Saturday, October 14, 2017

I can do all things!











HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 15, 2017:

A good friend of mine often tells a story about an encounter he had with his father when he was a child. One day, Mike was in his bedroom when he heard a sound on the roof outside his window. He looked out just in time to see a figure quickly making his way into the room next door through window. The room was his Dad’s study. Mike rushed into the hallway and knocked on that door. He heard some commotion and his father’s voice, “Just a minute.” A few moments later, his Dad opened the door hastily buttoning up his shirt. But, as the shirt closed, Mike could see clearly below the large “S” emblem of the son of Krypton. Mike had just realized that his Dad was Superman! His mild-mannered Dad who worked for the state by day, was secretly the Man of Steel during his off hours. I always love that story.

Anyone my age or older will remember watching Superman on television. You would hear those words, “Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” And, then you’d run to the TV to hear the rest, he was, “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands, and who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.”

Now, when we were kids, we all wanted to be Superman. We ran around with towels tied around our necks to serve as a cape, and jumped off of higher and higher pieces of furniture to our parents fright, and we would debate about which power of Superman’s we’d most like to have – I always wanted to fly! And, yes, as kids we were faster than a speedy tricycle, more powerful than our little brothers, and could leap tall ottomans in a single bound!

I was thinking of this as I was reflecting on the Word of God we heard today from our second reading, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. St. Paul said something utterly incredible today. He said, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” I can do all things. And, isn’t this is our dream? This is perhaps the more adult version of wanting to be Superman. We want to be able to do all things. We want to be invincible. We want to be beyond the reach of anything that could harm us. We want to be the hero or heroine in our families and in our communities.

But, the reality is that we, all too often, feel helpless, not heroic, against the challenges of life. We struggle with our own faith. We struggle with trying to have the greatest marriage, the perfect children, the happiest life. But into those moments of doubt and struggle, let us hear Paul’s words again, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” So, what does St. Paul mean?

Well, when Paul claims “I can do all things” he doesn’t mean that he can fly, or bend steel with his bare hands. He’s not saying that he can travel to the moon, or visit heaven at whim. He is not saying that he can paint like Rembrandt, compose like Mozart, write like Shakespeare, or theorize like Einstein. But what he does mean is that when he invites God into the daily joys and struggles of his life, he and God will meet them together, and God will always make them better by His presence, and will lead us to the best outcome if we surrender our will to His. Jesus is always waiting to fill us with His presence. To fill our struggles with His love.

If you know enough of the story of Superman, you know that back on his home planet, he would be just another ordinary man. It is earth’s yellow sun that gives Superman extraordinary strength and abilities here. My friends, it is the very same for you and for me. We do well to remember that the Son also gives us our greatest strength, but not the sun in the sky, for us it is the Son of God who we are humbled to receive in the Eucharist at each and every Mass. When we humbly open our lives to God and truly receive Him in the Eucharist, we are filled with a strength that was previously unimaginable. And isn’t that why we are here week after week?

We can be tempted to look at the pressure we’re under, the mountains we must climb, the burdens we bear, and we say, “I just can’t do it. It’s too much!” And in those moments, let us remember today’s words, “I can do all things with him who strengthens me.” My friends, we can climb any mountain, we can bear any load, we can endure any pain, we can overcome any temptation, and we bear any struggle with the God who gives us strength, who fills those struggles with His presence.

“In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret…I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Let God strengthen you today through this Holy Mass, and you too will do all things.

May the Lord give you peace.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Leaving worry behind











HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 8, 2017:

Two young boys were staying overnight at their grandmother’s house. Every night before they went to sleep they said their prayers. The older boy went first praying about the day he had, about everything he had done and for all his loved ones. Then it was the younger boy’s turn. He prayed much louder than his brother, “God please give me a new bike, new toys and some candy!” When he finished his brother asked, “Why are you praying for bikes, toys and candy so loud? You know, God is not deaf." To which the younger boy responded, “I know, but Grandma is.”

There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged an Austrian town that was completely defenseless. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss how to surrender. As they discussed giving up, a wise old man in the town stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested that they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to the church where they rang the bells to assemble the towns for worship. But, when Massena’s soldiers heard the joyful ringing of the bells they concluded that Austrian reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.

I think this little story sheds some light on what St. Paul is saying in today's second reading from the Letter to the Philippians, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. Where people who have no faith typically respond to life's problems with worry, people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer.

We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety and so many other things – some big, some small. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.

St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.

St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.

So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about your health, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.

The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. And what we experience here today, we must bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.

My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Monday, October 2, 2017

O Lord, please not again!











O LORD, PLEASE NOT AGAIN. As I write these words today, it is hard to believe that once again our nation is faced with yet another moment of senseless tragedy as more than 50 people were killed in a shooting in Las Vegas.

Our hearts are once again broken for those who thought they were out for an enjoyable night at a concert, and instead found themselves the victims of gun violence. We remember them and we pray for them. We pray for all of those who now find themselves trying to make sense of the loss of their loved ones in this tragedy. We pray for the people of Las Vegas who now feel the closeness of such violence and terror in their own community.

And we pray that this will at long last be the mass shooting that wakes up our nation, so that we may begin to address the issue. Maybe this time will be the time that instead of simply retreating into polarized responses on the left and right, we can come together as Americans and work toward reasonable solutions that turn the tide.

Here’s a few things that we can do as people of faith:

Do Not Be Shocked by the Existence of Evil. Unfortunately, evil, like the attack in Las Vegas and so many others before it are a part of our world. We know that humans are sinful, and so we have to expect to encounter the consequences of sin. But, that doesn’t mean that we simply accept evil or that there’s nothing we can do. God has not left us defenseless in these battles. When attacks like Las Vegas happen, the media covers them relentlessly and graphicly. But we don’t have to respond with fear, paranoia, or on the other end, apathy. Responses based in fear are not usually good or helpful. We should be wise to the world, but respond as Christians – in prayer, in calmness, with the love of Christ.

Love Our Enemies—But Don't Let Them Destroy Us. Perhaps the hardest part of our faith is the call that Jesus gives us to love our enemies. It is never harder than when enemies attack us. But, Jesus comforts us in our sorrow and reminds us that this is the only way we will ever break the cycle of violence and vengeance. Loving our enemy does not mean offering them aid or comfort. It doesn’t make us a passive victim. What it means is that we don’t allow hatred to occupy a great space in our heart. We don’t allow a hateful act to turn us into hateful people.

Show Christ's Compassion to Victims. The last thing is the easiest and the most obvious. We are called to be the compassionate and loving presence of Christ in our world, especially to those who have experienced evil. In fact, the best way that they can move forward from that terrible moment is to experience the overwhelming compassion of people near and far. Imagine the effect we could have if we responded to such hate, not with more vitriol, but with love, kindness, and compassion in abundance. There is no better testimony of Christ's love for the world than when His followers tangibly and openly express that love in His name.

We pray for all the lives lost this week. We pray that this, at last, will be the last time this type of senseless violence strikes our land. And, we pray that God will strengthen us to confront such evil and hatred with the overwhelming love of God expressed through us.

- FT

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Lord is not fair!!
















HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 1, 2017:

About a decade ago, I had what is easily the most extraordinary experience of my priesthood. My own Dad was not raised in a family of church-goers. And as a result, he had never been baptized. Now over the years my Mom, myself, surely others, had long encouraged him to become a baptized member of the Church, but to no avail. I even tried to convince Dad as I was approaching my own ordination 17 years ago. I said, “Dad it would be so wonderful if I could give you communion on the day I celebrate my first Mass.” Now, I have to tell you that is grade A guilt right there. But, no effect. Instead, I just continued to pray every day in those moments of quiet prayer after receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, through the grace of this Eucharist, please place in Dad’s heart the desire for baptism.” Then, a little before his 69th birthday, Dad called me one day and said just two words to me: “I’m ready.” And in the absolute honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave First Holy Communion to my own Dad.

But before the baptism, we had a process of preparation for Dad. I would go home and sit with both Dad and Mom, Mom was going to be his sponsor. We would get together and review key aspects of the faith. At one point, my Mom said quite definitively to Dad, “Now Scott, before you get baptized, you have to go to Confession.” But I had to respond, “Mom, actually, baptism forgives all sins. So, he doesn’t have to go to confession. Any sins he has committed in his life up to that point will be forgiven in that moment.” At this point, my Mom looked at me, looked at my Dad, and then said, “You mean, he gets away with it?! That’s not fair!”

Although she was joking, Mom’s words were not too far away from the words we heard in our first reading from Ezekiel today, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” We know that these are words we hear an awful lot in life from many different people. “That’s not fair!” People often feel as though life is not treating them fairly, sometimes that God is not treating them fairly. Children are the most frequent issuers of this statement. A sibling or friends gets something they’d like to have; a group of kids go somewhere they want to go. It can be just about anything that leads them to cry out, “It’s not fair! Why can’t I have that? Why can’t I go there?”

In the passage from Ezekiel, when the people cry out, “The Lord’s way is not fair” they are actually complaining about the fact that God is a forgiving God. They are not happy that God will forgive a sinner who turns away from their sin and back to Him. They would prefer that God condemn sinner for their sin – and not only the one who sinned, but even that person’s family for many generations. The fact that God’s forgiveness is not fair is the heart of their complaint. They just don’t like it.

And you know what? They are right, God is not fair. We know this once we have experienced God’s ways ourselves. We, too, might also say, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” But, instead of that being a complaint, it is statement of gratitude. God’s ways are not fair. Thank you God for that!

Instead of merely fair, God’s ways are infinitely generous, gracious, and overflowing. We have a God who loves us beyond measure, more than we could ever earn. We have a God who never, ever tires of forgiving us, more than we could ever deserve. We have a God who is always present to us – in our joys and triumphs, in our sadness and sorrow, in our failures and even in our sin. And rather than abandoning us in our trial, God continually calls us to Himself so that He can – over and over and over again – make us whole and make us new. He call us so that He can heal our wounds; so that He can fill us with His presence; so that He can help us become more and more like Him.

God never tires of loving and forgiving us. And, He wants our ways to be like His. He wants us to be unfair too. He wants us to be just as generous in giving and even more generous in forgiving – as He is. God wants us to live in the way St. Paul tells us today, “Do nothing out of selfishness; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for [your] own interests, but for [the interests] of others. Have, in you, the same attitude that is in Christ.”

Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: mercy changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful.”

My friends, “The Lord’s way is not fair!” And we are so grateful for that. Let us thank God for the generosity with which He loves and forgives us – and let us share that same love and forgiveness just as unfairly with the world!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Called to forgiveness







HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 17, 2017:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”

I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass has a way of speaking to exact moments in history. Earlier this week, for example, we commemorated the attack on our nation that took place 16 years go; events that changed our world and changed our lives. Looking back on that day, we ask, “How have we changed since then?”

To answer that, let’s think about the way that God speaks to us through the Mass. My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? Two days later, the Gospel at Mass was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

The day after that we marked the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross and the next day was Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us – He reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight – especially at the most critical moments.

So, who are we? First, God said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens Evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”

And God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard God say that “wrath and anger are hateful things” and that each of us who follow Him are called to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere. These again seem like timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of terror, afraid of those different from us, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee; afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, in the hopes that these will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people.

Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. This is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly.

Through the terrible events in our country 16 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend. 

We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 16 years ago; and how real they are to us today.

So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.

My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s








HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 10, 2017:

A man was walking on the beach praying when all of a sudden he said, “Lord grant me one wish.” Instantly, the clouds parted and a booming voice said, “Because you have been faithful to me, I will grant you a wish.” The man said, “Please build a bridge to Bermuda so I can drive over anytime I want to.” God answered, “That’s a very materialistic wish. Just think of the logistics; the supports required to reach the bottom of the ocean; the concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard to justify. Take another moment to think of a wish that would honor and glorify me.” The man thought and finally said, “Lord, I wish that you could help men and women understand each other – how they each feel inside, what they are thinking, why they get mad or sad, and how they can make each other truly happy.” After a few minutes God responded, “How many lanes do you want on that bridge?”

We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be signs and instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome and care.

Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?

I have no way of knowing what you would do in those cases, but I do know what Jesus would do. The answer is found in today’s readings which focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “You are the salt of the earth….You are the light of the world…Your light must shine brightly before others.”

Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.

And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s real character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”

And so we have three cases where people spoke up. They heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life. They took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. And, it seems as though there could not be a more poignant moment in our world to be reminded of these truths once again. As racism and prejudice once again rear their ugly heads in our midst; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is once again strained; as war, violence, and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that for us these are not political issues, they are issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.

Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love when evil raises its presence in our midst.

As I wrote in the bulletin two weeks ago, “Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.” Or as St. Paul said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Why do we suffer?













HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 3, 2017:

Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over him. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers – twice as far as anyone else. When Eugene retrieved the javelin, the tip was broken. The coach said, “It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene began throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. Some days, for as long as six hours. By his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given a scholarship to college and dreamed of the Olympics. Then one day, while throwing, he tore the ligaments in his shoulder putting an end to his throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. It was as if God had slapped him in the face just as he was realizing his dreams. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.

This story raises a question echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of good people who don’t deserve it? We heard this from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man like Jeremiah be ridiculed? We heard his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” And, why did God let tragedy take the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it?

Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake will find a whole new life.” And it will not be only in the world to come. It will be right here in this world, as well. And Jesus tells us that the life we find with Him will be a far richer than the one we leave behind.

My friends, God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world; He doesn’t give people cancer or cause drunk driving accidents; He doesn’t cause or condone the wars we engage in. He didn’t wage a hurricane because He was angry with Texas, or send devastating floods to Southeast Asia this week because they had displeased Him. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of God’s will. But, in the midst of tragedy, God can use even those challenging situations to guide us to newer and better lives.

Let’s go back to the story of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse his dreams seemingly crushed. But, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in a class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza.” Later, he got the leading role in other TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” You might know Eugene Orowitz better by his stage name, Michael Landon. And in his success, he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder, even if it seemed like his dreams had ended that day. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings and fortune; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.

Dramatist Paul Claudel said that, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus said it this way to us today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” So, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He promises He will lead us to a better life. If we are someone who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He will mend your broken dreams and lead you to a renewed appreciation of life that you never dreamed possible. He will fill your suffering with His presence.

“Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” My friends, let us have the courage to lose ourselves in the life that Jesus has planned for us. May Jesus fill all of the moments of our lives – the joys and triumphs, the pains and sorrows – with His loving presence. Let us live for God alone.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

We are what the Church is made of









HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, August 27, 2017:

Four years ago when Pope Benedict did the stunning act of resigning from the papacy, he showed us a model of humility. And in his final public address, he said, “I always knew that the boat of the Church is not mine, not ours, but the Lord’s. It is He, who steers her. For this reason, today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.”

Pope Benedict had the humility to take that unprecedented step because he knew something important – that the church belongs to Christ. And this is the heart of our Gospel today. We hear two familiar passages today. The question about Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” And the powerful proclamation to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”

We often explore both of these in complex theological terms that tell us something about the nature of Jesus as God and man, and the nature of the church and role of the papacy. But somehow, I don’t think Jesus was engaged in deep theology when He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” or made the statement, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Instead, I think Jesus was taking the opportunity to get his friends to think about something different. Who are we? What are we about? His words were not theological, they were relational and loving. And so, today is a good day for each of us to think about these same simple questions. To think about who Jesus is to us and in turn, who are we and what are we about as the people who follow Him?

Like Pope Benedict, we know that the Church isn’t ours – it belongs to Jesus. And that’s important to acknowledge because since Jesus is in charge, we can be sure that the Church will go on. It will always be a beacon of hope and compassion, of love and acceptance, of reconciliation and healing. No matter how often we may fail at conveying that message, Jesus is always here to remind us who we are. As Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Today’s passage tells us that Jesus is the one who builds His church. “Upon you I will build my church.” He is the Master Builder who has the building plan in His hands. But, if Jesus is the builder of the church, where do we come in? We come in exactly where Peter comes in. Together with Peter, and countless others, we are what the Church is made of. Each of us – you and me – are what Jesus uses to build His Church. Peter is the foundation rock, but we are the individual stones with which the church is built. Peter himself wrote in his first letter, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Our job is to allow God to use us. So, the question we could ask ourselves today is: "How is God using me to build up the church?" No matter how what kind of stone we may be, the Master Builder can still use us to do something beautiful.

There is a story of a famous stained-glass artist who was commissioned to make a huge portrait of Christ for a cathedral in France. He first laid all of the glass pieces out on the floor of the cathedral. Among the many large pieces of glass was a small, clear piece no bigger than a fingernail. As the stained-glass portrait was assembled, that little piece remained on the floor. On the day of the window's completion the entire city gathered to witness the unveiling. The artist pulled down the cloth cover and the crowd gasped at the beauty of the colorful window glowing in the sunlight. But, something was missing, the portrait was unfinished. The great artist then walked over to where the little clear piece of glass lay, picked it up, and placed it in the portrait, right in the center of Jesus' eye. As the sun hit that little piece, it gave off a dazzling sparkle. The work of art was now complete.

My friends, in the grand design of building the church of God, each one of us could consider ourselves to be that small but indispensable piece of glass. We are the stones that show God’s love to those who need it in the world – we share that love with the homeless, the hungry, the addict, the grieving, and the lost. We are the stones of God’s presence today to show His kindness, compassion, forgiveness and healing. In this way, we work with God to continue to build the church day-by-day, stone-by-stone. Without each one of us, the church is not complete.

“Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

My friends, you and I are what the church is made of. So, let us allow God to use us as the living stones that make up His church so that His love and care for the world shines before everyone who sees each of us.

May the Lord give you peace!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Hate cannot be allowed to win

HATE CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO WIN. It is almost unthinkable that we as a nation find ourselves in this same place again. As I saw the images of scores of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others spewing hateful slogans and carrying torches in the streets of Charlottesville, it was an image that I had hoped was lost to history. It recalled the infamous Kristallnacht in 1938 when German Nazi’s ferociously removed Jewish people from their homes into concentration camps. It was reminiscent of pictures from at least 100 years ago of the KKK marching similarly throughout the South, including arching on our nation’s capital.

This is also a moment when it is crystal clear what people of faith are called to do. Some have called for dialogue saying that both sides should come together and discuss their differences in a civil manner. But, with all due respect to dialogue, this is not a time for dialogue. There are not two equally valid sides to this debate that dialogue will shed light on. Racism is a clear evil and we do not dialogue with evil. We don’t find compromise with evil. To dialogue with evil is to validate its argument as worthy of consideration.

Instead, this is a moment that is calling forth the fullness and strength of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are all being called upon to stand up, to publicly renounce, to reject this resurgent sin once again. We are called to speak up and speak out in peaceful, prayerful, and non-violent ways. Martin Luther King Jr., famously and correctly said, “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the one who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Our faith is based on a simple yet powerful notion – that all people are created by God and because of that possess an inherent dignity that cannot be taken away. Because of this we are all brothers and sisters in God’s great family and that is true if we are black or white, if we are rich or poor, if we are gay or straight, American or not, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Nothing can change this or take it away. This is our faith. And we must stand up and be heard especially when anyone wants to offer an ideology that counters or denies this truth.

We know that this evil is not limited to our own shores as we have watched yet another terror attack, this time in Barcelona. Our prayers are with all of those who have been killed or injured through these acts of evil. And we pray for all of those who have the courage to stand up in the face of evil to denounce it, to reject it to call it out, and to work so that our world may be a better, more loving, kind, and united place.

Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for all must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.

- Fr. Tom

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Get out of the boat!

HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 13, 2017:

Roger Bannister and John Landy were two runners who within days of each other were first to break the four-minute mile in the 1950s. Shortly after this feat, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he should not have done. He glanced over his shoulder to see how far behind his competitor was. That was all Bannister needed. He shot past Landy and won the race.

In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus call out to Peter to come to him across the water. Because Peter believed in Jesus, he stepped out of the boat onto the water. Peter found himself doing the impossible, simply because he believed in Jesus. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter became alarmed as he walked across the water. For a brief moment, he took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below. And Peter began to sink.



We, too, are all really a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each of us to be His followers in our modern world. But trying to follow Jesus today is almost like trying to walk on water. It can feel as though it is next to impossible. But Jesus believes that we can do it. Most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We have taken our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And we, like Peter, have sometimes lost our balance and felt like we were sinking.

In the early days of sailing, a boy went to sea to learn to be a sailor. One day when the sea was stormy, he was told to climb to the top of the mast. The first half of the climb was easy. The boy kept his eyes fixed on the sky. But halfway to the top, he made a mistake. He looked down at the stormy waters. He grew dizzy and was in danger of falling. An old sailor saw what was happening and called out, “Look back to the sky, boy! Look back to the sky!” The boy followed the advice and finished his climb safely.

My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy waves of life, it is a good time to ask if our focus in on Jesus, or perhaps we, too, have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior. To focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even the seemingly impossible, if we maintain our focus on Him. We hear the cry of the old sailor to “Look up to the sky” and find there our Lord who believes in all that we can accomplish with and through Him. We should do what Peter did and cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save us,"reach out to Him in our need and Jesus will reach out His hand and save us, as He saved Peter. The hand of Jesus will reach into the challenges of our lives and lift us from our challenges; and restore us to His love and grace.

The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right. After all, he walked on water! The boat was full of the disciples. It wasn’t Peter alone. But, only he did the miraculous and joined Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace even the impossible. His willingness to take a risk for Jesus gave him access to the miraculous. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought only for Jesus to bring them comfort against the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. He did this for one overwhelming reason – not because it would be exciting, but Peter got out of the boat because that was where Jesus was and the only place Peter wanted to be was with his Lord.

Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the merely comfortable, to step up against our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever it is that He wants to take us. If we have that courage, just like Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in new and powerful ways. They might even allow us to experience the miraculous.

So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Transform me, Lord












HOMILY FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD, August 6, 2017:

Many years ago, for one summer, I got to be a member of the Fighting Irish as I took summer courses at the famous University of Notre Dame. At the center of Notre Dame’s campus is the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Every day, I would pray there and like most Catholics, I would always sit in the same spot, next to the same person. For weeks, this man and I didn’t speak to each other beyond a nod of the head and the sign of peace. But, every day I noticed what a beautiful singing voice he had. After about a month, I thought to myself, “Maybe no one has ever affirmed his singing.” So, after Mass one day, I introduced myself and said to him, “I don’t know if anyone has ever told you this before, but you really have a beautiful voice. You should consider using that gift that God has given you.” A small smile crossed his face, he shook my hand and said, “Hi Tom. My name is Michael Joncas.” Now, you may not recognize that name right away, but Michael Joncas is one of the most famous Catholic composers today. He has written such beautiful hymns as, “Take and Eat,” “When We Eat This Bread,” and most famously “On Eagle’s Wings.” I, of course, turned 20 shades of red and finally said, “Well, I guess you are making good use of that gift.”

But, in that moment, I instantly saw this man in a different light. It was a revelation that changed forever the way I would look at him. And, once I knew who he really was – once I had a fuller picture of his true identity – I wanted to stay there with him as long as I could and talk about liturgy and music and theChurch. But, eventually we had to return to get on with our day.Something like this is happening in our Gospel today. Peter, James and John, went up the mountain with Jesus to pray. But, they went up with the Jesus they already knew – a spectacular Jesus to be sure, one who heals, forgives, preaches with authority – but they hadn’t seen anything yet. Before their very eyes, Jesus is transfigured into unbelievable glory, and he is joined by Moses and Elijah – the three of them representing the fullness of God’s divine revelation. Their immediate reaction, “It is good that we are here!” They would never look at Jesus in the same way again, and wanted to hold on to that moment for as long as they could.

We are not unlike them. We too long for moments when God reveals Himself to us. Transfiguration is not only what we hear in the Gospel. It is something we can experience regularly in our lives. It is what takes place in this and every Mass if we open our minds, our hearts, our lives to it. Just think about it. God’s Word starts out as mere ink on a page, but it is transfigured through the Lector proclaiming it into a revelation of God - God’s message for us - that takes root in our hearts. The Eucharist starts out as nothing more than simple bread and wine, but it too is transfigured through the hands of the priest and the work of the Holy Spirit into the very presence of Jesus in our midst – His true Body and Blood – and once received, that presence of Jesus is within us. And, our reaction each and every Sunday should be: “It is good that we are here! Can we stay forever?”

The problem is that our eyes and our hearts are too often shielded from God’s presence right in front of us. They get shielded by our own concerns and struggles; shielded by our own hurts and pains; shielded even by the familiarity of experiencing Mass over and over again. But that doesn’t change what happens here - God wants to reveal Himself to us. Jesus wants us to hear His Words for us, to see and receive His Body and Blood. Why? So, that we too can be transfigured into what God wants us to be; so that we can go forth from this place and transfigure our homes, our workplace, our community, our relationships, into that glorious and holy reality that Jesus came here to share with us.

Transfiguration is an experience, a glimpse, of the full glory of God in Jesus. When Jesus arrived at the mountain top His appearance changed and literally shone brightly with God’s glory. Jesus shone with the glory that caused Moses to shine that day on the mountain when the 10 Commandments were given to him from Heaven. He shone with the glory that carried Elijah up to Heaven's height - gone from this world, but alive in the next. He shone with the glory of His own baptismal day, when His Father's voice was heard to say: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" - and indeed those words first uttered at the River are repeated on the Mountaintop of Transfiguration.

As we today ascend this mountaintop where God wants to reveal Himself to us, let us shake whatever shields our minds and hearts from seeing Him. Let us leave this place radiant from our encounter with the God who loves us. “It is good that we are here.” Let us behold God’s glory and bring that glory to everyone we meet.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

A taste of Heaven









HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 30, 2017:

A teacher, a tax collector, and a politician wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher first, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered, “That’s easy, the Titanic.” St. Peter let her in. He then looked at the tax collector asking, “How many people died on the ship?” He was a fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” St. Peter let him in too. Then, turning to the politician, St. Peter said, “Name them.”

That joke could be a commentary on our current political climate, but it also raises an important question: Have you ever thought about what Heaven is like? Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this in our Gospel today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it is like.

This passage called to mind for me the very first time that I was in the presence of a Pope. It was 15 years ago and I was at a Wednesday Audience with Saint Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage we have today. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

His comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Heaven is clearly one of Jesus’ favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite of ours too.

We often think about Heaven in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, all the food you can eat and not gain an ounce! We imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly, and familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”

So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. The closest we come to this dual dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom.”

Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased by the blood of Christ on the cross. And far from hiding this treasure, God shares them with us freely. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church is the gift that all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.

Saint John Paul said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were open to His love…will enjoy communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” We get a taste of Heaven on earth through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, a great foretaste of the happiness and peace and union we will one day know forever with God in Heaven.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, “It is not to remain in a golden ciborium that Jesus comes down each day from Heaven, but to find another Heaven, the Heaven of our soul in which He takes delight." My friends, “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May the Lord give you peace!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Who am I to judge?











HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 23, 2017:

Growing up Sunday nights always had a ritual about them. You quickly had your bath so that you could be in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Wild Kingdom was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would be exciting. I had my own encounter with something ferocious when I was living in Boston. One evening I was grilling chicken in the small alleyway between the friary and church, when I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction. I quickly discovered this was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs nearby. So, I gave Mama her space. A week later I checked to see if I had any new pigeon chicks in the alleyway. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, and the second egg cast outside of the nest. And it was a sad sight – to see the Mom protecting one, but having cast off another. I reminded myself that that was simply the way it goes sometimes in the wild kingdom. Some make it, some don’t.

We heard in our Gospel today, “‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.” Unlike the chicks in my alley, Jesus gives us a different image from nature today – that of wheat and weeds. To put this into context, I think our nature can sometimes be like the pigeon deciding who make it and who doesn’t. We create categories like us and them; good and bad; sinner and saint. These exclude and we judge who is better and who is worse.

Even people of faith still seem to create these categories. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation for our own sins and walk in the light of the Lord. But, too often, when we’re forgiven, we become acutely aware of everyone else’s sin. When we become wheat – to use Jesus’ image today – we suddenly see the weeds around us. And that is the problem that Jesus is trying to get at today with this image of wheat and weeds – what we might call the Holier-Than-Thou Syndrome. But, Jesus calls us to something different, something new, something better. Through the gift and grace of the Sacraments, and our living faith, Jesus invites us into a supernatural realm where we are no longer bound by the constraints of human nature. He tell us, “Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees (a name which means literally “the separated ones”) – that even our holiness can become a temptation to judge others. We sometimes consciously or unconsciously decide that we can spiritually judge who is in and who is out. Take any of today’s hot-button issues. We might be tempted to judge someone who is divorced or who committed adultery; or someone who had an abortion. It could just be someone who is mean and hateful, or a gossip, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed some other horrible crime. We look at them and we become a self-appointed judge and jury. But, where is God’s love and mercy in that? Where is God’s opportunity for encounter, relationship, reconciliation and forgiveness and healing?

The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to be the judge. Pope Francis said it much more directly when he said five simple words, “Who am I to judge?” These were five powerful words coming from the Pope, but the same words should come from each of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the only true judge we will ever face.

But change that statement ever so slightly and ask, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to welcome? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are exactly the things we are called to do, and our judgment only gets in the way of these things. Jesus explicitly asks us to be the ones who love, to be His kind, welcoming, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world.

Jesus tells us to “Let [the weeds and wheat] grow together.” Why? Because in His Kingdom, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today; if Jesus can turn even our sins into holiness every time we go to Confession – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, we have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says because He is giving us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let us make his words our words too.

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Loving God's Word!

HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 16, 2017:

A new pastor was assigned to a local Church, and was so overwhelmed with his new assignment that he didn’t have time to write a new homily each Sunday so he used the same homily four times in a row. A group of parishioners complained to the Bishop. The Bishop asked a simple question, “What was the homily about?” Stunned, they looked one to the other – not one of them could remember. So, the Bishop said, “Let him preach it one more time.”

They say that there are three things that St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates if you want to get into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? Second Reading? And Gospel Reading? How many of us could answer today?

My friends, what place does God’s Word, Sacred Scripture, hold in our lives? In our first reading we heard, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”


Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower meant to encourage our love of God’s Word. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Pope Francis said, “Maybe we've made [the Word of God] a little difficult with explanations that no one understands, but the Christian life is as simple and easy as this: listen to the word of God and put it into practice.”

One man shared with a church group about the turnaround in his life since he started to love God’s Word. “Two years ago,” he said, “I had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays, I would shop around going from church to church to find the priest that gave the shortest homily. My idea of a good Mass was one that took 40 minutes or less! But, once I became open to God’s Word; I became like the writer of Psalm 119 who said, “Had your word, O Lord, not been my delight, I would have perished…I will never forget your words; through them you give me life.”

Jesus is calling us all to become people love the Word of God. Just listen to some of the things God says to us. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Or “God is love and all who love dwell in God and God in them.” Or, “In all things God words for the good of those who love Him.” Or, “What, then, shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” Or, “All of the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” In fact, that theme, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the most common messages spread all throughout the Bible. I could go on and on, and hopefully you, too, have your own favorites. Jesus wants us to be in love with the Word of God so that it can fill us, mold us, direct our lives.

A priest delivered a homily in 10 minutes one Sunday, which was about half his usual length. He explained to the parish, “I regret to inform you that my dog ate the rest of my homily which I was unable to deliver this morning.” After Mass, a visitor from another parish said to the priest, “Father, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my priest.” My friends, if our favorite part of God’s Word is when it is over, then we are missing the point.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “The Word of God is living and active.” Loving God’s Word begins with our openness. Can we surrender to God’s Word? Can we believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word? Can we be people who pledge to live as St. James calls us to as “doers of the word and not hearers only…The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what they do.”

So, where does the Word of God fit into your life? The seed of God’s Word has been placed in each of us again today at this Holy Mass. Will it grow and be fruitful? Or will it wither and fade? Pope Francis said, “Listen to the word of God; listen with your ears and hear with your heart. God speaks to each of us. The Gospel was written for each of us.”

My friends, the Word of God is alive and active. It has the power to set us free, comfort our sorrows, heal our wounds, and feed our souls. May the Word of God light our lives and direct our paths. Let us love God’s Word!

May the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Gentleness is the language of Christians















HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 9, 2017:

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a contest between the sun and the wind over which of the two was stronger. One day a person dressed in a coat was walking down a deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, “Whoever makes that person remove the coat faster will be the winner.” The wind agreed and decided to go first. The wind blew stronger and stronger, but no matter what, the just person held on to their coat tighter. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. All the sun did was shine in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took of their coat. The moral of Aesop’s story was: you can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

In our world today, gentleness is not in as high regard as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this reality. Today, however, our culture values aggressiveness and divisiveness more than it values gentleness. Just look at the media. News channels spend all day long shouting at each other. The average child spends 25 hours a week watching television, more time than they spend in school or engaged in any other activity except sleep. And it is estimated that by the time a child is 18; they will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. One study concluded that teens who watch more than one hour of TV a day were four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in adulthood. It shouldn’t be surprising that our culture reflects the violence of our age.

How different from what Jesus taught us today. He said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” Likewise, in our first reading today, Zechariah foretold the gentleness of Jesus, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, he is meek…and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd.

Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react aggressively to the sheep that ran away. He placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.

I read a story in Guideposts magazine about a child who grew up with a crippled and twisted back. Fully clothed, he could pass for healthy, but when he took his shirt off, his disfigurement was noticeable. As a boy, one day he stood in line waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He always dreaded the moment when the doctor would say, “Remove your shirt.” Finally the terrible moment came. He fumbled with his buttons, his hands shaking badly. At last, his shirt was off. The doctor looked at him and then did something very unusual. He walked around the desk, held the boy’s face in his big hands, looked right at him and said, gently, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes sir,” the boy responded. “Good! The more you believe in Him, the more you believe in yourself.” The doctor went back to his desk and wrote something on his chart before stepping out of the room for a moment. The boy was curious and so he quickly looked at the chart. Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written, “This boy has a perfectly well-shaped head.” The boy couldn’t believe his eyes. And, although that brief episode took place many years ago, but the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that kind doctor. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel for all of us, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

And so, let us respond to the people we encounter as the sun did in Aesop’s fable – with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery; and as the father of the Prodigal Son – with compassion and understanding. Let us build up people with heavy burdens just as the doctor did – with tenderness and sensitivity.

Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.” Let gentleness and respect be our language always.

“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

May the Lord give you peace.