Friday, September 6, 2019


Homily for Sept. 7th, 2019: Luke 6:1-5.

          “Remember to keep holy the sabbath day,” is the third of the Ten Commandments. We find them twice in the Old Testament: in the 20th chapter of Exodus, and in the 5th chapter of Deuteronomy. Both versions say that we keep the sabbath holy by refraining from work. Exodus says that the sabbath rest commemorates God resting on the seventh day after creating the world and everything in it in six days. Deuteronomy doesn’t mention God resting; but it spells out in greater detail what Exodus says more briefly: that the sabbath rest is for all, domestic animals as well as humans, masters and slaves alike: “for you were once slaves in Egypt.”

          By Jesus’ day there was an enormous collection of rabbinical interpretation of this commandment, distinguishing between forms of work that were lawful on the sabbath, and those which were unlawful. The controversy continues in Judaism today. Orthodox Jews walk to the synagogue because they consider it unlawful to drive a car on the sabbath. Reform Jews reject this rigorism.     

          In today’s gospel reading some rigorists criticize Jesus’ disciples for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Jesus appeals to a precedent in the Jewish Scriptures, when David took bread offered to God, and which only Jewish priests might eat, and both eating it himself and offering it to his companions. The precedent was weak: David had not violated the sabbath rest, though what he had done was illegal.  

          Crucial is the final sentence of our reading: “The Son of Man [a title for Jesus himself] is lord of the sabbath.” Jesus never abrogated any of God’s laws. But he made charity the highest law of all. That is why he healed on the sabbath, for instance. And that is why Pope Francis, celebrating the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in a prison on the first Holy Thursday after his election disregarded the liturgical law which says that only the feet of baptized men should be washed, in order to wash also the feet of some Muslim women. The highest law of all is charity.

Thursday, September 5, 2019


Homily for Sept. 6th, 2019: Colossians 1:15-20.

          “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God,” we heard in our first reading. The longing to see God is as old as the human heart. The Old Testament book Exodus says that God “used to speak to Moses, face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Ex. 33:11). In one of those conversations Moses said to God: “Do let me see your glory.” To which the Lord God responds: “I will let my beauty pass before you … But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives.” So God makes Moses stand in the hollow of a rock, telling him: “When my glory passes I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand, so that you may see my back; but my face you cannot see.”

          Things remained thus until the birth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. In him we can see God, in human form. Our first reading calls Jesus “the image of the invisible God.” The opening of the Letter to the Hebrews says the same. There we read that God’s Son, Jesus, is “the refulgence” [which means the shining forth] or “reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being.” (Heb.1:3). 

          What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see someone who preferred simple, ordinary people. In his youth he worked with his hands, in the carpenter’s shop. Later he would speak of simple things: birds, flowers, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her lost coin, the thief breaking in at night. He told stories so simple that children can understand them; yet so profound that scholars still study them.

          In Jesus we see someone who never turned his back on anyone in need; who had a special welcome for those whom others rejected; whose acceptance of suffering was so complete that no one has ever dared to pity him; and who manifested a joy that he longs to share with us. That is the gospel. That is the good news. And the Letter to the Hebrews gives us the best news of all: “Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, yes, and forever” (13:8).


Wednesday, September 4, 2019


Homily for Sept. 5th, 2019: Luke 5:1-11.

After a discouraging night of toil on the lake, the net coming back empty time after time, until Peter and his companions were bone weary, Jesus tells Peter to try again in broad daylight. Peter knew that would be an exercise in futility: “Master, we have worked all night, and taken nothing.” But then, perhaps just to humor the Lord, Peter adds: ABut at your command I will lower the nets.@ Peter=s willingness to do the unthinkable enables him to experience the impossible. No sooner have they started to pull in the net, than they feel it heavy with fish.

Throwing himself at the feet of Jesus, with the fish flopping all around him in the boat, Peter can only blurt out: ADepart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.@ To which Jesus responds with words of reassurance: ADo not be afraid: from now on you will be catching men.@ In that moment, Peter=s life is changed. AThey brought their boats to shore,@ Luke tells us, Athey left everything and followed [Jesus].@ Peter never forgot it.

APut out into the deep water,@ the Lord says to Peter. He is saying the same to each one of us right now. Do not abandon the quest, though it seems fruitless. Leave the shallow waters near shore. Forsake what is familiar and secure for the challenge of the unknown deep. Dare, like Peter, to do the unthinkable. Then, like him, you too will experience the impossible. 

                   As we travel life=s way, with all its twistings and turnings, its many small achievements and frequent defeats, we who in baptism have become sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ should be sharpening our spiritual vision. For it is only with the eyes of faith that we can perceive the unseen, spiritual world all round us: beneath, behind, above this world of sense and time. Faith assures us that God is watching over us always, in good times and in bad. The same Lord who challenged Peter, devastated by failure at the one thing he thought he knew something about, to APut out into deep water.@

Glimpsing this mighty God, our loving heavenly Father, with the eyes of faith, we too join B as in a moment we shall B in the angels= song:  AHoly, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!  All the earth is filled with his glory!@   


Tuesday, September 3, 2019


          In Jesus’ world illness of various kinds was due, people thought, to possession by demons. Today’s gospel portrays Jesus as one who has power over these supernatural forces of evil. He “rebukes” them.  

Jesus too comes from the supernatural world. As God’s Son, however, Jesus has power over the evil forces in that world. That is why Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that Jesus “rebukes” the supernatural forces of evil. He rebukes the life-threatening fever which has laid Peter’s mother-in-law low. And he rebukes the demons in the many people who are brought to him for healing. Luke’s language shows that he is describing what we today call “exorcisms.” Freed from demonic possession, these people are healed at once. There is no period of convalescence. Peter’s mother-in-law, we heard, “got up immediately and waited on them.” Her healing helps explain Peter’s willingness, reported in the next chapter of Luke’s gospel, immediately to leave his work as a fisherman in order to follow Jesus.

          The demons leave the other people whom Jesus heals, shouting, “You are the Son of God.” Unlike the many who witnessed Jesus’ healing and refused to believe in him, these evil inhabitants of the supernatural world recognize Jesus as a fellow inhabitant of that world – though unlike them a good one. Jesus rebukes them and does not allow them to speak, we heard, “because they knew he was the Christ”: the long awaited anointed servant and Son of God. Jesus did not want to acquire the reputation of a sensational wonder-worker. He was that, but he was so much more.

          Especially significant is the information that at daybreak, “Jesus went to a deserted place.” Why? He needed to be alone with his heavenly Father. If Jesus, whose inner resources were incomparably greater than ours, needed those times alone with the Lord, we are fools, and guilty fools, if we think we can make it in reliance on our own resources alone. That’s why we are here. To receive all the goodness, love, purity, and power of Jesus – our elder brother, our lover, and our best friend; but also our divine savior and redeemer. And when we have him, we have everything. 

Monday, September 2, 2019


Homily for Sept. 3rd, 2019: Luke 4:31-37.

          “Jesus taught them on the Sabbath,” we heard in the gospel, “and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority.” And a few verses later Luke, the gospel writer, tells us that following a dramatic healing, “they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.’”

          The people who hear Jesus realize that he speaks “with authority.” What does that mean? It means that he spoke differently from the other religious teachers they were accustomed to hearing. Those teachers interpreted God’s law. Jesus spoke not as an interpreter of God’s law, but as the law-giver. Read the last part of chapter 5 in Matthew’s gospel, for instance, and you will find Jesus citing one Commandment after another, and then saying: “But I say unto you.” After citing the Commandment which prohibits murder, for instance, Jesus says that it applies not only to killing another, but even to the emotion which leads to killing: anger. (Cf. Mt. 5:21-23)  Citing the Commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” Jesus says that it applies even to lustful thoughts. (Mt. 5:27f.)

          The people who hear Jesus are also amazed that he has power to heal people with a mere word. The man whom Jesus heals in today’s gospel is possessed, Luke tells us, “with the spirit of an unclean demon.” In a pre-scientific age without blood tests, microscopes, or X-rays, that was the normal way to explain illness. The demon throws the man down and at Jesus’ word comes out of him, “without doing him any harm.”

          Jesus still speaks to us today: in Holy Scripture, in the teaching of his divinely commissioned Church, and in the still, small voice of conscience. His word still has power to convict people of sin, changing their lives, and setting them on the right path – to Him. When people pray to Him and listen to his words, there are still miraculous healings which no doctor can explain.

“Heaven and earth will pass away,” Jesus says, “my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35 NEB). How better could we respond than with the familiar prayer: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Sunday, September 1, 2019


Sept. 1st, 2020: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Luke 14:1, 7-14.
AIM: To explain humility and instill a desire for it.
Some American tourists were visiting the house of the German composer Ludwig von Beethoven in Bonn. A young woman who was proud of her musical abilities sat down at the composer’s piano and played Beethoven’s Moonlight ‘Sonata. When she had finished, she said to the custodian: “I expect you see a great many musicians here.”
“Yes, we do,” he replied. “The American pianist Van Kliburn was here only last week.”
“Did he play on Beethoven’s piano?’ the young woman asked.
“No,” he said he wasn’t worthy.         
Truly great people are humble. “Conduct your affairs with humility,” we heard in our first reading. And in the gospel we heard Jesus saying the same:
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Are we really comfortable with humility? Don’t we suspect that there is something phony about it? That humility means striking a pose, pretending to be less than we really are? Let’s look again at the gospel.
Jesus offers shrewd advice to the person who wants to get ahead in society. When you are invited to a banquet, he says, don’t head straight for the head table. You might be asked to give up your place for someone more important. That would be embarrassing. Take your place far away from the head table. There you don’t risk being pushed aside. And if you’re lucky, your host will ask you to move up to a better place, where everyone can see what good connections you have.    
In reality, Jesus gave this shrewd advice “tongue in cheek.” Can we imagine that Jesus cared where he sat at table? If there is one thing Jesus definitely was not, it was a snob. By seeming to take seriously the scramble for social success, Jesus was actually making fun of it. He was showing up snobbery for the empty and tacky affair it always is.
But Jesus’ words have a deeper meaning. This is clear from his opening words: “When you are invited to a wedding banquet.” A wedding banquet is a familiar image in the Bible. Israel’s prophets speak often of God inviting his people to a wedding banquet. That was the prophets’ way of saying that their people’s sins would not always estrange them from the all-holy God. There would come a time when God would take away sins, so that his people could enjoy fellowship with the one who had created them and still loved them.
  Jesus came to fulfill what the prophets had promised. He told people that the wedding banquet was ready. Now was the time to put on the best clothes, he said, and come to the feast. Some of the most religious people in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, were confident that the best seats at God’s banquet were reserved for them. Hadn’t they earned those places by their zealous observance of every detail of God’s law? Jesus’ seemingly shrewd advice about how to be a success in society was a rebuke to those who assumed that the best seats at God’s banquet were reserved for them. Jesus was warning them that they were in for a surprise, and that it would be unpleasant.
In the second part of today’s gospel Jesus expands this warning. When you are giving a dinner yourselves, he says, don’t invite socially prominent people who can repay you with return invitations, and whose presence at your table feeds your self-esteem. Instead invite people who cannot repay you, and whose presence in your house will not enhance your reputation in society. Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for associating only with the upright and respectable “pillars of society.” Jesus invited everyone to the banquet, especially “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”  His preference for such people earned him the rebuke of the upright and respectable: “This man receives sinners, and eats with them” they say with scorn. (Luke 15:2). Here, as in the first part of today’s gospel, Jesus, while seeming to give advice about how to behave in society, is really talking about our relationship with God. The measure of our acceptance by God, Jesus warns, is our willingness to accept people we find unsympathetic, uncongenial, not “our kind.”
That is humility: not bothering where we sit at the banquet; not trying to be seen only with the right people; being willing to be overlooked, to associate with people who can do nothing for us, to be looked down on because of the company we keep -- as Jesus was looked down on by respectable people in his day for the company he kept. 
Humility is not a pose. It is not phony. Humility does not mean the beautiful woman pretending she is ugly, or the clever man pretending he is stupid. Humility means recognizing our talents and achievements for what they are: things given to us by God out of sheer goodness; things for which we can take little credit or none, but which impose on us a responsibility -- as Jesus reminded us when he said: “When much has been given a person, much will be expected of him” (Luke 12:48).
When we come to the end of life’s journey, and stand before the Lord who gave us every one of our talents, and who made possible every one of our achievements, how unimportant and insignificant even our greatest accomplishments will seem. That is why we say at every Mass: “Lord, I am not worthy ...” Before Him who has given us all we are and have, sin excepted, we are always unworthy. When we have done everything God commands (and which of us has?), we are still not worthy of all the love that God lavishes on us. God’s gifts to us always exceed what we deserve, on any strict accounting.  
Humility never means pretending we are less than we are. Humility means recognizing that even our greatest achievements are an insignificant and inadequate return for all that God has given us. Come to God in that spirit of humility, Jesus says, and you will be overwhelmed by his generosity. But come to God appealing to what you deserve, claiming the best seats at banquet because you have earned them -- and you will get what you deserve. God is not unfair. When you discover, however, how little you deserve, you may be shocked. 
Suppose, on the other hand, that we decide simply to forget about what we deserve. Suppose the lowest place at the banquet is just as acceptable as the place of honor -- as it was for Jesus. Suppose that we appeal not to what we deserve, but to God’s generosity. Then -- if we do that -- we shall have achieved something infinitely more important than the things of which we are most proud. For then we shall have attained humility.
Humility means being empty before God. And it is only the person who is empty whom God can fill with his joy, his love, and his pe


Homily for Sept. 2nd, 2019: Luke 4:16-30.

          “All spoke highly of him,” after Jesus reads in the synagogue from the prophet Isaiah and proclaims the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that God would send someone to comfort, heal, and liberate people. Only a few verses later, however, the same people who were “amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” are ready to hurl Jesus headlong from the brow of the hill on which Jesus’ home town, Nazareth, was built. What’s going on here? 

          The “year acceptable to the Lord” which Jesus says he was sent to proclaim is reminiscent of the jubilee years, celebrated by Jews in Jesus’ day every half-century. During a jubilee year the fields lay fallow, people returned to their homes, debts were forgiven, and slaves set free. Jubilee years also reminded people that God did not reserve his blessings for those he had called to be especially his own. God loves and blesses all people.

Jesus gives his Jewish hearers two examples of this universal love. During a prolonged famine, Jesus reminds them, God sent our great prophet Elijah not to a member of our own people, but to a Gentile widow living outside Israel. And Elijah’s successor, Elisha, never cured any lepers among our own people, only the Gentile Naaman, from Syria. Those were the words that changed the people’s admiration for Jesus to resentful anger. 

Within weeks of his election Pope Francis caused similar outrage in some quarters by saying, during his homily at a daily Mass: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘But Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! Christ died for all, even for atheists.”

          He was repeating, in more colloquial language, the teaching of the Second Council: “Those also can attain salvation who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience” (LG 16).

          Being a member of God’s holy Catholic Church is a great privilege and a blessing. But it does not guarantee us a first-class ticket to heaven.