Friday, May 5, 2017


Homily for May 6th, 2017: John 6:60-69.

          There is something poignant about Peter’s response to Jesus’ challenging question: “Do you also want to leave?” Many had already done so: “Many of [Jesus’] disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him,” John tells us before reporting Jesus’ challenge to the Twelve. What caused their departure was Jesus’ refusal to soften his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “Let me solemnly assure you,” Jesus said, “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (6:53). That was strong meat indeed, especially for people whose dietary laws forbade the consumption of blood in any form. Still today the kosher laws of observant Jews require that the blood be drained from any meat offered for human consumption. Jesus’ words are also the answer to Protestants who insist that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine of their Communion services is “purely spiritual” and not real. 

          The apostle Peter was, frankly, not the sharpest crayon in the box. His response to Jesus’ question, “Lord to whom shall we go?” suggests that he may not have understood the meaning of Jesus’ strong words. Peter was captivated nonetheless by the One who spoke them: “You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter responds.

          Any preacher who is faithful to his commission to preach the full gospel, and not just what people want to hear, will encounter criticism and rejection. I say that from personal experience.  Preachers have a two-fold task: to comfort the afflicted – but also to afflict the comfortable. When I have said from the pulpit that marriage is possible only for one man and one woman, I have been told: ‘That’s just one opinion.’ The answer is simple: it is the teaching of the Bible, and of the Catholic Church. Told that this teaching is “very hurtful to many of our parishioners,” I remain unfazed. The Lord whose commission I hold to preach “the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” will ask me one day whether I did that; or whether I abbreviated his truth because someone might be uncomfortable and offended. Similarly with the person who was offended by a homily which dealt in part with pornography – which any priest who sits in the confessional soon learns is a serious problem today – and in consequence could no longer attend our church. Jesus encountered rejection. If we who serve him experience only smiles and affirmation, we must ask whether we are doing our job.

Thursday, May 4, 2017


Homily for May 5th, 2017. Acts of the Apostles 9:1-20.

          The story we heard in our first reading is one of the most dramatic conversion stories of all time – in the same class with the story of St. Augustine’s conversion three centuries later. The chief persecutor of Jesus’ disciples, until then a small sect within the Jewish community, becomes overnight the man called by God to carry the gospel message to the whole world.

In Augustine’s case, conversion started with a child’s voice from the other side of the garden wall, saying, “Take up and read.” When Augustine opened the biblical scroll he was holding, his eyes fell on Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (13:13f). Those words kindled in Augustine a fire that never went out.

          In the case of Saul (he received the name Paul only when he was baptized), the voice said: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” We might have expected a different question: “Why are you persecuting my Church?” The question came in personal form because the Church is Christ’s body: he has today no voice to speak to people but ours, no hands to reach out in compassion but ours, and so forth.

          Note the reaction of the man God has chosen to baptize Saul, Ananias. He’s scared out of his wits. ‘I’ve heard about this man, Lord,’ he says. ‘He’s dangerous.’ ‘Go,’ God tells him. ‘He is my chosen instrument to carry my name to Jew and Gentile alike.’ Go to St. Paul’s Church just south of Columbus Circle in New York’s Manhattan. Over the altar you will see carved in stone three Latin words: Vas electionis est – “He is my elect or chosen vessel.”

          To those words the Lord adds these: “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” What does this tell us? A personal encounter with the Lord God – like that experienced by Saul, Augustine, and countless others down through the ages – is never just for the individual. God comes personally to chosen souls to commission them to go to others, proclaiming: “I have seen the Lord!” And in every case, the fulfillment of this call means suffering.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017



May 7th, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A. John 10:1-10.

AIM: To show Jesus as the good shepherd who gives us abundant life.


          Certain things are indispensable for human life: air, water, food — and love.  Without love children grow up stunted or warped. “Problem children,” we call them. They may have received too little love, the wrong kind of love, or so much of what their parents mistook for love that the children are spoiled. Every one of us needs love: not just in childhood, but our whole lives long. Deep in every heart is the desire to give and to receive; to know some beloved person intimately, but also to be known. As we grow in age, we make a discovery which causes most of us deep pain. It is this: no human relationship completely fulfills this deep human longing; not the most perfect marriage, not the most ideal friendship.

          There is one person, however, who does love us totally, and who knows us better than we know ourselves. His name is Jesus Christ. “I know my sheep,” he says in today’s Alleluia verse (Jn. 10:14). Before this friend we have no secrets.  He sees behind the masks we all wear. From his penetrating gaze there is no hiding. Does that seem threatening? In reality it is reassuring: to know that there is one person who knows the worst that is in us, and yet still loves us — yes, and will continue to love us, no matter how little we return his love.

          “I know my sheep,” Jesus says. The words are so familiar that we don’t realize how unflattering they are. Sheep are foolish animals. They easily wander off and get into trouble. They are easily frightened. They require constant supervision. In one respect, however, sheep are smart. They recognize their own shepherd and can distinguish him from strangers who may harm them. Listen again to Jesus’ words in the gospel: “The sheep hear [their shepherd’s] voice, as [he] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. ... The sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” The words are an expansion of today’s Alleluia verse: “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and mine know me.”

          The knowledge that we, the flock of Jesus Christ, have of our shepherd is astonishing, when you stop to think about it. Jesus lived two thousand years ago.  About most of his years on earth we know nothing at all. He was often a mystery, even to his closest friends. Yet was there ever a human being so well known by so many as Jesus Christ? Not everyone knows him, of course. Jesus indicated that when he said, “mine know me.” Who is he talking about? He is speaking of all those who listen to Jesus’ voice, and try, at least, to follow him. That is what counts: the effort, not the success. 

          Those who do try to follow Jesus find that he is always close to them, yet that he remains the totally Other. They know his goodness, his kindness, his patience, his strength, his courage. They recognize Jesus Christ as the embodiment of everything good and noble and worthwhile in human life: completely sinless, selfless, pure, holy. Those who try to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, experience him as a man set apart; yet drawing people to himself with a mysterious magnetism which centuries cannot diminish. (Why is it always quiet in the church when I speak about Jesus Christ? Why is it quiet right now?)

          Jesus Christ is the one who understands us when no one else understands. He is the one who raises us up when we fall; whose help is effective and powerful when every other help fails. He is the Good Shepherd. He tells us in today’s gospel: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Does that mean somewhere else, tomorrow? pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die? No! Though the abundant life which Jesus came to give us will never be complete in this world, he wants it to begin here and now.

          Perhaps someone is asking: “Can you prove that?” To that I must answer: “No, I cannot prove it. You must prove it.” You do so when you take Jesus at his word; when you listen for the shepherd’s voice, and heed his call. Once you do that, you will be able to say, in the words of the best known and most loved of all the 150 psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall lack.”

          Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are a reassurance and a promise. But they are more. They are also an invitation, and a challenge, addressed personally to you: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. ... I came so that they might have life and have it to the full” [New American Bible]. 

          That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it to the full!


Homily for May 4th, 2017: John 6:44-51.

          “I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat and not die.” Jesus is speaking to his fellow Jews. So to understand what he is saying, we must start with the Jewish Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament.

          The rabbis often spoke of the manna which nourished God’s people during their desert wanderings under Moses as God’s word or instruction. Amos, the first of Israel’s prophets to write down his message (earlier prophets spoke orally only) writes about a famine coming on the land, because of the people’s unfaithfulness: “not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the word of the Lord” (8:11f). The theme of bread as God’s word is frequent in the so-called Wisdom books of the Old Testament. In the book Sirach, for instance, we read: “He who fears the Lord … will come to wisdom … She will nourish him with the bread of understanding . . .” (15:1 & 3).

          This is the background for Jesus’ astonishing claim: “I am the bread of life … the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Jesus’ words are real nourishment. That is why the two disciples who encountered the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus could say, after Jesus had made himself known in “the breaking of the bread” (the oldest term for the Eucharist): “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

          All Catholics know that Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion. Many still do not realize that he comes to us equally in what the second Vatican Council called “the table of the word.” The rediscovery of that term, which had lain, largely forgotten, in the Church’s attic for centuries, was one of the Council’s great gifts to us. “The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerates the body of the Lord,” the Council said, “insofar as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (Verbum Dei, 21).  For a balanced spiritual diet, we must be nourished by both.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Homily for May 3rd, 2017: 1 Cor. 15:1-8.

          “Last of all, he was seen by me, as one born out of due time,” Paul writes at the end of today’s first reading for feast of the Apostles Philip and James. To have personally seen the risen Lord was one of the original qualifications for the office of apostle. In just eleven days, on the feast of the apostle Matthias, chosen to replace the traitor Judas, we will hear Peter saying that the one chosen to fill out the number of twelve apostles must be “one of those who was of our company when the Lord Jesus moved among us, from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us.” Only such a person, Peter said, was qualified to be a “witness with us to the resurrection” (cf. Acts 1:21f).

          The eleven remaining apostles chose two men who fitted the requirements stated by Peter. By casting lots between them, they left the choice of the substitute apostle to God. They did everything correctly. Yet God seems to have had other plans. For after the day of his naming as an apostle, Matthias disappears into obscurity, and we hear nothing more of him.

          The man about whom we hear a great deal is the zealous defender of his Jewish faith, Saul, given the name Paul in baptism following his dramatic conversion to faith in Jesus Christ in the encounter with him outside Damascus.

From that day on Paul insisted that on that day he had seen the risen Lord. For after listing the other resurrection appearances – the one to “five hundred brothers at once,” and to the apostle James, known to us only from this passage – Paul says: “Last of all he was seen by me, as one born out of the normal course.” This qualified him, Paul always insisted, to be a “witness to the risen Lord,” and as such an apostle.   

Paul’s story is fascinating – another example of God disclosing himself, as he does over and again in Holy Scripture, as the God of surprises -- indeed the God of the humanly impossible.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Homily for May 2nd, 2017: John 6:35-40.

          An African priest tells about a priest-friend who is studying in Paris. One day the French priest with whom he lives was unwell unable to celebrate his regular 4 p.m. Mass for nuns in a nearby convent. He asked the African priest to substitute for him. When the African priest rang the convent doorbell at 3.55, the Sister who answered was surprised to see an unfamiliar face. She thought he was a street person asking for help. “I’m sorry,” she told him. “We’re just about to have Mass. We can’t help you now. Come back later.” Fifteen minutes later, the nuns called the rectory to ask where their priest was. Imagine their embarrassment when they learned that they had just turned him away.

          Why did those good Sisters go without Mass that day? It was because the priest who came did not look like the person they were expecting. That was Jesus’ experience. His fellow Jews were expecting that God’s long awaited anointed servant, the Messiah, would come dramatically, descending from the clouds of heaven. Jesus was not dramatic. He was ordinary. When Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” they thought he must be crazy. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph?” they asked. “Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  

          Jesus’ people knew about “bread from heaven.” That was the manna with which God had fed their ancestors during their desert wanderings. But the prophets also spoke of bread as the spiritual nourishment which God gives to those who approach him in faith and try to do his will. So when Jesus said, “I am the bread come down from heaven,” he was using the language of the prophets.        When Jesus says, “I am the bread come down from heaven,” and “I am the bread of life,” we read those words as a reference to the Eucharist. That is correct. But there are two tables in the Eucharist: the table of the Lord’s body, but also the table of the word. The first part of the Mass, the liturgy of the word, is not merely a preparation for the “essential part”: consecration and communion. It is equally important, and equally essential. The Second Vatican Council said in 1965: “In the sacred books the Father who is in heaven comes lovingly to meet his children, and talks with them. And such is the force and power of the word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting source of spiritual life.”

          We repeat then in this Mass the words of the boy Samuel when the Lord called out to him in the Jerusalem Temple: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:10).



Sunday, April 30, 2017


Homily for May 1st, 2017: John 6:22-29.

AThis is the work of God,@ Jesus says in the gospel reading we have just heard, Athat you believe in the one he sent.@ Or as another translation has it: Ahave faith in the one he sent.@ What is faith? For many of us, I think, faith means belief in the truths contained in the creed which we recite every Sunday at Mass. Faith in that sense is more properly called Abelief@: mental assent. Important as that is, faith has another meaning: personal trust C an affair not just of the head, but of the heart.  Even the creed begins not AI believe that@ but AI believe in.@ To believe in someone is to trust that person. Here’s a story about such trusting faith.

Some Alpine guides in a Swiss village organized a climb late in the season, after all the tourists had departed. They reached their chosen summit without difficulty. They were disappointed, however, not to have found an edelweiss, the delicate star-shaped white flower that grows only at high altitudes and is prized by mountaineers as a souvenir of their exploits.

The group had already started their descent when one of them spotted a single edelweiss on a narrow ledge some thirty feet below. To get it someone would have to be let down on a rope. There was no time to linger, for the weather, which changes rapidly in the mountains, was deteriorating. The climbers turned at once to the youngest and smallest member of the party, twelve-year-old Hans, making his first major climb with his father. It would be easy to let him down. In five minutes they could be on their way again. 

AWhat about it, Hans,@ they asked. AWill you do it?@

Hans peered anxiously at the narrow ledged with the treasured white flower C and at the sheer drop of hundreds of feet immediately beyond.

AI=ll do it,@ Hans replied, Aif my father holds the rope.@

That=s faith B unconditional trust! That is what Jesus is talking about when he says in today=s gospel: AThis is the work of God: that you believe in the One he sent.@

We pray in this Mass that, through the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, we too may receive the trusting faith of that twelve-year-old boy.