Friday, June 16, 2017


June 17th, 2017: Matthew 5:33-37.

          The Ten Commandments do not deal directly with oaths and swearing except to say, “you shall not bear false witness,” and “you shall not take the name of the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” Jesus goes farther in today’s gospel, when he says, still speaking not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as himself the law-giver: “I say to you, do not swear at all.”

He goes on, then, to give examples of what he has just forbidden. Do not swear, he says, by heaven, by the earth, by the holy city Jerusalem, or by your head. The thought behind this list is that all these things are made by God, so swearing by them is really a way of swearing by God without actually pronouncing his name. Such subterfuges are unworthy of those whose lives are centered on God.

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,” Jesus says, “and your ‘No’ mean No.’” The person of integrity has no need to reinforce his Yes or No with an oath. When a man and woman come into God’s house to marry, there are no oaths. The priest or deacon who is presiding at the marriage asks the man simply: “John, do you take this woman to be your wedded wife?” He asks the woman, “Mary do you take this man to be your wedded husband?” Each of them answers, “I do.” With those simple questions and answers, the marriage bond is established. It is mutual consent, given without reservation or compulsion, which makes the marriage.

Similarly with a man being ordained as priest or bishop. Again, there are no oaths. The Church requires only that the candidate answer affirmatively to a number of questions about the duties of the office he is assuming. Once these are given, the prayer for the descent of the Holy Spirit, and the laying on of hands by the ordaining bishop follow.

In a beautiful passage in his second Letter to the Corinthians Paul tells us that Jesus is himself Yes personified. Here’s what Paul writes: “The language in which we address you is not an ambiguous blend of Yes and No. The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us ... was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them.” (2 Cor.1, 18ff: New English Bible) To which we joyfully say: “Thanks be to God!”


Thursday, June 15, 2017


Homily for June 16th, 2017: Matthew 5:27-32.

          “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”  Jesus speaks in the passive (“it was said”) as a way to avoid speaking the name of God, which for Jews was forbidden. Scholars call this a “theological passive:” a way of saying, “God said,” without actually speaking God’s name. 

          The next sentence takes our breath away – or would, if we were hearing it for the first time. “But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in heart.” If the commandment really means that, which of us can claim to be wholly innocent? Priests often have to deal in the confessional, or in spiritual counseling, with people who are upset, even in anguish, over these words of Jesus. When the priest explains that lustful thoughts are only temptations, until we consent to them, deliberately invite them in, and dwell on them; and that a thousand temptations do not make a single sin, people with tender or scrupulous consciences ask: “But how do I know if I have consented to such thoughts?”

          The only honest answer to that question is: “We don’t know, and we can’t know. As long as we are trying to turn away from lustful thoughts, turning instead to God and others, we’re all right. The Lord doesn’t want us to torment ourselves with worry. He is not a strict policeman just waiting to catch us doing or thinking something bad. God is first, last, and always, a God of mercy.”

          A seminarian approaching ordination to the priesthood told the priest who had been nourishing the young man’s vocation all through seminary: “I have difficulties with celibacy.” The priest’s response: “Well, brother, join the club. If celibacy were easy, it wouldn’t be what it is meant to be: a sacrifice. So don’t be discouraged. Never, ever give up. And when you stumble or fall, as most of us do from time to time, go to confession.”

          Then the priest gave the young man some advice which is good not just for seminarians and priests, but for all of us:  “Remember what our wonderful Pope Francis never tires of telling us: ‘God never gets tired of forgiving us. It is we who grow tired of asking for forgiveness.’”



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"BUT I SAY TO YOU . . . "

Homily for June 15th, 2017: Matthew 5:20-26.

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks about the central concern of Jewish religion: God’s law. He does so differently, however, from other teachers of God’s law. They cite a Commandment and then discuss its interpretation, quoting the interpretations of other famous rabbis. The Commandment to “Keep holy the Sabbath day,” for instance, raises the whole question of what kinds of work are forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus speaks not, like other rabbis, as an interpreter of the law. He speaks as himself the Lawgiver.

“You have heard, ‘You shall kill.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Or – “You have heard, “Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you whoever looks lustfully on a woman, has already committed adultery with her in his thoughts.” Or again – “You have heard, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Or finally – “You have heard, ‘Do not take a false oath.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all.”

Do you see what Jesus is doing? Two things. First, by speaking not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as the Lawgiver, Jesus is manifesting his divinity. He does the same when he forgives sins. Second, he is plugging the loopholes in the law developed by legalistic interpreters – “the scribes and Pharisees” mentioned at the beginning of today’s gospel. If the Commandments really mean what Jesus says they mean, then who can fulfill them completely?   

Many people think of the Commandments as questions in a moral examination in which we must first get a passing grade before God will love and bless us in this life, and admit us to heaven in the next. That’s wrong! God loves us already, just as good parents love their children from birth, or even from conception, without waiting to see how they’ll turn out. The Commandments tell us how to respond gratefully to the free gift of God’s love. And if a long life has taught me anything, it is this: grateful people are happy people – no exceptions!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Homily for June 14th, 2017: Matthew 5: 17-19.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets,” Jesus says. “I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” We sometimes hear that the Old Testament presents a God of law, the New Testament a God of love. That’s not true. While law is indeed central in the Old Testament, it presents God=s law as an expression of his love B a gift granted to his chosen people, and not to others. We read in Deuteronomy, for instance, about God telling his people to be careful to observe his commandments, “for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ … Or what great nation has statues and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am settling before you this day.” (Deut. 4:6-8)

While the New Testament does emphasize God=s love, almost the whole of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from which the gospel readings this week and next are taken, consists of examples and stories of how God’s law is lived out in daily life. And at the Last Supper he gives his apostles Aa new commandment: Love one another@ (John 13:34). Both parts of the Bible proclaim the same God. If God=s self-disclosure is fuller in the New Testament, this is because in it God comes to us in person, through his Son. As we read in the opening verse of the letter to the Hebrews: AIn times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our fathers through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son ...@

Human laws command us to respect the rights of others. But I can respect your rights without having any human contact with you. Hence the enormous amount of loneliness in our society. Mother Teresa called loneliness Athe worst disease of modern times.@  There is only one cure for loneliness: love. We come here to receive love: a free gift, not a reward for services rendered. The One who gives us this gift does so under one strict condition: that we share his love with others.

Monday, June 12, 2017


Homily for June 13th, 2017: Mathew 5:13-16.

Jesus spoke in simple, everyday language that even children could understand. What could be simpler than the two images Jesus uses in our gospel reading: salt and light? In Jesus’ day soldiers received an allotment of salt as part of their pay. Because the Latin word for salt is sal it was called their salarium, from which we get our word salary. Even today, when someone doesn=t measure up or do his duty we say he=s Anot worth his salt.@ So when Jesus says, AYou are the salt of the earth,@ he is telling us that we are that ingredient in the world which, like salt, may be small in quantity, but which makes all the difference in quality..

Jesus also tells us: AYou are light C the light of the world.@ The first creation tale in Genesis says that creation began when God said: ALet there be light.@ When, in the fullness of time, God=s Son came into the world, he said: AI am the light of the world.@ (Jn 8:12) Pondering those words, and the story of creation in Genesis, Christians came to discern Christ=s role in creation. Hence we say in the Creed: AWe believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, ... through whom all things were made.@

How dark the world would be if he had never lived! When Jesus says, AYou are the light of the world,@ he is not telling us to become the world=s light, any more than he tells us to become salt. As followers and friends of Jesus Christ, given a share of his life in baptism, we already are salt and light for the world. ABe what you are!@ Jesus is saying. 

Does that mean isolating ourselves from modern society? Some Christians favor that. They are good people. But they are mistaken. To isolate ourselves from others is like putting the lamp which lighted the small one-room house of Jesus= day under a basket. The people who heard Jesus knew that wasn=t what you did with a lamp. You put it on a lampstand where, as Jesus says in today=s gospel, Ait gives light to all in the house. Just so,@ Jesus continues, Ayour light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify God.@ Why? Because God is the one who inspires us to do good deeds. And it is God alone who gives us the power to do good C to be what we are: salt to flavor and preserve; and light to shine in the darkness of our world.

Here at these two tables of word and sacrament the Lord first takes us up into his light and then sends us forth to pass on that light to others in a dark world, through a life of joyful service and generous love.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Homily for June 12th, 2017: Matthew :1-12.

We call these sayings of Jesus the Beatitudes. They contradict just about everything our culture tells us. There is no way we can accept these teachings of Jesus, and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. Does that mean we must opt out of society? Not at all. It does mean, however, that if we are serious about being Jesus’ disciples, we must live by standards that are different from those of many around us — even when they are good people. Nor can we choose among the Beatitudes, selecting the one that best suits us. The Beatitudes are not descriptions of nine different people. They are nine snapshots of one happy person: happy because he or she lives a life centered on God. 

          The Beatitudes challenge us. They summon us to put God first in our lives. To the extent that we try to do that, and keep on trying despite our many failures and discouragement, we discover that a life centered on God is a happy life. It is a fulfilled life, and one that brings true peace. Why? Because God is the only source there is of true happiness, of fulfillment, and genuine peace. To all those who respond to this challenge, Jesus says: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” 

          Only in heaven? No, the reward Jesus promises begins here on earth. Then beatitudes describe a life that is shot through with generosity: generosity to God, but to others as well.  Generosity doesn’t make us poor. It makes us rich. Winston Churchill, not a notably religious man, said once: “We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give.” Jesus Christ says it best: “Give and it shall be given to you. Good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over, will they pour into the fold of your garment. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” (Lk 6:38) 

          Is living by the Beatitudes beyond human powers? It is. To live as Jesus tells us to live in these nine sayings we need a power greater than our own. That is why we come to the Eucharist: to be strengthened uplifted, shaken up, and set ablaze with joy unbounded by the love that will never let us go.