Friday, February 22, 2019


Homily for February 22nd, 2019, The Transfiguration: Mark 9:2-13.

          The mysterious event which we celebrate today, called the Transfiguration, gives a glimpse, however brief, into eternity. For a moment, before the descent of the cloud, the three friends of Jesus see their friend and Master transformed beyond anything they could have imagined. It was as if his humanity had no limits. The Transfiguration is a manifestation of Christ’s divinity, for a moment breaking through the veil of his humanity. But it is more. It also shows us our potential to become divine.  

          If the goal of the spiritual life is to grow in likeness to God, then the more we progress, the more we participate in God’s own life. When our journey reaches its end, and we have been stripped of all the obstacles to holiness, God’s life will become our life, and we shall be one with God. Then our earthly pilgrimage beneath an often overcast sky will yield to the uninterrupted vision of God’s glory. We too shall shine with an unearthly light — the light that shines from the face of Jesus Christ: our Master, our Savior, our Redeemer — but also our passionate lover, and our best friend. We shall have reached our true homeland, the heavenly city which (as we read in Revelation) needs neither sun nor moon, “for the glory of God gives it light, and the lamp is the Lamb” (Rev. 21.23).

          As we journey onward to our heavenly homeland the words of an Evangelical hymn unknown to Catholics, can help us:

          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.

          Now, however, is the time above all 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, on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”


Thursday, February 21, 2019


Homily for February 22nd, 2019: Matthew 16: 13-10.

          “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” The sentence contains a play on words. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the words for Peter and Rock were the same. Jesus was giving his friend Simon a new name. In reality, Simon, now called Peter, was anything but rock-like. When, on the night before he died, Jesus told Peter that within hours Peter would deny him three times, Peter protested: “Even though I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mt. 26:34f)  We all know the sequel.

          Yet Jesus chose Peter, of all people, to be the leader of his Church. As preparation Peter had to become aware of his weakness. He had to be convinced that without a power greater than his own he could do nothing. Then, and only then, could Jesus use him. 

          What was rocklike in Peter was not strength of character or willpower, but faith — Peter’s trust in the One whose strength overcomes our human weakness. That is the rock on which the Lord builds his Church: trust in Jesus as God’s anointed servant: the Messiah, and God’s Son. As long as this trusting faith endures, Jesus says, even death itself will have no power over his Church.

          We Catholics believe that Peter’s office of chief pastor continues in Christ’s Church. Every one of Peter’s successors, our present Pope Francis included, is an ordinary sinner like each of us, who must constantly seek God’s forgiveness for his sins in the sacrament of penance. Like Peter, he is strong only as long as he trusts not in himself, but only in the power that comes from God alone, through his Son, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

          When you look within, do you see anything of Peter’s impetuosity and weakness? Take heart! You have a friend in heaven. The same Lord who gave the vacillating Simon the name “Rock” has made you, in baptism, his daughter, his beloved son. He wants you to be his messenger to others. You say you’re not fit for that? Neither was Peter. God does not always call those who are fit, by ordinary human standards. But he always fits those whom he calls.  

          God has a plan for your life, as surprising and wonderful as his plans for Peter. The only thing that can frustrate the accomplishment of God’s plan — for you, for me, for any one of us — is our own deliberate and final No.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019


Homily for February 21st, 2019: Mark 8:27-33.

          At his first Mass in March 2013 with the cardinals who elected him, Pope Francis spoke about the gospel reading we have just heard. Here is what he said:          ere is what he said:

He“The same Peter who had confessed Jesus Christ said to him: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let’s not talk about the cross. This is not a part of it. I will follow you in other directions, but not to the cross.’

         “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross and when we confess a Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord: we are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, popes, but we’re not disciples of the Lord. I would like for us all, after these days of grace, to have courage, precisely the courage, to walk in the Lord’s presence, with the cross of the Lord; to build the Church upon the blood of the Lord, which was poured out on the cross; and to confess the only glory there is: Christ crucified. And in this way the Church will go forward.”

All of us must walk, at one time or another, through what Psalm 23 calls the valley of the shadow of death, when the clouds of doubt and discouragement seem to shut out the sunshine of God’s love. When we wonder why that should be so, why we cannot have a religion of Easter only, without Good Friday, we need to remember: Jesus could not have that. Neither can we. Take the cross out of our faith, and you have ripped the heart out of it. Good Friday and Easter belong together. Behind the cross of Good Friday, we must see the open portal of the empty tomb. And through that open portal of Easter morning, we must always see the cross, where Jesus offered all for us, even life itself. That is where all the great lessons of life are learned: at the foot of the cross.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Homily for December 21st, 2019: Song of Songs 2:8-14.      

       “Hark, my lover – here he comes springing across mountains, leaping across hills … My lover speaks, he says to me, ‘Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!’”

        These words from our first reading come from a short book called The Song of Songs. It is a collection of love poems portraying, in the form of an allegory, the love between the soul and God. In the passage we have just heard the human lover calls out to God, the Beloved. Christians have always understood the Beloved to be a figure for Jesus – which is why the Church gives us the passage, just four days before Christmas. The one calling out, “Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come,” is Jesus. His love for us is passionate. He longs for us to be close to him always.

        One of the great interpreters of this book is the twelfth century French monk, St. Bernard. He begins his commentary on the Song of Songs with the book’s opening words, addressed by the soul to God: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” The kiss, Bernard explains, is the Holy Spirit, who binds Father and Son together in love. The kiss may also be understood, however, as Jesus Christ, who with his kiss unites divinity and humanity. Since we are sinners, we cannot raise ourselves all at once to the Lord’s mouth. We must first fall at his feet, kissing them in repentance. Then, as the Lord’s stretches out to grasp and steady us as we rise, we kiss his hands. “And finally,” Bernard says, “when we shall have obtained these favors through many prayers and tears, we humbly dare to raise our mouth to his mouth .... not merely to gaze upon it but – I say this with fear and trembling – to receive his kiss. ... And whoever is joined to him in a holy kiss becomes, at his good pleasure, one spirit with him.”  

                We don’t read the Bible like that today. Some people still do, however. Let me tell you about one of them, a Jewish psychiatrist before he was baptized at age 27 and became a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in western Massachusetts, where he died in November 2006 at the age of 97. A true son of St. Bernard, Fr. Raphael Simon (his monastic name), left us these beautiful lines:

 “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.”                     


Homily for Feb. 20th, 2019: Genesis 8:6-13, 20-22.

Our first reading today, from the eighth chapter of the book Genesis, tells us how Noah and those with him in the Ark, experienced the close of the great flood. This gives me an opportunity to tell you about something that landed in my e-mail in-box many years ago. It was entitled:

“Everything I need to know, I learned from Noah's Ark.

ONE: Don't miss the boat.

TWO: Remember that we are all in the same boat.

THREE: Plan ahead. It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.

FOUR: Stay fit. When you're 60 years old, someone may ask you to do something really big.

FIVE: Don't listen to critics; just get on with the job that needs to be done.

SIX: Build your future on high ground.

SEVEN: For safety's sake, travel in pairs.

EIGHT: Speed isn't always an advantage. There were snails were on board the ark, as well as greyhounds.

NINE: Remember, the Ark was built by amateurs; the Titanic by professionals.

TEN: No matter the storm, when you are with God, there's always a rainbow waiting.

Monday, February 18, 2019


Homily Feb.24th, 2019: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Luke 6:28-38.
AIM:  To help the hearers share with others the unmerited love God lavishes on us.
ADon=t get mad B get even.@  Which of us has never felt like that?  The desire for revenge, to pay someone back for an injury done to us, sits deep in every human heart.  Is this desire something we learn as we loose the innocence of childhood and enter the dog-eat-dog adult world? Anyone who has seen two little children in a playpen fighting over a toy that both happily ignored until one them picked it up, quickly becomes skeptical about childhood innocence.
The instinct to seek revenge, to retaliate, is inborn.  It is part of what the theologians call Aoriginal sin@: the truth that we are not what, deep in our hearts, we would like to be, and what our Creator meant us to be.  The Catechism calls original sin Aa deprivation of original holiness and justice,@ because of which our human nature Ais wounded in the natural powers proper to it; subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death; and inclined to sin ...@ (No.405).  We experience original sin every day.  St. Paul was speaking for all of us when he wrote: AThe good I want to do, I fail to do; but what I do is the wrong which is against my will@ (Rom. 7:19). Which of us could not say the same?
In today=s gospel Jesus tells us not to seek revenge, to live by a higher law.  He tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us.  He says we should bless and pray for people who mistreat and hurt us.  He tells us to be compassionate, to give without any thought of return.
Is that realistic? Is it even possible? Not, it would seem, in the world as we know it. In another world, then? Perhaps. What prevents our working for such a better world, at least on a limited scale: in our neighborhoods, where we work, among our friends and relatives?  We are afraid to begin. We fear that others, less high-minded than we are, might take advantage of us.  If we start trying to be good to people who have injured us, won=t they consider us too weak to defend our rights, or too frightened?  Our enemies could inflict fresh wrongs on us.  People who practice non-violence may win our admiration.  But do they really change things?  Apparently not. The world seems to go on as before.
If the standards Jesus sets before us in today=s gospel are not to remain simply beautiful ideas, unattainable in the real world, we need to look at life as Jesus did.  He says nothing in our gospel reading about the world being better if only we would all love one another.  Jesus is not talking about Abuilding a better world.@  He is talking rather about our proper response to the love God shows toward us.  A key to understanding the passage is in Jesus= words: AYou will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.@
God=s love for us has no strings attached.  It is not dependent on our attitudes or conduct.  By continuing to love even Athe ungrateful and the wicked,@ God shows that he is totally free and totally independent.  >Be like your heavenly Father,= Jesus is saying.  >Imitate his universal love B the love he bestows on you independently of your worthiness: not because you are Agood enough@ to deserve God=s love; but because He is so good that he wants to share his love with every one of his children.=
To follow Jesus= teaching for a lifetime we need a deeper motive than wanting to build a better world, or to earn a reward.  Those motives are fine, as far as they go.  But for the long haul they don=t go far enough.  If our motive is the desire to build a better world, we=ll find that the world won=t change B or at least it won=t change enough.  And if we=re looking for a reward, it will never be sufficient.  One way or another, in time we will grow discouraged.  Then we=ll start thinking that Jesus= standards are unrealistic, and give up trying to follow them.
The deeper motive we need can only be faith in the God who never grows weary of showing kindness and compassion to people who, on any strict accounting, do not deserve either.  How many of us really deserve all the goodness that God lavishes on us?  Do you?  If so, then you have served the Lord far better than I have.
Jesus came to show us that God bestows even greater kindness on those sunk in evil than on those who are making every effort to be good. Why? They need God=s love more! That is the point of Jesus= story about the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one that is lost (see Lk 15:3-7). Jesus supported this teaching with his own example: going to dinner with the corrupt tax collector Zaccheus (Lk 19:1-10), accepting the scorn of the upright religious people who complained: AThis man receives sinners, and eats with them@ (Lk 15:2).
Does that strike you as unfair? Is it unfair when parents give more attention, and more love, to the Ablack sheep@ among their children than to the other siblings who bring honor to the family name rather than shame? Wise parents know that in such a situation questions of fairness and unfairness are  irrelevant. What is important is not how much love a family member deserves, but how much love he or she needs. Why did the father in Jesus= parable of the prodigal son prepare a feast for his returning son who had wasted the family money on dissolute living?  Was it because he deserved it? Of course not. He received a royal welcome because he needed it. Only in this way could the young man be assured that he was still his father=s son, still a dearly loved member of the family despite his folly and sin. 
Jesus= message in today=s gospel is really very simple. It is this: our treatment of others should reflect God=s treatment of us. God showers his love on us, and his blessings, not according to our deserving, but according to our need. In a few moments we shall be reminded of this, as we repeat the familiar words before Communion: ALord, I am not worthy ... @
The Lord who gives us his body and blood here in the Eucharist despite our unworthiness asks us to share this unmerited love with others. Then, and only then, are we truly sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, who B as Jesus tells us in the gospel B Ais kind to the ungrateful and the wicked@ B in other words, to us!


Homily for February 19th, 2019: 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. There is an evangelical hymn which beautifully expresses this prayer. It goes like this:

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 17, 2019


Homily for February 18th, 2019: 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.