Friday, August 9, 2019


Homily for August 10th, 2019. 2 Cor. 9:6-10. [Lectionary No.618]

          “God loves a cheerful giver,” Paul writes in today’s first reading. Paul wrote his letters in Greek. And the Greek word which Paul uses for cheerful is hilarios. That’s where we get our English word “hilarious.” If we wanted to translate Paul’s words literally, therefore, we would say: “God loves a hilarious giver.” Why? Because that is how God gives: not sparingly, not grudgingly, “without sadness or compulsion” (as Paul writes in that first reading), but with overflowing joy.

“There is more happiness in giving than in giving than in receiving,” Jesus says (Acts 20:35). Those words, incidentally, are the only saying of Jesus that is preserved outside the gospels. Paul speaks them to representatives of the Christian community at Ephesus, telling them to remember a saying that they were already familiar with from the oral teaching of Paul and other apostles. The New Testament did not yet exist: it hadn’t been written. But already the Church was teaching the faith, and telling people what Jesus had said and done. That is the answer to people who say they have a religion of “the Bible only.” The Church’s faith is older than the Bible – older, at least, than the New Testament.

People who have never experienced the joy of giving that Jesus speaks about are poor, no matter how large their bank accounts, stock portfolios, or other possessions. As a help to finding this joy, consider this. God does not need anything. He is, the theologians say, “sufficient unto himself.” Hence anything we give to God – or to people in need, or to good causes – comes back to us. But it comes back to us changed, and enlarged. The bread and wine we offer in the Mass come back to us transformed into the Body and Blood of God’s divine Son. The same is true with all our gifts. That is why Paul writes: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

There are people here who know that from personal experience. They experience the joy of living with open hearts, and open hands. If you’re not yet one of them, the Lord is inviting you to join our happy company – today!                

Thursday, August 8, 2019


Homily for August 9th, 2019: A Modern Martyr.

On an August evening in 1921 a brilliant 30-year-old Jewish woman in Germany who had long since abandoned religious belief was staying overnight with some Catholic friends. They apologized for leaving her alone: they had a previous evening engagement. Among their books their guest found the autobiography of the Spanish Carmelite, St. Teresa of Avilla. She read it through overnight and declared the next morning: “That is the truth.” She was baptized on New Year’s Day 1922. The woman’s name was Edith Stein, the saint whom we commemorate today.

          In October 1933, Edith Stein, by then well known in German university circles as a brilliant philosopher, but now excluded from academic employment by the Nazi racial laws, entered the Carmelite convent in Cologne. She took the name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce: “Teresa blessed by the cross.” On the night of November 9/10, 1938, the Nazis instigated the notorious “Kristallnacht”, smashing Jewish shop-windows all over Germany, and torching synagogues. At the news Edith Stein, who, like St. Paul, never abandoned her identification with her own people, felt herself “paralyzed with pain.” Shortly thereafter, to avoid imperiling her fellow Sisters, she moved to a Carmelite convent in Holland. 

          At the end of July 1942 the Nazis, having invaded Holland, retaliated for the public protest of the Dutch bishops against the persecution of Jews by rounding up all Dutch Jews who had received Catholic baptism, Sister Teresa Benedicta among them, and shipped them like cattle to Auschwitz. Upon arrival they went straight to the gas chamber. The date: August 9, 1942.

          After the war Edith Stein’s Sisters put up a memorial tablet in the Cologne Carmel with the inscription: “She died as a martyr for her people and her faith.” Pope John Paul II confirmed these words on October 11, 1998, when he enrolled Edith Stein in the church’s official list of saints, with the title “martyr.” With thanksgiving therefore, we pray in this Mass:

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Pray for us.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019


Homily for August 8th, 2019: Matthew 16:13-23.

          “You are Peter,” the Lord says. Peter’s original name was Simon. In Jesus’ language, Aramaic, the name Peter was identical with the word for rock. In reality Peter was anything but rocklike. He was quick to proclaim undying loyalty to the Lord whom he loved; yet, as we know, quick to deny him three times on that evening when Jesus was on trial for his life in a nearby room. So the new name the Lord gave Simon -- Peter, the Rock --was ironic. It was something like calling a 350-pound heavy-weight “Slim.”

          As long as Peter thought he was strong; as long as he could boast that though all the others might desert Jesus, he would remain faithful — he was unfit for leadership. He had to become aware of his own 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. 

          We tend to think of Peter as weak before Jesus’ resurrection, but strong afterwards, when on Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down on Peter and his fellow apostles in tongues of fire, and in a rushing mighty wind. Pope Benedict XVI liked to remind us that something of Peter’s old weakness remained with him to the end.

          An ancient legend bears witness to this. It says that toward the end of his life Peter escaped from the jail where the Roman Emperor had imprisoned him and fled from Rome under cover of night. Outside the city, he saw in the darkness the figure of a man walking toward him. When the figure got close, he recognized that it was Jesus.

“Where are you going, Lord?” Peter asked. “I’m going to Rome to be crucified again,” Jesus replied. Filled with shame, Peter turned around and re-entered the city. When they led him out the next day to nail him to a cross, Peter demanded that they crucify him upside down.   

The story helps us understand why we pray for Peter’s successor, the Pope, in every Mass. He is an ordinary weak sinner like every one of us. We pray that the Lord will strengthen him toe the rock on which Jesus built his Church: Peter’s faith. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019


Homily for August 7th, 2019: Matthew 15:21-28

          “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!” the Gentile woman in today’s gospel calls out. “My daughter is tormented by a demon.” In Jesus’ day people thought illness of any kind, whether physical or mental, was the work of demons. Though not a member of Jesus’ own people, the woman addresses him with a Jewish title: “Son of David.”

          Jesus gives no response. His disciples are annoyed. “Send her away,” they demand. Jesus responds by giving the reason for his silence: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The woman refuses to give up. Bowing low in homage, she says: “Lord, help me.” Jesus’ response seems sharp: “It is not right to take the food of children and throw it to the dogs.”

          This begins a contest of wits: answering one saying with another. Such contests were common in Jesus’ day. “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Two things stand out in her words: the acknowledgement that, as a Gentile, she has no claim of Jesus; and her refusal to take no for an answer.

          This impresses Jesus and causes him to state what motivates her persistence: her faith. “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” This is one of a number of places in the gospels when Jesus admires in outsiders a faith he seeks in vain from his own people.

In the passage that we heard last week, in which Jesus’ own townspeople dismiss him as “the son of the carpenter,” the gospel writer tells us that “he did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith” (Matt: 13:58). This gentile woman had that faith. It is trusting faith that opens us up to the saving and healing power of God, as the sunshine opens up the petals of flowers to the life giving dew and rain. What better prayer could we offer in this Mass, then, than that of the man in Mark’s gospel who said to Jesus: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).

Monday, August 5, 2019



19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 
Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48.
AIM: To deepen the hearers’ faith.
“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  This definition of faith in our second reading is unusual for the Bible. The Bible is not fond of definitions. It prefers examples. Immediately following this definition of faith, therefore, that second reading gives us an example: Abraham. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.” Abraham trusted, however, that God knew. Meanwhile, the second reading tells us, Abraham dwelt “in tents.” A tent is a temporary dwelling. Its occupant can take it down and move on. Abraham’s nomad life shows us, the second reading says, that “he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.” 
Abraham could obey God’s call, to abandon security and venture into an unknown future, because he trusted God, who gave him the call. That is faith’s fundamental meaning: personal trust. Faith in this sense is not something learned once and for all, as we learn the alphabet or the multiplication table, or how to ride a bicycle. Faith is developed only through time. It must be constantly nourished.  That is why we come here week by week: so that our loving trust in our heavenly Father, in Jesus his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, may be renewed and nourished at the twin tables of word and sacrament.    
In the gospel reading Jesus tells us to live by faith; to hold on, like Abraham in our second reading, to “the evidence of things not seen.” “Be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,” Jesus says, “ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.” 
In the gospel reading Jesus contrasts this attitude of faith-filled readiness with that of the unfaithful servant who says, “My master is delayed in coming.”  Behind those words lies the thought: ‘Maybe he’s not coming at all.’ Then this unfaithful servant forgets that he has been entrusted with responsibility, and begins to act as if he were the master himself, abusing his fellow servants and breaking into his absent employer’s wine cellar to stage wild parties for his free-loading friends.
The unfaithful servant’s words, “My master is delayed in coming,” had special meaning for the community for which Luke wrote his gospel. They believed that Jesus was going to return very soon, within the lifetime of some of them at least. As time went on and the Lord did not return, many in Luke’s community were tempted to say: ‘The Lord is delayed in coming. Maybe he’s not coming at all.’
Jesus’ story warns them not to yield to such thoughts; not to forget that they are servants who, one day, will have to give an account of their service. People who live as if there will never be an accounting have broken faith, Jesus warns. They have abandoned what our second reading calls “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” For such faithless servants the day of reckoning will be unexpected, and painful. “That servant’s master will come,” Jesus says, “on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely.”

That failure of faith is always a temptation for the Church, and for each of us who are the Church. We yield to this temptation when we use the blessings that God gives us through his Church solely for ourselves, for our own spiritual comfort and profit. That is why the Church is, and always must be, a missionary Church. Our wonderful Pope Francis reminds us of this often. We can’t keep God’s gifts unless we give them away. And when we do give them away, handing on to others the faith God has given us, we’re not impoverished. We grow richer. In passing on our faith to others, our own faith is deepened and strengthened.

Faced with the temptation to forget that we are servants and not masters, we need to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will preserve our realization of what we hope for, and help us to hold on to the evidence of things not seen. Only with the Spirit’s help can we remember that we may be summoned at any time to give an accounting of how we have used the Lord’s gifts. Have we kept them for ourselves? Or have we shared them generously with others?     

Keeping faith and remembering that we are servants and not masters also means preserving Abraham’s readiness to move on, whenever God calls, abandoning what is familiar and secure, and trusting solely in God. Whenever in its 2000-year history the Church has forgotten its role as God’s servant; whenever the Church has settled in too comfortably and accumulated too much worldly power, prestige, and wealth, it has become inwardly flabby and spiritually sick. To find an example of this we need look no farther than the recent history of the Catholic Church in our own country.

What is true of the Church is true also of each of us, the Church’s members.  We are servants: servants of the Lord, and servants too of our sisters and brothers.  And we are people on a journey: nomads like Abraham and, like him, pilgrims underway (to quote our second reading a final time) “to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God” -- pitching our tents each evening, as we lie down to rest for the next day’s journey, a day’s march nearer home.       


Homily for August 6th, 2019: The Transfiguration: 2 Pet. 1:16-19; Luke 9.28b-36.

          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.

“We were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” Peter writes in our second reading.” 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.”


Sunday, August 4, 2019


Homily for August 5th, 2019: Matthew. 14:13-21.

          As sun starts to sink and the shadows lengthen, Jesus’ disciples approach him with an urgent request. “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy some food for themselves.”

          Jesus’ response surprises us: “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” He was having fun with them – teasing them. Jesus knew perfectly well what he was going to do.

          Not realizing this, the disciples point out that what Jesus has asked them to do is impossible: “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” To which Jesus responds simply: “Bring them to me.”

          When the disciples have done this, Jesus looks up to heaven, blesses these hopelessly inadequate supplies, and gives them to the disciples to distribute to the crowd. “They all ate and were satisfied,” Matthew tells us, adding: “and they picked up the fragments left over – twelve wicker baskets full.” But of course: there were twelve men doing the distribution.

          What does this tell us? Two things. First, when we entrust our pitifully inadequate resources to the Lord, they are inadequate no longer. Second, when the Lord gives, he gives not only abundantly, but super-abundantly. We come repeatedly not because the Lord limits his gifts, but because our ability to receive them is limited.

          The early Christian community loved this story so much that we find it told six times over, with variations, in the four gospels. The reason is clear. It reminded Jesus’ friends of what he does in the Eucharist. We offer him a little bread and wine – and these modest gifts come back to us transformed into his Body and Blood: all his goodness, all his love, all his compassion, patience, and purity. And when have him, we have everything!