Friday, September 22, 2017


Homily for September 23rd, 2017: Luke 8:4-15.

          Jesus’ favorite form of teaching was through stories. We call them parables. Most of them are so simple that they can be understood even by children; yet so profound that scholars are still writing books about them. The parable of the sower and his seed occurs in three of the four gospels. At the most basic level, the story is encouragement in the face of failure. It is Jesus’ answer to the rising tide of opposition which his teaching and ministry provoked. Most of the seed which the farmer sows is wasted. Despite this waste, the story promises a “hundredfold” harvest. A modern 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.”

          Today’s gospel reading gives the story another interpretation. By speaking about the different kinds of soil on which the farmer’s seed falls, Jesus directs our attention to our role in the harvest. It comes from God, yes. But it requires our cooperation.

          The different kinds of soil symbolize the many kinds of people who heard Jesus’ message: in his lifetime, and still today. “Those on the path are the ones who have heard,” Jesus says, “but the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts that they may not believe and be saved.” There are people like that in every parish, the world over.  

So also for those on rocky ground. They receive Jesus’ words with joy. But they have no root, so in times of temptation, they fall away. The seed falling among thorns represent people unable to bring any fruit to fruition, because they are so busy with other things: anxiety, and the pursuit of the false gods of pleasure, possessions, power, and honor.  

The super-abundant harvest of which the story speaks comes only for those who internalize Jesus’ words, praying over them, and making them the foundation of their lives. In response, then, we pray: “Take hold of me, Lord. Help me to know that you are always with me; that I can find happiness only by fulfilling the purpose for which you fashioned me in my mother’s womb: to praise, serve, and glorify you here on earth; and so to be happy with you forever in heaven. Amen.”

Thursday, September 21, 2017


Homily for Sept. 22nd, 2017: Luke 8:1-3

          Who were Jesus’ disciples? The Twelve, first of all, chosen by Jesus to represent Jesus’ desire to reconstitute the twelve tribes of Israel. They were all men. Traveling along with them, Luke tells us in today’s gospel, were women as well. A modern Bible commentator writes: “It was not uncommon for women to support rabbis and their disciples out of their own money, property, or foodstuffs. But for [a woman] to leave home and travel with a rabbi was not only unheard of, it was scandalous. Even more scandalous was the fact that women, both respectable and not, were among Jesus’ travelling companions.” Today’s gospel is one of the many pieces of evidence we have that Jesus rejected the second-class status of women in his society.

          The first woman mentioned, Mary of Magdala, a small town in Galilee, is clearly not the woman “known in the town to be a sinner,” whom we heard about in yesterday’s gospel. Luke is clearly telling us about a woman he has not previously mentioned. The information that “seven demons had gone out of her” refers to healing from sickness. The number seven in biblical thought represents fullness. Her healing is now complete.

            The next woman mentioned, Joanna, is married to a high government official: Chuza, the manager of the estates of Palestine’s ruler, Herod Antipas. This Herod was hostile to Jesus. If his steward Chuza was the royal official mentioned in the 4th chapter of John’s gospel who asked Jesus to heal his son, as some commentators believe, and who “became a believer” when the boy was cured, this would explain why he allowed his wife to minister to Jesus.

          Later it would be women, not men, who were the first witnesses and messengers of the resurrection. Despite all this evidence of the importance of women for Jesus, it was to men alone that he gave the command at the Last Supper, to “do this in my memory.” This helps explain why still today only men are ordained to the priesthood. St. John Paul II told us that the Church has no power to alter Jesus’ clear intention and command.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Homily for Sept. 24th, 2017: 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. 
          Matthew 20:1-16a
AIM:  To help the hearers trust not in their merits, but in God’s mercy.
          It seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it? Even a child can see that is isn’t right to pay people who have worked all day in the blazing sun no more than those who have worked only an hour. Many years ago I spoke about this parable to some wonderful Sisters in St. Louis with whom I lived for seventeen years. When I had finished reading the story, I could see an elderly German Sister in the front row frowning.
          “They all get the same,” she said. She was pretty burned up about it.
          We should be burned up about it. If we’re not, we haven’t been listening: or the story is so familiar that it no longer disturbs us. To understand the story we have to realize that it is not about social justice. It is about God’s generosity. If Jesus were telling the story today, it might go something like this.
          A rancher in one of the “salad factories” of California’s San Fernando valley is eager to harvest his crop before a threatened change in the weather. So at dawn he’s off to the hiring hall at the edge of town. The men he finds there are able-bodied and eager to work. But they also know their rights. They bargain with the rancher about the conditions of work, and about their wages. When they strike a deal, they feel good about it. The work will be hard, but they know they will be well paid.
          At intervals during the day, the foreman tells the rancher that more workers will be needed if they want to get in the whole harvest in time. So the rancher makes repeated trips to town to hire additional help. Each time the workers he encounters are less promising. The men he finds lounging around in mid-afternoon are the dregs of the local labor market: drifters, panhandlers, winos. While those hired at dawn have been working in the hot sun, these men have spent another day idle, reflecting glumly on the hopelessness of their lot. There is no bargaining with men like that. As much out of pity as for any real help this sorry lot can offer, the rancher tells them: 
          “Get into the truck, fellows. There’s work for you out at my place.”
          At quitting time, those hired last are first in the pay line. These are the men whom life has passed over. They have learned through bitter experience that every man’s hand is against them. They wish now that something had been said about wages before they got into the rancher’s truck a couple of hours earlier. 
          The first man in line receives his pay envelope. He rips it open — and can’t believe his eyes. It contains a whole day’s pay! He stands there dazed, tears of joy welling up in his eyes. He expected to be swindled. Instead, he has been treated generously — far more generously, he knows, than he deserves.
          Meanwhile, news of what the first men in line are receiving is being passed back to those in the rear. These are the men who have worked hard all day. They calculate how much they will receive at the same hourly rate. Imagine their indignation when they receive exactly what they had bargained for in the early morning. They protest angrily to the rancher.
          “It’s my money, isn’t it?” he answers them. “If I want to be generous to someone else, what’s that to you?”
          We are left with the injustice. The story begins to make sense only when we ask: who was happy? who was disappointed? and why? Those who were happy were the men hired last and paid first. They had not bargained. They had nothing to bargain with. They were little better than beggars. It was these beggars, however, who went away happy, while the bargainers were unhappy.
          Why? Not because they had struck a bad bargain. No, at the beginning of the day they knew it was a good bargain. Nor were they unhappy because the bargain was not kept. On the contrary, it was kept to the letter. At the end of the day, however, they thought of something that had never occurred to them when they were hired. They thought they deserved more.
          The men who went away happy did not appeal to what they deserved. They knew they deserved very little. The only thing they could appeal to was the rancher’s generosity. That is the key to a right relationship with God, Jesus says.  Appeal to God’s generosity and you will be flooded with joy. Appeal to what you deserve, and God will give it to you. God is always just. He never short-changes us. When we discover, however, how little we actually deserve, we’ll probably be disappointed. 
          We know the story as the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. A better title would be the parable of the Bargainers and the Beggars. The story is important for us. It flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught. Society says we should not be beggars. We should work for what we get, not depend on handouts. In everyday life that is fine. With God, however, different standards apply. He loves to give handouts! To receive them, however, we need to stand before him empty-handed, appealing (if we must appeal at all) not to God’s justice but to his mercy. More, we must forget about keeping track of what we think we “deserve” and stop worrying that others whom we consider “less deserving” (or not deserving at all!) share the Lord’s overflowing bounty with us. 
          The full-time workers in this story resemble the elder son in the story of the Prodigal Son, angry at the undeserved welcome extended to his shiftless younger brother. Like those who had worked all day in the vineyard, the elder brother thought he had been short-changed. He was mistaken. “Everything I have is yours,” his father told him (Luke 15:31). What more could he have received than that? The elder brother in that story needed to stop keeping score and join in welcoming the family member who, despite his folly and sin, was still his brother.
          Are you a score-keeper, always reckoning what’s coming to you? Are you, with God, a bargainer — or are you a beggar? If you want to experience God’s justice, be a bargainer. He is a God of justice. He’ll never short-change you. When you discover, however, how little you deserve on any strict accounting, you’ll probably be disappointed, perhaps even shocked.
          So perhaps you’d rather experience God’s generosity. If so, then you must learn to be, before God, a beggar. Then you will be bowled over with the Lord’s generosity. You will know Mary’s joy at the news that she was to be the mother of God’s Son: “The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:53).
          Ask the Lord who bestows his gifts not according to our deserving but according to his boundless generosity to give you that hunger which longs to be fed; that emptiness which yearns to be filled. Stand beneath his cross and say, in the words of the old evangelical hymn:
          Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.


Homily for Sept. 21st, 2017: Matthew 9:9-13.

          “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.” Matthew was a tax collector. He was not the kind of tax collector we know today, a civil servant. In the Palestine of Jesus’ day the Roman government of occupation entrusted the collection of taxes to tax farmers, as they are sometimes called, who bid for the right to collect taxes. In doing so, they enriched themselves by extorting more than the government required. They were hated, therefore, for two reasons: for preying on people financially; and for serving the despised Roman rulers of the land. 

          Jesus speaks just two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. Other disciples of Jesus have already done the same, when, at Jesus’ command, they abandoned the tools of their trade as fishermen, their boats and nets, to follow Jesus. What motivated this immediate obedience? I think that if we could have questioned any of them, Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          As a parting gesture Matthew invites his friends to dinner at his house, with Jesus as the honored guest. As we would expect, many of those friends were Matthew’s fellow tax collectors. Others were simply “sinners,” as the gospel reading calls them: Jews, like Matthew, who did not bother to keep all of God’s law.

Observing these disreputable guests, the Pharisees, proud of their exact observance of God’s law, ask Jesus’ other disciples how their Master can associate with such ruffians. Jesus supplies the answer himself: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. … I did not come to call the righteous [by which Jesus means ‘people like you Pharisees’]. ‘I came to call sinners.’

What is the message for us? If we want Jesus’ loving care, we need first to recognize and confess our need. And the first thing we need from Jesus is forgiveness.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Homily for Sept. 20th, 2017: Luke 7:31-35.

          Jesus speaks often of children in the gospels, usually in a positive sense. He tells us, for instance, that we cannot enter the kingdom of God unless we “become like little children” (Mt. 18:3; cf. Mk. 9:36, Lk 9:47). When his disciples try to keep children away from Jesus, he rebukes them, saying that anyone who welcomes a little child “welcomes me” (Lk 9:48). In these and similar passages Jesus is recommending the sense of dependence that children have. It never occurs to small children that they can make it on their own. He is also recommending children’s ability to wonder – something that most of us lose, as we grow up, though artists and great saints retain the sense of wonder at God’s creation into old age.

          In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about a negative aspect of childhood. Grieved that too few of his own people have responded either to his cousin, John the Baptist, or to himself, Jesus compares them to children who reject every approach of those who reach out to them in loving concern. ‘You complained that John was too strict and ascetic,’ Jesus says in effect. ‘Me you find too laid back and merciful. What do you want?’ Jesus asks them.

          Children can be like that. I experienced it myself, in my own childhood. I might have been ten years old, or even younger, with a sister eight, and a brother six. I remember my father saying to another grownup, in a tone of resigned frustration: “My children are contra-suggestive.” I no longer know what occasioned this remark, but I can easily imagine it. Whatever my father suggested, by way of a leisure activity – whether it was a walk, a drive in the country, or a visit to a museum – we said: “Oh, no -- we don’t want to do that.”

          Most of us carry over this childhood stubbornness into adult life. We’d like to determine our own agenda, thank you. But of course we can’t. God set the agenda for us before we were even born. “My yoke is easy”, Jesus says, “and my burden light” (Mt. 11:30). Jesus’ yoke is easy, however, only if we accept it. Otherwise it chafes. How better could we respond to Jesus’ words in today’s gospel than to pray: “Not what I want, Lord, but what you want.”

Monday, September 18, 2017


Homily for Sept. 19th, 2017: Luke 7:11-17.

          Can there be anything more tragic than parents having to bury a son or daughter? The tragedy is deepened in the story we have just heard by the fact that the mother who must bury her son is a widow, who has no other children. It was a man’s world. Women were the property of men in Jesus’ day: the property of their fathers until they married, then the property of their husbands. The Commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” lists a man’s wife among the things one must not covet. With her husband already dead, and now her son as well, this widow of Nain has no man to speak for her or protect her.

          This tragedy has parallels even in an age of women’s liberation. I remember as if it were yesterday standing as a young priest in a bleak and rocky cemetery in Arizona, where I had just laid to rest beside his long deceased father the only son of a widow named Nellie. Her deep Christian faith strengthened my faith then, and I continue to pray for her today. “There are my two men-folk,” Nellie told me when the prayers of committal were over.

          How could Jesus be indifferent to such grief? We heard in yesterday’s gospel about Jesus healing the gravely ill slave of a Roman military officer, to whom the sick slave was “very dear.” The young man being carried to burial at Nain is no less dear to his mother. Disregarding the Jewish law of ritual purity which said that one must not touch a corpse, Jesus unhesitatingly reaches out to touch the coffin saying: “Young man, I tell you, arise!” Whereupon, Luke tells us, the young man “sat up.” The Scripture commentators tell us that the Greek word which Luke uses for “sit up” is a medical term – hardly surprising when we know that Luke was what passed in those days for a medical doctor. The people who witnessed this miracle respond with the simple but powerful words: “God has visited his people.”

          What better response could we make to this moving story than to pray the words of an old evangelical hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus / All our sins and griefs to bear! / What a privilege to carry / Everything to God in prayer. / Are we weak and heavy laden, / Burdened with a load of care? / Precious Savior, still our refuge / Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Homily for Sept. 18th, 2017: Luke 7:1-10.

          The centurion who asks Jesus to heal his serving boy is a Roman military officer, something like a colonel today. This is clear from his response when Jesus sets off at once to heal the boy. The officer shows both courtesy to Jesus and respect for the Jewish law by saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you under my roof.” The officer’s Jewish friends have already told Jesus this Roman officer has taken a genuine interest in their religion, and has even built a synagogue. The officer knows, therefore, that in entering a Gentile house Jesus could become ritually unclean. Hence, Luke tells us, the officer suggests an alternative: “Just give an order and my boy will be healed.” I do that all the time, he says. I give orders to those under my authority, and they do what I command.

          Upon hearing these words, Luke tells us, Jesus “showed amazement.” Normally it is the witnesses of Jesus’ healings who are amazed. Here it is the Lord himself who shows amazement. I have not found faith like this from my own people, Jesus says. This outsider, who has neither our divine law, nor our prophets, he tells the people, shows greater faith than you do.

          The centurion’s words continue to resound two millennia later. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” we say before we approach the Lord’s table to receive his Body and Blood, “but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Even after a good confession, we are still unworthy of the Lord’s gift. He gives himself to us for one reason: not because we are good enough; but because he is so good that he longs to share his love with us.  

          How do we respond? By gratitude! By walking before the Lord in holiness and righteousness all our days, trusting that when the Lord calls us home to himself, we shall hear him saying to us, very personally and with tender love: “Well done. … Come and share your master’s joy.” (Matt. 25:21).


Friday, September 15, 2017


Homily for September 16th, 2017: Luke 6:43-49.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?" Jesus asks in today’s gospel. He is addressing people whose religious practice has no real foundations. He contrasts such people with those who, after hearing the Lord’s words, put them into practice in daily life. They are “like the man building a house” Jesus says, “who dug deep and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built.” He goes on to contrast such a person with the superficially religious person “who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed a once and was completely destroyed.”
To build one's house without foundations means building our lives on things that are unstable and fleeting, things that cannot withstand the tests of time and the hazards of chance. What are such things? Money, success, fame, and even health and prosperity. None of those things are reliable or solid.
To build one's house on rock means to base our lives on things that are solid, enduring, things that cannot be carried away with Life’s storms. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says later in Matthew’s gospel, “but my words will not pass away.” (24:35) To build our house on rock means building our life on God. Rock is one of the preferred biblical symbols for the God. “Trust in the Lord forever,” we read in the prophet Isaiah, “for the Lord is an eternal rock.” (26:4). The book Deuteronomy says the same: "He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is." (32:4)
To build one's house on the rock means, therefore, living in the Church and not remaining on the fringe, at a distance, using the excuse that the Church is filled with hypocrisy, dishonesty. and sin. Of course it is! The Church is made up of sinners like ourselves.
Today's gospel starts with what seems a harsh message. For the first time Luke speaks about people who refer to Jesus as their Lord. But what good is it to cry out, "Lord, Lord," Jesus asks, when your works are not done for him but for your own glory? When we cry out "Lord," it should mean that we belong to him at all times, and not just as temporary acquaintances. When the Lord responds, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers,” (a harsh message indeed) Jesus is really expressing his longing for people who are truly close to him in daily life. Those who do things in his name to be seen and honored, yet refuse to be in daily fellowship with him are fraudulent. Those who are deaf to the Word of God, who do not act upon it, and whose lives are not built upon God will be swept away when the storms of life descend.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Homily for Sept. 15th, 2017: John 19:25-27.

Decades ago it was common on Good Friday to preach seven sermons based on Jesus= seven last words from the cross. I preached those sermons myself, over half a century ago. The AThree Hours= Agony,@ as it was often called, started at noon and ended at three, traditionally the hour of Jesus= death, with the church bell tolling 33 times, once for each year of Jesus= earthly life. Interspersed between each sermon or meditation was a hymn and one of more prayers, allowing worshipers who could not remain for the full three hours opportunities to come and go. 

We heard the third of Jesus’ seven last words from the cross in today’s gospel: AWoman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.@ The second half of this word from the cross is addressed to Athe disciple whom Jesus loved,@ as he is always called in the Fourth Gospel B deliberately left anonymous, many commentators believe, so that he can stand for all those whom Jesus loves, ourselves included. It is because of this third word from the cross that Catholics call Mary Aour blessed Mother.@

          We do not pray to Mary B or to any of the saints B in the same way we pray to God. We ask Mary and the other saints to pray for us. If it is right to ask our earthly friends to pray for us, how much more fitting to ask the prayers of our heavenly friends, especially of Mary, given to us by her dying son as our spiritual mother. The Catechism recommends such prayer in the following words: “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.” (No. 2682)

          As we remember today the sorrows of Jesus’ mother, we pray, once again, the familiar and well loved words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Homily for Sept. 17th, 2017: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Mt. 18:21-35.
AIM: To show that God=s gifts, in particular forgiveness, can be retained only if we share them with others.
 Abbot Jerome Kodell of New Subiaco Abbey in western Arkansas, describes  an ugly scene at the funeral of a widow. Two of her adult children refused to attend because their siblings were also present. What a terrible picture of family bitterness and unhappiness. The cause?  Inability to forgive past wrongs and injuries, even at the grave of the common mother.
ALord, if my brother sins against me,@ Peter Jesus asks in our gospel reading, Ahow often must I forgive? As many as seven times?@  Peter assumes that the duty of forgiveness has limits.
AI say to you,@ Jesus replies at once, Anot seven times; but seventy times seven times.@ Jesus was saying that for his followers the duty of forgiveness is unlimited. There is never a time when the Christian disciple can say: >I have forgiven enough. Now is the time not for mercy but for justice.= Peter asked about the quantity of forgiveness. As so often, Jesus does not answer the question.  Instead he tells a story about the quality of forgiveness, and the reason for it. We=ve heard the story countless times. For Jesus= hearers it was new. Let=s see if we can put ourselves in their place.
The story=s opening is ominous. A king, for Jesus= hearers, was a man with the power of life and death over his subjects. The people with whom he intends to settle accounts are important officials responsible for collecting the king=s taxes.  AOne was brought before him,@ the story says. The use of the passive suggests that official is hauled before the ruler by the royal guards. 
The amount of the man=s debt would have caused Jesus= hearers to gasp in disbelief. The Ahuge amount@ in our translation conceals the figure given by Matthew: Aten thousand talents.@ A talent was the largest sum of money then in use C something like a million dollars today. The king they knew best, Herod the Great, is estimated to have had a total annual income of only nine hundred talents. To have incurred a debt more than ten times that already huge amount meant that the official has been embezzling on an enormous scale.
A debt of that magnitude is unpayable C as the story says: AHe had no way of paying it.@ The king=s command, that not only the official but his wife and children as well, should be sold into slavery, shows that this was a tyrannical Gentile monarch. According to Jewish law only a robber unable to restore what he had stolen could be enslaved. Other family members were immune from such punishment. 
Up to this point of the story the sympathy of Jesus= hearers would have been with the corrupt official. Though his embezzlement of such a huge sum was dishonest, the king=s cruelty was worse. The man=s plea, ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back in full,@ C reinforced by his body language: falling down before the king in homage C bears no relation to reality and is merely an expression of the official=s desperation. Once a sum of money so vast was gone, a lifetime would have been insufficient to repay it. 
Now comes a surprise: AMoved with compassion, the master let the servant go and forgave him the loan.@ A king who was prepared to enslave an entire family for the debt of one member is not the kind of man from whom one would expect mercy, let alone mercy on this scale. So it is nonetheless. The carefully crafted story will have further surprises still.
No sooner delivered from his desperate plight, the official, formerly passive (Abrought in@), becomes active: AHe found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.@ Again Matthew states the amount Aa hundred denarii.@ A denarius was a day=s wage C the amount promised by the vineyard owner in another parable to those hired early in the day (cf. Mt 20:2). The contrast with the debt owed by the first official, and now forgiven, and that owed the latter by his colleague is immense. 
The second official=s reaction to the demand that he pay his debt mirrors that of the first. Body language (kneeling) and plea (ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back@) are identical. The sole difference is that the second official=s debt could easily be paid, given reasonable time. How shocking for those hearing the story for the first time to learn of the first official=s harsh response. Seizing his colleague by the throat and throttling him, he insists that the man be imprisoned until the debt is paid. The first official has completely forfeited the sympathy he enjoyed at the story=s outset.
In the story=s conclusion the colleagues of the two debtors do what Jesus= hearers wish they might do in the same situation. They report the injustice to the king. Summoning the first official again, the king reminds him of the unmerited mercy he has received and, in an act of grim irony, grants the man what, in his original desperation, he had requested: time. Now, however, the time will be spent not in repayment but in prison, under torture. 
It is a story of contrasts. The contrast between the king=s mercy and his servant=s cruelty is obvious. Less clear is the contrast between mercy and justice.  The story moves back and forth between the two. The king=s original summons and the command that the corrupt official, with his whole family, be sold into slavery are an insistence on justice at any price. The official reacts to his sentence on the same level. Instead of appealing for mercy, he pleads, however unrealistically, that if he is given time justice will be done: ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.@ 
The hearers of the story are surprised when the king, portrayed up to this point as cruel, abandons his insistence on justice and shows mercy, granting his corrupt official not what he had asked (time to pay the debt) but more than he had asked (forgiveness of the debt). Justice required that, in return, this official grant his colleague=s plea for time to pay the relatively small amount which he owed. The corrupt official=s refusal of this plea violates both justice and mercy C the more so since the plea, in this case, was reasonable and realistic. This double failure brings on him swift and terrible retribution. 

Behind the king in the story stands God. The corrupt official=s hopeless plight parallels our own. From birth we owe God everything. He has given us the gift of life, using our parents as his instruments. He has also given us the unique set of gifts and talents with which each of us is endowed. Only a life of perfect obedience to God could discharge this debt. By disobedience, however, we have incurred further debts. Like the first official in the story, our situation is hopeless. Our debt to God is unpayable. Out of compassion, God sent his Son to pay on our behalf a debt we could never discharge ourselves. God has done for us, in short, what the king did for his corrupt official. As Paul writes: AHe pardoned all our sins. He canceled the bond that stood against us with all its claims, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross@ (Col. 2:13f).

 This free gift of forgiveness is not a reward for anything we do. It is simply an expression of God=s overflowing love for us as his children C sinful yet still his own, created in his image. This forgiveness is given to us, like all God=s gifts, under one strict condition: that what we have freely received, we freely share with others.  The story=s lesson is simple: if we are not forgiving toward others, as God is already forgiving toward us, we risk discovering one day that the forgiveness God has extended to us has been canceled. Jesus is telling us, in short, that our treatment of others, here and now C and especially of those who have wronged us C is already determining where, how, and with whom we shall spend eternity. 



Homily for Sept. 14th, 2017: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.

At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.

Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power?  The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.

Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@  with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me.  It sounds like horribly bad news.

The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in our parish pre-school. I would go to meet Doris when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door, waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.

The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).

Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.

AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ.  He is waiting for your response, right now.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Homily for September 13th, 2017: Luke 6: 20-26
How many people here would like to be poor? To be hungry? To be weeping and hated by everybody? If I asked for a show of hands to those questions, how may would go up? Suppose, however, that I asked some different questions: How many of you would like to be rich, well fed, laughing, and well spoken of by all? Aren=t those things we all want? 
How, then, can Jesus pronounce a blessing on those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated? Are those things good? Of course not! Yet Jesus calls those who suffer these things Ablessed@ C  which means Ahappy.@ To understand why, we must look again at what Jesus says at the end of these beatitudes: Aon account of the Son of man.@ Things evil in themselves C poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, exclusion C become good when they are the price we must pay for choosing to stand with Jesus Christ. 
When Luke wrote his gospel, almost all Jesus= followers were Jews. Deciding to follow Jesus meant being disowned by family members and exclusion from the synagogue. The passage we just heard immediately follows the call of the twelve apostles. How do you suppose they felt? They could hardly have been overjoyed. They faced alienation from their friends, loss of their livelihoods, hatred, and much grief. To these frightened, tearful men, uncertain about what they are getting into, Jesus speaks the words we heard in the gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

          Where do we stand? With the frightened Twelve whom Jesus calls blessed? Or with the young man who went away sorrowful because he was rich? Let=s not be too sure that Jesus= woes aren=t for us just because we=re not rich. Jesus is not talking about the size of our bank accounts. He is talking about the cost of discipleship. That cost can be high, no doubt about it.  How could they be otherwise when the One who asks these costs of us paid the highest cost of all: life itself. 

          Jesus= words in today=s gospel are his encouragement to people who wonder what they have let themselves in for, who wonder if the cost of following Jesus Christ may not be too high. He is speaking them again now, to each one of us. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”