Homilette for Friday, August 1, 2008

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Matthew 13:54-58)

In one of his novels Larry McMurtry tells the story of an antique collector who buys a precious item from the owners of a second-hand store. The owners ask a price many times below the actual value of the object because they do not know what it is really worth. In the gospel today the townspeople where Jesus grew up similarly do not recognize Jesus for who he really is. Rather, because they know his family, they think that they know him. They do not realize that he is actually the long awaited Messiah who comes to save Israel. Even his miraculous cures and his wonderful teaching do not convince them.

Some of us likewise may be scandalized by the ways that Jesus makes himself present to us. He does not come in a grand banquet which we have to pay thousands of dollars to participate in. No, he becomes present in the simple hosts and the inexpensive wine that we bring to the altar. His teachings, which promise everlasting life, are likewise not complicated theorems that only people as intelligent as astrophysicists can understand. No, they contain the straightforward message that we are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be careful not to reject Jesus as his townspeople do in the gospel. Quite the contrary, we must be ever grateful that he makes himself available to us and to all.

Homilette for Thursday, July 31, 2008

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, priest

(Matthew 13:47-53)

A second century theologian named Marcion taught that Christianity has no need of the Old Testament. Rather, he proposed that St. Paul’s letters along with his own version of the gospel were enough to relate the message of salvation. Although he attracted a considerable following, Marcion was eventually excommunicated. But his ideas have endured. Today some Christians have little use for the story of Israel or mistakenly claim that the God revealed in the Old Testament (whom they mistakenly consider driven by justice) is fundamentally different the God of the New Testament (whom they rightfully associate with love).

In today’s gospel Jesus relates a parable that refutes Marcion and subsequent subscribers to the idea that the Old Testament is excisable. He compares a worthy scribe or, we might say, theologian to a homeowner with a large storeroom. Just as the homeowner brings out both old and new items from his storeroom to accommodate the household so the theologian uses both the New and the Old Testament to describe the Kingdom of heaven. We should note the order the homeowner employs – the new comes first and then the old. Jesus means to say that his teaching, what we find in the New Testament, has a priority over the still indispensable revelation in the Old Testament.

Today we celebrate St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. He too resembles a homeowner using both new and old. He lived in the sixteenth century, a time of challenge for the Church. Protestantism was taking root then throughout northern Europe and the recent discovery of new lands made evangelization a primary concern. Ignatius drew upon new ideas to form his Jesuits without foregoing tradition. He maintained that Jesuits were to incarnate the ideal of “contemplation in action” – active in engaging the new challenges and contemplative in appreciating the Christian legacy.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 15:10;16-21)

St. Teresa of Avila, the mystic-reformer of the sixteenth century, once complained to God of the mistreatment she was experiencing. God responded, “This is how I treat my friends, Teresa.” The saint replied, “Well, then, no wonder you have so few!” Teresa echoes Jeremiah’s sentiments in the first reading today.

Jeremiah has faithfully and selflessly served the Lord. He has performed bizarre activities like burying his rotting loincloth so that God’s message might get through to hard-hearted Judah. Yet the only recognition he receives is condemnation. So Jeremiah protests that God compensates him for all his efforts with what sounds like semi-torturous water-boarding. He says, “You have become for me a treacherous brook whose waters do not abide!”

At times people will misconstrue our best efforts like Judah misjudges Jeremiah’s. When we do something out of love for others, we will hear people questioning our motives, “What’s in it for her?” It is critical that at such times we do not become bitter or, if we have turned antagonistic, that we quickly check ourselves. We would be wise to remember the Lord’s promise to Jeremiah, “...I am with you, to deliver and rescue you.”

Homilete for Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Memorial of St. Martha

(John 11:19-27)

In the Gospel of John, Martha seems to be the same kind of go-getter that we see in the Gospel of Luke. We remember how she chides Jesus there for allowing her sister to sit at his feet while she busies herself with the chores of entertaining. Here she starts on the same critical tone as she reminds Jesus that Lazarus would not have died if he had been there. Then she expresses a degree of faith in Jesus by saying that God would give him anything that he asks. Jesus helps her to see that he is more than a healer and holy man. He is “...the resurrection and the life.” Of course, Jesus eventually raises Lazarus from the dead.

We may ask why Martha is considered a saint. Is it just because she expresses belief in Jesus? No, there is more to it than that. Saints are both intercessors and models. Martha petitions the Lord on behalf of her brother as a faith-filled intercessor. In doing so, she shows us how to pray. We do not need half-dollar words to pray, but we have to see Jesus as a friend who can help us. Let us refer to him first in any situation of distress and then figure out what we might do to alleviate the need.

Homilette for Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 13:31-35)

The parable section in Matthew’s gospel challenges astute readers. In it Jesus says that the comparisons or parables he uses are intended to confuse listeners. Yet we hear the parables as expressive images invoking wonder for God’s Kingdom. The paradox may be explained by observing that believers take the parables as true revelation of God’s love while skeptics only find them indicative of Jesus as a creative preacher.

Still we must struggle at times to understand the parables which are by nature open to different interpretations. The parable of the yeast, for example, may be heard as an indication of how a small infusion of grace can reap great blessing or as a mode of expressing God’s ability to transfer a defect into an instrument of His glory. An example of the latter interpretation is a priest who confesses that he spent much of his youth in egotistic pursuits. Then he converted his ways and felt God’s call. Now as pastor of a small church, he specializes in youth ministry.

Jesus’ parables do reveal him as a mesmerizing preacher. But this is only one aspect of his multiform identity. He is also recognized as a prodigious healer. We can easily expound on the list of characteristics. Most significantly, Jesus is the God who humbled himself to become our brother and savior.

Homilette for Friday, July 25, 2008

Feast of St. James, Apostle

(Matthew 20:20-28)

According to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, St. James is one of Jesus’ first and most intimate disciples. Along with Peter and John, James accompanies Jesus to the mountaintop of transfiguration and to his place of agony in Gethsemane. He is also featured with John as the one of the brothers who (or, as we have it today, whose mother) make the pretentious bid for the seats of highest honor in Jesus’ kingdom. The Acts of the Apostles features James as the first of the twelve to be martyred. Despite these Scriptural references, Europe remembers St. James more as a legend than as a biblical figure. He is said to have visited Spain where, since the early Middle Ages, pilgrims have traveled to his supposed tomb in the city of Compostela.

A pilgrimage symbolizes the Christian journey to God. The destination of life’s pilgrimage is the heavenly city where the faithful find relaxation in the Lord. Pilgrims enjoy moments of companionship with one another and the hospitality of local people along the way. These experiences anticipate the end of the journey. We may have never been on a full-blown pilgrimage, but perhaps we have participated in a procession, which is a mini-pilgrimage. Processions, we remember, are filled with distractions – people greeting one another or complaining how their feet ache! -- even as they recite the rosary.

So we should not be too surprised at the shameless request of James and John’s mother as Jesus is finishing his journey to Jerusalem. She is part of a bigger movement given to a bit of recklessness. As we walk with the Lord on life’s journey, let us ask him to forgive our sins and to help us control inordinate desires. Like the mother of James and John let us boldly make our request.

Homilette for Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 13:10-17)

Flannery O’Connor has been called the greatest American Catholic novelist. Yet her novels are seldom about Catholics. Rather they concern the working of grace in often very peculiar country Protestants. Once she was asked why she wrote about such strange characters. She answered that when people are near deaf, you have to shout at them.

Jesus responds similarly to the question, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” We need such on-the-money stories to wake us up to God’s goodness. The parables tell us that God is so generous he will pay laborers who only work an hour a full day’s wage and that God’s kingdom is such a treasure that it is worth selling all we have to attain it. But in a world with so many diversions – from home entertainment systems to iPhones – Jesus’ message still does not always get through.

Some people see parables as make believe. Since they do not bring immediate gratification, they are not worth pondering, much less pursuing. But Jesus’ parables have been validated by Jesus’ own experience. He became the seed that dies in order to produce abundant life when he gave himself on the cross. He became the man who searches for the lost sheep when he ate with sinners and succored the poor. Because of Jesus’ life witness the parables not only entertain us, they also move us to follow him.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 1: 1;4-10)

No personage of the Old Testament reveals more of himself than the prophet Jeremiah. In the reading today we hear how he reluctantly answers the call to speak in God’s name. In the famous autobiographical passages of the Book of Jeremiah he will lament this vocation because it costs him peace of mind. God tells him, for example, that he cannot marry as a sign of the barrenness that the sins of the people have wrought. However, Jeremiah admits that he cannot do otherwise than speak on behalf of the Lord because God’s name burns within his heart.

Like all the prophets Jeremiah’s role is not primarily to predict the future. Rather, for the most part he is points out how the people swerve from the path of righteousness. Their wandering always leads them to idols, be they craven images or illusory values like excessive consumption of material goods. In our time prophets like Mother Teresa have spoken out regarding radical individualism that leads people from solidarity with the suffering to lives of lustful sterility.

Although prophets are famous for indicating the impending wrath of God, they also convey God’s tender love. In a passage of Jeremiah that has been called “the Gospel before the Gospel” the prophet predicts a new covenant which will be written not in stone but on the hearts of the people so that it may be readily obeyed. He says that when this happens, the Lord will be the only God of the people and they will truly be His people. Of course, we see this prophesy fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As Paul tells the Romans, Christ’s death has led to “the love of God (being) been poured into our hearts though the holy Spirit.”

Homilette for Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

(John 20:1-2;11-18)

Our secular age pictures Mary Magdalene as a reformed prostitute who becomes Jesus’ girlfriend. The novel The Da Vinci Code even sees her as the mother of Jesus’ child! Christians should be appalled by such ideas. There is no evidence in the gospels to support them. More to the point, they undermine Christian virtue and overlook the Church’s evangelical mission.

Jesus dedicated himself to God, his Father. His virginity did not make him any less human. Indeed, it has signaled to humans the possibility of self-transcendence. Striving to imitate Jesus’ purity of heart, we will not fall victims to our passions. Rather, we will come to love God above all and to love those whom God has given us, each in the appropriate way.

As we hear in the gospel today, Jesus sent Mary Magdalene on a mission. He told her to announce to his disciples that he was ascending to God, not only his Father but theirs as well. Carrying out this responsibility, Mary Magdalene cued the whole Church. We too are to announce God’s love. We can make such a jubilant claim not because we have seen the risen Christ, but because God has blessed our lives abundantly in him.

Homilette for Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 6:1-4;6-8)

In the prologue to his epic poem “Paradise Lost” John Milton explains the purpose of his ambitious work. Milton writes that he wants to “justify the ways of God to men.” In the reading from the prophet Micah today, we see God calling for such a judgment. Theoretically justification is unnecessary. Since God is the Creator and Sustainer of all, humans are to serve Him not to question Him. But God enters into a public trial with Israel because He desires friendship with His people so that they might take delight in His goodness.

Micah, speaking on God’s behalf, mentions a few of the marvelous deeds God has accomplished on behalf of Israel. He brought them out of slavery and taught them to be a great nation through leaders like Moses. For these benefits God does not ask the tribute which the people are willing to pay – animal sacrifices, oil stocks, or (how could they ever imagine this?) holocausts of their own children. No, God requires only virtue so that they might live in gratitude to Him and in peace with one another. He wants Israel to be just, good, and humble.

In the supreme act of loving kindness God shows the whole world exactly what He means by the virtues Micah outlines. He sends His own son, whom we know as Jesus Christ, to exemplify justice, goodness, and humility. Jesus demonstrates that justice requires particular attention to the poor. He epitomizes goodness by dying on behalf of sinners. And he personifies humility first by dispossessing himself of divine attributes in becoming human and then by suffering the most ignominious death of all – crucifixion. Even though such justification is not necessary, in Jesus God shows Himself to be all just.

Homilette for Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 12:1-8)

Ten years ago Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter entitled, “The Lord’s Day.” In it he tried to awaken Catholics to the glory of reserving one day a week for prayer, family, and renewal. He also challenged the secularizing idea of “weekend” which stretches a day for giving thanks in beloved company into two days or more of fulfilling individual ambitions. The letter is vintage John Paul: human, reflective, and devout.

In the Gospel reading today Jesus provides us with his own reflection on the Sabbath. Of course, for him it is the very end of the week, not its beginning. As in Orthodox Jewish communities today, the Sabbath in Jesus’ time is rigorously regulated: no cooking, no walking beyond what amounts to a kilometer, no jumping or handclapping. Historians tell us that in pre-exilic Israel (i.e., before 586 B.C.) the Sabbath observance was more relaxed and enjoyable. This is Jesus’ own conception as he responds to the Pharisees who claim that his disciples are not Sabbath observant.

Do we feel a twinge of guilt when we head to the mall or go to the office on Sunday? It would not necessarily be unhealthy if we did. It is not that such actions are sinful in themselves. Jesus argues for the necessity of similar deeds by his disciples. But still we should not let Sunday go by without giving primary consideration to Jesus. He is, after all, the “Lord of the Sabbath.”

Homilette for Thursday, July 17, 2008

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 11:28-30)

For good reason people do not want to be slaves. African slaves in America often experienced brutality along with arduous labor. Contemporary slavery exploits women and children who become sex objects for rapacious perverts.

But what if slavery offered a greater freedom than that of not being owned by anyone? Might it not then be acceptable? What if slavery under one person meant freedom from all other sources of domination – internal or external? Might we not want to submit ourselves to it? In mind here is not just free will to do what we believe is right but the ability to act with perfection in every situation. This freedom would be the equivalent in daily life of the freedom of an Olympic gymnast on the parallel bars or that of a virtuoso pianist at the keyboard.

In the gospel today Jesus offers such slavery. He invites us to exchange our willingness to sin for slavery to himself. He does not use the term “slavery,” of course, but speaks of a “yoke.” In biblical times, however, a yoke -- which fastened oxen together for work in the fields -- was considered a metaphor for slavery. Jesus wants us to leave behind our sinfulness in order to make a firm commitment to himself. He will send then send us his Holy Spirit to bring us to perfection. Is his offer not something that we should seriously consider?

Homilette for Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 10:5-7;13b-16)

In trying to come to terms with the great evils that have wrecked humankind, some theologians have concluded that God has no power over forces like armies or hurricanes. Rather, they say, God only inspires people to carry out His will like a mother might encourage her children to do the right thing. However, it is hard to square such a weak God with the reading from Isaiah today.

Assyria was a great power during the first third of the millennium before Christ. It conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 plundering the cities. Isaiah’s oracle, delivered on God’s behalf, lambasts Assyria for going too far in its demolition of Israel. God intended that it punish Israel for the latter’s many offenses. However, Assyria went beyond all the bounds of humanity in completely destroying the nation. Now, Isaiah predicts, God will call Assyria to account for its excesses. In fact, Babylonia conquered Assyria a hundred years later.

When we suffer, we should call to mind that God is in control of the universe and all that is within it. Although we cannot understand why He allows good people to undergo terrible misfortune, we still can turn to God in prayer for mercy. We should not doubt an instant that God loves us and will come to our assistance.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Memorial of St. Bonaventure, priest

(Matthew 11:20-24)

When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia after his long exile in the United States, he warmly greeted everyone he met. Some people were scandalized that he could treat as friends former members of the Communist Party. But the wise author corrected his critics. “The line between good and evil,” he said, “is not drawn between nations or parties, but through every human heart.”

As Solzhenitsyn indicates, no group is so completely evil that every member is without honor. We can also confidently assert that no person is so perfectly guiltless that she has no need of reform. In the gospel Jesus condemns self-satisfied people who think of themselves as beyond reproach. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are Jewish towns where Jesus has preached repentance as preparation for the Kingdom of God. He has even worked signs in these places demonstrating that indeed the Kingdom is at hand. But the people have not changed their ways. Perhaps they think that keeping a kosher kitchen is enough to assure God’s favor. Or maybe they judge their non-scandalous sins as sufficient grounds for receiving God.

We Catholic Christians must not make the same mistake. We must not fall back on our baptism or even that we come to daily Mass to resist Jesus’ call to conversion. Yes, grace has put us on our way to God. But there are still obstacles in our way. We must recognize our will to have things our own way, our snubbing our noses at others, and the rest of our failings. Then, we need to ask God’s mercy and accept His grace to change.

Homilette for Monday, July 14, 2008

Memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, virgin

(Matthew 10:34-11:1)

Last year, a publically funded Spanish radio program broadcasted an essay by a fifteen year-old girl. The girl told how she was in a controversy with her mother because she no longer wanted to be a Catholic. She said that she would like to become a Buddhist because Buddhism is a religion of peace and contemplation. She also commented that she her mother does not practice the Catholicism she preaches. She said that her mother does not go to church but only keeps little altars to saints in the house. The essay concluded with the teen saying that she will remain a Catholic for three more years to keep peace in her house. When she becomes eighteen, however, she promised to join the religion of her choice.

Of course, the saga of the youngster should sadden us. Christianity does not have any vitality for the young girl. She is not moved by the story of Jesus whose compassion, joy, and story-telling will draw the heart of anyone who objectively hears about him. But her mother does not show her Christ by making him a priority of receiving his body and blood in the Eucharist. However, the blame probably does not rest solely with this woman. Surely others – perhaps a crabby priest or maybe sanctimonious relatives – keep the girl from interiorizing the story of Jesus.

Today’s gospel both predicts such conflicts between children and their parents and indicates how the children may be influenced to follow Jesus. When youth hear about Jesus’ love, be it through preachers or apostles or through righteous men and women, they cannot but rebel against their parents when those parents do not live the faith they profess. On the other hand, when parents practice the Christianity they preach, their children come to know Jesus in all his wonder and become grateful to their parents with all their hearts.

Homilette for Friday, July 11, 2008

Memorial of St. Benedict, abbot

(Matthew 10:16-23)

Everyday after school the boys rode to the park for football practice. They left their bicycles around the water fountain to scrimmage on the open field two hundred yards away. One day they returned to the fountain after practice to find a number of their bicycles missing. “How could someone steal my bicycle?” a na├»ve victim asked. He was learning the hard way how the world works.

In the gospel Jesus tells his apostles to look out for how the world works. He says that he is sending them as sheep among wolves. People will try to take advantage of them because they preach goodness and forgiveness. But he assures them that they are not defenseless. As a shield against swindlers they should practice shrewdness. As an ally against liars they seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But it is also critical that the apostles do not become like their adversaries. Jesus insists that they remain as “simple as doves.” They are not to use force, treachery, or bribes to spread the Gospel.

Although parents may not see themselves as apostles, they have the obligation to teach their children the faith. How do they respond, then, when their teens say, “I don’t want to go to church. Mass is boring”? What do they do when their teens declare, “It’s o.k. to have sex with your girlfriend as long as you do it ‘responsibly’”? Like Jesus says, we must be both shrewd and simple. A Jesuit high school teacher advises parents to inform their teenagers that Sunday Mass is part of the price they pay for living at home. Similarly, teens might respond positively to the truth that sex outside marriage belies honesty. That is, parents should tell their teens that sex before marriage is always irresponsible because it pretends to show a profound, permanent affection that just isn’t there.

Homilette for Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 11:1-4; 8e-9)

“A man had two sons” is a familiar biblical theme. We find it in the story of Adam, Cain, and Abel; of Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac; of Isaac, Esau and Jacob; and of the “Prodigal Son”. Typically one son pleases the father while the other broods and pouts. Typically again, the father’s love encompasses both sons.

We should also see the theme of a man with two sons running through the course of the whole Bible. God is portrayed as a man with two sons – Israel and Jesus. Jesus, of course, proves himself worthy of the Father’s praise while Israel has demonstrated fickleness in behavior. In the reading from the prophet Hosea today God expresses both tenderness and outrage for His son Israel. Although Israel has continuously betrayed God, He promises to treat this son with mercy not annihilation. God’s love for Israel is played out in sending His faithful son Jesus to his rescue.

God loves each of us as He loves Israel. Never mind that we have sinned, even egregiously. Never mind that we too often brood and pout rather than turn to God in repentance. God not only waits to forgive us but actively seeks us out through Jesus. His words recorded in the gospels call us to righteousness. His grace delivered through the sacraments empowers us to act according to our consciences. We need only to turn to Him for salvation.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 10:1-7)

Matthew begins his gospel with a list of names tracing the lineage of Jesus. He starts with Abraham, the exemplar of faith, and ends with Jesus, the savior of the world. He mentions several women who gave birth to ancestors of Jesus in anomalous circumstances – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah,” and Mary. We get the idea that God is directing the process that will eventuate in the birth of His son.

In today’s gospel Matthew provides another list of names. These people, in a way, compose a counter to those of the previous list. As the Old Testament figures lead up to Jesus, they will carry Jesus forth to the world as his apostles. In another sense, however, they are similar to the Jesus’ ancestors. They appear as an anomalous group, not very promising to carry out the work of growing an institution. Although they are all Jewish men, they come from a diversity of backgrounds. Once again we have the sense of God directing the process.

We should see ourselves as part of another list of people connected with the two just mentioned. We are spiritual descendants of the ancestors of Jesus receiving through him the faith of Abraham. We are also called by Jesus, like the apostles, to give growth to the Church. Our testimony of both word and example proclaims Jesus as savior and Lord. We may not come from the most promising of backgrounds or may be products of anomalous circumstances but still God guides us to accomplish His purpose.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 9:32-38)

A popular spiritual director used to say, “All people are good, and all people are hurting.” The biblical stories of creation and of the fall reveal the same truth. God breathes His very life into Adam, and for awhile he and his partner Eve walk with God in Paradise. Then their mistrust of God’s goodness ruptures the friendship. God’s subsequent interrogation reveals that the sin has also fractured their own relationship. Finally, the due punishment breaches the human relationship with nature.

In time some of the closeness with God that the first humans enjoyed is restored. Most notably, God leads the Hebrews through the desert for forty years forging a new covenant between God and humanity. But the people always return to evil ways. Hosea and the other prophets point out the fickleness of God’s people. They put their trust in metal images and scandalously satiate their passions.

Jesus will definitively mend the broken relationship. In today’s gospel passage he enables a deaf mute to speak as he has previously restored the sight of the blind and raised the dead. These events indicate God’s approaching the people in a new way. Jesus’ death on the cross will establish an unbreakable bond between God and humanity. For now Jesus points to the surety of the renewed relationship by urging his disciples to pray to God to supply the needs of the people.

Homilette for Monday, July 7, 2008

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Matthew 9:18-26)

Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught that humans express sorrow on three levels. On the lowest level, they cry. On the next level, they keep silence. And on the highest level, they turn their sorrow into song. Music gives grief an outlet. For this reason the gospel today notes flute players beside the death bed of the Jewish maiden.

But is the girl really dead? The evangelist wants to show that there is no room for the death of a believer when Jesus, the author of life, is present. It would be like trying to reserve a corner of darkness in a room filled with light. Jesus only has to say the word and the apparently lifeless rises to attention.

We live in a time when death has lost some of its sting. People openly talk of death as a blessing when its alternatives harbor great suffering or nearly unconscious existence. Of course, pain and unconsciousness only indicate impending death. Where Jesus gives new life, there is vigor not misery. His cure of the official’s daughter prefigures the resurrection of the dead at the end of time when Jesus will lift up all his followers to ever more abundant life.

Homilette for Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 8:4-6; 9-12)

What makes a nation great? As we Americans rest on our anniversary of independence, we might ask this question to take pulse of our progress over 232 years.

We need to distinguish material and spiritual indicators of greatness. Certainly, a nation that provides all its people with ample physical resources – food, clothing, housing, medical care – is on a track of greatness. Although some critics charge that parts of our population have low nutrition levels and substandard housing, generally Americans live better than most of the world. This is so even with the country continually opening its doors to impoverished immigrants.

Spiritual indicators of greatness are social virtues that enable people to live together in peace. Adherence to laws, toleration of differences, and willingness to sacrifice for the common good show that a nation has a strong social fabric. In the reading from the prophet Amos today we might note negative examples of other social values. Amos chastises the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel for disregard of the poor and for dishonesty in business.

Amos further tells the Israelites that one day they will miss the word of God. He means that by ignoring God’s law, found in the Pentateuch, the people will lose their moral compass. The new situation will find them vulnerable to internal turmoil and external domination. “Darkness in broad daylight” is a metaphor for the people forgoing their relationship with God who has always provided the light of wisdom. Sackcloth and shaved heads are signs of slavery to foreign powers.

The United States has not squandered spiritual greatness like ancient Israel. Still there is need for constant vigilance and even present concern. Americans in general have less appreciation now than a generation ago for religion, a critical element of their moral compass. Also, the huge number of Americans incarcerated indicates contempt of law, another crucial part of morality. Finally, young Americans need to ponder the individualism and narcissism which their generation is noted for. These cancers can erode the fibers of social solidarity, also necessary for morality and indicative of national standing.

Homilette for Thursday, July 3, 2008

Feast of St. Thomas, the Apostle

(John 20:24-29)

Like Thomas sometimes we wonder about the resurrection of Jesus. We may think that life would be neater if death were the end. We could congratulate those who accomplished their goals in life – be they earning a million dollars, helping the poor, or raising a family -- and would not have to consider whether they accepted Christ in love to merit eternal life.

But all that is wishful thinking. The gospel today asserts that Jesus rose from the dead. He appears to a man who did not give credibility to the word of witnesses but insisted on touching the wounds of the crucified if he was alive. The doubter then turns into the person expressing the deepest faith in all the gospels. Thomas’ final words “my Lord and my God” express not only Jesus’ divine sonship but his equality with the one God.

Of course, we can deny the truth of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. We can say that this is just a pious story fabricated to get simple people to believe. But such a stance denies our experience. People of faith seem to live fuller, happier lives facing hardship with less turmoil and recovering from setback more easily. Likewise, when we call on the resurrected Jesus -- “my Lord and my God,” we experience the providence of his guiding hand.