Friday, June 23, 2017


Homily for June 24th, 2017. Isaiah 49:1-6; Luke 1:57-66, 80.
The saints are normally celebrated on the day of their death, called by the Church their “heavenly birthday.” The Church celebrates John the Baptist=s death on the 29th of August. He is the only saint, other than Our Lady, whose biological birthday is also celebrated. The name given him  was a surprise. Today=s gospel tells us how it came about
Nine months before the child=s birth, God had sent the angel Gabriel to tell the baby=s father, the Jewish priest, Zechariah: AYour prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth shall bear a son whom you shall name John. Joy and gladness will be yours, and many will rejoice at his birth@ (Lk 1:13f). Zechariah found the news incredible: he and his wife were too old to have a child.
Zechariah=s disbelief meant that from that day he was mute, unable to speak. Clearly he was deaf as well. For at his son=s birth, today=s gospel reading says, they have to ask the old man by signs what name he wishes to give his son. His inability to speak meant that he had never been able to tell his wife that the angel had named their son John nine months before. 
Those gathered for the baby=s naming assume that he will have his father=s name. Great is their astonishment when the child=s mother Elizabeth insists on a name not borne hitherto by anyone in their family. ANo,@ she says, Ahe will be called John.@ The astonishment becomes amazement when Zechariah confirms his wife=s choice.
Immediately, Luke tells us, Zechariah=s Amouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.@ His words are omitted in today=s gospel reading. They are a hymn of praise, starting with the words: ABlessed be the Lord God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.@ The Church has made these words part of her daily public prayer every morning. 
St. Augustine says that Zechariah=s power of speech was restored because at his son=s birth a voice was born. If John had proclaimed himself, Augustine says, he could not have restored his father=s speech. John=s role, determined by God from his conception in his mother=s womb, was to proclaim another: the One who would not be, like John, simply a voice, but himself God=s Word: his personal utterance and communication to us.

The words of the prophet Isaiah in our first reading apply equally to John: AThe Lord called me from birth, from my mother=s womb he gave me my name. ... You are my servant, he said to me, Israel through whom I show my glory.@ The name John means, AGod is gracious,@ or AGod has given grace.@ The name was singularly appropriate for the man commissioned even before his birth to proclaim the One who would give God a human face, and a human voice.

God called each of us in our mother=s womb. He fashioned us in his own image, as creatures made for love: to praise, worship, and praise God here on earth, and to be happy with him forever in heaven. Fulfilling that destiny, given to us not just at birth but at our conception, means heeding the words which today=s saint, John the Baptist, spoke about Jesus: AHe must increase, I must decrease@ (John 3:3).

Those are the most important words which St. John the Baptist ever spoke. In just six words they sum up the whole life of Christian discipleship. Imprint those words on your mind, your heart, your soul. Resolve today to try to make them a reality in daily life. Those who do that find that they have discovered the key to happiness, to fulfillment, and to peace. AHe must increase, I must decrease.@


Thursday, June 22, 2017


Homily for June 25th, 2017: Twelfth Sunday of Year A.  Mt. 10:26-33.
AIM: To help the hearers face and surmount their fears.
AFear no one,@ Jesus says at the beginning of our gospel reading. There is no emotion more universal than fear.  We even share it with the animals. In our earliest years our greatest fear is being abandoned. Across the distance of eighty-five years I can still feel the panic I experienced on losing sight of my mother in a crowded New York City department store. We were reunited a few minutes later. But when you are only four and get separated from your mother in a crowd, a few minutes can be an eternity. 
In 1932, when I was four, I heard the grown-ups talking in shocked tones about the kidnaping of the Lindbergh baby. I remember lying in bed, listening to noises in the house and thinking: >They=re coming for me.= I tried to overcome fear by telling myself: >Daddy and Mummy don=t have a lot of money. No one would bother kidnapping me.= It didn=t help. I was still afraid.
As youngsters move into adolescence they shift their sense of dependence from their parents to their peers. Peer pressure, the desire to be thought Acool@ and Awith it@, leads many teenagers to do things they know are wrong out of fear that if they don=t go along with the crowd they will be made fun of and rejected. A few  years ago two undergraduates at Harvard, a young man and a young woman, were arrested for stealing over $90,000 from the student organization for which they were treasurers. From modest backgrounds themselves, like many others able to attend Harvard because of its lavish scholarship program, they were corrupted by observing the expensive lifestyles of a small minority. They resorted to theft in attempt to break into a world they viewed as exciting and attractive.
Peer pressure can continue into adult life. Fear of being left out is sometimes called Akeeping up with the Joneses.@ Priests encounter this at weddings. Priests want weddings to be happy and joyful occasions for all concerned. This desire can be frustrated, however, when people ambitious to make a big splash try to turn a religious ceremony into a Hollywood production. It starts with balloons in the sanctuary C and goes downhill from there. A priest I know walked into the sacristy before a wedding to find the father of the groom and the best man setting up a bar.  Tempers became frayed when Father told them that if the bottles were not removed, there would be no ceremony. So in case you=re wondering what priests are afraid of, I=m sorry to tell you that one of our fears is weddings.
AFear no one,@ Jesus tells his twelve apostles at the beginning of today=s gospel. The words are part of the instruction he gives them as he sends them out to proclaim the good news of God=s kingdom. The values of God=s kingdom are radically different from the values of the world. AI am sending you out like sheep among wolves,@ Jesus says earlier in the chapter from which today=s gospel is taken (Mt. 10:16). His apostles had every reason for fear as they ventured forth into a hostile world. Tradition says that they all suffered martyrdom. Jesus tells them to overcome their fear by looking to him and making him their model: ANo pupil outranks his teacher, no slave his master. The pupil should be glad to become like his teacher, the slave like his master@ (Mt. 10:24f).
If ever there was a man with reason to fear, it was Abraham Lincoln, in the opinion of many the greatest American president. He held that office during the terrible Civil War which threatened to tear apart the country he loved. Lincoln was not formally a member of any church. But he was a deeply religious man, imbued with the teachings of the Bible. Lincoln scholars tell us that his much used Bible falls open easily to Psalm 34, where a finger smudge can be found by this line: AI sought the Lord and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.@
The great French saint, Francis de Sales (1567-1622) wrote this about fear:
ADo not fear what may happen tomorrow. The same loving Father who cares for you today, will care for you tomorrow and every day. Either he will shield you from suffering, or he will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginings.@
In the Mass for the inauguration of his pastoral ministry on April 24th, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI asked: AAre we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us?@ The Pope was reminding us that sometimes God is himself a source of fear for us rather than fear=s remedy.  What can we do then? St. Augustine answered this question when he said: AIf you fear God, throw yourself into his arms and then his hands cannot strike you.@ The nineteenth century English priest, Fr. Frederick Faber, may have had Augustine=s words in mind when he wrote some verses with which I would like to conclude:
My God, how wonderful thou art, thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful thy mercy-seat, in depths of burning light!
How dread are thine eternal years, O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night, incessantly adored!
How wonderful, how beautiful, the sight of thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power, and awful purity!
O how I fear thee, living God, with deepest, tenderest fears,
And worship thee with trembling hope, and penitential tears!

Yet I may love thee too, O Lord, almighty as thou art,

For thou hast stooped to ask of me the love of my poor heart.

No earthly father loves like thee, no mother, e=er so mild,

Bears and forbears as thou hast done with me thy sinful child.

Father of Jesus, love=s reward, what rapture will it be

Prostrate before thy throne to lie, and gaze and gaze on thee.



Homily for June 23rd, 2017: Deut. 7:6-11; 1 John 4:7-16. Matt. 11:25-30.

          There is single, golden theme running through all three readings for today’s feast of the Sacred Heart: love. “Not that we have loved God,” we heard in the second reading, from the apostle who in the gospel that bears his name is always called, “the one Jesus loved.” Rather “that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.”

          God’s love for his people is the theme of the first reading, from Deuteronomy. “It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are really the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you … that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.”

          In the gospel we hear the One whom God sent to us, out of love, “as expiation for our sins,” speaking words of thanksgiving to his heavenly Father for revealing his love to “little ones,” while hiding the message of love from “the wise and learned.” Who are these “wise and learned” today? They dominate the media and Hollywood. They run the great foundations, with names like Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates. They teach in our elite universities. They consider the killing of babies in the womb whose birth might be inconvenient or burdensome a sacred right. When we protest that abortion is a crime no less grave than slavery in a previous age, they treat us with disdain, or worse – accusing us of waging a “war on women.” And why not? In their eyes we are only “little ones,” as ignorant and irresponsible as small children. When we say that marriage is possible only between a man and a woman, they call us bigots, homophobes, and enemies of equality.

          Refusing to be silent about such things is part of the burden Jesus speaks about in the gospel. He calls that burden light. We often experience it as heavy. It becomes light, however, once we accept the yoke placed on our shoulders to help us bear the burden. Then we find we can carry it easily, realizing that however heavy our burden may be, Jesus’ burden was heavier. He walks beside us, sharing with us the fire of love which burns brightly in his Sacred Heart. Once set on fire with that love, we can break down any barrier, leap over any wall, coming finally into the presence of the One who is love himself.    

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Homily for June 22nd, 2017: Matthew 6:7-15.

          With his gift of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, he offers us a pattern for all our prayer, starting with our private prayer. “Father,” Jesus begins. When we begin like that, we are acknowledging that we can’t make it on our own. From infancy to old age we are dependent on Another: the One whom Jesus addressed with the intimate word, Abba – akin to “Daddy” in English.

Three petitions follow, having to with our heavenly Father himself. “Hallowed be thy name” is the first. It means “may your name be kept holy.” God’s name is kept holy when we speak it with faith, not as a magical word to get his attention, or to con him into giving us what we want. We couldn’t do that even if we wanted to, for God acts in sovereign freedom.

          “Thy kingdom come” is a petition for the coming of God’s rule over us and the whole world. We are unhappy, and frustrated, because the world, and too often our own personal lives as well, do not reflect God’s rule. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” extends this petition. In heaven God’s will is done immediately, and gladly.

          Four petitions follow which have to do not just with own needs, but also with those of our brothers and sisters in God’s family: for bread, forgiveness, deliverance from temptation, and victory over evil.

          Here is a suggestion which can help you to appreciate the Lord’s Prayer more deeply. Rather than just rattling it off, as Catholics mostly do, take at least five or ten minutes to pray it slowly, phrase by phrase, even word by word. Start with the opening word: “Our.” Ponder the full meaning of that word. Pray that you may be mindful not only of your own needs, but also of the needs of others -- your brothers and sisters. That could be your whole prayer for five or ten minutes. Move on the next day to the word “Father,” and on the day following pray over the words “Hallowed be thy name.” Practiced faithfully, and with patience, this way of praying the one prayer Jesus has given us will help you realize that the words are not just a pious formula. Rightly prayed, they bring you close to Him who tells us in John’s gospel: “All this I tell you that my joy may be yours, and your joy may be complete” (15:11).

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Homily for June 21st, 2017: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

          Continuing his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading about almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Traditionally associated with Lent, these religious practices are spiritually profitable at all times – provided (and this condition is essential) that they are done for God, and not to gain recognition and praise from others. The Roman stoic philosopher, Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus, makes the same point when he writes: “Whoever wants to publicize his virtue labors not for virtue but for glory.” Jesus says the same with his thrice repeated statement, “they have received their reward.” The reward he is referring to is human recognition and glory – and beyond that nothing. To receive a reward from God (and Jesus never tells us to be indifferent to rewards, provided they come from God) our almsgiving must be quiet, if possible anonymous. Then, Jesus says, “your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

          Similarly with prayer. Jesus is speaking here not about public worship; he himself took part in such worship in the Temple and in synagogues. He is speaking about private prayer when he says: “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” The 4th century bishop of Milan, St. Ambrose, explains that Jesus is not talking about “a room with four walls separating you physically from others, but the room that is within you, where your thoughts are shut up, the place that contains your feelings. This room of prayer is with you at all times, wherever you go it is a secret place, and what happens there is witnessed by God alone.” (On Cain and Abel B 1:34)

          Fasting too should be secret, Jesus says. We fast for two reasons. First, to strengthen our wills. Voluntarily denying ourselves food and drink that we may legitimately enjoy helps us to say no to pleasures that God’s law forbids. And the sacrifice which fasting requires strengthens our prayer for the things, people, and causes for which we pray. When we fast, the Lord who sees in secret recognizes that the intentions for which we pray are so important to us that we are willing to forego hunger and thirst that they may be granted.

Monday, June 19, 2017


Homily for June 20th, 2017: Matthew 5:43-48.

     “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” That’s a pretty high standard, isn’t it? Which of us can be perfect – especially if the standard of perfection is the Lord God himself? The only honest answer to that question is: none of us!

     Here, and throughout the Sermon on the Mount, from which today’s gospel reading is taken, Jesus is plugging up the loopholes in the law. He tells us that the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” forbids even lustful thoughts; that “You shall not kill,” prohibits even angry words and thoughts. 

     Jesus is making it impossible for us to suppose that, by our good deeds and attempts to fulfill God’s law, we can establish a claim on God. We never have a claim on God. God has a claim on us. And it is an absolute claim.

     Does this mean there is no reward for our attempts to be faithful to the Lord? Of course not. Jesus speaks of rewards often. He wants us to understand, however, that people with an entitlement mentality will never be satisfied with their reward. That’s the point of Jesus’ story about the laborers in the vineyard, all paid the same, though some had worked only an hour.

    “They all get the same,” a wonderful old German Sister said when this story was read out in a community conference. She was pretty burned up about it. We should be burned up about it. If not, either we are not listening; or the story is so familiar that we don’t feel its sharp cutting edge.

     That story, with its seemingly unjust conclusion, makes sense only if we ask: Who, at the end of the day, was happy? and who was unhappy? Clearly, the only happy workers were those who had worked but one hour. They knew the deserved little. They were bowled over to receive a full day’s pay.

     Appeal, Jesus is saying, not to what you think you deserve; appeal instead to the Lord’s generosity. Learn to stand before Him saying the words of the hymn, “Rock of ages” (hardly known to Catholics, but a favorite of our Protestant brothers): “Nothing in my hand I bring / Simply to your cross I cling.”

     Jesus’ command to “be perfect” would be discouraging, but for a vital truth we must never forget. What is impossible for us is not impossible for God.

     That was the angel Gabriel’s message to a teenaged Jewish girl, bowled over by the news that she was to be the mother of God’s Son: “Nothing is impossible for God.” (Luke 1:37).

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Homily for June 19th, 2017: 2 Corinthians 6:1-10.

          “We beg you not to receive the grace of God in vain,” we heard in our first reading. “Grace” is the biblical word for God’s love, which includes the help we need to follow him. Grace is not something we can earn. It is a free gift. To be useful, however, we must accept and use what God gives us, out of sheer generosity. Refusing to do so is what Paul calls “receiving the grace of God in vain.”

          How do we do this? Most often, probably, through procrastination. ‘I’ll get to that tomorrow,’ we think. ‘Right now I’m more concerned with . . .’ my own affairs, plans, whatever. In Jesus’ parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus, who lies unnoticed at the rich man’s gate, the rich man, after his death, asks Abraham to send someone to his still living brothers, lest they too experience the torment the rich man is undergoing. Abraham’s response to this seemingly reasonable request sounds callous: “Let them read Moses and the prophets.” That was Jesus’ way of telling his hearers, ourselves included, that present circumstances are always enough for us to believe in God and serve him.

Most of us, most of the time, live and work in circumstances that are less than ideal. Confronted with our modest achievements, we plead that they are a consequence of our limited opportunities. When things change and we get into better circumstances, we shall be able to accomplish so much more. That is an illusion.       

          The golden opportunities that beckon on the other side of the horizon will never arrive if we are not using the opportunities, however limited, that are before us right now. It is here and now, in the present moment (the only time we ever have) that we are called to faith in God, and to generous service of God and others — and not somewhere else, tomorrow, when everything changes at the touch of some magic wand and our lives cease to be drab and become wonderful.   

          That is what Paul is telling us with his simple but powerful words: “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!”