Friday, July 14, 2017


Homily for July 15th, 2017: Genesis 49: 29-33; 50: 15-24.

          “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.” These words from our first reading belong to the story of Joseph in Egypt, we have been hearing for several days now. The youngest of many brothers, Joseph was his father’s favorite. Understandably jealous, his older brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt and tell their heart-broken father that the boy is dead.

          After coming close to death in Egypt, Joseph rises to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom, after the ruler, Pharaoh. Anticipating a widespread famine, Joseph fills storehouses with grain, which is made available when famine strikes.

          Joseph’s brothers journey to Egypt in search of food and encounter their brother at the royal court, but do not recognize him. He immediately recognizes them, however, and invites them to come to Egypt, bringing their old father with them. Today’s first reading recounts the old man’s death many years later.

          Fearful that with their father no longer alive to protect them, Joseph will take revenge for their treatment of him years ago. They tell Joseph that their father had instructed them to beg for forgiveness once their father was dead. This they do, as we heard in the reading, in the most abject manner.

          This gives Joseph an opportunity to demonstrate his spiritual goodness by speaking the words quoted at the outset: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.” He tells his brothers to “have no fear.” He cannot take the place of God by taking vengeance on them.

          It is a moving and beautiful story. God can bring good out of evil, the story tells us. And he does so, time and time again – never more dramatically than, centuries later, when the crime of Jesus’ crucifixion is overruled by God through his Son’s resurrection on the third day.


Thursday, July 13, 2017


Homily for July 14th, 2017: Matthew 10:16-23.

          A priest fifteen or perhaps more years ordained, told me recently that he was concerned about the overly rosy image of priesthood being offered to today’s seminarians. The recruitment material sent out by Vocation Directors is full of success stories. The photos on the websites of today’s seminaries show young men laughing, smiling, and joking. None of this is false. Thousands of priests testify to the joy of serving God and his holy people as a priest. I’m happy to be one of them. The late Chicago priest-sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew Greely said: “Priests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.” And he cited sociological surveys to back up that statement.

          The result of all this happy talk, my priest-friend told me, was that young priests who have a bad day, a bad week, or who encounter rejection or failure, start thinking that perhaps they have chosen the wrong vocation and should abandon priesthood. Jesus never promised his disciples that they would have only joy, success, and happiness. Our gospel reading today is about the price of discipleship. “You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. Only after these words warning about the cost of discipleship does he proclaim the good news: “But whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

Friends, the days of socially respected Catholicism are over. Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the Gospel — ashamed of our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Our courts, the entertainment industry, and the powerful shapers of opinion in today’s media, insist that the Church’s teachings are out of date, retrograde, insensitive, uncompassionate, illiberal, bigoted. They insist day in and day out that we who defend Church teaching are hateful people. They threaten us with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil good. They command us to conform our thinking to their orthodoxy, or else say nothing at all.

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests about the increasing secularization of our society, the late Cardinal George of Chicago said, in what he later admitted was an “overly dramatic fashion”: “I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison; and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Mostly omitted by those who quote these words, is the good news which the cardinal spoke in conclusion: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


Homily for July 16th, 2017: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
I         Is. 55:10-11; Mt. 13:1-9.

AIM: To instill hope by showing that God’s power overcomes weakness, failure, and defeat. 

          Was Jesus’ life a success story? Hardly. True, he attracted large crowds. But few in the throngs which hung on his words really understood him. Even his closest friends didn’t really get it. At the Last Supper with their Master they were still arguing about “who should be greatest” (Lk 22:24). During his public ministry Jesus encountered mounting criticism and hostility, and at the end rejection and a cruel and unjust death.

          Jesus responds to the rising tide of opposition which he saw all around him with the story he tells in today’s gospel. It is a story of contrasts: on the one hand the waste and failure of most of the farmer’s hard work; and on the other hand the abundant harvest despite this failure.

          Farmers in Jesus’ day first scattered seed on unplowed ground, and then turned the seed into the soil by plowing over it. Some of the seed sown by this farmer lands on the hard footpath made by people who walk across his field. Before the farmer can turn the seed under with his plow, the birds have picked the path clean. The seed is wasted. Some of the seed falls on soil so shallow and rocky that even after plowing there is not enough depth of soil for proper root development. That seed too is wasted. Part of the seed falls among thorns which, even after being turned under by the plow, grow up again and crowd out the seed. Waste once again.

          Up to this point in the story all the seed, and all the farmer’s hard work, have been wasted. This corresponds to Jesus’ own experience: initial popular excitement at his teaching and miracles; but already clear signs of the hostility and rejection which will lead to his condemnation and death. Jesus’ efforts, like the farmer’s, seem to lead only to waste and failure.

          Now comes something we weren’t expecting. Some of the seed lands on rich soil and produces an abundant harvest: “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” A modern commentator explains: “A 20-to-1 ratio would have been considered an extraordinary harvest. Jesus’ strikingly large figures are intended to underscore the prodigious quality of God’s glorious kingdom still to come” [New Jerome Biblical Commentary No. 42:25]. Despite all the waste and failure, Jesus is saying, an abundant harvest is certain — indeed a super-abundant harvest. 

          Faced with mounting evidence of rejection and failure, Jesus could have become a grim preacher of impending doom. Instead he is relaxed, confident of ultimate success. Jesus’ optimism is not superficial, however. He does not proclaim a bright, cheery message of positive thinking, or possibility thinking; with the smiling assurance that everything will turn out all right if only we hang in there and keep the right attitude. By telling a story in which most of the farmer’s hard work is wasted, Jesus shows us that much will not turn out all right. We must expect setbacks, even defeats.

          Jesus’ message of confident faith in the midst of discouragement, reverses, setbacks, and defeats, is exactly what we need today. How much of the Church’s work is wasted. Think of all the time and treasure we invest in our Catholic schools. We’re proud of our schools — and we should be. If we ask however, how many of their graduates are still practicing their faith ten years after graduation, we begin to doubt: is our investment in our schools really worthwhile? Or is the bottom line, once again, waste, failure, and defeat? 

          And what about our personal failures? We have made so many good resolutions. Some we have kept. Many we have not. When we come to confession, it’s the same tired old list of sins. We ask ourselves: “Will I ever make any real progress?” Too often we suspect that the answer to that question is No. Must we simply acknowledge defeat, and hang our heads in discouragement and shame?  

          Jesus does not deny the power of evil. How could he when it brought him to the cross? Jesus does not deny the reality of failure — whether it is his own seeming failure, his Church’s failures, or our own personal failures. Despite failure and defeat, however, Jesus tells us to be confident, to have hope, to hold our heads high. 

          ‘Have patience and courage,’ he is telling us. ‘Do your work. Keep on. Sow the seed. Leave the rest to God. The harvest is certain. When it comes, it will be so much greater than you can possibly imagine that you will be amazed.’ The super-abundant harvest which Jesus promises depends in the last analysis not on us, but on God. Jesus himself is the one who sows the seed in the often hard, stony, and thorn-choked soil of human hearts, our own hearts included.

          Jesus is also the word of God of which Isaiah speaks in our first reading. Jesus is God’s personal communication to us, as my words are a communication to you. In that first reading God says: “My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” The final triumph of Jesus, who is God’s Word, his personal communication to us, is absolutely certain. No less certain too is the super-abundant harvest which Jesus promises in his story of the farmer sowing seed. 

          How do we know all this? We know it from the two central symbols of our faith. At the center of our religion is a cross, the symbol of a wasted life, and ultimate defeat.  Behind the cross, however, is the empty tomb, God’s guarantee that his Son spoke the truth when he said: “Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”


Homily for July 13th, 2017: Matthew 10:7-15.

“Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic,  or sandals, or walking stick,” Jesus tells the Twelve as he sends them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He wants those whom he commissions as his messengers to travel light. They are to depend not on material resources, but on the Lord alone.

          Jesus’ words are especially relevant today. All over the world, the forces hostile to the Church are rising. In our own country the government is trying to impose on Catholic organizations, such as Catholic hospitals and universities, requirements which we cannot, in conscience, accept. We are being asked, for instance, to pay for sterilization and abortion. In Ireland, unlike the United States a historically Catholic country, there is even an attempt to pass a law which would compel priests, in certain instances, to violate the seal of the confessional. TV entertainers air gross jokes about Catholic priests which they would not dare make about Muslim imams or Jewish rabbis. And the media show little interest in reporting studies which show that Christians are the Number One target of religious persecution in the world today.

          We rightly lament this tide of anti-Christian and anti-Catholic sentiment. But it has a positive side as well. Whenever in its two thousand year history, the Church has been favored by worldly powers, whether financially or in other ways, it has grown spiritually flabby and weak. The Church is always at her best in times of persecution. When persecution is raging it is difficult, mostly impossible, to see this. Things become clear only when we look back. So let’s look back.

In recent centuries the most violent attack on the Church came in the French Revolution, which started in 1789 and lasted more than a decade. Thousand of priests were murdered under the guillotine. Most of the French bishops fled the country. Those who remained had to accept restrictions on their ministry which they justified on the plea that there was to other way to continue offering the sacraments to God’s people. 

As the Church moved into the nineteenth century, however, there was an explosion of religious vocations in France, and the foundation of an unprecedented number of new religious orders, for both men and women.

          When we grow discouraged at the hostile forces confronting us, we need to remember: God can bring good out of evil – and he does, time after time!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Homily for July 12th, 2017: Matthew 10:1-7.

 From his disciples Jesus chooses twelve to be apostles. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and more particularly the head of state who sends him.

If the disciples of Jesus whom he chose to become apostles had one thing in common, other than their love for the Lord, it was their very ordinariness. They were not learned or sophisticated. About most of them we know little, apart from legends. Nor is there complete agreement even about their names. The gospel lists differ in several cases. 

This tells us something important. God does not call people who are fit, according to human reckoning. Instead he often calls people who are, humanly speaking, unfit. Through his call, however, and through what they experience when they respond to God’s call, he makes them fit. 

Was Peter fit to be the leader of God’s Church – the man who was quick to profess loyalty even though when all others might fall away, and yet, when the time of testing came, three times denied that he even knew the Lord? That humiliating failure, and no doubt others besides (including Peter’s inability, according to the gospel record, to catch even a single fish without Jesus’ help) taught Peter that to do anything of consequence he needed Jesus’ help.

In baptism and confirmation Jesus sends each one of us to be his apostles, his messengers. How do we do that? You probably know St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to this question. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.” How wise that is. Personal example is always more powerful than words. “What you are,” someone said, “speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

          How better could we respond to Jesus’ call of the Twelve than with the classic prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola: “Take, O Lord, and receive, my entire life: my liberty, my understanding, my memory, my will. All that I am and have you have given me. I give back to you all, to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of your presence, and the joy of your love. With these I shall be more than rich, and shall desire nothing more.”


Monday, July 10, 2017


Homily for July 11th, 2017: St. Benedict.

St. Benedict, whom the Church celebrates today, was born in Norcia, some 70 miles north of Rome, probably around 480. His Catholic parents gave him a religious upbringing, sending him to Rome for studies as a teenager. Benedict reacted negatively to the worldliness of Rome. Convinced that for his soul’s health he should become a monk, he left Rome and journeyed east into the mountains of central Italy, where he took up residence in a cave, as a hermit. In time some of the pious nobility in Rome began to visit Benedict and to offer him their sons to rear them for almighty God. This enabled Benedict to form 12 monastic communities all under Benedict’s general oversight

          By age 50 Benedict, confident that his monks could remain faithful to their calling without him, journeyed south to Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples, where he founded the monastic community which still exists today, and wrote what he himself calls his “little Rule for beginners.”  He died there in 547 or shortly thereafter, probably in his late sixties.

          “We are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord,” Benedict writes in the Rule’s prologue. “In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.” Benedict makes it clear that his Rule is addressed to all – to the average person without any special gifts – and not just to spiritual athletes.  “As we advance in the religious life and in faith,” Benedict writes in his Rule, “our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love” – words which clearly reflect Benedict’s own experience. 

          All over the world today men, and women as well, are still living according to Benedict’s Rule, more than thirty of them here in St. Louis. One of them, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, helped me across the threshold of the Catholic Church at Easter 1960. He died there in 2006 at the age of 97. It was a lifetime of faithful observance of Benedict’s “little rule for beginners” which enabled him to write the beautiful words with which I close:

            “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances. To seek him, the greatest human adventure. To find him, the highest human achievement.”       

Sunday, July 9, 2017


Homily for July 10th, 2017: Matthew 9:18-26.

          Today’s gospel recounts two miracles: one a miraculous healing, the other a resurrection from the dead. All the healings reported in the gospels are Jesus’ response to faith. Mark’s gospel tells us that when Jesus visited Nazareth, where he had grown up, “he could work no miracle,” because the people who had known him for years lacked faith. (Mk 5:6).   

          In today’s gospel the first person to manifest faith is a synagogue elder whose daughter has just died. He believes Jesus can bring her back to life. Greater faith than that one cannot imagine. The second person who approaches Jesus with faith is a woman who has suffered hemorrhages for twelve years. Jews had a special aversion to blood. Still today the Jewish dietary laws say that to be kosher, and hence fit for human consumption, meat must have all the blood drained from it before it before it comes to the table. This helps us understand that the situation of the woman with hemorrhages is desperate. She makes her request for healing not in words, but by grabbing hold of the tassel on one of the four corners of the prayer shawl worn by Jewish men. She is so confident in the power of Jesus that even this contact with his garment can bring her his healing.

          Both petitioners receive what they seek in faith. Sensing that power has gone out from him, Jesus turns around and confronts the woman. “Courage, daughter!” he tells her. “Your faith has saved you.”  “And from that hour,” Matthew tells us, “the woman was cured.”

          When Jesus arrives at the house of the synagogue elder, he finds a crowd already mourning the death of the man’s daughter. Hired flute players are playing a funeral dirge. “Go away,” Jesus tells them. “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” Not for the first time in the gospels, the people ridicule him, confident that he has lost touch with reality. When the crowd has dispersed, Jesus enters the house, takes the girl by the hand, and raises her to life.

          What better response could we make to the story of these two miracles than to repeat the anguished words of the father in Mark’s gospel seeking healing for his deaf mute son who seems to have what we would call epilepsy. Asked by Jesus whether he believes healing is possible, the man replies – and we repeat: “Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).