Friday, June 2, 2017


Homily for June 3rd, 2017: John 21:20-25.

Having just received Jesus’ commission to “feed my sheep,” Peter asks about the man standing next to him, “the one who reclined upon [the Lord’s] breast during the [last] supper,” and asks: “Lord, what about him?” Bible scholars have been debating the reason for this question for two millennia. Some think that Peter may have been genuinely concerned that Jesus had said nothing about the fate of Peter’s best friend and fellow fisherman. Others discern a touch of jealousy in Peter, long present because of the special closeness between Jesus and this disciple, open for all to see. Both views are pure speculation. We simply don’t know the reason for Peter’s question. And at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. As we have already seen, not everything in Scripture is plain, simple, or obvious.

As so often in the gospels, Jesus does not answer the question he has been asked. Directing Peter to concentrate on the commission he has just received, Jesus answers the latter’s question with one of his own (a common practice in Jewish dialogue and disputation): “What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours?” This response would be especially appropriate if Peter’s question contained a touch of jealousy.

John’s gospel closes with an affirmation of authenticity: “It is this disciple who testifies to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true,” The concluding final sentence -- about there not being enough room in the whole world for books to record all Jesus’ works -- is a clear example of hyperbole: deliberate exaggeration for the sake of effect. This was common in antiquity. The Jewish philosopher Philo, for instance, writes: “If [God] were to display all his riches, even the entire earth, with the sea turned into dry land, would not contain them.” And the Church Father Origen says: “It is impossible t commit to writing all those particulars that belong to the glory of the Savior.” [cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel according to John, p. 1130]

The significance of the statement for us is simply this: if we are trying to follow Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor with all our heart, mind, and soul, we will be discovering more about him every day; until he sends his angel to call us home, to the place which he has prepared for us – where we shall experience not only peace and joy but ecstasy; for we shall see God face to face. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017


Homily for June 2nd, 2017: John 21:15-19.

          It is after Easter. Peter and his friends have gone back to fishing. All night, they catch nothing. At dawn a man on the shore whom they don’t recognize calls out: “Cast your net on the starboard side.” They do so and feel the net heavy with fish. The disciple always identified in John’s gospel as “the one Jesus loved” calls out: “It is the Lord!” They hurry ashore with their rich catch and find Jesus standing by a fire. He has made breakfast for them.

          After they have eaten, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter assures the Lord that he does. “Peter was hurt,” we heard in the gospel when Jesus asked the question the third time. Of course he was hurt. Jesus= thrice repeated question reminded Peter of his own threefold denial of the Lord by another fire, in Jerusalem, the night before the crucifixion.

In response to each pledge of love, Jesus assigns Peter responsibility: to feed Jesus= sheep. It is noteworthy, however, that the flock entrusted to Peter=s care remains the Lord=s: Amy lambs ... my sheep.@ Jesus himself is Athe chief shepherd.@ (cf. 1 Peter (5:4).   

Why did Jesus give this responsibility to Peter, of all people? As long as Peter thought that he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful, Peter was not ready for leadership. For that Peter had to experience his weakness. He had to become convinced that without a power greater than his own, he could do nothing. One way he learned his weakness was through his failure at fishing.

Do you sometimes feel weak? You have made so many good resolutions. Some you have kept, others not. You have high ideals. How often you have compromised. You had so many dreams, hopes, plans. You wanted so much. You have settled for so little. If that is your story, you have a friend in heaven. His name is Simon Peter. 

If Peter=s story is yours C boasting followed by humiliating failure; impetuosity and then indecisiveness; pledges of loyalty no matter what, and then swift betrayal C if you see any of that in your life, or even all of that, then Jesus has a task for you. He is saying to you right now what he said to Peter: AFollow me.@ He doesn’t ask you to be always strong, for he knows your weakness -- better than you do. He asks you one thing only: to trust him. His strength will always be enough. You have only to ask, and Jesus is there.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Homily for June 1st, 2017: John 17:20-26.

          Once again Jesus lifts up his eyes to heaven, as he continues what has come to be called his High Priestly prayer. If the theme in his prayer hitherto has been the glory that Jesus shares with the Father and wishes to share with his friends, here the theme is unity. Jesus and his Father are one, bound together by their love for one another. And that love is the Holy Spirit. Through the gift of the Spirit Jesus’ disciples are made one.

          The unity among his friends for which Jesus prays extends far beyond those there in the Upper Room, for the Last Supper. Jesus is looking toward the future, at what would become his Church. This is clear from his opening words: “I pray not only for these [those present with him in the Upper Room] but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Sadly Christians are not all one; and our divisions make it impossible for many in our world to believe that Jesus is God’s divine Son, sent by him into the world in human form. That is why ecumenism, which involves the search for Christian unity, is not an optional extra for the Church but an essential duty. The Second Vatican Council said: “The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike,” adding: “There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion.” The search for the unity for which Christ prayed starts, in other words, at home: with us, and the deepening of our faith. “Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way,” the Council said, “to that continual purification of which she always has need.” [Decree on Ecumenism, Nos. 5-6]

Jesus concludes this moving prayer by asking his Father “that the love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” To which we gladly say: Amen, so may it be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


Pentecost, Year A.  Acts 2:1-11.
AIM - To help the hearers understand the Spirit=s work: in the Church and in us.
There are events so wonderful, and so full of mystery, that ordinary language cannot describe them. Such was the Pentecost event which we celebrate today. In our first reading Luke, the writer, uses symbols to describe something beyond the power of words to portray. The coming of God=s Spirit, he writes, was Alike a strong driving wind.@ ATongues as of fire@ rested on these first Christians, who suddenly received power Ato speak in different tongues.@ These three symbols B wind, fire, tongues B are not arbitrary.  Each tells us something about God and his mysterious work in the world.
1.  Wind.  The word used by Luke is used elsewhere in Scripture to designate a person=s Abreath@ or Aspirit.@ (Cf. Gen. 2:7; Acts 17:25) At birth breathing begins.  At death it ceases. The coming of God=s Spirit is said to have been Alike wind@ because the Spirit is the Church=s breath. Before the coming of this Spirit-breath, the Church=s life was something like that of an unborn child in the womb. Only with the coming of this Astrong driving wind@ did the Church receive the fullness of divine life.
This divine breath gives the Church an astonishing power of self-renewal.  Again and again in history the Church has become so corrupt through the sins of its members that people have predicted its imminent demise. Yet time and again the Church has risen, through the power of this divine Spirit-breath, renewed and purified. For this recurring phenomenon there is but one possible explanation the fact that the Church lives not from its own strength, and certainly not from the strength of its members, but from the continual in-breathing of God=s Spirit, who is the Church=s life-breath. 
2.  Fire warms. When breathing stops, so does body heat. Deep within the collective soul of this great family of God which we call the Catholic Church is the fire of the world=s greatest love: the unbounded love of God for all he has made. That is the secret of the Church=s magnetism. People in the Church who are cold, hard-hearted, always ready to criticize, to complain, block the warmth of that love. They act not as heat conveyers, but as heat shields. Which are you with regard to the Spirit=s fire? Are you a heat conveyer, or a heat shield? 
Fire warms because it burns. If combustible material is nearby, fire spreads rapidly. Christianity, it has been said, cannot be taught. It must be caught. Are you burning with that fire? Are you handing it on to others?
Fire also gives light. God sent his Son into a dark world to be the world=s light. This light shines today through God=s continual gift of his Spirit to his Church and to each of its members. He wants us to serve as lenses or prisms of that light. AYour light must shine before others,@ Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, Athat they may see your good deeds, and glorify your heavenly Father@ (Mt. 5:16). And in John=s gospel Jesus warns: ABad people all hate the light and avoid it, for fear that their practices should be shown up. The honest person comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that God is in all he does@ (John 3:20f).
When we fear God=s light, we need to ask God burn away whatever causes us to shun the light, whatever stands in the way of our spreading the light, fire, and warmth of his Holy Spirit.
3.  The foreign tongues in which these first Christians spoke symbolize the Church=s work through history: proclaiming to all peoples, in all languages, the wonderful truth of God:
$                   that God is, that he is real;
$                   that he is a God of love, who demands a response of love B for himself, and for our sisters and brothers;

$                   that God has made us for himself: to serve, love, and praise him here on earth, to be happy with him forever in heaven;

$                   that he is the God of the impossible, who can do for us what we can never do for ourselves: fit us for life with him, here and in eternity.

That is the message which we have to proclaim. Does any of that message come through in your life? If you were arrested tonight for being a Catholic Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? And if mere presence at Sunday Mass were not enough for conviction, would there be enough evidence then?

That we are Christians in a land undreamed of by anyone in Jerusalem on that Pentecost day is proof that the Spirit=s Astrong driving wind@ did not blow in vain. Those first touched by that wind were blown into places, and situations, they never dreamed of. Even those who never left Jerusalem found their lives utterly changed.

This same wind of the Spirit is blowing in the Church today. Is it blowing in your life? Or are you afraid of that wind B of what it might do to you, and where it might blow you? Cast aide fear. The wind of God=s Spirit, like the winds of the sky, blows from different directions. But in the end this wind blows all who are driven by it to the same place. The wind of God Spirit blows us home B home to God.   



Homily for May 31st, 2017. The Visitation, Luke 1: 39-56.

Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as our British cousins say, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With characteristic generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.  

When Mary arrives at her cousin’s house and greets her, Elizabeth, as we have just heard, “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … At moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” Doctors tell us that a new mother (and Elizabeth, though old, was pregnant for the first time) usually begins to feel her baby moving in her womb during the fifth month of pregnancy. Thereafter the movements become increasingly frequent and intense. Considering the time it would have taken Mary to reach her, Elizabeth is now in her seventh month at least. Her baby is now very active. Moreover, medical science has discovered, fairly recently, something called the “startle response,” when the baby moves on hearing a sound outside the mother. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, was reacting to the sound of Mary’s loud cry, greeting with joy, as his mother said, the approach of his younger unborn kinsman, Jesus. How marvelous are God’s works!

With the words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth acknowledges her failure to believe that a woman as old as she was could conceive. And Mary responds with words that proclaim the reversal of normal worldly expectations. She praises God for scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, while sending the rich away hungry.  

Three decades later her Son, in his Sermon on the Mount, would speak remarkably similar words, calling blest (which means happy) the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for holiness, the merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake, and all those insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of Him who spoke these words. (Matthew 5:3-12)

Truly marvelous are God’s works, wonderful indeed!

Monday, May 29, 2017


Homily for May 30th, 2017: John 17:1-11a.

          In today’s gospel we come to one of the most majestic passages in John’s gospel, Jesus’ so-called High Priestly prayer. Knowing that his earthly life is drawing to its close, Jesus stands before us not to offer sacrifice – that will come the next day, on Calvary. Rather he stands before God’s throne offering intercession for his friends – ourselves included.

          The passage begins by telling us that Jesus “raised his eyes to heaven.” He is speaking not to us, but to his heavenly Father. He did the same at the Last Supper, as we hear in the first Eucharistic Prayer: “On the day before he was to suffer, he took break in his holy and venerable hands, and with eyes raised to heaven … he said the blessing, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples … ”

          Reading the words of his prayer, we get the impression that Jesus has already crossed the threshold between time and eternity and is now on the way to his Father. The twice repeated word “Father” gives Jesus’ prayer a note of special intimacy. He asks nothing for himself, so that his words are more a prayer of union than of petition.  

Jesus does ask for “glory.” But his glory is not distinct from the glory of the Father. During his earthly life Jesus’ glory was visible through what John’s gospel calls “signs” – miracles such as the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ healings, the stilling of the storm on the lake, his feeding of a vast crown in the wilderness. At Cana Jesus said: “My hour has not yet come.” (2:4) Now Jesus’ “hour” has come. We pass from signs to reality. “The hour” is the time for the Son of Man to be glorified. Jesus’ earthly life ends with his return to his Father.  

In a real sense, however, his real work is only beginning. We know this from Jesus’ words about “the ones you have given me”: “Now they realize that you all gave me comes from you …. They have known that in truth I came from you, they have believed it was you who sent me.

Understanding Jesus’ true identity and his sending by the Father includes obeying God’s Commandments. Knowing that we cannot do this without God’s help, Jesus says: “I pray for them.” Jesus’ prayer for us, his friends, continues today, and until the Jesus returns in glory, at the world’s end.

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Homily for May 29th, 2017: John 16:29-33.

          “Take courage,” Jesus says. “I have overcome the world.” To understand these words we must know that in John’s gospel the word “world” is used in two senses: good and bad. When Jesus says, earlier in the gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” [3:16] he is using the word in a good sense. He is speaking of the world as it comes from the hand of God, the world of God’s making. God must love that world, for he does not make anything that is not lovable.

          When he tells his friends to take courage because he has “overcome the world,” he is speaking not about the world of God’s making, but the world of human marring: the world deformed by human sin, centered not on God but on our own selfish desires, the world not of giving, but of getting.   

          “In the world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. Other translations say not trouble but “suffering” or “tribulation.” Can we Catholic Christians in the comfortable and rich country of the United States honestly claim to have trouble, suffering, and tribulation? If we refuse to abbreviate the gospel, yes we do. When we call the killing of unborn babies a grave crime, equivalent to murder, we are accused of “waging a war on women.” When we insist that marriage is only possible between one man and one woman; and that, once established, it can be terminated only by death, we are accused of “hate speech,” and vilified as homophobes and opponents of human equality.

The trouble and suffering of Christians worldwide is far greater. In his richly documented  book, The Global War on Christians, journalist John Allen writes: “We’re not talking about a metaphorical ‘war on religion’ in Europe and the United States fought over issues like whether it’s okay to erect a nativity set on the courthouse steps. We’re talking about a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims. Christians today form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”

Jesus speaks to us today the same words he spoke to the apostles at the Last Supper two thousand years ago: “In the world you will have suffering, but take courage. I have overcome the world.”