Friday, April 30, 2021


Homily for May 1st, 2021. Joseph the Worker: Matthew 13:54-58.

There’s a 19th century hymn, little known to Catholics, which goes like this:
          I think when I read that sweet story of old,
          When Jesus was here among men,
          How he called little children as lambs to the fold:
          I should like to have been with them then.
It’s a nice sentiment. But it hardly corresponds to the historical reality. Most of the people who encountered Jesus found him quite ordinary. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” they ask in today’s gospel reading. “Where did this man get all this?” And Matthew, the gospel writer adds: “They took offense at him.”  
That remains true today. People encounter Jesus today not in his human body but through his mystical body, the Church – through us, who in baptism were made eyes, ears, hands, feet, and voice for Jesus Christ. He has no other.  .
The Catholic Church is human, as Jesus was human. It is mostly ordinary, as Jesus was ordinary. It can be remote, as Jesus was sometimes remote. It can be weak, as Jesus seemed weak to his contemporaries when he refused to use the divine power he manifested in his miracles to avoid crucifixion.
Hidden behind this ordinariness and remoteness and weakness, however, is all the power of God; all the compassion of his Son Jesus; and all the strength of his Holy Spirit, who came in fiery tongues on the first Pentecost to kindle a fire that is still burning; and to sweep people off their feet with a rushing mighty wind that is still blowing.
Most of Jesus’ contemporaries took offense at him. Or as another translation of our gospel reading has it, “They found him too much for them.”
What about you? Who is Jesus for you? Think about it -- even more important, pray about it!  

Thursday, April 29, 2021


Homily for April 30th, 2021: John 14:1-6.

          “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places,” Jesus tells us, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” What a tremendous promise! Jesus’ words address our greatest enemy, and for most of us our greatest fear: death. Down through the centuries Christians have pondered and prayed over this promise. Here is what three of them have said.
St. Cyprian, 3rd century Bishop of Carthage in North Africa: “We reckon paradise to be our home. A great throng awaits us there of those dear to us, parents, brothers, sons. A packed and numerous throng longs for us, of those already free from anxiety for their own salvation, who are still concerned for our salvation. What joy they share with us when we come into their sight and embrace them! What pleasure there is there in the heavenly kingdom, with no fear of death, and what supreme happiness with the enjoyment of eternal life.” [Office of Readings for Friday of the 34th week of the year)]

St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa from 395 to 430.
“How happy will be our shout of Alleluia there, how carefree, how secure from any adversary, where there is no enemy, where no friend perishes. There praise is offered to God, and here too; but here it is by people who are anxious, there by people who are free from care; here by people who must die, there by those who will live forever. Here praise is offered in hope, there by people who enjoy the reality; here by those who are pilgrims on the way, there by those who have reached their own country.” [Office of Readings for Saturday of the 34th week of the year)]

Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI:
Christianity does not proclaim merely a certain salvation of the soul in some imprecise place beyond, in which everything in this world that was precious and loved by us is erased, but it promises eternal life, ‘the life of the world to come’: nothing of what is precious and loved will be ruined, but will find its fulfillment in God. All the hairs of our head are numbered, Jesus said one day (cf. Matthew 10:30). The final world will also be the fulfillment of this earth, as St. Paul states: ‘Creation itself will be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God’" (Romans 8:21). [Aug. 15, 2010]
          How do we reach the joys of which these three great Christians speak? Jesus tells us in the final sentence of today’s gospel: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”


Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Homily for April 29th, 2021: John 13:16-20.

          Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading immediately follow his washing of the apostles’ feet. Feet shod only in sandals got dirty on the dusty roads of Palestine. It was customary, therefore, for a host to provide water for arriving guests to wash their own feet. Jesus went beyond this gesture of hospitality. By washing his friends’ feet himself, he gives them an example of humble service which they must be prepared to imitate.
          How little the Twelve heeded and followed this example, we learn from Luke’s gospel, which says that at the Last Supper “a dispute arose among them about who should be regarded as greatest” (22:24). After the foot-washing, therefore, Jesus goes on to speak about what he has just done.
          “No slave is greater than his master,” Jesus says, “nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Down through the centuries many of Jesus’ followers have recognized this, and acted accordingly. Jesus directs his words to them when he says: “If you understand this, blessed [which means “happy”] are you if you do it.” Sadly, there are also some who act as masters themselves, rather than as servants, conceiving of priesthood as a career, not as service. Knowing that there was one such follower at table with him there at the Last Supper, who in his heart had already rejected his servant role, Jesus quotes a verse from Psalm 41: “The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me.”
          Then, to encourage those truly resolved in their hearts to be and to remain his servants, Jesus says: “Amen, amen,” [which means “solemnly”] I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me.” Which one of us would not be thrilled to receive Jesus in person? A recent e-mail from a Philippine deacon in Rome, soon to be ordained priest, had the words “A great grace” in the subject line. It told about his being able to greet Pope Francis personally at the end of an audience for seminarians.
Jesus was telling his apostles that those to whom he was sending them would be no less thrilled than my Philippine friend. Jesus concludes by saying: “Whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me, and in accepting me, accepts him who sent me.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2021


Homily for April 28th, 2021: John 12:44-50.

          “Whoever sees me sees the One who sent me,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading. What do we see when we look at Jesus? We see that he preferred simple, ordinary people. He came to the world in an obscure provincial village on the edge of Nowhere, where nothing interesting or important ever happened. Jesus moved not among wealthy or sophisticated people, or among scholars and intellectuals, but among ordinary people.
Jesus was of the earth, earthy. In his youth he worked with his hands in the carpenter’s shop. His teaching was full of references to simple things: the birds of the air, the wind and the raging waves, the lilies of the field, the vine, the lost sheep, the woman searching for her one lost coin, leavening dough with yeast, the thief breaking in at night. 
          In preferring simple people and simple things, Jesus was showing us what God is like. He who is God’s word, God’s personal communication to us, is saying that God loves humble people. In his earthiness Jesus shows us God’s love for this world and everything in it.
Many people think of God and religion as concerned only with some higher, spiritual realm. Not true! God loves the earth and the things of earth. He must love them, because he made them. And God does not make anything that is not lovable. God made each of us, using our parents as his agents. And he loves us with a love that will never let us go.
How do we know that? Jesus told us himself when he said: “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). And Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans: “It is precisely in this that God proves his love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
          That, friends, is the gospel. That is the Good News.


Monday, April 26, 2021


     Homily for April 27th, 2021 John 10:22-30.

A careful reading of the gospels shows us that Jesus was very guarded about revealing his true identity. Pressed in today’s gospel to say whether he is God’s long-awaited Messiah (“the Christ” in English) he replies: “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” What works is Jesus referring to?  
          First on any list would be his miracles: the healings he performed, the stilling of the storm on the lake, the raising of the widow’s son at Naim and of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. Jesus also fed the hungry: the vast crowd in the wilderness, his twelve apostles at the Last Supper. After his resurrection Jesus prepared a lakeside breakfast for Peter, James, and John, tired and hungry from a night of fruitless fishing with the net coming back empty time after time until a man on shore, still unrecognized, calls out, “Cast the net on the right side” — and they feel the net heavy with fish, and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” calls out excitedly: “It is the Lord.” Jesus’ works also include his beautiful stories — the parables — and all his teaching about the love of God, his heavenly Father: the love that will never let us go.  
        These works say nothing to you, Jesus tells his questioners, because “you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” What does it take to be among Jesus’ sheep? The first requirement is openness: willingness to learn, not just once, but all our lives long. People who think they know it all already, that they have nothing more to learn after their formal education is finished, cannot be among Jesus’ sheep. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus says. That requires listening, all our lives long. Our education is never finished as long as life lasts.
         To those who come to him not as skeptics, saying ‘show me,’ but in a spirit of openness, Jesus gives the greatest of all gifts: eternal life. “No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”
         That too is the gospel. That is the Good News.


Sunday, April 25, 2021


Homily for April 26th, 2021: John 10:1-10.

          “Whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading. “The sheep follow him because they recognize his voice.” Those who follow Jesus find that he is always close to them, yet that he remains the totally Other. They know his goodness, his kindness, his patience, his strength, his courage. They recognize Jesus Christ as the embodiment of everything good and noble and worthwhile in human life: completely sinless, selfless, pure, holy. Those who try to follow Jesus, the Good Shepherd, experience him as a man set apart; yet drawing people to himself with a mysterious magnetism which centuries cannot diminish. (Why is it always quiet in the church when I speak about Jesus Christ?  Why is it quiet right now?)
          Jesus Christ is the one who understands us when no one else understands. He is the one who raises us up when we fall; whose help is effective and powerful when every other help fails. He is the Good Shepherd. He tells us in today’s gospel: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Does that mean somewhere else, tomorrow? pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die? No! Though the abundant life which Jesus came to give us will never be complete in this world, he wants it to begin here and now.
          Perhaps someone is asking: “Can you prove that?” To that I must answer: “No, I cannot prove it. You must prove it.” You do so when you take Jesus at his word; when you listen for the shepherd’s voice, and heed his call. Once you do that, you will be able to say, in the words of the best known and most loved of all the 150 psalms: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall lack.”
          Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are a reassurance and a promise. But they are more. They are also an invitation, and a challenge, addressed personally to you: “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. ... I came so that they might have life and have it to the full” [New American Bible]. 
          That, friends, is the gospel. That is the good news. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it to the full!


Friday, April 23, 2021


Homily for April 24th, 2021: John 6:60-69.

          There is something poignant about Peter’s response to Jesus’ challenging question: “Do you also want to leave?” Many had already done so: “Many of [Jesus’] disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer walked with him,” John tells us before reporting Jesus’ challenge to the Twelve. What caused their departure was Jesus’ refusal to soften his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. “Let me solemnly assure you,” Jesus said, “if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (6:53).
           That was strong meat indeed, especially for people whose dietary laws forbade the consumption of blood in any form. Still today the kosher laws of observant Jews require that the blood be drained from any meat offered for human consumption. Jesus’ words are also the answer to Protestants who insist that Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine of their Communion services is “purely spiritual” and not real.
         More than one Protestant Christian has come to believe in the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist (as opposed from the merely symbolic presence which Protestants generally believe) through reading Jesus’ strong statements in this sixth chapter of John.   
          The apostle Peter was, frankly, not the sharpest crayon in the box. His response to Jesus’ question, “Lord to whom shall we go?” suggests that he may not have understood the meaning of Jesus’ strong words. Peter was captivated nonetheless by the One who spoke them: “You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter responds.
          Any preacher who is faithful to his commission to preach the full gospel, and not just what people want to hear, will encounter criticism and rejection. I say that from personal experience.  Preachers have a two-fold task: to comfort the afflicted – but also to afflict the comfortable. When I have said from the pulpit that marriage is possible only for one man and one woman, I have been told: ‘That’s just one opinion.’ The answer is simple: it is the teaching of the Bible, and of the Catholic Church. Told that this teaching is “very hurtful to many of our parishioners,” I remain unfazed.
         The Lord whose commission I hold to preach “the truth the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” will ask me one day whether I did that; or whether I abbreviated his truth because someone might be uncomfortable and offended. Similarly, with the person who was offended by a homily which dealt in part with pornography – which any priest who sits in the confessional soon learns is a serious problem today – and in consequence could no longer attend our church. Jesus encountered rejection.
         If we who serve him experience only smiles and affirmation, we must ask whether we are preaching the whole gospel, or (out of consideration for those who might be offended) only an abbreviated version.

Thursday, April 22, 2021


Homily for April 23rd, 2021: Acts of the Apostles 9:1-20.

          The story we heard in our first reading is one of the most dramatic conversion stories of all time – in the same class with the story of St. Augustine’s conversion three centuries later. The chief persecutor of Jesus’ disciples, until then a small sect within the Jewish community, becomes overnight the man called by God to carry the gospel message to the whole world.
In Augustine’s case, conversion started with a child’s voice from the other side of the garden wall, saying, “Take up and read.” When Augustine opened the biblical scroll he was holding, his eyes fell on Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (13:13f). Those words kindled in Augustine a fire that never went out.
          In the case of Saul (he would receive the name Paul when he was baptized), the voice said: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” We might have expected a different question: “Why are you persecuting my Church?” The question came in personal form because the Church is Christ’s body: he has today no voice to speak to people but ours, no hands to reach out in compassion but ours, and so forth.
          Note the reaction of the man God has chosen to baptize Saul, Ananias. He’s scared out of his wits. ‘I’ve heard about this man, Lord,’ he says. ‘He’s dangerous.’ ‘Go,’ God tells him. ‘He is my chosen instrument to carry my name to Jew and Gentile alike.’
         Go sometime to St. Paul’s Church just south of Columbus Circle in New York’s City's Manhattan. Over the altar you will see carved in stone three Latin words: Vas electionis est – “He is my elect or chosen vessel.”
          To those words the Lord adds these: “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” What does this tell us? A personal encounter with the Lord God – like that experienced by Saul, Augustine, and countless others down through the ages – is never just for the individual. God comes personally to chosen souls to commission them to go to others, proclaiming: “I have seen the Lord!” And in every case, the fulfillment of this call means not only joy but suffering as well.