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Homilies Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The injunction for wives to be submissive to their husbands, given in our first reading, certainly offends our modern ears.  That’s just not the kind of thing we say in this society, at least not in these days.  Yet this was the norm in the society in which Saint Paul ministered.  So that command would hardly have raised an eyebrow.  What would have been shocking in Saint Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies.  Indeed, Saint Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships.

So how would it look now?  Today, I think Saint Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship.  Saint Paul would certainly say that men and women should work together to foster families in which God’s love could be shown and made manifest in the world through them.  

The real point of this reading, we must remember, is that the love of husband and wife echoes the love between Christ and the Church.  He says this in the second-to-last line of the reading: “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”  The marriage of man and woman is intended to be an icon, a reflection, a window where all can see the marriage of God to the Church and to the world.  It’s a challenge and a decision that married couples must make every day, as well as those of us wed to the Church through Holy Orders.

May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Mike was one of my favorite people in the world.  He owned the service station where my family had, and still has, our cars repaired and maintained ever since we first moved out to the suburbs, almost forty years ago now.  Dad used to joke that with all the cars we brought in there over the years, we probably had ownership in at least the driveway by now.  Mike was the kind of guy who, if you brought your car in for a tune-up, would call you and say, “your car doesn’t really need a tune-up yet, so I’ll just change the oil and a couple of the spark plugs and you’ll be fine.”  He was honest and did great work, and it seemed like everyone knew him.  He taught that to a kid who came to work for him when he was just sixteen.  When Mike retired five years or so ago, Ted took over for him and runs the business just the way Mike taught him.

Mike was a regular at the 7am Mass on Sunday, and after his retirement was a pretty regular daily Mass-goer.  The church would sometimes ask him to help a person in need with car repairs.  This he did gladly; he was always ready to serve.  A couple of years ago, when Mike died, I took Mom to his wake.  It took us an hour and a half to get in to see him and his family, and it was like that all night long.  His funeral packed the parish church, and eight of us priests concelebrated the Mass.  Mike left his mark on our community in incredible ways, and nobody ever forgot it.  Mike truly understood the kind of love that Jesus calls us to have in today’s Gospel.

Today’s gospel reading speaks to us about what may be the hallmark of Christian life: love of God and love of neighbor.  This two-pronged approach to loving is what life is all about for us, it is, in fact, the way we are all called to live the Gospel.  The scholar of the law is testing Jesus to see if he can come up with a way to discredit him.  But Jesus’ answer is one that the scholar can’t take issue with.  He boils all of the law and the prophets down to just two basic commandments: love the Lord your God with everything that you are, and then also love your neighbor as yourself.  There were over six hundred major and minor precepts in the Jewish law, and the scholars argued about them all the time.  But they can’t really take issue with what Jesus said.  In fact, the first of the laws that Jesus quoted, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, mind and soul…” was once that so many students of the law had memorized from the time they were little children.  In fact, many Jews did and do post that particular quote of the law on their doorposts and reverence those words when they enter the home, so this was not new ground for them.  What was new was putting the love of neighbor parallel to that law.  And when you think about it, this is so common-sense.  If we love God and neighbor, there won’t be any room for sin or crime or anything like that.  It’s so simple.  And yet so hard to do.

But it shouldn’t be that way: it shouldn’t have been hard for the Pharisees and it shouldn’t be hard for us either.  The Pharisees made up the strongest part of the religious establishment of the time.  They were so concerned about getting the law right, that they often missed the whole point of the law in the first place.  Jesus was always taking them to task for that.  The law came from none other than God himself, and he gave it for the good of the people, but the Pharisees used it to keep people under their thumb, which was what they were trying to do to Jesus here.

And, to be clear, God is all about justice.  So if that’s how he wanted it, the law would indeed be very rigid.  But as we see from the small sample of the law we have in our first reading, God wanted justice to be tempered with mercy.  Sure, go ahead and take your neighbor’s cloak as collateral on a loan.  But you better give it back to him before sundown, because that’s all he has to keep him warm in the night.  Justice in the eyes of God, is completely useless without the application of compassion.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to those of us who have learned, as early as we can remember, that God is love.  God is love itself, and God cannot not love.  That’s what God does and who God is: he loves us into existence, loves us in repentance, loves us with mercy, and loves us to eternity.  God is love in the purest of all senses: that love which wills the good of the other as other.

So when Jesus boils the whole Judaic law down to two commandments, it’s not like he’s made it easy.  As I said; it is simple, but simple doesn’t always mean easy.  It means giving the person who just cut you off in traffic a break, because you don’t know what’s really going on in their life.  It means showing kindness to your family after a long day, even when they’re testing your patience.  It means finding ways to be charitable and help those less fortunate.  And it means cutting yourself some slack when you mess up, even when you’ve just committed the sin you’ve been trying to stamp out of your life forever.  You have to love yourself if you are going to do what Jesus said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  That’s one that people miss all the time.

The whole law and the prophets depends on love.  The way we live our lives needs to show that we depend on love too.

So let’s pray with that right now.  Closing your eyes for a moment, take some quiet time to think about someone who has wronged you in some way.  Or, if it’s closer to your heart, think about a sin or cycle of sin that you’ve been struggling with. (…)  Take a moment now to place that person, or yourself, in Jesus’ presence.  Give him the offense the person has committed against you, or give him the sin you’ve been struggling with personally. (…)  Give him the feelings you have around this right now. (…)  Let Jesus tell you how much he loves you right now.  (…)  Tell Jesus about the love you have for him. (…)  Ask for his help to love the other person, or yourself, in the same way that he loves you. (…)

Thank you, Jesus, for loving us.  Thank you for giving us the example of your love on the cross.  Thank you for laying down your own life out of love for us.  Thank you for never not loving me, no matter where I have gone or what I have done.  Help me to love as you love.  Help me to love you, love others, and love myself in the same way that you love me.  I love you, Lord, my strength.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Simon the Pharisee had committed a grave error in hospitality, and a serious error in judgment. In those days, when a guest came to your home, you made sure to provide water for him or her to wash their feet, because the journey on foot was often long and hot and dirty, and it was pretty much always made on foot. But Simon had done no such thing for Jesus.

Simon’s intentions were not hospitable; rather he intended to confront Jesus on some minutiae of the Law so as to validate his opinion that Jesus was a charlatan. He judged the woman to be a sinner, and reckoned Jesus guilty of sin by association. But Jesus is about forgiveness. He didn’t care about the woman’s past; he just knew that, presently, she had need of mercy. Her act of love and hospitality, her posture of humility, her sorrow for her sin, all of these made it possible for Jesus to heal her.

But the one who doesn’t think he is in need of healing can never be healed. And so that’s our examination of conscience today. Are we aware of our need for healing, or have we been thinking we are without sin, without brokenness, without openness to God’s mercy? If so, our moments of reflection today need to guide us to honest and open acceptance of God’s mercy, and a pouring out of the best that we have in thanksgiving.  Like the repentant woman, we need to humble ourselves, and pour out our sorrow for our sins.

We are offered so much mercy and forgiveness for our many sins. Let us love much so that we might receive the great mercy our Lord wants to give us.

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Homilies Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings present us with two very interesting images.  The first is that of a potter working at the wheel.  When the object turned out badly, the potter re-created the object until it was right.  Jeremiah tells us that just so is Israel, in the hand of the Lord.  Not that God couldn’t get it right the first time.  This prophecy simply recognizes that through our own free will we go wrong all the time, sadly, and Israel’s wrong turns are legendary throughout the Old Testament.  Just as the potter can re-create a bowl or jug that was imperfect, so God can re-create his chosen people when they turn away from him.  God can replace their stony hearts with natural ones, and give them new life with a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit.

The image in the Gospel is a fishing image.  The fisher throws a net into the sea, casting it far and wide, and gathers up all sorts of fish.  Some of the fish are good, and are kept; the others are cast back into the sea.  So will it be at the end of the age.  God will cast the nets far and wide, gathering up all of his children.  Those who have remained true to what God created them to be will be brought into the kingdom; those who have turned away will be cast aside, free to follow their own whims and ideas.  Turning away from God has a price however; following one’s own whims and ideas leads to nothing but the fiery furnace, where there is wailing and grinding of teeth.

The message that comes to us through these images is one of renewal.  We who are God’s creatures, his chosen people, can often turn the wrong way, and we do!  But our God who made us does not will that we would end up in that fiery furnace; he gives us the chance to come back to him, and willingly re-creates us in his love.  Notice that all we have to be is willing; the potter—God—does the work.  We just have to be docile to his re-creating merciful love.  Those who become willing subjects on the potter’s wheel will have the joy of the Kingdom.  Those who turn away will have what they wish, but find it ultimately unsatisfying, ultimately sorrowful, ultimately without reward.

Today we pray that we would all be willing to be re-created on that potter’s wheel.

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Easter Homilies

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (School/RE Mass)

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel gives us some of the best news I think we can possibly get.  Jesus says he no longer calls us slaves, but instead he calls us his friends.  That’s important for us to know because I think most people believe that God doesn’t really have to care about us, his creatures, that much.  He could just give us commandments and expect us to follow them or else.  He doesn’t really have to teach us anything so that we understand him; he could just expect us to follow his commandments out of fear.  We think about God that way sometimes.

But that’s not what Jesus is about.  We know that God made us so that he could love us and we could love him.  Even when we sinned and could not be his friends any more, he didn’t leave us to die in our sins.  Instead, he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus, to become one of us and to pay the price that we deserved for our sins.  Jesus died on the cross, to pay that price, and he rose from the dead, so that we could be friends with God once again, and so that all those who believe in him and follow his ways can have the opportunity of eternal life with God in his heavenly kingdom.

That’s the Good News!  That’s the Gospel!  Jesus says he doesn’t call us slaves anymore.  That’s because we aren’t slaves to sin anymore, or at least we don’t have to be.  We can instead turn to Jesus and be his friends, if we do what he commands us.  And the commandment he gives us today seems like a very simple one: love one another.

Except that it’s not so simple all the time, is it?  Sometimes loving one another is hard to do.  Loving one another means we have to put others first.  Loving one another isn’t something we get to do only when we want to, but instead we have to do it all the time.  Loving one another means that we follow all the other commandments, because “love one another” is what sums them all up.  “Love one another” means that we remember that each person is created by God who loves them so then we have to love them too.

But we don’t have to worry about how hard it is to love one another.  We have a God who loves us first and loves us best.  Because he loved us and sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus to show us his love, we have the grace we need to love one another.  We can love one another when it’s hard to do, when they really make us mad sometimes, because God loves us all the time, even when we are hard to love, even when we make others mad and make God sad because of what we do or what we fail to do.

We aren’t slaves anymore.  We have been set free.  But being free doesn’t mean we get to do whatever we want, whenever we want – that’s the same thing as being a slave to sin.  Being free means that we can love others and put others first because God has done exactly that for us – over and over again!

So how will you love someone else today?  How will you love your parents or your siblings while you are doing e-learning today?  How will you love your teachers who might be explaining something very important that maybe you think is boring?  How will you teachers love the students who don’t seem to be getting it?  How will we all love our families today?  How will we put all these people first?  During the quiet parts of today’s Mass, let’s think about that.  Let’s come up with a plan to love someone even when they are hard to love.  Let’s love one another because God loves us first and loves us best!

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

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Homilies Lent

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

“You are not far from the kingdom of God.”  That would be, I think, the most reassuring thing we could hear from our Lord!  To know that you’re on the right track — that your thoughts and heart’s desires are in line with God’s will — that would be a wonderful thing to know.  And today’s Scriptures give us the roadmap for finding that reassurance.

Step one is repentance. The prophet Hosea wrote of Israel’s repentance.  Israel, as a nation, as we well know, had turned away from the God of their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They had turned to the false gods of their neighbors and had worshipped idols.  Hosea’s prophecy had been all about calling them back, urging them to return to the Lord who loved his people and yearned for them like a spurned lover.  In today’s first reading, Hosea prophecies the promise that God will accept back his wayward lover and will restore the people of Israel to his own loved possession.

Step two is to hear the voice of God.  “If only my people would hear me,” the Psalmist says, “and Israel walk in my ways, I would feed them with the best of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would fill them.”  God longs to fill his faithful people with everything that they need to sustain life and live their faith.  All we have to do is hear his voice, to follow his commands, and walk in his ways.  This hearing the voice of God requires a steadfast faithfulness that will not be enticed by strange gods or flashy idols.  It’s important to note that we have to do step one first: we can’t hear God’s voice if we’re caught up in our sins.  There is a single-mindedness that is called for here: the faithful are called not to hear God as one voice among many, but to hear God alone.

And step three is love.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus famously boils the commandments down to two: love of God and love of neighbor.  Again, there is an underlying single-mindedness: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”  Love of God and neighbor isn’t a third or fourth priority, if we ever get around to it.  Love is prime: love must the first inclination of the heart, the first thought of the mind, and the first action of life.

What does it take for us disciples to be not far from the Kingdom of God? It takes a Lent of repentance, a desire to hear and meditate on God’s Word and his presence in our lives, and then to love like there was nothing else to do in the whole world. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that this is the lentiest Lent I can ever remember, or want to have again! But the fact that we all have to keep social distance and stay home to contain COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to slow down, to quiet ourselves, and to make things right. And our Scriptures today give us a way to do all that.

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Christmas Homilies

Thursday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures continue to reveal Christ manifested in the flesh, and the way his manifestation looks today is like love.  We have the great joy of continuing our reading from the first letter of John today, and, as I mentioned on Tuesday, John is always about love.  Today John gives us a discerning test, so that we can see if a person is of God.  The test is whether that person loves his or her brothers and sisters.  Because one cannot claim to love God who is so very much beyond us, if we cannot love the brother or sister who is right in front of us.

That can prove to be a very daunting test to be sure.  Because I don’t think I’m too far out on a limb to say we’re not very often irritated by the God who is beyond us, but are often irritated by the brother or sister who is always right there in our face!  Still, the commandment is clear: “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

Jesus Christ is the personification of God’s love for us.  God came to be among us not in some kind of ethereal nature, but with a human face and a human heart, and a love that overcomes all the flaws of our flesh.  It is that love that sets us free.  In Jesus, all the prophecies of deliverance are fulfilled: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says, “because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”

And if our own love for our brothers and sisters can transcend our petty day-to-day irritations, or even our deep-seated hurts and resentments, than maybe we can set people free, and even set ourselves free, and make Jesus incarnate in the world yet again.

Categories
Christmas Homilies

Tuesday after Epiphany

Today’s readings

During this Epiphany time, we continue to see various Epiphanies of the Lord, that is, we continue to see Christ manifested in different ways.  Today, I think we see our Lord manifested as lover.

If you have time today, go back, and prayerfully read the first reading.  It’s one of my favorite selections from the first letter of Saint John.  This reading tells us quite clearly that you can see the presence of God in those who love one another.  I think we should all memorize the first line of that reading, because it’s key:

Beloved, let us love one another,
because love is of God;
everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.

Any time you’re in the presence of real love, you’re in the presence of God.  “Knows God” here carries special meaning: knowing God in this sense means you have entered into his life and are wrapped up in his presence.  Love is how you know you’re a disciple, how you know you’re on the way to heaven.  

And it’s not something we do on our own; in fact it’s never something we do first: God is always the first lover.  Listen to the last verse of the first reading again:

In this is love:
not that we have loved God, but that he loved us
and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

God chooses to love us first and love us best.  God shows us how to love, right up there on that ugly Cross.  There is nothing God won’t do for love of us.

So as Jesus comes into his life and ministry, we see him manifested as a lover.  He would sooner turn five puny loaves of bread and a couple of scraggly-looking fish into a sumptuous meal for thousands, than turn them away to fend for themselves.  Love always gives, love never stops until it has given everything, and then love still gives more.  That’s why the Cross is not the end, and the Resurrection is a glorious beginning.

Today, Jesus is manifested as God’s love, freely given if we would freely receive it.  May God’s love change us all today, make us look more like God himself.  Happy Epiphany!

Categories
Homilies Ordinary Time

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

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Easter Homilies

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Today’s readings

One of the most exciting lines in today’s Liturgy of the Word comes in the second reading: “The One who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’” The book of Revelation is all about the persecution of the early Christians, and it looks forward to the day when God would put all that persecution to an end. People were dying for the faith, being forced to give it up or be cast out of the synagogues. That left them open to the persecution of the Romans who demanded that they take up the worship of their pagan gods or face death. They were a people looking for newness, healing, and re-creation. So it is with great hope, then, that John reports what is heard in his vision: “Behold, I make all things new.”

There is a clamor for newness, I think, in every age and society. We are a people who could use some re-creation even today. Look at the way our own faith is received. The voices of death have such a foothold that they have many faithful Catholics believing that babies can be aborted in favor of personal choice. Sunday family worship takes a further back seat to soccer games, baseball, and other activities, as if worshipping God were just one possible choice for the many ways people could spend the Lord’s day. Rudeness and hurtful language are used in every forum, and we call it entitlement. Prayer is not welcome in almost any public location, for fear that someone might be offended by our religiosity. Concern for the poor and needy, and a longing for peace and justice are bracketed in favor of capital gain. And that is to say nothing of those Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria, who face danger and death for living their faith. We Christians today are persecuted just as surely as the early Christians, whether we pay for it with our lives or not. We Christians today are in need of hearing those great words: “Behold, I make all things new.”

The good news is that as an Easter people, we can already see the newness that is God’s re-creation of our world. We know the story of our salvation: This world was steeped in sin and we are a people who, though created and blessed by our God, time after time and age after age turned away from our God. Every generation turned away in ways more brazen than the last. We are the heirs of that fickle behavior and we can all attest that our sins have led us down those same paths time after time in our own lives. But God, who would be justified in letting us live in the hell we seemed to prefer, could not live without us. So he sent his only Son into our world. He was born as one of us and walked among us, living the same life as ours in all things but sin. He reached out to us and preached the new life of the Gospel. And in the end, he died our death, the death we so richly deserved for our sins. And not letting that death have the last word in our existence, he rose to a new life that lasts forever. He did all that motivated by the only thing that could ever explain away our fickle sinfulness, and that motivation is love.

I give you a new commandment: love one another.

As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.

This is how all will know that you are my disciples,

if you have love for one another.

The love that Jesus is talking about here is not some kind of emotional infatuation that fades as quickly as it grows. It is not a love that says “I will love you if…” Perhaps you have heard it yourself: “I will love you if you remain faithful to me.” “I will love you if you are successful in school.” “I will love you if you meet all my own selfish expectations.” “I will love you if you ignore my imperfections.” “I will love you if you become more perfect.” But the kind of love that says “I will love you if…” is not love at all. If God loved us if… we would be dead in our sins and there would be no reason to gather in this holy place day after day. If God loved us if… we would have nothing to look forward to in the life to come.

No, God does not love us if… God loves us period. As we know, God is love. God is love itself, love in all its perfection. Love cannot be experienced in a vacuum, so God created us to love him and for him to love us. We are the creation of God’s love and God cannot not love us! The kind of love Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel can only be summed up by the cross and resurrection. Jesus takes our sinfulness and brokenness upon himself, and stretches out his arms to die the death we deserve for our unfaithfulness. It wasn’t nails that held him to that cross, it was love, and we are totally undeserving of it. Even greater then, is the gift of the Resurrection in which we see that, because of love, death and sin have lost their sting. They no longer have the last word in our existence, because our God who is love itself has recreated the world in love.

And with this great act of sacrifice that restores us to grace, Jesus also gives those who would be his disciples a commandment: Love one another. Which sounds like an easy enough thing to do. But the second line of that commandment gives us pause and reminds us that our love can’t just be a nice feeling. He says to us: “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” And we know how he has loved us, don’t we? Whenever we forget, all we have to do is look at the nearest crucifix. Our love must be sacrificial. Our love must be unconditional. Our love cannot be “I will love you if…” but instead, “I love you period.” Our love must be a love that re-creates the world in the image of God’s own love.

And so it is with great joy that we welcome our two candidates for full communion with the Catholic Church.  Jessica and Erin have experienced God’s love in a way that wants to be fulfilled in the promise of eternal life that we have through the Church.  In love, we joyfully welcome them today and eagerly look forward to the day when they can celebrate fully at the Altar.

We live in a world that is broken and dark and evil at times. But our God has not abandoned us. Taking our death upon himself, he has risen triumphant over it. In spite of our unfaithfulness, he has re-created us all in his love. So now we disciples must continue his work of re-creation and love the world into a new existence.

“Behold, I make all things new.”