Friday, August 4, 2017


Homily for August 5th, 2017; Matthew 14:1-12.

          Herod had thrown John the Baptist into prison, today’s gospel tells us, “on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.” Herod divorced his first wife, in order to marry the wife of his still living brother Philip, a woman named Herodias. No wonder that John denounced Herod. He had divorced his wife in order to marry his still married sister-in-law. This earned John the Baptist the hatred of two people, both equally unscrupulous: Herod and Herodias.

          Herodias sees her chance for revenge at a drunken party hosted by her second husband, Herod. Aroused by the dance of Herodias’ daughter – unnamed here, but celebrated in literature and in a well known opera as Salome – Herod promises the girl, under oath, that he will give her anything she asks for, up to half of his kingdom. Not knowing how to respond, the girl consults her mother, who tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, who was even then languishing in Herod’s prison.

          Aghast at the girl’s request, but unwilling to violate his oath, made before so many witnesses, Herod orders John’s immediate execution, without judge, jury, or trial. It is hard to conceive of something more cruel and unjust than the squalid story our gospel reports.

          Is that all just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The media report similar outrages all the time: Muslims threatened with death, or actually killed, for converting to Christianity; a Christian missionary sentenced to death for preaching Christ in an Islamic country, and saved only by a worldwide outcry; the teenage girl in Afghanistan who survived an assassination attempt by terrorists who oppose education for women. Fortunately she was nursed back to health in England, and lived to tell her story recently before a meeting of the United Nations in New York.

          How could we better respond to the atrocity reported in today’s gospel than to pray in this Mass for the many victims of injustice and terror in the world today?


Thursday, August 3, 2017


Homily for August 4th, 2017: Matthew 13:54-58.

There’s a 19th century hymn, little known to Catholics, which goes like this:

          I think when I read that sweet story of old,

          When Jesus was here among men,

          How he called little children as lambs to the fold:

          I should like to have been with them then.

It’s a nice sentiment. But it hardly corresponds to the historical reality. Most of the people who encountered Jesus found him quite ordinary. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” they ask in today’s gospel reading. “Where did this man get all this?” And Matthew, the gospel writer adds: “They took offense at him.”  

That remains true today. People encounter Jesus today not in his human body but through his mystical body, the Church – through us, who in baptism were made eyes, ears, hands, feet, and voice for Jesus Christ. He has no other.     

The Catholic Church is human, as Jesus was human. It is mostly ordinary, as Jesus was ordinary. It can be remote, as Jesus was sometimes remote. It can be weak, as Jesus seemed weak to his contemporaries when he refused to use the divine power he manifested in his miracles to avoid crucifixion.

Hidden behind this ordinariness and remoteness and weakness, however, is all the power of God; all the compassion of his Son Jesus; and all the strength of his Holy Spirit, who came in fiery tongues on the first Pentecost to kindle a fire that is still burning; and to sweep people off their feet with a rushing mighty wind that is still blowing.

Most of Jesus’ contemporaries took offense at him. Or as another translation of our gospel reading has it, “They found him too much for them.”

What about you?   

Wednesday, August 2, 2017



Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Matthew 17:1-9.

          The event described in today’s gospel, Jesus’ transfiguration, is mysterious. Like Jesus’ resurrection, the transfiguration stands on the threshold between this world and the next.  Mark’s account is rich in symbols.

          The unnamed “high mountain” is the first symbol. In the thought-world of the Bible, mountains symbolize remoteness from ordinary worldly affairs, and nearness to God.  Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Elijah, who appears with Moses on the mountain of Jesus’ transfiguration, experienced the climax of his career on Mount Carmel, in his contest with the prophets of the false god Baal. (1 Kings 18) Jesus went up a mountain to call his twelve apostles. (Mark 3:13) John’s gospel says that he withdrew to a mountain to pray following the feeding of the great crowd in the wilderness. (6:15)     

          The dazzling whiteness of Jesus’ clothes symbolizes God’s glory, which (as God told Moses) no mortal can look on and live (Ex. 33:20). We find this same symbolism in the Book of Revelation, which says that in heaven the blessed will be “robed in white” (Rev. 3:4f).

          The presence of Moses and Elijah, the two greatest heroes of Jesus’ people in the Old Testament, points to Jesus as the one who fulfils all his people’s hopes. Jesus is greater than either of them, greater even than Moses and Elijah together.

          Peter is so fascinated by this wonderful experience that he wants to prolong it. His proposal, to erect three tents, is reminiscent of the Jewish Feast of Tents, a joyful autumn celebration that recalled the time when God’s people lived in tents during their desert wanderings. That feast also looked forward to the joy of the end-time, when God would visit his people and complete the blessings promised in the covenant he had made with Moses in the wilderness.

          Peter’s suggestion about the three tents is immediately followed by the descent of the cloud. That is the most striking symbol of all.  Repeatedly in Scripture a cloud is a sign of God’s presence. There was a cloud on Mount Sinai when Moses received the Ten Commandments (Ex. 24:13). A cloud received the risen Lord into heaven at Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:9). Now the voice from the cloud speaks the same words uttered at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son.” 

          All these biblical symbols suggest in Jesus’ transfiguration meanings impossible to convey in a literal description. Like the resurrection, the transfiguration is a mystery because, though it happened in time, it gives a glimpse into a world beyond time. For a brief moment, there on the mountain, the veil between time and eternity, between earth and heaven, was lifted. Jesus’ three friends catch a momentary glimpse of the invisible, spiritual world of God. And the concluding words spoken from the cloud – “Listen to him” –  express the significance of this mystery for Jesus’ friends: not only for the three present there on the mountain, but for all the friends of Jesus, ourselves included. 

           We, the friends and followers of Jesus Christ, are the company of those who listen to his words. Jesus does not grant to us, any more than he granted Peter, James, and John, the continuous vision of his glory. We live not on the mountain-top of great spiritual experiences, but in the valley of life’s ordinary duties. There we do not look for dazzling visions from beyond. Instead we listen for God’s voice.

          How does God speak to us? He speaks in his Holy Word, in the teaching of his Church, through the circumstances of daily life, in the promptings of conscience, and in the needs of those whom we encounter along life’s way. In the world to come it will be different. There we shall see God. In this world, however, we live by faith, not by sight. 

          That is the way Jesus lived. How bitterly his faith was tested as he passed through his own dark valley we learn from his anguished cry on the cross; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Jesus calls us to follow him on the way of the cross: to endure whatever trials and sufferings life may bring. The way of the cross will lead us, as it led Jesus, through suffering to death. But beyond death for us, as for him, is resurrection to life eternal. Then faith will give way to sight. Then our earthly pilgrimage beneath an often overcast sky will yield to the uninterrupted vision of God’s glory. We shall have reached our true homeland, the heavenly city, which (as we read in the final book of the Bible) needs neither sun nor moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).

          Now, however, is the time not for seeing, but for hearing. We listen for the Father’s voice and heed his command, as he speaks to us the words first uttered to those three friends of Jesus on the mountain two thousand years ago;

          “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”



Homily for August 6th, 2017: 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
         Is. 55:1-3; Matt. 14:13-21.
AIM: To show that our deepest longings are satisfied only by Jesus Christ.      
        We Americans live in one of the richest societies on earth. More people in this land have access to more of the good things of life than, perhaps, any other people anywhere. Even those whom we reckon to be living beneath the poverty level would still be considered well off by millions of truly impoverished people in today’s Third World. Many of the people who show up at our rectory door,  looking for food or financial help, have cell phones.

          Amid this material abundance for so many, however, are people truly satisfied? A glance at the morning’s headlines or at the daily TV news provides plenty of evidence that many are not. Why? Because it is never enough to satisfy our physical hunger if our spiritual hunger remains unfed. 

          “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” God asks in our first reading from the prophet Isaiah. Isn’t that what many of the glossy ads on TV and in the magazines are urging us to do?  Promising happiness if only we’ll buy their product or service? Let’s be fair: much advertising is useful. If I’m looking for a pair of lightweight trousers for the brutal heat of a St. Louis summer, and I see an ad telling me about a sale on men’s summer clothing, I’ll hurry in to get what I need. The ad has served me well. 

          Too often, however, advertising is designed to kindle our desire for things we never knew we needed till we saw the ad. After we have parted with our money, we find that an inner emptiness remains. How can we get rid of that? How can we satisfy the deepest hunger of all: our spiritual hunger? In our first reading Isaiah gives us God’s answer to that haunting question: “Heed me, and you shall eat well. ... Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” 

          Jesus knew that deep inner hunger which only God can satisfy. At the beginning of today’s gospel reading he has just received the terrible news that his cousin, John the Baptist, has been executed in Herod’s prison. Jesus knows that he must get away from the crowds, to be alone with his heavenly Father. He withdraws in a boat “to a deserted place by himself.” 

          But the people will not leave Jesus alone. Discovering his destination, they get there ahead of him. Upon disembarking, Jesus sees a “vast crowd.” What has brought them there? Some, surely, are attracted by Jesus’ wonderfully simple yet vivid way of speaking. Others may hope to witness his healing power, or to experience it themselves. Beyond such fully understandable reasons, however, there is another: somehow the very ordinary people in that vast crowd sense in this man, Jesus, someone who has the answer to life’s greatest problems; a man who comes from another world — from God. 

          Jesus’ heart goes out to these people. He realizes, Matthew tells us in a previous passage, that they are “like sheep without a shepherd, harassed and helpless” (Mt. 9:36, NEB). By the time Jesus has healed many sick people in the crowd, it is evening. His disciples want to send the people away to the neighboring villages to get provisions. With what must have been at least the trace of a smile, Jesus challenges them to provide food. His disciples are aghast. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here,” they respond. 

          Why didn’t Jesus use his miraculous powers to provide food on his own?  He wanted to teach his disciples a lesson. In telling them, “give them some food yourselves,” Jesus wanted the disciples to learn to trust not in their own resources, but in his power. What the disciples have to give is pitifully inadequate. When those meager resources are entrusted to Jesus, however, they are transformed beyond imagining. When every person in the vast crowd has eaten to the full, each of the Twelve is still able to fill his basket with leftovers. This detail too teaches a lesson: when Jesus gives, he gives not just abundantly, but superabundantly.

          This story, recounted six times over in the four gospels, shows us who Jesus Christ is, and what he does for us. Jesus is the story’s central figure, the giver of God’s gifts in abundance. To distribute his bounty, he relies on his friends. What they have to give is totally inadequate. They are entirely dependent on Jesus. The story continues today — in every Mass. We who are called to distribute the Lord’s gifts to his people wear special clothes: not the uniform of masters, but the livery of servants, whose task it is to pass round the dishes and to see that everyone is fed: from the Lord’s two tables, of the word and of the sacrament. 

          This gathering of the Lord’s people — like every Mass anywhere — is the continuation of what Jesus did in the upper room at the Last Supper the night before he died. It is also the continuation of that lakeside meal when a vast throng was fed by Jesus from pitifully inadequate resources. Here, and here alone, is the satisfaction of our deepest hunger. Here the beautiful words of our first reading are fulfilled: 

          “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
          You who have no money, come, receive grain, and eat;
          come without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!”
          Here we, the joyful people of God, repeat with a full heart the words of our responsorial psalm:
          “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”


Homily for August 3rd, 2017: Matthew 13:47-53.

          “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea.” It is what we call a dragnet. Dragged along the bottom, it collects everything in its path. In Matthew’s gospel it immediately follows the parable of the weeds among the wheat. Both parables have a similar message, one which Jesus’ first hearers would easily have understood. They were familiar with dietary laws, which separated unclean foods from those they were permitted to eat. Sea creatures without fins or scales were unclean, and hence could not be eaten. So once the net is brought ashore, there must be a selection. The clean fish are put into buckets and taken to market. Everything else is thrown away. “Thus it will be at the end of the age,” Jesus tells us. “The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.” In the parable of the wheat and the weeds

they do the same with the weeds.

          God is not mocked, Jesus is telling us. The power of evil, of which we see signs daily in the morning headlines, and on the evening news on TV, is temporary. In the end, goodness will triumph, Jesus is telling us, and evil will be burned up in the flames of God’s justice.

That too is the gospel. That is the good news.      

Monday, July 31, 2017


Homily for August 1st, 2017: Matt. 13:35-43.

“The righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father,” Jesus tells us at the end of his explanation of his parable of the weeds among the wheat. That story directs our attention to the greatest difficulty for religious belief: the so-called “Problem of Evil.” How is it possible that, in a world created and ruled by a good and loving God, there is so much evil, injustice, and suffering? The weeds sown among the wheat are, Jesus explains, “the children of the Evil One, and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.”

          Why does God tolerate evil in the good world he has created? God’s words to Moses in our first reading give us a clue to the answer: because “the Lord is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity, continuing his kindness for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin.” But not forever! Today’s gospel reading proclaims the good news that the power of evil is temporary. There will come a time when justice and goodness will triumph. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers [and] throw them into the fiery furnace …”

          When that happens, Jesus says, “the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.” We became citizens of that kingdom at baptism. This life, with all its trials and suffering, and ending with death, is a preparation for a life without end, without suffering; where the deepest desires of our hearts, never fully satisfied in this life, will find fulfillment beyond our imagining; where we shall experience not just joy but ecstasy, for we shall see God face to face.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Homily for July 31st, 2017.

          Ignatius Loyola whom we celebrate today, was born about 1491 in northeastern Spain. Wounded in 1521 by a canon ball while fighting invading French troops at Pamplona, he was carried to the family castle at Loyola. There the doctors reset the broken bone in his broken leg. He would walk with a limp for the rest of his life.

          During his recuperation Ignatius asked for tales of love and adventure – the equivalent of today’s pulp novels and Playboy magazine. When nothing of this kind could be found, he was given the Legends of the Saints and a Life of Christ. He found them boring. In time, however, he asked himself: “What if I were to do what blessed Francis did? or blessed Dominic?” 

          As the months crept by, he realized that his romantic dreams left him empty afterwards. The stories of the saints, on the other hand, filled him with a joy which persisted even after he laid the book down. He resolved to do penance for his many sins, and to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem – another romantic dream, transformed now into a desire to serve a higher love, the love of God himself.

          In March 1522 Ignatius set off on a mule for his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His went first to the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat. There he made a general confession, laid down his sword at the shrine of the Black Virgin, gave his mule to the abbot, his fine clothes to a beggar, and donned the sackcloth garment of pilgrims. Ignatius then made for the nearby town of Manresa, where stayed for the next ten months. He attended Mass daily, spent much of the day in prayer, and fasted to excess. He became seriously depressed, was tempted with thoughts of suicide, and tormented by scruples about whether his general confession at Montserrat had been complete.

          At Manresa Ignatius also began writing notes for what eventually became his Spiritual Exercises, a kind of handbook designed, as the opening paragraph says, “to prepare and dispose the soul to rid itself of all disordered affections and then, after their removal, to seek and find God’s will in the ordering of our life for the salvation of our soul.”  It would become the first organized manual for a spiritual retreat in Christianity’s history. 

          Upon his return from the Holy Land, Ignatius began university study of philosophy and theology, first in Spain, finally at age 37 in Paris, where he guided fellow students the Spiritual Exercises. On the 15th of August 1534, Ignatius and six companions attended a Mass celebrated by Peter Favre, the only priest in the group, in a chapel atop Montmartre, then outside Paris. Together they vowed to go to Jerusalem (the old romantic dream was not dead); and if that proved impossible to place themselves at the disposal of the Pope for any work he assigned them.

          Only in January 1537 could the group could reassemble at Venice, the jumping off place for the Holy Land. On the 24th of June Ignatius and his companions were ordained priests in Venice. With the Mediterranean closed to shipping by the Turks, the hoped for trip to Jerusalem was impossible. At the end of 1538, therefore, Ignatius and his companions proceeded to Rome, where they offered themselves to Pope Paul III, who assigned them missions in Italy, Portugal, and overseas. In 1540 the Pope confirmed the group as the Society of Jesus, with Ignatius chosen unanimously as their first superior.  

          Ignatius remained in Rome for the fifteen more years which remained to him. The society grew rapidly, founding two colleges in Rome for the training of the clergy, Rome’s first orphanage, the first “half-way house” for prostitutes wanting to change their lives, and in 1547 the first schools for laypeople, the beginning of the worldwide Jesuit teaching apostolate which continues today.   

          Inspiring and supporting all this activity was Ignatius’ deep and prolonged prayer. His devotion to the Holy Trinity was so intense that he sometimes had difficulty starting to celebrate Mass or to continue. After Mass he would remain two hours in silent prayer -- something sadly lacking today, when millions banish silence with TV, radio, and the many other electronic means now so widely available.

          Death came unexpectedly to Ignatius’ on July 31st, 1556. He went home to the Lord whom he had served so generously as he had taught his followers to live: without drama or fuss. At his death they numbered over a thousand, working as far afield as Japan and Brazil, and including the great apostle to the Orient, St. Francis Xavier. Among Ignatius’ many frequently quoted words are these: “Act, as if all depended on you; pray, as if all depended on God.”