Friday, January 20, 2017


Homily for January 21st, 2017: Mark 3:20-21.

          No sooner has word got out that Jesus has come to their town than crowds storm the house where he is staying in such numbers that it was “impossible even to eat,” Mark tells us. Even more shocking is the reaction of his family: “When his relatives hear of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” People are still saying that of Jesus Christ and of those determined to follow him. Here are three examples.

          A man married for well over twenty years tells a priest: “Father, my wife is so sensitive. For the whole of our marriage I’ve been walking on eggshells, always afraid that I’ll say or do something that will upset her. It’s driving me nuts.” Further conversation discloses that there is another woman in the picture who understands and affirms him. “I’ve thought about getting a divorce and marrying her,” he says. “But then I think of the children – and of the promises I made when we married. So I’ve decided to stay married and tough it out. All my buddies tell me I’m out of my mind.”

          Then there is the girl at college who discovers that she is pregnant. The man responsible, and all her girlfriends, tell her to get an abortion. At first terrified that her parents will find out, she finally screws up courage to tell them. “You’re still our daughter,” they say. “You mustn’t kill the child you’re carrying. We all make mistakes. We’re going to help you – with the birth and by caring for your baby afterwards.” When other members of the family find out about this they’re outraged. “Are you out of your mind?” they ask. “An abortion may not be cheap. But it’s nothing compared with the expense of raising a child no one wants. And think of the embarrassment when everyone finds out.” The child is a girl, three years old now. Everybody loves her.

          Finally there is the young man who tells his parents he wants to go to seminary – or it could be his sister (the only other sibling in the family) wanting to enter a convent. This time it’s the parents who are outraged. “You need to marry, have children,” they say. “And we want grandchildren who will have Dad’s name. You’re throwing your life away. Are you out of your mind?”

          None of the people in these examples are out of their minds. Rather, through faithfulness to the Lord, supported by much prayer, they have developed the mind of Christ.

Think about that. More important: pray about it.       

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Homily for January 20th, 2017: Mark 3:13-19.

          Jesus “appointed Twelve,” our gospel has just told us, “whom he also named Apostles.”

         Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.

He chose them, Mark tells us, “that they might be with him and [that] he might send them forth.” There seems to be a contradiction there. How could they be with Jesus while at the same time being sent forth into the world? This seeming contradiction is the tension of the whole Christian life. It is the tension between the vertical and the horizontal; between our duty towards God and our duty toward others – between transcendence (vertical) and immanence (horizontal).

Ideally there is no conflict between the vertical and the horizontal. The first (our relationship with God) is the support of the second (our duty toward others). And the second (service of others) is the active expression of the first. Prayer and our whole relationship with God make it possible for us to have something to give to others. And active, self-sacrificing love of others is the expression and proof of genuine love of God.

Jesus’ life was the perfect combination of the vertical and the horizontal; of total consecration to his heavenly Father, combined with unrestricted service of others. That was why his earthly life ended where the vertical and horizontal intersect: on the cross. Note: I said Jesus’ earthly life. Beyond that his heavenly and eternal life continued. Raised on the third day through the power of God’s Holy Spirit from the tomb where his heart-broken friends had laid him, Jesus started appearing to his initially frightened but then overjoyed friends to inspire and empower them to live as he lived: totally devoted to his heavenly Father, yet totally at the service of others. That is why we are here: to worship and adore our crucified but risen Lord, and to receive his power to live as he lived: at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal: devoted and consecrated to him, while serving others by sharing with them the love he pours out on us through his Holy Spirit.                          

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Homily for January 19th, 2017: Hebrews 7:25-8:6.

          We have a high priest, we heard in our first reading, who is “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.” The words refer, of course, to Jesus Christ. The author of that first reading contrasts Jesus with the Jewish priests of his day, who offered sacrifices “day after day” in the Temple at Jerusalem. Those Temple sacrifices needed to be repeated daily because, as Israel’s prophets said many times over, they did not truly take away the sins of those for which they were offered.

Since God was the creator of everything, the prophets said, and thus their true owner, he did not need the material things offered to him in sacrifice. God wanted the givers. Yet this was the one thing people could not offer. And to the extent that people did try to offer themselves to God in a spiritual manner, they were offering something tainted by sin, and hence unworthy of God. God, being all-holy, deserved an untainted and perfect offering.

The perfect, undefiled sacrifice which God desires has been offered, the Letter to the Hebrews says, by Jesus, God’s divine Son, at the Last Supper and on Calvary. He did that, our first reading says, “once for all.” But this raises a question. How can we call the Mass a sacrifice? We do so because the Mass makes Jesus’ perfect and unrepeatable sacrifice spiritually present – just as, for observant Jews today, the celebration of Passover makes God’s rescue of his people from bondage (an event even more distant in time than the Last Supper and Calvary) spiritually present.

          Whenever, therefore, we gather to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper to “do this” with the bread and the wine, we are there! We are in the Upper Room with Jesus’ apostles. We are there with the Beloved Disciple and Mary, along with his other female followers – more faithful than the men – beneath the cross. We are there with but one difference: we cannot see the Lord with our physical eyes; but we do perceive him with the eyes of faith.

          Do we realize that when we come to Mass – and truly worship?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Homily for January 18th, 2017. Mark 3:1-6.

          Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. The healings already recounted by Mark in the first two chapters of his gospel have brought Jesus the reputation of a powerful healer. The man with the withered hand is probably well known to the local community. It is no wonder therefore, that the people in the synagogue on watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they might accuse him,” Mark explains. Jesus has just begun his 3-year pubic ministry. But already there are signs of the hostility which will bring him to the cross.

          Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Come up here before us,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save a life rather than to destroy it?” To which those watching give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes flocking to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.

          Jesus’ critics are infuriated. They meet at once with the friends of the puppet ruler, Herod, who serves at the pleasure of the Roman rulers of the land, to see how they can rid themselves of Jesus by putting him to death.

          None of this remains unknown to Jesus. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.

Monday, January 16, 2017


Homily for January 17th, 2017: Mark 2:23-28.

          “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’s resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in 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 there was an enormous collection of rabbinical interpretation of this commandment, distinguishing between forms of work that were lawful on the Sabbath, and those which were unlawful. The controversy continues in Judaism today. Orthodox Jews walk to the synagogue because they consider driving a car a form of work. Reform Jews reject this rigorism.    

          In today’s gospel reading some rigorists criticize Jesus’ disciples for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, rubbing them in their hands, and eating the grains. Jesus appeals to a precedent in the Jewish Scriptures, when David took bread offered to God, and which only Jewish priests might eat, ate it himself and offered it to his companions. The precedent was weak: David had not violated the Sabbath rest, though what he had done was unlawful.  

          Crucial is the final sentence of our reading: “The Son of Man [a title for Jesus himself] is lord even of the Sabbath.” Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. 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 as Bishop of Rome 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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017


Homily for January 16th, 2017: Mark 2:18-22.

          To understand the question about fasting in today’s gospel we must know that for Jesus’ people fasting was a way of mourning. It was also a way of expressing sorrow for sin. Still today observant Jews fast on the Day of Atonement, to express sorrow for the sins they have committed in the past year. The people who ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast are aware that John the Baptist has taught his disciples to fast. He did so because repentance was central in the Baptist’s preaching.

          Responding to the question about why Jesus has not taught his disciples to fast, he replies simply that as long as he is with them, fasting is inappropriate. This is a time not for mourning, Jesus says, but for joy. God has come to earth in human form. Taking up a theme which is frequent in the Old Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom. Israel’s prophets said repeatedly that despite the sins of God’s people, God would not always remain estranged from them. He was going to invite them to a joyful banquet, a symbol of unity between God and humans. (See Isaiah 25.)

          This invitation is renewed every time Mass is celebrated. Despite our unworthiness God uses us priests to extend his invitation: “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” God, the host at this banquet, longs to have you with him. He wants to fill you with his goodness, his power, his purity, his love. 

          He cannot fill you unless you come.

          He cannot fill you unless you are empty.

He cannot fill you unless you confess your need, which means acknowledging your unworthiness.

          How often have you heard this invitation before? How often will you hear it again? One day you will hear it for the last time. Then you will receive another invitation: to appear before your divine Master, your King, your Creator, your ever loving Lord. Will you encounter him as a stern judge, before whom you shrink in fear? Or will it be an encounter with a familiar, dearly loved friend? Think about it. Even more importantly – pray about it.