Homilette for February 1, 2008

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 4:26-34)

In “Jacobellis vs. Ohio,” 1964, the Supreme Court wrestled with the contentious issue of state censorship of pornographic material. Some justices thought that the state has no business trying to regulate what adults can see. Others thought that a state has a legitimate interest in restricting pornography. Justice Potter Stewart rendered his opinion which would permit all forms of obscenity except “hard-core pornography.” Commenting on what he meant by the latter, Justice Stewart wrote that he could not define the term. “But,” he said, “I know it when I see it.”

Although it has a diametrically opposite character, many of us have a similar difficulty explaining the Kingdom of God as Justice Stewart had defining pornography. Like him we might resign ourselves to say, “I know it when I see it.” In the gospel parables today Jesus provides us with some signs to look for. He says that the Kingdom starts as a seed planted by a sower whom, from a previous parable, we know to be a preacher of the word of God. Then, Jesus continues, the Kingdom grows slowly like a plant, produces good fruit, and becomes a great source of comfort for many.

We find examples of the Kingdom of God in the many movements within the Church like Marriage Encounter and Teens Encounter Christ. We might locate the Kingdom developing in our own lives as we slowly mature to give greater glory to God. Multiplied by millions of individuals, the Kingdom becomes a global reality exhibiting peace, justice, and compassion.

Homilette for January 31, 2008

Tuesday, Memorial of St. John Bosco, priest

(II Samuel 7:18-19; 24-29)

Michael Sandel is a leading Harvard ethicist. Recently he has published a book with the curious title The Case against Perfection. By “perfection” Mr. Sandel does not mean the human attempt to be virtuous. Rather, he has in mind the idolatrous quest by parents to manipulate their child’s genetic makeup so that he or she would have apparently perfect attributes. That is, Sandel argues against the ever increasing possibility that parents may have their child’s genes bioengineered so that he or she is born with “perfect” intelligence, beauty, emotions, and the like.

Sandel uses the idea of theologian William F. May to make his case. He says that parenting must retain an “openness to the unbidden.” This means that parents must not try to control everything about their offspring. They are wise to leave genetic makeup and, as the children grow older, some aspects of their development in the hands of God or nature. Of course, parents might have a genetic defect corrected and should promote their children’s education. But these efforts should not turn into an arrogant quest to produce the perfect human being.

David in the first reading today demonstrates an “openness to the unbidden.” First, he humbly recognizes that what he has and done are not his work alone but the gifts of God. Then, he expresses his gratitude to God for the bounteous gifts. Finally, he asks God to bless his offspring that they may live up to the promise of greatness that God has made to him. Of course, David’s request is fully realized in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Homilette for January 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 4:1-20)

We should note the apparent carelessness of the sower in Jesus’ parable. He scatters the seed indiscriminately in the soil, on the roadside, among rocks, and among thorns. “Why is he so wasteful?” we might ask. A good farmer would take better aim, but Jesus wants to make a point. The sower is a symbol for God who deals out blessings on both the bad and good. Not only those who love Him have life, liberty, the warmth of the sun, and the taste of honey. Every human person to some degree experiences both these joys and more. What distinguishes the good from others is the response to God’s goodness.

After telling the parable, Jesus receives a group of people inquiring about its meaning. Note that the group is not composed solely of disciples. The inquirers are the seekers of the world who delve into the meaning of God’s beneficence. They include disciples, whom we can understand as members of the Church, and others as well. Effectively they are asking, “Why is God so good?” They accept life as a gift to be appreciated and in some way returned to the Giver. Those who do not come forward take the gift of life for granted. Jesus likens them to the seed eaten up by the birds before it has a chance to sprout.

But not all those who inquire about the gift will realize the fullness of its potential. They have to respond on a deeper level than inquiry by giving of themselves. For some self-sacrifice is asking too much – the seed that falls on rocky ground. Others become side-tracked in their response to God’s love. They mistake creation for the Creator, giving too much attention to the former and precious little to the latter. They are the seed that falls among thorns.

But some seed produces abundant fruit. These are the people who not only enjoy God’s creation but who respond generously to it by pleasing God with gracious deeds on behalf of others. They include both Christians and non-Christians although the former have the obvious advantage of hearing Jesus’ parable constantly.

homilette for January 29, 2008

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 3:31-35)

The gospel passage has troubled Catholics for centuries. First, it seems to indicate that Jesus had brothers and sisters when we hold that Mary remained a virgin all her life. And then it apparently shows Jesus rejecting his own family when we know the importance of family and the need to honor one’s parents. “What’s going on?” we might ask.

The answers to these charges are not that difficult to understand although they may not be completely satisfying. The evangelist Mark, from whose gospel the passage is taken, was evidently not aware of the tradition that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. He does not mention the birth of Jesus, but begins his gospel with John preaching in the desert and Jesus coming to him for baptism. Anyway, his references to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” do not necessarily mean that they were full brothers and sisters. Perhaps they were half-brothers (the children of Joseph by another woman) or even cousins since the Hebrew word (and its Greek equivalent) for brother is sometimes used to mean cousin or nephew. The latter explanation is given by the biblical scholar St. Jerome who was not liberal in interpreting the Bible.

A few verses earlier the gospel actually says that Jesus’ relatives thought him to be “’out of his mind’” when they come looking for him. We can wonder what they would now think if they could hear Jesus’ reply to the news that they were seeking him. Perhaps they would have been even more convinced that he is mad. But we might also surmise that they finally perceive why he left them to preach about God.

No, Jesus is not out of his mind when he calls his mother, brothers and sisters (here certainly the terms are used figuratively) as those who “do(es) the will of God.” All who follow God’s ways belong to God’s family. Nevertheless, the gospel of Mark is gradually revealing how Jesus is uniquely God’s son. Toward the end of the gospel, a Roman centurion will declare this truth. After watching Jesus die an excruciating death without bitterness, he openly declares, “’Truly this man was the son of God!’” Therefore, we may conclude, we have to follow both Jesus’ his teaching and his example.

Homilette for January 28, 2008

Monday, The Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(Mark 3:22-20)

Art scholars attribute the genius of Raphael Sanzio to his ability to adapt the technical brilliance of two other celebrated artists of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. He took a pose style of Leonardo for his famous painting of St. Catherine of Alexandria. In Michelangelo’s works Raphael found the kneeling posture which he uses in a painting of Jesus’ deposition from the cross. But no one should consider Raphael a copy-cat. Rather, he forged a unique painting style on his own. Still he was not too proud to draw upon the insights of other masters.

Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas was anything but proud. He also adapts the wisdom of two supreme masters. As a philosophical resource he relies repeatedly on the learning of Aristotle, “the Philosopher.” And as a theological compass St. Thomas uses the writings of St. Augustine. However, contrary to popular opinion, St. Thomas even more pervasively defers to a third source. Everywhere he cites Scripture. How could he do otherwise? St. Thomas’ title at the University of Paris was Magister in Sacra Pagina, Master of the Sacred Page.

Thomas’ commentaries on various books of the Bible contain a good deal of his theology and spirituality. His masterwork, the Summa Theologiae, likewise provides insights into many, many Scriptural verses as it builds a synthesis of all Catholic doctrine. For example, the Summa elucidates the intriguing concept of “an everlasting (or unpardonable) sin” that we hear of in today’s gospel. After typically making necessary distinctions, St. Thomas declares that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is considered unpardonable because by its nature it removes the elements that lead to repentance – fear of punishment and hope of heaven. But, St. Thomas graciously adds, the sin does not leave its perpetrator completely helpless. God in his mercy and love might still open the way to repentance and forgiveness by extraordinary means.

Homilette for January 25, 2008

Friday, Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle

(Mark 16:15-18)

Did Paul actually convert? The question sounds absurd on this feast of his conversion, but some students of the Bible have asked it seriously. They note that there is no radical change in Paul’s behavior. He goes from a zealous promotion of the Jewish Law to a zealous promotion of the Jesus Christ. In his letters Paul does not repudiate his Jewish roots but indicates that his avidness for the Jewish Law has brought him advantages. He also writes to the Philippians that whatever gains he has achieved for his efforts as a Jew, they are nothing in comparison with knowing Jesus Christ.

Paul does nothing half-heartedly. He gives himself over completely to his goal. For this reason he is capable of accomplishing so much. He not only fulfills the Jesus' mandate to proclaim the gospel to every creature, but also encourages the various communities he has evangelized with sound pastoral letters. He is the consummate activist whose life witnesses completely to Christ and rightly terminates in martyrdom. He will provide us all we need to follow him. And he will lead us to happiness.

Such a model may scare us. “Do I really want to give myself over so completely?” we may ask ourselves. We should keep in mind two considerations when we ask the question. First, Christ does not call most of us to put our heads on the chopping block. Still, we need to get serious about our worship of God and our care for one another. Second, it is Christ who calls each of us by name as sure as he calls, “Saul, Saul,” in the first reading today. He is no mere human being, but the Son of God, our beginning and our end.

Homilette for January 24, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 3:7-12)

The Ganges River holds a revered place in Hinduism. Men and woman in tremendous numbers converge on it for healing. People believe that by drinking its waters they might have eternal life.

In today’s gospel Jesus becomes a kind of Ganges River. He attracts huge numbers of people from the four corners of Palestine who seek healing of body and/or spirit. Jesus tells the demons whom he casts out not to mention that he is the Son of God. Evidently, he is not only concerned that the people would get the wrong idea of what that means, but any greater numbers would only create insuperable problems of logistics.

Today Jesus is more accessible to us in the Eucharist. But we Mass-goers might ask ourselves, why do we seek him? Is it for some acute need like healing? Or do we wish to learn from him the ways of everlasting life? Of course, the latter too is a critical need, but it recognizes that some effort on our part will be called forth. When we come to Jesus, we must be ready to change our ways. If not, no matter how much healing there is in his touch, in the long run it will not avail us the eternal life we seek.

Homilette for January 23, 2008

Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 17:32-33; 37; 40-51)

The biblical story of little David defeating the mighty Goliath is so popular that we refer to any underdog taking on a favored opponent as a David vs. Goliath rematch. Particularly in the college basketball championship tournament in March sports writers are fond of calling schools unknown for basketball prowess Davids and the established powerhouses Goliaths. However, the biblical story conveys more than underdog grit outperforming seasoned excellence.

Essential to David’s victory is his faith in God. David himself says, “The Lord...will keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.” As when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, it is not cunning that wins the day but confidence in God’s promise to deliver His people from destruction.

We often see ourselves as small compared to the challenges we face in life. It may be a situation at work when we have to talk with the boss about institutionalized injustice. Or it may be a bout with cancer that causes us to shake both interiorly and exteriorly. At such times we do best to pray to God for the strength to prevail against the forces of destruction. This is precisely what the Savior does when confronted with his passion. We can always find hope in how that ordeal ends in glory.

Homilette for January 22, 2008

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 13:1-16)

Of all the artists of the Renaissance none, besides perhaps Leonardo da Vinci, characterizes the age better than Michelangelo. And of all Michelangelo’s works none illustrates the spirit of the Renaissance better than his statue of David. Tall, graceful, strong but elegantly reserved Michelangelo’s David glorifies humanity, not above God but as the epitome of God’s creation.

In the first reading the Lord tells Samuel that He does not judge a person by appearances but looks into the heart. For this reason He waits until Samuel presents the young David as a candidate for king of Israel. We can compare fourteenth century Europe to time of the election of David. As Saul shows himself unworthy of kingship under God, Europe was decimated of one third of its population by the Black Death. No doubt, to some the time appeared to be the end for an ignoble humanity. But Michelangelo, representing the insight of the Renaissance in his work, perceived that humanity’s unrelenting spirit would, to paraphrase William Faulkner, not only endure but prevail.

Sometimes in our generation it seems that humanity is up to no good and will suffer a tragic end. Not only do we cheapen ourselves unashamedly with television rot and barbarous music; we also build bombs capable of destroying the human race. With the help of God we too must look to the core of our nature and find the nobility of our humanity. Then we have to renew our civilization once again with that in mind.

Homilette for January 21, 2008

Monday, Memorial of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr

(Mark 2:18-22)

Many people today diet but few seem to fast. They give up food as if they were fasting in order to look better and to feel better. But they would probably ask the opposite of what the disciples of both John and the Pharisees ask Jesus in the gospel today, “Why fast?” Some might answer quickly that we fast to please God? But is God really pleased when we give up food? Those who doubt the value of fasting are fond of citing Isaiah 58 where God tells the Israelites that He is more interested in works of mercy.

But fasting has its purposes which Jesus implicitly recognizes when he says that its time is coming. He also goes on a forty-day fast before beginning his public ministry. Recalling that difficult experience in which the devil sorely tempts Jesus, we also might ask, “Why fast?” The answer is that we fast so that we might know God. God may not be moved by our fasting but fasting makes us aware of His presence. Moses and Elias fast forty days before they receive their respective revelations. Luke’s gospel mentions that the prophetess Anna In the Temple is accustomed to fasting when she tells those who were awaiting a Messiah about the child Jesus.

Forgoing the satisfaction of eating makes us appreciative of the gift of food and all God’s gifts. A simple reflection on the hunger which fasting induces will permit us to see Christ in those who chronically lack food. Finally and most importantly, fasting confirms our commitment to serve God and not ourselves. As St. Agnes gave up her life to demonstrate her commitment to God, we from time to time should give up some food.

Homilette for January 18, 2008

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 8:4-7;10-22a)

The need of a king as the elders of Israel express in the first reading today may sound quaint to us. After all, modern society has gone far beyond government by a single ruler. However, the longing for a monarch signifies a desire implanted deep in every human heart. A king represents security so that the people can both work and rest in peace. Kings theoretically will judge the people fairly because they are endowed with abundant wealth to scorn the lure of bribes. Even more importantly, kings have armies to protect the people from marauders. We may not clamor for kings anymore, but we do seek all the security and more that kings once provided.

God tells Samuel in the reading that the people’s request for a king constitutes a rejection of Himself as their ruler. In pursuing social guarantees are we similarly denying God’s role as our provider? This is not a frivolous question as we see human society developing but devotion to God waning. We can phrase the issue differently for the sake of clarity. In buying health insurance, sending our children to the best schools possible, even getting cellular telephones in case of emergencies, are we putting our trust in human achievement rather than in God's Providence? Certainly, the resources we spend on these measures might be used to provide basic services to the poor as God dictates.

Just as God allows the Israelites to have a king, He can approve of our desire for social securities. Any rejection that He may suffer is the result of our pride not of our prudence. We become proud when we start thinking that we are independent of God, that we can thrive without Him, and that we do not have to heed His ways. Prudent people will always recognize that they are powerless over all contingencies, that God is ultimately in control of their destinies, and that they need to consider others’ welfare as well as their own. Along with striving to secure life’s necessities, people of faith will also kneel to pray for deliverance from evil.

Homilette for January 17, 2008

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, abbot

(Mark 1:40-45)

Fifty years or so ago, a journalist named John Howard Griffin performed a shocking social experiment. He had his skin dyed black and toured the South to see how people would treat him. Predictably, he had trouble finding a public restroom that he could use. In general, wherever white men had easy access, he was treated with suspicion. We might say that the insider became an outsider. Eventually, Griffin published the account of his travails in the book Black Like Me which helped soften white resistance to the American civil rights movement.

In the gospel today we witness a similar event and its reverse. After Jesus cures the leper, his fame as a healer spreads so widely that he cannot any town without being overwhelmed with petitions for healing. He is the insider who becomes an outsider. Ironically, the cured leper who by law had to remain outside populated areas but now can enter any town freely. Thus, the outsider becomes an insider.

St. Anthony takes after Christ in making himself an outsider. He left his family and community to become a hermit in the desert. In a sense this is the vocation of all Christians. We should never get too comfortable in the world. Its many distortions may lure us into sin. Rather, we make ourselves outsiders by an intentional option to love all and to find our treasure in the legacy of Christ.

Homilette for January 16, 2007

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 3:1-10; 19-20, Mark 1:29-39)

The other day on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord Matthew’s gospel read that “the heavens were opened” for Jesus. The connotation is that such an occurrence did not often happen. In the first reading today we hear again that revelation is extraordinary. The First Book of Samuel relates that “a revelation from the Lord was uncommon and (a) vision infrequent.” If we wonder why God does not speak to us directly in contemporary times, we can console ourselves that people in biblical times probably asked the same question.

The narrative regarding Samuel and Eli begins the story of God’s plan to bring greatness to the people of Israel. Samuel will eventually anoint both Saul and David king. The latter will extend Israel’s fortunes to great heights. But David in all his glory will fail the Lord. He will keep a harem of women, commit adultery, and conspire to kill a noble soldier. The greatness of the kingdom of Israel will eventually dissolve through repeated abandonment of God’s ways.

We might compare the care taken to relate the origins of the kingdom of Israel to those of the evangelists telling of the coming of the kingdom of God. Of course, Jesus figures prominently in the latter story. Matthew and Luke weave the story of Jesus’ birth. They present him as the one who will establish the kingdom of God with such unsurpassable greatness that it will never end. In today’s gospel Mark indicates the makeup of Jesus’ accomplishment. Jesus cures disease and casts out demons – the effects of sin -- and also preaches the good news to all people. Jesus is showing himself is the fulfillment of God’s plan for Israel as well as of our deepest desires.

Homilette for January 15, 2008

You will find below homilettes for all weekdays since January 7. If you have a comment or suggestion about these works, please write me at cmeleop@yahoo.com. Many New Year blessings, cm

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

(Mark 1:21-28)

Every once in a while we see criticism of humanism from Christian groups. According to these people humanism is the archenemy of faith because it seeks to replace the primacy of God with that of humans. But certainly this criticism is short-sighted. There are great saints like Thomas More who were humanists. Even Pope John Paul II was considered a Christian humanist. Condemning humanism as anti-Christian would be like condemning radio with the same label. Just as there are quality radio programs – some that even promoting the gospel – so also are most forms of humanism beneficial.

Humanism endeavors to promote all men and women, not just the rich or the educated, but poor and simple people as well. It says that the value of any individual human should not be ignored. It is true that some humanists get carried away with these ideas. Secular humanists, for example, would say that God does not exist. Indeed, they make humans gods of themselves with the authority to make all laws as they see fit. But this is an aberration.

In the gospel Jesus shows how God Himself may be called a humanist. When a man who is possessed by a devil comes before him, he takes pity. Right away, he casts out the devil so the man may have his life back. The fact that he does this on the Sabbath doubly indicates God’s love for every human being. The Pharisees consider Saturday so holy that all regular activity must stop to give praise to God. For a healer, as Jesus certainly is, this would mean to stop healing. Jesus’ driving away the demon from the possessed man on the Sabbath indicates that God is honored more by restoring humans to their full senses than by compliance with a narrow interpretation of the Law.

Homilette for January 14, 2008

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

(Mark 1:14-20)

In a recent book evaluating the great Catholics theologians of the twentieth century, the author reserves the highest praise for the Canadian Jesuit Bernard Lonergan. Fr. Lonergan’s Method in Theology not only contains keen theological insights; it also answers modern philosophy’s challenges to the theological enterprise. For Lonergan the concept of conversion that Jesus has in mind when he calls for repentance in the gospel today is as basic to writing theology as it is to living the Christian life.

We might hear the call to repentance as meant for other people. After all, we are already in church when the gospel passage is read. But, as Bernard Lonergan would say, conversion or repentance is a life-long process that every person must strive for in order to experience the Kingdom of God. All of us continually have to examine the principles by which we live, ask ourselves where we fail to measure up to the standards that God has set, ask forgiveness for any harm that living by the old principles has caused, and then amend our lives to incorporate the gospel. As extended as this list is, true conversion is even more challenging because it means going against established routine. But, of course, the happiness of the Kingdom provides the necessary incentive and the Spirit of Jesus, the extraordinary means to take up the quest.

To achieve full repentance religious have formed the habit of frequent participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. They seriously look at their lives once a month or even once a week. They note where they have strayed from the gospel values that they have learned. And they confess these sins with the firm resolve not to fall again. This practice is not the reserve for those who have vowed themselves to a religious community. It is the model for all Christians who take their faith seriously.

Homilette for January 11, 2008

Friday after Epiphany

(I John 5:5-13)

In one of his books Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard evolutionist, opines that humans may not be as superior as we think. He acknowledges that the human brain has unequaled mental powers, but offers as a comparable marvel the ability of certain bacteria to withstand temperatures of several thousands degrees. And so the academic debate rages: are we merely first cousins to other living things, with no kind of life having an essential priority? Or are humans innately superior to all other kinds of earthly creatures?

Christians should have no doubt about the answer. We believe not only that we have been created in the image of God, the creator, but also God has deigned to take on our flesh in Jesus Christ. This second truth has especially vaulted us far beyond all other plants and animals. Now humanness is no longer associated with fallibility but more appropriately with decency, respect, and love. This is the import of Christmas, the feast that still commands our attention, two weeks after its celebration.

Although humans are capable of the heights of heaven, we often act more like starving dogs fighting over food. Sin has so tarnished our image of ourselves that some of us do not recognize our potential for goodness. As the reading from the First Letter of John states we must turn to Christ as the witness of the glory which is within our reach.

Homilette for January 10, 2008

Thursday after Epiphany

(I John 4:19-5:4)

In a movie adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, a prisoner writes a love letter to his wife. He is a largely unlettered man without grandiose ideas so he only repeats “I love you” over and over again. The first letter of John, from which we read today, may sound almost as simplistic. However, its meaning is as profound as its lesson is worth repeating.

The author of the letter knows from bitter experience how the world can corrupt a person. For this reason he underlines the need to keep God’s commandments. But, he says, this is not a difficult task because the essence of the commandments is love which brings its own delight. “Not necessarily true,” we might object from our own experience trying to please difficult persons. But John finds as the object of love the virtuous brothers and sisters of the faith community. In caring for these good people, he concludes, the person fulfills the natural desire to return God’s love shown in the gift of Christ.

As defrocked Christmas trees dot empty lots, Christmas becomes a flickering memory. Our resolve to live each day with the love we felt on Christmas may have become similarly vague. John’s persistent reminders that God has given us Christ keep us from forgetting about the desirability of loving.

Homilette for January 9, 2008

Wednesday after Epiphany

(I John 4:11-18)

If we were asked to describe the true meaning of Christmas, how would we reply? Would we speak of a societal surge in buying to strengthen the economy? Economic activity is certainly characteristic of the nation’s celebration of Christmas but hardly explains its meaning. Would we offer the experience of family togetherness about the decorated fur tree? Surely many people celebrate Christmas “at home” with loved ones who have cared for them all their lives. But there is a deeper, more comprehensive meaning that we would want to relate.

We hardly could find a better description of the meaning of Christmas that the familiar verse from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son...” At Christmas we rejoice in our certainty of God’s love and marvel at its enormity. God’s love moves us to come out of ourselves – to share what we have with others, not just our families but with friends and needy people around the world.

The reading from the First Letter of John explains some of the dynamic of divine love. God shares his Spirit of love with us. This Spirit drives out the fear that distances us both from God and from one another. We no longer resent God as a judge who might condemn us; rather, we love Him as a Father who will bestow on us eternal life. Likewise with other people: we know that they cannot really harm us because we have the promise of eternal life. We wish to care for them out of imitation of our benevolent Father.

Homilette for January 8, 2008

Tuesday after Epiphany

(Psalm 72:1-2; 3-4; 7-8)

Recently the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement on evangelization. The congregation serves as a watchdog against errors that creep up in the Church. The recent statement typically had a tone of correction. But the faithful, even the theologians whom the Congregation had in mind, should take the document as an aid to understanding our faith.

The statement reaffirms the need to go out and “make disciples of all nations.” We cannot be content with missionary activity, whether at home or abroad, that only seeks to assist human development. Missionaries, which all Christians in a sense become by virtue of Baptism, must strive to convince people by words and deeds that Jesus is Lord and invite them to worship him. Evangelization does not mean proselytizing in its current sense of imposing one’s religion on people of other faith traditions by criticizing those traditions and alluring them with material rewards.

The responsorial psalm today indicates why evangelization is such a critical need. We believe that Jesus is both the king and the king’s son. When the whole world comes to worship him, peace will reign among nations and justice will spring up among all people. All this will occur because Jesus’ law is the Holy Spirit which transforms human hearts.

Homilette for January 7, 2008

Monday after Epiphany

(Matthew 4:12-17; 23-25)

The gospel passage says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” We should not think, however, that Jesus is beating a retreat. Actually, he is charging to the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves hometown comforts to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is even the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas can hardly ignore it. Will he manhandle Jesus as he did John?

Like Jesus we are sometimes – not often, gratefully -- called to show courage. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene. A minority person is accused of wrongdoing, but we know that another – one like us -- did the dirty deed. We must speak up.

Courage is a natural virtue that the love of God poured into our hearts can magnify for supernatural ends. Certainly St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) showed this elevated courage when the Gestapo came to take her, as a Jewish convert, from her Carmelite monastery. Her sister, who had come to stay with her, was deeply shaken. St. Theresa, however, did not resist or seek to hide. She took her sister by the hand saying, “Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.” She meant that she would die, as Christ did, giving testimony to God’s love first for Jews and then for all people.

Homilette for January 4, 2007

Friday, the Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

(John 1:35-42)

Do you remember Mr. Blue? Mr. Blue is a novel written eighty years ago by Myles Connolly. Its main character acts, like a modern St. Francis, renounces social conventions in a radical imitation of Christ. The book is said to be the portrait of a modern saint, but it is only a work of fiction.

The author of Mr. Blue may present a real candidate for sainthood. Myles Connolly wrote and produced movies in Hollywood that edified a generation of Americans. He was responsible for State of the Union, a Spencer Tracy - Katherine Hepburn classic showing how pride can corrupt a politician and how repentance can resurrect him. He also inspired Frank Capra who, in turn, gave the world the immortal It’s a Wonderful Life. Connolly shared his money with the poor and invited people from the streets to his Christmas table. After his death, his daughter told a journalist, “...my father believed very strongly that you could be a very strong Catholic without being a wimp....He never pretended to be perfect, but he would say he’d keep trying.”

We have to hear the gospel’s call to two of John’s disciples as directed to each of us. Lay women and men, as well as priests and religious, have the vocation to be holy (or “perfect” as Myles Connolly put it). Sometimes we do not like to see ourselves as holy or set apart from the sultry lights of the world. That is, again, all of us -- priests, religious, and laypersons. But like Andrew in the gospel passage, finally drawing close to Christ, we come to know such ease that we want to share him with those we love most.

Homilette for January 3, 2008

Thursday, The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

(Luke 2:21-24)

“What’s in a name?” an infatuated Juliet asks the handsome Romeo. At first, the two mistakenly believe very little substance resides in a name. But they come to learn there is really much at stake. For their love to mature they must accept who they are and make the necessary sacrifices to overcome the difficulties their identities create.

We reserve much import for the name “Jesus.” I remember being admonished as a boy of six or seven for suggesting that our family name its new dog “Jesus.” In fact, however, it was a popular name for men in biblical times as it is today in Hispanic cultures. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Certainly, it is an apt name for the Christ who, as God’s agent, saves humans from folly. He does this basically in two ways: by imparting wisdom through his teachings and by bestowing grace through his death and resurrection so that we might practice what we have learned. Because of Jesus we can live in freedom and look forward to heaven.

But providing the literal meaning of a name hardly tells enough about it. It certainly does not reveal why the name “Jesus” is “most holy” as we proclaim on this feast day. For this we must look deeper. Perhaps a telling use of the name late in Luke’s gospel will satisfy our need to know more about the name “Jesus.” Only one person in the four gospels dares to call Jesus by his name alone, without any titles or formalities. This person is not his mother or one of his disciples. It is the so-called good thief. On the cross he calls out to the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The direct appeal, of course, incurs no reprimand. Quite the contrary, Jesus seems to award the criminal’s boldness. “This day,” the Lord tells him, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

The name “Jesus” is most holy because when we call it out in faith, God listens. We can be dying sinners, but as long as we repentantly ask Jesus’ mercy, we can depend upon it. To be sure, it is not a magic formula. It is the last, best hope of a contrite heart.