Friday, July 7, 2017


Homily for July 8th, 2017: Matthew 9:14-17.

          To understand the question about fasting in today’s gospel we must know that in Judaism fasting is a way of mourning. It is also a way of expressing sorrow for sin. Still today observant Jews fast on the Day of Atonement, when God’s people fast to express sorrow for the sins they have committed in the past year. The people who ask Jesus why his disciples do not fast are disciples of John the Baptist. He has taught them to fast, because repentance was central in his preaching.

          Responding to the question about why Jesus has not taught his disciples to fast, he replies simply that as long as he is with them, fasting is inappropriate. This is a time not for mourning, Jesus says, but for joy. God has come to earth in human form. Taking up a theme which is frequent in the Old Testament, Jesus refers to himself as the bridegroom. Israel’s prophets said repeatedly that despite the sins of God’s people, God would not always remain estranged from them. He was going to invite them to a joyful wedding banquet, a symbol of unity between God and humans. (See Isaiah 25.)

          This invitation is renewed every time Mass is celebrated. Despite our unworthiness God uses us priests to extend his invitation: “Everything is ready; come to the feast.” God, the host at this banquet, longs to have you with him. He wants to fill you with his goodness, his power, his purity, his love. 

          He cannot fill you unless you come.

          He cannot fill you unless you are empty.

He cannot fill you unless you confess your need, which means preparing by acknowledging your unworthiness.

          How often have you heard this invitation before? How often will you hear it again? One day you will hear it for the last time. Then you will receive another invitation: to appear before your divine Master, your King, your Creator, your ever loving Lord. Are you ready for that invitation?

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Homily for July 7th, 2017: Matthew 9: 9-13..

          Jesus speaks just two words to Matthew: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Matthew gets up and follows Jesus. Other disciples of Jesus have already done the same, when, at Jesus’ command, they abandoned the tools of their trade as fishermen, their boats and nets, to follow Jesus. What motivated this immediate obedience? I think that if we could have questioned any of them, Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          Unlike the fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him, men whom we would call blue collar workers, Matthew was a member of a despised and hated minority: the tax collectors -- not civil service workers or government officials, like those who collect taxes today, but

ripoff artists. They entered into an arrangement with the hated Roman government of occupation to supply a steady stream of revenue. How they got the money, and how much remained in their own pockets, was of little concern to the officials, as long as the money kept coming.

          Matthew was accustomed to being rejected by his fellow citizens. Delighted by Jesus’ call, Matthew invites the Lord to dinner in his house. “Why does the Teacher eat and drink with tax collectors and those who disregard the law?” Jesus’ critics ask indignantly. Jesus overhears the question and answers it himself. “People who are in good health do not need a doctor,” Jesus responds, “sick people do. . . . I have come not to call not the self-righteous but sinners.”

What is the message for us? To receive Jesus’ call and his loving care, we need to recognize and confess our need. And the first thing every one of us needs from Jesus is forgiveness.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Homily for July 9th, 2017: 14th Sunday in Year A. Mt. 11:25-30.
AIM: To proclaim the sacredness of human life.
          Last Tuesday we celebrated the anniversary of our country’s Declaration of Independence. It is a noble document. Though only one of the signers was a Catholic, it is a document of which we Catholics can be proud. The second paragraph contains these eloquent words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
          In 1776, and for the better part of a century thereafter, there was one group of people in American society, however, who were not deemed worthy of liberty. People brought here from Africa as slaves, and their descendants, were not free. Our Supreme Court, reviewing a case originally heard here in St. Louis in 1847 and 1850 in the courthouse just west of today’s arch, held in the Dred Scott case that a black person “whose ancestors were ... sold as slaves” was not entitled to the rights of a citizen under our Constitution; and in consequence did not possess the right to liberty which the Declaration of Independence had said was unalienable and self-evident. It took a terrible Civil War and a courageous act by the man whom many believe to have been our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, to make clear that this dark chapter in our country’s history must end.        
In the two hundred forty-one years since our Declaration of Independence the circle of those to whom we extended the unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was steadily expanded. We welcomed immigrants, we freed the slaves, we extended legal protections protection to workers. After World War I women received the right to vote. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought government aid to the needy and Social Security for the elderly. After World War II we ensured civil rights for all and made public spaces accessible to the handicapped. In all these ways America became a steadily more inclusive society.
          This slow but steady expansion of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness was reversed in January 1973. The same Supreme Court which said, in the infamous Dred Scott case, that there was no constitutional protection for black slaves, in 1973 ended the legal protection previously given in all our states to society’s weakest and most defenseless members: babies in the womb. And incidentally, those laws protecting the unborn were passed by overwhelmingly Protestant, often strongly anti-Catholic, state legislatures.
          Everyone born since 1970 has grown up in a world in which the killing of the unborn has been legal, respectable, and frequent. The death toll in this slaughter of the innocents is now approaching sixty million. All but a tiny minority of these fellow members of our human family were killed for no other reason than convenience. 
          This is the only world known to every person forty years of age or younger: the world of the quick fix, in which a fellow human being whom I dislike, who gets in my way, who causes me financial or other pain (or conceivably might) may be not just ignored or pushed aside, but killed. A tenured professor at Princeton advocates the view that parents may kill a baby in the first month after birth if they decide that the little one’s life is not worth living. 
          The killing of inconvenient humans is not merely defended today as unfortunate but necessary. It is trumpeted as a sacred right, a magnificent breakthrough in humanity’s upward march from superstition and slavery to enlightenment and freedom, something to be defended by all right-thinking people. Protesters are dismissed as kooks and screwballs, members of the despised “religious right”: evil people as dangerous for our society as armed criminals because they spread the subversive idea that there is a law higher than the laws made by politicians and judges. 
          The attack on life’s other end is already well advanced. The same powerful molders of popular opinion who defend the killing of the unborn as a sacred right (even when this takes place during actual birth, a procedure which doctors tell us is never medically necessary) are now arguing that physicians should be permitted to kill the elderly and infirm when continued life becomes burdensome for themselves or even for others. The burden may be of any kind: mental, physical, or financial. And in a society in which health care is increasingly dictated by insurance companies, we can expect the financial argument for ending the life of old people to become ever sronger.                 
          Advocates of euthanasia try to make it attractive by calling it “mercy killing” or “death with dignity.” They bid us look to the Netherlands where the practice is legal, if certain guidelines are followed. They fail to tell us that in that much smaller, far more homogeneous country, where guidelines are much more easily enforced than they could ever be here, up to a thousand people are now killed annually without their consent. The neighboring country of Belgium recently legalized the killing of children.
          Is it any wonder that Pope St. John Paul II spoke often about “a culture of death”? This culture of death will be reversed only when respect for life at every stage, from conception to natural death, is implanted deep in our citizens’ hearts and minds. Then, and only then, will our country’s laws again protect society’s weakest members: the unborn, the aged, ill, and infirm. Then we may be able to see that even the execution of those guilty of horrible crimes undermines respect for life. 
          Let’s be honest. Which of us doesn’t feel that there are certain crimes so heinous that the perpetrator has forfeited the right to life? But Pope St. John Paul II reminded us many times that society can be protected without recourse to the ultimate penalty. The death sentence is arbitrarily imposed: when was the last time you heard of a wealthy white person being executed? Moreover, since the criminal justice system is a blunt instrument, there is no guarantee that the innocent will never be executed. If you doubt that, consider the following statistics. Since 1973 over 7000 people have been sent to death row nationally. And more than 100 of them have now been released because of evidence either strongly pointing to innocence, or clearly exonerating them.
          The culture of death in which everyone under the age forty has grown up has not yet gained universal acceptance, however. Many people still yearn for something better, the young in particular. How else can we explain the millions who come together on successive World Youth Days to see our Holy Father; to hear, and to cheer, his powerful message of life? These are today’s “little ones”, as Jesus calls them in today’s gospel: little not in size or importance but in the sense that most of their life span is still ahead of them. They welcome the beautiful message of life. 
          Who today, on the other hand, are the “wise and the learned” from whom the beauty and power of this message is hidden, as Jesus says in today’s gospel? We see them every evening on the television news programs. They write the editorials in our leading newspapers. They head our major foundations and elite universities.   
          Upholding the message of life, insisting as our Founding Fathers did over two centuries ago, that all people have a self-evident and unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — not just the strong, the healthy, the fit, but all — is a difficult task, at times heart-breakingly difficult. Today’s enlightened and powerful shapers and molders of public opinion regard this message as quaint and old-fashioned at best, dangerous and pernicious at worst. Today’s culture of death is pervasive. It affects us all. When we grow weary and wonder if it is really worthwhile swimming against the stream of public opinion, Jesus’ words from today’s gospel comfort us. They are the good news for us today:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of hear; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.”


Homily for July 6th, 2017: Genesis 22:1b-19.

          The story in today’s first reading of the patriarch Abraham preparing to kill his son Isaac is, to us, horrifying. In the ancient world, however, human sacrifice was no more shocking than today’s wars, large and small. Important for us is what this story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac tells us of the Lord God. It shows us God doing his characteristic work: bringing life out of death. Let me explain.

          We hear the first note of this theme in God’s promise to Abraham that he and his wife Sarah, whose hope of issue has long since died, will receive in their old age a son through whose descendants “Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him” (Gen. 18:18). That was so preposterous that Sarah laughed – and her husband as well (Gen. 17:17 and 18:18). From the deadness of Sarah’s womb, however, God brings forth new life. When her son is born, he receives the Hebrew name Isaac, which in that language means “laughter.” His very birth was a divine joke. The laughter of Isaac’s parents is long past, however, when his father, in response to what he is convinced is a divine command, prepares to kill the son upon whose survival the fulfillment of God’s promise depends. Ten seconds from death at his father’s hand the boy is saved by the message of an angel.

          If we had time I could go through the stories of Abraham’s descendants and show you how, in every generation, God repeatedly does the impossible, by bringing life out of death. This culminates in the event of the Passover, when Moses and God’s whole people, doomed to certain death between the impassible waters of the sea ahead of them, and Pharaoh’s whole army advancing upon them from behind, are saved through divine intervention.

Why does the Bible devote so much space to recording these “mighty acts” of God? Because they show us who God is: not just who he was, but (because God never changes) who he is today, and will be for all time. He remains always “the same yesterday today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). Even in a nuclear age the Lord’s arm (to use biblical language) is not shortened.

          Is it consistent with biblical faith to assume that we shall always remain the kind of people we have been and are – never changing in any fundamental way, never growing? The final book of the Bible tells us that God “makes all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Believing those words is, admittedly, not always easy. When we doubt, we are in good company. Abraham and Sarah not only doubted but laughed – and were brought up short with the question: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Centuries later, one of their descendants, questioning how she could be the mother of God’s Son while remaining a virgin, received a remarkably similar response: “Nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1:37; Jerusalem Bible). This is the God whom we encounter here in the Eucharist: in his holy word, in the sacrament of his body and blood; the God who brings life out of death, who, time after time, does not just the difficult, not just the unexpected -- but the impossible! 


Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Homily for July 5th, 2017: Matthew 8:28-34.

          Jesus is in Gentile territory. We know that from the herd of pigs mentioned at the end of today’s gospel reading. Jews considered pigs unclean animals and did not raise them for food.

          The “demoniacs” who encounter Jesus are possessed by demons. This has made them violent and dangerous. “They were so savage that no one could travel by that road,” the gospel says, adding that when they met Jesus “they were coming from the tombs.” The idea of cemeteries being dangerous and scary places lives on today in stories about people whistling in

the dark, to keep up their courage, as they walk by a cemetery.  Here, as elsewhere in the gospels, the demons perceive something that ordinary people do not. They recognize who Jesus is: “Son of God.” Most of Jesus’ friends would discover his true identity only after the resurrection.

“Have you come to torment us before the appointed time?” they ask. This question reflects the belief in those days that demons were permitted to torment humans until “the end time,” when God would come to earth in blazing glory. Unlike humans, the demons recognize that with the coming of Jesus, God’s kingdom was already breaking in – which was bad news, of course, for the demons and all forces of evil.

Aware of Jesus’ power, the demons plead with him: “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of swine.” Jesus does so, and the animals, now controlled by demonic forces, rush headlong into the nearby sea and drown.

When the men who had been looking after the pigs carry the news of what has happened to the nearby town, the inhabitants come out en masse and beg Jesus to leave. But of course! The loss of the pigs was a heavy blow to the local economy. What fresh disasters might occur if Jesus were to stay?   

          The story takes us into a world very different from ours. Or is it? Still today there are dangerous people who do horrible things: mass shootings at schools, kidnappings, slaughter by crazed suicide bombers. Despite all precautions by the military, police, and electronic surveillance, there is only One who has power over today’s demonic powers. His name is Jesus Christ.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


Homily for July 4th, 2017.    

             The 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia 241 years ago today pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Have you ever wondered what happened to them? 

Five of the signers were captured by the British as traitors, and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons serving in the Revolutionary Army; another had two sons captured. Nine of the 56 fought and died from wounds or hardships of the Revolutionary War.

What kind of men were they? Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners: men of means, well educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that if they were captured, the penalty would be death.
          Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British Navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts,
and died in rags.
         Thomas McKeam was so hounded by the British that he was forced to move his family almost constantly. He served in the Continental Congress without pay, and his family was kept in hiding. His possessions were taken from him, and poverty was his reward. Vandals or soldiers looted the properties of 8 others [Dillery, Hall, Clymer, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Ruttledge, and Middleton].

At the battle of Yorktown , Thomas Nelson, Jr. noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the Nelson home for his headquarters. He quietly urged General George Washington to open fire. The home was destroyed, and Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, and she died within a few months. John Hart was driven from his wife's bedside as she was dying. Their 13 children fled for their lives. His fields and his gristmill were laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves, returning home to find his wife dead and his children vanished.

As we give thanks to God for the courage and generosity of these founders of our beloved country, we need to remember: Freedom is never free!


Homily for July 3rd, 2017: John 20:24-29.

          On the evening of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas was not with the other apostles. He did not see Jesus until he rejoined them a week later. Then he uttered what many scripture scholars believe may have been the last words spoken by any of Jesus’ disciples in the original version of John’s gospel: “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas’s experience has an important lesson for us. Faith is not a private me-and-God affair. Jesus taught us this in the one prayer he gave us. It begins not “My Father,” but “Our Father.” We pray as members of a community. We need each other. Why? Here’s one answer.

Dwight L. Moody, founder of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, tells about visiting an old friend. As they chatted in the evening by the friend’s fireplace, the host said to Moody. “I don’t see why I can’t be just as good a Christian outside the Church as within it.” Without replying, Moody used tongs to pick up a blazing coal with tongs, allowing it to burn by itself.  In silence the two men watched it smolder and out.         
          As an evangelical Protestant Dwight Moody believed that the support which believers give one another was an affair of this world only. We Catholics believe more. When we say in the Creed, “I believe in the communion of saints,” we are acknowledging that the community which we entered through baptism extends beyond this world. It includes the saints and our beloved dead. A passage in the letter to the Hebrews expresses this belief. It comes at the beginning of chapter 12. The preceding chapter recounts the great heroes of faith in the Old Testament. The writer portrays them as spectators in an arena, cheering on and encouraging us, who are still competing in the race which they ran before us. Then come these words. I discovered them as a young teenager. They thrilled me then. They thrill me still:

          “Seeing then that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which clings so close, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the beginning and end of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”