About Me

Bilingual Roman Catholic priest of the Southern Dominican Province. The "homilettes" on this website are completely the work of Fr. Mele. He may be contacted at cmeleop@yahoo.com. Telephone: (415) 279-9234.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 8:28-34)

The townspeople of the gospel passage today seem like ingrates after Jesus relieves them of a public menace. They beg Jesus to leave their territory because he has cast out demons from two men who threatened travelers. But the townspeople, who are pagan, may be just unsure of who Jesus is. Obviously he has supernatural power, but will he use it for good or for evil? They will take no chances.

Much of Matthew’s gospel probes the question, who is Jesus? His words calm storms and heal people of lifelong illnesses. He teaches with a new ethic based on purity of heart that calls prostitutes and swindlers sinners to righteousness. Jews as well as pagans wonder about the nature of Jesus’ authority. In the end the aristocracy of Jerusalem condemns him to death as an enemy of the people. However, a pagan soldier seeing his gracious suffering pronounces the ultimate judgment, “Truly, this was the son of God.”

Many today wonder not so much about Jesus but about the legacy he has left. They question whether Christians truly live the righteousness that Jesus taught. Although Christian virtue is predominantly manifest, there is always evidence of coexistent vice. By daily pursuing the good, we assure the world that Jesus was truly the son of God who graces his followers.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 8:23-27)

Tiger Woods’ won the U.S. Open a few weeks ago with unswerving concentration. While his opponent occasionally frolicked with the crowd, Woods walked the nineteen-hole playoff with head down and attention fixed on the game.

As steadfast as Tiger Woods’ concentration is, it hardly matches the self-control Jesus exhibits in the gospel today. He sleeps through a gale as if it were a gentle breeze fostering slumber. In doing so, he means to teach his disciples the preliminaries of a missionary journey.

The group is crossing the sea to pagan territory. They will land, as we shall see tomorrow, in the land of the Gadarenes. Trust in the Lord’s dominion over any and all evil will allow them to successfully sow the seeds of the Kingdom. As we enter pagan land, which our society often approximates, we need to develop similar trust in the Lord. Professing faith in the Lord as the source and goal of our lives, we will do more than vanquish sneers. We will enable our associates to likewise sense the wonders of God’s love.

Homilette for Monday, June 30, 2008

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 8:18-22)

Normally the Christian tradition gives high priority to burying corpses. Entombment not only renders homage to the memory of a dead person but also regards as sacred the shell that enveloped the very breath of the Creator. We should be shocked then when Jesus demands that his disciple abandon his dying father to follow him.

Jesus’ radical order indicates the urgency of his mission. His disciples must learn as much as possible before he is given over to be crucified. Empowered by the grace of his cross, they will advance his project. But first the lessons of the Kingdom must be taught and faith in him must be secured. There is no time to look for a place to rest. He will teach his disciples on the road. There can be no delay to tie up loose ends at home, even to bury a parent. Others who do not yet see the kingdom on the horizon can attend to those matters.

We might compare what is happening in this gospel to triage – the method of selecting patients for medical treatment in time of calamity. Not everyone who is injured can be treated. The practitioners must decide who is beyond hope, who is to be given immediate help, and who might wait for assistance. The dying are forsaken, not out of negligence but out of necessity. The first treated are not the most severely wounded but the ones who with limited attention might assist in the care of the others. Then all the able-bodied treat those who are more severely wounded. Jesus, of course, is the divine physician overseeing the project. We are his disciple-assistants caring for one another as he directs us.

Homilette for Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 8:1-4)

We often think of pariah as describing the untouchables of the Indian caste system. The actual term, however, is dalit. Dalits are considered as not having been formed from any of the body parts of a Hindu divinity. Dalits include leather workers, street cleaners, landless peasants, and a host of other humble professions. Discrimination against dalits has largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere. It still exists, however, in rural areas of India where Dalits may be blocked from eating places and water sources.

In the gospel Jesus meets a “dalit” of his time and place. Lepers were so feared among ancient Jews that they were banished from populated areas and had to wear a bell to warn others of their presence in rural places. Yet Jesus shows no fear of the leper who encounters him as he descends the mountain after delivering his famous sermon. Showing what it means to treat others as he would be treated, he touches the untouchable and cures him of leprosy.

And the dalits of contemporary times, who are they? Twenty years ago people were often afraid to touch AIDS patients. In some locales today the undocumented may be resented with the animus felt for dalits in rural India. Alzheimer patients and, often enough, elderly living in nursing homes suffer such neglect that they may feel as if they lacked any relationship to divinity. Like Jesus we must remember to treat all these groups as we wish to be treated.

Homilette for Thursday, June 26, 2008

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 24:8-17; Matthew 7:21-29)

A few years ago a man owning a two hundred year-old house in New England visited Rome. He was bragging a bit about his historic home in the States when he realized that many of the buildings in Rome went back five hundred years!

In the gospel today Jesus names the condition for a house to remain standing for hundreds of years. He says that it must be built upon rock and not upon sand. Of course, he is not concerned about buildings but about people. He means to tell us that if we seek fulfillment in eternal life -- or a fulfilling regular life for that matter -- then we should base our actions upon his words. Doing all that he commands in the Sermon on the Mount, which he completes in today’s reading, will assure his necessary assistance in weathering any storm.

The first reading offers a demonstration of what Jesus is getting at. The dynasty to which Jehoiachin belongs falls because of lack of attention to the word of God. As the reading says, Jehoiachin and his forbears “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Interestingly, dynasties are frequently called “houses” probably because the accumulated wealth is passed along from ancestor to descendant as if it were stored in a house. Anyway, if dynasties are to survive, just as if individuals are to find fulfillment, their inheritors must practice God’s justice.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 7:15-20)

Where Jesus says “beware of false prophets” today, we might change a bit to “false profits.” Many people, especially those with little marginal income, are spending their money wastefully hoping to strike it rich or to live high off the hog while neglecting their responsibilities. A recent support shows the credit card debt has nearly quadrupled since 1989; that the poor spend a much greater portion than the rich on state lotteries; and that usury is thriving.

Fiscal imprudence may not seem to have much to do with the gospel, yet that is due to a fault in our vision. First of all, it indicates where people place their hearts. Our treasure, of course, should be sought first in doing God’s will and not in vacation homes, luxury sports cars, or gourmet dining. In exactly the same way buying multiple lottery tickets or running up large credit bills will undermine today’s gospel mandate to produce good fruit.

American excess has a disturbing social aspect as well. Becoming a society of spendthrifts and not savers, of egotists concerned about ourselves today and not altruists with an eye out for future generations weakens our social ties and impossibly burdens future generations. As a people, we want to give glory and thanks to God by exhibiting mutual concern and by modeling righteousness to one another and handing it on as a legacy to future generations.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

(Luke 1:57-66;80)

Pope Benedict XVI writes that his whole village celebrated his ordination to the priesthood. The festivities were so grand, he says, that in the midst of them the future pope had to remind himself repeatedly, “This is not for you, Joseph; this is not for you.” Who was it for, then? Of course, the people were giving glory to Christ and expressing their gratitude for the ministry of his Church.

The Church along with the gospel writers portrays John the Baptist with humility similar to that of Benedict XVI. The Church has selected June 24 for the feast of John’s birth because it is around the day when the sun’s light in the northern hemisphere begins to decrease, just as John says in the fourth gospel, “(Jesus) must increase; I must decrease.” In the gospel passage we read today, Elizabeth and Zechariah insist that “John” is their baby’s name. “John” means “Yahweh has shown favor.” God favors not only the aged parents in having their first child but all Israel and, indeed, the whole world for the one whom John will announce. As Zechariah proclaims in his famous canticle, John will go before the Lord Jesus to prepare his ways.

We are wise to be humble like the young, future Pope Benedict and like John the Baptist. No matter how intelligent, rich, or beautiful we may be, we are not as indispensable as we think. We are not even capable of a truly good deed without the gift of grace. And that grace comes from Jesus Christ who has, indeed, saved every one of us.

Homilette for Monday, June 23, 2008

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 7:1-5)

Archbishop Tim Dolan of Milwaukee tells the story of an essay contest in the early 1930’s sponsored by an English newspaper. He writes that participants were to submit compositions answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” As much as at any time there were plenty of troubles then. The great economies of the world were in depression. Communism was gaining popularity all over. Germany was on the verge of rearming. However, according to Archbishop Dolan, the Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton submitted the winning essay, consisting of only two words. Answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world...?” Chesterton wrote, “I am.”

Chesterton seems to have taken to heart Jesus’ message in the gospel today. Rather than judge others, we are to acknowledge and correct our faults. This kind of humility became thematic for Christianity. St. Paul will write to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). We should not see this perspective as unreal or self-abusive. Rather, it understands what many come to realize with guilt and embarrassment: we are not as capable as we think, and others are not as deficient.

Americans have a custom that institutionalizes the refraining of judging others. At our best we call everyone by Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Miss and their last name. Even the president of the country is often addressed as “Mr. President.” The custom is based on the equality of all. No one is inherently better or worse than another. Everyone deserves a simple title. In the end God will judge all regarding their use of individual talents.

Homilette for Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 6:19-23)

Some say that if you give a child a choice between a worn dime and shiny penny, she will choose the penny. Perhaps this is true, but my experience of children indicates a different result. Since they have difficulty making choices, children generally want both offerings. A sign of maturity is the ability to choose a goal and to marshal one’s resources to achieve it.

In the gospel today Jesus is calling his disciples to maturity and beyond. He wants them not only to choose between an earthly and a heavenly treasure but to do the good necessary to achieve the latter. Wealth is a fleeting blessing, he would say, where divine love lasts forever. So we are to multiply the love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.

Homilette for Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 6:7-15)

Once about thirty years ago Catholics were allowed to experiment with a different version of the Lord’s Prayer. There were no “thy’s” in the new version nor was it said that the Father “art in heaven.” If I remember correctly, the experiment also called for “debts” to be forgiven, not “trespasses,” and that we are not to be put “to the test” rather than not led “into temptation.”

The purpose of the experiment, no doubt, was to enable us to be more conscious of what we are saying when we pray this quintessential Christian prayer. As Jesus in today’s gospel criticizes pagans for babbling, sometimes we may repeat the words of the “Our Father” without paying attention to the words and perhaps not even knowing what some of the words mean.

The experimental version evidently failed to impress on many people the need for changes. Many probably felt the traditional form was so embedded in people’s consciousness that mandating a change would just cause resentment. Still we should be careful not to rattle off the words of the Lord’s Prayer as if they were a magic formula for attracting God’s attention. Rather we should say the words with deliberation contemplating what they mean. To help us appreciate the import of this prayer, we may note that it is strategically spoken by Jesus at the heart of his Sermon on the Mount which forms the heart of Christian teaching.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1;6-14)

Most talented college football players probably think of little by way of a career other than playing in the NFL. No doubt they seek the fame of a Brett Favre as well as a million dollar contract. But are they aware of the risks involved? Several former players have died at a relatively young age because of concussions received on the football field. More typical are chronic pain after competing for several seasons. We might ask a similar question of Elisha as he requests of double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Elijah accomplished amazing feats as God’s spokesperson in Israel, but he also suffered for his prophecy. Once he walked forty days and forty nights to escape execution by King Ahab and his spiteful wife Jezebel. Speaking the word of God – the prophet’s task -- is always a risky business. Ruthless people often have vested interest in silencing God’s word. Jesus suffered as a prophet although he did not speak so much on behalf of God as with the unique authority of God Himself. At one point he told his disciples that he was bound to die in Jerusalem like the prophets.

Some today might consider themselves as prophets. They have a clear vision of and want to speak out for what is right. They might even quote Scripture, the word of God, in doing so. Of course, such action – done judiciously -- is commendable. But it will not be universally appreciated. As with Elijah and Jesus, those who speak out strongly for righteousness are likely to find themselves derided, if not more vehemently persecuted.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Mt 5:43-48)

Jesus’ command in the gospel, “’...be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect’” distresses many Christians. They worry that they will have to conduct a neurotic, illusive program to change their lives. Better, they may think, to remain simul iustus et peccator, Martin Luther’s expression to describe the Christian as justified while remaining sinful. “God loves us as we are,” they may say to excuse their unwillingness to change.

We like to think of Jesus as accommodating of our sins and foibles. The gospel stories of Jesus’ eating with prostitutes and tax collectors reassure that he will accept us with our less grievous faults. And surely he does! He does not spurn us because of weakness for pornography, displays of bad temper, or the like. But at the same time he calls us to change our sinful ways. At Baptism or in the Sacrament of Reconciliation he even provides us the power to reform.

Yet we should not be surprised if our transformation is gradual. Human nature, after all, is notoriously habitual. Yet with constant, determined effort we can overcome the meanest of tendencies. In this season when Olympic athletes are closing in on perfection, we might consider ourselves in similar training. In our case, of course, we seek mastery of behavior which wins the prize of a permanent place in the Father’s kingdom.

Homilette for Monday, June 16, 2008

Monday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

I Kings 21:1-16

“`Frailty, thy name is woman,’” Hamlet says of his mother Queen Gertrude in Shakespeare’s famous play. Not really. There is certainly nothing frail about Queen Jezebel in the first reading. As her husband King Ahab pouts over not being able to obtain a parcel of land, she devises a scheme to steal it away. Her treachery breaches human law with theft and murder. Then it doubly defies God by having false witnesses swear that they heard poor Naboth curse God. Not frailty but sheer audacity characterizes this dame.

Some may see Jezebel as an archetypal Eve committing the original sin and inducing her husband to likewise offend God. She may also remind us of another Shakespearean female, Lady Macbeth. But we must be careful not to attribute evil to women as if they are not frail but singularly malicious. That does not seem to be the Bible’s perspective as both Adam and Eve together share the forbidden fruit. Likewise, Macbeth is capable of outrage acting alone. Nor does it bear out in contemporary experience where, if anything, masculine crime is more heinous and pervasive. What sin always demonstrates, however, is the human need of redemption. Somehow both men and women must be freed from the burden of guilt attached to their crimes.

“...all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus...,” declares St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans. Christ has freed Jews and Greeks, men and women from the guilt which holds them in sin like a car stuck in mud. We celebrate this redemption now in this Eucharist. Right here he frees us from our wanton desires to possess and to dominate like Ahab and Jezebel.

Homilette for Friday, June 13, 2008

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

(I Kings 19:9a, 11-16)

The “tiny, whispering sound” conveying the presence of the Lord to Elijah is better translated the “sound of silence.” God visits him, as He does each of us, in the silent chamber of conscience where He tempers our pride and chastises our sloth.

The Lord’s question of Elijah, “Why are you here?” is both rhetorical and accusatory. God knows well that Elijah has chosen to run away from his responsibilities as prophet. Elijah must speak the word of God in order to turn the people’s hearts back to God. But the prophet only complains about his lot: the people have abandoned God, they have killed God’s messengers, and they are presently hunting down Elijah himself. God, however, does not condemn Elijah for irresponsibility and endless complaints. He only re-commissions Elijah to carry out His will.

Sometimes we feel discouraged like Elijah. Nothing seems to go right despite our efforts to please God. We too complain about our situation and perhaps become cynical about possibilities for its improvement. A generation ago Henry Nouwen wrote a pamphlet “From Resentment to Gratitude” which explored these feelings of frustration and anger that pervade contemporary life. As an antidote, Nouwen prescribes humbly refocusing our perspective. He writes that we must see “that our life is not an inalienable property to be defended but a gift to be shared.” Recognizing life for the gift that it is, we can leave behind our pouting to do God’s will.

Homilette for Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thursday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

(Matthew 5:20-26)

In his book Blood Brothers Elias Chacour, the archbishop of Galilee in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, tells of a reconciliation he catalyzed as the pastor of a small Palestinian town. The parish was riddled with factions. Families as well as the community were divided. The young pastor, Fr. Elias, decided to force the situation. At the end of Mass on Palm Sunday, 1967, he hastened to the back of the small church and locked the door. Then he announced that no one would leave until they forgave one another. He said that they were not Christians simply because they sat in church. He told them that they allowed the body of Christ to be disgraced. Shocked by the demand, perhaps insulted by the charge, not knowing what to do, the people just stood there. The pastor began to sweat. He could hear the gait of a mule outside and may have thought himself as dumb as the animal. Then a man, the police constable of the town, spoke up. He said that he was the biggest sinner of all for hating his own brothers. He apologized to everyone. Then he went to his brothers who rushed out of their pews to him – all asking mutual forgiveness. Fr. Elias writes, “Within an instant the church was a chaos of embracing and repentance.

Jesus commands such repentance from the heart in the gospel today. Of course, when he says “brother,” he does not mean only blood brothers and sisters but everyone created in the image of God, the Father. Critical to note as well, Jesus is not seeking here forgiveness of others when they offend us. No, he is asking us to recognize our offenses and ask pardon of others. Too often, we become stuck on how others have hurt us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, from which, of course, this gospel passage is extracted, Jesus makes great demands on his followers. We wonder if we can meet them. We need to remember that Jesus provides his Holy Spirit to shore up our weakness to pursue what is difficult. As Pope Benedict has said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes away nothing and gives everything.”

Homilette for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle

(Matthew 5:17-19)

Not only in the United States but throughout the world, people worry about illegal immigration. It is perhaps the leading law-and-order issue of the decade. Some argue that undocumented immigrants flout the law not just by crossing borders or overstaying visas but also by taking jobs and exploiting social services. On the other side of the debate, immigrants’ defenders point out that often they provide critical services and relieve third-world poverty by sending some earnings home. We can see Jesus addressing the question, albeit obliquely, in the gospel today when he speaks about the permanency of the Law.

Of course, Jesus has the Mosaic Law in mind when he says that “...until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” But it seems appropriate to apply the statement to the immigration debate since all laws to the extent that they are just participate in God’s eternal law. What Jesus means by the smallest part of the law is clear, but what does he mean by “all things have taken place”? He is not referring literally to the end of the world but to his cross and resurrection when the old world with its sense of a distant heaven passed away and the Kingdom of God was firmly established. The statement therefore implies the need to reassess immigration laws in light of the same cross and resurrection.

Barnabas may not have been able to appreciate all that Jesus means in this gospel passage, at least to the extent that Paul did. He certainly possessed some virtue as he is the same Barnabas whom Acts praises for selling his land and handing all the proceeds to the apostolic community. Yet he sides with the Jewish-Christians who demanded that pagan converts in Antioch follow the Mosaic dietary laws. Of course, Paul’s sense that the new dispensation abrogated dietary laws eventually proved to be what God intends. Similarly, American bishops see as just some of the claims to legitimacy of undocumented immigrants in American society.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:7-16; Matthew 5:13-16)

Some people may knock the word of God as hot air. But how can Americans deny its value? In a famous address Governor John Winthrop used an image from the gospel today to describe his hopes for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He said that the community should be like a “city on a hill” whose justice would be an example to all. In time America, thinking of itself – at its best moments -- in this way, would lead the world in liberty and justice. In the nineteenth century President Abraham Lincoln continually referred to the word of God in articulating his policies of abolition of slavery and reconciliation of enemies. Within the memory of many alive today the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., relied on the word of God to shape and establish a vision of human dignity and racial harmony.

The first reading today demonstrates the power of the word of God. Elijah acts on its demanding instructions. Because of its proven efficacy he can confidently tell the pagan widow of Zarephath not to fear as she exhausts her provisions feeding him. Finally, the word’s bounty provides for the woman’s continued need of food during draught.

As much as Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, we can rely on the word of God in our personal lives. We find wisdom and consolation in Scripture. Even more significantly, we ground our beings in its Eucharistic incarnation. Its shapes our thoughts and enlivens our actions so that we become, as Jesus recommends, virtual salt and light to the world. As salt we make life for others worth living; as light we show them the way to God’s Kingdom.

Homilette for Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 5:1-12)

Recently British economist Paul Collier published The Bottom Billion. The book reports that the poorest countries in the world lie almost exclusively in sub-Saharan Africa. It also says that poverty there is not hopeless. Prosperous nations only take off their sunglasses and roll up their sleeves. “Take off their sunglasses” means that people rid themselves of prejudices blinding them to the causes of poverty in government corruption and internal conflict. “Roll up their sleeves” indicates that foreign countries can lend a hand in overcoming these problems.

Jesus addresses poverty in the beatitudes. As recounted in the Gospel of Luke, he proclaims the end of poverty with the coming of the Kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are poor,” he says, and, “Blessed are you who are now hungry.” We hear the beatitudes of Matthew in the gospel today. Like Luke’s, they announce the coming of the Kingdom. However, they are more concerned with agency of change than the end product. Jesus looks to his disciples as practitioners of righteousness, peacemakers, etc. to bring about the necessary reversals.

In his book Mr. Collier includes actions of righteousness and peacemaking. He suggests imposing international performance standards on governments to halt corruption. He also recommends military intervention when local militias persecute innocent people. Measures like these seem to compromise the Christian values of respecting local autonomy and, especially, of practicing non-violence. However, they also appear quite in line with the promise of the Kingdom.

Homilette for Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Mark 12:35-37)

Once an advertising campaign promised to “bring a mountain to Chicagoland.” The pledge excited the city’s children who never saw a mountain other than in books. It turned out that the mountain was only a whole lot of coffee being introduced into the Chicago market.

In today’s gospel Jesus refutes a kind of advertising campaign about the Messiah who was to come. People of his time believed that the Messiah would be a mighty king literally in the line of David whose military exploits gave tiny Israel stature among the nations. Jesus notes, however, that one of the psalms refers to the Messiah as “my Lord.” Since David was considered the author of all the psalms, Jesus asks, how can David call his son “my lord”? Jesus means that the expectation of the Messiah as just a mighty king like David is inadequate. Somehow, Jesus implies, the Messiah’s accomplishments will overshadow David’s military feats.

Evidently, the people around Jesus have an inkling of what Jesus is driving at as the passage reports their delight. However, Christians living in the wake of Jesus’ resurrection have a more choice perspective for understanding his intention. Jesus died a horrific death as servant of all. His resurrection from the dead demonstrates that he has conquered evil. His sending of the Holy Spirit gives his followers a foretaste of his glory. For such deeds David and all creation should indeed call Jesus “`my lord.’”

Homilette for Thursday, June 5, 2008

Memorial of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Mark 12:28-34)

In a classic philosophical debate Socrates holds that knowledge of what is right results in a desire to do it. Aristotle disagrees claiming that weakness of the will can interfere with doing what one knows to be good. Anyone who has ever been given the choice between chocolate fudge and an apple for dessert should agree with Aristotle. What would Jesus say?

In the gospel today Jesus makes a telling comment to the scribe who congratulates him on his choice of the greatest commandment. He says, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” One may interpret this statement as meaning that the scribe is not in the Kingdom because he does not profess faith in Jesus. Perhaps, but it is more likely that Jesus too recognizes the difference between knowing something as right and actually doing it. The scribe is not yet in the Kingdom because he only acknowledges the need to love God and neighbor. He still must humble himself to love.

Knowledge moves us along considerably on the road to the “good life.” It pinpoints what we should do, provides viable options, and assesses the risks of each alternative. But actually doing what is right – true morality – also requires will-power – the virtues of temperance, fortitude, and prudence. For example, young adults know they should practice abstinence from sexual intercourse to live rightly. But sitting with their partners on Saturday night, they need will-power to prevent being swamped by desire.

Homilette for Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Timothy 1:1-3; 6-12)

As we are about to begin the Jubilee Year of St. Paul, let us take a look at the first reading. The Second Letter to Timothy comprises one of the three so-called Pastoral Epistles. Biblicists have conferred this distinction because these letters deal with pastoral problems of the early Church. Because the problems appear to be related to times after the death of St. Paul, most biblicists believe them to be pseudonymous. That is, they were written by a person or persons other than Paul of Tarsus. The present letter, however, does not touch on pastoral problems to the same extent as I Timothy and Titus, the other two pastorals. For this reason it is regarded as written earlier than the other two and possibly containing historical data regarding Paul’s final days.

Pseudonymous or not, II Timothy has helped form the popular idea of Paul as a tireless apostle. Toward the end of the letter, it pictures Paul describing his struggle for authenticity: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” No doubt, these words have inspired many Christians to hold on to virtue until the end. Today’s passage should likewise inspire us to exert ourselves on behalf of Christ. Paul is said to prod Timothy to stir into flame the gift of God received through the imposition of hands. Although the gift here is probably related to Ordination, we can also think of it as dealing with Confirmation. We have been sealed by the Holy Spirit to arrest vice and to bring about justice. This requires ceaseless effort that often leaves us exhausted. So from time to time we must rekindle the flame of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Homilette for Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his companions, martyrs

(Mark 12:13-17)

Jesus may have had only taxes in mind when he told the Pharisees and Herodians to pay Caesar his due, but certainly obligations to government extend beyond that. We should take interest in public affairs, obey laws, take our turn serving on juries, and vote with conscience. In this election year citizens let us reflect a moment on this last responsibility.

To quip, “Don’t vote; it only encourages them,” is perhaps as old as teens are rebellious. We have a civil if not a sacred duty to participate in elections. There may be times when not casting a ballot demonstrates one’s unambiguous intentions. But such a voter strike is normally well-organized and called to confront serious political disorder like the current outrage in Zimbabwe.

We should vote for candidates we think will best serve the common good. This means that we look beyond those who promise us the most reward financially to those who will best contribute to a just society. Character – a life dominated by virtue – is an important indication of candidates’ potential as are their positions on issues and their past performance.

Candidates this year will debate many critical issues. Their ideas on how to improve the broken immigration system and the hemorrhaging health care system deserve attention. But two other issues take priority because of their profound negative consequences on society. We should give preponderant weight to how candidates will stop the destruction of prenatal life and will preserve the understanding of marriage as a sacred relationship between a woman and a man. These are emotionally-charged questions so we need leaders with sensitivity as well as effectiveness. But above all they have to do what is right and convince the public of the justice for their actions.