Friday, September 13, 2019


Homily for Sept. 14th, 2017: Exaltation of the Cross; John 3:13-17.

At the center of every Catholic Church in the world is a cross. The cross hangs around the necks of hundreds of thousands of people in our world who give no other outward sign of being religious. Teachers of young children report that when they offer the youngsters a selection of holy cards and ask them to choose one, time and again children choose the picture of Jesus on the cross.

Why is the cross so important, and so central? Why, after two thousand years, has the cross lost none of its fascination and power?  The best answer is also the simplest: because the cross is a picture of how much God loves us. AThere is no greater love than this,@ Jesus tells us, Ato lay down one=s life for one=s friends@ (John 15:13).AGod so loved the world that he gave his only Son,@ we heard in the gospel. It was the most God had to give. That is why the cross is at the center of every Catholic Church in the world. That is why the cross is also at the center of the Church=s preaching.

Many people associate the words Apreaching@ and Asermon@  with a list of Do=s and Don=ts: all the things we must first do or avoid before God will love us and bless us. Yet the gospel is supposed to be good news. Is it good news to be told that God won=t love us until we have kept enough of his rules to show that we are worthy of his love? That doesn=t sound like very good news to me.  It sounds like horribly bad news.

The gospel is the good news that God loves us just as we are, right now. How much does God love us? Let me tell you. A few years ago we had a 3-year-old Chinese girl, Doris, in the pre-school of the parish where I was then serving. I would go to meet Doris when she was dismissed from school. Together we would stand at the front door, waiting for her mother. How excited Doris was when she spotted her! She would run across the school yard as fast as her little legs could take her, to her mother=s waiting arms. It was heart-stopping. Beautiful as that was, however, it doesn=t begin to compare with God=s love for us.

The One who hangs on the cross, to show us God=s love, says elsewhere in this gospel according to John: AI am the light of the world@ (8:12). And in the continuation of today=s gospel he tells us that our eternal destiny is being determined, even now, by how we react to his light: "Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed.  But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God" (John 3:20f).

Are you walking in the light of Jesus= love? Or do you fear his light because of what it might reveal in the dark corners of your life which, like all of us, you try to keep hidden? We all have those dark corners. Now, in this hour, Jesus Christ is inviting you to put away fear. Come into the bright sunshine of his love. Once you do, the fire of Christ=s love will burn out in you everything that is opposed to his light. Then the reason for your fear will be gone. Then you will have no need to hide. You will be home. You will be safe: safe for this life, but also for eternity.

AWhoever believes in [Jesus Christ] will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their words were evil.@ The eternal destiny of each one of us is being determined by our response to the light, and love, of Jesus Christ. He is waiting for your response, right now.


Thursday, September 12, 2019


Homily for Sept. 13th, 2019: Luke 6:39-42.

          Have you ever thought about how much easier it would be to prepare a list of sins for someone else to confess – especially if that other person was someone of whom you’re highly critical – than to list all your own sins? That would be much easier, wouldn’t it?

That’s what Jesus is talking about when he says in today’s gospel: “You notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own.” He is warning us about something we’re all guilty of at times: being alert for even small faults and sins in others, while overlooking much more serious sins of our own.

          The Lord has given us the remedy for those sins: the sacrament of penance, or confession. One advantage of sacramental confession is that it forces us to confront our own particular sins, not to be content with simply confessing that we are sinners in general. And in confession the priest has an opportunity to help us with our own particular sins and difficulties. So many people today feel that they’re “just a number.”  In confession we’re not just a number. The priest is there for you personally, as a unique individual. But first you must come.

          Speaking for myself, I can tell you that without the sacrament of penance, or confession, I would not be a priest today. What a relief it was in the difficult years of adolescence – and more than a relief, a deep joy – to be able to go to a priest, tell him my sins, hear the words which assured me of God’s forgiveness; and then the beautiful closing words: “Go in peace, the Lord has put away all your sins.” Those words touched me so deeply that I still say them today, at the close of every confession I hear.

Many Catholics think of Confession as something like going to the dentist: something we don’t particularly like, which will probably hurt, but which we know is good for us; and afterwards we’ll feel better. In reality, the sacrament of penance or reconciliation is so much more. It is a personal encounter with One who loves us beyond our imagining – as intimate as receiving the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. In Confession we receive, along with forgiveness, the love of the One who is love himself: Jesus Christ.



Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Homily for Sept. 12th, 2019: Luke 6:27-38.

            “Give and gifts will be given to you,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.”     

Is that how we normally think of giving? Don’t we assume that when we have given something away, then it’s gone – and we are poorer? In reality, our gifts do not us make poorer. They enrich us.

Let me tell you about someone afraid to give. She is the mother of two grown children, a son and a daughter. The son is seeking priesthood, as a member of a religious order. His mother wants grandchildren with her husband’s family name. If her son perseveres to ordination, she won’t have them. She thinks that will make her poorer. Every time he goes home, she cries in front of him, and begs him to leave. Friends, there is only one word for that: it’s emotional blackmail.

I don’t know that mother. And I don’t want to do her any injustice. But I’ve wondered. When Judgment Day comes and the books are opened, will the Lord say to her: ‘Mary, I wanted to give you another son, and even two. Together they would have given you all the grandchildren you could wish for. And you would have been just as proud of them as you are of that son of yours who even now is offering Mass for the repose of your soul. But you said No.’

Contrast that nameless mother with other mothers, and fathers as well, who affirm and support a son’s decision for priesthood. On his ordination day they shed tears of joy and pride at what their son is doing. He’ll never give them grandchildren, true. But he will have countless spiritual children – far more than he could ever have through marriage.

Who do you suppose is happier? the mother who cries in front of her son and begs him turn aside from God’s call? or the parents who joyfully support that call, knowing that the measure with which they measure will be measured back to them?

Think about it.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2019


Homily for September 12th, 2018: Luke 6: 20-26
How many people here would like to be poor? To be hungry? To be weeping and hated by everybody? If I asked for a show of hands to those questions, how may would go up? Suppose, however, that I asked some different questions: How many of you would like to be rich, well fed, laughing, and well spoken of by all? Aren=t those things we all want? 
How, then, can Jesus pronounce a blessing on those who are poor, hungry, weeping and hated? Are those things good? Of course not! Yet Jesus calls those who suffer these things Ablessed@ C  which means Ahappy.@ To understand why, we must look again at what Jesus says at the end of these beatitudes: Aon account of the Son of man.@ Things evil in themselves C poverty, hunger, weeping, hatred, exclusion C become good when they are the price we must pay for choosing to stand with Jesus Christ. 
When Luke wrote his gospel, almost all Jesus= followers were Jews. Deciding to follow Jesus meant being disowned by family members and exclusion from the synagogue. The passage we just heard immediately follows the call of the twelve apostles, which we heard about yesterday. How do you suppose they felt? They could hardly have been overjoyed. They faced alienation from their friends, loss of their livelihoods, hatred, and much grief. To these frightened, tearful men, uncertain about what they are getting into, Jesus speaks the words we heard in the gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

          Where do we stand? With the frightened Twelve whom Jesus calls blessed? Or with the young man who went away sorrowful because he was rich? Let=s not be too sure that Jesus= woes aren=t for us just because we=re not rich. Jesus is not talking about the size of our bank accounts. He is talking about the cost of discipleship. That cost can be high, no doubt about it.  How could it be otherwise when the One who asks these costs of us paid the highest cost of all: life itself?

          Jesus= words in today=s gospel are his encouragement to people who wonder what they have let themselves in for, who wonder if the cost of following Jesus Christ may not be too high. He is speaking them again now, to each one of us. “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.”

Monday, September 9, 2019



24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10 (shorter


AIM: To show the depth of God’s love for us, and our need of his love.

          This parable, and the two which follow (about the lost coin, and the longer one about the Prodigal Son), are Jesus’ response to his critics’ complaint: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Jesus’ association with such people was a scandal to his critics. To us, however, it is good news. We don’t have to gain a passing grade in some moral examination before the Lord will receive, love, and bless us. He welcomes us just as we are: not because we are good enough, but because he is so good that he wants to share his love with us.

            The parable of the lost sheep begins with a question: “Who among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wasteland and follow the lost one until he finds it?” The irony of Jesus’ question is lost on us. Those who heard the parable for the first time would have recognized the irony at once — and laughed. None of Jesus’ pious critics would ever have stooped to tending sheep. They looked down on shepherds – people whose wandering, irregular life made it impossible for them to keep all the provisions of the Jewish law. Challenging his critics with a question which forced them to look at things through the eyes of someone they scorned is an example of Jesus’ use or humor.  

          The question also assumes agreement: any responsible shepherd, Jesus’ rhetorical question suggests, would act in the way suggested. In fact, acting thus — leaving the flock alone to search for a single lost sheep — would be the height of irresponsibility. That would risk turning a minor misfortune, the loss of one sheep, into a major disaster: the dispersal and possible loss of the entire flock.

          What seems, by all standards of human and worldly prudence, wildly irresponsible, the story is saying, is precisely the way God acts. God will go to any lengths to rescue even one lost sheep. God’s love is not measured, prudent, reasonable. It is passionate, unconditional, unlimited: by human standards reckless. ‘That is why I receive sinners and eat with them,’ Jesus is telling his critics. ‘I am giving an example of my heavenly Father’s all-embracing love.’ 

          The story’s conclusion seems even more illogical: “There will be more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent.” Surely, we think, the ninety-nine should also be cause for joy — equal at least to the joy over the one repentant sinner. Indeed it is difficult to avoid the suspicion that the joy over the ninety-nine should be greater than that over the one. How can Jesus make such a rash statement?

          To answer this question we must ask another. Who are these ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to repent? Do you know anyone like that? I do not. I know many people who think they have no need to repent. But they are wrong. Before God we all fall short. We all need to repent. People who fail to recognize this need are mistaken about their true spiritual condition. How can there be any joy in heaven over people who are so deluded?

          The lost sheep is a picture of helplessness and dependence, for without the shepherd’s care the animal’s life expectancy is short. The sheep has wandered off without realizing it, in search of the greener grass which is always farther away.  Once separated from the flock, the sheep, an animal of limited intelligence and easily frightened, is unable to find its way back. The sheep’s bleating is a cry of helplessness. It cries for its companions. The shepherd knows, however, that the sheep is actually crying for him. 

          The lost sheep is a picture of the person who has strayed from God through mere thoughtlessness. We do not need bad intentions to lose our way. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” as the old saying has it. Many people stray through carelessness, lack of self-restraint, thoughtless seeking after the greener grass which is always farther and farther away. The sheep bleating pitifully on the moor in the night is an image of the person who has wandered from the shepherd’s care.

          Jesus follows this parable with another, that of the lost coin. Jesus’ choice of a woman as protagonist for this parable has a significance that is lost on us. Jesus lived in a man’s world. Women were second-class citizens at best, the property of their fathers until marriage and thereafter of their husbands. As such, women were ill suited to serve as examples of God’s love. Despite occasional comparisons of God’s love to that of a mother, therefore, the dominant image in the Jewish scriptures, which we call the Old Testament, is of God as father. After shocking his pious critics in the previous parable by asking them to picture themselves as shepherds, he jolts them again by focusing on a woman. This disturbs the hearers’ preconceptions and assures Jesus of their attention.

          The woman in Jesus’ story is poor. The value of all ten coins is modest.  And the fact that she must light an oil lamp to aid her search indicates that she lives in a small mud hut without windows. She sweeps the floor, itself of mud or possibly of flagstones, hoping to see the flash of the coin in the dim light, or to hear its clink in the darkness.

          Was there a personal memory behind this detail? Did Jesus recall his mother searching anxiously for a small portion of the family’s modest savings, and then inviting the whole village in to celebrate with her when the search was successful? We cannot know. Whether rooted in Jesus’ personal experience or not, it is clear, however, that the expense of the celebration may well have exceeded the value of the coin first lost and then recovered.    

          This little story is Jesus’ way of showing how utterly inadequate our ideas are for measuring the depth of God’s love for us. For the woman to spend on a party more than the value of the coin she had lost and then recovered was, by any reasonable human standards, the height of folly. But not for God! “I tell you,” Jesus says at the story’s conclusion, “there will be the same kind of joy” — reckless, immoderate, over the top — “before the angels of God over one repentant sinner.”

          Once the coin slips from the owner’s hand it immediately falls. We were never meant to stand on our own feet, all alone against the attractions of evil. We were meant to be used by another, to be kept safe by a power greater than our own — a power coming from outside us, but active within us. Moreover, the coin, once lost, soon begins to collect dust and to tarnish. Though its real value does not diminish, someone finding it might mistake its value, thinking it base metal rather than silver or gold. God always sees our value beneath the grime even of our greatest betrayal and sin. To him we are infinitely precious. That is the story’s first lesson — and also its last. 


Homily for Sept. 10th, 2018: Luke 6:12-19.

          “Jesus departed to the mountain to pray,” we heard in the gospel, “and he spent the night in prayer to God.” What Jesus was about to do was that important. It required a whole night of waiting on God in prayer.

In biblical times, mountaintops were considered especially close to God. Moses received the Ten Commandments atop Mt. Sinai. The dramatic contest between the prophet Elijah and the prophets of the false god Baal took place on Mt. Carmel. Our modern expression, “a mountaintop experience,” denotes an experience of God’s nearness. Martin Luther King used the image of a mountain when he declared, shortly before his tragic assassination, to a rising crescendo of assenting shouts from his hearers: “I’m not afraid any more – Yeah. … I don’t fear any man. – Amen!”…Because I’ve been up to the mountain. – Hallelujah!”

From his disciples Jesus choses twelve. Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose to lead his new people were undistinguished. If they had one common quality it was their ordinariness. About most of them we have only legends. And the lists of names in the different gospels don’t even agree in all cases.

The Lord God called each one of us, when we were still in our mothers’ wombs. “You did not choose me,” he says in John’s gospel. “I chose you” (15:16). The realization that our call, whether as Catholic Christians, priests, or members of a religious order for women or men, originates not in our own choice but in God’s, is reassuring. The man on the mountain knew what he was about when he assembled that first undistinguished group around himself over two millennia ago. Throughout history his choices betray a remarkable sameness. Success depends not on the capabilities of those chosen, but on the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of Him who chooses us. God knows what he is about. It is only in our own minds that the issue is in doubt. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019


Homily for September 9th, 2019. Luke 6:6-11.

          Rabbis in Jesus’ day said that it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, if the illness was life-threatening. Saving a life took precedence over the command to refrain from work on the Sabbath. The life of the man with the withered hand, whom we have just heard about in the gospel, was not in danger. The man was probably well known to the local community. Jesus’ healings were already famous. It is no wonder therefore, that Jesus’ critics watch Jesus closely to see whether he will heal this man on the Sabbath – “so that they could find a charge against him,” Luke explains.

          Jesus knew what his critics were up to. The gospel writers tell us often about his ability to read minds. So Jesus takes the initiative. “Get up and stand here in front,” Jesus says to the man with the withered hand. With the man standing before him, Jesus challenges his critics by asking: “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath – or evil? To preserve life --  or destroy it?” His critics give no answer. But of course. Any answer they give will land them in difficulties. If they say that healing on the Sabbath is lawful, they will have no grounds for criticizing Jesus. If they call Sabbath healing unlawful, they will discredit themselves with the multitudes who flock to see Jesus and experience his healing power. Telling the man to stretch out his deformed hand, Jesus heals him at once.

          Jesus’ critics are “frenzied,” Luke tells us, and ask “what could be done to Jesus.” None of this remains unknown to him. He continues his course nonetheless. Nothing can stop him from doing what is pleasing to God, rather than man. He asks us to do the same.