Friday, February 3, 2017


Homily for February 4th, 2017: Mark 6:30-34.
The Twelve return to Jesus after a time of arduous labor, to report Aall that they had done and taught.@ Jesus knows that after this strenuous activity they need to withdraw C time, we would say today, to recharge their spiritual batteries. So Jesus invites them to Acome away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a little.@
         We all need such times of refreshment. The most important hour of my day is the half-hour I spend here in church, waiting in silence on the Lord, and the Mass which follows. Without that time with the Lord who called me to his service on my ordination day, almost 63 years ago, I=d just be spinning my wheels.       
          How can we find time in our busy lives for the rest and refreshment we all need? Here are a few suggestions. In every life, no matter how crowded, there are empty times C times when we must wait. We wait in the check-out line at the supermarket. We wait in traffic, at the post office, at the bank, dentist, or doctor. We walk to and from the cars at our places of work, or at shopping centers. Such empty periods in the day can be turned into Atimes for God.@ As you wait, as you walk to or from the car, lift up your heart and mind to God. Hold up to him those whom you love. Ask him to bless them in the way he knows they need to be blessed. Hold yourself before your heavenly Father with all your weakness and need, all the loose ends in your life, your brokenness, compromises, failures. Long prayers are not necessary. Simple, short prayers are best.
AJesus, help me.@ AMy Lord and my God.@ ALord Jesus, I love you.@  AGood Physician, make me whole.@ AMary, mother, bless your child@
Or simply the holy names, AJesus, Mary, Joseph@ C or the holy name of Jesus alone, repeated with every step, every breath, every heartbeat: all these are perfect prayers that go straight to the loving heart of our heavenly Father.
The more often you make time for the Lord in your life, the more you will discover that the words of today=s responsorial psalm are true C true for you:

 AThe Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.

In verdant pastures he gives me repose;

beside restful waters he leads me;

he refreshes my soul.@

Thursday, February 2, 2017


Homily for February 3rd, 2017: Mark 6:14-29.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry the wife of his still living brother Philip, a woman named Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, whom Herod has imprisoned to keep him out of the public eye.  

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: Muslims threatened with death, or actually killed, for converting to Christianity; a Christian missionary sentenced to death for preaching Christ in an Islamic country, and saved only by a worldwide outcry; the teenage girl in Afghanistan who survived an assassination attempt by terrorists who oppose education for women. Fortunately she was nursed back to health in England, and lived to tell her story before a meeting of the United Nations in New York. And now there are the beheadings in Syria and the burning alive of a capture Jordanian pilot.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the countless victims of injustice and terror in the world today?


Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Homily for Feb. 5th, 2017: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16
AIM: To explain the images of salt and light in the gospel
Jesus never talked over people=s heads. He spoke in simple, everyday language that even children could understand. What could be simpler than the two images Jesus uses in our gospel reading: salt and light?
AYou are the salt of the earth,@ Jesus says. The words are simple enough. But what do they really mean?
A guest at a wedding was asked to propose a toast to the bridal couple.  Before he did so he presented them with a beautifully crafted mahogany box. 
AOpen it,@ he told them.
When they did so, they saw it contained salt.
AI have given that to you,@ he said, Abecause you=re going to need it. Salt adds flavor to food. You cannot keep house without it. If you run out of toothpaste, you can use it, mixed with soda, to brush your teeth. Salt mixed with hot water helps heal a sore throat if you gargle with it. Before refrigeration was invented, salt was used to preserve food. It is still used as a preservative in many parts of the world: to cure fish and ham. You can use salt to melt ice on your front steps in winter. And salt can also be used to smother a fire.@
 AAnd now, A he said, Ahere is my toast. AMay you bring into your marriage all of salt=s properties C its ability to cleanse, to heal, to preserve. May it melt the frost and ice that will sometimes build up between you, and put out the fires of anger when you try each other=s patience. Finally, as you embark on life in double harness, try to take things with a grain of this salt. If there is salt in your marriage, it will be healthy, lasting, and strong.@
In the ancient world in which Jesus lived soldiers received an allotment of salt as part of their pay. Because the Latin word for salt is sal it was called their salarium, from which we get our word salary. Even today, when someone doesn=t measure up or do his duty we say he=s Anot worth his salt.@ 
Jesus says to us: AYou are the salt of the earth.@ He is telling us that we are that ingredient in the world which, like salt, may be small in quantity, but which makes all the difference in quality. By itself, of course, salt tastes quite different from the food to which it is added. Jesus uses this image to tell us that we too must be different from the world around us. We must live by different standards. Last Sunday=s gospel gave us a description of those standards in those sayings of Jesus called the Beatitudes. They are Jesus= recipe for happiness. His way to happiness is very different from that of the world around us. Where Jesus says, ABlessed are the poor in spirit,@ for instance, the world says ABlessed are the rich.@
Jesus also tells us: AYou are light C the light of the world.@ The first creation tale in Genesis says that creation began when God said: ALet there be light.@ And the writer adds immediately: AAnd God saw that the light was good.@ (Gen. 1:3f).
When, in the fullness of time, God=s Son came into the world, he said: AI am the light of the world.@ (Jn 8:12) Pondering those words, and the story of creation in Genesis, Christians came to discern Christ=s role in creation. Hence we say in the Creed: AWe believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, ... through whom all things were made.@
It is not difficult to understand that Jesus is the world=s light. How dark the world would be if he had never lived! To hear Jesus say, however, AYou are the light of the world,@ takes our breath away C or at least it would, if the words were not so familiar to us.  
Notice: Jesus does not tell us to become the world=s light, any more than he tells us to become salt. As followers and friends of Jesus Christ, given a share of his life in baptism, we already are salt and light for the world. ABe what you are!@ Jesus is saying. 
Does that mean isolating ourselves as much as possible from modern society and culture? becoming dropouts? There have always been Christians who thought they must do that. They are good people. But they are mistaken. To isolate ourselves from others is like putting the lamp which lighted the small one-room house of Jesus= day under a basket. The people who heard Jesus knew that wasn=t what you did with a lamp. You put it on a lampstand where, as Jesus says in today=s gospel, Ait gives light to all in the house. Just so,@ Jesus continues, Ayour light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify ...@  Glorify whom? You? No C that your good deeds may glorify God! Why? Because without God we couldn=t do any good deeds. He is the one who inspires us to do good deeds. And it is God, and God alone, who gives us the power to do good C to be what we are: salt to cleanse, heal, and preserve; and light to shine in the darkness of our world.
What kind of good deeds is Jesus talking about?  Our first reading tells us:
“Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. ... remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech ... bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted.”
Isaiah addressed those words to people who were scrupulous about the rules of religion, but too often blind to the claims of humanity. The good deeds which Isaiah is talking about point away from themselves and from us, to Him who first inspires and then enables us to perform these deeds.
This short gospel reading challenges us. If our world is often dark; if modern society and culture often leave us with a bad taste in our mouths; this is because we, the followers and friends of Jesus Christ, too often fail to be what we became in baptism: the world=s salt, the world=s light. The eighteenth century British statesman, Edmund Burke, said: AAll that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good people to do nothing.@

Here at these two tables of word and sacrament the Lord first takes us up into his light and then sends us forth to pass on that light to others in a dark world, through a life of joyful service and generous love.


February 2nd, 2017: Luke 2:22-40.

AIM: To help the hearers better understand the meaning of this feast.


          Today’s feast has three names: the Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and Candlemas. To understand the first two we must start with Jewish law about childbirth in Jesus’ day. This said that following the birth of a boy the mother was ritually impure and hence excluded from public worship for seven days. On the eighth day the boy was circumcised. This provision of the law is still observed by Jews today. Thereafter the mother remained at home for a further thirty-three days for her blood to be purified. That is why the first title for today’s feast is the Purification of Mary.

If this seems strange to us in 21st century America, it is not strange at all in other parts of the world. Even today Chinese mothers stay at home for at least a month after giving birth. After forty days of rest and seclusion, the Jewish mother presented a purification sacrifice: a lamb for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or turtle dove for a sin offering. Poor mothers needed to offer only two turtle doves or two young pigeons. As we heard in the gospel, that is what Mary and Joseph offered. They were poor.

Mary needed no purification. The child she bore would purify the world through his sacrificial death and resurrection. But as a devout Jew, Mary observed the law of her people nonetheless. Jewish law also said that a firstborn son belonged to the Lord. This was because, in the final plague inflicted by God on the Egyptians, he had killed all their firstborn children and animals. But he spared the firstborn among his own people, the Jews. Firstborn Jewish children belonged, therefore, to the Lord. The parents could “redeem” them (take them back) by paying five shekels to any Jewish priest they chose.

Instead of paying this redemption, Mary and Joseph take their infant son to the Jerusalem Temple, to present him to the Lord. This explains the second title for today’s feast: the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. From that day Jesus belonged completely to God. By age twelve he knew this. For when his parents found him in the Temple after a frantic three-day search, he asked them: “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?”       

When Mary and Joseph entered the Temple with their infant son, 40 days after his birth, they found that the Lord had two surprises for them. How often he surprises us. The first surprise was the appearance of the old man Simeon. He was “righteous and devout,” the gospel writer, Luke, tells us, “awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen “the Christ,” which means the Lord’s anointed servant, promised for so long by Israel’s prophets. When Simeon saw the child, he knew in his heart at once, that this was the one: the Lord’s anointed servant, the Messiah.

Taking the child in his arms, Simeon speaks the short hymn of praise to God that we heard in the gospel. It is called the Nunc dimittis, from its first two Latin words. From early times it has been chanted during the night prayer of the Church in both East and West. Praising God for fulfilling his promise, Simeon says he is now ready to go home to the Lord. The hymn also praises the child as Israel’s glory, and for the Gentiles a light – which helps explain why we bless candles on this feast and why it has a third name: Candlemas.

Simeon goes on to say that this child will be “a sign of contradiction.” Some will accept him, others will not. This contradiction continues today in those who regard the whole notion of God as a limitation of human freedom, and his law a fence to hem us in. In reality, God’s laws, first given to the leader of God’s people, Moses, in the Ten Commandments, are sign posts pointing the way to human happiness and flourishing.

Finally, Simeon warns Mary that the rejection of her Son by many will be a sword piercing her own heart. This prophecy would be fulfilled, according to the traditional dating, thirty-three years later on Calvary, where Mary stood beside her crucified Son, as he spoke his final words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The second surprise for Mary and Joseph is the appearance of the 84-year-old widow, Anna. Completely at home in the Temple, she has spent decades in fasting, adoration, and prayer – like contemplative nuns today. She now gives thanks for the child, Luke says, and speaks of him “to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Having fulfilled all the provisions of God’s law, Mary and Joseph return with their child to their home in Nazareth, where (Luke tells us) “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It was there, in hiddenness and silence, in faithfulness to daily work and prayer, that Jesus became the man who could say to rough workingmen, “Come, follow me,” and have them obey him on the spot; and to utter words that he is still saying to us today: “I have come that [you] might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
[The homily draws upon the presentation by Pope Benedict XVI in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives pp.80-88.]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Homily for February 1st, 2017: Mark 6:1-6.

There’s a 19th century hymn, little known to Catholics, which goes like this:

          I think when I read that sweet story of old,

          When Jesus was here among men,

          How he called little children as lambs to the fold:

          I should like to have been with them then.

It’s a nice sentiment. But it hardly corresponds to the historical reality. Most of the people who encountered Jesus found him quite ordinary. “Is he not the carpenter?” they ask in today’s gospel reading. And Mark, the gospel writer adds: “They took offense at him.”  

That remains true today. People encounter Jesus today not in his human body but through his mystical body, the Church – through us, who in baptism were made eyes, ears, hands, feet, and voice for Jesus Christ. He has no other.     

The Catholic Church is human, as Jesus was human. Most of the time it is ordinary, as Jesus was ordinary. It can be remote, as Jesus was sometimes remote. It can be weak, as Jesus seemed weak to his contemporaries when he refused to use the divine power he manifested in his miracles to avoid crucifixion.

Hidden behind this ordinariness and remoteness and weakness, however, is all the power of God; all the compassion of his Son Jesus; and all the strength of his Holy Spirit, who came in fiery tongues on the first Pentecost to kindle a fire that is still burning; and to sweep people off their feet with a rushing mighty wind that is still blowing.

Most of Jesus’ contemporaries took offense at him. Or as another translation of our gospel reading has it, “They found him too much for them.”

What about you?   

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Homily for January 30th, 2017: Mark 5: 1-20.

          The story we have just heard in the gospel reading is one of the strangest in the New Testament. Jesus heals a man of insanity. He has been living like an animal in a cave. According to the ideas of that day, he is possessed by evil spirits. Jesus drives out the spirits, who enter a herd of wild pigs feeding nearby. The animals rush headlong over a cliff into the lake, and are drowned.

          We must leave these bizarre details to the Scripture scholars. Important for us is what happens to the man after his healing. No wonder the man begs Jesus to take him with him. And how crushed he must have been when Jesus refuses and tells him instead: “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.” 

          “To my family?" we can imagine the man thinking. Those were the people who had driven him out of his mind in the first place. At home everyone would point him out, whisper about him, laugh at him. What would happen to his new-found sanity and peace of mind then?

          With a cold, dead weight on his heart the man watches Jesus and his friends get into the boat. They row out a little way from shore and set the sails. Gradually the boat gets smaller and smaller, until it is only a speck on the horizon. And the man thinks: “Out there is the man who has changed my life: the kindest, the most wonderful man I have ever met.” It must have been a long time before the man finds the courage to turn round and climb the cliff gain, obeying Jesus’ command: “Go home . . . ”

          In a few minutes the Lord will give you that same command. Perhaps you’d prefer to stay. How good it is to be with Jesus. It is quiet and peaceful in church at this early morning hour. How difficult it is to return to the rough and tumble of daily life, to the demands that await you as soon as you do return. But return you must. We live not on the mountain tops of great spiritual experiences. Most of life’s journey is spent in the valleys; and for each of us there are times when those valleys are dark. When you must walk in darkness, remember the beautiful words of the most loved of all the 150 psalms, Psalm 23: “Even though I walk in the dark, I fear no evil; for you are at my side, with your rod and your staff that give me courage.”