Homilette for April 4, 2008

Homilettes for weekdays between March 27 and April 4 follow below. May the fifty deays of Eastertime fill you with joy. Please write me if you have any comments regarding these homilettes. cm

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42)

It is safe to say that Pharisees are not gospel favorites. Many picked on Jesus because they could not recognize that his healing on the Sabbath marked the dawning of a new age. But the New Testament does recall some Pharisees who helped Christ. Nicodemus in the Gospel of John comes first by night to learn from him and then in daylight to bury him. In the reading form the Acts of the Apostles today the leading Pharisee Gamaliel defends the apostles in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Of course, Gamaliel does not accept Christianity. He only states that as a matter of policy religious tolerance is more judicious than persecution. His reasoning is summarized in the memorable lines: “But if (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Religious tolerance was mandated by Vatican II with a different logic. The Council taught that the human conscience is inviolable. No state or person has a right to interfere with how an individual worships God.

During Easter-time the Church asks us to recall the experience of the early Church. Every day at Mass this year we read from the Acts of the Apostles. We see how the Church starts as a small community in Jerusalem that spreads throughout the western world. She has little reason to fear other faith traditions. Rather, she has the commission to dialogue with them concerning the experience of reconciliation to God.

Homilette for April 3, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(John 3:31-36)

We should take note of who is speaking in this gospel. It sounds somewhat like Jesus himself. We may remember the gospel passage yesterday where Jesus tells Nicodemus that “’God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Today’s passage is remarkably similar. The speaker proclaims, “’Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life...’” The speaker, however, is John, whom we call “the Baptist.”

The reading does not give us the context of John’s testimony, but we can easily find it by referring to the whole gospel. Jesus has left Jerusalem and gone into the country of Judea where John is baptizing. The text shows Jesus baptizing many people and John’s disciples worried that Jesus is encroaching on John’s turf. However, John -- the true prophet that he is -- offers no protest. On the contrary, he utters his famous submission, “He (Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.”

Today’s gospel lays out a challenge for us. What is the “eternal life” it speaks of in comparison to the many ways we have to gratify ourselves? Is it better than high definition television, central air and heating, vacation cruises? Perhaps more to the point, can we be assured of “eternal life” as much as modern luxuries are affordable to us? Our celebration of Easter buoys us up so that we might answer these questions with sense and conviction. “Eternal life” is companionship with the risen one. It far exceeds anything the world has to offer because it provides a joy not limited to time and space. Just as surely as Jesus rose from the dead, we will experience “eternal life” when we, like John, submit to him.

Homilette for April 2, 2008

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(John 3:16-21)

Why does it happen? After a tragedy such as the massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute last year or a similar slaughter this year at Northern Illinois University we want to know how such mass murders could take place in America today. There is no shortage of answers.

Many point fingers at school administrators. They criticize their failure to provide enough security or to act decisively when trouble starts. Ideologues certainly have their say. From the left they charge that permissive gun laws make every meeting place in the country a potential blood bath. From the right they argue as stridently that violent movies start time bombs ticking in many individuals. God will be accused for not intervening as well. Some will charge that His plan of allowing humans free will is defective. Others will rebut that idea saying, “Whose will is really free?” and add for argument, “Does not God’s power transcend human freedom?”

The Gospel of John does not provide a detailed answer to why mass murders take place. It does tell us today, however, that people prefer darkness to light. From almost the very beginning the world has been marred by wickedness which is not about to stop. The gospel shows us how God acts to relieve suffering. He sends His son to mend many hurts and to teach better ways than the narrow self-interests many people pursue. He further gives His son on the cross, more cruel a death than any rendered by an automatic firearm. He does this, first, to show solidarity with the suffering around the world and through the ages. But much more significantly, His gift provides us the opportunity to stand with him in death so that we may experience the resurrection which inevitably follows.

Homilette for April 1, 2008

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:32-37)

Once a man was going to give a substantial piece of real estate to a church association. Perhaps he had in mind the first reading today where Joseph Barnabas sells his property and gives the entire proceeds to the Jerusalem church community. However, the man’s wife was opposed to giving away the land. She objected that they had children who some day might need extra resources to get by.

Often, it seems, genuine impediments arise in the quest for Church unity. The man wanting to give property to the church association was probably well-intentioned. However, for the sake of his wife’s peace he might have found a more congenial way to lend support. In the early church community of Jerusalem as well impediments to unity creep in. The reading today certainly highlights both generosity and unity as a hallmark of the Christian community following Jesus’ resurrection. But the very next chapter in the book relates how another man similarly sells his property, pretends to give the whole payment to the community, but actually retains part for himself.

Church unity is both a reality to be witnessed and an ideal to be achieved. We are one when we gather together for Mass on Sunday and when we take up a collection for disaster victims. But, of course, not everybody in the community attends Sunday Mass or contributes to relief efforts. We have to try to understand their reasons for lagging support, pray that they may be reconciled with us, and perhaps remind them of how Jesus’ resurrection impels all of his followers to stand together.

Homilette for March 31, 2008

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Luke 1:26-38)

In the novel All We Know of Heaven, author Rémy Rougeau, O.S.B., describes how a monk (possibly himself) receives his vocation. It happens literally by a star falling from heaven. Observing the night sky, a boy sees a shooting star land near his home. He is what we might call “a good boy,” but not remarkably superior to others. When he goes to investigate, the lad finds the fallen meteor. Thinking over its significance, he concludes that the incident represents a personal call from God. A number of years later as a young man, he joins a Cistercian monastery.

Luke’s gospel today tells a similar story. Mary has a religious experience. She is devout although the extent of her sanctity is perhaps not evident. An angel tells Mary of her special vocation to be the mother of Jesus Christ. Like the boy pondering the significance of the meteor, Mary questions whether the angel really intends the message for her. After all, she is not married. When the angel assures her that God will provide whatever she lacks, Mary does not hesitate to accept.

We have all probably had an experience that we would call “religious.” Perhaps it was a dream or a conversation with a special person. We probably don’t consider ourselves better than any other person, yet God seems to have shown us His special favor. Like Mary and like the monk in Rémy Rougeau’s novel, let us not fail to consider what He wants us to do.

Homilette for March 28, 2008

Friday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

“The one who loves much, does much.” The Scriptures today witness to this simple test of love in the actions of Peter on behalf of Jesus. Love moves the chief apostle in the reading from Acts to confront the Jewish leaders who recently negotiated Jesus’ execution. In the gospel, love for Jesus compels Peter to jump in the water with his clothes on to greet the risen Lord.

As courageous and spontaneous as Peter’s love for Jesus is, it only shadows Jesus’ love for him and the rest of us. St. Paul surely captures the heart of the gospel when he writes: “...God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). His death has gained for us the forgiveness of sin. But that is only half of the mystery of God’s love. His resurrection – the other side of the mystery – promises us eternal life.

Peter’s actions suggest how we might show our love for Christ. We too can confront sin by naming it and then doing what is right. For example, rather than pay a bribe to avoid a heavy fine, we should take responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves. Also, we should lose no time to meet the Lord in the Eucharist. Coming early to pray quietly and, if possible, to preview the Scriptural readings will indicate our desire to greet the Lord.

Homilette for March 27, 2008

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

(Luke 24:35-48)

The German Renaissance master Mathis Grünewald portrayed scenes from the gospel on what is called the Isenheim Altarpiece. The paintings of the crucifixion and the resurrection especially stand out. One can hardly imagine a more pathetic figure than Christ tortured on the cross. He is writhing in pain. His body is hideously contorted. Thorns not only pierce his head but are embedded over his skin from a beating with reeds. As atrocious as Jesus looks here, his resurrected body is gloriously resplendent. His skin glows, and his wounds sparkle. There is not a hint of the agony he underwent just two days before.

St. Thomas Aquinas would find the magnificent transformation of Christ’s body entirely appropriate. He writes, according to one commentator, that in the resurrection the incorruptible soul bestows on the body “something glorious or luminous”. The gospel narrative today attests to this transformation. Jesus’ disciples cannot believe what they are seeing as the resurrected Lord stands before them. They mistakenly believe that he is a ghost because the last time they saw him was in the distance hanging on the cross (cf. Luke 23:49).

Aquinas does not relegate such a glorified body solely to Jesus, however. No, he says that everyone who dies with Christ are bound to undergo this same transformation. It will not happen on the day we die but at the resurrection of the dead on the last day. Our bodies will have all the resilience of robust youth whether we die at ninety days or ninety years. This is just another example of how God shows his love for us. It provides us still another reason to love God unreservedly in return.

Homilette for March 26, 2008

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

(Luke 24:13-35)

Some of us may be disappointed that the gospels do not give a physical description of Jesus. Try as we might, we never find a word about his stature, his complexion, or any distinguishing mannerism, other than that he spoke with authority. Once a journalist wrote that he was short since the Gospel of Luke mentions that Zacchaeus has to climb a tree to see him. However, the more common interpretation of this story is that Zacchaeus is the little guy.

Perhaps since Jesus is so nondescript in the gospels, it should not strike us as altogether peculiar that his disciples do not recognize him at first glance after the resurrection. Both Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s gospel reading from St. John and the two disciples today in Luke’s gospel fail to distinguish Jesus from other people. Until he speaks with his old authority, that is. Then his words go straight to the heart. Mary is lifted out of her fog of grief when he mentions her name. The disciples too achieve insight as he blesses and breaks the bread.

We are used to seeing pictures of a long-haired, blue-eyed, bearded Jesus, but these are surely idealized portraits. Rather than seek his image, we should listen for his words. He calls us by name in Baptism as surely as he calls Mary Magdalene in the graveyard. He pronounces the same blessing over the bread and wine in the Eucharist as he does for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like these disciples, we are to tell others of his resurrection. As peculiar as it may sound, we are to say that he meets us at mass. There we hear his words in the gospel and touch his body in the breaking of the bread.

Homilette for March 25, 2008

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

(John 20:11-18)

In its beginning the Gospel according to John states that Jesus empowered all who accept him to become God’s children. Now at the end of the gospel we can see his words come to fulfillment. Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to inform his “brothers” and say that he is going “to my Father and your Father...”

The disciples have believed in Jesus since his turning water into wine at Cana. Now, however, they are being brought to a deeper dimension of faith. They will see Jesus not only with power over death but also with the facility to use death to accomplish his end of drawing others to himself. It is like the Greek rhetorician Demosthenes who, it is said, not only corrected a speech impediment by practicing to speak with stones in his mouth but also used this achievement to secure a place in Athenian politics and world history. Because Jesus’ accomplishment is much more magnificent, St. Paul writes that he never wants to boast of anything except the cross of Jesus Christ.

Death remains fearful in so far as we lack perfect faith. But we are not failures if we fear it. We are only displaying the frailty of our human nature. Just as seven weeks ago we were wondering how we would do without chardonnay or chocolate during Lent, we hesitate to contemplate our death now. But when it is time to enter death as the door to eternal life, we will likely see that it is not the beast that we once dreaded. On the contrary, it will give us passage to a greater happiness than we have ever dreamed.

Homilette for March 24, 2008

Monday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:14.22-33 and Matthew 28:8-15)

The idea of resurrection from the dead staggers the mind so much that suggesting it invites skepticism. In the readings today we see bases of two attempts to discredit Jesus’ resurrection. The gospel mentions a refutation from apostolic times. Apparently some Jews claimed that Jesus did not rise from the dead but that his disciples stole his body. The evangelist’s picturing corrupt Jewish leaders as bribing the Roman soldiers corresponds to their seeking false witnesses at Jesus’ trial.

More pertinent today is a doubt about the resurrection that the Acts of the Apostles suggests. In the first reading Peter tries to show his Jewish listeners that Jesus’ resurrection is foretold in Scripture. Propelled by this account, modern skeptics have conjectured that the passion, death and resurrection narratives were invented by early Christians with the Old Testament in hand. According to these theorists, the apostles gleaned tidbits from the Jewish Scriptures, injected them into the story of Jesus’ ordeal, and then claimed that the crucified Jesus also rose from the dead. This scenario may be possible, but it is hardly likely. We might ask why the apostles did not choose more relevant information than casting lots for Jesus’ garments or offering Jesus wine mixed with gall. Catholic scholar Fr. Raymond Brown has written it is far more likely that early Christians, after witnessing Jesus death and resurrection, told of it with reference to its elements that correspond to Scripture.

Skeptics can and will always raise doubts about Jesus’ resurrection. It remains a singular event in history (unless we count the Assumption of Mary for which there appears to be far less testimony). We accept it in faith for at least three reasons. First, the apostles, who died for preaching the resurrection, make a credible witness. Second, the resurrection satisfies the longing of the human heart, which God has created, for immortality. And third, we have experienced the effects of the resurrection in the Spirit’s filling our hearts with God’s love.

Homily for March 21, 2008

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

(John 18:1-19:42)

During Holy Week we always hear the story of Jesus’ passion and death twice. On Palm Sunday we listen to the passion according to Matthew, Mark or Luke depending on the year. Last Sunday, of course, we heard Matthew’s passion account. Today, Good Friday, we always hear the passion according to John. If we listen carefully, we will realize that the passion accounts read Palm Sunday and Good Friday have very different tones. They have many of the same elements, for sure, but they present Jesus’ suffering in very different perspectives. Let us take a close look at a few of the differences from Matthew’s and John’s passion accounts to see what they are saying to us.

In Matthew’s passion account Jesus is somewhat anxious in the garden of Getsemaní. He actually prays to God lying on the ground that his Father deliver him from the trial that is coming. In John, on the other hand, Roman soldiers lie in the ground as they face Jesus. They are powerless before the great “I AM” that Jesus uses to identify himself.

We all remember how Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus is so weary from the scourging and abuse that he can barely get himself to Calvary. John’s gospel, however, makes no mention of Simon. Rather, it states that Jesus carries the cross himself. Jesus said earlier in this gospel, “I have the power to lay (my life) down, and power to take it up again” (10:18). Here he demonstrates that power.

Once again Matthew and John describe the crucifixion in very different ways. In John darkness does not cover the earth as in Matthew. Jesus, after all, is the light of the world; where he is, lightness reigns. Jesus’ last words in either account differ significantly. In Matthew, of course, we hear the anguished cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In John Jesus can calmly say at the end, “It is finished.” He has accomplished what his Father commissioned him to do and may now return to Him.

Sometimes we become unsettled when we hear of differences in the gospels like the ones we just reviewed. We ask, what really happened when Jesus died? This question, however, is not likely what the evangelists had first in mind when they wrote their accounts. Rather, weaving together the stories they heard of Jesus’ death a generation or two earlier, they composed their accounts to testify to the faith of their distinct faith communities in Jesus. Their different perspectives help us at different moments in our lives. Sometimes we feel quite alone in our suffering. Then we can turn to Jesus on the cross in Matthew’s passion account, crying out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” and feel assured that he knows our situation. Sometimes, however, we confidently face the trials life hurls at us. Then, in the solidarity of faith we look to the triumphant Jesus on the cross in the John’s passion. The different passion accounts show us that Jesus is always there for us no matter our need. We can always turn to him, the light of the world, to clear up any difficulty.

Homily for March 20, 2008

Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)

Lent begins in the dead of winter. But the word does not mean “winter.” It means “springtime.” Lent takes us from winter to springtime, from slavishness to self-control, from and selfishness to consideration of others. Some say that we shouldn’t give up anything for Lent but concentrate our efforts on charitable works. But we need to do both -- deprive ourselves of comforts and attend to others’ needs -- so that we might become more sensitive human beings.

On Holy Thursday we receive a similar dual mandate. In the second reading, St. Paul’s tells us how Jesus instituted the Eucharist on the night before he died. He took bread and wine, gave thanks for both, said, “This is my body…This cup is the new covenant of my blood. Do this…in remembrance of me.” Because of Jesus’ command here we celebrate mass together this evening and every day with exception of tomorrow, Good Friday.

The washing of feet is the second of Jesus’ Holy Thursday commands. Interestingly, the foot-washing tradition appears only in the Gospel of John where Jesus does not offer bread and wine on the night before he dies. Does this gospel ignore the Eucharist? Not at all. Only John gives the “Eucharistic discourse,” Jesus’ longest reflection on eating his body and drinking his blood. We all remember its words: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life...”

At the last Supper in the Gospel of John instead of taking the bread, Jesus takes a towel and ties it around his waist. Instead of pouring wine in a cup, he pours water into a basin and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. Then he tells them something much like, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He says, “…as I have done for you, you should do for each other.” Of course, Jesus does not mean that one day a year the priest at mass should wash a few parishioners’ feet. Or even that all of us wash each other’s feet everyday. No, he means that we should serve one another.

How do we do that? Workers should do the best job possible for the sake of the company as well as clients. Employers should try to provide health care benefits and other essentials for human dignity. Retired people should not think of time as exclusively their own but dedicate some of it to God and neighbor. Parents should take care in providing the right mix of soft and tough love so that your children grow into caring and conscientious persons. Children should do their chores and study before watching television.

We’ve all heard the slogan, “You are what you eat.” It reminds us to limit our intake of calories and fats. But we Catholics take the slogan a giant step forward. When we eat the flesh of Christ and drink his blood, we have his life within us. This life moves us from slavishness and selfishness to self-control and consideration of others. It enables us to fulfill Christ’s command to serve one another. It gives us eternal life.

Homilette for March 19, 2008

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a)

Often enough Christians meditate only on the gospel reading at Mass showing little interest in the readings from other parts of the Bible. Of course, this is like running with blinders. The non-gospel books of the Bible provide privileged sources of understanding the accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Few passages of Scripture give better context for appreciating Jesus passion than the four so-called Servant Songs which we read on Monday, Tuesday, today Wednesday, and Friday of Holy Week. These passages are taken from the work of an unnamed prophet who is called “Second Isaiah” because his writings are attached to those of the great prophet of Judah. Second Isaiah lived in Babylon with other exiled Jews. He recognized his call from God to preach to the people about the wonderful deliverance God was about to work on their behalf. Second Isaiah’s writings comprise much of the middle part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. They appear to be autobiographical telling how the prophet has suffered on behalf of the people.

But what Second Isaiah says about his own trials we can apply, with greater relevance, to Jesus. In today’s Servant Song, for example, we remember how Jesus communicates with God in prayer, how both Jews and Gentiles beat and spit upon him during his trials, and how God vindicates him when the persecution ends in his death. The Servant Songs announce a completely new form of messianism. No longer is the Messiah a sword-wielding conqueror of armies. Rather, he defeats evil by patiently taking upon himself the sins of others. We certainly understand Jesus in this way.

Homilette for March 18, 2008

Tuesday of Holy Week

(John 12:21-33; 36-38)

The gospel today invites us to compare and contrast Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus. We may have heard preachers say that the two offenses amount to the same sin of infidelity. That opinion, however, is wrong-headed. It would be like equating setting on fire a home and not calling the fire department when we see the blazes. Others may condemn Judas’ treachery of handing Christ over to his enemies but dismiss Peter’s failure to stand up for Christ out of fear. This way of thinking is also misguided. Both deeds are despicable although Judas’ is more serious than Peter’s.

In explaining Judas’ treason, the passage says, “Satan entered him.” This does not mean that Judas betrays Jesus because he is possessed by the devil. No, there is full responsibility here. A bit later, when Judas leaves the supper, the passage ominously adds, “...it was night.” This reference is not to give the time of day but to indicate that Judas chooses darkness to the light of Christ. Earlier in the gospel Jesus tells Nicodemus that some people choose darkness to light (3:19). Here Judas deliberately makes the same choice. We should realize that we too are susceptible to it.

Sometimes we look for ways to excuse ourselves of sin. A young man may say that peer pressure forced him to drink too much. A young woman may attribute her abortion to fear of her parents’ chastisements if she came home pregnant. These kinds of circumstances certainly have a bearing on one’s action, but they seldom are so extreme that they excuse wrong-doing. We must develop virtue by always striving to do what is right amidst the varied circumstances of life. Conversely, we must not act like Peter who fails to support Jesus although he knows better.

homilette for March 17, 2008

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11)

Pope John Paul II has been called the person most seen in all of history. Although, of course, there are no official statistics, the statement can hardly be doubted. In many of his one hundred and four apostolic journeys outside Italy, he appeared before millions of people. It is hard to imagine anyone – even emperors or athletes -- having larger audiences.

The costs of the pope’s travels often provoked criticism. He did not stay at Ritz-Carlton hotels, but necessary security measures entailed the spending of millions of dollars to accommodate a papal visit. When he visited poor countries like Kenya or Timor, people wondered -- as Judas does in the gospel today -- whether the money should not have been spent in direct relief of the poor.

Surely, however, such criticisms are myopic. The pope did much more for the poor on his travels than possibly could have been accomplished if all the expenses were summed together and the money paid to Catholic Relief Services. Everywhere John Paul II went, he preached care for the poor. His gracious presence to many indigent people lifted their minds and hearts beyond the squalor of their daily lives. The first reading speaks of the Suffering Servant “establish(ing) justice on the earth.” In imitation of Jesus, John Paul’s apostolic journeys fulfilled this prophecy by calling rich and poor to solidarity in Christ.

Homilette for March 14, 2008

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(John 10:31-42)

Reading the Passion according to Matthew on Palm Sunday and the Passion according to John on Good Friday, we will notice several differences between the two narratives. Most striking will be the way Jesus dies. In John he calmly bows his head and says, “It is finished.” In Matthew, after crying out almost desperately, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Jesus shrieks again and gives up his spirit.

A subtler difference between the two is the way the so-called Jewish trial of Jesus in John’s gospel is truncated. The narrative pictures only Annas, a former high priest, and some temple guards with Jesus. No one presents testimony regarding Jesus although Annas is said to question him. Matthew’s account, by contrast, pictures a crowded room of Jewish leaders along with the sitting high priest Caiaphas judging Jesus. Two evidently false witnesses accuse Jesus of threatening to destroy the Temple, and Caiaphas directly asks Jesus if he is the son of God. How might we explain these discrepancies?

Since we have no transcripts of the proceedings, we cannot say what exactly took place at the proceeding. However, we can note a few things that will aid our appreciation of the gospel traditions. On reason John’s account does not speak of normal trial procedures if that throughout the gospel Jews come forward with similar accusations and questions that we find in Matthew’s proceeding before the Jewish council. In today’s gospel passage, for example, the Jews accuse Jesus of making himself to be God. Also to be noted today is Jesus’ testimony that the Father has consecrated him as if he were a temple. This statement relates to his famous prediction that when the Jews destroy “this temple,” meaning his body, in three days he would raise it up (cf. John 2:19) – the crux of the charge that Jesus threatens to destroy the temple in Matthew’s Jewish trial. Thus, we see that both gospels attest to the same basic accusations against Jesus although at different times and in different ways.

The breadth of meaning offered by Jesus’ passion and death exceeds our ability to understand the events. Yet we may appreciate them more by attentively listening to the gospel readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We will notice certain similarities and subtle differences. The similarities assure us that our belief in the events’ power to save has solid foundation. The differences indicate the manifold ways that salvation touches us.

Homilette for March 13, 2008

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(John 8:51-59)

Albert Einstein once said, “Time exists so that everything does not happen at once.” That’s important. We get upset when two things happen at once – we’re preparing dinner and the doorbell rings. How could we ever cope with everything happening at the same time? But is it possible that someone exists outside of time? That one would have created time and everything else. Philosophers call this being who exists outside of time “God.” In the gospel today Jesus equates himself with that One, Being, or God. This is what he means by saying, “I Am.”

Of course, all this is difficult to comprehend. The Jews may be resisting belief in Jesus but not without cause. They ask, how can a man whose date of birth is known and who will one day die be God? That’s another good question. We have an answer, however. The Son of God existed from all eternity but joined himself to a human body and soul. He did this to redirect humanity from sin, which displeases God, to virtue which God favors. God’s becoming human demonstrates His great care for us.

Abraham is father of three great world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three see the Bible as God’s revelation although Jews do not accept the New Testament and Moslems look to the Koran as the ultimate word of God. Christianity seems the most daring of the three and the most hopeful. It is “daring” because of our belief that God has made Himself accessible in Jesus Christ. It is “hopeful” because Jesus has left the sacraments which assist us in two ways. First, they strengthen us for those times when everything seems to happen at once. Second, they prepare us for life with God outside of time.

Homilette for March 12, 2008

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(John 8:31-42)

Perhaps you have heard the term “cultural Catholics.” It refers to those who identify themselves as Catholics but only minimally practice the faith. They see their occasional Mass attendance more as a family tradition than an expression of religious commitment. Also, they dissent from many of the Church’s teachings like the crime of abortion and the infallibility of the Pope. Today’s gospel pictures Jesus addressing himself to these Catholics as the “Jews who believed in him.”

Cultural Catholics in the United States and Europe adhere to a strictly political notion of freedom. A product of the Enlightenment, political freedom means the absence of external constraint on an individual’s actions. Since this kind of constraint typically comes from government, an example would be the right to practice one’s religion without official censure. The Jews in the gospel express their adherence to this notion of freedom when they say that they have “never been enslaved to anyone.” However, like cultural Catholics today, they overlook a critical dimension of freedom when they refute Jesus for speaking of enslavement to sin.

Sin -- an internal restraint -- often undermines freedom more than religious or political oppression. Many find themselves entrapped in pride, lust, anger, or another of the so-called capital sins. They cannot put their lives in order often because they do not even recognize that sin has a grip on them. Jesus, of course, offers to save all from sin by sending his Holy Spirit. The Spirit enlightens us to recognize sin’s entrapments and empowers us to resist them. But we have to call on Jesus with true faith to receive the Spirit.

Homilette for March 11, 2008

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(John 8:21-30)

“What’s My Line?” was a favorite television quiz show fifty years ago. Contestants with varied occupations would challenge the celebrity panel to guess what they did to earn a living. The celebrities were informed of a contestant’s name and whether she or he was hired or self-employed. Then they would conduct an investigation by asking questions with “yes” or “no” answers.

In some ways John’s gospel today mimics “What’s My Line?” The Jews try to figure out what Jesus is doing among them. They ask him questions as we hear today, “Who are you?” They also have Jesus’ marvelous “signs” like changing the water into wine to help them determine who he is. But most of the Jews do not catch on because they are predisposed against Jesus. They are looking for a political Messiah who will defeat aggressive enemies like the Romans now occupying their land. They do not realize that the Messiah has come to save them from a far greater enemy – sin. Even when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, as he mentions in the reading, with writing in four languages declaring him “King of the Jews,” the majority of people do not understand who he is.

Perhaps we have wished that we would have been alive in Jesus’ days. We might have questions that we would like to put to him to clear up some of our doubts. Odds are, however, that our questions would never be answered to our satisfaction. Sooner or later, we would have to make the same act of faith in him that the Jews are challenged to make throughout the Gospel of John. Do we believe that this man of marvelous works and wise judgments is God’s own Son?

Homilette for March 11, 2008

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; John 8:1-11)

In the famous “mercy speech” of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice the heroine Portia tells the spiteful Shylock that “earthly power thus then show likest God’s when mercy tempers justice.” Thomas Aquinas also assures us that mercy and justice run simultaneously in every judgment of God. Thus, we should not see mercy as the undoing of justice. Quite the contrary, mercy comprises a necessary dimension of justice because out of mercy justice achieves its end -- the rehabilitation of criminal defect.

In the gospel today Jesus manifests God’s justice when he shows mercy to the woman caught in adultery. He has already corrected society of its corrupt fascination with sexual crimes by reminding the people they too have sin on their shoes. Now he must change the adulteress’s heart lest she think that she may sin wantonly and get away with it. His judgment is as firm as it is clement, “`Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.’”

Jesus shows himself a judge wiser than the sagacious Daniel in the trial of Susannah’s persecutors. His unfathomable wisdom indicates that he is the Messiah, the One God promised to send to save His people. In these last two weeks of Lent we want to contemplate how Jesus’ carries out this salvific mission. We should note his patience, his fortitude, and most of all his unswerving commitment to the will of His Father.

Homilette for March 7, 2008

Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Wisdom 2:1a.12-22; John 7:1-2.10.25-30)

Few Americans have distinguished themselves more than George C. Marshall. As Army Chief of Staff during World War II, he oversaw the Army’s build-up that saved the world from Nazi and radical Japanese tyranny. Later as Secretary of State, he introduced the foreign aid plan that rebuilt the European economy and assured American prosperity. In recognition of these efforts Marshall received the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet Senator Joe McCarthy attacked Marshall as feeble, stupid, and responsible for China turning Communist!

Today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom soberly assures us that even the most righteous of people, like George Marshall, suffer persecution. Certainly the Gospel of John portrays Jesus as being so persecuted. By rehabilitating the hopelessly infirm and working other wonders, Jesus shows himself to be sent from God. By performing such acts on the Sabbath, he further reveals that the age of the Law, that prohibits Sabbath work, has ended. The Messiah or Christ, God’s anointed Son, has arrived in his person. Believing in him, not following the Law, leads to salvation. The gospel segment today pictures Jewish rulers, having their power threatened by faith in Jesus, as plotting to kill him.

When we pursue what is good, we will sometimes find our efforts criticized and our intentions misconstrued. It happened to Jesus, and, as his followers, we can expect it to happen to us. But suffering persecution is no reason to give up doing what is right. We might check our work and question our motives to assure that they are properly ordered. If so, then there is reason to stay the course. After all, Jesus promises those who suffer persecution for sake of righteousness will be awarded the Kingdom of heaven.

Homilette for March 4, 2008

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(John 5:31-47)

As Holy Week approaches, Christians do well to reflect on our attitudes toward Jews. Much too often we unjustly see them as ruthless and avaricious in worldly affairs. Resentful of their accomplishments, we can find in the gospel more reason for contempt.

All the gospels relate that Jewish people had a role in Jesus’ passion and death. The Romans actually executed Jesus, but each gospel points out that they did so at the instigation of Jews. The gospels of Matthew and John are especially harsh in their consideration of Jewish responsibility. Matthew locates culpability for the crucifixion not only with the Jews in Jerusalem on Good Friday but also with all Jews of all times. It reads, “And the whole people said in reply (to Pilate), ‘(Jesus’) blood be upon us and upon our children.’” Throughout the Gospel according to John, as we see in the passage today, Jesus is in a bitter debate with not only the scribes, Pharisees and other Jewish leaders but, more generically, with “the Jews.”

However, we must be very careful about making accusations. It is universally recognized that the Gospels not only tell the story of Jesus’ life and death but also reflect the conditions of the apostolic times. For a while after Jesus’ resurrection his followers considered themselves as part of Judaism. They worshipped with other Jews in the Jerusalem Temple and in synagogues all over. But during the latter half of the first century, when the Gospels were being composed, bitter opposition arose between Christians and Jews. With the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., Jewish leaders reformed their religious practices. They saw the need to expel from the synagogues the Christians who were worshipping Jesus as Messiah. As Jesus makes clear in the gospel today, Jews and Christians read the Scriptures differently.

Because some Jews persecuted some early Christians, the evangelists described Jewish responsibility for Jesus’ death quite harshly in the gospels. But these facts should not cause us to castigate all the Jews in the gospel, much less think of any Jew today as a “Christ-killer.” The Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on the Relationship of the Church and Non-Christian Religions” states: “True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. Jn. 19:6); still, what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.” Rather than animosity, our attitude toward Jews today should be profound respect. They belong to the lineage that gave us Christians both initial understanding of the One God and, more importantly, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Homilette for March 5, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 49:8-15)

Lent is first associated with the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. Our forty days of sacrifice to overcome selfish tendencies correspond to the forty years of purification that the Hebrews underwent in the desert. There are other Bible stories, however, which also give meaning to the Lenten experience. The first reading today presents one of these.

In the sixth century before Christ the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah and carried many of its people into exile. It was a terrible experience of subjugation and humiliation. The prophets write of it as a punishment for the excesses of the people during the almost 500-year period of Israel’s kings. In that time many Israelis had taken up the idolatrous practices of Israel’s neighbors. Often the rich had squandered fortunes in sumptuous living while ignoring the plight of the poor. But after decades of mortification in Babylon Isaiah now pronounces that enough is enough. The people have learned their lesson. God is at hand to bring them back to their own land.

We should hear the voice of Isaiah as a call that Lent is now nearly over. God has noticed our sacrifices and is coming to rescue us from our sins. We have to hold the line for two and a half more weeks. But just as sure as daylight is now overtaking the night (in the northern hemisphere, that is) so can we count on God liberating us through Christ’s Easter victory. He shall crown our efforts of charity, prayer, and fasting to make us God-like in mercy, holiness, and generosity.

Homilette for March 4, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Ezekiel 47:1-9 and12; John 5:1-16)

“Crops grow where water flows.” The agricultural lobby posts signs along rural highways with this and similar messages. They want to remind the public that we should not take water for granted. It may fall from the sky, but often costly government programs have to preserve and channel water if it is to nurture life.

Both readings today illustrate the life-giving power of water. In the reading from the prophet Ezekiel the Temple waters flow to produce abundant plant and aquatic life. We should see this water as a kind of grace that provides both nutrition and healing for God’s people. In the reading from the Gospel of John the crippled man cannot avail himself of the Temple waters so Jesus heals him directly. Jesus becomes a more reliable fount of grace than the Temple waters which stir only intermittently and whose effectiveness fades.

Jesus can come to us in ten thousand ways. But the channels that he has formally established are the seven sacraments. In Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Reconciliation, Healing, Marriage and Orders Jesus both heals us and empowers us to serve others. We should not take these sacraments for granted. To keep grace flowing in our lives we need to take advantage of the Sacraments of Penance and of Eucharist regularly and of the other sacraments when occasions for them call.

Homilette for March 3, 2008

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54)

The Prospect of Immortality was written over forty years ago in an age of extravagant optimism. It describes the possibility of deep-freezing people at death so that they may be thawed when cures for their ailments are discovered. Since then, to my knowledge, there have been no accounts of successful revitalization. However, there have been reports of rotting cadavers of people who paid to have their dead bodies frozen. Despite this dismal reality, the book remains in print!

It has been said that no one will get out of this world alive. Then what of our belief in the resurrection? In the first reading, Isaiah offers the springboard to this belief. God -- the prophet tells us -- will create a new earth where people live hundreds of years. We believe that this new creation has been actualized in Jesus Christ. He saves people from death as we see in the gospel today. He raises people from the dead as we shall hear in next Sunday’s gospel. And he will rise from the dead himself to live in eternal glory. We can assure ourselves that there is no “prospect of immortality” besides the hope of the resurrected Jesus redeeming us from death.

We have entered the final weeks of Lent. Now we focus not so much on the sacrifices we make but on all that Jesus promises. Most wonderfully he promises us everlasting life with him. Like the royal official of the gospel, let us not demand that he accompany us physically in our needs. Rather, let us trust that he will be there to rescue us from death when we conform our ways to his.