Friday, June 9, 2017


Homily for June 10th, 2017: Mark 12: 38-44.

In a society without today’s social safety net, a widow was destitute. For the widow in today’s gospel to give all that she had to live on for that day was, most people would say, irresponsible, even scandalous. God looks, however, not at the outward action, but at the heart. For God what counts, therefore, is not the size of the gift, but its motive. The wealthy contributors were motivated at least in part by the desire for human recognition and praise. The widow could expect no recognition. Her gift was too insignificant to be noticed. For God, however, no gift is too small provided it is made in the spirit of total self-giving that comes from faith and is nourished by faith.

Jesus recognizes this generosity in the widow. Even the detail that her gift consists of two coins is significant. She could easily have kept one for herself. Prudence would say that she should have done so. She refuses to act out of prudence. She wants to give totally, trusting in God alone. That is why Jesus says that she has given Amore than all the others.@ They calculated how much they could afford to give. In the widow=s case calculation could lead to only one conclusion: she could not afford to give anything. Her poverty excused her from giving anything at all. She refuses to calculate. She prefers instead to trust in Him for whom, as the angel Gabriel told Mary, Anothing is impossible@ (Luke 1:38)

This poor widow shows us better than long descriptions what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship will always seem foolish, even mad, to those who live by worldly wisdom. This poor widow had a wisdom higher than the wisdom of this world: the wisdom of faith. With her small gift she takes her place alongside the other great biblical heroes of faith, from Abraham to Mary, who set their minds first on God=s kingdom, confident that their needs would be provided by Him who (as Jesus reminds us) Aknows that you have need of these things@ (Luke 12:30). This widow is also one of that Ahuge crowd which no one can count@ (Rev. 7:9) whom we celebrate on All Saints= Day B those whose faith inspired them to sacrifice all for Jesus Christ, and who in so doing received from him the Ahundredfold reward@ that he promised (Mark 10:30).

Now, in this hour, Jesus is inviting each one of us to join that happy company: to sacrifice all, that we may receive all. He challenges us to begin today!

Thursday, June 8, 2017


Homily for June 9th, 2015: Patience.
The Talmud, the collection of rabbinical wisdom and commentary, has a story about Abraham. With the hospitality for which the patriarch was famous, he invited a stranger into his tent and feasted him lavishly. When he invited his visitor to join him in prayer to the one true God, the stranger refused, explaining that he was a fire worshiper. Angry that his visitor was worshipping a false god, Abraham drove the man from his door. That night the Lord appeared to Abraham in a dream and said: AI have borne with that ignorant man for seventy years. Could you not have patiently suffered him for one night?@
Which one of us has never felt impatience? The English spiritual writer Evelyn Underhill writes: AOn every level of life from housework to the heights of prayer, in all judgment and all efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.@ 
Professional mountaineers who guide climbers to high peaks, the Alps, in the Himalayas, can always spot the novice climbers.  They climb too fast, soon tire, and fail to reach the summit. The experienced mountaineer is patient. He climbs slowly. It is only patient climbers who reach the highest peaks. 
Life is like that. Most of the road to heaven must be taken at thirty miles an hour. Here is another quote from Evelyn Underhill:  APatience with ourselves is a duty for Christians, and the only real humility. For it means patience with a growing creature whom God has taken in hand and whose completion he will effect in his own time and way.@
The 19th century English convert priest and contemporary of Bl. John Henry Newman writes: AWe must wait for God, long, meekly in the wind and wet, in the thunder and lightning, in the cold and the dark. Wait, and he will come. He never comes to those who do not wait.@ (Frederick W. Faber)
I invite you to pray in this Mass for patience: patience with yourselves, patience with others, patience with circumstances. The best help to patience is to reflect on how unbelievably patient God has been with ourselves C and continues to be right now. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017


Homily for June 8th, 2017: Mark 12: 28-34.

          Which commandment comes first? Jesus is asked in today’s gospel. It was a standard question amongst rabbis in Jesus’ day. Jesus answers by citing two well known Old Testament texts, from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19, about loving God and others. The question is still being asked today, when people want to know is it more important to worship God, or to serve the poor? The shortest answer is: both are important.

          If people want to know which is primary, then the answer is, worship. But if our worship has no consequences in daily life, however, it is hypocrisy which cries to heaven for vengeance. On the other hand, service of others which is not performed for love of God, but for the uplifting feeling of serving a noble cause, or some other human ideology, is not genuine service. Those “served” in this way experience not the warmth of compassion, but the cold impersonalism of bureaucracy, which undermines so many of the best intentioned efforts of the welfare state to help the poor and disadvantaged. 

          We followers of Jesus Christ are called to live at the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal. That is where Jesus lived. It is also where he died. The cross, which is itself the literal intersection of the vertical and the horizontal, tore Jesus apart and killed him. For us too the attempt to live where the vertical and horizontal intersect will mean pain, rending asunder, and ultimately death. But this is precisely that dying-in-order-to-live of which Jesus himself speaks often in the gospels. For behind the cross Christians have always seen, and we must always see, the open portals of the empty tomb – the sign and proof that death is not the end. Death was not the end for Jesus. It will not be the end for us; it will be rather the gateway to new life, unbelievably more wonderful than this one. It is Jesus’ resurrection which enables us to live as people of hope – and above all as people of joy. 


Tuesday, June 6, 2017


Trinity Sunday Year A.  Ex. 34:4b-6, 8-9; 2 Cor.13:11-13; John 3:16-18.
AIM: To explain the doctrine of the Trinity in terms intelligible to the hearers and fruitful for their lives.
          Can we describe God? Down through the ages preachers have asked this question; and never more than on this Trinity Sunday, when we preachers have the task of explaining what it means to say that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
          A story beloved of preachers tells of how the great fifth-century North African bishop St. Augustine strolled along the shore of the Mediterranean wondering how to explain the Trinity. As he did so, he saw a little girl going back and forth into the sea, filling a small bucket with water which she poured into a hole she had dug in the sand. “What are you doing, dear?” Augustine asked. “I’m trying to empty the sea into this hole,” the child replied. “How do you think that with your little bucket you can possibly empty this immense ocean into this tiny hole?” Augustine countered. To which the girl replied: “And how do you, with your small head, think you can comprehend the immensity of God?” No sooner had the girl spoken these words than she disappeared. 
          The story contains an important truth. God is a mystery: not in the sense that we can understand nothing about God; but that what we can understand is always less than what we cannot understand. Pope Benedict, who has a special love for St. Augustine, put that little girl’s shell into his coat of arms as a reminder of the mystery with which God is surrounded. One thing we can understand, however, is how people have experienced God.
          Our first reading shows us Moses experiencing God in a cloud — a symbol of mystery, for in a cloud we cannot see clearly. The same divine cloud appears at Jesus’ Transfiguration, when his clothes and face shine with heavenly light. A cloud enveloped Jesus at his Ascension. At the Transfiguration Peter, James, and John experience fear, and bow down in worship. Moses does the same in our first reading. The witnesses to Jesus’ Ascension also bowed down in worship. This is the first way people experience God in the Bible: as the utterly Other, whose presence inspires awe and compels worship.
          At the very moment, however, in which Moses was worshiping the true God atop Mount Sinai, his people below were bowing down in worship to a golden calf: a deity of their own devising, who made no demands upon them; who symbolized a superhuman virility and power which, the people vainly imagined, they could harness to their own ends. That is idolatry — for the Bible one of the worst sins there is. We become guilty of idolatry whenever we suppose that prayer and other religious practices give us access to some supernatural power which we can turn on or off like the light switch; which we can use to get whatever we want. God always hears and answers prayer. But he does so in sovereign freedom: not at the time, or in the way that we want — or think we can dictate. God is never at our disposal. We are at his disposal.
          God’s appearance to Moses at the very moment when Moses’ people were committing the ultimate sin of idolatry shows that God is not only mysterious and fearful. He is also tender and compassionate. He is a God of love. This is how Jesus experienced God. Our gospel reading reflects this experience: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” 
          Jesus devoted the whole of his earthly life to helping people experience God’s love. He demonstrated this love through deeds of compassion. He illustrated God’s love through stories, his parables, which are still told and pondered twenty centuries later. And on Calvary he gave us the supreme example of love.
          Following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, his friends came to realize that he had not left them. He was still with them, though the manner of his presence was different. They recalled that Jesus had foretold this:
          “I will not leave you orphans. I will come back to you” (Jn. 14:18).
          “I will ask the Father and he will give you another to be your Advocate, who will be with you forever — the Spirit of truth” (Jn. 14:15).
          “I shall see you again; then your hearts will rejoice with a joy no one can take from you” (Jn. 16:22). This joy at Jesus’ continuing presence is the third way people experience God.
          Pondering these three ways in which people experienced God, the Church developed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The God who is one is also three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the description, in formal religious language, of how we experience God. He is the utterly Other, who inspires awe and worship. But he is also a God of love, a love so amazing, so divine, so undeserved by sinners like ourselves that he kindles within us an answering love: love for God, love for our fellow humans. And whenever we experience God in either of these ways — as the almighty creator and Father of the universe whose presence inspires awe, or in his Son Jesus in whom we see unconditional love in human form — we are experiencing God in and through the power of his Holy Spirit. The Spirit is God at work in our world, and in our hearts and minds, here and now. The Spirit is God’s love: the love exchanged between Father and Son, the love poured into our hearts — not just to give us a warm feeling inside, but to share with others. 
          Our second reading, finally, speaks about this sharing: “Encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”
          St. Augustine’ words to the little girl are true. God is too immense to get into our small heads. But the threefold experience of God is within the reach of all, even of children. God discloses himself to us in these three ways to lift our eyes from earth to heaven; to make us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, what Jesus was and is: channels and instruments through whom heaven comes down to earth.


Homily for June 7th, 2017: Mark 12:18-27.

Jesus= critics present him with a hypothetical case about a woman who has been married to seven husbands. Jesus might have told his questioners that the case was too frivolous to merit comment. Instead Jesus shows himself, here as elsewhere, to be a model teacher by using his opponents= attempt to show him up as the occasion for serious teaching about the future life.

Which of the woman=s seven husbands will have her as his wife after death, Jesus= critics ask. Jesus= answer falls into two parts. First, he says that life beyond death is not a prolongation of life on earth. It is something completely new. That is the meaning of Jesus= statement that Athose who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.@ A fundamental purpose of marriage is the continuation of the human race through the procreation of children. Beyond death there is no need for more children to be born. 

The second part of Jesus= answer addresses his critics= contention that the idea of a future life is absurd. On the contrary, Jesus tells them, our own Scriptures clearly imply the resurrection when they represent Moses addressing the Lord as Athe God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.@ Those final words are crucial: all are alive to God, even those who have died. Before him, Jesus is saying, those long dead patriarchs remain alive. 

Jesus= way of interpreting Scripture may not be ours. But his teaching is not hard to grasp. His fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking, but on the nature of God himself. He is not just a philosophical Afirst cause,@ an Aunmoved mover,@ or the Agreat architect of the universe.@ God is all those things, yet he is infinitely more.     

The God whom Jesus reveals is our loving heavenly Father, who enters into a personal relationship with us B a relationship of love. This love relationship cannot be terminated by death, any more than God=s relationship of love with his Son was ended by Jesus= death. I learned this very early, through my mother=s death when I was only six years old. A few days after my mother=s funeral, my father told me: AOur love for Mummy continues, and her love for us. We must continue to pray for her. She is with God. He is looking after her. Our prayers can help her.@ That made sense to me when I was only six. It still makes sense to me eight decades later. I pray for my dear mother by name in every Mass I celebrate. I encourage you to pray for your own departed loved ones at the prayer for the dead in the prayer of consecration.


Monday, June 5, 2017


Homily for June 6th, 2017: Mark 12:13-17.

          Many of those who put questions to Jesus did so not to get information, but to “catch him in speech.” They hoped to get a reply that they could use against him. This is the case in today’s gospel. The taxes imposed by the hated Roman government of occupation were deeply resented by Jesus’ people. If Jesus told people not to pay, he could be denounced to the authorities. If he said we should pay, he would be discredited with the people. 

          Jesus does not give either of the answers his questioners were looking for.  He seldom did. Instead he demands that they show him the coin used to pay the tax. It is a Roman coin. By producing it from their own pockets Jesus’ questioners show that, whatever their theoretical position, in fact they recognize the existing situation. The country is ruled by foreigners. It is their money which is legal tender, and no other.

          Jesus’ words, “Pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s” reject the radical position of those who claimed that the Roman government was unlawful and should not be obeyed at all. All the emphasis, however, is on the second part of Jesus’ answer: “Pay to God what is God’s.”  Do that, Jesus is saying, and everything else will fall into place.           Actually, Jesus speaks not or paying but of repaying: “repay to God what is God’s.” What is God’s anyway? The answer is inescapable: everything! From God we receive all that we are and have, sin excepted. God even gives us our possessions and our money. How long would you retain your possessions and earning power if you lost your health or even one significant human faculty? At bottom even the things have worked for are gifts from the creator and giver of all: God.

          If repaying to God what is God’s means anything, it must mean putting God first in our lives. People who do that make a beautiful discovery. They find that God will never permit himself to be outdone in generosity. They find that what is left over for themselves, after giving God the first portion of their time, talent, and treasure, is always enough, and more than enough. And they discover that Jesus’ words are really true: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35).


Sunday, June 4, 2017


Homily for June 5th, 2017: Mark 12:1-12.

          The story in today’s gospel would have reminded Jesus’ hearers of a similar story in the prophet Isaiah, about God planting a vineyard, namely his people whom he had delivered from slavery in Egypt, in a new land. God had lavished care on his vineyard, his people, only to find that they failed to produce the fruit he looked for. Isaiah warned that there would be a day of reckoning. The parable in the gospel reading we have just heard gives a similar warning to the leaders of Jesus’ people, who are about to reject him. The vineyard God had given them would be taken away from them, Jesus warned them, and turned over to others.

          That warning is not obsolete. We can read it as addressed to us American Catholics. The position of influence we enjoy in the Church, because of our numbers and financial resources, will be taken away from us and given to Catholics in Third World countries, if our Catholicism is complacent, conventional, and lukewarm — while theirs is dynamic, daring, enthusiastic. 

          In 1974, forty-three years ago now, a Swiss priest, Fr. Walbert Bühlmann, wrote a book entitled The Coming of the Third Church. Bühlmann’s “Third Church” was the church of the southern hemisphere: Latin America, Africa, parts of Asia. By the end of the twentieth century, Bühlmann said, most of the world’s Catholics would live below the equator. The older churches of Europe and North America would no longer rank first. Folks, it has already happened. The majority of the world’s Catholics now live in the southern hemisphere. For the first time ever our Pope comes from south of the equator. 
          As a 18th century English hymn has it: “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”