Homilette for Thursday, January 1, 2009

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

We call the first month of the year “January” after Janus, the pagan god of gates and doors. Statues of Janus have two heads like a door has two sides -- one looking backward and the other forward. Certainly in January we look in these two directions. We repeatedly refer to the old year, sometimes mistakenly writing its number on checks. But as the month moves along, we think more of the possibilities lying in the year just begun.

The Nativity scene with Jesus lying in a manger also calls us to look both backward and forward. The manger is not meant to indicate Joseph and Mary’s poverty, but to recall what the prophet Isaiah said of Israel. “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger,” Isaiah observed, “but Israel does not know, my people has not understood (me)” (Is 1:3). Now, the evangelist Luke shows, the shepherds of Israel see and know their Lord. The Lordship of Jesus, however, will only be revealed to all lands in the future. After Jesus is crucified, rises from the dead, and send his Spirit upon them, his apostles will preach his name throughout the world.

New Year’s Day is generally reserved for rest and visiting (and, for some, football). But the Church calls us to mass to reflect on the significance of what has taken place during the past week. We have heard the story of Christmas retold. We have celebrated Christ’s coming by acts of kindness and generosity. And we have found ourselves immersed in an atmosphere of peace and goodwill. Like Mary in the gospel we are to reflect on these things in our hearts in order to distill their meaning for the year ahead.

Homilette for Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

People may find it curious that the Church ends the calendar year with a reading from the beginning of one of the gospels. However, those who remember the so-called Tridentine Mass will recognize the passage as the “last gospel.” It is still read at the closing of every mass celebrated according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal.

The passage itself summarizes the story that the gospel writer is about to tell. The Word of God, Jesus Christ, existed before creation and is the source of all that is. Although he is one with God, he came to live among humans to enlighten for them the path of righteousness. Unfortunately, humans often reject the light of Christ like coyotes running for cover at sunrise. But to those who brave the embarrassment of having their sins exposed, Christ confers the grace of repentance and forgiveness.

Today is a choice day for making resolutions of how we intend to live in the future. Let us resolve to walk according to the light of Christ during the coming year. Let us commit ourselves to reject what is bad, to do what is good, and to consult Church teaching for assistance in distinguishing between the two.

Homilette for Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Reading the First Letter of John during Christmas season corrects tendencies to exaggerate the goodness of life on earth. Food abounds and drink flows during the holidays. Many people take vacations or just stay at home to rest. It is also a time for recreation -- movies and, for the more vigorous, maybe skiing or bowling. Would some not say that the world and all that is within it are good indeed?

But, of course, the world poses at least as many challenges to Christian life as it presents benefits. In today’s first reading the author, sometimes called “John, the presbyter” or “John, the elder,” warns Christians of its pitfalls. His “children” are the members of his church community. The “fathers” are the men and women who have long accepted the faith. They know well the love of God which comes through Jesus Christ. The “young men” are newcomers to Christianity. They have overcome the allurements to sin which can hold others from commitment to Christ. Both groups have to stand on guard against the world’s temptations which remain the triple threats of lust, envy, and pride.

As we come to the end of the year, we might ask ourselves how we have fared against the three great nemeses. Do we seek God’s assistance when lustful desires enter our thoughts? Do we thank God for what we have, or do we constantly look to our neighbors for what we lack? Do we remind ourselves daily that we live to serve God, not to be served by others?

Homilette for Monday, December 29, 2008

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

A well-published biblical scholar once ignited a holy man’s ire by calling John’s letters “New Testament baby-talk.” The scholar only meant to say that John’s letters possess simplicity and directness as if they were written for children. We see this in today’s first reading. “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light...,” John writes, “Whoever hates his brother remains in darkness...”

John does not have enemy-love in mind here as if he were challenging Christians to love those who hate them. Nor does he mean that they have to necessarily love blood brothers and sisters. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ commandment to his community of disciples that they love one another. It may sound easy, but hard feelings can sprout when humans associate closely. They will feel frustration, envy, and even enmity with one another at times. John is saying that Christians must overcome these troublesome sentiments.

John would be oversimplifying if he meant that we may limit our love to love those with whom we associate. But certainly such love teaches toleration, respect, and compassion so that we in turn may love even those who hate us.

Homilette for Friday, December 26, 2008

Feast of St. Stephen, Proto-martyr

(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)

In T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, predicts his martyrdom in his Christmas sermon. He tells the people that in the Christmas mass not only the birth of Jesus but also his death are remembered. This dual remembrance indicates that the Christian life is neither pure joy nor pure sorrow. No, we live both on every occasion. Thomas goes on to ask, “Is it an accident … that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” Of course not, the Church deliberately places the martyrdom of Stephen on the day after Christmas to temper our celebration.

We can point to this duality in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Nativity accounts. In Luke after Jesus is born, his parents take him to the Temple where Simeon prophesizes that Jesus will be a sign to be contradicted. He means that Jesus’ enemies will do him in. In Matthew the horror is more evident. The birth of Jesus, the King of the Jews, occasions the jealousy of King Herod. To eliminate his rival Herod has all male infants of the area murdered.

We must take to heart the traverse sentiments of Christian life. Our happiest celebrations should include a remembrance of fellow humans suffering around the world. Similarly, our most intolerable moments, like the loss of a loved one, should not go without faith in Christ’s victory over death. Christians are neither rosy-eyed optimists nor morose pessimists. No, we live both the death and the resurrection of the Lord deep in our hearts.

Christmas Homily

I trust that this atypically long reflection will not bother anyone. More importantly, I hope that everyone enjoys a truly blessed Christmas. Thank you for the attention to my thoughts and for any good works they may inspire. May you come to know Christ better as his coming, love him more sincerely, and live with him in peace forever.

The Nativity of the Lord. Mass at Midnight.

(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

Fifty years ago there was a controversy about what the angels said that wondrous night when Christ was born. According to what Catholics called “the Protestant Bible,” the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Meanwhile, the so-called Catholic translation had the angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill.” Our present translation is politic in not using the word “men” at all, which is certainly found in the Greek original. But if we insert the more proper term “humans,” we would have the angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those humans(,) on whom God favor rests.” Who “those humans” are depends on the way we read the text. If we pause after saying “humans”– as if we were inserting a comma – then “those humans” would be equivalent to “all humans.” But if we speed on to the relative clause, then “those humans” are the only ones upon whom “God’s favor rests” – presumably Jesus’ disciples or, we Christians.

Just for tonight let us consider the first alternative – that the angels are extending peace to all people on this mystic night. This interpretation makes good sense since the angel first proclaimed “...good news of great joy that will be for all people.” In what ways then does the coming of Jesus bring peace to all people, whether Christian or not? This is the question we want to address.

First, we can say that the coming of Jesus brings peace because Jesus advocated non-violent resolution of conflict. He never proposed war as a solution to problems. It is true that he drove money-changers from the Temple, but only the Gospel of John shows him with a whip in hand, and not even there does it say that he struck anyone, much less killed for his purpose. More typical of Jesus is his admonition, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Remembering Jesus, German and English foot-soldiers locked in combat across the trenches during World War I called a truce on Christmas night, 1914. They suspended the war to sing Christmas carols and exchange small gifts in honor of the Prince of Peace.

Second, the coming of Jesus brings peace by his example of attending to the needy. Jesus gave as a mark of his authenticity his preaching to the poor and his healing of the lame, the blind, and the deaf. There will never be peace as long as people lack basic necessities. Those with means must not sit back comfortably saying how they acquired their wealth honestly. Rather, they have to address the needs of those who live on the margins of decency and those whose lives are being snuffed in gestation. In a magazine article a woman describes how she bought a green coat with red trimming at a department store close-out. Happy to find a “Christmas coat,” she went home excitedly without trying it on. When she finally did, she found it way too small. Then she had the inspiration of giving the coat to a street person she had encountered. But, she had to ask herself, was the person’s need or her own vanity behind the gift? When society realizes that the poor need more attention than paper-platefuls of food at Thanksgiving and presents at Christmas, it is on the way to social justice and peaceful living.

Finally, Jesus’ coming brings about peace as he appeals for repentance. Even non-believers should acknowledge the need to examine what they are doing and to make the necessary adjustments to conform to what they believe to be true and good. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol exemplifies this kind of corrective. Ebenezer Scrooge comes to realize that dreadful Christmas night that his penny-pinching is not bringing him happiness but misery. Graciously he changes his ways.

Before concluding, we should indicate why Jesus’ birth is especially good news for those who implicitly follow his ways. The world would be a much better place if all peoples limit their use of force, meet the needs of the poor, and correct their errors. But this does not exhaust the gospel’s message. Jesus further exhorts us to pursue his path of self-sacrificing love. Tonight we recall how he left behind his divinity to take human form. The manger in which he lies, made of wood, reminds us of the wood of his cross. He invites and, more critically, empowers us to let go of our own comforts and self-satisfaction. As results we become the inheritors of a new earth -- the kingdom of heaven.

Homilette for Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8-12; Luke 2:67-79)

A boy returned home from school to tell his grandmother that Jesus was not born in December but in March. The date, he explained, was changed for commercial reasons. It is possible that the lad is at least partly right. No one today knows exactly when Jesus was born. It may have been during the month of March or any of the other months.

The indications that the gospels give regarding Jesus’ birthday – a census decreed by Caesar Augustus and a strangely moving star – appear to be more theological than historical markers. The Church (not Macy’s) placed the date at the end of December because this too conforms to what we believe about Christ. As Zechariah says of him in the gospel this morning, Jesus is “the dawn...that shine(s) on those in darkness and the valley of death and guide(s) our feet into the way of peace.” In other words, Jesus is like the sun that appears every morning and especially like the sun of late December that reverses, in the northern hemisphere at least, the trend of decreasing daylight throughout the latter part of the year.

Comparing Jesus to the sun helps us appreciate his significance. Just as the sun provides heat and light so Jesus provides us love and truth. Without Jesus our love would be like a firecracker that glows for a moment and then fizzles cold. Without Jesus we would wander in the darkness of sin choosing, like a dog gulping down rotten meat, what is harmful. The date on which Jesus was born is not important. What is important – indeed absolutely necessary – is that he is with us.

Homilette for Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist clearly takes the place of Elijah, the prophet of fire. He warns the people that unless they reform and do good works, they will be cut down like trees “and thrown into the fire.” In this way John goes before the Lord, as his father Zechariah proclaims in his song of jubilation at his naming, “to prepare his ways.”

Jesus will not take up John’s message of the primacy of divine wrath. Rather, his preaching will be dominated by the image of God as human’s protector. Although he will not shrink from mentioning God’s power to cast a sinner into hell, Jesus will stress God’s love. God, he will say, has counted the number of hairs on each of his followers’ heads to insure their total salvation.

Since love can be looked upon as a kind of fire, we might forge a distinction. Fire can destroy dispassionately, and it can purify with all compassion. John, following Elijah, will use images if not the force of a blazing fire to warn us of the danger that dissolute living incurs. God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, is a fire like a surgeon’s laser. It will not harm but heal and make us whole.

Homilette for Monday, December 21, 2008

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(I Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 1:46-56)

The movie It’s a Wonderful Life has more than a Christmas scene to recommend it as an all-time holiday classic. More crucially, the film demonstrates all the hope that the child Jesus brings into the world. The schemes of the villain Potter are vanquished while poor people are enabled to live with dignity in their own homes. Most of all, God comes to the help of his faithful servant, George Bailey, in his hour of desperation.

What director Frank Capra puts on film, Mary proclaims in the gospel today. She sings of how in sending His son into the world, God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Mary makes these claims after pondering in her heart all that the angel and her kinswoman, Elizabeth, tell her. She is Jesus’ true disciple who listens to the word of God, turns it over in her heart, and then gives it fresh expression. All of us should imitate her not only with words about what God has done for us, but also with deeds that bespeak God’s mercy.

Homilette for Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

(Judges 13:2-7.24-25a; Luke 1:5-25)

We feel for couples who want to have children but remain barren. Often they seem to be the most virtuous of people – she, gentle and caring; he, responsible and understanding. Raising offspring like themselves would not only fulfill the couple’s desire but would also give hope to their neighbors for a nobler society. Why, we ask, does God not grant them their continual prayer for a family?

Children, however, are not human property but belong to God. They are born to serve His design for a more just creation. In both readings today God grants the barren couples a son to further His purpose of preparing for the coming of Christ. Manoah and his wife will give birth to Samson who will defeat the enemies of the Israelites among whom Jesus will be born. Zechariah and Elizabeth will give birth to John who will announce that the Lord is at hand. Does God take pity on these pious couples because they pray to Him?

Yes, we can be sure of that. But we should not see their having children as necessarily the answer to their prayers. It is wiser to see Jesus as God’s response to all our prayers whether for children, a new job, or whatever. He is the gift which makes life worthwhile. He is our personal savior, who will yank us beyond death into eternal life. He is also the model of justice and prudence which may guide all peoples to peaceful earthly coexistence whether or not they recognize his divinity. Finally (and this is purely Christian hope), he is the omega point of the evolving universe who will bring the restless stars of the heavens together in harmony.

Homilette for Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-24)

Listening to the children of God’s poor, we may receive an entirely new concept of “Christmas gift.” Once, a missionary went to the highlands of Honduras to celebrate mass on the night after Christmas Day. Arriving early in the evening, he attended the meeting of the youth group. The group’s director asked the missionary to say something. He only inquired about the children’s Christmas gifts. But the children did not seem to understand. Rather than describe any toy or clothing they received, they only mentioned how they would be more obedient to their parents and more prayerful. Then the priest realized that he was the one who misunderstood. The children came from families too destitute to provide material gifts for them. “Christmas gifts” were what they all did for Jesus.

In the reading today from Jeremiah, the prophet provides us with a similarly new concept of the “promised land.” He foresees the descendants of Israel taking up residence on their rightful territory. Jesus fulfills this prophecy by giving us, the new Israelites because of our relationship with him, a share in the new “promised land.” To be sure, our destiny is not real estate in Israel. Rather, if we but observe his commandments, it is a place at the Lord’s table in heaven.

Homilette for Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Genesis 49:2.8-10; Matthew 1:1-17)

The tedium of reading Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of either Matthew or Luke causes some to reel. But it is worth a second look. The two lists differ in places so it is impossible that both are historically accurate. But each relates important truths that have become part of our faith tradition. We should see the genealogies like DNA codes that reveal something of Jesus’ innate makeup.

In Matthew’s genealogy the list highlights Jesus’ descent from David, the great king of Israel, and also from Abraham, to whom God made the promise of a blessing to all nations. Jesus, we may say, is the royal Messiah whom has God has sent to lead the human race.

The list also conveys a sense of the world’s readiness for salvation as it divides Jesus’ ancestors in three groups of fourteen generations. Matthew uses the convention of fourteen (two times seven) articles to indicate double fulfillment. As Jesus completes three sets of fourteen generations, we should see him as the conclusion of all history. He has delivered the world into a new age of grace, not the status quo of sin.

Finally, the series refers to five women – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah”, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. These remarkable people show how God works in unexpected and even, given the virgin birth, unheard of ways to accomplish His ends.

Homilette for Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

“A man had two sons.” So begins the reading today from the Gospel of Matthew. So also begins Jesus’ parable of the so-called prodigal son found in the Gospel according to Luke. The phrase may also refer to the story of Adam, Cain and Abel. Each of these tales tells of choices made by the sons whether or not to do the father’s will. (In the case of Cain and Abel, the father is God Himself.) One son makes a half-hearted decision to please his father which ultimately proves wanting. The other son, in the gospel stories at least, demurs at first but ultimately decides to subject himself to the father’s will.

The stories teach that all people must choose between paying lip-service to God and acting to please him. That is, everyone must decide to either follow his or her own preferences or to do God’s will. To be sure, the right choice requires the grace of the Holy Spirit, but the Church teaches that the Spirit comes to everyone.

It is appropriate that we reflect on the choice now as we make immediate preparations for Christmas. The gospels present Jesus as the one who manifests the definitive will of God. Do we accept his ways as presented to us by his body, the Church? Or do we only make a nod to him by calling ourselves Christians but, more deeply, live for self-satisfaction?

Homilette for Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

(Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

In today’s gospel the chief priests and elders ask Jesus by whose authority he performs his marvelous deeds. Although Jesus adroitly sidesteps the issue because of the malicious intent of the questions, it is one that should preoccupy us during Advent. How does Jesus accomplish such mighty works? In Jesus’ reply to the Jewish leaders, he refers to John’s preaching. We can find here a hint for our reflection on Jesus’ authority. But first it would be helpful to examine the reference to Balaam in the first reading.

Balaam was a holy man who lived in Palestine just before the Israelites occupied the territory. When Balak, the king of the Moabites, saw the oncoming Israeli hordes, he summoned Balaam to curse the intruders. His hope was that a holy man’s curse would provide him the margin of victory. Balaam, however, will not comply with the king wishes because he sees that God favors the Israelites. The rising star which he sees in the heavens represents the ascendency of Israel’s prominence in the land.

Just as Balaam recognizes the coming of Israel to dominate Palestine, John the Baptist sees one coming after him who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. He is not sure exactly who the coming one is. In fact, he may be disappointed to hear of the lack of righteous indignation with sin in Jesus’ message. The fire and Spirit, which John foretold, turn out to be Jesus’ life-giving actions of forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoral to wholeness. Unlike John, a prophet who speaks under God’s authority, Jesus proclaims the Kingdom with his own divine authority.

Homilette for Friday, December 12, 2008

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 2:14-17; Luke 1:39-48)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Elizabeth recognizes that the action in her womb as a response to the Lord whom Mary carries womb. She can do little but exclaim, “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” God has indeed blessed Mary by choosing her to bear His son, but this fact alone hardly makes her all that we believe her to be.

Later on in this same Gospel of Luke, a woman will call out to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” Jesus’ replies to this compliment with a correction. “Rather,” he says, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:27-28). Jesus is not slighting his mother a bit here because he knows better than anyone how Mary always responds graciously to God’s word. Her responsiveness is demonstrated when she hurries to Elizabeth’s side after the angel informs her that the latter is with child. The inspired Elizabeth recognizes this greater quality of Mary when she tells her, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

We can see find Mary acting on the word of God when she meets the indigenous Juan Diego. She orders the Indian to tell the Spanish bishop of Mexico City that he must build a church on the site where she stands. Native Mexicans at this time are a poor, defeated nation whose converted Christian members have to travel into the city for mass. By mandating a church where the people reside Mary demonstrates God’s care for the poor found on most pages of Scripture.

Homilette for Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

The venerable teacher had the peculiarity of calling his students “pinheads.” The adolescents under his tutelage, however, did not take offense. Indeed, they perked up at the appellation to pay greater attention to the lesson. So the people of Israel respond to Isaiah as he calls them “worm” and “maggot” in the first reading. The prophet’s message certainly merits attention. God will rescue them from their captivity. Their way home will not be torturous but pleasant. Rather than straining beneath the desert sun, they will walk blithely under the shade of trees and drink from wayside pools.

Early in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist hurls similar insults as the prophet Isaiah. “Brood of vipers” he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who seek him out in another desert. The people attend to his word because they recognize John as a true prophet. But for all its truth his message still falls short of the full revelation of the Kingdom of heaven because it lacks a dimension of God’s Fatherly love. This is why Jesus says that the least in the Kingdom – the tiniest one who comes to know the grace of the Kingdom -- is greater than the mighty Baptist.

Also a prophet, Jesus not only talks about God’s love but demonstrates it with powerful acts of mercy. Today we see similar preaching backed by deeds in the activities of many churches. One community of faith not only gives the poor an elegant weekly dinner but sponsors an annual concert featuring Handel’s “Messiah” so that the larger civic community might come together and be lifted up in the Lord’s name.

Homilette for Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

Muslims are fond of repeating the Arabic phrase, “Allahu akhbar,” throughout the day. It means “God is great” and expresses the content of the first reading from Isaiah. God is great, much greater than we are – either as individuals or as a collective. Indeed, He made us and knows all our thoughts and our every action. But he does not compete for prominence with us like an upstart athlete wanting to prove his mettle. Rather God assists us in transcending our limitations so that we might even share in His greatness.

Unfortunately, we still want to compete with God. The first woman was tempted in the garden to be “like the gods,” and many today have the same ambition. They want to determine for themselves the boundaries of righteousness. The results of such a pursuit are usually disastrous. People become stressed out and confused with restless hearts. In the gospel Jesus offers everyone a better way. He invites especially those who feel oppressed and overburdened to come to him. He will not free us from responsibility but trades his burden for ours. Where we struggle to legitimize our desire for fame, fortune, and fun; he offers his peace, hope, and love. Our own burden would prove intolerable in the long run and leads us nowhere; his leads us to what is truly good and is absolutely manageable.

Homilette for Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tuesday, II Week of Advent

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

The other day public radio advertised an upcoming interview with an evangelical pastor who has parted from the Church’s tradition. The pastor believes that God could not send anyone to hell because, he says, if God condemned one person for infidelity or lawlessness, then He would have to condemn billions and that would make him a mass murderer worse than Hitler. Believing God to be all-merciful, we have compelling reason to agree with the renegade pastor. However, we should first examine the Church’s teachings.

The readings today reveal God not as an executioner but, quite the contrary, as a savior. He tells the prophet to comfort His people Judah by informing them that their punishment has ended. By now they have learned that “all flesh is grass”; that is, that the opulent nations that Judah once emulated, have withered like the grass in winter. Judah can see the futility of following those nations and the need to return to God’s ways. Likewise in the gospel, Jesus pictures God as a worried shepherd seeking one lost sheep even though he has ninety-nine others to support his needs.

It would be blasphemy to characterize God as a mass murderer. We rightly see Him as one who seeks out the lost and comforts the bewildered. Because some seem to scorn His message, we cannot say for certain that they ever return to his fold. Still we can pray that every person turns to God in his or her heart and heeds His words of reform and comfort.

Homilette for Monday, December 8, 2008

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

Once in a while in newspapers, Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus is referred to as her “Luke 1:26-38.” Both events are mysteries of faith, but we must be careful not to confuse the two.

We believe that Mary, by virtue of a special grace anticipating her being the mother of Jesus, was immaculately conceived. This means that from her conception in her mother’s womb she suffered none of the effects of the sin committed by Adam and Eve. We remember that the first humans disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. Actually concupiscence – the desire to be like God – caused Adam and Eve to disobey. What to them was a radical decision, to their descendants has become an innate defect. Mary alone, except for Jesus, the “God-man,” was spared of this fate.

The gospel today demonstrates Mary’s innocent nature. Addressed by God’s messenger as “full of grace,” Mary has difficulty understanding that the angel is referring to her. And when told that she will conceive of the long-awaited Messiah, Mary expresses no desire for illicit sexual relations. We can say that Mary possesses neither pride nor lust, two of the graver manifestations of the sin inherited from Adam and Eve. Rather her disposition is one of submission to God’s authority. She responds, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

Of course, Mary gives birth to Jesus who eventually gives himself over to death so that humans might overcome their inclination to disobey God’s commands. We are not conceived, like Mary, with a completely innocent nature. But through Christ’s efforts, we can conquer pride, lust and other forms of sin.

Homilette for Friday, December 5, 2008

Friday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 29:17-24; Matthew 9:27-31)

In explaining why random evolution cannot account for the complexity of human life, intelligent design advocates often point to the eye. They say that such an intricate organ is not likely to come about by chance, no matter if it had a zillion years to develop. The eye’s sight is not only wonderful, it is also useful. For this reason the blind men in today’s gospel ask Jesus for mercy.

The two men lack physical sight, but they possess faith which is another way of seeing. The men may have heard that Jesus is in the line of David. But this is only a fact of heredity. More significantly, they believe that he is the son of David who will restore the glory of Israel. As Isaiah foretold, he is the one who will open the ears of the deaf, give sight to the blind, and bring release to prisoners. Jesus rewards their faith with a new kind of twenty-twenty vision; that is, they can now see as well with their eyes as they have all along with their souls.

This Advent those of us who see well enough with our eyes might ask Jesus for the enhanced vision which faith gives. We want to see him as the one to save us from all that threatens us. Also, we need faith so that we might never lose sight of everyone's dignity, no matter the person's disability or condition.

Homilette for Thursday, December 4, 2009

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 5:21.24-27)

The gospel today is taken from the ending of the famous “Sermon on the Mount.” The evangelist Matthew has portrayed Jesus as the supreme lawgiver surpassing even Moses. The new morality, which Jesus has just outlined, enables a people to shine with righteousness as brightly as a city at night.

Jesus’ moral teaching does not negate the Old Law, but it does point to its deficiency. Simply trying to conform to the ideals prescribed in the Pentateuch, the people will always fall short of the mark. They need internal support even more than external norms if they are to stand out as a righteous society. To supply what is lacking Jesus will infuse them with the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas calls the Holy Spirit, who is God, the chief component of Jesus’ New Law. We might compare this development to the building of modern skyscrapers. Previous ages knew multi-storied buildings but only with the use of a steel framework could the super-tall high rises that characterize constructions of the twentieth century be built.

Some of us may recoil at the words righteous and righteousness. We hear them as self-righteous which is not what Jesus has in mind. Once again, it is Jesus’ Spirit infused within that provides the difference. It tunes up our antennas to the world around us. Then it moves us to reject vice and to practice virtue. We can rest assured that our righteous efforts will meet with Jesus’ approval when he comes in glory.

Homilette for Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, priest

(Isaiah 25:6-10, Matthew 15:29-37)

During what the Church calls “Ordinary Time” weekday mass readings are not coordinated. In this long period she assigns a first reading and a gospel passage with different themes in order to give mass-goers maximum exposure to Scripture. During Advent, however, she selects a first reading from the Old Testament and a gospel to show how Jesus fulfills the anticipation of the people of Israel. Today, for example, the prophet Isaiah tells how God will prepare a banquet for all peoples in honor of lowly Israel who preserved faith in Him. In the gospel passage Jesus, a descendant of Israel, does just that. First, he assists those who are usually left out – the blind and the lame – as he addresses the masses. Then he feeds everyone large portions of bread and fish.
Because we can count on God to keep His promises, we ready ourselves for Christ’s return during Advent. But the preparations themselves convey special blessings. It is like the story Garrison Keillor tells of wintertime in rural Minnesota where he grew up. His school principal once matched children from the country with “snow parents” who would give them shelter in case a winter storm prevented their return home after school. Keillor remembers being assigned to a family whose house had a statue of the Blessed Virgin in its front yard. One afternoon when school was dismissed early and he was waiting for the school bus, he went to the house to meet the family. He introduced himself to the woman at the door simply as her “snow child.” The woman invited him in and told him to sit down while she called her husband. In the meantime, she brought him cookies and milk.

As Minnesotans in winter are sure to get heavy snowfalls, we can be sure of Christ’s eventual return in glory. Also, like Minnesotans preparing for snow, we ready ourselves for that climatic day during Advent. Finally, like the young Garrison Keillor, in our preparations we experience moments of grace.

Homilette for Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 11: 1-10, Luke 10:21-24)

The prison minister related the kind of story she hears over and over again. A small black man, who apparently just arrived in the city, was wrongly accused of purse-snatching. That the fellow was hardly aware of what was happening was so obvious that the arraigning judge released him on reconnaissance. The poor man was still left homeless and just about penniless.

Even if one believes that the legal system is both fair and functional, he or she should still realize that such misfortunes as what befell the black man in the story happen with some regularity. Especially those without money to pay professional fees are vulnerable to miscarriages of justice. There are also abuses at the other end of the spectrum. The rich sometimes “get away with murder” because they can afford clever attorneys who manipulate the system.

In the first reading today the prophet Isaiah announces that all injustices are coming to an end. A Messiah, he says, will be born to establish righteousness throughout the land. He will hear the cases of the poor along with the rich. He will prosecute villains and allow the innocent to walk with heads high. As a result, there will be a truly peaceful society with the equivalent of Asians and Africans, capitalists and communists, surgeons and street sweepers all taking care of one another. The message of Advent is that this vision has been realized in Jesus of Nazareth and will be universalized shortly when he returns in glory.

Homilette for Monday, December 1, 2008

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6, Psalm 122, Matthew 8:5-11)

During Advent we are to wait patiently and purposefully but also with anticipation for the coming of the Lord. Since most people busy themselves with commerce and revelry in December, we are challenged to appreciate the import of these adverbs.

We wait patiently by reflecting on the significance of Christ’s coming. We mean, of course, his return in glory at the end of time when he will show himself to be what we have claimed all along – the eternal Son of God who has redeemed humanity. When he comes, all nations will recognize him as “Lord” as the centurion does in the gospel passage today.

Of course, we want to be recognized as faithful subjects upon his arrival. Thus, we purposefully follow his commands daily. Isaiah envisions many coming for instruction in the Lord’s way. He says that they will learn to spend their resources on instruments that build up rather than tear down. Christians understand this vision realized in the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth. A third of the world now follows his message of mercy, not resistance; charity, not self-aggrandizement.

Waiting with anticipation seems to conflict with waiting patiently. After all, when we anticipate something, we want to see it now. Nevertheless, there is coherence between the two terms. Since we realize that Jesus will probably not yet return in full glory, we tune up our ears and enhance our sights to discern how to perceive his presence in the world today. It is like standing on tip-toes for a glimpse of the new president in parade. In this way we see Christ in the poor, in the generosity of others, and -- most of all – in the Eucharistic offering. This anticipation resembles the eagerness of the holy people to enter Jerusalem in the responsorial psalm.

Homilette for Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 20:1-4.11-21.2; Psalm 84; Luke 21:29-33)

Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation. For this reason the last book of the Bible, from which we take the first reading today, is alternately called the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation (no s please). Apocalyptic literature, however, of which the Apocalypse is the only full biblical example, has a meaning beyond revelatory. It refers to stories that relate a struggle between God and the powers of darkness causing the end of the world as it now exists and its replacement by the Kingdom of God. Today’s first reading gives an account of that struggle and the coming Kingdom characterized by “a new heaven” and “a new earth.”

Since the destiny of the present world is annihilation, some Christians have questioned the value of working for a better world. “Why should we take risks to create a better society when we know that this world is bound to crumble?” they ask and, “Is it not just vanity to assume that the Kingdom of God is our work?” The “Constitution on the Church in the Modern World” of the Second Vatican Council addresses these provocative issues. It declares that “the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one.” Its reasoning is that present institutions can exhibit some of the values and constructs of the future age. For sure, it warns that not all earthly progress foreshadows the Kingdom of God, and that we must be careful never to equate the two. But still, since Christ began the work of the Kingdom when he walked the earth, then we, his followers, have the responsibility of carrying on his efforts. In other words, we must do what we can to build up the Kingdom of God until he comes again to complete the work.

Homily for Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19)

Tony Snow was an American journalist who became President Bush’s press secretary. He died prematurely this past July leaving behind a legacy of hope, candor, and goodwill. Snow once wrote, “If you think Independence Day is America’s defining holiday, think again. Thanksgiving deserves that title, hands-down.” Snow meant, I think, that we Americans are not so independent or, as people say today, autonomous as we are conscious of God’s presence in our lives.

What specifically do we thank God for? Obviously the roots of Thanksgiving go back to a harvest festival recognizing God’s hand in the production of the fruits of the earth. We children of the Industrial Age and beyond, also thank God for the bounty that we have experienced in our lives – family and friends, education and opportunity, peace and prosperity. As Christians we have a further and deeper reason for giving God thanks. God has forgiven our sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has sent us the Holy Spirit so that we might live as daughters and sons of righteousness. In the Eucharist where we memorialize Christ’s paschal sacrifice we express our thanks for this new life of grace.

Some may object here that Christians do not act any more enlightened than other peoples. That is a hypothesis which needs to be tested. Certainly missionary efforts establishing hospitals and schools in pagan and non-Christian areas testify to Christian concern for others. In any case we might take note of what St. Paul is saying in today’s reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians. He thanks God for the Corinthians’ coming to faith even though further into the letter he will chastise them for different excesses and abuses. Paul recognizes that his Corinthians are indeed a community of renewed women and men, many of whom lead exemplary lives. The Church will always count some incorrigibles and backsliders in her midst; nevertheless, we know her, as well Paul knew the Christians in Corinth, to be a community of decent people striving to follow Christ’s lead. For being called to this people of faith we are also thankful.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 98; Luke 21:12-19)

Non sequitur” is a Latin expression that means a conclusion does not follow from the evidence given. Listening to Jesus in the gospel, we might think that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” is a non sequitur. From all that Jesus warns about the seizure and persecution of his followers, it sounds contradictory to predict that their coiffures will not be upset. But Jesus has something else in mind when he gives this assurance. He means that faithful Christians will receive an eternal reward life when they risk giving testimony to him in the world.

The passage helps us understand the crucial difference between optimism and hope. We may think that the two words carry more or less the same meaning, but this is not the case. Optimism is an attitude that expects every situation to turn out well. It overlooks the possibility of harm with a sunny disposition. Hope, in contrast, recognizes suffering as part of human reality but sees deliverance in the long run at least coming from the one in which the person hopes. Hope is not as self-reliant as optimism, nor is it so sure that relief is around the corner.

In facing trials – whether persecution for the faith, debilitating sickness, or other threats to well-being – Christians hope in Jesus. He promises to deliver us from harm when we stand by him. The surety of deliverance does not preclude the real possibility of suffering, but our confidence in Jesus is ratified by his resurrection from the tomb.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Psalm 96; Luke 21:5-11)

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” relates how the statue of an ancient Egyptian king was found in the middle of a desert. The statue’s shattered state betrayed the sign it bore naming the figure the “Ozymandias, King of Kings” and telling the on-looker to despair in awe. The poem reminds the reader that the greatest works of art as well as the greatest people are all time-bound. Their fame hardly lasts for centuries, much less for eternity.

In the gospel Jesus relates the same prophetic message. People gaze starry-eyed at the wonders of the Temple, but Jesus tells them not to be impressed. The Temple, he says, will fall as it indeed did barely a generation after his death. Jesus also warns his disciples not to follow unreservedly the great personages who may claim to be him or like him. These men and women will also pass away.

We Christians give our full allegiance to God alone. He is the source and goal of our lives. Yes, we try to make of the earth a decent place to live. But we should not become too comfortable and never complacent here. We seek a peaceful earth so that we might come to know and love God who promises us heaven as our true home.

Homilette for Monday, November 24, 2008

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Psalm 24; Luke 21:1-4)

A railroad company once put out a notice that it would be hiring. When many men came to apply, all were told to take a seat and the job recipient would be announced. After a while they heard a tapping noise at which one of the men arose to claim the job. When the others protested that the job recipient was not announced as promised, the employer said that it most certainly was. He explained that the tapping was Morse code announcing that the person able to decipher the message would be the one hired. Something similar takes place in the first reading from the Book of Revelation which speaks of a strange-sounding hymn.

The new hymn which only the one hundred and forty-four thousand elect can sing refers to the life of grace that most people choose not to follow. Adherents to this way of life follow the Lamb, who is Christ, wherever he goes, even to death. They are unblemished because they refuse to tell a lie or to succumb to other vices. They live for God alone.

Do we belong to the army of the elect? We need not worry that inscription is limited to one hundred and forty-four thousand people in all history. That figure is metaphorical standing for people of every race and land. But we must concern ourselves with striving for perfection. We are to refrain from sin and, at least as important, to do what is good. It is a lifestyle which resists the temptation to personal comfort that has become a kind of social addiction. Quite the contrary, the lifestyle of the elect goes out of its way to assist the needy.

Homilette for Friday, November 21, 2008

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 8:1-11; Psalm 119; Luke 19:45-48)

Today’s memorial pictures the day when Mary’s aged parents presented her to the Lord in Jewish Temple. There is no record of this event in any of the four canonical gospels although an apocryphal gospel, the “Protoevangelium of James,” does tell of it. Since this source appears relatively late in the Christian tradition, scholars doubt its accuracy.

The Church retains the feast on its calendar at least partly because it recalls the founding of a church dedicated to Mary near the Temple site. More to the point, Christians see Mary herself as the new Temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Bearing Jesus in her womb, she becomes the shrine of the holy.

By happy coincidence today’s gospel reading shows Jesus cleansing the Temple as recorded by the evangelist Luke. Of all the gospel writers Luke gives by far the most favorable impression of the Temple. His gospel begins there with the account of the angel’s revelation to Zachariah that his wife will give birth to a son. It also ends in the Temple where the disciples retreat to praise God after Jesus’ ascension. In Luke Jesus purifies the Temple area not because the Temple is corrupt but because of marketing excesses carried on there. Significantly, he returns to the Temple area to teach. We must never forget that Jesus was always a law-abiding Jew with high regard for the Temple. Now we can exalt the Temple all the more since it not only is a holy place where the Lord habituated; it is also an image for his most blessed mother.

Homilette for Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 5:1-10; Psalm 149; Luke 19:41-44)

At the Battle of the Alamo the garrison of Texan revolutionaries fought until death against the Mexican army. The soldiers did not intend, however, to sacrifice their lives when they began the fight but were counting on reinforcements to save them. Their commander, Colonel William Travis, had sent out a plea for help. If they could only hold out a little longer, the garrison must have thought, everything would be all right. The Book of Revelation was written in a similar frame of mind. Because Christians at the end of the first century were being persecuted, the author penned a story encouraging them to hold on until help arrives. The passage today shows the beginning of that relief effort.

To understand the Book of Revelation we must be aware that it is highly allegorical. It is written in code, as it were, with words and phrases having multiple meanings. Its first readers understood these meanings, but for the most part we must rely on experts to interpret them. For example, today’s passage speaks of “a scroll in the right hand of the one who sat upon the throne” to indicate that the world’s destiny is known by God alone and someone worthy must not only reveal that destiny to humans but also make it happen. The text names the Lamb as the indicated revealer and catalyst. Christians today as well as at the time of Revelation’s writing recognize the Lamb as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Knowing that Jesus is fighting on their side encouraged early Christians to contend with external persecution. It should move us today to resist the internal temptations of pride, greed, and lust. Some may not like to portray life as a battleground where humans are pitted against their passions, but it is a fitting image to describe the challenges we face daily. The author of the Book of Revelation would assure us that God sees our struggles to live righteously and has commissioned Christ to come to our aid.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 4:1-11; Psalm 150; Luke 19:11-28)

In his Confessions St. Augustine asks, “What then is time?” He says that he knows what it is if no one asks, but when he is prompted to explain it, a sufficient answer escapes him. In the gospel today, Jesus does not attempt to explain time. But he compares it to gold coins that a rich man lends to his servants to invest shrewdly. Like the coins, time is not really a gift, much less a luxury. Rather it is an article of trade that humans are to use for doing what is good.

In Jesus’ parable, one servant returns the coin that his master loans him without any profit. He has not squandered the money but has not taken advantage of it either. If the coin were time, we might imagine him getting up in the morning, going to work, eating dinner and watching television before going to bed – a cycle that is repeated thousands of times in a long life. The person has apparently done nothing wrong. But what we might find innocuous, God finds deplorable. God would condemn the man for leading a life as worthless as Monopoly scrip because he has not served God’s kingdom of righteousness and peace.

If the judgment sounds harsh, we should take note of the last line of the passage. Jesus is ascending to Jerusalem where he will lay down his life for our salvation. We must read this as more than preparing a place for us in eternity. It also means that he will release for us the Holy Spirit so that we might take advantage of the time lent us. With the Spirit’s lead, we will follow Jesus’ way of selfless love that restores sight to the blind and sets captives free. Such acts of mercy make life – the time we have – worth living.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Psalm 15; Luke 19:1-10)

The old Beatle George Harrison expresses the desire of Zacchaeus and of us as well when he sings, “Lord, I just want to see you.” Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a bird’s view of Jesus passing by. We will have to strain our imaginations to see Jesus for the gospels reveal little to nothing of ho Jesus looked or gestured.

But seeing Jesus with one’s eyes holds no great advantage. Most of those who saw Jesus did not choose to follow him. Indeed, the majority of the witnesses to his miracles turned their backs on his call to conversion. More important than seeing Jesus is having faith in him. As he says in John’s Gospel, “`Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’”

Surprising to many, Zacchaeus expresses such faith. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus is expected to swindle the poor, not to treat them with kindness. But he couldn’t be more generous as he promises to give the needy half of his possessions. The only recognizable motive for his doing so is his belief that since Jesus brings salvation, what better thing is there to do with one’s wealth than to share it with Jesus’ special friends.

Homilette for Monday, November 17, 2008

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(Revelation 1:1-4; 2:1-5; Psalm 1; Luke 18:35-43)

In a recent film, title role character Henry Poole cannot see the face of Christ on the side of his house. “You’re not looking,” protests a woman who believes the image is miraculously produced. Whether or not it is a miracle, the woman is correct in suggesting that faith is a particular way of seeing. Faith looks beyond appearances into the heart of reality. It discerns divinity in the Eucharistic bread, loving care supporting a people devastated by famine, and the eternal destiny of life succumbing to cancer. In the gospel today, the faith of the blind beggar recognizes Jesus as Israel’s long-awaited savior even without the faculty of sight.

Determination characterizes the blind man’s faith as well as conviction. When the people rebuke him – perhaps because they hear his salutation “Son of David” as blasphemy -- he yells all the louder. Because of his clamorous insistence, Jesus responds favorably to the beggar’s request for physical sight.

Finally, the man’s faith propels him to follow Jesus and to praise God. That is, he no longer sits alone but becomes part of the Christian community. Here he will meet like-minded people who have been similarly touched by Jesus’ gracious presence. Together they will comfort one another, call others to their company, and create a better world until Jesus returns in glory.

Homilette for Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(II John 4-9; Psalm 119; Luke 17:26-37)

One form of dualism sees all material things as evil and all spiritual entities as good. It is said that candidates for dualist sects of this sort often waited until death was imminent before committing themselves completely because they did not want to give up the pleasure of the material world! Christianity is not dualistic, but Christians have always wanted to know when the world will end so that they might prepare themselves to meet the Lord. In the gospel today Jesus’ disciples show interest in the time of his return so that they also might alter their lives appropriately.

However, Jesus does not know the time of his return. He only can say that people will not be expecting his coming when he in fact arrives. Unfortunately, he soberly tells his disciples, most of the people will likely be pursuing their passions at that time. Still the situation is not hopeless. Jesus assures his disciples (who include us, of course) that if those who sincerely seek God’s kingdom will be saved. On the other hand, those who try to build kingdoms for themselves will be lost.

Homilette for thursday, November 13, 2008

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin

(Philemon 7-20, Psalm 146, Luke 17:20-25)

The Letter to Philemon differs from all other Pauline letters in the New Testament in several ways. It is the shortest of the letters – so short that the monastic editor centuries ago did not choose to divide it into chapters. Also, it is Paul’s only canonical letter intended for an individual (although its salutation includes a number of people). Finally, the letter involves one specific issue – the acceptance of the slave Onesimus back into Philemon’s household. Despite its brevity and specificity, we are wise to consider this letter well. One author has written a very successful book calling “Philemon’s problem,” “the problem of any believer.”

Onesimus was a runaway slave who Paul instructed in the Christian faith. Now Paul is sending him back to his master with the appeal that he be accepted as a brother. Paul is at least suggesting that that Philemon not punish Onesimus for his abandonment. He is also hinting that Philemon set Onesimus free. Of course, even the first request might create trouble for Philemon. Slaves’ misconduct was expected to be punished to deter further transgression of rules. If Philemon were to free Philemon, the other slaves would like beat the same path to Paul’s door so that they too might enjoy liberty.

Gratefully, the institution of slavery does not exist today as it did in Paul’s time and in most of the world until quite recently. But still Christians are plagued by the dilemma of what to do when contemporary norms conflict with our religious beliefs. Should we fight in a war that our government starts with a preemptive strike? Should we vote for a political candidate with many excellent credentials but who legitimizes abortion? Should we shop at stores whose practices reduce employee health care benefits? Scripture provides us no easy answers to these questions just as Paul gives Philemon no clear directive. We should, however, grapple conscientiously with the dilemmas searching for the right thing to do, again just as Paul expects Philemon to consider Onesimus a brother.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Memorial of Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr

(Titus 3:1-7; Psalm 23; Luke 17:11-19)

Why is Jesus annoyed with the nine men who do not return to give him thanks? Is he not aware that their first reaction after being completely marginalized by leprosy would be jubilation, not thanksgiving? Perhaps he is personally offended that all ten former lepers do not acknowledge his healing authority? Or is there another explanation, more characteristic of Jesus?

The Fourth Preface for Weekdays provides an intriguing answer to these questions. The preface is the prayer of thanksgiving that the priest makes on behalf of the people at Mass just before the consecration of the bread and wine. The Fourth Preface uses these words: “Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.”

In the gospel Jesus is not upset because he feels slighted by the nine lepers who do not return. Rather he is sorry that they do not take advantage of the grace that God extends by our giving thanks. Jesus reveals God’s inestimable gift when he tells the grateful leper, “...your faith has saved you.” As terrible a curse as leprosy is, it cannot compare to the oblivion of eternal damnation. The tenth leper has found his way to everlasting life, the greatest of God’s benefices. The other nine may now have an easier path to walk on earth, but they still have to work out their salvation.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(Titus 2:1-8.11-14; Psalm 37; Luke 17:7-10)

Gene Sharp is America’s foremost theorist of non-violent conflict resolution. In a lecture given many years ago, he stated that army generals were among his most attentive listeners. Knowing that the assertion sounded odd, Sharp explained. He said that true military leaders do not want their soldiers’ lives wasted in unnecessary violence. As we celebrate today a former soldier, St. Martin of Tours, and the traditional Veterans Day we can explore more deeply the responsibilities of military leaders to limit the use of force.

Born of pagan parents, St. Martin of Tours spans most of the fourth century. As a young man, he served in the Roman military, but when he became a Christian he sought release from military duty. He said at the time, “I am (now) a soldier of Christ; I cannot fight.” As a Christian, St. Martin founded perhaps the first monastery in the Western Christendom and became a popular bishop for the people of Tours. To this day, he is generally pictured as the merciful soldier who uses his sword to divide his cloak so that it might be shared with a beggar.

In the first reading today from the Letter to Titus old men are reminded to be temperate while young men are encouraged to control themselves. These admonitions are meant for all, but they have particular import for military personnel who have such awesome firepower at hand. At least since St. Augustine, the Church has taught that there still is a time for war. But with the advent of nuclear weapons, she has insisted with increasing urgency on the need of reconciling conflict peacefully. Seasoned officers must not recklessly risk their own soldiers nor must they seek the annihilation of the enemy in pursuit of victory. Likewise, young soldiers must remember the sanctity of human life and not inflict more injury than necessary to achieve a valid military objective.

Homilette for Monday, November 10, 2008

Memorial of St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Titus 1:1-9; Psalm 24; Luke 17:1-6)

Jesus is not only addressing his apostles in the gospel passage today. His words are meant for all people charged with the care of others. Parents, teachers, supervisors, government servants, military officers should take notice.

Jesus warns those in leadership that they must never give scandal since the penalty for this offense might drown even a Navy frogman. The apostles, who will become heads of local churches, anticipate the grave responsibility of their selection and ask Jesus for an increase of faith. They sound like teachers seeking a raise because they are entrusted with the care of children. Teachers may deserve an increase that exceeds the rise in the cost of living, but Jesus assures the Twelve that they have enough faith. Even if it appears small, he tells them, their faith can produce an orchard of fruit!

We share some of the apostles’ anxiety. We feel that our faith is insufficient to meet our responsibilities when God does not immediately answer our prayers. The saga of St. Leo the Great whose memorial we celebrate today should give us hope. St. Leo was pope when Attila the Hun, who had plundered northern Italy, headed for Rome. When the two met face-to-face, Pope Leo was able to convince the barbarian not to attack Rome but to settle for tribute. St. Leo the Great demonstrates how to meet challenges with equanimity, praying to God for prudence to make the right decision and for His continuing assistance that all may turn out well.

Homilette for Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 16:1-8)

Social activists have a saying about money. They claim, “Money is like fertilizer; it needs to be spread around before it does much good.” In the gospel today Jesus expresses his assent to the statement. He tells us to dispense our treasure to assist the poor so that we might earn a place in heaven.

The parable which Jesus employs in the passage has furrowed Christian eyebrows throughout the ages. Many wonder whether Jesus is approving of fraud when he has the rich man speak admiringly of the steward for looking out singularly for his own welfare. However, the accolade is only similar to that a theft victim may utter who stands in awe of a thief for picking his pocket without him feeling a thing. The rich man is only impressed by the capacity of the steward to provide for his future with few resources. He does not call the action righteous.

The key to the passage is to understand what it means to be “children of the light.” Christ has opened our eyes so that we see the poor as our brothers and sisters providing us opportunity to demonstrate our love. Surely our discipleship of Christ involves more than prayer and fellowship. It requires service which we render by working for a just society.

Homilette for Thursday, November 6, 2008

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 3:3-8a)

Circumcision being what it is, we might be shocked by Paul calling the Christian community “the circumcision.” Very likely Paul uses the term for affect, that is, to rouse his readers’ attention to what he is saying. But, like the instance in the second letter to the Corinthians when he calls Christ “sin,” a deeper truth is conveyed by his choice of words.

The prophets saw that circumcision of the male sexual organ as a sign of covenant with the Lord was not enough to assure the people’s virtue. Jeremiah recognized that circumcision of the heart, the proverbial seat of inner motivation, was necessary if the person was to live righteously. Today with cardiac surgery facilitating the proper functioning of the heart, we can more easily understand what Jeremiah meant. As human hearts can physically clog with fats, they can spiritually clog with desires for pleasure, power, and prestige.

The grace of Christ has altered the Christian heart so that it functions efficaciously. With Baptism love floods our hearts so that egotism is removed and love for God and neighbor takes hold. In communion with the faithful of every land we become the people that God intended when He called for circumcision. We become His people who do what is right because it is right even to the point of sacrificing ourselves to do the right.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 14:25-33)

Gospel commentators call Jesus’ shocking statement that his followers are to hate their families a “Semiticism.” This means that it was a way of expressing oneself in the Semitic language that Jesus spoke. Evidently his native Aramaic did not use comparatives. For Jesus to indicate that his disciples have to love him more than their families, he has to say that they must love him and hate their families. Of course, he does not mean that they are to scorn their loved ones. After all, how could Jesus, who taught the primacy of love of God and neighbor, mean that we are to literally hate those who are closest to us?

But some of us may have difficulty with the idea of even loving Jesus more than our families and close friends. “How can he expect that of us?” we might ask. To answer the question we should make a distinction. To love Jesus above all is not to say that we always feel greater affection for him than for other loved ones. Although we are to love him with all our heart, this does not crowd out affection for others. Rather it means that we set our hearts on doing his will first and foremost. Out of admiration of his goodness and gratitude for his sacrifice, we give him our primary allegiance.

The result of such a relationship with Jesus enables us to love others not less but more. To alter Shakespeare’s Othello’s famous line, we can love family and friends both wisely and well. Allegiance to Jesus means doing what is truly good for all. We will not confuse indulgence with care and submit to the whims of children. We will not accept the prejudices that pervaded our parents’ home but treat all people with respect. We will not allow communication with our spouses to shrivel when we become aware that they think differently but always make an effort to convey our deepest feelings.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Luke 14:15-24)

There is a story about an African-American who meets God outside of a church. He apologizes to the Lord saying that he wants to enter the church but the people inside won’t let him in. God responds that He too has been trying to get inside that church for years but the people won’t let Him in either.

The story represents a valid way of reading today’s gospel parable. At one time, not that long ago, most American churches were segregated. African-Americans were either prohibited from entering a white congregation or forced to sit apart. This might not have been the pastor’s wish, but it was, in many places, a de facto practice. Jesus, of course, would never accept such an arrangement. We can rightly hear him comparing the segregationists to those who are invited to the great Eucharistic banquet at the end of time but who refuse to attend. Blacks and the poor will then take their places in heaven.

Today, however, we can interpret the parable in a different light. As everyone knows, attendance in Catholic Churches has decreased somewhat over the last forty years. Those who no longer attend give excuses that sound similar to the ones we hear in the parable – they are too busy; they are working; they are expecting company. Others though have replaced them so that Catholic masses are still relatively full on Sundays. These are the people who will also occupy places at the Eucharistic banquet in heaven. The newcomers are largely immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Homilette for Monday, November 3, 2008

Memorial of St. Martin de Porres, religious

(Philippians 2:1-4)

“Blessed are the meek,” Jesus’ third beatitude on the mount tells us, “for they shall inherit the earth.” The claim sounds so preposterous that one commentator declares that the land Jesus has in mind is the “new earth,” the kingdom of heaven. No doubt, the commentator is correct. The meek gain God’s kingdom, but at times it seems that they also capture high regard on this earth, corrupted as it is.

Certainly St. Martin de Porres exemplifies a person of humility ascending to renown. He belonged to the Dominican Order which has achieved recognition for scholarship. Yet St. Martin did not leave behind any notable writings but only a legacy of charity. He thought of himself as a poor sinner who needed to perform constant acts of penance. As well as any saint in history, perhaps, Martin lived what St. Paul writes about in today’s first reading: “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves...” Interestingly, St. Martin has become the most popular Dominican saint, surpassing in notoriety his holy patron, Dominic Guzman, and his illustrious confrere, Thomas Aquinas.

Most of us cannot hope to duplicate Martin de Porres’ humility, but this doesn’t mean that we should not try to imitate it. We must never fool ourselves with the rationalization that humility, as the proper evaluation of one’s own worth, makes one recognize himself or herself as superior to the common lot. Such fatuous logic will only lead one down a road of perdition. Our aim should not be subservience to others but rather, in line with St. Martin, Christ’s sense of submission to God. As Paul will go on to write, Christ became obedient to God to the extent of suffering death on a cross.

Homilette for Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 1:1-11)

Paul’s opening sentence in the Letter to the Philippians has given pause for reflection. He addresses the letter to “all the holy ones in Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” We wonder, “Is it not odd that there would be bishops in a church as small as the one in Philippi? And what might these deacons do?” The situation provokes further interest because in his Letter to the Romans, Paul describes Phoebe, a woman, as having the same diaconal function. Are some of the deacons in Philippi then women?

It is possible that Paul has women in mind when he writes. However, this does not mean that women were ordained deacons in the early church as we ordain men to the permanent diaconate today. When Paul writes “deacon,” he may intend what we think of as a minister. Almost certainly he is not addressing multiple bishops as we consider the term but rather people with responsibility for overseeing the welfare of the community. Paul is writing before the time when both bishop and deacon had the theological meaning that they carry today.

The Church has never definitively ruled out ordaining women to the diaconate. The matter demands further study of Scripture passages like the one we read today. However, even if making women deacons never happens, women still perform valuable ministry. In a short story titled “The Deacon” Mary Gordon describes a woman religious performing all kinds of services in a busy, urban parish. The tale reflects the experience that we see all the time. The Church simply could not function without the ministry of women.

Homilette for Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13:31-35)

A frustrated Illinois state official named James Shields once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln had criticized Shields in a local newspaper, and the latter felt he had to defend his honor. Having the right to choose the dueling weapons, Lincoln called for cavalry swords thinking he might intimidate his diminutive opponent before the duel began. Besides, Lincoln knew that there was less possibility of either being killed with sabers than with pistols. The strategy worked. When Shields realized that he had little chance of prevailing over the six foot four inch Lincoln, he accepted the future president’s explanation that the criticism was never meant to defame the state official’s character.

In today’s gospel Jesus is challenged to a duel of sorts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. No doubt Herod resents Jesus because he, like John the Baptist, preaches repentance and reform. We can easily imagine that Jesus would like to confront Herod. John was Jesus’ kinsman and probable mentor whom Herod has murdered with impunity. Evidently Jesus does not fear Herod since he mentions that he will accomplish his purpose. But, unlike Lincoln, he does not allow himself to be embroiled in a duel. His rule is always to do his Father’s will and not his own. Jesus knows that God is leading him away from Herod’s territory to Jerusalem where he will give his life for the world’s salvation.

Abraham Lincoln shows us how to use our wits to save face and perhaps life when challenged. But Jesus gives a more valuable lesson. He exemplifies subservience to God’s will as we face life’s challenges. No matter how great our desire to react, no matter how much of our ego or self-image is on line, we must follow the Lord’s, not our own, will. More than that even, Jesus’ action in this passage points to God’s love for us. He leads His son into the hands of his worse enemies so that we might inherit eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13: 22-30)

Pupils in Catholic schools used to ask many questions of religion teachers to both satisfy curiosity and to waste time. A typical question was, “Sister, if you were killed walking to church for confession, would you go to hell?” The sisters, who knew how to play the game as well, often answered, “What do you think?” In the gospel today we meet Jesus responding as nimbly as the sisters to a tough question.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone in the crowd asks Jesus. Perhaps the Pharisees trained the questioner to think that most people are lazy, no-good hell-bounds. People today, aware of God’s mercy, are more inclined to ask a question to the opposite effect, “Doesn’t God save everyone?” Although we may try to practice the faith, all of us have loved ones who ignore the commandments. “God surely cannot just condemn them to hell, can He?” we wonder.

Jesus adroitly sidesteps the issue. Whom the Father will save or damn is up to Him to decide. Yet Jesus seizes the opportunity to create a proverb. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” he advises. He means that we must discipline ourselves to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. There is scant place among his followers for slouches who say, “A peek at pornography or a little lie won’t hurt anyone.” Nor are we truly Christian if we ignore those in need.

Some of us may think that perfect attendance at Sunday mass might win us salvation. Not so, Jesus makes clear when he says, “And you will say, `We ate and drank in your company...’ Then he will say to you, `...Depart from me, all your evil doers!’” No, Jesus expects mass to serve as a kind of launching pad where we receive fuel and direction for a life of virtue.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

(Luke 6:12-16)

The list of apostles that we read in the gospel passage today is one of four in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark and Luke each has a list as does the Acts of the Apostles which was also written by St. Luke. Each of the lists have three groups of four apostles starting with the most illustrious – St. Peter and ending with the most ignoble, Judas Iscariot. Mentioned with Peter in the first group are always James, John and Andrew. These apostles play prominent roles in the gospels. In the second foursome are lesser known, but not obscure apostles. They include Thomas, Philip, and Bartholomew. The last foursome contains the least known apostles except for Judas Iscariot, who was not so much famous as infamous.

St. Simon and St. Jude, whom we honor today, are among these least known apostles. In the lists of Matthew and Mark Jude does not even appear but is replaced by Thaddeus. Through the ages some people have thought that they must have been the same person with either two names or a first and last name – Jude Thaddeus. But it is more likely that Jude and Thaddeus were different men who were remembered by the different informers of Mark and Luke. (Matthew seems to have more or less copied Mark’s list). All this is to say that Jude does not figure prominently among the apostles. True, in the Gospel according to John, a disciple named Jude asks Jesus a question at the Last Supper, but that’s it! The apostle Jude’s name appears in the two lists recorded by Luke and as the one-time questioner in John.

Although he is virtually unknown in the gospels, St. Jude probably has the greatest following of all the apostles today. “Why?” we may wonder. The reason is not difficult to comprehend. Many people sense that they are of little significance and look to Jude the apostle, whose name is not given much significance, as their link to Jesus. It is he, the Lord, who gives us all the significance that is worth having – the grace of God or, in other words, eternal life.

Homilette for Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 13:10-17)

The way we talk about each of the four evangelists may make some think that we know well who they were. However, we actually have little hard evidence about any gospel writer. None of them puts his (or, who really knows, her) name on the work. We depend on secondary sources writing decades later to identify these writers. The author of the third gospel is no exception. Although this gospel begins with a personal anecdote, only second century witnesses tell us that he is Luke, whom the Letter to the Colossians calls the “beloved physician.”

It is interesting to note that Luke can be critical of physicians but is harder on lawyers. Earlier in the gospel Luke tells of another woman with a debilitating hemorrhage whom Jesus heals. Unlike Mark writing of the same incident, Luke does not mention (at least as recorded in some ancient manuscripts) that the woman spent a small fortune on doctors. More significantly, Luke presents Jesus as the original “beloved physician” of body and soul. In the passage today Jesus gently removes the burden that has had a woman bent over for eighteen years. Not gently, but equally remarkably, he opens the eyes of the synagogue official, a lawyer of sorts quoting the law. Jesus explains to him the fact that his interpretation of the Law is punitive not life-giving.

Homilette for Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:54-59)

Everyone has heard of climate change. For the last thirty years the average temperatures around the world have increased significantly. Meteorologists have linked these increases to fiercer tropical storms and longer draughts. The temperature increases certainly have brought about the melting of the polar ice caps altering the habitats and habits of arctic animals and arctic humans.

What would Jesus say about climate change if he were here in flesh and blood? He perhaps would comment as he does in the gospel reading today. He would observe how we are proficient observers of the weather but blind to our faults. He would urge us to consider seriously our sins and to change our ways. He would warn us that if we refuse to seek God’s forgiveness now, it will soon be too late.

When Jesus mentions the case of an opponent turning a person over to a magistrate, he means that unless we make amends with God now, God will turn us over to Jesus who is to judge the world at the end of time. By all means, Jesus will be a fair, even a merciful judge. However, unless we change directions now, we are likely to become so puffed up by self-righteousness that we will not think to ask Jesus for clemency.

Homilette for Thursday, October 23, 2007

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:49-53)

The specter of nuclear holocaust may induce some to think that Jesus’ words in the gospel today are soon to be fulfilled. But, of course, annihilation is not what Jesus has in mind when he says that he comes “to set the earth on fire.” Likewise, Jesus should not be taken literally when he denies the mission of bringing peace to the world. Jesus remains the Prince of Peace whom Zachariah prophesied as guiding the people into “the path of peace.”

The fire that Jesus kindles is actually the desire in our hearts to be morally good. Touched by his Spirit, we are no longer content with sexual gratification, monetary reward, and the obeisance of others. Instead, we seek to be like God Himself who bends down to lift up the lowly. The division that Jesus foretells is not so much the fractioning of households into those who are for and against him but the struggle that goes on with ourselves to do what is right.

Taking up the campaign to be good like God, we begin to see how Jesus really does bring peace. Passionate desire for another gives way to harmonious co-existence with him or her. Seeking virtue becomes our objective at every turn. We can even extend an olive branch to family members who alienate themselves from us in our pursuit of righteousness. We come to recognize the fire that Jesus has set in the world is actually a flame of love purifying us so that we might enjoy eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:39-48)

St. Augustine used to tell his people that being a bishop frightened him. The fear flowed from the responsibility he had to guide his diocese. He knew that God would judge him harshly if he failed to discharge his duties or if he used the episcopacy for his own gain. It goes without saying that Augustine took note of the gospel passage we read today.

In the passage today Jesus warns his apostles that they are susceptible to a stricter judgment than others. Because he has taught them himself, they can have no excuse for abusing their authority. The bishops today are the successors of those apostles with the same responsibility of guiding the Church. Priests do not share the fullness of the apostolic mandate, but they are likewise well tutored in the gospels. Both bishops and priests can expect stiff punishment if they fail to give judicious pastoral care.

Sometimes in hearing the Eucharistic Prayer we may wonder why the clergy are given special mention. Cynics might say that the reason lies in the fact that bishops and priests composed the prayers that they read. If this were the case, the clergy would be pitifully betraying the gospel they preach. No, surely it is charity that moves us to pray for bishops, priests, and deacons. They bear grave responsibility which they may fail to handle well leaving everyone in jeopardy.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:12-22)

It is said that Jesus enjoyed eating and drinking so much that he chose to spend his last hours with his disciples doing just that. We must not trivialize the meaning of the Last Supper by talking of it as a “going-away party” among friends. It was that and much more. Jesus used it as the occasion to symbolize all that he did in the world. He transformed a meal – in this case the traditional Passover Supper – into the way he would be remembered forever. The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians today summarizes what that meal, which we know as the first Eucharist, means.

The Letter calls Jesus “our peace ... who broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh.” Jesus becomes our peace at the Eucharist not primarily because we begin mass with the penitential rite, but because in the mass we re-member or reconstitute Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. He gives his flesh and blood to reconcile us to God and to one another. It is the latter peace that the Letter to the Ephesians underscores here, but it is only through reconciliation with God that our reconciliation with one another can take place. As the Second Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation puts it: “You gave him up to death so that we might turn again to you and find our way to one another.”

Homilette for Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 12:13-21)

Go into the houses of most people today, and you are likely to see a lot of stuff. We live in an age of mass production when manufactured goods multiply like leaves on a maple tree. The gospel today serves as a warning about over-concern with material wealth, with stuff. It proposes, instead, that we should store up treasure in heaven.

The farmer in Jesus’ story is an insufferable egotist. As one commentator puts it, “He talks to himself; he plans for himself; he congratulates himself.” But is he really so different from many of us? Too often people think only of themselves. They even plan and nurture children to fit their narcissistic designs. The barns which the farmer builds to store grain for the future serve the same purposes as savings portfolios today. The portfolios do not necessarily make people bad; they make them rich. When pursued single-mindedly, they also will prove to be self-defeating. As Jesus would say, the portfolios make them fools.

Of course, Jesus would not condemn prudent people with retirement plans and savings for emergencies. But he would condemn non-attention to those without resources to meet critical human needs. Before we spend all that we have on more stuff or invest all non-spent income for tomorrow, we must assist those who are struggling to live with decency. Ironically, this kind of concern proves to be the best plan for the future. Jesus makes clear throughout the gospel that sharing with the poor deposits a treasure where it counts most.

Homilette for Friday, October 17, 2008

(I have begun publishing these reflections on mass readings by 12 noon on the day prior to that on which the passages are read at mass. If, however, many prefer that I publish them earlier, I can return to doing it two days before. If the day of publication is a concern to you, please contact me at cmeleop@yahoo.com.)

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Luke 12:1-7)

On his visit to the United States earlier this year, Pope Benedict warned American bishops about privacy in religion. He said, “To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair it loses its very soul.” The pope only echoed what Jesus tells us in the gospel today. We are to be especially wary of hypocrisy; that is, our public and private lives need to correspond with each other.

Pope Benedict’s remarks on privacy probably had much to do with some Catholic public officials’ refusal to work for outlawing abortion. The officials claim that such an endeavor would be imposing their private beliefs on the general public. One commentator traces the source of this thinking to John Kennedy’s campaign for President in 1960. The candidate told the ministerial association of Houston that a President’s religion should be a private affair.

There are senses in which a public servant’s religion may remain private. Most American Catholics would grimace if they saw a Catholic President wearing a rosary around her or his neck. Likewise, very few would want any public servant showing exclusive favor to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, we do not want our Catholic officials to shy away from being seen attending Sunday mass. We are even more concerned that they follow their faith-formed consciences regarding public morality.

Homilette for Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 1:1-10)

For a long time the Western Hemisphere dated historical events in reference to the birth of Jesus. Occurrences that took place before his birth were dated as so many years “B.C.” or before Christ. For example, Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Occurrences after Christ’s birth were designated as so many years “A.D.” or Anno Domini, that is, in the year of the Lord. The system of dating follows the assertion made in today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians. The passage states that in the fullness of times God summed up all things in Christ. He, then, is the center of history.

In deference to people of other faiths many scholars today prefer to use “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” signifying before the common era and in the common era. This may sound traitorous to Christian ears believing what we do about Jesus’ divinity. But the new designation no doubt promotes harmony with non-Christians and shows Christian goodwill.

Nevertheless, in Church documents and among the Christian community “B.C.” and A.D.” should give us pause to marvel at what God has accomplished in Christ. As the Letter to the Ephesians reads, God has overcome human depravity with His grace. We no longer are slaves to our passions but children of God doing every kind of good work. Being aware of this enormous benefit is not the same as accepting it. But how could anyone with an inkling of what it all means not want it for herself or himself?

Homilette for Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Avila, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Luke 11:42-46)

In the gospels Jesus seems to have a running battle with Pharisees. But we should not think that Pharisees are necessarily his enemies. As he has done before and will do again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus in today’s passage is dining at the home of a Pharisee. Obviously, Jesus has some differences of outlook, but he also holds much in common with Pharisees. We may profitably suppose that some of the harsh criticism in the gospels is not so much Jesus’ for the Pharisees of his time but the evangelists’ for Pharisee-like Christians a generation later.

Catholics today, perhaps like some Pharisees of Jesus’ time and Christians of the first century, sometimes pay too much attention to details and too little to the gospel message. Some go to church checking to see if the flowers by the altar are freshly cut or artificial. (In order to prevent cheap imitations Church rubrics have called for fresh flowers by the altar.) Others might gossip about the profanities used by their pastor without realizing that they might be committing a graver sin of detraction.

In today’s gospel Jesus compares the nit-picking Pharisees to “unseen graves.” He means to say that they are already dead because they do not accept the love of God which brings life. St. Teresa of Avila, less somberly but with the same impatience, once prayed, “God save us from sad-faced saints.” Both she and Jesus realize that righteous living is not so much frowning on other people’s sins as turning to God in thanksgiving for our blessings and praying for those in special need of help.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:1-6)

Two words in the first reading today beg clarification. First, Paul tells the Galatians (and us) that Christ has set them free. He means that Christ has freed humans from the onus of the Law as a way to please God. The Law never worked very well in the first place like kerosene lamps for reading. But Paul does not mean that humans can do whatever they wish now that the Jewish Law has been abolished. Rather, he says, it is for freedom that Christ has freed them. Here freedom refers to the life of the Spirit residing within. Without the Spirit freed people are no better off than the illiterates in a library. With the Holy Spirit they live exemplary lives that bring joy to neighbors and truly please God.

The second word that needs pondering is faith. Martin Luther stressed the idea that faith alone brings salvation. But did he mean an abstract faith which gives only verbal assent to the truth of Christ’s resurrection? That is not what Paul concludes as he extols “faith working through love.” Without love faith withers like flowers cut off from their water source. Indeed, love in a sense is the object of our faith. We are not speaking of human love here, but the divine kind which has rescued humans from the darkness of absolute zero for no benefit to itself.

Homilette for Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Luke 11:29-32)

A story is told about a rabbi who walks through the woods and is accosted by a robber. “Give me the most precious thing you carry,” the thug demands. The rabbi thinks for a moment, then reaches into his bag and pulls out a huge diamond as big as a grapefruit. The robber takes the diamond and flees. Later the same day, however, he returns to the rabbi. He now orders the rabbi, “You better hand over to me the treasure that you have that made giving up the diamond so easy.”

Just as there is no satisfying the robber, there is no pacifying the people in the gospel passage who demand a sign from Jesus. Any further cure or exorcism that he performs would only create the desire to see additional works of wonder. There will never be enough evidence for them to believe that he comes from God because that takes a humble act of faith. That is, they will have to repent of all false desire and begin living God’s justice.

How about us? If you are like me, we both think that we are living pretty good lives. We might give ourselves a “B+” or an “A-” for conduct. But we know that we would do better if we felt absolutely certain that God is in our midst. We too must consider that the Queen of the South and the people of Nineveh may condemn us as well those gathered to hear Jesus in the gospel. After all, God comes to us in word and sacrament in this very Eucharist, and still we only make a ninety percent effort.