Friday, December 7, 2018


Immaculate Conception of the BVM.  Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians, 1:3-6,
          11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
          Have you ever felt so ashamed of yourself that you wanted to run away and hide? Today’s first reading is about a man who felt that way. After disobeying God’s command, Adam hides, hoping to avoid a confrontation with the loving Creator and Father against whom he has rebelled. 
          When God pursues him and asks, “Where are you?” the man replies: “I was afraid ... so I hid myself.” He thought he would find happiness by ‘doing his own thing.’ Instead he finds only disappointment, frustration, and shame. Is there anyone here who has never had a similar experience? This simple story is no primitive folk tale. It is the story of Everyman – true to our common experience of life. If the story has a moral, it is this. We find happiness, joy, and peace only when we stop trying to run away and hide from God, and begin entrusting ourselves to him in faith. 
          The Church gives us, in Holy Scripture, a beautiful human model of this trusting faith: Mary, the mother of the Lord. The Catechism says: “By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity.” (No. 967)
          Mary did not insist on what she wanted, on doing her own thing. She was content to do God’s thing, even though it involved much suffering and grief. On today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, we praise God for preparing Mary from the moment of her conception in her mother’s womb (which took place through normal human procreation) from that fundamental defect of human nature which the theologians call “original sin.” This defect means that we come into the world imperfect, not as God originally intended us to be. From this defect we are healed by baptism, when God reaches out and claims us for his own. In baptism we are reborn spiritually, becoming God’s children by adoption; and by his free gift, we are graced with the perfect human nature of our savior and redeemer, Jesus Christ. 
          The Immaculate Conception means that Mary had no need for baptism. As the Catechism says, quoting the words of our second reading: “The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person ‘in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places’ and chose her ‘in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.’” (No. 492)  
          Today we praise God for bestowing this unique privilege on Mary in order to prepare her beforehand to be the mother of his Son. That gift did not take away Mary’s freedom, however. For her, as for each of us, her acceptance by God – her salvation – was a free gift that required her cooperation with God, the giver of this gift. 
          As we honor Mary for her words of free assent, “May it be done to me according to your word,” we invoke her prayers that we may make our assent to God; that we too may say our “Yes” to God, as she did.  

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Homily for December 7th, 2018: Matthew 9:27-31                

          “Do you believe that I can do this?” Jesus asks the two blind men who ask for healing. “Yes, Lord,” they respond. This declaration of faith is crucial. Faith opens us up to the action of God, as the sunshine opens up the flowers to the sun’s life giving warmth and the morning dew. Jesus reaffirms the close connection between faith and healing as he says: “Let it be done to you according to your faith.” Whereupon he touches the two and they are immediately healed.

          Now comes a surprise. “See that no one knows this,” he commands. Why? Bible scholars have been puzzling over this question ever since the gospels were written. The most convincing answer seems to be that Jesus did not wish to be known as a sensational wonder-worker. If all those who preach Jesus Christ today were to follow his example, a number of hot gospelers on TV have to go off the air. In Jesus’ day many of his people thought that when the long awaited Messiah came, he would be a person of power and glory. The only power that Jesus had was the power of love. His only glory was acceptance of the cross – an instrument of shame, degradation and death.

          Pope Benedict gives perhaps the best explanation for Jesus’ unwillingness to reveal his true identity until after his resurrection. Identifying himself publicly as Messiah, the anointed servant of God, “would undoubtedly have been misinterpreted in the public climate of Israel [Pope Benedict writes] and would necessarily have led to false hopes in him and on the other hand to political action against him. … The true Messiah is the ‘Son of Man,’ who is condemned to death as the precondition for his entrance into glory as the one who rose from death after three days.” (Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, pp. 297f)

          The two newly healed blind men know nothing of all this, of course. Overwhelmed with gratitude for their newfound sight, “they went out [Matthew tells us] and spread word of him throughout all that land.” Now, after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection has removed all false expectations of the Messiah, Jesus invites us to do the same: with words when necessary, but in any case through a joy no less intense and contagious than that of the two men in today’s gospel: previously blind, but now able to see.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018


Homily for December 6th, 2018: Matthew 7:21, 24-27.

          “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells us, “but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Who are the people who say, “Lord, Lord”? We are! Every time we pray – and your presence here shows that you do pray – we are saying, “Lord, Lord.” God asks for more, Jesus is telling us. If our prayers do not bear fruit in our lives, they are useless.

          The parable of the two houses which follows shows the difference between words and deeds. It may reflect something Jesus himself had witnessed: a house built on sandy, low lying ground, swept away by heavy rains and storms. Those of us who live in the Mississippi valley witness that every decade or so. Houses built, despite all previous experience, on the floodplain are swept away, or rendered uninhabitable, when the Father of Waters, as the native Americans called the river, overflow its banks. Meanwhile, those who build on higher ground, with solid foundations, experience no loss at all.

          What does it mean to build on sand? It means basing our lives and hopes on things that are unstable and fleeting: money, success, fame – even health and prosperity. To build on rock means to build our lives on God. The Bible often compares God to solid rock. We have an example in today’s first reading, from the prophet Isaiah, “Trust in the Lord forever,” he writes, “for the Lord is an eternal Rock.” Simply calling out ‘Lord, Lord,” is useless, if the good things we do are not done for Him, but for our own glory, to impress other people.

          Here is a prayer written by a man who built on God: Cardinal Mercier of Belgium, a hero to his people for defending them, at great personal cost, during the German occupation of World War I. It goes like this: “O Holy Spirit, Beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do. Give me your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will. Amen.

          I pray that prayer every day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Homily for December 5th, 2018: Matthew 15:29-37.

          This story of Jesus feeding the vast crowd in the wilderness was clearly a favorite with Christians in the decades after Jesus’ resurrection. We find it told, with variations, six times over in the four gospels.

What accounts for its popularity? I can think of three reasons. First, it shows Jesus’ ability to solve what, to us, is insoluble. Second, it is an example of what is sometimes called “The Law of the gift.” And finally, it helps us understand the central Christian mystery: the Eucharist. Let me speak briefly about each of these three.

Feeding a vast multitude with seven loaves of bread and a few fish was clearly impossible. Not, however, for Jesus. The story tells us that when we place our resources, however inadequate they may be, into the hands of Jesus Christ, we discover that they are inadequate no longer. Jesus is the Son and representative of the God of the impossible.

Second, the story helps us understand what is sometimes called “the law of the gift.” This tells us that when we give something to the Lord, it is not lost. It comes back to us. But it comes back transformed, and enlarged. That is because God is, in the words of the theologians, sufficient unto himself. He needs nothing.

Third and finally, what we offer to God in the Eucharist -- a little bread and a small quantity of wine, gifts every bit as insignificant as the seven loaves of bread and a few fish offered to Jesus in this story -- comes back to us transformed into the Body and Blood of God’s Son: all his love, all his goodness, all his  strength, all his purity and compassion, all his willingness to forgive.

And friends, when we have Him – Jesus – we have everything.

Monday, December 3, 2018


December 9th, 2018: Second Sunday in Advent, Year C.

Baruch 5:1-9; Phil. 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6.

AIM:  To explain the three “comings” of Christ which Advent celebrates.


          About this time each year young children grow excited at the approach of Christmas. Their mood of expectancy grows each time they see a package brought into the house, to be put away until the Great Day. Expectancy is the mood of all three readings today. They also have a common theme: the great event to which the writers look forward will be the result not of human effort or of historical development, but of God’s intervention. 

          Our first reading opens on a note expectation: “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  Addressing the holy city, the prophet tells Jerusalem to rejoice because its exiled inhabitants are about to return. Their captivity was a purely natural event, the result of military defeat. Their liberation, on the other hand, will be more than human.  “Led away on foot by their enemies they left you: but God will bring them back to you.”

          We hear this same note of expectation in the gospel. John the Baptist proclaims that God’s decisive intervention in the life of his people, so long predicted by the prophets, is now at hand: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. ... The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  

          The second reading is quieter in tone. But it too looks forward to a bright future. Paul sees this future, however, not as the result of human effort, but of God’s faithfulness. “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
          The mood of expectancy common to all these readings is the mood of Advent, a word which means “coming.” Advent celebrates the coming of Christ at Bethlehem. But it also celebrates two further comings: Christ’s final coming at the end of time; and between these two, Advent celebrates an intermediate coming here and how.

          None of these three comings of Jesus Christ is the result of anything that we do. They are the result of what God does. Jesus’ first coming at Bethlehem was the result of God’s intervention not only in history, but also in biology. Jesus did not come like all other human children, through the God-given process of human procreation. Jesus came not from within humanity, like all of us. He came from outside humanity. He took his human nature from his mother. But he had God for his Father.

          Christ’s final coming at the end of time will be similar. It will not come about through human development or historical evolution. It will be the termination of history, God’s final intervention from without, as surely as Christ’s birth at Bethlehem was God’s intervention from without. 

          The encouragement these readings give us to expect God’s decisive intervention from without is important for us Americans. Since the first settlers came to these shores almost four centuries ago, we Americans have thought of ourselves as a “can do” people. We call our country “the land of unbounded opportunity.” For millions it has been just that. That is wonderful, cause for deep gratitude.

          Today, however, we are painfully conscious of the limitations on our opportunities. Beginning with the Vietnam war, we have suffered a series of painful humiliations at the hands of smaller and weaker nations. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the pain and humiliation have come not from nations but from small groups of deeply embittered, hate-filled individuals. The United States is still the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth. Yet only a starry eyed optimist could claim that we are today in all respects the masters of our fate of the captains of our national destiny. 

          Discovering the limitations on our opportunities and independence has been painful for us Americans. It might have been less painful if we had paid more attention to Holy Scripture. In the Bible salvation is never the result of human effort alone. Scripture tells us that salvation is God’s free gift.  

          Though Jesus speaks repeatedly in the gospels about the reign of God, or God’s kingdom, nowhere does he suggest that God’s kingdom will come through our own efforts alone. God’s kingdom is something that breaks in on us from outside human history, the result of God’s intervention in the historical process. 

          God’s kingdom, and our salvation, will not come without our effort. But they will not be the result of our effort. The Bible teaches that all our efforts to serve God are a response to what God has already done for us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (5:8).  Every effort we make to keep God’s commandments is an attempt to thank God for the gift he has given us in his Son. 

          Advent looks forward expectantly to the celebration at Christmas of Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem. That was a coming in weakness (as every baby is weak), and in obscurity: the only people who showed up to celebrate were some shepherds and three crackpot astrologers from God knows where. Advent also looks forward to Christ’s final coming at the end of time. That will be a coming in power and in glory. 
          Between these two comings of Christ, however, there is an intermediate coming, here and now. Like Christ’s first coming at Bethlehem, this intermediate coming is hidden and obscure. Yet like Christ’s final coming, his present intermediate coming is a thing of power. Jesus spoke of this intermediate coming when he said: “Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling with him” (Jn 14:23). 

          This interior coming of the Lord in the hearts and minds of those who love him is inconspicuous. It is not something we can measure or observe. Most of the time we cannot feel it. Yet it is a coming in power, for it is nothing less than the presence within us of God’s Holy Spirit.

          It is so that his presence within us may be renewed that we are here: to receive again the Spirit promised by Jesus Christ to all who love him. In obscurity and weakness he came first at Bethlehem. In power and great glory he will come at the end of time. Inconspicuously, quietly, but with great power he wants to come right now – to you.        


Homily for December 4th, 2018: Luke 10:21-24.

          The seventy-two have just returned from their missionary journeys to tell Jesus: “Even the demons are subject to us” (Luke 10:17). Jesus responds with the spontaneous hymn of praise to his heavenly Father which we have just heard: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.” The wise and learned are those who fail to respond to Jesus, because they feel no need for God. Jesus’ disciples are the childlike, whose hearts and minds are open to the Lord.

          Who are today's wise and learned? They teach in our elite universities; they run the great foundations, with names like Ford, Rockefeller, and Gates. They dominate Hollywood and the media. With few exceptions they consider the killing of unborn children whose birth might be an inconvenience to be a wonderful advance in humanity’s ascent from ignorance and superstition to enlightenment and freedom. They charge those of us who consider abortion for any reason a crime and a grave sin with waging a “war on women.” They look down with patronizing scorn, disbelief, and hatred on those who insist that life is precious at every stage: in the womb, but also in old age, when Grandma’s mind has gone ahead of her, and her meaningful life is over. When we contend that marriage is the union of one man and one woman; and that re-defining marriage is an injustice to children, who have a right to a father and a mother, they denounce us as bigots.

          Who, on the other hand, are today’s childlike? We are! We pray in this Mass that our merciful and loving Lord may keep us always so: aware that we can never make it on our own; that we are dependent every day, every hour, and every minute on the One who came to show us what the invisible God is like; who always walks with us on the journey of life; and who is waiting for each one of us at the end of the road – to welcome us home!


Sunday, December 2, 2018


Homily for Dec. 3rd, 2018. Matt. 8:5-11.

          Immediately before the healing story we have just heard, Jesus has healed a leper by reaching out and touching him. Obedient to the law of his people, Jesus sends the man to the priests in the Jerusalem Temple. Jewish priests were quarantine officials. With a priestly certificate of good health the leper, previously bound to live apart from others, lest they too become infected, could enter society again. There is irony here: later it would be priests who would conspire the arrest Jesus.

          The centurion who asks Jesus to heal his servant in today’s gospel reading is a Gentile military officer. This is clear from his response when Jesus says he will come to heal the servant. The officer shows both courtesy to Jesus and respect for the Jewish law by saying: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” He knows that in entering a Gentile house Jesus could become ritually unclean. So he suggests an alternative: “Only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I do that all the time, he says. I give orders to those under my authority, and they do what I command.

          Upon hearing these words, Matthew tells us, Jesus “was amazed.” Normally it is the witnesses who are amazed at Jesus’ healings. Here it is the Lord himself who shows amazement. I have not found faith like this from my own people, Jesus says. This outsider, who has neither our divine law, nor our prophets, he tells the people, shows greater faith than you do. The words which follow about people coming from east and west to take seats at God’s heavenly banquet alongside Israel’s heroes are a prophecy of the Church. Originally a sect within Judaism, the Church would break out of its Jewish womb to become the worldwide community of Gentiles as well.

          The centurion’s words continue to resound two millennia later. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof,” we say before we approach the Lord’s table to receive his Body and Blood, “but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.” Even after a good confession, we are still unworthy of the Lord’s gift. He gives himself to us for one reason: not because we are good enough; but because he is so good that he longs to share his love with us.