Homilette for Monday, June 2, 2008

Monday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

(Mark 12:1-12)

Philosophers debate the existence of God by telling the story of two men who come to a clearing in the jungle with many beautiful flowers. One of the men says that a gardener must have planted the flowers. The other disagrees saying that they are wild flowers. So they decide to experiment by waiting around to see if a gardener appears. After a couple of days without anyone coming to tend the garden, the man who proposed that a gardener planted the flowers says that the gardener must be invisible.

God, for those of us who believe, is the invisible gardener who created the world and all its contents. Atheists say “no,” there is no invisible gardener but only an imaginary one existing in the minds of believers. In the gospel Jesus tells us that there is indeed a gardener. The vineyard Jesus mentions is like a garden, and God is the one who planted it. Therefore, God has a right to demand that the vineyard’s caretakers produce fruit for Him. Of course, generally we understand Jesus’ vineyard as the earth and the fruit which God expects as justice and peace. But we might see the vineyard as the physical environment which we are to care for. We must not pollute it, wantonly kill its creatures, or wastefully deplete its resources. The Book of Genesis underlines this responsibility by saying, “God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it” (Genesis 2:15).

Obviously, one does not have to believe that God is the invisible gardener to care for the environment. But we who do so believe should become environmentalists. We might also question how people arguing that God is but an imaginary gardener would defend the universal need to care for the earth which is felt so strongly today.

Homilette for Friday, May 30, 2008

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Matthew 11:25-30)

With all the attention given to computer learning we might think that human teachers are becoming obsolete. But, of course, that is far from the case. As helpful as computers are, students need a person to assist them in acquiring knowledge. They have questions that computers cannot understand and difficulties that only human intuition can ascertain.

In the gospel today Matthew presents Jesus as the “teacher of the ages.” Jesus’ meekness and humility will not reject anyone. He does not say one thing and do another but instructs followers to learn by following his example. The yoke that he lays on apprentices – the lessons he gives them to follow – are not rigorous. They only have to love another as he loves all.

The heart of Jesus, pierced but aflame, symbolizes all the richness of this gospel nugget. Its ardor reaches all people without exception. Its woundedness knows the trials of the weak who, in some ways and at some times, include everyone. It invites each one of us to enter its chambers where we might be renewed for the long journey heavenward.

Homilette for Thursday, May 29

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 10:46-52)

Pope Benedict has called Jesus the “pearl of great price.” In other words, Jesus is the gospel treasure for which we are wise to give up all we have. He provides us not just subsistence but life in abundance. His Spirit brightens our darkest days in this world, and he personally brings us across the abyss of death into a realm of delight.

The blind Bartimaeus realizes Jesus’ overwhelming value in the gospel today. We see Bartimaeus sitting on the ground with his cloak spread out to catch alms tossed by passers-by. When Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus throws his cloak aside with any and all coins that have accumulated. He knows that Jesus can provide the power to render unnecessary begging for pittances.

Jesus gives Bartimaesus his sight which is gospel shorthand for faith. Bartimeaus can see more than colors, he can perceive that Jesus is the one to follow the rest of his life. The passage is quite explicit: Bartimaeus “followed (Jesus) on the way.” Jesus, of course, is on his way to Jerusalem where he will be crucified. His followers will also be persecuted, but no matter. Just as Jesus, they will be ushered pass the abyss of death into a realm of delight.

Homilette for Wedenday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 10:32-45)

The gospel describes the disciples as “amazed” and some of them as “afraid” as Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem. These are probably the many men and women who accompanied Jesus in a kind of traveling school of discipleship. They are, no doubt, traumatized because they know that nothing but ill awaits Jesus in the center of Jewish triumphalism. We might be amazed as well at the obtuseness of the Twelve disciples who make up Jesus’ closest confidantes. As Jesus is facing the supreme crisis, at least two of them have the brazenness to jockey for the highest positions of glory.

We may also be amazed at what some fellow Catholics are doing. Teens, once confirmed, often leave church behind. Catholic mothers have live-in lovers. Veteran Catholics blithely miss Sunday Mass to recreate with the family. “Have the commandments been changed?” we may wonder.

Jesus would answer, “No.” There is no justification for such practices. When he calls his disciples to serve one another, Jesus intends that all of us sacrifice individual autonomy to achieve divine authenticity. That is, rather than doing what pleases us personally, we are to imitate Jesus’ service for others’ salvation. It is a hard message for many, but it is the only way to true glory.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 10:28-31)

What Jesus says is true. People who worry about committing themselves to a religious vocation often find that they receive several times more than they gave up. Moving away from relatives as a young woman or man may be wrenching, but the person typically finds herself or himself in wonderful company which literally becomes a second family.

In the gospel Jesus predicts exactly this kind of bountiful return for those who sacrifice themselves for his sake. We can note a couple of other blessings associated with religious life. Above all, religious and priests develop an intimate relationship with the Lord. All Christians should pray, but those dedicated to the Church find themselves constantly reflecting on Scripture and petitioning God for assistance. Especially as we become less interested in doing things, knowing Christ in these ways can fulfill the heart’s desire.

Ministry for priests and religious can also be particularly meaningful. They usually assist well-disposed people in need of guidance. Speaking about Jesus brings great satisfaction, especially when the message is heard with interest. Finally, Jesus assures his disciples that those who have committed themselves as they have made will receive eternal life. He means that they will never leave the bliss of his companionship.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 10:28-31)

What Jesus says is true. People who commit themselves to a vocation as a priest or religious often receive several times more than they give up. Moving away from relatives as a young woman or man may be wrenching, but priests and religious typically find themselves in wonderful company which becomes like a second family.

We can note other blessings associated with religious life. Above all, religious and priests develop an intimate relationship with the Lord. All Christians should pray, but those dedicated to the Church have constant opportunity to reflect on Scripture. By meditating on how God prepared His people for His Son in the Old Testament, how Jesus lived and died in the gospels, and how the new People of God looked to him as Savior throughout the New Testament, we come to trust Christ as both our Lord and brother.

Ministry for priests and religious can also be particularly meaningful. They usually assist well-intentioned people needing guidance in the quest for holiness. Speaking about Jesus brings great satisfaction, especially when the message is heard with interest. Finally, Jesus assures his disciples that those who have committed themselves to him will receive eternal life. He means that they will never leave the bliss of his companionship.

Homilette for Monday, May 27, 2008

I am posting two reflections here -- the first explicitly for Memorial Day and the second focusing on the readings for Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time. cm

Memorial Day

In Shakespeare’s play Henry V, the king under disguise speaks with his troops before battle. One soldier claims that the king would be guilty of all the sins of those who die in battle if his cause is not just. Henry disagrees. “The King is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers...,” he says, “for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services.”

Henry seems to make the better argument. For this reason we come here to pray for dead soldiers and sailors, not for dead Presidents. We can easily imagine the temptations of those going off to war. They may become over-zealous in killing during battle, or they may behave immorally in recreation away from home. Whether their sins are grave or light, they deserve our prayers. After all, they gave their lives that we might enjoy freedom and dignity.

Catholics show themselves as worthy Americans on Memorial Day by remembering at Mass our country’s war dead. Few practices are more uniquely Catholic than praying for the dead. And there is no better way to pray for the dead than offering for their sake the memorial of our Savior’s death.

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 10:17-27)

Preachers used to have a solution to the absurdity of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. They claimed that there was a gate in Jerusalem called “the needle eye” which a camel might enter if it ducked enough. So, they concluded, Jesus allows the possibility of the rich saving themselves after all.

Such an interpretation of Jesus’ words, however, misconstrued the point Jesus is making. Because they think of riches as a blessing from God, the disciples figure that God will continue to bless them with a ticket to heaven. Jesus disabuses them of this idea by saying that the chances of the rich entering heaven are as impossible as a ten-foot animal’s passing through a quarter-inch opening.

Do the poor have a greater chance? Jesus would answer “yes” because the poor tend to ask God’s help more regularly. The rich too can be saved if they sincerely turn to God for assistance. Jesus wants to impress upon all that on our own we cannot cross the divide that separates us from God. Whether we are as rich as Bill Gates or as strong as Mr. Atlas our resources are insufficient. But God can get us across so let us implore His help and live up to His commands.

Homilette for Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 5:9-12)

We have all seen enactments of court witnesses taking an oath. The attendant holds a Bible on which the witness places her left hand. He then asks her, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God?” When the witness responds, “I do,” is she defying the command we find in today’s reading from James, “...do not swear,
either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath”?

Actually the Scripture basis forbidding the taking of oaths runs deeper than the Letter of James. Jesus tells his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “...’I say to you, Do not swear at all....Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one’” (Mt 5:34). When a Christian takes an oath then using the words “so help me, God,” like the new President will likely do in January, it seems to be a sinful matter.

The Church, however, which is the official interpreter of Scripture, has judged to the contrary. The Catechism explains that we follow a tradition found in St. Paul’s letters that permits oaths invoking God for serious reasons (cf. #2154). Nevertheless, today’s reading from the Letter of James and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount should remind us not to use God’s name frivolously. Too often people say “O my God,” “God, help me,” and even the curse “God damn” without respect for the holiness of God’s name. We should no more use that name lightly, indeed we should use it much less, than we would flippantly toss about our mother’s name. On the other hand, we should call upon it without hesitation when we are in legitimate need of God’s help.

Homilette for Thursday, May 22, 2208

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 5:1-6; Mark 9:41-50)

Both the first reading and the gospel today demonstrate the Bible’s capacity to use hyperbolic language to make its point. We must remember that such language should not be understood literally. Rather we should allow common sense to question extreme commands and judgments and then defer to Church authorities for a proper interpretation.

In the reading from the Letter of James the author seems to tell all the rich that they will end up in misery. Apparently he believes that everyone with wealth has extorted the poor. Of course, this position is patently false. Still, however, seeking wealth as the heart’s desire runs the risk of greed and selfishness. Everyone – the rich, the poor, and persons in the middle – should become “poor in spirit” as the responsorial psalm says. That is, all people should look to God as their principal resource of fulfillment in life.

Jesus tells his disciples that if their hand, foot, or eye causes them to sin, they should sever these organs. If Jesus meant to be taken literally here, he would be advocating actions contrary to natural law! But he only wants to emphasize the necessity that those with authority in the Church must never lead the faithful astray. By way of example we might say that Church leaders have to avoid giving scandal by keeping their hands out of community funds, by not kicking others with their feet, and by not lusting after any one with their eyes.

Homilette for Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 9:38-40)

In Robert Duvall’s movie “The Apostle” an evangelical preacher from Texas observes a Catholic priest in Louisiana blessing a fishing fleet. He does not betray any anger or envy. He merely reaffirms his own mission by saying something like: “They do things their way; and I do things my way.” Jesus shows this same kind of tolerance in the gospel passage today.

The Acts of the Apostles records several incidents of men preaching and trying to exorcize demons in Jesus’ name without authorization from the apostolic community. It probably happened just as frequently then as today when many free-lance preachers tell of Jesus. Like John in the passage we might like to prohibit them from doing so. Such action, however, would not only be censorship taking away the speaker’s right to free expression but also a violation of Jesus’ principle of toleration.

It is perfectly legitimate and even a duty for priests to warn the faithful of imposters who give the impression of speaking for the Church when they preach. But generally when we hear non-Catholic preachers talk of Jesus on television or the radio, we might listen a bit to what they are saying. They probably are not speaking against the Church and quite possibly have insights that may help us better appreciate the Lord.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 4:1-10)

Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932 as a warning for the future. He predicted the hedonism of gratuitous sex and drugs that in some ways has become reality. In one of the novel’s final scenes the protagonist whips himself to overcome desires of the flesh that prompted the creation of the brave new world. Unfortunately, however, the culture of hedonism is too strong to be checked by individual effort.

The passage from the Letter of James that we hear today relates a similar message as Brave New World. The writer is intensely aware of the power of carnal desires to overcome wisdom and even rationality. Quite shockingly, after addressing his readers as “beloved” at the beginning, he calls them “adulterers” in this passion to impress on them the urgency of the situation. He makes no room for delay or tolerance as he says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.”

If we are to preserve ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ, we must act radically as James exhorts. Whipping ourselves seems unnecessary, but occasional fasting and perennial care about what we look at should become our norms. Beyond individual discipline, we need to inculcate a culture of human dignity and respect. Such a culture would not simply have laws forbidding various immoral practices. Rather, it would strive to enlighten and uplift everyone to a regard for the common good as much as to individual rights.

Homilette for Monday, May 29, 2008

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Mk 10:14-29)

Did you ever want to climb Mt. Everest? It is not impossible, you know. Adventure organizations claim that they can take any person in reasonably good physical shape to the summit. Of course, they ask a hefty service fee for the service. But perhaps more essential is faith in the organizers. They will demand rigorous training, attention to details, and discipline in following their commands. But if you really want to see the view at the top of the world, you’ll trust in them.

Jesus makes us an even better offer. He promises us to raise us from the dead if we put our faith in him. The casting out of the evil spirit and the raising of the boy to new life in today’s gospel foreshadows what Jesus will do for those who believe in him. He will cleanse us of our sinful tendencies – anger, lust, pride, etc. – and accompany us into eternal life. As in the case of mountain climbing expeditions, we must place complete faith in him. We must obey his commands implicitly and follow his path unquestionably.

However, Jesus’ offer seems at times more of a challenge than a benefit. We may find it hard to believe in Jesus when others – often kinder and more intelligent than we – do not show him any special regard. “I do believe; help my unbelief!” we cry with the father of the possessed boy. And we pray to God, as Jesus indicates, that He will purify our half-hearted faith so that we may have full-fledged life.

Homilette for Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 2:14-24; 26)

Leave it to a debate to clarify different points of view. Recently, self-professed atheist Christopher Hitchens and scholarly Christian Dinesh D’Souza have conducted a series of debates about God’s existence. The exchanges have left listeners with deeper questions about God and greater appreciation of faith in Him. We can read the passage from the Letter of James today as a debate rebuttal to some commentators on St. Paul.

It is important to distinguish St. Paul from his more radical interpreters. Paul understood the importance of love in the practice of faith. He was concerned, however, with Jews who thought meticulous attention to the Law was sufficient for salvation. He wrote the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” His interpreters, among whom seemingly is Martin Luther, have thought him to mean that “faith alone,” a phrase not found in Scripture, is enough. It was to these interpreters that James directed his famous statement, “...faith without works is dead.”

Which then is more important for salvation – faith because it is primary or love which Paul calls the greatest virtue? C.S. Lewis once said that asking this question is like asking which blade of a scissors is more important. Both are indispensable. Faith without love is like a car without gas. It will not move very far. Love without faith will inevitably falter since humans need Christ’s grace as surely as they need a vehicle to reach all points on the earth.

Homilette for Thursday, may 15, 2008

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 8:27-33)

The woman has an inoperable brain tumor. The doctor just told her that he can do nothing more for her. Most likely, he said, she will die soon. Of course, the news troubled the woman and her family. They wondered how the doctor could be so sure. "Should he not have held out some hope?" they ask themselves. Disbelieving the doctor’s prognosis, the family resembles Peter in the gospel today. The chief apostle refuses to accept Jesus’ prediction of the suffering he faces.

We can imagine the thoughts racing through Peter’s mind when he refutes Jesus. He may be thinking that Jesus has power to lay his enemies in the dust. Or possibly that he and the other disciples will defend Jesus if anyone so much as lifts a finger against him. Or even that all the Jews will come to recognize Jesus as the Christ. If, as Jesus says, Peter thinks as human beings do and not like God, then Jesus as God knows all too well how human beings think. He realizes that when push comes to shove the disciples will fold like a house of cards. Likewise, he perceives the Jewish religious establishment in Jerusalem as too settled to acknowledge a preacher and healer from Galilee as God’s chosen one. Most of all, Jesus knows the human person as in dire need of redemption from a bloody encounter with the evil one.

“Human kind cannot bear very much reality,” T.S. Eliot once wrote. By “reality” he was referring to both the outrageousness of death and Jesus’ remedy of that affliction with the cross. We like Peter often underestimate human sinfulness and overestimate our ability to help ourselves. Most of all, perhaps, we fail to grasp the intense and unremitting love that moves Jesus to die for us. We have to change our minds or, as Jesus says in another place, to repent and believe.

Homily for Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Feat of St. Matthias, apostle

(Acts 1:15-17; 20-26)

Eleven men make up a football team, and there are “twelve apostles.” No coach would think of sending only ten players onto the field, but is it incomprehensible that there would be only eleven in the inner group directing the early Church? Since each member of the group has basically the same function, some people may think “no,” twelve is rather arbitrary – a number whose virtues are both substance and balance. However, in the first reading today the whole community of disciples in Jerusalem obviously sees something critical about twelve. One of their first decisions after Jesus’ ascension is to name a replacement for Judas.

Jesus was definite about choosing twelve men for his core group of disciples. Although one characteristic of this base is their exemplary readiness to follow him, Jesus had more in mind than a balanced showcase of discipleship. He chose no more and no less than twelve in order to execute his mission of reuniting the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus' purpose was to inaugurate the Kingdom of God by gathering together all Israel as a magnet to attract all peoples of the earth. There would be one judge or leader of each of those tribes.

The New Testament does not mention Matthias other than in this passage. His significance is to indicate that Jesus had a definite vision of his mission and of the community he founded. This realization should fill us with confidence and joy. The Church, to which we have committed ourselves, is no happenstance but the deliberate design of Jesus. Even more significantly, our Church continues Jesus’ work of establishing the Kingdom of God with all its hope and promise.

Homilette for Tueday, May 13, 2008

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

(Mark 8:14-21)

“Some say the world will end in fire,” writes poet Robert Frost, “Some say ice.” He is proposing metaphors for the two great threats to humanity -- desire and hatred. In today’s gospel Jesus proposes his own metaphors for these two eternal foes – the leaven of Herod and the leaven of the Pharisees. Herod wanted to please everyone, especially himself, so he married his brother’s wife, imprisoned John the Baptist when he criticized the action, and then beheaded the prophet not to lose face with his guests. The Pharisees came to despise sinners in their zeal to carry out the Law beyond all reproach.

To overcome desire and hatred, Jesus gives us himself as the bread of life. He personifies wisdom showing us how to live happily but temperately. He also incarnates the love of God, which brings out the good in all people so that they might gain eternal life. Jesus is the “one loaf” that the disciples have in their boat. He is the bread we break at Mass that delivers us from all evil.

Homilette for Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

(James 1:1-11)

Fully renewed by the sacrifices of Lent and the graces of the Easter season, the Church now eases into Ordinary Time. We are to live the faith that the Holy Spirit has implanted in our hearts so that we might experience the fullness of eternal life. We have as yet to celebrate the Solemnities of the Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, and the Sacred Heart, but our daily readings return to the lessons on holiness from the gospels and other Scriptures.

Today’s reading from the Letter of James provides a significant clue to sanctity. It tells us not to become frustrated when we experience trials. When no one pays attention to what we say or when we fail to achieve what we set out to do, we should not curse our predicament. Rather, we should step back and consider the trials as sources of growth. Patience in trial perfects us by allowing us to see that God will take care of us. Our task is to remain faithful to His ways.

In Death Comes to the Archbishop Willa Cather portrays the head of the newly erected diocese of Santa Fe as a man patient and persistent in trial. He does not curse his having to cross hundreds of miles of desolate wilderness to authorize his credentials. Nor does he falter in facing the challenges of accustoming himself to a very different culture. Rather he executes his mission with diligence and prayer. His crowning work is the construction of a beautiful cathedral which symbolizes his archdiocese. The structure stands today as a testimony to the archbishop’s sanctity.

Homilette for Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(John 21:15-19)

George Orwell’s Animal Farm pictures a society without leaders. On paper it seems like a good idea. Every animal is equal. There are no farmers around to make the animals do what they do not wish. In reality the situation quickly deteriorates. Soon every animal is equal but some are more equal than others. The same division of labor follows as when the farmers were in charge, but there is worse oppression. Orwell intended the novel as an allegory for totalitarianism in twentieth century Russia. We can also read it as a warning about leaderless societies.

There is some evidence that the early Church saw no need for a leader to replace Jesus. His disciples expected Jesus to return soon after his going to the Father. Everyone associated with the various communities of disciples understood the primacy of love. With such high motivation, is a leader really necessary? Today’s gospel indicates that there is indeed such need if the institution’s existence stretches to any appreciable length. For this reason Jesus is seen appointing Peter as chief shepherd of his flock.

But Peter is to be a leader different from most. The basis of his authority is love for Jesus. To assure that Peter understands what he is saying, Jesus has Peter profess his love three times. Later this love will be tested in an even more revealing way. When Jesus tells Peter that someone will lead him where he would not otherwise go, he is predicting Peter’s martyrdom. Peter did, in fact, die crucified like Jesus nailed on a cross.

Leadership is fraught with pitfalls. Leaders may abuse their authority to become tyrannical or they may neglect their duties to grow ineffectual. Based on self-sacrificing love and guided by the Spirit’s gifts of justice and prudence, however, leaders perform an indispensable and necessary service. Especially in contemporary times the Church has been blessed with great leaders in the line of Peter.

Homilette for Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 22:30; 23:6-11)

Often when we feel criticized, we plan on how we are going to defend ourselves. We search for impressive words that will show off our wit and put down our critics. But this might be a foolish strategy. We would do better to listen carefully to what others are saying about us, pray to the Holy Spirit that we might respond prudently, and speak forthrightly what comes to mind. Jesus tells us as much when he says, “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’”

In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles Paul seems to follow Jesus’ advice. He evaluates the situation and speaks to it. His reference to being a proponent of the resurrection of the dead divides his persecutors. What starts as a conspiracy to condemn Paul turns into a debate with half the Sanhedrin supporting him. The Holy Spirit is the driving force behind this and all activity in Acts. He brings Christianity from its humble beginning in Jerusalem to center stage in Rome where it will fan out throughout the whole world.

The Holy Spirit is God’s incomprehensible gift of Himself to us. We are never abandoned when he settles upon us. The Spirit bestows in trial and strength to endure persecution. Sunday, the feast of Pentecost, we proclaim the Spirit’s coming. God is never reluctant to share His Spirit, but we should directly and persistently petition his presence.

Homilette for Wednesday, May 9, 2008

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(John 17:11-19)

Latin America has become pluralistic with regard to religion. In most cities -- and the region is increasingly urbanized -- Protestant churches dot neighborhoods like little grocery stores and missionaries, both foreign and home grown, pace the streets inviting people to taste their spiritual food. There is little concern for ecumenism. Catholic pastors often see the Protestants as opportunists trying to steal their flock. Meanwhile, Protestant pastors criticize Catholicism for its many devotions that seem to impede the people’s acquaintance with the word of God. The situation defies Jesus’ prayer in the gospel today.

Jesus asks his Father to make all those who believe in him one in faith and charity. He has in mind all the churches that his disciples will establish. It is an ambitious request because different ways of thinking and different bonds of affection tend to draw people apart. We should not derive consolation from the fact that factions in all major religions match those of Christianity.

In 1995 Pope John Paul II wrote an extraordinary encyclical entitled with words taken from today’s gospel, That They May Be One. He said that it that as Vicar of Christ, he had an obligation to seek Christian unity. He further stated that although the truth could never be compromised to accommodate oneness, the Church’s visible form is not everywhere non-negotiable. After thirteen years without any significant realignment within Christianity, some might think that John Paul’s initiative has failed. But that might be short-sightedness. Individuals and communities from various branches of Christianity are working together more than a hundred years ago. Of course, further mutual understanding and cooperation are called for. Everywhere, including Latin America, we Christians must see such efforts as the will of the Lord.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(John 17:1-11)

A celebrated painting by the Renaissance master Ghirlandaio shows a boy embracing his grandfather. The old man has a bulbous, deformed nose that might elicit repulsion. But the lad gazes at him with affection. The grandfather also looks on his descendent with love. The title of this painting is simply “An Old Man and His Grandson.” But we might also call it, “A Picture of Eternal Life.”

In his encyclical on hope Pope Benedict mentions that we do not have an adequate idea of eternal life. As a matter of fact, the pope indicates, the term may confuse people who think of eternal as interminable and life as trouble. He suggests that we think of eternal life as “...the supreme moment of satisfaction in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality.” That’s more than a mouthful, but Ghirlandaio manages to capture this moment in his scene of the boy and the old man embracing.

In today’s gospel Jesus confirms this understanding of eternal life. He says that it is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. By “knowing God,” he does not mean intellectual knowledge of God but intimate union with Him. Jesus adds that he has revealed the name of the Father to his disciples. He means that he has shown them the great “I Am.” This name expresses totality -- what Pope Benedict tells us to look for in eternal life. We anticipate then as our journey through this world ends a loving embrace with Him who encompasses all that is.

Homilette for Monday, May 5, 2008

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(John 16:29-33)

If you have difficulty following the dialogue in the gospel of John, you are in good company. The disciples in the reading today admit that they are not always able to understand what Jesus says. We need not think that Jesus actually spoke in such long, abstract sentences. Most likely, the evangelist John inherited his sayings from the apostles and the beloved disciple, his special source. He then formed them into discourses or sermons to explain different elements of Christian belief.

Studying Jesus’ words carefully will promote faith. Certainly John the evangelist believed that Jesus is the Son of God. He presents Jesus as omniscient, knowing even the thoughts that those around him are turning over in their heads. More importantly, he emphasizes Jesus’ complete identification with the Father. Only John pictures Jesus as saying, “I and the Father are one.”

In the reading the disciples express their faith in Jesus as we do every Sunday at mass. Jesus takes note of their belief because he wants them to recall it when they are not so physically close to him. Just so, our repetition of the creed maintains our faith when we are not joined to Christ in the Eucharist. When we are defrauded or when we commit a grave sin, we may remember the act of faith and realize that all is not lost. Indeed, whatever mistake we have made or whatever difficulty we face, Jesus can rectify the situation because he has “conquered the world.”