Friday, November 25, 2016


Homily for November 26th, 2016: Luke 21:34-36.

          On this last day of the year in the Church’s calendar she gives us this short gospel reading from Luke’s gospel, just two verses. It contains Jesus’ command: “Be vigilant at all times and pray.” What wonderful advice to take with us, as we cross the threshold of a new year. 

          But is it realistic? Can we pray always? I asked that question myself sixty-seven years ago, as a 21-year-old seminarian. The question forced itself on me through the reading a spiritual classic: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. He was a Carmelite lay brother who worked in the kitchen of his monastery in Paris, where he died in 1691. The book tells on how Brother Lawrence was constantly thinking of God, and praying to him, as he worked all day in the kitchen.

Could I do that? I asked myself. What if I decided to think of God during some daily recurring activity? After several false starts I resolved to think of God every time I went up or downstairs. I resolved to turn to the Lord God whenever I went up or downstairs. I would repeat the holy name of Jesus at each step. 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 try doing something like that yourself? If prayer of the stairs doesn’t appeal to you, what about resolving to turn to God whenever, during the day, you must wait? Every day offers us many such times. We wait in line at the post office or bank, at the supermarket, at the doctor, in traffic – when we walk to or from our cars. Why not turn these empty times into times for prayer? Short prayers 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.

I leave you with two quotations from Brother Lawrence: “In order to know God we must often think of him; and when we come to love him, we shall then think of him often, for our heart will be where our treasure is.”

To which Brother Lawrence adds: “You need not cry very loud. God is closer to us than we think.”


Thursday, November 24, 2016


Homily for November 25th, 2016: Luke 21:29-33.

          On the next to last day of the year in the Church’s calendar, she gives us Jesus’ words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Remembering the boy Samuel’s words in the Jerusalem Temple, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10), we listen to some of Jesus’ words.

-  To Mary and Joseph, thankful to have found their Son in the Temple after a frantic search, the 12-year-old boy speaks his first recorded words: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Lk. 2:49) Already, at age 12, Jesus knows that God was his Father, not Joseph.

-  What gospel reader does not recall Jesus’ words to Nicodemus: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life”? (Jn. 3:16)

-  Which of us has not found comfort in the words: “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt. 11:28ff)?

-  Unforgettable too are Jesus’ words of the terrified young girl just delivered from death by stoning for adultery: “Nor do I condemn you. You may go. But from now on avoid this sin.” (Jn. 8:11)

-  Jesus’ seven last words from the cross have provided inspiration for uncounted thousands of preachers on Good Friday.
     AFather, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.@ (Lk 23:34)
      To the penitent thief, crucified next to him: AToday you shall be with me
            in paradise (Lk 23:43).
     AWoman, there is your son …son, there is your mother.@ (Jn. 26: 19f).
     AMy God, my God, why have you forsaken me?@ ( Mk. 15:34)
      AI thirst.@ (Jn. 19:28)
      “It is finished.” (Jn. 19:30);
      “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

-  Finally Jesus’ words to Mary Magdalene in the garden of the resurrection: “Do not cling to me … Rather, go to my brothers …( Jn. 20:17).

          Jesus is saying the same to us, right now. 


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


Nov. 27, 2016: Advent 1,Year A. Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44.
AIM: To proclaim the Advent summons: to live in the light of history=s last hour, and of eternity.
I invite you to embark with me on a flight of the imagination. You won=t have to take off your shoes, or undergo a full body scan or pat down. But I ask you to fasten your seat belt, and bring you seat back to the full upright position.    
Imagine yourself sitting at home watching your favorite evening program on television. Suddenly the screen goes blank. An unseen announcer says: AWe interrupt this program for a special announcement. We take you to the White House in Washington.@ In a moment you are watching the President. Sitting at his desk in the Oval Office he announces an international agreement between the governments of all the major states in the Middle East: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Guaranteed by the governments of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia, the agreement provides for swift settlement of all conflicts in that area: an end to hostilities in Afghanistan; cancellation of Iran’s nuclear program, the establishment of a Palestinian state living at peace with its neighbor Israel. The guarantor governments, the President says, have formed a consortium to rebuild Iraq=s shattered infrastructure and provide education for the millions of young Arab people in the area, including girls, embittered up to now by lack of opportunity to live the good life they see daily on television from outside their region.
What a sensation such an announcement would be! How people all over the world would rejoice to know that the fear of war and terrorism was banished, and that the vast sums spent on arms could be devoted to constructive, peaceful purposes.
Is that a dream? Sadly, it is. Yet we find a description of just such a dream in our first reading today. There the prophet Isaiah speaks of all nations coming to Jerusalem. There, in the holy city, the Lord himself will settle all their quarrels and conflicts: AThey shall beat their swords into plowshares nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.@
For Isaiah that was not a dream. It was reality. But it was a reality which he knew would be fulfilled only at the end of history. Nowhere in the Bible do we find any reason to expect that time will come within history when there will be no more wars. This should not discourage us from working to limit and, as far as possible, to banish all wars and conflicts B in our communities, in our nation, in the world. At the same time, we are not to entertain unrealistic hopes which can only be disappointed. The abolition of all conflict, and all war, will come only at the end of time. And it will come about not though human planning, but through God=s intervention from without.
When will God intervene? In today=s gospel Jesus tells us that we cannot know. We can be sure of one thing only: that God=s intervention will catch many people unprepared: ATwo men will be out in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.@ 
How can we prepare? Not by speculation about when the world will end, but by living now in the light of that crucial future event; by living in this world according to the standards of another world. That is what Paul means when he writes in our second reading: ALet us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.@ 
What are today=s works of darkness? To name them all I=d have to stand here far longer than you would like. Let me give just three small examples. It is a work of darkness when we accept the popular slogan: ADon=t get mad, get even.@  How many conflicts in our world are due to people acting on those words? Had Jesus accepted them, there would have been no Calvary B and hence no empty tomb. If we are his followers, we need to seek not vengeance, but forgiveness.
It is a work of darkness to believe what we are told by the advertising industry: that to be happy we need a never ending supply of the goods and services portrayed daily on television and in the glossy magazines. That is false. Happiness comes not through getting; it comes through giving. People who have never discovered that are poor B no matter how large their houses, or their bank accounts.
Yes, and it is a work of darkness when we tell women in unwanted pregnancies that there is a quick fix. Get rid of it, Honey, and then all your troubles will be over. Every year thousands of women discover, to their sorrow, that after an abortion their troubles have only begun. Shame, guilt, and bitter regrets often continue for months, not seldom for years. Putting away this work of darkness means compassion for women in problem pregnancies: costing, caring support which helps them do what every mother knows, deep in her heart, is right: protect and nourish the human life within them, even and especially when this is costly.
Throwing off those works of darkness, and countless others, means accepting the ridicule of people who call darkness light. Remember Noah, Jesus tells us in the gospel B ridiculed by the people of his day for building a boat hundreds of miles from water. >Building an ark, are you, Noah?= his friends taunted him. >What on earth for? Expecting it to rain?= Oh, they had a good time with old Noah, you may be sure of that. AIn those days before the flood,@ Jesus says in the gospel, Athey were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage ...until the day when the flood came and carried them all away. So will it also be at the coming of the Son of Man.@
For those who are unprepared B for people who live according to the standards of this world, calling darkness light, and light darkness B the coming of the Son of Man will be a shock. They will be like the homeowner, Jesus warns in the gospel, who sleeps soundly while the burglar taps on the mud brick wall of the man=s Palestinian house, to discover the hollowed out place inside where the family=s savings are kept. When the burglar finds the spot, he digs through and takes everything. Too late the homeowner discovers that he has been picked clean.
For those who are prepared, however, God=s final intervention will be a day of joy and fulfillment. These are the people who live in the darkness of this world with their faces turned toward the light of Jesus Christ. AThe night is advanced,@ Paul tells us in our second reading, Athe day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.@
That is the Advent message. We are living in history=s final age. How long this final age will yet last, we cannot know B any more than we can know now long our own personal lives will last. What we can and do know is that this age will end when Christ comes again: not in obscurity, as he came to Mary and Joseph and the shepherds; but dramatically, in an event so momentous that no one will doubt that history=s last hour has struck. 
For those who ignore the Advent message and live for themselves, Christ=s coming will be a day of fear and disaster. For those, however, who are trying to live not for themselves but for Jesus Christ, and for others, his coming will be a joyful encounter with a dearly loved friend B whether this encounter be at our own personal death, or at the end of history. They will be able to say the words of our responsorial psalm: AI rejoiced because they said to me, >We will go up to the house of the Lord.=@
Will you be able to say that when the final hour strikes? Will you be ready when Jesus Christ comes?


Homily for November 24th, 2016. Thanksgiving Day.

          On this Thanksgiving Day I’d like to tell you about something the Lord moved me to do on my 13th birthday, in May 1941. It has been a source of great blessing to me ever since. I visited the chapel of the small and very spartan Connecticut boarding school where I was being educated. Kneeling, or perhaps sitting, in the presence of the Lord in the Tabernacle, I wrote down a list of all the things I was thankful for. I continued this practice on my birthday for a number of years thereafter. The list was always a long one. And it was never difficult to compile. It always brought me joy.

It is decades since I have used my birthday to compile that list of blessings. But that boyhood practice has made thanksgiving central in my life, and in my prayer. If you are looking right now at a happy man, and a happy priest -- and I can assure you that you are – it is because I have trained myself to say every day, more times than I could ever tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me. And I’m so grateful.”

And now I have a suggestion for you. Before you start to eat your Thanksgiving dinner today, go round the table and ask each person, young or old, to say at least one thing that he or she is thankful for. You may hear some surprises. Whether you do or not, I promise you one thing that a richly blessed life of more than 86 years has taught me. Thankful people are happy people – no exceptions!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Homily or November 23rd, 2016: Luke 21:12-19.

Was that just in ancient times? No. The persecution of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel continues today. Here is just one example.

On the 4th of November, 2015, a Muslim mob in eastern Pakistan severely beat a Christian couple accused of burning pages of the Koran and then incinerated them in a brick kiln. Shama Bibi, who was four months pregnant, and her husband Shahbaz Masih were bonded laborers at a brick factory. They had 4 children at home. Their brutal murder followed in the wake of a court decision a month previously that condemned a Christian woman to death, Asia Bibi, who was convicted of blasphemy in 2010. Since the 1990s, a number of Christians have been charged with desecrating the Koran or of committing blasphemy. While some sentences have been overturned due to lack of evidence, even a mere accusation of blasphemy can incite mob violence.

Dominican Father James Channan, O.P., Director of the Peace Center in Pakistan commented: “The barbaric act by fanatic Pakistani Muslims of burning alive a poor Christian couple was triggered by the false accusation of the burning of some pages of the Koran. Muslims and Christians alike are victimized by controversial blasphemy laws that stipulate life imprisonment for desecrating the Koran and the death sentence for defaming or insulting the Prophet of Islam. These laws are often used to settle personal scores. In any case, who in their sound mind would burn pages of the Koran or insult the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed?

“Most problematic is that these laws are very vague; plus most Pakistanis are illiterate—hence, the application of the law is very easily abused, with people taking matters into their own hands. Extremist Muslims, incited by mere accusations, have murdered other Muslims as well as Christians. But the Christian community is most vulnerable, since an accusation leveled against a single individual can provoke violence aimed at his or her family as well as the entire local community. Homes are seized, churches are burned down, and people are killed. Once a person is accused, his or her life in Pakistan has become impossible. Even if the courts eventually declare an individual innocent, radical Muslims may still murder the person, which is considered an act worthy of praise.”

Seldom do we hear of these atrocities in this land of the free. Our media, already hostile to Christian faith, are not interested. All the more reason, therefore, to pray for our fellow Christians in a world which has become, once again, and age of martyrs. 

Monday, November 21, 2016


Homily for November 22nd, 2016: Luke 21:5-11.

          Our gospel reading today is about what is called about the “End Time.” This Temple which you are looking at, Jesus tells his hearers, will not always be here. It will all be torn down one day. Shocked, the hearers want to know when this will happen. What sign will there be that the end is coming?

People have been asking that question ever since. Jesus never answered it. There is a passage in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus says that even he has no timetable. “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).  

          One piece of information Jesus does give. The end of all things, and Jesus’ return in glory, will be preceded by disturbing signs. Jesus mentions some of them in today’s gospel: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.” Jesus is using poetic, dramatic language to describe a world in ferment, and coming apart at the scenes. Who can doubt that we are living in just such a world today?

          Should these signs make us fearful and anxious? Not if we are living for the Lord God, and for others. Let me tell you about a man who did that. His name was Basil Hume, a Benedictine monk of Ampleforth Abbey in the north of England. The three English monks who founded St. Louis Abbey and the Priory School on Mason Road came from Ampleforth over 50 years ago. Basil Hume was their Abbot when Pope Paul VI reached over the heads of all the English bishops to make him Archbishop of Westminster and later a cardinal. In June 1999, when he knew he was dying of cancer, Cardinal Basil wrote words which beautifully express his lack of fear, based upon his faith in God:

                   “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.”

Sunday, November 20, 2016


Homily for November 21st, 2016: Luke 21:1-4.

In a society without today’s social safety net, a widow was destitute. For the widow in today’s gospel to give all that she had to live on for that day was, most people would say, irresponsible. Some would call it scandalous. God looks, however, not at the outward action, but at the heart. For God what counts, therefore, is not the size of the gift, but its motive. The wealthy contributors were motivated at least in part by the desire for human recognition and praise. The widow could expect no recognition. Her gift was too insignificant to be noticed. For God, however, no gift is too small provided it is made in the spirit of total self-giving that comes from faith and is nourished by faith.

Jesus recognizes this generosity in the widow. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant. She could easily have kept one for herself. Prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, trusting in God alone. That is why Jesus says that she has given Amore than all the others.@ They calculated how much they could afford to give. In the widow=s case calculation could lead to only one conclusion: she could not afford to give anything. Her poverty excused her from giving at all. She refuses to calculate. She prefers instead to trust in Him for whom, as the angel Gabriel told a young Jewish teenager named Mary, Anothing is impossible@ (Luke 1:38)

This poor widow shows us better than long descriptions what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship will always seem foolish, even mad, to those who live by worldly wisdom. This poor widow had a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world: the wisdom of faith. With her small gift she takes her place alongside the other great biblical heroes of faith, from Abraham to Mary, who set their minds first on God=s kingdom, confident that their needs would be provided by Him who (as Jesus reminds us) Aknows that you have need of these things@ (Luke 12:30). This widow is also one of that Ahuge crowd which no one can count@ (Rev. 7:9) whom we celebrated on All Saints= Day B those whose faith inspired them to sacrifice all for Jesus Christ, and who in so doing received from him the Ahundredfold reward@ that he promised (Mark 10:30).

Now, in this hour, Jesus is inviting each one of us to join that happy company: to sacrifice all, that we may receive all. He challenges us to begin today!