end in the same way. >Mess with us,= Pilate was saying, >and here is how you will end.= To us, however, the words Pilate placed about the cross are an inspiration. They show to what lengths this king will go to serve and save his people.
The brief exchange in the gospel reading between Jesus and the criminal hanging next to him shows that even in extreme agony this king welcomes even the smallest sign of repentance. No matter how great our guilt may be, if we turn to Jesus, our crucified Lord, we shall find welcome and forgiveness. In the same chapter of Luke=s gospel from which today=s gospel reading is taken Jesus forgives his persecutors (23:34), the Roman officer in command at Calvary gives glory to God and confesses that the man he has just crucified was innocent (23:47), and the onlookers return home beating their breasts in penitence and grief (23:48). We are citizens of a kingdom whose fundamental law is welcome and forgiveness.
In extending to us, the citizens of his kingdom his welcome and his forgiveness, Jesus our king asks of us only one thing in return: that what we have freely received, we freely share with others.


Homily for November 17th, 2016: Luke 19:41-44.

          “As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it,” we heard in the gospel. Just twice in the four gospels do we read that that Jesus wept: at the tomb of his dear friend, Lazarus; and in today’s gospel, following Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus was God’s Son, endowed with divine powers. But he was no Superman immune to human sorrow. Whatever grief and sorrow we experience, Jesus experienced more. He understands, and he is with us in all our own griefs and sorrows.

          Today’s gospel reading immediately follows Luke’s description of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Some of the Pharisees object to the cries of acclamation with which Jesus was greeted: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” they say (vs. 39). To which Jesus responds: “If they were to keep silence, I tell you the very stones would cry out.” Jesus may be referring to an obscure passage in the prophet Habakkuk, who says that against people who practice violence, living only to feather their own nests, the very stones and doorposts of their houses will cry out (Hab. 2:9-11). Habakkuk’s message is that of all Israel’s prophets: ‘God is not mocked. Evil actions bring evil consequences.’

          That is what moved Jesus to tears. Like all devout Jews, he loved the holy city of  his people, Jerusalem. To see the leaders of the people rejecting the Messiah, whose coming all the prophets had promised, grieved the Lord deeply. Note that I said “leaders.” Many of Jesus’ people did accept him. Most of them were “little people,” as the world judges things: Mary and Joseph, the fishermen Peter and his brother Andrew, James, and John; and Matthew, an outcast because he collected taxes for the hated government of occupation.  

          That remains true today. Pope Benedict said often that most of today’s saints are “little people”: St John Vianney (the CurĂ© of Ars), Therese of Lisieux (the “Little Flower”), our own Rose Philippine Duchesne, Maximilian Kolbe (who gave his life in Auschwitz that another prisoner might live), the 20th century Mexican martyr Miguel Pro, and Mother Teresa.

          The greatest people in the Church are not those with the impressive titles and fancy clothes, but those who are closest to God. What better could we pray for in this Mass, than that we may be among them?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


          How can we make sense of the story? Is the central figure, the master, simply arbitrary: generous with the first two servants, cruel to the third?  So it would seem. 

          To understand the story we must ask not about the master, but about the servants. The first two servants acted out of trust. A man who had entrusted them with so much of his riches, they reasoned, was clearly generous. He could be trusted. The third servant was motivated by fear.  He says so himself. “I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man.” It is this fear which the parable condemns. Jesus came to cast out fear. 

          To escape condemnation we don’t need to establish a good conduct record in some heavenly golden book: a series of stars after our name representing our prayers, sacrifices, and good works. Thinking we must do that is “not believing in the name of God’s only Son.”  His name is synonymous with mercy, generosity, and love. Escaping condemnation, being saved, means one thing only: trusting him. It is as simple as that. We don’t need to negotiate with God.  We don’t need to con him into being lenient. We couldn’t do that even if we tried, for God is lenient already. He invites us to trust him. That is all. 

          Trust is at the heart of faith. Many Catholics think of faith as a matter of the head: affirming as true the statements we recite in the creed. Those truths are properly called the faith. Our assent to them is important, and necessary. Faith itself, however, goes beyond mental assent to a list of truths. It is resides not so much in the head as in the heart

          Yes, and trusting God means risking our hearts. It means loving: generously, recklessly, without limit and without conditions. Because that is the way God loves us. And yes, doing that will mean suffering when those we love fail to respond, or even betray us.

          With this parable of the three servants entrusted with gifts on behalf of an absent master Jesus is inviting us to imitate the first two servants: to recognize the generosity of the One who gives us all our gifts; and to trust him as we use and share his gifts, confident that when the Master returns we shall hear his voice, speaking to us personally, and with great tenderness: “Well done, good and faithful servant.  Come share your master’s joy!” (Matt. 25:21)


Monday, November 14, 2016


Homily for November 15th, 2016: Luke 19:1-10.

          Zacchaeus was an outcast. He collected taxes for the hated Roman government of occupation. And everyone knew that much of the money he collected went into his own pocket. When Jesus went to dine at Zacchaeus’ house, the good religious people of Jericho are scandalized. “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner,” they protest. What for them was a scandal is for us good news. Jesus, we heard in the last sentence of our gospel reading, is the one who “has come to seek out and to save what was lost.” 

          Those words tell us who Jesus is. Then, now, for all time, Jesus Christ is the one who does not look at what we have been, or even at what we are. Instead Jesus looks at what, deep in our hearts, we would still like to be. He is the one who has come to search out and to save people without hope, the most abandoned, those most deeply entangled, like Zacchaeus, in webs of selfishness, self-indulgence, and greed.

          “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus tells Zacchaeus. He says the same to us today. This is our great today. This is our hour of salvation. Jesus is calling us, inviting us to his holy table. He reaches out to us in active, accepting love, though we have done little or nothing to deserve such love. He comes to us for no other purpose than to seek out and save people who, without him, are floundering, without hope, and lost. 

          Zacchaeus “welcomed Jesus with joy,” Luke tells us. We can share that joy. Because of Jesus Christ, and his love for us, life is not aimless, not without meaning. Our sins, our failures, our compromises are not the last word about us.  The last word belongs to the One who tells us that he has come “to seek and to save what is lost.” No matter what others think of us. No matter what we may sometimes think of ourselves. There is One to whom we are infinitely precious. He is Jesus Christ: Son of man and Son too of God — our brother, our lover, our best friend; but also our savior, and our God!

Sunday, November 13, 2016


Homily for November 14th, 2016: Luke 18:35-43.

          “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks the blind beggar who has been calling out loudly, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Having heard that Jesus would be coming to Jericho, the beggar had positioned himself on the road where he knew Jesus would pass. There would surely be a good crowd eager to see the famous rabbi from Nazareth. With any luck at all, the beggar expected to receive many gifts. Yet when Jesus asked him what he wanted, the beggar asked for something more important than money: “Lord, please let me see.” The words of that blind beggar changed the life of a man who has been for the last 21 years the leader of the Benedictine community here in St Louis: Abbot Thomas Frerking. Let me tell you his story, just as he related it to me.

Born into a Lutheran family, Thomas Frerking, like many young people today, gave up all religion in high school. Following graduation from Harvard, he went to Oxford University in England, on a Rhodes scholarship, to study philosophy. Reading Mark’s gospel one day, he came to the story about this blind beggar. We have just heard Luke’s version. “That’s me,” he thought. “I felt convicted of intellectual pride, and kept repeating: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I heard Jesus saying: ‘Call him over.’ So I went to Jesus – and he gave me a hard time. He asked me: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ I had to tell him: ‘Lord, I want to see.’ This happened several times over the next few days. I realized that the people around Jesus were Catholic Christians. I knew I must ask for instruction in the Catholic faith. But then I thought: ‘Oh no, I could never do that!’”

“That was in July 1969. In August I came home for a holiday in the Rocky Mountains with my parents. Looking up at a cloud one day, the decision was just given to me. When I got back to Oxford in September I called the Catholic chaplain. He did know me from Adam. Yet he was with me in 15 minutes. I was received into the Church the following Easter.”

Jesus continues to speak to us today. His words still have power to change lives.