Friday, January 6, 2017


Homily for January 7th, 2017: John 2:1-11.
Jesus begins his ministry in this fourth gospel, according to John, by changing water into wine. In Scripture a wedding symbolizes God=s love for his people. At Cana, as at Calvary Mary is the symbol of the Church=s faith and love for the Lord. AThey have no wine,@ Mary tells her Son. Her Son’s response seems discouraging B AWoman, how does your concern affect me?@ B Mary=s confidence remains unshaken. ADo whatever he tells you,@ she instructs the servants.        
The story=s richest symbolism, however, is the changing of water into wine.  Water symbolizes God=s precious gift of the Law to his people. The lifegiving wisdom enshrined in the holy books that we call the Old Testament satisfied his people=s thirst for knowledge of God, the ultimate author of those books. 
Now, at Cana, Jesus changes this water into the exhilarating wine of the gospel B the good news that God has visited his people by sending them his Son, to celebrate with them a wedding feast which symbolizes God=s passionate love for us.
Is all that just a beautiful story -- long ago and far away? Don=t you believe it! Cana is here and now, at the Eucharist. At the table of the word Jesus satisfies our thirst for knowledge of life=s meaning with the wine of the gospel. At the table of his body and blood he strengthens us to live in accordance with the gospel B to live not just for ourselves, but for God and for others. Here, as at Cana, Jesus gives not only abundantly but super-abundantly. The gifts he offers us are beyond limit. We come repeatedly because our capacity to receive is limited.  

Here we invoke Mary, still today the symbol of faith and love, still saying to us what she said to the servants at Cana: ADo whatever he tells you.@ Here at the Eucharist God celebrates with us a joyful wedding feast, the symbol today, as always, of his passionate and unwavering love for us.

So much symbolism. So much beauty. So much drama. Do we realize it B and truly worship?    

Wednesday, January 4, 2017


Epiphany Year A.  Matthew 2:1-12.

AIM:  To present the story of the Magi as a paradigm of the Christian life.      


          Who were these “magi” who were guided to the infant Jesus by a star? Where did they come from? Where did they go? We do not know. To discover the story’s riches, we must pay attention to its symbolism. Read in that way, we find that the story has five stages. The magi, whom we also call the wise men, saw; they searched; they found; they worshiped; and they returned home. Let’s take those five stages of their journey in turn.
They saw.

          A farmer kept a flock of tame geese which freely roamed the farmyard, always looking down for food. One day the farmer saw that the geese were nervous and restless. They were looking up. In the sky he saw the reason. It was autumn. Wild geese were flying south. The farmer’s geese flapped their wings and made a lot of noise. But they did not fly away.

          Many people are like that. Something unusual happens to raise their minds from life’s routine. They become aware of greater possibilities, a higher call. But they fail to respond. The opportunity passes. The old routine resumes. The wise men were different. They were not content with looking up.

They searched.

          Doing so required courage. How their friends must have mocked them. “Following a star? What on earth for? Have you taken leave of your senses?” To set out in the face of ridicule, on what seemed like a fool’s errand, took courage. Sooner or later, it always takes courage to be a follower of Jesus Christ. His standards cannot always be made reasonable, or even intelligible, to unbelievers. At times the follower of Jesus Christ must have courage to swim against the stream: to say No when everyone else is saying Yes; or Yes when all others are saying No; to appear to reasonable, prudent people reckless, even crazy. The wise men had such courage. They set out on their seemingly mad search, and persevered in it until –

They found.

          For this they are rightly called “wise men.” To the clever people who mocked them they seemed mad. In reality they possessed, along with courage, the truest wisdom there is: the spiritual insight to recognize the unique call of God, and to follow it regardless of the cost. As their search neared its end, our gospel reading tells us, “They were overjoyed at seeing the star.” They had reason for joy. They were successful. They were vindicated. It was they who had been proved wise; their critics were the fools. From the wise men’s point of view the search had been all theirs. In reality it was God who was seeking them. That was crucial: for the wise men, but also for us – as we see in a child’s story.

          This little one came home in tears. When the child’s mother had dried the tears, she heard the reason for them. “We played side-and-seek. I hid. No one looked for me.” When you are only three, that can be crushing. “No one looked for me.”

          Someone is looking for you – right now. God is looking for you. He is drawing you to himself, as he drew the wise men by the star. If only you will look up, and be bold, you will find him. And then, like the wise men, you too will be overjoyed. To know that, even now, God is looking for you, drawing you to himself, is already cause for joy. The wise men’s joy is not the end of the story, however. When they finally arrived at the end of their journey –

They worshiped. 

          Their worship was not merely reciting prayers by memory or from a book. They offered the best they had. The person who has never learned to worship like that is poor indeed. How sad when the Mass, for many Catholics, is merely the boring fulfillment of a legal obligation. No wonder such people habitually come late and hurry away early, complaining that they ‘get nothing out of it.’ We’re not here to get. We’re here to give. So forget about getting. Instead do what the wise men did. Offer God the best you have: something precious, costly. Then you will discover, even if only for a few fleeting minutes, the indescribable joy of self-forgetfulness, the joy of true worship.

          After the wise men had worshiped –

They returned home.

          They go back to the people who had mocked them when they set out. But they return home changed. They have been touched by their experience, touched by God. They have a message for those who thought themselves wise, but turned out to be foolish.

          We return home from church each week, some of us daily, from our encounter with Jesus here in the Eucharist. We too have been touched by God. We too have a message for others. It is this. God is not far off. In all our sorrows, in all our temptations, sufferings, difficulties, and joys, God is with us. God is close to us always – even when we stray far from him. We think that we must storm heaven with our prayers to get God’s attention. And all the time it is God who gives us the ability to pray. It is God who is searching for us, leading us onward, drawing us to himself. That is the message we take home with us. That is the gospel – the good news.

          And when we grasp this good news, the story with its five stages begins again: the seeing, the searching, the finding, the worshiping, the return home. This is the story of the Christian life: the royal road by which untold millions have walked, the road God wants you to walk – and me – for the remaining fifty-one weeks of 2017, and for as many more weeks and years as our journey may last.  Until it ends in Him; and journeying and searching and struggle are over, because we are home: where there will be no more weariness, no more discouragement, no more sickness or suffering, no more death. Where God himself will wipe away all tears from our eyes. Where we shall experience not just joy, but ecstasy; for we shall see God face to face.


Homily for January 5th, 2017: John 1:45-51.

“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets,” Philip tells his friend Nathanael, “Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” Nathanael responds with skepticism: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth was then an insignificant village, unmentioned in the Old Testament.

          Despite this skepticism Nathanael is willing to accept his friend Philip’s invitation to “Come and see.” This attitude of openness is what causes Jesus to call Nathanael “a true child of Israel,” with no duplicity in him. Too many of Jesus’ own people lacked this openness. We see this in their many demands that Jesus produce some dramatic “sign” which would compel belief; and in their refusal to heed the signs Jesus did offer: his miracles.

          Philip was telling Nathanael, in effect, that he had found the one so long foretold by the Jewish scriptures: the Lord’s anointed servant, the Messiah. Nathanael responds to Jesus’ identification of him as “a true child of Israel” without duplicity by an explicit acknowledgment of what Philip has just told him: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

          Acknowledging the faith expressed in Nathanael’s words, Jesus tells him that further blessings await him: “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The words are the climax of this brief reading, and the most important. They tell us that Jesus is the contact person between earth and heaven, between humanity and God.  

We contact God by offering prayers to our heavenly Father through his Son Jesus, in and through the Holy Spirit, who inspires us to pray and supports us as we do so. The ascending angels are carrying our prayers heavenward. And the descending angels are bringing us the Father’s blessings in answer to our prayers. If we were on that ladder, we’d grow tired of going up and down. God’s angels are never weary. They are active always – on our  behalf.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


Homily for January 4th, 2017: John 1:35-42.


           “What are you looking for?” Jesus asks the two disciples of John the Baptist who have just heard him say, pointing to Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God.” The two respond with a typically Jewish counter question: “Where are you staying?” To which Jesus responds with an invitation: “Come and see.” They do so, and their lives are changed. They become Jesus’ friends, then disciples, and finally apostles: his messengers to others.    

Jesus is asking us this question, right now: What are you looking for? Why have you come out in the dark and cold? What are you looking for in your life? Is it “the good life” advertised in glorious technicolor on our TV screens? Have you found the pursuit of that life satisfying, and fulfilling? Or is there still an emptiness inside that you cannot fill, and longings that remain unsatisfied, try as you may?

          So what are you looking for? You may not know it, but at bottom you are looking for love. You want a love that will not let you go, that will not let you down. You yearn for a love that will not cheat or deceive or frustrate you; a love that will fulfill the deepest longings of your heart, your mind, your soul. That is what you are looking for. That is what I am looking for – and what every one of us is looking for.

          Perhaps you have grown weary with looking and think the search is hopeless. You are wrong. There is someone who can satisfy your deepest longings. His name is Jesus Christ. Now, in this hour, he is challenging you with the same invitation he extended to Andrew and his friend: to come and stay with him. Accepting that invitation is the first step in becoming Jesus’ disciple – his follower and his friend.  

That is wonderful – and beautiful. But it is only the beginning. Jesus Christ wants you to become his friend, his disciple, his follower, so that he can make you his apostle: his messenger to carry the all-consuming love which he offers you here to those to whom he sends you: his sisters and brothers – yes, and yours too.

Monday, January 2, 2017


Homily for January 3rd, 2017: The Holy Name of Jesus.

          We celebrate today the Holy Name of Jesus, a word which means “God saves. “The Catechism says: “To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us.” The Catechism adds that the repetition of this name, as a prayer, is possible at all times, “because it is not one occupation among others, but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus.” (Nos. 2666 & 2668).

Shortly after I entered seminary, 69 years ago, I resolved to pray the holy name of Jesus every time I went up or downstairs. I say “Jesus” at every step. This is my way of fulfilling St. Paul’s command to “pray always” (1 Thess. 5:17). It reminds me that I am always in the presence of God. The blessings which this brings are beautifully described in some hymn verses, written over 200 years ago in England.

     How sweet the name of Jesus sounds / in a believer’s ear!

     It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds / and drives away his fear.

     It makes the wounded spirit whole / And calms the troubled breast;

     ’Tis manna to the hungry soul / And to the weary rest.      

     Dear name, the rock on which I build / My shield and hiding-place,

     My never-failing treasure filled / with boundless stores of grace.

     Jesus, my Shepherd, Guardian, Friend, My Prophet, Priest, and King,

     My Lord, My Life, my Way, My End / Accept the praise I bring.

     Weak is the effort of my heart / And cold my warmest thought;

     But when I see thee as thou art, / I’ll praise thee as I ought.

     Till then I would thy love proclaim / with every fleeting breath;

     And may the music of thy name / Refresh my soul in death.

J.Newton, 1725-1807


Sunday, January 1, 2017

"I AM THE VOICE . . . "

Homily for January 2nd, 2017: John 1:19-28.

          The preaching of John the Baptist, accompanied by mass baptisms, created a sensation. Great numbers went out into the desert, where John lived, to hear him and to be baptized by him. (Cf. Matt. 3:5) The Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, speak in several places of the Lord taking away sins by the pouring of water. It is understandable, therefore, that the religious authorities in Jerusalem send messengers to John to ask what is going on, and what is his authority.         

          John’s response to their questions is simple: “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” These words hark back to a passage in the prophet Isaiah: “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be laid low.” (Is. 40:3f)  Isaiah’s words were directed to his people in exile in Babylon. The angels, Isaiah told his people, were preparing a way for them to return from captivity to their homeland in Palestine.

“Like a modern bulldozer, the angels were to level hills and fill in valleys, and thus prepare a superhighway. John the Baptist is to prepare a road, not for God’s people to return to the promised land [as in Isaiah’s day], but for God to come to his people. John’s baptizing and preaching in the desert was opening up people’s hearts, leveling their pride, filling their emptiness, and thus preparing them for God’s intervention.” (Cited from Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John, p.50)

John, as we saw before Christmas, was a voice for the one who is the Word: God’s personal communication to us, to show us, who cannot see God, what God is like. John’s message is still preparing people’s hearts and minds to encounter God’s Son and Word. He does so in what were perhaps the greatest of the Baptist’s words: “He must increase. I must decrease.” (John 3:30) Take those words with you into the year that is just one day old today. Let them be your guide during the remaining 364 days of this year of 2017. They will keep you close to the One who alone can make this a truly happy year for you. “He must increase. I must decrease.”