Friday, February 16, 2018


Homily for February 17th, 2018: Luke 5:27-32.

          “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus’ critics ask indignantly. They put the question to Jesus’ disciples. Jesus himself answers himself. “The healthy do not need a doctor; sick people do. I have come not to invite the self-righteous to a change of heart, but sinners.”

          To understand why the religious authorities are so indignant, we have to know that sharing a meal with someone was considered, in Jesus’ day, treating him as a brother. How could one give such treatment to tax collectors? They were the hated ripoff artists of the day, working for the Roman government of occupation to squeeze as much money as possible out of their fellow Jews, while retaining part of their receipts for themselves.

          Jesus speaks just two words to Levi: “Follow me.” Without hesitation, Levi 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, Levi or Matthew included, they would have replied: “There was something about this man, Jesus, which made it impossible to say no.” 

          As a parting gesture Levi invites his friends to dinner at his house, with Jesus as the honored guest. As we would expect, many of those friends were Levi’s fellow tax collectors. Others were simply “sinners,” as the gospel reading calls them: Jews, like Levi, who did not keep God’s law.

Observing these disreputable guests, the Pharisees, proud of their exact observance of God’s law, ask Jesus’ other disciples how their Master can associate with such social outcasts. Jesus overhears the question and answers himself: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous [by which Jesus means ‘people like you Pharisees’]. “I came to call sinners.”

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


Thursday, February 15, 2018


Homily for February 16th, 2018: Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matt. 9:14-15.

          Lent is an opportunity for what is called in sports ‘spring training.’ It encourages us to take up three practices which are as essential for spiritual health as regular physical exercise and a healthy diet are for an athlete: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Both of today’s reading focus on the second practice: fasting.

Voluntarily giving up things we may legitimately enjoy, as an expression of our love for God, strengthens our wills and spiritual muscles. This helps us to resist the lures and lies of Satan, when he tempts us to make choices that we know to be sinful. Fasting may be of many kinds: refraining from food or drink, reducing the time we spend in front of the TV, computer, or movie screen, or engaging in hobbies and other legitimate leisure activities.  

Our first reading is a searing indictment of a wrong kind of fasting. The prophet Isaiah represents people who fast asking God: “Why do we fast, and you do not see it?” Speaking for God, which is what prophets do, Isaiah gives the answer. “You fast, but while you do so, you continue to act unjustly: fighting, quarrelling, abusing those who work for you.” If you want God to heed your prayers, work for justice, and for changing structures of society that cause injustice. Practice acts of charity for the poor, free those oppressed by unjust laws.

There is a tragic division in the American Catholic family today: between the so-called social justice Catholics and those who concentrate, sometimes exclusively, on the so-called life issues: abortion, gay-marriage, and the family. These life issues are crucial. But so is social justice. There should be no opposition between them. Isaiah’s words show that both are essential. The Lord calls us, Isaiah says, to release those bound unjustly; to set free the oppressed; to share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and homeless, to clothe the naked when we see them. There are people in our parish who are doing all those things. When we join them, Isaiah promises, our light will break forth like the dawn, our wounds will be quickly healed. “Then you shall call,” Isaiah says, “and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!”

That, friends, is the gospel. That is the Good News!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Homily for February 15th, 2018: Deuteronomy 30:15-29; Luke 9:22-25.

          God’s chosen people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt for more than four centuries, over double the life of slavery in our country. Oppressed people seldom develop high standards of social life. The high statistics of black on black crime in our country illustrate this. They also show that we are still paying the price of slavery. The price of oppression continues to be demanded even after the oppression has ended. The stories coming out of North Korea are even  worse. Oppressed people follow the law of the jungle, preying on one another in ways that horrify us.

          So the ragtag group of people who crossed the Red Sea with Moses had grown accustomed for centuries to inflicting on one another the cruelty they experienced from the people who had enslaved them.

          This is the background for God’s gift to Moses of the Ten Commandments. They were not then, nor are the Commandments now, fences to hem people in. The Commandments were and are ten signposts pointing the way to human flourishing and freedom. 

          That is exactly what Moses tells the people in our first reading. “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. … If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God … [He] will bless you … If, however you turn away your hearts … and serve other gods … you will certainly perish. …Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”

          Is that just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The worship of false gods is as widespread today as it was in Bible times. Today’s idols are pleasure, power, possessions, and honor. None of those things is bad. They become idols only when we make pursuit of any one of them central in our lives. Once we do that, we inevitably experience frustration – because we can never get enough.

What is the remedy? Jesus gives it to us in the gospel. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Doing that means putting the Lord at the center of our lives: before our own desires and ambitions, even before those whom we lost most. A long life has taught me that people who do that, and only such people, experience the peace and joy that only the Lord can give.  


Tuesday, February 13, 2018


Homily for Ash Wednesday, February 14th, 2018.  

The English author, G. K. Chesterton says: AThe soul does not die by sin, but by impenitence.@ More deadly than sin itself is the refusal to acknowledge sin, and to repent of it. Repentance is at the beginning of every Mass. It is also how we begin Lent.

ALord, have mercy,@ we pray. When we ask God for mercy, we are acknowledging that we can never get rid of sin on our own. Sin is like addiction. Part of the reason for the success of Alcoholics Anonymous in dealing with the addiction to alcohol is the spiritual soundness of the first two of its twelve points:

1.       We admitted we were powerless over alcoholCthat our lives had become unmanageable.

2.       We came to believe that a Power greater than our own could restore us to sanity.  

As we begin Lent, therefore, we confess our powerlessness and appeal to the only power that can make us whole. Do we realize how counter-cultural that is? The self-help books all tell us that we=re not powerless. We can do it on our own. We can get our act together. The only thing we lack is self-confidence. In confessing our sins we are not asking for an increase of self-confidence. Instead we appeal to God for mercy. Prayer for God=s mercy is one petition which is always certain of a favorable response.

AA clean heart create for me, O God,@ we prayed in the responsorial psalm.  Cleanliness is not something grim. Nor is the repentance which leads to cleanliness. It is liberating B and joyful. One of the most beautiful things in married life is the ability to say, AI=m sorry,@ and to hear the words, AI forgive you.@ 

Beautiful as human forgiveness is, however, it is only a pale shadow of God=s forgiveness. When we forgive, there is always a memory of the wrong or injury done B a skeleton in the closet, we call it. God doesn=t have any closets, and he certainly does have any skeletons. God=s forgiveness is total. In the Old Testament book of the prophet Isaiah we hear God saying: AThough your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow@ (1:18). And later in the book God says: AI wipe out your offenses; your sins I remember no more.@ (43:25). That, friends, is the gospel, the good news. We don’t need to drag after us an ever lengthening tale of guilt. When we truly repent, Go forgives: totally and completely.  

Monday, February 12, 2018


Homily for the First Sunday in Lent; Feb. 18th, 2018. Mark 1:12-15.
AIM:  By showing the spiritual strength gained by Jesus in the desert, to encourage the
           hearers in their Lenten prayer.
Every detail in this brief gospel reading is rich in biblical images, and rich too in spiritual significance. In Mark=s gospel Jesus= forty days in the desert begin immediately after the account of Jesus= baptism. As he emerges from the Jordan River, Jesus sees God=s Spirit descending on him Alike a dove@ (Mk 1:10). Now, Mark tells us, this same Spirit drives Jesus Aout into the desert.@
Jesus was experiencing one of life=s basic laws. It is this. Every ascent to the spiritual heights is followed by a descent into the dark valley. We long to live on life=s mountaintops, where we can sense God=s nearness and the reality of the spiritual world. It cannot be. It would not be good for us, even if such a thing were possible.
Even Jesus could not remain on the heights. The great spiritual experience of his baptism was followed at once by those forty days in the desert, Atempted by Satan,@ as Mark writes. We live by faith, not by sight. Faith may start on the mountaintop of some great spiritual experience. But faith is deepened and strengthened in those times in every life when God is silent, and seems to be absent B in the desert.
Jesus= forty days in the desert remind us of the forty years when Jesus= people, under Moses, wandered in the desert after their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Over those four decades that miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea grew ever more distant. Many who had experienced it died. And those who remained had ample opportunity to wonder: had it really happened? or was it all an illusion? Sick and tired of their desert existence, many of the people longed for a return to Athe good old days@ in Egypt – which of course were not good at all. St. Augustine says that we long for the “good old days” only because they are so long past that we have forgotten how horrible they were. Meanwhile a new generation was growing up who knew of God=s wonderful intervention in their parents= lives only by hearsay.  
Jesus= forty days in the desert were similar. He had ample opportunity to doubt the reality of his great spiritual experience at Jordan. Had the Spirit really descended on him like a dove? Had he really heard that voice from heaven, proclaiming him Amy beloved Son, on whom my favor rests@ (Mk 1:11)? Or was it all an illusion? Doubts such as these about his vocation and life=s work were surely part of that tempting by Satan of which we heard in the gospel reading.
Confronting those doubts was what gave Jesus his spiritual power. It was those forty days in the desert, tempted by Satan, which enabled him to say to rough fisherman shortly afterwards, ACome after me, and I will make you fishers of men@ (Mk 1:17) C and have them obey him on the spot. It was in the desert, Atempted by Satan [and] among wild beasts@ that Jesus became the man of whom we read later in this same chapter of Mark=s gospel: AThe people were spellbound by his teaching because he taught with authority,@ and not like the other religious teachers they knew. (1:22).
If you want to make something of the one life God has given you (and which of us does not); if you want to achieve something beyond the ordinary C then you must spent time in the desert. Show me someone who has left a mark on the world, in any age, in any field of endeavor: an artist, a thinker, a writer; a soldier, an entrepreneur, an explorer; a scientist, a prophet, a priest; a Francis of Assisi, a Mother Teresa, an Abraham Lincoln, a Martin Luther King, Mme. Curie, with her husband the discoverer of radium, the pioneering British nurse Florence Nightingale, Thomas Edison, the discoverer of the light bulb C and I will show you someone who has spent time in the desert. Silence, solitude, hard grinding toil; weeks, perhaps years in the desert of loneliness, of frustration and seeming failure, where each successive glimpse of the cool refreshing waters of achievement and success turns out to be a mirage: that is the experience of all the great women and men of our race. 

I mentioned Mother Teresa. Some of you may have seen the television film about her. In one scene she is sitting on an airplane, writing postcards, as she flies to one of her many foundations for the poorest of the poor. Off-screen a voice asks: AMother, where do you get your energy?@ Mother Teresa=s reply is as simple as it is unforgettable. AWe begin every day with Him, and we end every day with Him. That is the most beautiful thing.@

Are you beginning and ending the day with Jesus Christ? Perhaps you have grown slack. All of us do from time to time. Resolve this Lent to begin again.  Between now and Easter make time and space in your life for Jesus: not just at the beginning of the day and at the end, when you are tired and no longer able to concentrate. Decide to give Jesus time during the day. Turn off the radio and TV. As you drive your car, or stand in the checkout line while shopping, during your lunch hour or another pause a work: turn to God, be silent, pray the rosary, read a few verses of Scripture. Or just be still: lift up your heart and mind with a few words, or none at all, to the source of your being, to your Savior, your Lord, your best friend.

Follow Jesus= invitation to join him in the desert, to Acome with me ... to an out-of-the-way place and rest a little@ (Mk 6:31).  When you do that, you will discover Jesus= desert secret:

AThey who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength;

they shall mount up with eagles= wings;

they shall run and not grow weary;

they shall walk and not faint.@ (Is 40:31)


Homily for February 13th, 2018: Mark 8:14-21

          In yesterday’s gospel reading we heard Jesus’ critics demanding a “sign,” something so dramatic that it would compel belief. Jesus had already given many signs: his miracles of healing. He rejected the demand for further signs because he knew that belief cannot be compelled. His words today, “Guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod,” are a commentary on his confrontation with the pious critics who were not content with the signs Jesus had already given, and demanded more. “Leaven” is a figure of speech for something with an inward, vigorous vitality. Here it refers to an evil force that can spread, like an infection. Jesus is telling his disciples not to succumb to the hard-hearted mentality of his critics.

          This goes completely over his disciples’ heads. They are in a boat and have started to cross the lake. They discover that they have brought only one loaf of bread with them. They think that Jesus’ words about leaven must have something to do with the bread. As so often in the gospels, Jesus’ disciples are thinking on the material level (in this case about bread and leaven), while Jesus is on the spiritual level.

Aware of their misunderstanding at once, Jesus asks: “Why do you conclude that is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend?” Don’t you remember how I fed a vast crowd in the wilderness with just a few loaves of bread – not just once but twice? Why, then, are you worrying about not having enough to eat? “Do you still not understand?”

What is it that Jesus’ friends do not understand? That he is able to look after them; and that he has ways of doing so which they cannot possibly imagine or understand. We pray in this Mass for the faith which they lacked. Here is an evangelical hymn which beautifully expresses this prayer.

   Cast your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face,
   And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His Glory

   and Grace.

    Through death into life everlasting / He passed, and we follow Him there;
    Over us sin no more has dominion - For more than conquerors we are!

     His Word shall not fail you - He promised; believe Him, and all will be well;
     Then go to a world full of darkness, His perfect salvation to tell.



Sunday, February 11, 2018


Homily for February 12th, 2018: Mark 8:11-13.

          “The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.” The words show hostility on the part of Jesus’ critics. They argue with him. They put him to the test. They assume that he will fail the test, and thus lose popular support.

          Jesus has already given numerous signs: his healing miracles. For his critics these are insufficient. They demand a sign so dramatic that it will compel belief. Jesus refuses their demand. Why? Because he knows that belief cannot be compelled, any more than love can be compelled. The greatest sign of all – the empty tomb -- was still in the future at the time of this confrontation. When it came, Jesus’ critics had a perfectly plausible explanation: persons unknown, possibly Jesus’ own friends, had moved his body. The only person who came to belief on the basis of the empty tomb alone was the man always referred to in the gospel which bears his name as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”: the apostle John. All the other friends of Jesus came to belief in the resurrection only after seeing the risen Lord – and most of them were initially skeptical even then.

          Signs are given to people who already believe, never to people who demand proof as a condition of belief. One of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies is about this: Othello. A rough military man, Othello’s life is transformed when he meets the woman who will become his wife, Desdemona. She brings beauty into his life, but also love, tenderness, and light.

          All is well until Othello’s lieutenant Iago, for reasons which literary scholars are still disputing, suggests to Othello that the wife he passionately loves is unfaithful him. Whereupon Othello confronts Desdemona with the demand that she has not betrayed him. But you can’t prove a negative. As long as Othello loved and trusted the wife whose love had lit up his life, he received constant proofs of her love. Once he withdrew that trust and demanded proof, no proof was sufficient. A love, once beautiful, dies; and at the end of the play Desdemona herself dies at the hand of her now estranged husband: a tragedy indeed.

          You want signs that prove the Lord’s love for you? Proofs that Jesus, while completely human like us, is truly the divine Son of God? Then give yourself to him in faith and love, and you will receive signs which prove both these things. But demand proofs before you believe, and like Jesus’ critics, you will go away empty-handed.