Wednesday, July 26, 2017

SURPRIZED BY JOY.


17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.  Matthew 13:44-52.

AIM: To show the joy of Christian discipleship.

 

          In the middle years of the last century there was no more widely read or more convincing spokesman for Christian belief than C.S. Lewis. A professor of English literature at both Oxford and Cambridge who died in 1963, his books still sell briskly today. In his only autobiographical work Lewis tells how he moved from the formal Protestantism of his childhood in Northern Ireland to abandon all religious belief in his teens. Only in his thirties did he come back to believe, first, in God, and then to accept Jesus Christ as God’s Son. He called the book Surprised by Joy – a tribute to the wife, Joy Gresham, whom Lewis, a confirmed bachelor most of his life, married in 1956 when he was fifty-eight. The 1993 film, Shadowlands, tells the story of their marriage.

          Both of the men in today’s gospel were “surprised by joy.” In this the man discovering buried treasure, and the merchant finding “a pearl of great price,” were alike. In other respects, however, the two men were quite different.

          The first man is a day laborer plowing his employer’s field. As he walks back and forth over the familiar ground, the plow catches on what he at first takes for a rock. Investigation shows it to be a pottery jar filled with gold and silver coins. Before the days of banks, the best way to guard such a treasure was to bury it. Who had buried it, or when, he cannot know. He realizes, however, that this unexpected find can change his life, giving him the first financial security he has ever known.

          He realizes also, however, that he has a problem. The law of the day said that buried treasure belonged to the person on whose property it was found.  Rather than carrying off the treasure at once, and risk having the owner of the field challenge his right to possess it, the man carefully buries the jar again and finishes his day’s work. Later he scrapes together his meager savings and makes his employer an offer for the field. He is careful to appear casual about it, so as not to arouse suspicion. When his offer is accepted, the man is overjoyed. The purchase has cost everything he has. The treasure which is now his, however, is worth far more.

          The merchant is different. He is not poor but well off. And he is looking for treasure. He probably started collecting semi-precious stones as a youngster. In time what began as a hobby became his livelihood. Years of buying and selling have sharpened his eye, and refined his taste. He smiles now when he thinks of the worthless baubles that used to please him years ago. One day, walking through the bazaar, he sees a pearl so large, and so flawless, that it takes his breath away. He knows he must have it. It will mean the sacrifice of all he owns. But no matter.  When you have found perfection, no price is too high to pay.    

          “God’s kingdom is like that,” Jesus is saying. Neither of these two men thinks for a minute of the sacrifice he is making. Both think only of the joy of their new possession. Both know that the great treasure they have discovered is worth many times over what they are paying to possess it. 

          Must we pay a price to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ? Of course.  Sometimes that price is high. But when we think only of the cost of discipleship, we make our religion grim and forbidding. In these two little parables Jesus is emphasizing not the cost, but the infinitely greater reward. From the great chorus of Christian disciples who, like the men in these two stories, have been “surprised by joy,” let me quote two voices.

          The first is the late fourth century north African convert, later a bishop, St. Augustine. All through his twenties the intellectually brilliant Augustine wanted to be a Christian. But he found the price too high. He was unable to give up his freedom to live his life as he pleased. After God granted him the grace of conversion, Augustine wrote that what he had sacrificed for Jesus Christ was nothing compared to the treasure he had gained.

          “How sweet did it become to me all at once to be without those trifles!” Augustine writes in his Confessions. “What I previously feared to lose, it was now a joy to be without. For you cast them away from me, you true and highest sweetness. You cast them out and instead entered in, you true and highest sweetness. You cast them out and instead entered in yourself, sweeter than all pleasure.” (Confessions ix.1)

          Then there is Fr. Alfred Delp, the German Jesuit who gave his life for Jesus Christ in 1945, under the tyranny of Adolf Hitler. In a farewell letter, written with manacled hands in his prison cell on death row but full of peace and joy, Fr. Delp wrote of his great discovery, and changed perspective. 

          “I know now that I have been as stupid and foolish as a child. How much strength and depth I have sacrificed in my life! How much fruitfulness I might have had in my work, how much blessing I might have given to others! Only the person who believes, who trusts, who loves, sees truly what human life is really all about. Only he can truly see God.”

          Let me conclude by recalling an event most of us can still remember: the tragic death in an automobile accident of the British Princess Diana on the last day of August 1997. The story was brilliantly told a few years later in the film The Queen. I saw it twice. For days television showed the public grief of crowds in London. Grief also fueled their protest that there was no flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace. Royal officials explained that the only flag permitted there was the Royal Standard, which is flown only when the sovereign is in residence. Since the Queen was in Scotland, the flagpole remained bare. Within days, however, tradition yielded to sentiment.  For the first time ever, the Union Jack flew over Buckingham Palace, and at half mast. 

          Why do I tell you that? Because we followers of Jesus Christ have a royal standard. On a field of red, the color of the Savior’s blood, the price of our redemption, is emblazoned in letters of gold the single word: “Joy.” It flies – or should fly – above the Christian heart, to show that the King is resident within.

"I AM COMING TO YOU IN A DENSE CLOUD."


Homily for July 27th, 2017: Exodus 19, 1-2, 9-11, 16-20.

“I am coming to you in a dense cloud,” God tells Moses in our first reading. Isn’t that how God normally come to us: hidden, obscurely? To some of the saints, God speaks directly. His message to the young Jewish zealot Saul of Tarsus was clear and direct: “Saul, Saul,” the Lord said to him as he was journeying to Damascus to arrest as many Christians as he could find: “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4).

Centuries later God would speak no less directly to a young Italian named Francis, praying in a broken down little church just outside Assisi: “Rebuild my Church,” were the words Francis heard. Francis started to make repairs to the small building in which he had heard those words. In time, he realized that what God wanted him to repair was people: those who had entered God’s Church through baptism. Francis would spend the rest of his life at this task, telling his followers: “Preach always. If necessary, use words.”.

In our own time God spoke to a young religious Sister named Teresa, riding a train in India, giving her what Teresa called ever after: “an order: to leave the convent and live among the poorest of the poor, helping them however she could.” At her death a half century later the Missionaries of Charity, which Mother Teresa founded, numbered close to 4,000. Their numbers continue to grow today.

To most of us God comes “in a dense cloud”: through the still, small voice of conscience, through the words of Holy Scripture, through the needs of those whom we encounter along life’s way. How better could we respond to our first reading today than to repeat, as we go through the day, the words given to us by the Church during Lent in her daily Office of Readings:

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

"SOME SEED FELL ON GOOD SOIL."


Homily for July 26th, 2017: Matthew 13:1-9.
Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Only at the end of the story does Jesus tell us: “Some seed, finally, landed on good soil and yielded grain that spring up to produce at a rate of thirty- and sixty- and a hundredfold.” A Bible commentator writes: “A 20-to-1 ratio would have been considered an extraordinary harvest. Jesus’ strikingly large figures are intended to underscore the prodigious quality of God’s glorious kingdom still to come.”
          The parable is Jesus’ antidote to discouragement and despair. So much of our effort seems to be wasted. So much of the Church’s work seems barren of result. The Christian community for which Mark wrote his gospel was discouraged, as we are often discouraged.  They had been banished from the synagogue which they loved. They faced the same hostility as their Master.  Despite the rising hostility he could see all round him, Jesus refuses to yield to discouragement. He remains confident — and tells this story to give confidence to others. “Jesus is not only the sower who scatters the seed of God’s word,” Pope Benedict XVI writes. “He is also the seed that falls into the earth in order to die and so to bear fruit.” 
          Are you discouraged? You have made so many good resolutions. How many have you kept? You seem to make no progress in prayer. When you come to confession, it is the same tired old list of sins. You wanted so much. You’ve settled for so little. If that — or any of that — applies to you, then Jesus is speaking, through this parable, very personally to you. Listen.
          ‘Have patience and courage,’ he is saying. ‘Do your work, be faithful to prayer, to your daily duties. God has sown the seed of his word in your life. The harvest is certain. When it comes it will be greater than you can possibly imagine.  The harvest depends, in the final analysis, not on you, but on God. And God’s seed is always fruitful, his promise always reliable.’

Monday, July 24, 2017

SEEKING SERVICE, NOT HONOR.


Homily for July 25th, 2017: Matthew 20:20-28.

         “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,” Jesus says in today’s gospel. It is his response to the request made by the mother of the brothers James and John that he give them places of special honor in his kingdom. The petition may have come from the mother. It is clear, however, that she had the full backing of her two sons. For when Jesus asks if they can share the chalice of pain and suffering from which he will drink, the two brothers respond eagerly, “We can.” They have no idea, of course, what lies ahead for the Master they love and revere.

         It quickly becomes clear that the other disciples are equally clueless. They become indignant at James and John for staking out a claim before the other disciples can assert theirs. Patiently Jesus explains that this whole contest for honor is totally unacceptable among his followers. “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.” And immediately Jesus ratifies this teaching with his own example: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

          We all need a measure of recognition and affirmation. But if finding that is central in your life, I’ll promise you one thing. You’ll never get enough -- and you'll always be frustrated. Look, rather, for opportunities to serve others and you will find happiness: here and now in this world -- and in the next the joy of eternal life with the Lord who tells us, later in this gospel according to Matthew: “Whatever you do for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you do for me.”  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"THE WORD BECAME FLESH."


THIRD MASS OF CHRISTMAS:Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18.
AIM:   To explain the Incarnation and its significance for us.
It=s a strange gospel for Christmas, isn=t it?  Where, we ask, are the shepherds, the manger, Mary and Joseph?  Where is their child?  Instead of these familiar Christmas figures we have heard about abstractions: light and darkness, the Word becoming flesh.
Let=s start with another word: Aincarnation.@  It means Ataking on flesh,  embodiment.@ This building is the incarnation of an idea in the mind of the architect who designed it. It is the incarnation or embodiment too of the sacrifices that made its construction possible. Children are the incarnation of their parents= love. And Jesus is the incarnation of God. 
We cannot see God. Jesus shows us what God is like. That is why this Christmas gospel calls Jesus God=s Word. A word is used to communicate. Jesus is God=s word because he is God=s communication to us: not a lifeless, abstract statement, but God=s living and breathing utterance and self-disclosure.    
When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us.  When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like.  What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people. They were the ones who welcomed him most warmly. The rich and powerful and learned had difficulties with Jesus. Many were hostile to him. That was true then. It remains true today.
Jesus was of the earth, earthy. In his youth he worked with his hands in the carpenter=s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the raging waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. Those were images that everyone could understand. Jesus taught also in parables: stories so simple that they capture the interest of children; yet so profound that learned scholars are still studying them today.
In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God=s utterance and word, God=s personal communication to us, is saying through all the circumstances of his life that God loves humble people. God is especially close to those who feel that they are not in control of their lives; that they are the victims of circumstances; that their lives are a tangle of loose ends and broken resolutions.
In his earthiness Jesus shows us God=s love for this world and everything in it.  Often we think of God and religion as concerned only with some higher, spiritual realm.  That is wrong! God loves the earth and the things of earth. He must love them, because he made them. And God does not make anything that is not lovable. As John, the writer of today=s gospel, tells us in a later chapter: AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son@ (Jn 3:16).

It is because God gave us his Son at Christmas that we give gifts to one another.  The greatest gift we can give cannot be bought in any store. You cannot order it from an 800-number or over the Internet. You cannot wrap it. You cannot send it through the mail, by UPS or Federal Express. It is the gift God gave us at Christmas: the gift of himself.  Even as a baby Jesus is God=s personal word and communication to us. In the words of our second reading, he is Athe refulgence [that means the shining forth] of [God=s] glory, the very imprint of his being.@

Look at Mary=s child: helpless, vulnerable, and weak, as all babies are. He is God=s way of saying: >This is how much the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, loves you; enough to be become tiny, insignificant, vulnerable.= Jesus, the personal utterance and word of God, is God=s gift to you. He wants you to share this gift with others. You do so when, like God himself, you give yourself to others: when, like Jesus, you too love the company of ordinary people; when, like him, you remain close to the earth and the things of earth.

In a few moments we shall be offered our greatest and most important Christmas gift: the body and blood of our Lord, of Jesus who is God=s personal word to each one of us. The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are Christ=s body and blood: all his power, all his goodness, all his love. He offers all this to us:

C         not as a reward for services rendered;

C         not because we are good enough (for none of us is);

C         but because he is so good that he wants to share his power, his goodness, and his love with us.

Jesus gives us this greatest of all gifts under one strict condition: that what we here receive, we generously share with others.      

"THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH."

THIRD MASS OF CHRISTMAS: Heb. 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18.
AIM:   To explain the Incarnation and its significance for us.
It=s a strange gospel for Christmas, isn=t it?  Where, we ask, are the shepherds, the manger, Mary and Joseph?  Where is their child?  Instead of these familiar Christmas figures we have heard about abstractions: light and darkness, the Word becoming flesh.
Let=s start with another word: Aincarnation.@  It means Ataking on flesh,  embodiment.@ This building is the incarnation of an idea in the mind of the architect who designed it. It is the incarnation or embodiment too of the sacrifices that made its construction possible. Children are the incarnation of their parents= love. And Jesus is the incarnation of God. 
We cannot see God. Jesus shows us what God is like. That is why this Christmas gospel calls Jesus God=s Word. A word is used to communicate. Jesus is God=s word because he is God=s communication to us: not a lifeless, abstract statement, but God=s living and breathing utterance and self-disclosure.    
When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us.  When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like.  What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people. They were the ones who welcomed him most warmly. The rich and powerful and learned had difficulties with Jesus. Many were hostile to him. That was true then. It remains true today.
Jesus was of the earth, earthy. In his youth he worked with his hands in the carpenter=s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the raging waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. Those were images that everyone could understand. Jesus taught also in parables: stories so simple that they capture the interest of children; yet so profound that learned scholars are still studying them today.
In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God=s utterance and word, God=s personal communication to us, is saying through all the circumstances of his life that God loves humble people. God is especially close to those who feel that they are not in control of their lives; that they are the victims of circumstances; that their lives are a tangle of loose ends and broken resolutions.
In his earthiness Jesus shows us God=s love for this world and everything in it.  Often we think of God and religion as concerned only with some higher, spiritual realm.  That is wrong! God loves the earth and the things of earth. He must love them, because he made them. And God does not make anything that is not lovable. As John, the writer of today=s gospel, tells us in a later chapter: AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son@ (Jn 3:16).

It is because God gave us his Son at Christmas that we give gifts to one another.  The greatest gift we can give cannot be bought in any store. You cannot order it from an 800-number or over the Internet. You cannot wrap it. You cannot send it through the mail, by UPS or Federal Express. It is the gift God gave us at Christmas: the gift of himself.  Even as a baby Jesus is God=s personal word and communication to us. In the words of our second reading, he is Athe refulgence [that means the shining forth] of [God=s] glory, the very imprint of his being.@

Look at Mary=s child: helpless, vulnerable, and weak, as all babies are. He is God=s way of saying: >This is how much the Lord God, creator of heaven and earth, loves you; enough to be become tiny, insignificant, vulnerable.= Jesus, the personal utterance and word of God, is God=s gift to you. He wants you to share this gift with others. You do so when, like God himself, you give yourself to others: when, like Jesus, you too love the company of ordinary people; when, like him, you remain close to the earth and the things of earth.

In a few moments we shall be offered our greatest and most important Christmas gift: the body and blood of our Lord, of Jesus who is God=s personal word to each one of us. The consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist are Christ=s body and blood: all his power, all his goodness, all his love. He offers all this to us:

C         not as a reward for services rendered;

C         not because we are good enough (for none of us is);

C         but because he is so good that he wants to share his power, his goodness, and his love with us.

Jesus gives us this greatest of all gifts under one strict condition: that what we here receive, we generously share with others.      

"AN EVIL GENERATION SEEKS A SIGN."


Homily for July 24th, 2017: Matthew 12:38-42.  

          “An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,” Jesus says. He is referring to the repeated demand of his contemporaries for a miracle so dramatic that it will force them to believe. But belief cannot be forced any more than love can be forced. Jesus’ miracles confirm the faith of those who already believe. They do not compel belief in those whose hearts and minds are closed to him and his message.

          Jesus then mentions two such confirming signs: Jonah, and the so-called queen of the south, Sheba. The book Jonah is fiction, not history. Like much great fiction, notably Jesus’ parables and Shakespeare’s plays, Jonah is the vehicle for important truth about God, humanity, and life. The sign of Jonah is not his survival in the belly of the great fish. It is rather the immediate repentance of the people of Nineveh – Gentiles without the gift of God’s law – in response to Jonah’s preaching. Jesus contrasts the swift response of the Ninevites to Jonah’s preaching with the failure of so many of his own people to respond to his message.

          The sign of Queen Sheba is different, though in one respect the same. Like Jonah, she came from afar, motivated however not by a divine command, but by the report that King Solomon possessed wisdom greater than that of all other rulers or sages. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus says. Who is the one greater than Solomon? Jesus! He not merely possesses wisdom: Jesus is wisdom personified. The further statement, “there is something greater than Jonah here,” means that Jesus’ message is more compelling than Jonah’s -- yet the people still do not respond. Jesus sums up by saying that the Ninevites and Queen Sheba showed a readiness to respond which his own people do not.

Are we responding? “I have come,” Jesus says in John’s gospel, “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (10:10). Are we embracing Jesus’ offer of life to the full? Or do we think of our faith as observing enough of the Church’s complicated rules and regulations to be able, on Judgment Day, to squeeze our way into heaven?

          Think about that. Better – pray about it.   

Friday, July 21, 2017

"DO NOT CLING TO ME."


July 22nd, 2017: John 20:1-2, 11-18.

          Mary Magdalene “saw Jesus,” we heard in the gospel, “but did not know it was Jesus.” That was the experience of almost all those to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection. Why? Jesus had not returned to his former life. He had been raised to a new life, beyond death. His appearance was somehow changed. Mary Magdalene realized it was the Lord standing before her only when he spoke her name. The gospel reading does not tell us how she reacted. We can easily infer this, however, from Jesus’ words:  “Do not cling to me!” Immediately followed by the command: “Go to my brothers with the news that [I am] risen.

          A young man thinking of priesthood told the priest who was helping him with his vocational decision that he had finally found courage to send in his application for admission to one of the Church’s religious orders for men. A few days after he received word of his acceptance into the novitiate, he was driving down the highway when he thought of a girl he had known. “She’d be the perfect wife for me,” he thought. “Am I crazy, throwing away that chance for happiness?” He got so upset that he prayed: “’Lord, you’re going to have to help me.’ Immediately, he said, “the Lord came to me so strongly that the tears ran down my cheeks, and I had to pull off the road.”

          “Johnny,” the priest told him, “the Lord came to you to strengthen your faith and your decision to serve Him as a priest. You must be thankful for that. But don’t try to hold on to that spiritual experience by running the video over again in your head. That is spiritual gluttony.”

          Then the priest told him about Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Lord, and Jesus’ command to her: “Do not cling to me,” but go to my brothers with the news of my resurrection. Every encounter with the Lord is given to us not just for ourselves, the priest told the young man, to give us a nice warm spiritual experience inside. The Lord comes to us to send us to others – his brothers and sisters; yes, and ours too.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE."


Homily for July 21st, 2017: Matthew 12:1-8.

          “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,” is the third of the Ten Commandments. We find the Commandments twice in the Old Testament: in the 20th chapter of Exodus, and in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. Both versions say that we keep the Sabbath holy by refraining from work. Exodus says that the Sabbath rest commemorates God resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in the previous six days. Deuteronomy doesn’t mention God resting; but it spells out in greater detail what Exodus says more briefly: that the Sabbath rest is for all, domestic animals as well as humans, masters and slaves alike: “for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

          By Jesus’ day the rabbis had developed a list of 39 kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath. Harvesting crops and preparation of food were both on the list. So when the Pharisees, who were among Jesus’ most severe critics, saw his disciples picking off heads of grain as they walked through a wheat field on the way to the synagogue on a Sabbath day and eating the grain to satisfy their hunger, they pounced quickly. “That’s forbidden!” the Pharisees say.

          Jesus defends his disciples by citing an incident in the Old Testament regarding the bread offered to God in the Temple each Sabbath. After a week it was eaten by the priests and replaced with fresh bread. Others were forbidden to eat it. Yet once, when the great King David was hungry, he and his companions ate the bread themselves.

          Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (cf. Mt. 5:17). But he made charity the highest law of all. That is why he healed on the Sabbath, for instance. And that is why Pope Francis, celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison on the first Holy Thursday after his election disregarded the liturgical law which says that only the feet of baptized men should be washed, in order to wash also the feet of some Muslim women. The highest law of all is charity. Or as Jesus said, quoting the prophet Hosea: “It is mercy I desire not sacrifice.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A PURE CHURCH?

    July 23rd, 2017; 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
          Wis. 12:13, 16-19; Mt. 13:24-30.
AIM: To show the hearers that the Church is a Church of sinners, not a    
          gathering of the righteous.
      A number of you are gardeners. Why on earth, you are probably wondering, does the man in this story tell his workers not to pull up the weeds in his field? The story, like many passages in Holy Scripture, makes us shake our heads and wonder how we can make sense of it all. Jesus tells us this story to show us that God’s ways are radically different from ours. The story is also Jesus’ answer to his self-righteous critics who complained: “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” (Lk 15:2). Why?
      The suggestion of the farmer’s slaves that they should pull up the weeds in his field was entirely reasonable. The farmer rejects the suggestion nonetheless. There will be a time for separating the weeds from the wheat, he says. But that is later, at the harvest. Until then, he orders, “let them grow together.” 
      ‘That is how I am acting,’ Jesus is saying. ‘That is how God acts — like this farmer.’ Jesus knew there were many people in the crowds which flocked to hear him who did not accept his message. Challenged by his critics to send such people away, however, Jesus refused. The time for separation and judgment, he said, was not yet. That would come later.
      The prophets of Jesus’ people, right up to and including John the Baptist, believed that when God sent his promised Messiah, the first thing this anointed servant of the Lord would do would be to judge people. Yet when Jesus came he did not judge. He ate with sinners. He prevented the stoning of the woman taken in adultery. He proclaimed God’s love for all – given freely and lavishly, whether people deserved God’s love (like the good Samaritan aiding the wounded man by the wayside), or whether they did not deserve it (like the younger brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son who came home, after wasting his entire inheritance, not with true sorrow for his sin, but simply to put food on his table and a roof over his head). Jesus healed people, without investigating first whether they repented of their sins or not.
      Jesus spoke of judgment too, of course. But he made it clear that this would come later. And it would be based on how people responded to God’s freely given love. In his great parable of judgment, the story of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said that the measure of our response to God’s love would be how much, or how little, we had done for people in need. 
      Jesus’ message – proclaiming God’s love first, and judgment later – and the story in today’s gospel of the wheat and the weeds which explains this message, are important for all those who are scandalized because his Church contains so many hypocrites: people who come to Mass on Sunday, but whose lives the rest of the week are inconsistent with the words they hear and speak in Church. There is no use trying to deny this. The Church does contain hypocrites. It always has. It always will. And it would be dishonest to pretend that they all laypeople.
      Jesus never promised that every baptized Catholic would be part of his heavenly kingdom, any more than he promised the crowds who flocked round him in Palestine that they would all be part of his kingdom. On the contrary, Jesus knows that his Church will always contain many who, because their hearts are far from God, are not part of his kingdom.
      Separating true believers from hypocrites, however, is for God not for us. “If you pull up the weeds, you might uproot the wheat with them,” Jesus warns. Every attempt to create a “pure” Church of true believers has ended in failure. Only God can purify his Church; for only God can see people’s hearts. If God chooses to delay his work of final judgment and purification, it is for the reason given in our first reading: God’s “mastery over all things” makes him “lenient to all.” God can afford to be generous and merciful because he is all powerful.
      The story tells us of God’s patience. It warns us not to be less patient than God. Which one of us would not like to have a Church in which there were no hypocrites? In which everyone from First Communion children to the Pope always practiced what they preached? That would be beautiful, wouldn’t it? But creating such a pure Church is God’s work, not ours. And the time for God’s final purification is not yet.
      Note that I said “final purification.” Purification of the Church through repentance and forgiveness of us, its members, goes on all the time, and must go on. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church is “always in need of being purified” (LG 8, end). The painful crisis which burst upon the Church in our country fifteen years ago through the misconduct of some priests and bishops is part of this ongoing purification.  
      The time for final purification, however, is not yet. That “not yet” contains a warning, and a burden, but also encouragement. The warning is contained in the farmer’s order at harvest time: “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning.” God delays his judgment because he is patient, to give us every chance to decide for him while there is still time. One day, however, there will be no more chances. Judgment will begin. That is the warning. The burden is having to live in a Church of sinners, where many are hypocritical and insincere. The story’s encouragement is its message that the Lord’s Church has room for everyone. 
      I’d like to leave you with a question, for your own reflection: If the Church were really as pure as we would all like it to be, can we be confident that there would be room in this pure Church for ordinary, weak sinners like ourselves?

"TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOU."


Homily for July 20th, 2017: Matthew 11:28-30.

          “Take my yoke upon you,” Jesus says. In Jesus’ day yokes were as common a wheelbarrows today. Carved out of wood to fit over the shoulders, they had arms extending out about a foot or more on either side, with a ring on each end supporting a rope or chain from which the person using the yoke could hang a bucket or other container. This made it possible to transport with relative ease loads too heavy to be carried by hand.

          It was crucial that yoke fit the shoulders of the person using it. Otherwise the yoke would chafe and the person attempting to use it would soon throw it off. “My yoke is easy,” Jesus says, “and my burden light.” There is an unspoken IF there. The yoke and burden Jesus offers us are easy and light only if we accept them. If we chafe against the yoke and try to throw it off, then it is not easy; and the burden which it supports is heavy and definitely not light.

          To help us accept the yoke Jesus says: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” Meekness and humility do not come to us easily or without prolonged effort and many failures. We must be lifelong learners. Our teacher is the best there is. He understands our difficulties. He is not interested in how often we stumble and fall. He is interested in one thing only: how often, with his help, we get up again, and continue the journey.

          Our teacher’s name is Jesus Christ.    

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE CALL OF MOSES


Homily for July 19th, 2017: Exodus 3:1-6, 9-12.

Again today, as in our first reading yesterday, we encounter Moses. He has become a Nobody in a foreign land, reduced to tending sheep for a living. The Bible puts his age at eighty. His meaningful life, it would seem, is over. But not for God. God calculates differently. On a day which starts like every other, God breaks into the old man’s life and calls him to do what he had miserably failed to do half a lifetime before.

“The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and [Moses] looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.” (Ex. 3:2) Moses is in the desert, the abode of wild animals. Fire means danger: better keep clear. Old in years but still young in spirit, Moses does something unexpected. “And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.’ When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’” (Ex. 3:3f)

          “Do not come near,” God says to Moses, “put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. … And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:5f). Those words come back to me often, when I approach the altar to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “Do this in my memory.” Never in Holy Scripture is the encounter with God routine or ordinary. Always there is awe, even fear. So it was then. So should it be today.

“I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt,” God tells Moses, “and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians …” How surprised Moses must have been at these words. But also how gratified. The words which follow, however, shock him to the core of his being. “I will send you so that you may bring forth my people … out of Egypt.”

Me? Moses asks in astonishment. “Who am I that I should go and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” To which God replies simply: “I will be with you.”

When God promises something, he always keeps his promise. We know the dramatic sequel: the delivery from certain death of an entire oppressed people, under the leadership of a man who – until God called him -- was washed up, finished, kaput as the Germans say. If God could still use a man like that, He can use each one of us if, like Moses, we remain open to the Lord’s call, seeking every day to do his will.

Monday, July 17, 2017

LIFE OUT OF DEATH


Homily for July 18th, 2017: Exodus 2:1-15a.

          Just twelve days ago, when the first reading told about Abraham preparing to sacrifice his only son Isaac, and how God saved the boy ten seconds from death, I told you that the story was an example of God’s characteristic work: bringing life out of death. If we had time, I said then, I could give you other examples of God doing the same in generation after generation after Abraham and Isaac. Our first reading today gives us another example.

          Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, alarmed at the robust birth rate of the enslaved Hebrews in Egypt, decreed that every male Hebrew child should be killed at birth. “Whom the gods would destroy,” an ancient saying says, “he first makes mad.” Pharaoh’s order was madness indeed. He was ordering the death of the very people he needed for his ambitious building projects.

          Pharaoh’s order was the reason why the mother of the Hebrew baby in our first reading (whose name, we learn later, was Moses), put him in a water-proofed basket in the river, hoping that the little one would those escape the attention of Pharaoh’s enforcement police. It was a slender hope. Most likely the swiftly flowing water would soon carry away the basket and its content. As an extra precaution the mother tells her maid to keep watch from the nearby bushes.

          Against all odds, this high-risk strategy works. The little one is discovered by the daughter of Pharaoh himself. Thus it comes about that the baby is brought up at the court of none other than the ruler who had decreed his death. A remarkable coincidence? So we might say. For the Bible, however, coincidences are God’s way of concealing his identity. 

          Surrounded by every luxury, including we can assume, an education in the highest culture of that day, the adult Moses shows himself to possess a keen sense of justice. Seeing two Hebrews being abused by their Egyptian taskmaster, he intervenes by slaying the abuser. He does so carefully, only after assuring himself that there are no witnesses, other than the two men whom he saves. Oppressed people often turn on each other: see the statistics of black-on-black crime today. When Moses sees two of his Hebrew countrymen fighting, he rebukes them. “Are you going to kill us like you killed that Egyptian yesterday?” they ask. Alarmed that his blow for justice is not secret, as he supposed, Moses must flee for his life. So it comes about that a man twice on the brink of death, once as an infant, then as an adult, becomes the man whom God has chosen to save his entire people, trapped between the impassible waters ahead, and Pharaoh’s army closing in on them from behind.

            Once again we witness God as the God of the impossible, whose characteristic work in every generation, our own included, is to bring life out of death.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

"NOT PEACE, BUT DIVISION."


Homily for July 17th, 2017: Matthew 10:34-11:1.

I have come, Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, not for peace but for division – even in the same family. We hear many voices reminding us that in today’s dangerous world we need a strong military defense. We hear less about the need to repair our moral defenses. All the military might in the world will not save our country, however, or any country, if the moral fabric of our national life is rotten. Examples of this rot are not difficult to find:

Schools that are awash in a sea of drugs, physical and general lawlessness; where parents are willing to have their children driven many miles to attend better schools; and where many who would like to be teachers instead of wardens are quitting in disgust. Lying, cheating, and taking unfair advantage of others at every level: in business, government, in labor unions, and in the so-called learned professions. A retired lawyer said to me recently: “When I was admitted to the bar, you could take another lawyer’s word for it. Now you had better get it in writing.”

The indiscriminate and legal killing of unborn children in our country, because their birth might be an inconvenience. There are now a million and a half abortions a year in our country. That is one tiny human life snuffed out every twenty seconds of every hour, day and night, day in and day out.

          Those examples are just the tip of the iceberg – only a small part of the evidence of moral sickness in our society. There are, thank God, also many beautiful signs of moral health, especially in the idealism and willingness to sacrifice of many of our young people. But all this good evidence cannot cancel out the bad. A moment’s reflection discloses part, at least of the reason for this moral sickness: placing private gain ahead of public good; seeking happiness through getting rather than through giving.

          Pointing out such examples of social rot is called unpatriotic, or silenced with the simplistic slogan: “America – love it or leave it.” Anyone who has experienced that kind of hostility knows what Jesus means when he says in today’s gospel: “Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” The price of following Jesus Christ is high. How could it be otherwise, when the One we follow found that the price of his discipleship was death – but beyond death – for Jesus as also for us if we are trying to build our lives on him – eternal life.