Homilette for February 18, 2008

Homilletes for weekday masses from February 8 can be found below.

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

(Luke 6:36-38)

Ten years ago Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Montana. Mr. Shepard’s killers assaulted him because he was a homosexual and evidently flirted with one of them. After the guilty verdict Shepard’s parents agreed with the state not to seek the death penalty. His father told one of the killers, “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney, but now is the time to heal.” Although this may sound like half-hearted mercy, it probably took courage to utter.

In the gospel today Jesus calls us to be merciful. It has been pointed out that where in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus calls his disciples to be perfect, Luke shows him emphasizing mercy as if mercy is the perfection of God. When we are called upon to forgive a really serious offense, it certainly seems like a monumental task. As a poet (Alexander Pope) once put it, “To err is human; to forgive divine.

What’s critical is that we don’t dwell too long on how we feel in such situations. Feelings make good barometers of the likes and dislikes of our hearts, but they do not serve well as compasses to where we should be going. Naturally we are upset when someone hurts us deeply. Rather than lash out in anger, however, we should imitate Matthew Shepard’s father and not let our dislike rule our minds. No, as Jesus’ disciples, we must be ready to forgive those who offend us.

Homilette for February 15, 2008

Friday of the First Week in Lent

(Matthew 5:20-26)

Twenty-five years ago Jim had a coronary bypass. It was radical surgery but the discipline that his doctors imposed was even more extreme. A heavy smoker since he was a teen, Jim had to give up cigarettes cold turkey. A professional in a demanding administrative job, Jim had to take time to exercise every day. Overweight, he had to shed excess pounds. In short, if he was going to live much longer, Jim he had to turn around many his life’s habits at the age of fifty. Jim’s brother died shortly before Jim’s bypass reminding him that the doctor’s instructions were not professional drivel. Jim is alive and well today at seventy-eight. He may not be as thin as his doctor would like, but he doesn’t smoke and walks daily.

In the gospel Jesus calls for a change of life-style every bit as radical as Jim’s although on a spiritual, not physical, level. We are no longer to get angry with or make fun of a brother or sister. Here Jesus refers not so much to our blood relatives but to the men and women of our church. If the Christian community is to be “the light of the world,” which Jesus calls it shortly before he issues these commandments, its members will have to constantly give good example. Refraining from demonstrations of anger and from acts of mockery (“Raqa” means empty-headed) are but obvious ways to show respect for others.

Is it then permissible to curse or deride people who don’t belong to our church? Such literal distinctions are what Jesus is steering his disciples away from in this Sermon on the Mount. The Scribes and Pharisees would split hairs in this way so that they might indulge their passions while still sensing moral superiority. In truth Christians through the centuries also have acted in this way. But Jesus is calling for a new righteousness that, as he says, will exceed that of the self-righteous. We are to see in everyone a potential sister or brother and to treat her or him deferentially.

Homilette for February 14, 2008

Thursday of the First Week in Lent

(Matthew 7:7-12)

A man once commented that it is useless to pray that God end a war. He thinks that war involves so many people that God could not have much say regarding its outcome. Many believe that God cannot answer personal requests either. In fact, a whole theological movement known as “process theology” believes that God is powerless over events in people’s lives. Then why pray at all, we might ask?

Process theology adherents would answer that prayer at least lifts a person’s thought from worrying about a problem to imagining a solution. Psychologically, prayer facilitates positive thinking. Such reasoning, however, hardly convinces regular Christians. If we needed to think about solutions, we could do that without directing our hearts to God in prayer. In the gospel, of course, Jesus does not seem to doubt that prayers will be answered. “Ask and it will be given to you,” he says confidently.

Those who doubt the value of prayer to achieve its purpose have an inadequate conception of God. God knows what we need before we express our need, even before we exist. He wants us to pray, however, so that our relationship of faith may strengthen. He will respond to our prayer by providing for our need. His answer may not conform exactly to what we have in mind, but it will see us through the difficulty. Once, a mother brought her son suffering from a brain tumor to Lourdes for healing. Shortly after their return, the boy died. When the mother was asked if she felt God had let her down, she said, “no,” the experience of praying with so many faith-filled people at Lourdes strengthened her to accept her son’s death. The boy died in God’s grace and family survivors live in assurance of God’s love for them.

Homilette for February 13, 2008

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Jonah 3:1-10 and Luke 11:29-32)

Last year someone petitioned Congress to award posthumous American citizenship to Anne Frank. She was the Jewish girl whose diary helped move the world to condemn the Holocaust. Before her family’s hiding place in Holland was discovered, her father had requested relatives in the United States to seek his family’s admittance. Since the request was denied, supporters of the Congressional petition say that granting her citizenship would be a sign of repentance of complicity in the Holocaust. Critics of the measure argue, however, that it would be a cheap gesture since it requires no sacrifice on the part of the American people.

Both proponents and opponents have made other good arguments, but Congress has not yet voted on the issue. For now we can note how it illustrates the call for repentance of the Scripture readings today. Jonah announces God’s wrath with Nineveh’s evil ways, and the people repent. The author of the story emphasizes how it is a sincere, communal effort. Not only the common people but the king and even the animals of the city fast and change heart. In the gospel Jesus calls his generation “evil” because it refuses to repent of its sins with his preaching.

We too must repent of our sins, not just symbolically but wholeheartedly. This means that we don’t just say we are sorry or we don’t just go to confession. No, these would be empty gestures if they are not accompanied by a sincere attempt to change our sinful ways. A young woman once confessed of having sex with her boyfriend. “Will you promise not to have sex with him again?” the priest asked her. “No,” she answered, she couldn’t promise that. Then, she couldn’t receive absolution. Just so, unless we promise whole-heartedly to stop taking God’s name in vain or talking about others, we have not really repented of our sins.

Homilette for February 12, 2008

Tuesday of the First Week in Lent

(Matthew 6:7-15)

It is said that while Charles Lindberg was making the first solo flight across the Atlantic, he began to doubt the accuracy of his instruments. Worrying that his compass was off, he was tempted to alter his course. But he kept faith in the compass, thank God, and successfully landed in Paris.

Like a navigator trusts in his compass so we put our faith in the word of God. Isaiah in the first reading tells us God’s word always accomplishes its purpose. Because Jesus utters it, the “Our Father” of the gospel is certainly the word of God. We can utterly rely on its efficacy. The bread we rely on will be provided. The forgiveness we require will be granted as long as we are willing to forgive. Saying it opens us to the mysteries of salvation.

The “Our Father” has been called the Christian Shema. Shema is a Hebrew word meaning hear. The Old Testament’s Book of Deuteronomy proclaims, “Shema, Israel,” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God ... you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words.... Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” So we should pray the “Our Father” as our first words in the morning, our last words at night, and throughout the day. Doing so we will not only find our daily needs met but also be led to salvation.

Homilette for February 11, 2008

Monday of the First Week in Lent

(Matthew 25:31-46)

Not very long ago an old African man spent the first night of his life under a mosquito net. Unfortunately, the net arrived too late to protect him from mosquitoes carrying elephantitis, the disease which had already blinded him. But at least the man might sleep more comfortably. A campaign against malaria and elephantitis spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter provided the net for the old man. The campaign does not have a lot of money; nevertheless, it works to relieve the suffering of the world’s poorest people.

The Scripture readings today call us to help our neighbor by providing relief such as mosquito netting to poor Africans. In the gospel Jesus extends the concept of neighbor beyond those who live next store and even beyond one’s countrymen and countrywomen. He intends that all who show mercy to those who come in his name will receive a heavenly reward. Some understand him to mean here only his apostles and other missionaries. But there is good reason to think that he intends every suffering human being as representing himself.

During Lent we want to give special attention to assisting the poor. Some parishes promote the use of “rice bowls” in homes to collect money for aid to impoverished nations. Toward the end of Lent there will be a special collection for the Bishops’ Overseas Appeal. Contributing generously will surely assist us in gaining a favorable judgment on the last day.