Friday, February 10, 2017


Homily for February 11th, 2017: Genesis 3:9-24.

          Have you ever felt so ashamed of yourself that you wanted to run away and hide? Today’s first reading is about a man who felt that way. After disobeying God’s command, Adam hides, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the loving Creator and Father against whom he has rebelled. 

          When God pursues him and asks, “Where are you?” the man replies: “I was afraid ... so I hid myself.” He thought he would find happiness by ‘doing his own thing.’ Instead he finds only disappointment, frustration, and shame. Is there anyone here who has never had a similar experience? This simple story is no primitive folk tale. It is the story of Everyman with a capital “E” – true to our common experience of life. If the story has a moral, it is this. We find happiness, joy, and peace only when we stop trying to run away and hide from God, and begin entrusting ourselves to him in faith. 

          “In faith” is crucial. It means trusting God. That does not come easily to us. Our natural instinct is to trust ourselves. Most of the time we enjoy playing the leading role in what Fr. Robert Barron, widely recognized as the Bishop Fulton Sheen of our day, calls our “egodrama” – an apt term for the idea that life is really all about me, and I’m in charge, thank you.

          It takes most of us years, with many falls into disgrace and failure, to learn that life is not all about me. We begin really to live, and to enjoy happiness, fulfillment, and peace, only when we start to enter into what Fr. Barron calls the “theodrama” – God’s drama. He plays the leading role, he is in charge.  

          People who do that to a heroic decree are called saints. They surrender their lives to the One who made them, using their parents as his instruments: the Lord God. St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), wrote what has become a classic prayer which expresses this surrender. I learned it at age 12. I have prayed it daily ever since. It goes like this:

“Take, O Lord, and receive my entire life: my liberty, my understanding, my memory, my will. All that I am and have you have given me. I give back to you all, to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of your presence, and the joy of your love. With these I shall be more than rich, and shall desire nothing more.”


Thursday, February 9, 2017


Homily for February 10th, 2017: Mark 7:31-37.
 ABe opened!@ Jesus says to the deaf man who is brought to him for healing. Deafness has closed him off from others. Jesus wants to set him free. Jesus is the man of total openness: openness to God; and openness to those whom society in Jesus= day accepted only in subordinate roles or not at all B women, children, and social outcasts like prostitutes and the hated tax collectors. Our fourth Eucharistic prayer tells us that Jesus proclaimed “the good news of salvation to the poor, to prisoners freedom, and to the sorrowful of heart, joy.”
Jesus is saying to us right now, in this church, what he said to the deaf man: ABe opened!@ How closed in we are much of the time: closed to God, closed to others. We shut ourselves up in prisons of our own making, whose walls are self-fulfillment, and whose guiding principle is the hackneyed and deceitful slogan: ADo your own thing.@ Most of the conflicts, divisions, and wars in our world B between individuals, families, classes, groups, and nations B are the result of people not being open. In the cacophony of conflicting arguments and claims we hear only what we want to hear, and no more; just enough to confirm our prejudices; and then we stop listening altogether. 
Even between Christians there are barriers erected by our failure to be open to each other. To remedy this tragic situation, which contradicts Jesus= prayer the night before he died, that all might be one (Jn. 17, passim), the Second Vatican Council recommended the method of dialogue. Dialogue requires that we be open to what those who are separated from us are saying; that we listen before we speak.

Can dialogue overcome all barriers? Sadly it cannot. Some conflicts are so grave that no human power seems great enough to break down the walls that separate us from one another. Nor can we penetrate by our own efforts alone the wall which our sins erect between us and the all-holy God. The gospel proclaims the good news that there is One who can break down those walls. His name is Jesus Christ.

Jesus, the man of total openness, has the right, if ever a man had it, to command: ABe opened!@ He won that right for all time on Calvary when, as we shall hear in a moment in the preface to our Eucharistic prayer, Ahe stretched out his hands as he endured his Passion, so as to break the bonds of death and manifest the resurrection.” (Weekday Preface VI) 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017


Homily for Feb. 12th, 2017: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Sirach 15:15-20; Matthew 5:17-37.
AIM: To show that obedience to God=s law is a response to His love for us, not its
ADo your own thing@ is the slogan today of people who consider themselves Aliberated.@ Behind this slogan is the idea that the only thing that stands between me and happiness is lack of freedom. If laws limit my freedom B whether they are God=s laws or human laws B they must be bad. AHow much happier life would be if there weren=t so many Do=s and Don=ts.@ We may not actually say that. But probably most of us have thought it at one time or another.
Jesus would have been shocked at that idea. His religion taught him that God=s laws preserve and enhance human happiness. The Ten Commandments were God=s highest gift to the people he chose to be his own. They showed God=s special love for his people. They were directions for life, from the One who created all life. Obedience to God=s commandments was his people=s way of showing their love for the Lord God, while sharing his love with one another. The words of our responsorial psalm today express this view: AHappy are they who follow the law of the Lord!@ (Ps 119:1)
There was never anything so good, however, that it could not be abused. Law is abused when people pay more attention to its letter than to its spirit; when they think up hairsplitting interpretations to show how little the law means, instead of how much. People who approach God=s law in that manner think of their relationship with God as based not on love (which the law, rightly understood, expresses) but on legalism.
From there it is only a short step to thinking that fulfilling our Aminimum obligation@ gives us a claim on God which he is bound to honor. That was the religion of some people in Jesus= day. Sadly it is the religion of some Catholics today.
Jesus is addressing such people in today=s Gospel. He shows that legalistic human interpretations miss the true meaning of God=s commandments. God, Jesus says, looks not just at our exterior acts. He looks at our inner attitudes, desires, and thoughts. AYou have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery,@ Jesus says. ABut I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her in his heart.@ If that is what the commandment means, then who can claim perfect obedience? Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is plugging the loopholes in the law crafted by legalistic interpreters. In so doing, Jesus shows us that we can never establish a claim on God which he is bound to honor. God has a claim on us, and it is an absolute claim.
AUnless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees,@ Jesus says, Ayou will not enter the kingdom of heaven.@ The scribes and Pharisees were Jesus= critics, the people who scorned him for Areceiving sinners and eating them.@ Like some Catholics today, they knew (or thought they knew) the exact limits of their obligation, whether with regard to public worship, fasting, avoidance of work on the Sabbath, or almsgiving.
With his demand for a holiness surpassing that of the outwardly most Areligious@ people in his day, Jesus was undermining the whole basis of their religious practice. Was that good news? Hardly. For such people it was horribly bad news. If God=s law really meant what Jesus said it did, then who could hope for a reward from God? No wonder they crucified him!
The Agreater righteousness@ that Jesus asks of us is based not on what we do for God, but on what God has done for us. God accepts us not because we are good enough to deserve a reward for keeping his law. God accepts us because he is so good that he wants to share his love with us, as a free gift. That is the good news: that God loves sinners B people who often fail to keep God=s law, people who know that they have no claim on God. People, in short, like us.

Does this mean that we can forget about God=s law? Of course not. AI have not come to abolish the law,@ Jesus says Abut to fulfill it.@ God=s law remains as important for us Catholics today as it was for Jesus. What Jesus changed was not the law, but our motive for keeping it. We keep God=s law not to earn a reward: blessing in this life, heaven in the next. We keep God=s law to show our gratitude for the love he lavishes upon us before we have earned it, and though we can never merit it, on any strict accounting.

Here in the Eucharist, a word that means Athanksgiving@, we the people of God receive the greatest gifts he can give us this side of heaven. At the table of the word God gives us the gift of his truth. At the table of the sacrament, he gives us the body and blood of his Son.

Enriched with these gifts, which are always more than we deserve, God sends us out into the workaday world, there to show our gratitude for his gifts by a life of generous obedience to his holy law. Our effort to thank God for the gifts he gives us here at Mass requires the best that is in us. We shall find it easier to give our best if we keep in mind the words of our responsorial psalm: AHappy are they who follow the law of the Lord.@


Homily for February 9th, 2017: Mark 7:24-30.

          Why did Jesus initially refuse the request of a Gentile woman that he heal her daughter? It cannot be because Jesus lacked compassion. The gospels show that he was a man of total compassion. Did Jesus want to test the depth of this mother’s love for her sick child? If so, she passed the test with flying colors. Throwing herself at Jesus’ feet, she showed that she was out to win. Her daughter means everything to her. She refuses to take no for an answer.

Jesus’ words about the children being fed first seem to be a reference to his mission of feeding his own people first. When Jesus says it is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs, he is using traditional Jewish terminology. Jews in his day often referred to Gentiles as dogs. Jesus softens the word, however. The word he uses means not dogs but  puppies.

         Even this does not discourage the woman. Without missing a beat she comes right back with the remark: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” To understand what she is saying, we must know the eating habits of the day. Food was eaten with the fingers, which were wiped afterwards with pieces of flat bread that were then cast aside to be eaten by the household dogs.

          Or was Jesus testing the woman’s faith? If so, she passed that test too. For Jesus responds: “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” Illness of all kinds was thought in Jesus’ day to be caused by demons.

          The beautiful conclusion of this moving story follows at once. “When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

          This desperate and nameless woman is a model of love and faith. We pray in this Mass for the Lord to make us like her.




Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Homily for February 8th, 2017: Mark 7:14-23.

          “Everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile,” Jesus says, since it enters not into the heart but the stomach.” The heart in Jewish thought was considered the seat of feelings and learning. The gospel writer Mark adds his own summary of what Jesus has just said: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus’ disciples were almost all Jews. For them there was a whole list of foods which not be eaten because they were unclean, starting with pork. By declaring all foods clean Jesus was making a radical break with this Jewish tradition. But this raises a problem. If Jesus so clearly abolished the distinction between clean and unclean foods, why was there the great debate, reported in the Acts of the Apostles and three of Paul’s letters, about whether Gentile Christians were bound by the Jewish food laws? The answer to that question is simply: we do not know. There are many things in the Bible that we cannot understand. 

What we can understand is the list of vices that Jesus gives us: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. Evil thoughts may be of many kinds: hatred, anger, lust, resentment. The list goes on and on. All of us have such thoughts from time to time. As long as we are trying to turn away from such dark thoughts to better ones, evil thoughts remain only temptations. And a thousand temptations do not make a single sin. Indeed Jesus himself was tempted after his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness. Yet we know that Jesus never sinned.

Theft is forbidden by the Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world where there was no theft? We wouldn’t need to lock our homes or cars. If we left something behind, we’d know it would be there when we came back. Could there be a better example of the Commandments being signposts to human happiness, not fences to hem us in? Envy is the one vice that brings its own punishment with it. Whenever we give way to envy, we’re unhappy. Blasphemy is not respecting the holy name of God. Arrogance puts people off: no one like an arrogant person. And folly means misusing or wasting the gifts God showers upon us.

Jesus, who gives us this list of vices, has also given us the best defense against them: the closing words of the one prayer he has left us, “Deliver us from evil.”



Monday, February 6, 2017


Homily for February 7th, 2017: Genesis 1:20-2:4a.

          “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” These words in our first reading come toward the end of Genesis 1, the first Creation Tale. The Bible comes to us from a prehistoric age. Yet the two somewhat different creation tales in Genesis 1 and 2 contain important truth about the origin of our world.  

A striking feature of the first tale, in Genesis 1, is the repetition after each stage of creation of the phrase, almost like a refrain: “God saw how good it was.” This tells us that everything that comes from the hand of God is good. The evil in the world comes not from God, but through human sin.

          The first thing that God looks at in the Bible and says, “It is not good,” is loneliness: “It is not good for the man to be alone,” we read in chapter 2 of Genesis. In chapter one man and woman are created together, as we heard in today’s first reading: “God created man in his own image … male and female he created them.” Chapter two tells a different story. “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living thing.” The creation of woman follows: formed, we read in chapter two, out of one of the man’s ribs. That detail is pre-scientific. But it expresses an important truth nonetheless. Man and woman were not made for rivalry: domination on the one hand, manipulation on the other. They were made for partnership – to complete one another. That is why the second creation tale from Genesis 2 is often used at weddings.

Yet not everyone is called to marriage. There are people who do not find a spouse. And spouses die, leaving the surviving partner alone. And then there are those whom God calls to a single life, as religious Sisters , Brothers, or priests. Are such people condemned to a life of loneliness, called by God himself “not good”? That is what many people assume. They are wrong.

The cure for loneliness is not marriage – for married people too are sometimes lonely. Loneliness comes about because even in the perfect marriage or the ideal friendship (and how many people have found either?) the deepest desires of our hearts remain unfulfilled. There is only One who can fulfill those desires, the One who is love: God himself. We come here day by day to receive his love; and so that we may share that love with others. No one has said it better than St. Augustine, writing out of his own experience: “You have made us for yourself, O God; and our hearts are restless, until we find rest in you.”

Sunday, February 5, 2017


Homily for February 6th, 2017: Mark 6:53-56.

          For a couple of hours, during the voyage across the lake, Jesus has privacy. No one will bother him. Then, as soon as they reach the farther shore, the old routine resumes. “As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him,” Mark tells us. “They scurried about the surrounding country and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was” – another normal day for Jesus.

I still remember seeing on television back in 1964, pictures of Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem. As he tried to walk through the narrow streets of old Jerusalem, lined by shops and crowds of people on both sides, the Pope was constantly jostled by the crowds. And I remember thinking: ‘That’s what Jesus’ life was like; constantly hemmed in by people wanting to speak to him, to touch him.’ That is why we read often in the gospels about Jesus withdrawing to what the gospel writers call “deserted places.” He needed to escape the constant pressure, to be alone with his heavenly Father, from whom all Jesus’ power came, and all his love.  

In today’s gospel Mark tells us that wherever Jesus came “they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel of his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”

Jesus is still healing people. He cures us of physical ailments, but of spiritual ones as well: bad habits, pride, lack of love, jealousy, envy, hard-heartedness, impurity, resentment and hate. One of his titles is the Good Physician.

There is a little prayer, only five words, which I learned decades ago and which I repeat often as I go through the day. “Good Physician, make me whole.” Take that prayer and use it as you go through this day. Repeat the words over and over. They will take you straight to the heart of the One who loves you beyond your imagining; whose love will never let you go.

“Good Physician, Make me whole.”