Friday, May 19, 2017


Homily for May 20th, 2017: John 15:18-21.

          “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first,” Jesus says in today’s gospel.. Does the world really hate us? I’m sorry to tell you: It does. When we say, publicly and openly, that abortion at any stage of pregnancy, is the deliberate killing of a baby, a crime as grave as the killing of a human being at any age between birth and natural death, the world calls us misogynists, haters of women, enemies of their “reproductive freedom,” who are waging a war on women.

          When we say, publicly and openly, that marriage is exclusively the lifelong union of one man and on woman, rooted in our God given human nature, for the sake not only of uniting hearts and minds, but also for parenthood, we are called homophobes, bigots, enemies of equality as reprehensible as those who defended segregated schools, waiting rooms, and lunch counter in yesteryear’s Jim Crow South.

          The world hates us for saying these things and tells us: “You should be ashamed.” These are not merely personal opinions, as a parishioner claimed not long ago after I had stated from the pulpit the Church’s teaching about marriage. They are the teaching of the Catholic Church.

          There is a way to avoid this hatred, and it is this: simply be silent about such matters. Then we can continue to go to Mass, and identify ourselves publicly as Catholics without arousing hatred; because the world knows, with a wink and a nod, that there are also “good Catholics”: sensible, modern people who don’t upset anyone by mentioning such matters; because such Catholics agree with those who hate us that the Church’s teachings are outdated, obsolete, and hence, for Catholics, optional and dispensable. Friends, nothing in our Catholic faith is optional or dispensable, any more than any one of the teachings of Jesus Christ is optional. It was Jesus’ refusal to compromise, or be silent, about anything he said that brought him to the cross.

One day each one of us will stand before God in judgment. One of the questions we shall be asked is this: Were you ever ashamed of the gospel? Did you keep silent about any part of it, or did you deny it, out of fear that you would make people uncomfortable or even angry? The answers to those questions will determine, one day, where, how, and with whom, we shall spend eternity. Think about that. More important, pray about it.


Thursday, May 18, 2017


Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A.  John 14:15-21.

AI will not leave you orphans,@ Jesus says in the gospel reading we have just heard.  Mother Teresa used to say: AThe greatest sickness in the modern world is loneliness C just having no one.@ To have no one is especially painful for a young child. One of the major traumas of little children is getting separated from Mummy or Daddy in a crowd. Across the distance of eighty-five years I can still remember my panic at losing sight of my mother in the pre-Christmas shopping crush at Macy=s, the big New York department store. She found me again a few moments later. But at age four it seemed an eternity. I can feel the fright and pain still. 
Infinitely greater was the pain I experienced two years later when my mother really did leave me. She died of pneumonia the day after Christmas 1934, after only a week=s illness. Not two years after this tragedy the Lord who tells us, AI will not leave you orphans,@ came to me in an experience which (as I realize now looking back) would shape the rest of my life. At age seven or eight it came home to me one day, with a certainty which has never left me, that the separation from my mother was temporary only. I would see her again, when God called me home to himself. 
That childhood insight was the seed from which my call to priesthood grew.  It planted in me the desire to be close to the spiritual world: the world of God, the world of the angels, of the saints, and of our beloved dead. I never stand at the altar to offer the Holy Sacrifice in which we stand on the threshold of that spiritual world without praying for my mother C and now of course for so many other loved ones as well who, in the decades since her death, have followed her home to God.
AI will not leave you orphans,@ Jesus promises us.  AI will come to you.@  Jesus spoke those words of farewell the night before his death.  He spoke them knowing that his death was imminent. That is why he says: AIn a little while the world will no longer see me.@ And then he adds: ABut you will see me, because I live and you will live.@ 
That is the great, central truth of our faith: Jesus lives! Jesus, who really died, just as each of us must die one day, is alive. This celebration is not the sorrowful commemoration of a dead hero. It is a joyful encounter with our living, ever present Lord. At Easter Jesus did not come back to life. Jesus= earthly life ended on Calvary. At Easter Jesus was raised to new life C a life beyond death, a life which would never end. 
That is why Jesus left his burial wrappings behind in the tomb. He would never need them again. When Jesus raised his friend Lazarus from the dead, by contrast, Lazarus came forth from his tomb, as we read in John=s gospel, Abound head and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth@ (11:44). Lazarus did come back to earthly life. He would need his burial wrappings again.
Because Jesus did not come back to earthly life, but was raised at Easter to new, heavenly life, most of those to whom he appeared after the resurrection did not recognize him at first. Because he was alive on a new, spiritual level, he had no earthly abode. He was no longer subject to earthly limitations. He could appear and disappear at will, even behind locked doors, as he did to his frightened apostles in the upper room on Easter evening.
It is part of the good news of the gospel that this new, heavenly life which Jesus enjoys will one day be ours. One day C but not now. Here and now we encounter the Lord who promises not to leave us orphans through his Holy Spirit: the AAdvocate@ as Jesus calls him in today=s gospel, who will Abe with you always, the Spirit of truth.@
This Advocate, the Holy Spirit of the living God and third person of the Trinity, is the love poured out from the Father on his Son, and returned by the Son to his Father. For most of us our first experience of love came through the care which our mothers lavished on us when we were too small and too young to know or remember it. Each of us learned to love, if we have learned at all, by being loved.  As we grew to maturity we were called to share this love with others by obeying the commandments of Him who is the source of all love.
AIf you love me,@ Jesus tells us in today=s gospel, Ayou will keep my commandments. ... Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.@
What about the times we have not kept God=s commandments? None of us has kept them completely. All of us have failed at times, many of us often. For such failures there is a special sacrament: the sacrament of penance or reconciliation, most often called simply confession. When we bring our failures to God, with sincere sorrow and a firm purpose to do better, God forgives us. He doesn=t want us to drag behind us an every lengthening trail of guilt.
On the next to last day of his visit to this country in April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged his own failures. At the end of the Mass he celebrated in New York=s St. Patrick=s Cathedral, Cardinal Bertone, the papal Secretary of State, reminded everyone that it was the third anniversary of Benedict=s election as Pope and thanked him for all he had done in those three years. The congregation responded with prolonged applause.
Though English is the Pope=s fourth language (after his native German, Italian, and French), Benedict responded with simplicity and genuine humility.  Here is what he said: AAt this moment I can only thank you for your love of the Church and Our Lord, and for the love which you show to the poor Successor of Saint Peter. I will try to do all that is possible to be a worthy successor of the great Apostle, who also was a man with faults and sins, but remained in the end the rock for the Church. And so I too, with all my spiritual poverty, can be for this time, in virtue of the Lord=s grace, the Successor of Peter.@  
Our present Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made similar statements of his sinfulness and unworthiness on many occasions. As we give thanks to God for giving us Holy Fathers of such genuine humility, we pray that the Lord will strengthen them, and all those called to leadership in the Lord’s Church. We pray also that the Lord will give each of us a full measure of the same strong and humble faith which they model for us.  


Fifth Sunday of Easter Year A. John 14:1-12.
AIM: To deepen the hearers’ faith.
      A four-year-old boy was in the kitchen with his mother. “I need a can of mushroom soup, Johnny,” she said to him. “Could you go down into the cellar and get it for me?”
      “It’s dark down there, Mom,” he replied. “I’m scared to go down.”
      His mother tried several times, without success, to persuade him that he had nothing to be scared of. When all else failed, she played her trump card. “It’s all right, Johnny. Jesus will be down there with you.”
      At that Johnny opened the cellar door and called out: “Jesus, if you’re down there, would you bring me up a can of mushroom soup?”
      Four-year-old Johnny’s fear was not unlike the fear of Jesus’ friends in our gospel reading. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. Then he said he would be leaving them. The news plunged them into grief and fear. At the beginning of our gospel reading Jesus responds to this fear by saying: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” 
      The “trouble” they were experiencing went deep. The gospel writer uses the same word to describe Jesus’ emotions at the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus as he joins in the grief of Lazarus’ sisters and other friends. The word is used once again to describe Jesus’ emotions when he realizes that one of his inner circle, Judas Iscariot, is going to betray him. The “trouble” Jesus felt on those occasions, and which his disciples feel now, was gut-wrenching, and stomach-turning. It is the feeling we experience at the news that someone we dearly love has unexpectedly died. Nothing, we realize, will ever be the same again.
      Notice how Jesus counters this fear. “You have faith in God,” he tells his
disciples. “Have faith also in me.” Faith in God Jesus could take for granted. These friends of his were believing Jews. He challenges them to extend this same faith to him. You must trust, he was telling them, that the same God whom we worship in synagogue and temple is truly present and active in me. 
      That is a tremendous claim, when you think about it. The disciples whom Jesus was addressing didn’t yet know him as we know him — as the divine Son of God. To them he was a man like themselves. Realization that he was more came only after the resurrection.
      Jesus’ challenge to his friends to trust him as they trusted God involves the central teaching of our Christian faith: the incarnation. Incarnation means “embodiment.” Children are the embodiment, or incarnation, of their parents’ love, which brings them into being. This building is the incarnation of an idea in the mind of the architect who designed it, and of the sacrifices of those whose gifts made its construction possible. And Jesus is the incarnation of God. That explains how Jesus can say in today’s gospel reading: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The introduction to the Eucharistic Prayer for Christmas says the same: “In him [Jesus] we see our God made visible, and so are caught up in the love of the God we cannot see.”       
      The incarnation begins with Jesus. But it has important implications for us as well. By taking on our human nature Jesus has broken through the boundary between our world and the world of God. The same God who took human form in Jesus is also embodied, though of course in a different degree, in each person who, in baptism, becomes a member of Christ’s body, the Church. Hence we can even say that each one of us is, in a certain measure, the embodiment of God. He dwells in us through the presence and power of his Holy Spirit.
      This truth, that each of us is the temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, helps us understand Jesus’ words at the conclusion of our gospel reading: “Truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I go to the Father.”

      What are the works that Jesus did?  First on just about any list would be his miracles: the healings he performed, the stilling of the storm on the lake, the raising of the widow’s son at Naim and of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Jesus also fed the hungry: the vast crowd in the wilderness, his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. After his resurrection Jesus prepared a lakeside breakfast for Peter, James, and John, tired and hungry from a night of fruitless fishing with the net coming back empty time after time until a man on shore, still unrecognized, calls out, “Cast the net on the right side” — and they feel the net heavy with fish, and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” calls out excitedly: “It is the Lord.” Jesus’ works also include his beautiful stories — the  parables — and all his teaching about the love of God, his heavenly Father: the love that will never let us go.   

      How can Jesus say that we, his followers, will do even greater works than those? Well, consider. During his life on earth Jesus’ works were confined to just a few years, and to one very small part of the world. But these works did not end with Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to his Father in heaven. He wanted them to continue, and they have continued, through his Church. Starting as a sect of Judaism, the Church which Jesus founded spread throughout the whole world and has continued through twenty centuries of history. 

      We the Church’s members are charged to continue Jesus’ works. He has now no hands to bless people than ours; no eyes to look upon people in love than ours; no tongue to speak words of love, encouragement, or warning but ours; no arms to support people and their burdens than ours. The Church’s works are greater than those of her Lord because they are more extended in time and space than they could ever be during the few years that Jesus walked the dusty roads of Palestine. And the Church’s works are great — amazing in fact — because they have never ceased despite all the failures and betrayals. They began when, at Jesus’ arrest, “they all forsook him and fled” (Mk 14:50); and when, only hours later, their leader, Peter, three times denied that he even knew the Lord. Should we be surprised when we hear of similar betrayals today?

I began with a story.  Let me close with another. 

When the Lord Jesus returned to heaven at the ascension the angels wanted to know everything he had done on earth.  So Jesus told them how he had gone about doing good, healing the sick, and teaching people about the freely given love of God.

AThat=s wonderful, Lord,@ the angels said.  ABut now that you=re no longer in earth, won=t people soon forget about what you have done and said?@

AOh no,@ Jesus explained.  AI founded a Church.  I chose twelve men to be its first bishops.  I spent three years teaching them: how to pray, how to heal people, how to free them from their burdens, how to teach others about God=s freely given love. They are going to carry on my work.@

AThat=s all well and good, Lord,@ the angels replied.  ABut we know how fickle and unreliable these human beings are. How do you know that they will keep on doing all those things you trained them to do? How do you know that they will remain faithful?@

At that the Lord fell silent. He looked down and seemed to be thinking.  Then he looked up and, with that beautiful, radiant smile of his, said very simply:

AI trust them.@


Homily for May 18th, 2017: Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17.

          We heard in yesterday’s first reading about the Church in the first generation after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension deciding a question crucial for the Church’s future: how much of the Jewish law must be required of non-Jews seeking Christian baptism? What we now recognize was the first Church Council decided to erect as few barriers a possible. The Church must not continue to be, as at first, a small group within Judaism. It must be open to all without exception. That we are Catholic Christians today in a land and continent unknown to anyone present at that first Council in Jerusalem is a fruit of what that Council decided.

          Today’s first reading tells of the Council’s decision being communicated to the Church at Antioch. When the letter from Jerusalem was read out in Antioch, we heard, “there was great delight” at what it contained.

          Today the Church wrestles with a problem of similar gravity: how can we continue to remain faithful to the Church’s consistent teaching, based on the Bible, that marriage is the permanent union of one man and one woman, while also trying to minister pastorally to couples whose marriages fail and are now in second unions, often with children? Up to now such people have been forbidden to come to Communion, since they are living in relationships which the Church cannot bless. Pope Francis called two synods of the world's bishops to discuss this painful question. A year ago he issued an encyclical letter, Amoris laetitia, which means “The Joy of Love.” Though he hoped it would settle the question, controversy continues. We must pray that the Holy Spirit will guide those who are seeking a solution to this difficult problem.

          Jesus’ twice repeated command in today’s gospel, “love one another,” is especially important in this connection. Too often Catholics today separate themselves into parties: us and them, liberals and conservatives. Divisions like that, appropriate in the political realm, have no place in the great family of God which we call the Catholic Church. We are all brothers and sisters; all equally daughters and sons of our heavenly Father, who reconciles us with him and with each other through the poured out blood of his divine Son, Jesus Christ.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Homily for May 18th, 2017: Acts 15:7-21.

          The Church’s original members were almost all observant Jews. After the Lord’s return to heaven at the Ascension, they continued to worship in the Jerusalem Temple, and to observe the Jewish dietary laws. Things began to change when a Roman military officer named Cornelius, described as “religious and God-fearing [as was] his whole household,” had a vision telling him to “send for a certain Simon, known as Peter.” About the same time Peter too had a vision in which God commanded him to eat food that the Jewish dietary laws labeled as “unclean,” and not to be eaten. This prepared Peter for the visit of messengers from Cornelius inviting him to come with them to their master.

          When Peter arrived, he found that Cornelius had invited a large crowd of relatives and friends, all presumably Gentiles. Jesus told them about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Whereupon the Holy Spirit descended on the whole company, as he had descended on Peter and his friends at Pentecost. “What can stop these people who have received the Holy Spirit, even as we have, from being baptized?” Peter asked. Following their baptism, Peter stayed with them several days, despite the Jewish law forbidding house and table fellowship with Gentiles. (See Acts chapter 10.)

          When news of all this reached Jerusalem, it caused consternation in the Christian community there. A meeting of Church leaders assembled to settle the question of what Jewish laws should be required of Gentiles who wished to receive baptism. Our first reading told what happened.

This first Church Council settled the matter by deciding that Gentile Christians need not observe the whole Jewish law, only certain essential provisions. This decision was momentous – and for the future crucial. It enabled the Church to emerge from its Jewish womb and become what it is today: the Body of Christ for all peoples, races, and nations, without difference or distinction. Pope Francis recently preached about this in one of his daily homilies. “If tomorrow an expedition of Martians came, and some of them came to us, here... Martians, right? Green, with that long nose and big ears, just like children paint them... And one says, ‘But I want to be baptized!’ What would happen?” he asked. “When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! His point was: the Church is for all, without distinction.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Homily for May 17th, 2017: John 15:1-8.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.” Some Bible scholars think that Jesus spoke these words as he crossed the Temple courtyard with his eleven still faithful friends after the Last Supper. It was Passover time, so there would have been a full moon. The golden vine around the Temple wall, which symbolized God’s people, glowed in the moonlight. Pointing first to himself, then to the vine, Jesus says: AI am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower ...@

In calling himself the true vine, Jesus implies a contrast. God=s people, the vine he had brought out of Egypt and planted in a new land, had not been true. Jesus had been true. His death the next day would be Jesus= final act of faithful obedience to his Father=s will. He was calling the little band of friends accompanying him to imitate his faithfulness ABy this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

  To do this, they must remain united with him. ARemain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.@ The person who remains united with him, Jesus says, Awill bear much fruit.@

AMy Father is the vine grower,@ Jesus says. He cares for the branches of his vine in two ways: by pruning those that bear fruit, and by cutting off and burning the unfruitful branches. Jesus= words about these unfruitful branches being thrown into a fire and burned are an implied reference to Judas, who was even then betraying the Lord.

The vine grower=s treatment of the fruitful branches seems at first sight severe: AEvery one that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit.@ The image, easily understood by Jesus= hearers, who were familiar with vineyards and grapes, is that of a gardener pinching off the new green shoots on a vine, so that all the growth can be concentrated in the few early blooming branches which the gardener has selected to bear fruit. 

Faced in life with setbacks, injustice, or suffering B as all of us are, at some time or other B which one of us has not asked: AWhy me? What have I done to deserve this?@ Jesus= words in today=s gospel do not answer these questions. Instead his words challenge us to view setbacks, injustice, and suffering as opportunities to grow. He is inviting us to submit to the vine grower=s pruning, and so to glorify him by producing abundant fruit.


Monday, May 15, 2017


          Six years ago a book was published with the interesting title: The Boy who Met Jesus. It told the story of a 15-year-old penniless boy in the African country of Rwanda named Segatashya who had never been to school or a church, and had never seen a Bible. Resting under a shade tree one day in 1982, he was visited by Jesus, who asked Segatashya if he’d be willing to go on a mission to remind people how to live a life that leads to heaven.

         Segatashya accepted the assignment on one condition: that Jesus answer all his questions  --  about faith, religion, the purpose of life, and the nature of heaven and hell. Jesus agreed to the boy’s terms, and Segatashya set off on what would become a most miraculous journey. Some of what the young man learned confirms things we have heard in our two readings.

“What you need to know is this,” Segatashya told the book’s author. “Jesus knows us all to the very depths of our souls, all our dreams and worries, all hopes and fears, all our goodness

and all our weakness. He can see our sins and faults and wants nothing more than for us to heal our hearts and cleanse our souls so that we can love him as immea­surably as he loves us. When he sends us suffering, he does it only to strengthen our spirits so we'll be strong enough to fight off Satan, who wants to destroy us, so that one day we can bask in the glory of his presence forever.”

            Paul says something similar in our first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”  I discovered those words over 70 years ago. They have helped me through I couldn’t tell you how many trials ever since.

          “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you,” we heard Jesus saying in the gospel.” Segatashya must have heard those words, for he told the book’s author: “When I was with him, I never wanted to leave. If he asked me to come and be with him now, I would leave this world for­ever without the slightest hesitation. To be near him is to live in love; no words need be spoken. In his presence, your soul is at peace and completely joyous. Know that his love is real, and that it is eternal and ours to have if we love him and do his will on earth. Ask him into your heart, and all his graces are yours. He will refuse you nothing. If you were able to know only one truth in your life, you should know this truth: Jesus loves you.”

          Sadly, the young man who spoke those words was killed in the Rwandan slaughter of 1984. Our Christian faith gives us reason to hope that we’ll meet him one day in heaven.


Sunday, May 14, 2017


Homily for May15th, 2017: John 14: 21-26.

          “Whoever loves me will keep my word,” Jesus tells his friends. He is speaking to the apostles at the Last Supper, after washing their feet. He did this to show them that he was sending them to serve others, and not to be served. That is what Jesus means by keeping his word: being servants of others. Jesus was speaking not just to those twelve men in the Upper Room at Jerusalem. He is speaking also to us. If we keep his word, he is telling us, his heavenly Father will love us, and both Jesus himself and his Father will love us and come to us, and make their dwelling with us. What a wonderful promise that is! And of course whenever Jesus promises something, he always keeps his promise.

          None of us ever keeps God’s word completely, however. All of us fail at times. That was why Mother Teresa – now St. Teresa of Kolcatta – used to say: “God does not ask us to be successful. He asks us to be faithful.” When we fail, we need to remember what our wonderful Pope Francis never tires of telling us: “God never grows tired of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.” 

Speaking to a vast crowd of young people in Germany in September 2011, his predecessor, now Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI said: “Dear friends, Christ is not so much interested in how often in our lives we stumble and fall, as in how often with his help we pick ourselves up again. He does not demand glittering achievements, but he wants his light to shine in you. He does not call you because you are good and perfect, but because he is good and wants to make you his friends. Yes, you are the light of the world because Jesus is your light. You are Christians – not because you do special and extraordinary things, but because he, Christ, is your life. You are holy, we are holy, if we allow his grace to work in us.”

          Pope Benedict’s words were an example of something else that Jesus promises in today’s gospel reading, at the close. “The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” On that evening with those young people in Germany almost six years ago, the Pope of that day was doing just that.