Friday, September 15, 2017


Homily for September 16th, 2017: Luke 6:43-49.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?" Jesus asks in today’s gospel. He is addressing people whose religious practice has no real foundations. He contrasts such people with those who, after hearing the Lord’s words, put them into practice in daily life. They are “like the man building a house” Jesus says, “who dug deep and laid the foundation on rock; when the flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it because it had been well built.” He goes on to contrast such a person with the superficially religious person “who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, it collapsed a once and was completely destroyed.”
To build one's house without foundations means building our lives on things that are unstable and fleeting, things that cannot withstand the tests of time and the hazards of chance. What are such things? Money, success, fame, and even health and prosperity. None of those things are reliable or solid.
To build one's house on rock means to base our lives on things that are solid, enduring, things that cannot be carried away with Life’s storms. “Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says later in Matthew’s gospel, “but my words will not pass away.” (24:35) To build our house on rock means building our life on God. Rock is one of the preferred biblical symbols for the God. “Trust in the Lord forever,” we read in the prophet Isaiah, “for the Lord is an eternal rock.” (26:4). The book Deuteronomy says the same: "He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is." (32:4)
To build one's house on the rock means, therefore, living in the Church and not remaining on the fringe, at a distance, using the excuse that the Church is filled with hypocrisy, dishonesty. and sin. Of course it is! The Church is made up of sinners like ourselves.
Today's gospel starts with what seems a harsh message. For the first time Luke speaks about people who refer to Jesus as their Lord. But what good is it to cry out, "Lord, Lord," Jesus asks, when your works are not done for him but for your own glory? When we cry out "Lord," it should mean that we belong to him at all times, and not just as temporary acquaintances. When the Lord responds, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers,” (a harsh message indeed) Jesus is really expressing his longing for people who are truly close to him in daily life. Those who do things in his name to be seen and honored, yet refuse to be in daily fellowship with him are fraudulent. Those who are deaf to the Word of God, who do not act upon it, and whose lives are not built upon God will be swept away when the storms of life descend.

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Homily for Sept. 15th, 2017: John 19:25-27.

Decades ago it was common on Good Friday to preach seven sermons based on Jesus= seven last words from the cross. I preached those sermons myself, over half a century ago. The AThree Hours= Agony,@ as it was often called, started at noon and ended at three, traditionally the hour of Jesus= death, with the church bell tolling 33 times, once for each year of Jesus= earthly life. Interspersed between each sermon or meditation was a hymn and one of more prayers, allowing worshipers who could not remain for the full three hours opportunities to come and go. 

We heard the third of Jesus’ seven last words from the cross in today’s gospel: AWoman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.@ The second half of this word from the cross is addressed to Athe disciple whom Jesus loved,@ as he is always called in the Fourth Gospel B deliberately left anonymous, many commentators believe, so that he can stand for all those whom Jesus loves, ourselves included. It is because of this third word from the cross that Catholics call Mary Aour blessed Mother.@

          We do not pray to Mary B or to any of the saints B in the same way we pray to God. We ask Mary and the other saints to pray for us. If it is right to ask our earthly friends to pray for us, how much more fitting to ask the prayers of our heavenly friends, especially of Mary, given to us by her dying son as our spiritual mother. The Catechism recommends such prayer in the following words: “Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.” (No. 2682)

          As we remember today the sorrows of Jesus’ mother, we pray, once again, the familiar and well loved words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


Homily for Sept. 17th, 2017: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A. Mt. 18:21-35.
AIM: To show that God=s gifts, in particular forgiveness, can be retained only if we share them with others.
 Abbot Jerome Kodell of New Subiaco Abbey in western Arkansas, describes  an ugly scene at the funeral of a widow. Two of her adult children refused to attend because their siblings were also present. What a terrible picture of family bitterness and unhappiness. The cause?  Inability to forgive past wrongs and injuries, even at the grave of the common mother.
ALord, if my brother sins against me,@ Peter Jesus asks in our gospel reading, Ahow often must I forgive? As many as seven times?@  Peter assumes that the duty of forgiveness has limits.
AI say to you,@ Jesus replies at once, Anot seven times; but seventy times seven times.@ Jesus was saying that for his followers the duty of forgiveness is unlimited. There is never a time when the Christian disciple can say: >I have forgiven enough. Now is the time not for mercy but for justice.= Peter asked about the quantity of forgiveness. As so often, Jesus does not answer the question.  Instead he tells a story about the quality of forgiveness, and the reason for it. We=ve heard the story countless times. For Jesus= hearers it was new. Let=s see if we can put ourselves in their place.
The story=s opening is ominous. A king, for Jesus= hearers, was a man with the power of life and death over his subjects. The people with whom he intends to settle accounts are important officials responsible for collecting the king=s taxes.  AOne was brought before him,@ the story says. The use of the passive suggests that official is hauled before the ruler by the royal guards. 
The amount of the man=s debt would have caused Jesus= hearers to gasp in disbelief. The Ahuge amount@ in our translation conceals the figure given by Matthew: Aten thousand talents.@ A talent was the largest sum of money then in use C something like a million dollars today. The king they knew best, Herod the Great, is estimated to have had a total annual income of only nine hundred talents. To have incurred a debt more than ten times that already huge amount meant that the official has been embezzling on an enormous scale.
A debt of that magnitude is unpayable C as the story says: AHe had no way of paying it.@ The king=s command, that not only the official but his wife and children as well, should be sold into slavery, shows that this was a tyrannical Gentile monarch. According to Jewish law only a robber unable to restore what he had stolen could be enslaved. Other family members were immune from such punishment. 
Up to this point of the story the sympathy of Jesus= hearers would have been with the corrupt official. Though his embezzlement of such a huge sum was dishonest, the king=s cruelty was worse. The man=s plea, ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back in full,@ C reinforced by his body language: falling down before the king in homage C bears no relation to reality and is merely an expression of the official=s desperation. Once a sum of money so vast was gone, a lifetime would have been insufficient to repay it. 
Now comes a surprise: AMoved with compassion, the master let the servant go and forgave him the loan.@ A king who was prepared to enslave an entire family for the debt of one member is not the kind of man from whom one would expect mercy, let alone mercy on this scale. So it is nonetheless. The carefully crafted story will have further surprises still.
No sooner delivered from his desperate plight, the official, formerly passive (Abrought in@), becomes active: AHe found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.@ Again Matthew states the amount Aa hundred denarii.@ A denarius was a day=s wage C the amount promised by the vineyard owner in another parable to those hired early in the day (cf. Mt 20:2). The contrast with the debt owed by the first official, and now forgiven, and that owed the latter by his colleague is immense. 
The second official=s reaction to the demand that he pay his debt mirrors that of the first. Body language (kneeling) and plea (ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back@) are identical. The sole difference is that the second official=s debt could easily be paid, given reasonable time. How shocking for those hearing the story for the first time to learn of the first official=s harsh response. Seizing his colleague by the throat and throttling him, he insists that the man be imprisoned until the debt is paid. The first official has completely forfeited the sympathy he enjoyed at the story=s outset.
In the story=s conclusion the colleagues of the two debtors do what Jesus= hearers wish they might do in the same situation. They report the injustice to the king. Summoning the first official again, the king reminds him of the unmerited mercy he has received and, in an act of grim irony, grants the man what, in his original desperation, he had requested: time. Now, however, the time will be spent not in repayment but in prison, under torture. 
It is a story of contrasts. The contrast between the king=s mercy and his servant=s cruelty is obvious. Less clear is the contrast between mercy and justice.  The story moves back and forth between the two. The king=s original summons and the command that the corrupt official, with his whole family, be sold into slavery are an insistence on justice at any price. The official reacts to his sentence on the same level. Instead of appealing for mercy, he pleads, however unrealistically, that if he is given time justice will be done: ABe patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.@ 
The hearers of the story are surprised when the king, portrayed up to this point as cruel, abandons his insistence on justice and shows mercy, granting his corrupt official not what he had asked (time to pay the debt) but more than he had asked (forgiveness of the debt). Justice required that, in return, this official grant his colleague=s plea for time to pay the relatively small amount which he owed. The corrupt official=s refusal of this plea violates both justice and mercy C the more so since the plea, in this case, was reasonable and realistic. This double failure brings on him swift and terrible retribution. 

Behind the king in the story stands God. The corrupt official=s hopeless plight parallels our own. From birth we owe God everything. He has given us the gift of life, using our parents as his instruments. He has also given us the unique set of gifts and talents with which each of us is endowed. Only a life of perfect obedience to God could discharge this debt. By disobedience, however, we have incurred further debts. Like the first official in the story, our situation is hopeless. Our debt to God is unpayable. Out of compassion, God sent his Son to pay on our behalf a debt we could never discharge ourselves. God has done for us, in short, what the king did for his corrupt official. As Paul writes: AHe pardoned all our sins. He canceled the bond that stood against us with all its claims, snatching it up and nailing it to the cross@ (Col. 2:13f).

 This free gift of forgiveness is not a reward for anything we do. It is simply an expression of God=s overflowing love for us as his children C sinful yet still his own, created in his image. This forgiveness is given to us, like all God=s gifts, under one strict condition: that what we have freely received, we freely share with others.  The story=s lesson is simple: if we are not forgiving toward others, as God is already forgiving toward us, we risk discovering one day that the forgiveness God has extended to us has been canceled. Jesus is telling us, in short, that our treatment of others, here and now C and especially of those who have wronged us C is already determining where, how, and with whom we shall spend eternity. 



Homily for Sept. 14th, 2017: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.

At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.

Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power?  The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.

Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@  with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me.  It sounds like horribly bad news.

The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in our parish pre-school. I would go to meet Doris when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door, waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.

The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).

Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.

AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ.  He is waiting for your response, right now.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Homily for September 13th, 2017: Luke 6: 20-26
How many people here would like to be poor? To be hungry? To be weeping and hated by everybody? If I asked for a show of hands to those questions, how may would go up? Suppose, however, that I asked some different questions: How many of you would like to be rich, well fed, laughing, and well spoken of by all? Aren=t those things we all want? 
How, then, can Jesus pronounce a blessing on those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated? Are those things good? Of course not! Yet Jesus calls those who suffer these things Ablessed@ C  which means Ahappy.@ To understand why, we must look again at what Jesus says at the end of these beatitudes: Aon account of the Son of man.@ Things evil in themselves C poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, exclusion C become good when they are the price we must pay for choosing to stand with Jesus Christ. 
When Luke wrote his gospel, almost all Jesus= followers were Jews. Deciding to follow Jesus meant being disowned by family members and exclusion from the synagogue. The passage we just heard immediately follows the call of the twelve apostles. How do you suppose they felt? They could hardly have been overjoyed. They faced alienation from their friends, loss of their livelihoods, hatred, and much grief. To these frightened, tearful men, uncertain about what they are getting into, Jesus speaks the words we heard in the gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

          Where do we stand? With the frightened Twelve whom Jesus calls blessed? Or with the young man who went away sorrowful because he was rich? Let=s not be too sure that Jesus= woes aren=t for us just because we=re not rich. Jesus is not talking about the size of our bank accounts. He is talking about the cost of discipleship. That cost can be high, no doubt about it.  How could they be otherwise when the One who asks these costs of us paid the highest cost of all: life itself. 

          Jesus= words in today=s gospel are his encouragement to people who wonder what they have let themselves in for, who wonder if the cost of following Jesus Christ may not be too high. He is speaking them again now, to each one of us. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

Monday, September 11, 2017


Homily for Sept. 12th, 2017: Luke 6:12-19.

          “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray,” we heard in the gospel, “and he spent the night in prayer to God.” What Jesus was about to do was that important. It required a whole night of waiting on God in prayer.

In biblical times, mountaintops were considered especially close to God. Moses received the Ten Commandments atop Mt. Sinai. The dramatic contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of the false god Baal took place on Mt. Carmel. Our modern expression, “a mountaintop experience,” denotes an experience of God’s nearness. Martin Luther King used the image of a mountain when he declared, shortly before his tragic assassination, to a rising crescendo of assenting shouts from his hearers: “I’m not afraid any more – Yeah.” “I don’t fear any man. – Amen!” “Because I’ve been up to the mountain. – Hallelujah!”

From his disciples Jesus choses twelve. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose to lead his new people were undistinguished. If they had one common quality it was their ordinariness. About most of them we have only legends. And the lists of names in the different gospels don’t even agree in all cases.

The Lord God called each one of us, when we were still in our mothers’ wombs. “You did not choose me,” he says in John’s gospel. “I chose you” (15:16). The realization that our call, whether as Catholic Christians, priests, or members of a religious order for women or men, originates not in our own choice but in God’s is reassuring. The man on the mountain knew what he was about when he assembled that first undistinguished group around himself over two millennia ago. Throughout history his choices betray a remarkable sameness. Success depends not on the capabilities of those chosen, but on the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of him who chooses us. God knows what he is about. It is only in our own minds that the issue is in doubt. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017


Homily for September 11th, 2017. Luke 6:6-11.

          Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. The man with the withered hand was probably well known to the local community. Jesus’ healings were already well known. It is no wonder therefore, that Jesus’ critics watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they could find a charge against him,” Luke explains.

          Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Get up and stand here in front,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath – or evil? To preserve life --  or destroy it?” His critics give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes who flock to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.

          Jesus’ critics are “frenzied,” Luke tells us, and ask “what could be done to Jesus.” None of this remains unknown to him. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.