Friday, April 7, 2017


Homily for April 8th, 2017: Ezekiel 37: 21-28; John 11:45-56.

          “It is better to have one man die [for the people], than to have the whole nation destroyed.” These words of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas in today’s gospel reading are cynical. They were spoken at a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, called together to discuss what should be done about the crowds who were becoming followers of Jesus following his raising of Lazarus from the dead. “What are we going to do?” members of the Sanhedrin ask. “This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away our sanctuary and our nation.”  

          Palestine was already controlled by the Roman government of occupation. But the authorities had an agreement with the Sanhedrin, allowing them to control internal affairs, as long as they kept order and saw to it that things remained quiet. Jesus’ miracles, culminating in the raising of Lazarus from his tomb, threatened to destroy this stability. If things got out of hand, the Romans would crack down hard; and the Sanhedrin’s limited authority would be swept away. Caiaphas was proposing a simple solution. Let’s show the Romans we can still control things. We’ll just remove Jesus, he says, and things will quiet down.

          Jesus was removed, as we know: by crucifixion. But although it was the hated Romans who executed him, working with the small ruling clique around the Sanhedrin, God remained in charge. As the great nineteenth century convert, Blessed John Henry Newman wrote in a memorable phrase, “God knows what he is about.” Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation not only to his own people, but to all peoples. As the gospel writer says: “Jesus died … not only for [his own] nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.”

          Through baptism we are members of that people; dispersed throughout the world, but united in worship of the One who, by rising from death, has opened for us the gate to life everlasting, with Him.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Homily for April 7th, 2017: John 10:31-42.

          “The Jews picked up rocks to stone Jesus,’ The gospel today starts where yesterday’s gospel ended: with Jesus’ critics throwing stones at him. As we saw yesterday, that was commanded in the book Leviticus as the punishment for blasphemy (24:16). 

          Whenever critics accuse him of blasphemy for making himself equal to God, Jesus responds by saying, I have not made myself anything. It is God our Father who has made me who I am. Jesus says in today’s gospel “that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

          John’s gospel starts with that claim: “In the beginning was the Word; the Word was in God’s presence, and the Word was God. He was present to God in the beginning” (John 1:1). Words are used to communicate. Since we cannot see God, he sends us his Son, God clothed in human flesh, to show us what God is like. 

          When we listen to Jesus, we hear God speaking to us. When we look at Jesus, we see what God is like. What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in a provincial village where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people.

Jesus was of the earth, earthy. In his youth he worked with his hands in the carpenter’s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the raging waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. 

          In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God’s word, God’s personal communication to us, is saying that God loves humble people. In his earthiness Jesus shows us God’s love for this world and everything in it.

Often we think of God and religion as concerned only with some higher, spiritual realm. That is wrong! God loves the earth and the things of earth. He must love them, because he made them. And God does not make anything that is not lovable. God made each of us, using our parents as his agents. And he loves us with a love that will never let us go.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017



Palm Sunday, Year A.  Mt. 21:1-11.

AIM: To apply one meaning of the Palm Sunday story to us today.

          As we blessed the palms, we heard the Palm Sunday story. Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey which he has instructed two of his disciples to fetch, along with its still unweaned colt. In Jesus’ day a donkey was something like a car today. How would you feel if you came out of church and found your car missing?           

          Anticipating that the owner of the animals would not be happy to see them hijacked, Jesus told the two disciples to say simply: “The master has need of them.” In Matthew’s original Greek text the word translated “master” is kyrios, which means “the Lord,” a royal title. It is the first time in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus claims this title for himself. He is exercising the right of kings, recognized throughout antiquity, to requisition modes of transport.

           In Jesus’ day a king, returning victorious from battle, would ride triumphantly astride an imposing horse. Jesus, however, is a different kind of king. He came, he said, not to be served (like all other kings), but to serve, and to give his life in ransom for many. Hence his choice of a donkey, the most modest means of transport then available.

          “Hosanna to the Son of David,” the people cry out. David was Israel’s greatest and most glamorous king. Any son of his inherited his royal rank. The people confirm their royal greeting by putting their cloaks on the donkey, and laying them down on Jesus’ way, along with palms taken from the trees which lined the route.

          In baptism Jesus, our King, requisitioned each one of us. He laid his hand upon us. He filled us with his love, so that we could carry that love into a world starved for true love; he filled us with the light of his Holy Spirit, that through us, God’s light might shine in a dark world. “Let your light shine before others,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “so that people may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father” (Mt. 5:16).

          Perhaps someone is thinking: “That’s a tall order.” You’re right. It is a tall order, made even harder because of our sins. But not impossible. When you grow discouraged and think that carrying the love and light of the Lord Jesus to a dark and hungry world is too much for a poor weak sinner like yourself, know that countless others before you have thought the same. How many of them became saints is known to God alone. And always remember this:

Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future! 



Homily for April 6th, 2017: John 8:51-59.

          “Whoever keeps my word will never see death,” Jesus says. The response to this astonishing statement is fully understandable. ‘We always suspected you were crazy – now we know it.’ In the dialogue which follows Jesus’ critics press home the absurdity of what Jesus has just said. Abraham died. All the prophets died. Who are you claiming to be?

          Jesus is about to tell them that he is without beginning or end. There was never a time when he was not. There will never come a time he will cease to be. Because he is not only human but also divine, he stands outside time. Since he knows, however, that this will seem to his hearers like boasting, he says: “If I glorify myself my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me.”

          The exchange between Jesus and his critics culminates in the most astonishing statement of all, Jesus words: “Before Abraham was I AM.” What clearer statement could we have of Jesus’ claim to stand outside of time? As we saw two days ago, God had given the divine name I AM to Moses as the answer to his question about how to identify the One who was sending him back to Egypt to liberate his people. Tell them, God said, that I AM sent you.

          For Jesus’ hearers his appropriation of the sacred name of God was not merely astonishing. It was blasphemous. That is why the hearers take up rocks to throw at Jesus. The were doing what was commanded in Leviticus: “He who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him” (24:16). 

          The gospel’s final line seems like an anti-climax: “Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.” In reality, it is no anti-climax. It shows that Jesus is still in charge. His hour had not yet come. When it did, he would lay down his life not under compulsion, but willingly – for us.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


 Homily for April 5th, 2017. John 8:31-42.
             “Everyone one who commits sin is a slave of sin,” Jesus says. What does that mean, “a slave of sin?” To answer that question we must start with temptation. Where does it come from? From Satan. His name means “the Tempter.” Jesus calls him “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan lied to Jesus in the second of the three temptations during Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.
         “Then the devil … showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. He said to him, ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms: the power has been given to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Prostrate yourself in homage before me, and it shall all be yours” (Luke 4:5ff). That was a lie. Jesus recognized the lie at once, and rejected the temptation with a scriptural quote: “You shall do homage to the Lord your God; him alone shall you adore” (Deut. 6:13).
          We all experience temptation, all the time. ‘Go ahead. Do it. Why not? It will make you feel  good. You’ll be happy. Everybody does it.’ Every one of those statements is a lie. So we say, ‘Well, just this once.’ And then we find that it’s not just this once. Having yielded to Satan’s lies, we yield again – and again, until we find that we’ve acquired a habit, which soon has us in its grip. Over time we discover that we are slaves of sin, as Jesus says in today’s gospel. Breaking the habit is very difficult.
          But not impossible. “If you remain in my word,” Jesus says, “you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What is this truth that will set us free? It is knowing that when the Lord God set his mark on us at baptism, he made us his sons and daughters,  sisters and brothers of his Son, Jesus. As long as we stay close to him, we are happy; yes, and we are also free. And when we wander off, as all of us do at times, he is ready to forgive us and to restore us to his friendship. He does that in the sacrament of penance, or confession.  
More than once Pope Francis has heard confessions at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. A video made on one such occasion, and which soon went viral on the Internet, shows the Pope kneeling in another confessional to confess his own sins, before he goes to the confessional assigned to him. I have an appointment with my own confessor next week. If you have not celebrated this sacrament recently, I hope you will do so before Easter. It’s not something unpleasant like going to the dentist, It is a personal encounter with One whose love will never let you go. He wants to set you free. His name is Jesus Christ.    

Monday, April 3, 2017

"I AM"

Homily for April 4th, 2017: John 8:21-30.

          “Many came to believe in him,” we just heard. Others, however, did not. As he nears his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus speaks with increasing urgency. “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” That sentence makes sense only if we know the story of God calling Moses, already an old man, to return to Egypt and deliver his people from slavery to the Egyptians. Moses asks what he is to say to his people when they ask who has sent him. And God responds: ‘Tell them that I AM has sent you.’ So what Jesus is saying in the gospel we just heard is that only those who believe he is the divine Son of God will have their sins forgiven.

          The gospel readings for the last three Sundays have been giving reasons to believe in Jesus as God’s divine son. In the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration three weeks ago we saw the divine light of his divinity momentarily breaking through the veil of his humanity. Two weeks ago we heard about Jesus cleansing of the Temple and saying: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up” – words which the hearers assumed referred to the Temple building. In reality, Jesus was speaking about the Temple of his body, and hence about the resurrection. Last Sunday we heard about Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead – something that only God could do. .

          “Because he spoke this way,” today’s gospel tells us, “many came to believe in him.” In his book Jesus of Nazareth Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI writes that those who welcomed Jesus as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey on the first Palm Sunday “were not the same crowd that later demanded his crucifixion” (p.8). That crowd consisted, Pope Benedict writes, of “the Temple aristocracy,” a small ruling clique who felt their power threatened by Jesus’ teaching and claims – and not even all of them, as we see in the case of Nicodemus, a member of the ruling caste, but secretly Jesus’ disciple (cf. op.cit. 185f).

“Just as the Lord entered the Holy City that day on a donkey,” Pope Benedict writes, “so the Church [sees] him coming again and again in the humble form of bread and wine.” Greeting him, we are encountering the One who made us; the One who upholds us at every moment of our lives; who is always close to us, even when we stray far from him; who loves us more than we can ever imagine; who is waiting for us at the end of life’s road, to welcome us into the place he has gone ahead to prepare for us; where we shall experience not just joy but ecstasy – for we shall see God face to face.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


Homily for April 3rd, 2017: John 8:1-11.

          The girl caught in the act of adultery and dragged before Jesus may well have been a teenager. She knew the prescribed punishment (imposed only on women): death by stoning. How terrified she must have been. And when, at the end of this terrible story, all her accusers have slipped away and she hears Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more,” how grateful she must have been.

I have personal reasons for gratitude no less than hers. Sixty three years ago I knelt before a bishop to be ordained a priest in the Church of God. It was the fulfillment of the dream I had had, without a single interruption, from age twelve. Only a dream? No, I had it in writing.  Required by my high school English teacher to write an essay about “What I expect to be doing in 25 years,” I wrote about being a priest. I told my classmates about it, so from age 12 I have been called “Father.” I entered seminary eight years later not to “discern a vocation,” (something I would not hear about for another quarter century), but because I was told that was what I must do to get ordained.

Have every one of the sixty-three years since then been happy? Of course not. That does not happen in any life. All of us must travel at some time another through the psalmist’s dark valley. For seven years, 1974 to 1981, I was without assignment and unemployed. Resident in St. Louis but subject to a bishop in Germany, I was like an Army officer who has got detached from his regiment. The clerical system did not know what to do with me. Those years were hard, and terribly lonely. I survived only by prayer. And there have been other hard years as well. 

         If you were to ask me, however, whether I have ever regretted my decision for priesthood, I would reply at once: Never, not one single day. I’ll say it another way. If I had my life to live over again, knowing in advance all the hard and difficult years which lay ahead, would I still choose priesthood? In a heartbeat! I would change just one thing: I would try to be more faithful.  

            Priesthood has brought me pain and sorrow, yes. But it has also brought me joys beyond telling. Those joys are the reason why I say every day, more times than I can tell you: “Lord, you’re so good to me, and I’m so grateful.”                     

          The greatest joy is the privilege, beyond any man’s deserving, of standing at the altar day by day to obey Jesus’ command at the Last Supper, to “Do this in my memory.” Celebrating Mass was wonderful the first time I did it sixty-three years ago. It is, if possible, even more wonderful today. My prayer today and every day, starting on my 75th birthday, fourteen years ago, is twofold:

That the years which remain to me may belong ever more completely to the Lord God; and -
          For a happy and a holy death.

          I close with a prayer composed by the great 19th century English convert, now Blessed John Henry Newman, at the end of his long life a cardinal, which has been dear to me since childhood.

Support us, O Lord, all the day long; until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.   



Homily for April 3rd, 2017: John 8:1-11.
            The people who come to Jesus in today’s gospel, dragging with them a young girl caught in adultery, are whipped up and excited. They are out to put Jesus on the spot; and they think they have found the perfect means. The Jewish law in such a case was clear. A woman guilty of adultery must be stoned. They demand that Jesus take a stand.
          His first response is silence. Throughout Jesus remains calm and relaxed, in full command of the situation. Stooping down, he begins to write on the ground. Perhaps Jesus is embarrassed. Or maybe he is filled with indignant shame that religious leaders could act so heartlessly.
          And heartless the woman’s accusers were. The Scripture scholars say that she was probably a young teenager. Whatever her age, her accusers have no interest in her at all. Her accusers were really interested in one thing only: setting a trap for Jesus, “so that they could have some charge to bring against him,” as John tells us.
          When they insist that Jesus give some answer, he speaks the well known words: “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus’ challenge strikes home. When all the accusers have departed, leaving Jesus alone with the terrified girl, the condition he has set for her condemnation is fulfilled. Jesus is without sin. If anyone was entitled to condemn her, he was. He refuses to do so. Instead he offers her God’s mercy and the chance to begin again: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.”
          Jesus is not saying that sexual sins are unimportant. Against sin Jesus was uncompromising. With sinners he was compassionate. And with none was he more compassionate than with people guilty of the so-called sins of the flesh. The only people with whom Jesus is severe in the gospels are those guilty of spiritual sins: hard-heartedness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, pride.  
          Those were the sins of the girl’s accusers. To her Jesus extends God’s mercy. This alone could give her hope, challenging her to turn from a destructive life of sin to a constructive life for God and for others – which is the only way to fulfillment, happiness, and peace. Jesus offers us the same challenge today.