Friday, July 12, 2019


Homily for July 13th, 2019: Genesis 49: 29-33; 50: 15-24.

          “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.” These words from our first reading belong to the story of Joseph in Egypt, which we have been hearing for several days now. The youngest of many brothers, Joseph was his father’s favorite. Understandably jealous, his older brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt and tell their heart-broken father that his favorite son is dead.

          After coming close to death in Egypt, Joseph rises to become the second most powerful man in the kingdom, after the ruler, Pharaoh. Anticipating a widespread famine, Joseph fills storehouses with grain, which is made available when famine strikes.

          Joseph’s brothers hear that there is food in Egypt. So they journey there and encounter their brother at the royal court, but do not recognize him. He immediately recognizes them, however, and invites the whole family to come to Egypt, bringing their old father with them. Today’s first reading recounts the old man’s death many years later.

          Fearful that with their father no longer alive to protect them, Joseph will take revenge for their treatment of him years ago. They tell Joseph that their father had instructed them to beg for forgiveness once their father was dead. This they do, as we heard in the reading, in the most abject manner.

          This gives Joseph an opportunity to demonstrate his spiritual goodness by speaking the words quoted at the outset: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.” He tells his brothers to “have no fear.” He cannot take the place of God by taking vengeance on them.

          It is a moving and beautiful story. God can bring good out of evil, the story tells us. And he does so, time and time again – never more dramatically than, centuries later, when the crime of Jesus’ crucifixion is overruled by God through his Son’s resurrection on the third day.


Thursday, July 11, 2019


Homily for July 12th, 2019: Matthew 10:16-23.

          A priest fifteen or perhaps more years ordained, told me recently that he was concerned about the overly rosy image of priesthood being offered to today’s seminarians. The recruitment material sent out by Vocation Directors is full of success stories. The photos on the websites of today’s seminaries show young men laughing, smiling, and joking. None of this is false. Thousands of priests testify to the joy of serving God and his holy people as a priest. I’m happy to be one of them. The late Chicago priest-sociologist and novelist Fr. Andrew Greely said: “Priests who like being priests are among the happiest men in the world.” And he cited sociological surveys to back up this statement.

          The result of all this happy talk, my priest-friend told me, was that young priests who have a bad day, a bad week, or who encounter rejection or failure, start thinking that perhaps they have chosen the wrong vocation and should abandon priesthood. Jesus never promised his disciples that they would have only joy, success, and happiness. Our gospel reading today is about the price of discipleship. “You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. Only after these words warning about the cost of discipleship does he proclaim the good news: “But whoever endures to the end will be saved.”     

Friends, the days of socially respected Catholicism are over. Powerful forces and currents in our society press us to be ashamed of the Gospel — ashamed of our faith’s teachings on the sanctity of human life in all stages and conditions, ashamed of our faith’s teachings on marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Our courts, the entertainment industry, and the powerful shapers of opinion in today’s media, insist that the Church’s teachings are out of date, retrograde, insensitive, uncompassionate, illiberal, bigoted. They insist day in and day out that we who defend Church teaching are hateful people. They threaten us with consequences if we refuse to call what is good evil, and what is evil good. They command us to conform our thinking to their orthodoxy, or else say nothing at all.

Speaking a few years ago to a group of priests about the increasing secularization of our society, the late Cardinal George of Chicago said, in what he later admitted was an “overly dramatic fashion”: “I expect to die in bed; my successor will die in prison; and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” Mostly omitted by those who quote these words, is the good news which the cardinal spoke in conclusion: “His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”

Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Homily for July 11th, 2019: St. Benedict.

St. Benedict, whom the Church celebrates today, was born in Norcia, some 70 miles north of Rome, probably around 480. His Catholic parents gave him a religious upbringing, sending him to Rome for studies as a teenager. Benedict reacted negatively to the worldliness of Rome. Convinced that for his soul’s health he should become a monk, he left Rome and journeyed east into the mountains of central Italy, where he took up residence in a cave, as a hermit. In time some of the pious nobility in Rome began to visit Benedict and to offer him their sons to rear them for almighty God. This enabled Benedict to form 12 monastic communities all under Benedict’s general oversight.

          By age 50 Benedict, confident that his monks could remain faithful to their calling without him, journeyed south to Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples, where he founded the monastic community which still exists today, and wrote what he himself calls his “little Rule for beginners.”  He died there in 547 or shortly thereafter, probably in his late sixties.

          “We are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord,” Benedict writes in the Rule’s prologue. “In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.” Benedict makes it clear that his Rule is addressed to all – to the average person without any special gifts – and not just to spiritual athletes.  “As we advance in the religious life and in faith,” Benedict writes in his Rule, “our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love” – words which clearly reflect Benedict’s own experience. 

          All over the world today men, and women as well, are still living according to Benedict’s Rule, more than thirty of them here in St. Louis. One of them, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, helped me across the threshold of the Catholic Church at Easter 1960. He died there in 2006 at the age of 97. It was a lifetime of faithful observance of Benedict’s “little rule for beginners” which enabled him to write the beautiful words with which I close:

            “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.”       

Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Homily for July 10th, 2019: Matthew 10:1-7.

 From his disciples Jesus chooses twelve to be apostles. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and more particularly the head of state who sends him.

If the disciples of Jesus whom he chose to become apostles had one thing in common, other than their love for the Lord, it was their very ordinariness. They were not learned or sophisticated. About most of them we know little, apart from legends. Nor is there complete agreement even about their names. The gospel lists differ in several cases. 

This tells us something important. God does not call people who are fit, according to human reckoning. Instead he often calls people who are, humanly speaking, unfit. Through his call, however, and through what they experience when they respond to God’s call, he makes them fit. 

Was Peter fit to be the leader of God’s Church – the man who was quick to profess loyalty even though when all others might fall away, and yet, when the time of testing came, three times denied that he even knew the Lord? That humiliating failure, and no doubt others besides (including Peter’s inability, according to the gospel record, to catch even a single fish without Jesus’ help) taught Peter that to do anything of consequence he needed Jesus’ help.

In baptism and confirmation Jesus sends each one of us to be his messengers. How do we do that? You probably know St. Francis of Assisi’s answer to this question. “Preach always,” Francis said. “When necessary, use words.” How wise that is. Personal example is always more powerful than words. “What you are,” someone said, “speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

          How better could we respond to Jesus’ call of the Twelve than with the classic prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola: “Take, O Lord, and receive, my entire life: my liberty, my understanding, my memory, my will. All that I am and have you have given me. I give back to you all, to be disposed of according to your good pleasure. Give me only the comfort of your presence, and the joy of your love. With these I shall be more than rich, and shall desire nothing more.”


Monday, July 8, 2019



                      John Jay Hughes

I have long contended that our country, despite all our problems and deficiencies, remains what it has been, for millions, since the first settlers came our shores in the early 17th century: the Land of Opportunity. Here are 3 contemporary examples:

Colin Powell: The son of black immigrants from Jamaica, he grew up as a street kid in the Bronx/NY. He rose to become a 4-star general and Secretary of  State. He says in his autobiography (which is a great read): if my parents had gone to England, I’d be lucky to be a sergeant major.

Lawrence S. Bacow: The son of penniless refugees who came to this country fleeing the Holocaust (his father as a child, his mother as a 19-year-old survivor of Auschwitz), he was chosen in 2018 as the 28th President of Harvard University. In what other country is such a life even conceivable?    

(Less well known is) Manfred Steinfeld.  In July 1938, at age 14, with a $10 bill sewn into his pocket, he was put on a train in in Germany for Hamburg by his sobbing mother (whom he never saw again) who told him: “Be quiet and do not draw attention to yourself.” After a sea voyage, he was met in New York by a representative of a Jewish Aid organization. Though he never became famous, he founded the Chicago-based Shelby Williams Industries, Inc. which made some 30 million chairs for leading hotels all over the United states. He died a wealthy man in 2019.





15 Sunday in Year C: July 14th, 2029: Luke 10:25-37.
AIM: To show the meaning of the good Samaritan parable for us today.
The story we have just heard is so well known that its title, “The good Samaritan”, has entered into everyday speech.  Even people unfamiliar with the New Testament know that “a good Samaritan” is someone who helps a person in need.
Asked by “a scholar of the law” – a man who has studied the Ten Commandments and the centuries of rabbinic commentary on God’s law – about the conditions for eternal life, Jesus poses a counter-question: “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” As a good teacher, Jesus knew that people remember best the answers they have found themselves. Answers given by the teacher cost the questioner nothing and are easily forgotten. The man’s response combines two scriptural texts: the command to love God completely in Deuteronomy 6:5 and the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” from Leviticus 19:18. Jesus’ reply affirms this answer: “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
The man says he still has a difficulty. It is not a moral difficulty — how to love God and neighbor. His difficulty is intellectual: how far does his obligation extend? “And who is my neighbor?” With his unique ability to read hearts and minds, Jesus perceives the man’s real difficulty at once. By assuming that he has all the ability to love that is required and needs only to know the limits to which he must extend his love, the man has disclosed that his love is seriously deficient.  Jesus recognizes that what the man really needs is not instruction but conversion. 
With great tact, and without allowing the man to feel rebuked, Jesus tells a story.
        The seventeen-mile road from Jerusalem to Jericho leads, even today, through trackless sand dunes with no sign of human habitation save the occasional Bedouin tent. In Jesus’ day, robberies and muggings were frequent along this lonely way. In the prevailing daytime heat a severely wounded man’s chances of survival were slim without first aid. The victim in this story has been beaten and stripped of his clothes. He has lost a great deal of blood and is in shock. He lies unconscious, his condition critical. Jesus himself calls the man “half-dead.”
The first two travelers to come by, first a Jewish priest and then a Levite, are returning to Jericho, a town with a large population of clergy, after their eight-day tour of duty at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both “saw him [but] passed by on the opposite side.” We need not assume that they were indifferent to the man’s fate.  They might have feared that the muggers were still lurking nearby, waiting to strike again. In that case it would be best not to linger. Another motive for not stopping, especially if the man was dead, was unwillingness to incur ritual impurity through touching a dead body.
In Jesus’ day, as in ours, people were familiar with stories that had three characters. Following the appearance of two clergy, therefore, Jesus’ hearers would have expected that the next passerby would be a Jewish layman. As so often, however, Jesus surprises us. When the next passerby turns out to be a Samaritan, Jesus’ hearers are shocked. The hostility between Jews and Samaritans was notorious, something like that between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq today. Shortly before the passage we are considering, Samaritan villagers refuse to give Jesus lodging, because they recognize him as a Jew, “on his way to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:53).
Devout Jews had a special aversion to Samaritans because, though ethnically related to God’s people, they did not recognize the Jewish prophets and did not observe God’s law. The actions of this Samaritan show, however, that he is living the law’s spirit far better than Jesus’ questioner with all his knowledge of the law’s letter. Like the priest and Levite, the Samaritan “sees” the man. Unlike them, however, he is “moved to compassion.”
The Samaritan gives the unconscious victim first aid: oil for its soothing properties, wine as a disinfectant. Taking him to the nearby inn, he remains with him overnight. Jesus makes this clear by saying that the man gave the innkeeper two silver pieces “the next day.” Commentators have calculated that this would pay for the man’s care for twenty-four days. His injuries are obviously grave if he must remain so long.  Innkeepers in Jesus’ day had a reputation like that of taxi drivers in some parts of the world today. Without this generous payment, and the Samaritan’s promise that he would return to take care of any further expenses, the victim would have been at the innkeeper’s mercy.
As the story ends, Jesus has still not answered the question, “And who is my neighbor?” Instead he has shown how a true neighbor behaves. He remains tactful with his questioner. He might have asked: “Which of these three most resembles yourself?” Such a question would have put the man on the defensive, blocking the change of heart he needed. Rather than confronting his questioner with a lesson difficult for him to accept, Jesus invites the man to draw his own conclusion.  “Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?”
The answer is obvious: “The Samaritan.” We see just how difficult it was for the man to state the obvious, with its uncomfortable implications, in the fact that he cannot even utter the name of the despised outsider. He resorts to a circumlocution: “The one who treated him with mercy.”
Only when the man has himself stated what no one hearing the story could fail to see, does Jesus confront him directly: “Go and do likewise.” At last the man has his answer — though even now only by implication. His neighbor, the one who has a claim on him — on his time, his trouble, his purse — is anyone at all who is in need. The man had asked about the limits of neighborly obligation. The parable says in effect: ‘there are no limits.’
That is breathtaking. It would be breathtaking, that is, if the story’s sharp cutting edge had not been dulled for us, like so much of Scripture, by familiarity.  How, we ask, can Jesus make such a radical demand? For one reason alone: because this is the way he, Jesus Christ, treats us. Jesus is the despised outsider, hated and rejected by those who ought to have known, recognized, and welcomed him.
Jesus is the one who finds us lying bruised, battered, mortally wounded along life’s way. Without the help that he alone can supply, our situation is hopeless. For no merits of our own, but simply because of his infinite compassion, Jesus comes to our aid. Heedless of the cost to himself, he binds up our wounds, pouring upon us the healing oil of his forgiveness in the sacraments of baptism and penance, the exhilarating wine of his love in his holy word and in the Eucharist. He entrusts us to the care of his Church, promising to come again and again as often as may be necessary, to tend to our every need. Because of this total generosity toward us in our need, a readiness to help which caused Jesus to lay down his life for us, he is able to say to us: “See how much I have done for you — look what I am doing for you even now!  Then go and do the same for others.” The man who asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” is like many sincerely religious people. Wanting to do what is right, he develops a spirit directly contrary to God’s law, even when he thinks he is obeying the law. His question, “And who is my neighbor?” shows that he was unable to get beyond the law’s details. To be cured, he needed to encounter the Lawgiver. 

His name is Jesus Christ. 


Homily for July 9th, 2019: Matthew 9:32-38.

          The brief gospel reading we have just heard is a kind of bridge between the reports Matthew has been giving us about Jesus’ deeds of compassion on the one hand, and his call to others to share in this compassionate care of God’s people. The summary is contained in a single sentence: “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.” The sentence following describes Jesus’ reaction to the needs of those who flocked around him, to hear his words and receive healing. “His heart was moved with pity,” our translation says. In the original Greek the word for heart refers to the inner organs in general. Matthew is saying that Jesus was all ‘churned up in his gut’ at the needs he saw all round him. They were “troubled and abandoned,” Matthew tells us, “like sheep without a shepherd.”

          “The harvest is abundant,” Jesus says then, “but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Those are the last words in chapter nine of Matthew’s gospel. Chapter ten, which we shall hear tomorrow, starts with Jesus’ call of twelve men from his disciples, to be apostles.

          We need to take Jesus’ call for laborers seriously. We should be praying often, even daily, that many of our young people will hear and heed the call to serve him as priests, deacons, and religious Sisters and Brothers. But we need to do more. If you know someone who you believe would serve well in one of those roles, speak to him or her about it. If that is too difficult, then tell a priest about that person, so he can do the recruiting himself. In today’s world pursuing a religious vocation is so counter-cultural that candidates need all the encouragement and support we can give them. Moreover, many young people are just waiting to be asked. And if we don’t ask them, who will?

Sunday, July 7, 2019


Homily for July 8th, 2019: Matthew 9:18-26.

          Today’s gospel recounts two miracles: one a miraculous healing, the other a resurrection from the dead. All the healings reported in the gospels are Jesus’ response to faith. Mark’s gospel tells us that when Jesus visited Nazareth, where he had grown up, “he could work no miracle,” because the people who had known him for years lacked faith. (Mk 5:6).   

          In today’s gospel the first person to manifest faith is a synagogue elder whose daughter has just died. He believes Jesus can bring her back to life. Greater faith than that one cannot imagine. The second person who approaches Jesus with faith is a woman who has suffered hemorrhages for twelve years. Jews had a special aversion to blood. Still today the Jewish dietary laws say that to be kosher, and hence fit for human consumption, meat must have all the blood drained from it before it before it comes to the table. This helps us understand that the situation of the woman with hemorrhages is desperate. She makes her request for healing not in words, but by grabbing hold of the tassel on one of the four corners of the prayer shawl worn by Jewish men. She is so confident in the power of Jesus that even this contact with his garment can bring her his healing.

          Both petitioners receive what they seek in faith. Sensing that power has gone out from him, Jesus turns around and confronts the woman. “Courage, daughter!” he tells her. “Your faith has saved you.” “And from that hour,” Matthew tells us, “the woman was cured.”

          When Jesus arrives at the house of the synagogue elder, he finds a crowd already mourning the death of the man’s daughter. Hired flute players are playing a funeral dirge. “Go away,” Jesus tells them. “The girl is not dead but sleeping.” Not for the first time in the gospels, the people ridicule him, confident that he has lost touch with reality. When the crowd has dispersed, Jesus enters the house, takes the girl by the hand, and raises her to life.

          What better response could we make to the story of these two miracles than to repeat the anguished words of the father in Mark’s gospel seeking healing for his deaf mute son who seems to have what we would call epilepsy. Asked by Jesus whether he believes healing is possible, the man replies – and we repeat: “Lord, I do believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).