Friday, January 1, 2010


(Number 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

It would seem to be only a coincidence. Nevertheless, it happens every year. Around Christmas there is a rash of funerals. Most pastors with experience can confirm this reality. In spite of our best attempts to create a heaven on earth at this time of year, people continue to suffer and die.

The truth of the matter is that Christmas can either bring hopeful promise or bitter disillusion. The real problem is not that physically sick people let go of life at Christmas. It is that spiritually sick people are blind to the maladies affecting them. God sends His son to save us from our sins. But we must acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God’s pardon. That is, we must repent of the evil in our hearts that may result in our moral demise. Only by so doing, can we accept the salvation that God offers in his new-born son.

In the gospel today, we see three groups of people receiving the good news of Jesus’ birth in different ways. First, the shepherds hear from the angels that a savior is born and act on the message. They go to Bethlehem to see the child who is their Lord and King. They also tell others of what has taken place to fulfill the Gospel call to evangelize. We may see ourselves as these shepherds. After all we come to church today in order to worship our savior. Let us not forget to testify to others all that God has done for us. Have you ever had a prayer answered? Probably it has happened frequently. Then don’t be reluctant to tell even cynics of how God has blessed you.

The second group that we encounter is the people who are amazed at what the shepherds tell them but fail to move with the good news. Rather, like others later in the gospel who witness Jesus’ mighty deeds, they cut short their acceptance of him. We can understand these resisters as representative of the millions who celebrate Christmas with tinsel, mistletoe, and perhaps attendance at midnight mass but avoid the deeper meaning of the feast. They are like those whom the gospel parable compares to rocky soil in which the word of God cannot make deep roots. In the busyness of life these people’s faith withers and dies.

The third group is really just one person. Mary has already acted decisively on the good news announced to her also by an angel. The passage today says that she reflects in her heart on the events taking place. Thus, Mary becomes the model Christian in whom the word of God has taken firm root and whose fruit is abundant. We will find people like Mary attending mass daily and delivering food weekly for the St. Vincent de Paul Society

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

Some people may find it curious that the Church ends the calendar year with a reading from the beginning of one of the gospels. However, those who remember the so-called Tridentine Mass will recognize the passage as the “Last Gospel.” It is still read at the closing of every mass celebrated according to the Tridentine rubrics.

The passage itself summarizes the story the whole gospel is about to tell. The Word of God, Jesus the Christ, existed before creation began and is the source of all creation. Although he is one with God, he came to live with humans so that we might share in the life of God. But like coyotes returning to their dens at sunrise, humans often reject the light of Christ. To those who brave the shame of having their sins exposed, however, Christ confers the grace of forgiveness.

Today is a choice day for going to confession. We want to end the old year reconciled for the mistakes we have made. And we want to begin the new year with a resolve to live in accordance with the light of Christ.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Sixth Day of the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Two notes about the gospel passage today may serve as guidelines for the coming year. First, the evangelist Luke is typically gender-inclusive here. He has just finished telling how the holy man Simeon recognized Jesus as the light to the nations. Now he similarly relates how the prophetess Ana sees Jesus as the redeemer of Israel. Later in his gospel when Luke tells of God’s concern for the sinner, he compares God first to a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and then to a woman sweeping her house clean to find a missing coin. Likewise, when Luke describes Jesus describing how the Kingdom of God bountifully grows, he includes the story of a woman mixing yeast with flower in making bread along with that of a man planting a mustard seed in his field. We should similarly strive for inclusivity in our speech. God has made women and men as complements. The Church could not exist without the good-will efforts of both genders. It is a sin to deliberately disregard either.

Second, the prophetess Ana is said to live praying and fasting. She is obviously meant to be considered an ascetic, but this does not mean that we cannot imitate her. Indeed, regular fasting as well as praying will make us, like Ana, keen to the presence of God in our midst.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

A well-published scholar once ignited a holy man’s ire by calling John’s letters, “New Testament baby-talk.” The scholar only meant to say that John’s letters possess simplicity and directness as if they were written for children. We see this in today’s first reading. “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light...,” John writes, “Whoever hates his brother remains in darkness...”

John does not have enemy-love in mind here as if he were challenging Christians to love those who hate them. Nor does he mean exactly that Christians have to love blood brothers and sisters. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ commandment to his community of disciples that they love one another. It may sound easy, but hard feelings can sprout like weeds when humans associate. Disputes have originated in the Altar and Rosary Society and in the Holy Name Society as if these associations were different bands of pirates in search of the same treasure. Everyone feels frustration, envy, and even enmity with his or her associates at times. John is saying that we must overcome these troublesome sentiments.

John would be oversimplifying if he meant that we may limit our love to those with whom we go to church. Certainly such love for brothers and sisters in the religious or parish community teaches toleration, respect, and compassion so that we in turn may love even those who hate us.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

In Europe you might find your car’s tires flat today. Or perhaps there will be three unordered pizzas delivered to your door. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is Europe’s equivalent to America’s “April Fools Day.” It is prime time to play practical jokes on good-natured people.

We may be shocked by the European frivolity on a day that remembers the slaughter of children. But perhaps Holy Innocents Day jokesters just take to heart the belief that the infants have gone to God. “So why not rejoice?” they might ask. Somehow, however, that is just too casual an attitude for many of us. It does not recoil at the grotesque injustice of the blood of children. It also begs the question: why live at all?

We all may be able to recite the answer to that question. We live to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him in the next. If this is so, the tragedy of children dying is, in part, the irreversible condition of their minds being wasted. Dead children cannot come to know God very well. Yes, they should receive the beatific vision in heaven. Now there might be something marvelous about seeing God through children’s eyes. But just as the art connoisseur will appreciate aspects of a Rubens painting that completely escape the uncultured so growing in wisdom should make us more enthralled at God’s glory. It is good to grow old then if we accordingly grow in wisdom. Conversely, it is a tragedy when one dies young.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of the Lord

(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

Costa Rica is a tourist hot spot. Now would be a good time to visit. The rains have ended, and fresh breezes sweep across the country. Beach water is always warm, and now there is a decent chance of seeing a night-time show of volcano-streaming lava. A distinct attraction of December, which you will not find in tourist guides, is the kiosks found in many commercial areas. The vendors sell locally made crèches with a variety of animals that go well beyond the traditional ox, ass, camel, and sheep. You will find ducks and geese, dogs and others. Animals take prominent place in our imagination of the first Christmas although not one is mentioned in the gospel other than the sheep which the shepherds tend in the fields.

We might ask ourselves then what put these animals in our heads. The answer goes beyond the idea of all creation worshipping its Lord. What conjures the presence of animals at that first Christmas is the insistence of the gospel writer that Jesus was laid in a manger, the farm animals’ feeding trough. The evangelist Luke is certainly sparse with details about Jesus’ birth. He does not give the hour or the weather. Nor does he say that the place of birth was a barn, a stable, or a cave. But he tells us three times within ten verses that Jesus was laid in a manger to remind us of something the prophet Isaiah writes at the beginning of his book.

Appalled by crying orphans and exploited workers, the prophet says, “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger, but Israel does not know (the Lord).” Isaiah, of course, lived twenty-seven centuries ago, seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Times then, like times now, were both good and bad. There was wealth, but it was unevenly enjoyed. There were armies, but Israel was being menaced by a powerful enemy to the northeast. The people brought offerings to the temple, but God was not impressed because of the lack of righteous living at home. By showing Jesus in a manger at which the shepherds of Israel arrive, Luke suggests that finally the situation has changed. The people now recognize their God just as the ox knows its owner and the ass, its master’s manger.

We also might ask ourselves if things now have reverted to the conditions of the prophet Isaiah’s time. Let’s not try to speak for the whole world or even for the United States. After all, neither claims to be the People of God. But as a church, do we take care of the poor, give God His due, and live righteously? Certainly not one hundred percent, but most of us try to live our faith. Catholics maintain soup kitchens and food pantries. One Catholic organization connects children in the third world to families in American parishes in a quasi-adoption relationship. This year in our diocese, as happens in many others, seven thousand Catholics are taking part in faith-sharing groups in order to know God better.

Yet we grumble. In one parish the people are upset with the pastor because their names acknowledging contributions for a new organ were posted too high on a wall for others to notice. Many of us seem unable to leave a conversation until we have added a critical remark. And some of us are even prone to curse the elderly driver moving cautiously in front of us. Jesus has come again to prune away these faults. He does it today just by showing himself to us as a baby whose image we might kiss and whisper words of affection to. These intimacies pledge our adherence to the demanding road of holiness he sets for us as an adult.

Put all the animals you find in Costa Rican kiosks at the Nativity scene. Add others – wolves, lions, and cobras -- to create another chapter of the same prophet Isaiah. When Immanuel – God-with-us – has come, “...the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” He’s here now to accompany us beyond the critical remarks of enemies. He’s here now to enable us to assist crying orphans and exploited workers. He’s here now so that we might know God better.

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Luke 1:67-79)

The children of a mountain village in Honduras are too poor to expect anything for Christmas other than tamales on the table. As Christmas gifts they promise the infant Jesus to pray harder and to do their chores more willingly. These children may be closer to the meaning of Christmas than counterparts in wealthy country who cry if they do not receive the play station that they have had an eye on. However, all of us should be careful to note that the original Christmas gift is not something humans do for God or for one another. Rather, it is God’s initiative to send His son to us.

The first reading expresses the paradoxical gift. David wants to build a house for God. Astuteness more than piety may be his motive. David knows that if the Ark of the Covenant were kept in a shrine in Jerusalem, all Israel would come to his city, In telling David what He will do for him, God is reminding him that the people are His -- God’s -- not the king’s. He shall give David present rest from his enemies, and a future descendant who will rule forever.

We recognize this descendant as Jesus, the Christ. Zechariah sees his arrival as imminent. He compares the coming Christ to the sun giving light and warmth without which a life of grace would be impossible.

December 23, 2009

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

Whatever Malachi had in mind when he wrote that God will send Elijah to “turn the hearts of the father to their children,” we should hear him today as addressing the social pathology of children born outside marriage. Almost forty percent of the births in the United States are made by unwed mothers. As a result the children are more likely to suffer poverty, emotional problems, and learning difficulties. Nevertheless, having children without a vowed partner has become fashionable as high-paid professionals testify to how doable it is.

We understand Malachi as foretelling the coming of the John the Baptist who would castigate sex out of marriage as he did other sins. He would find multiple victims of the abuse. The unintended offspring may be the most aggrieved, but certainly the individuals directly involved are not left unscathed, and society – like a cable under constant stress -- is weakened. God, who loves His people immensely, cannot help but take offense.

God also acts to relieve the situation. He sent John to warn of punishment for sinners, and now He gives us Jesus who will employ another strategy. He will expose the barrenness of self-love. It gratifies some immediate desire but will end in the coldness of the earth. Emulating his care for others -- especially for one’s own offspring -- puts one close to the path of eternal happiness.

December 22, 2009

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(I Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 1:46-56)

The movie It's a Wonderful Life has more than a holiday ending to recommend it as an all-time Christmas classic. More crucially, the film reflects all the hope that the child Jesus brings into the world. The schemes of the villain Potter are vanquished while poor people are enabled to live with dignity. Most of all, God comes to the help of his faithful servant, George Bailey, in his hour of desperation. Life is, indeed, wonderful because God has entered into it.

What director Frank Capra puts on film, Mary proclaims in the gospel today. She sings of how in sending His son into the world, God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Mary makes these claims after pondering in her heart all that the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth tell her. She is the New Testament’s first human evangelizer who after hearing the word of God reinterprets its meaning for everyday lives.

December 21, 2009

Monday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(Song of Songs 2:8-14; Luke 1:39-45)

In a novel a gardener critiques a sign that reads, “Vine-grown tomatoes.” The gardener says something like, “What’s so great about that? Where else are tomatoes going to grow? What we want are vine-ripened tomatoes.” The comment enlightens the gospel reading today in two ways.

First, something like the difference between vine-grown and vine-ripened tomatoes, the blessing Elizabeth bestows on Mary is not so much that she is the mother of Jesus but that she “believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” It is an awesome responsibility to be the mother of God. But to act consistently on the belief that God has made us His own with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” at the pouring of the water is a more remarkable accomplishment.

Second, Caryll Houselander, a twentieth century English mystic, wrote that during Advent Christ is to grow within us as he grew in the Virgin’s womb. At this late date he should be almost full-term or, if you don’t mind, ripened. Each of us, if we have reflected on the meaning of his coming as related in the Scripture readings at mass, should realize that he is our best consolation and ultimate hope. Promised as a comfort to Israel in their suffering, Jesus is the true wisdom that guides us through difficulties and temptations to spiritual peace. He also gives life to our desire that when our individual trajectories have run their courses, we do not drop into oblivion but into the merciful arms of our loving Father.

Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18, 2009

(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)

In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hangs an illustrative painting of the holy family in Egypt. Mary holds Jesus in her arms with a sphinx as protection from the wind while Joseph reclines at a distance keeping guard over his precious charges. This picture may be contrasted with a popular, contemporary sculpture of the holy family with Mary holding Jesus snuggled in the arms of Joseph. The museum painting intimates the perpetual virginity of Mary while the contemporary statue suggests sexual intimacy.

Today’s gospel saying, “He (Joseph) had no relations with her (Mary) until she bore a son...” seems to imply that after Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations. However, John Meier, one of today’s foremost gospel scholars, comments that the word for until in Hebrew and Greek “need not mean that there was a change in the situation after Jesus’ birth.”

The issue is important although, perhaps, not critical. We find it in the First Letter to the Corinthians where Paul writes, “It is a good for a man not to touch a woman” so that he or she (certainly the same holds for a woman) might dedicate himself or herself completely to the Lord. We certainly think of Mary as so dedicated. Of course, the elevation of virginity does not disparage marriage. Indeed, some married people live far holier lives than virgins who think of little else than having sexual relations or, for that matter, the unmarried who prefer to remain single out of self-serving independence.

December 17, 2009

December 17, 2009

(Isaiah 45:6c-8.18.21c-25; Matthew 1:1-17)

Readers of Genesis are sometimes confounded why the royal lineage of Israel passed through Judah, and not Rueben, Jacob’s first-born, or Joseph, his charismatic favorite. Judah, however, was chastened by his affair with Tamar to become a wise leader. He seems to have had good instincts as he won the argument not to murder the haughty brother, Joseph, but to sell him to merchants. Still, the unrighteous incident with Tamar taught Judah responsibility for his actions as well as the need for consummate virtue in leading a nation. Later in Genesis Judah shows his willingness to sacrifice himself for his family before Jacob chooses him as his successor.

The genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew read today shows Jesus as the culmination of Abraham’s dynasty. We can assume that wisdom grew as one generation succeeded another. Certainly there were setbacks along the way, but Matthew tells us that at the appointed time God presents His Son through the lineage that includes Joseph, Mary’s husband. The stage is set. Humans have achieved about as much natural knowledge as they need. Now Jesus will give God’s supreme lesson of unmerited and unlimited love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday of the Third Week in Advent

(Isaiah 45:6c-8.18.21c-25; Luke 7:18a-23)

Although there are other global icons today, forty years ago it was said that three things existed throughout the earth– Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, and the Chinese. The thrust of the second part of the book of the prophet Isaiah – which is conveniently called “Second Isaiah” – is that the same God exists throughout the world. The prophet himself, schooled in Babylonia, declares that other nations may have had idols but they are trinkets, not gods. He could say even more confidently than his ancestors: Yahweh alone is God!

Monotheism sends missionaries throughout the world so that all men and women might know the one God. It also makes us prepare with as much fervor as we can manage for the coming of this God among us as human.

Tueday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week in Advent

(Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

In his book on faith historian Paul Johnson tells of a fire-and-brimstone preacher who had to change his tune. The preacher said that in his early years people packed the churches and hung on his words. But with a new era (the 1970s or so) similar congregants no longer believed in the ravages God supposedly racks on sinners.

John the Baptist seems to have a similar difficulty, at least with the more sophisticated type of listener. According to today’s gospel his warnings about hellfire cause at least some publicans and prostitutes to change their ways but the self-righteous ignore him. Today we imagine these sophisticates making excuses for their sins like the delinquents in West Side Story: “I’ve got a social disease”

Jesus, however, assures us that there is no excuse for not repenting. Each of us is in constant need of repair to extract prejudice, carelessness, and pride. That he is here to help us is what Christmas is all about.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church

(Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

Balaam was a holy man who lived in Palestine just before the Israelites occupied the territory. When Balak, the king of the Moabites, saw the oncoming Israeli horde, he summoned Balaam to curse the intruders. Balak’s strategy was that a saint’s curse would provide him the margin of victory in war with the newcomers. Balaam, however, could not comply with the king wishes because he saw how God was favoring the Israelites. The rising star which he saw in the heavens represented the ascendency of Israel’s prominence in the land.

Christians at least since the time of the writing of Matthew’s gospel view the star as a reference to Jesus. He is the light shining from the Jewish people to guide the world in righteousness.

The gospel today shows us to take Jesus’ seriously. Many have trivialized the salvation which he offers by reducing Christmas and, indeed, Christianity to nostalgia. As the passage demonstrates, Jesus can outwit sanctimonious adversaries who mean trip him up. He also provides us the capacity to prevail in our struggle with sin.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19)

It is curious to hear people making excuses for not exercising daily. They say that early in the morning they are not ready to move their bodies and that later in the day they are too busy. Or that they are too cold in the morning and too tired in the evening. Doctors, no doubt, wonder if this kind of patient really wants good health.

Jesus feels the frustration of doctors in the gospel passage today. He sounds amazed that the people refuse to repent despite the testimony of God’s best preachers. John, who warned the people to repent or face God’s wrath, was rejected because he lived on grasshoppers and honey. Then Jesus, who preached a similar message of repentance but for the motive of sharing in God’s goodness, is repudiated for eating and drinking with everyone.

We are required to repent and our repentance must be on-going. Perhaps it is more helpful to use the word conversion. The twentieth century theologian Bernard Lonergan wrote of the need for ever deeper conversion. He says that we convert intellectually by knowing ever more deeply through experiencing, understanding, judging, and believing. Then we convert morally by calling good not what satisfies but what corresponds to true value. Finally, we convert religiously by falling in love as God loves which, we may say, is the full realization of sanctifying grace.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

When the elderly woman was told that she might enjoy reading a popular spiritual writer, she dropped her eyes in humility. Then she explained that she only went to school for a couple of years and never learned to read well. Most of the world, in contrast, is fortunate to have at least a basic education. People may not read enough, but at least they have the basic skills. Likewise most people in the world have access to medical care and hygiene which has dramatically increased the average life span.

If we count our blessings in this way, we can understand why Jesus calls “the least in the kingdom of heaven” greater than John the Baptist. The “least in the kingdom” includes all of us. We are blessed in a way that John was not because we have experienced the fullness of the Kingdom in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, we were not there to witness these events, but in participating in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist, we encounter for ourselves the risen Christ.

Although John did not witness the Kingdom in its fullness and could not appreciate the extent of God’s love that it brought, he was certainly aware that an experience of God demands human response. John’s constant message was repentance. We must change our sinful ways if we are to benefit from the Kingdom’s blessings. John is the central figure of these middle weeks of Advent because he reminds us that the king who is to come will require some sacrifice on the part of his subjects as he transmits to them the fullness of life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2009

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

In the 1960s an Episcopalian priest wrote a popular prayer book entitled Are You Running with Me, Jesus? Evidently the author felt more pressured by the demands Jesus seems to make than relieved by the rest Jesus offers in the gospel today. Therefore, he had to ask Jesus’ assistance in fulfilling his ministry.

Of course, we can count on Jesus to help us and should go to him in need. However, it is possible that we make too much of our own efforts and fail to find the comfort that Jesus offers us in his love. Often we can allow others to do the work that we arrogantly see only ourselves capable of performing. Also, it is possible to give more effective witness to Christ by retreating in prayer for a regular period everyday than by constant motion in meeting needs. Some of the most accomplished religious leaders of our times – including Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II – have seen their success in ministry flowing out of daily meditative prayer.

In his book on Jesus, Pope Benedict underscores this truth by claiming that in inviting others to find rest in himself, Jesus is proclaiming himself to be the Sabbath. But his Sabbath goes far beyond the relief we may experience on Sunday. He provides not just temporary relief from work but permanent release from anxiety. Jesus also puts a yoke on us: we are to love others with the same care and joy that he has for us. In this way, we place ourselves in an environment of goodness which, as Jesus claims, is easy and light to bear.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

At an interview for a job with the Church a young woman was asked what the Immaculate Conception means. The woman hesitated before answering and then sputtered the common misconception which many who should know better think.

The Immaculate Conception, of course, refers to the special dispensation from original sin which Christ’s paschal victory won for his mother. It means that sin never touched Mary from the moment of conception to her last breath on earth. It seems to be an exaggeration to say that she never knew the effects of sin. After all, she witnessed the terrible price that sin exacted from her son Jesus. But we may presume that at Jesus’ death her sorrow was not tinged by self-pity, as ours often is, or by contempt for Jesus’ executors.

In the polemics over the years about Mary’s Immaculate Conception Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, sometimes lose sight of the fact that Mary’s special grace is but an extension of every baptized person’s. Through Christ’s grace Mary never sinned, and through it Christians have their sins forgiven. Rather than contending over theological distinctions, Protestants as well as Catholics should seek to emulate Mary’s desire to have God’s will carried out in her.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Memorial of St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

St. Augustine’s biographer Peter Brown makes an interesting note about St. Ambrose appropriate for Advent. Brown writes that Ambrose would frequently mention kissing in his homilies. According to Brown, Ambrose thought that the love poetry from the Song of Songs, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” refers to the Church greeting Christ when he comes at the end of time. Evidently, after such a long wait the Church desires to be smothered with the love of her master.

It was not that Ambrose was a sensualist – anything but. He was a spiritual man who championed virginity and thought that the soul longed to cast away the body so that it might fly to God. Ambrose was also learned and wise. He was raised a patrician and served as a provincial governor before the clergy and laity of Milan elected him bishop. Since he was not yet baptized at the time, he had to receive the sacraments of initiation before being ordained and consecrated bishop. Once a bishop, he defended the Church against the jealous competitors of the imperial court.

Perhaps more than anything, Ambrose was the consummate man of the Church. A fine scholar, a great preacher, a capable administrator, and a saintly character, St. Ambrose epitomizes all that the Church needs to be to lead people on the way to the Lord.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 29:17-24, Matthew 9:27-31)

Fr. Mark Link, the Jesuit spiritual director, recommends a simple examination of conscience at the end of the day. He urges listeners to pray, “Thank you, Father,” followed by naming a blessing bestowed on the person that day. Then, they are to say, “I am sorry, Jesus,” now identifying a particular sin, perhaps of omission, that he or she committed that day. Finally, they are to pray, “Holy spirit, help me,” and include a challenge that is to be faced tomorrow. When we do this, we begin to notice things that we often overlook.

In the first reading, Isaiah looks toward the coming of the Messiah as a time when “the eyes of the blind shall see.” This literally happens in the gospel when Jesus restores the sight of two blind men. It also happens to us as we become more aware of the world around us through prayers like the one Fr. Link proposes. Invoking the Trinity, Link’s examination of conscience is deeply Christian. Done with Advent awareness of the coming of Christ, it ushers us to a personal encounter with Jesus the Savior.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, priest

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 5:21.24-27)

It is said that since the great Chicago fire at the end of the nineteenth century all buildings in that city have been constructed with brick. Like Isaiah’s rock in the first reading today, brick is stronger than wood and cannot burn. Rock goes even further in providing security and stability. God is more trustworthy than either.

In the gospel Jesus answers the logical question of how we are to trust in God. The passage ends his famous “Sermon on the Mount” where he has outlined the New Law. That law produces righteousness where the Law of Moses fails because it addresses motives, not just effects. Followers will keep their eyes on the prize of heaven. They will not only limit themselves to a “tooth for a tooth” but forswear revenge altogether. They will not only avoid adultery but refrain from looking lustfully. They will not only perform righteous acts but do so in private to assure purity of intention. Observing the New Law means placing ourselves in God’s fortress of rock. Come fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, or high water, God will keep us safe.

Wednesday, December 2, 2004

Wednesday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 25:6-10, Matthew 15:29-37)

Italians have a custom of eating a festive supper on Christmas Eve. It is meatless, to be sure, in honor of the ancient fast on the day before the celebration of the Lord’s coming. But it is hardly penitential. White wine is first served with the pasta and marinera sauce. A hearty red wine follows for the fish entrée. The menu goes on and on ending only with all partakers more than satisfied. The feast resembles the Lord’s promise announced by Isaiah in the first reading today.

God wants to console His people. He promises them that the punishment for their inequity will end in glory. They will forget about destruction and death as they again come to the mountain of the Lord. As the Lord once provided them more than enough manna in the desert so will He throw a much more lavish banquet as they return to Him.

The gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish shows a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus takes compassion on the people who follow him. Nothing is mentioned of rich foods or choice wines, but for people who are really hungry a meal of bread and fish will seem like the buffet brunch at the Ritz-Carlton. The people, it should be noted, do not go to Jesus for food but to learn God’s ways. They are more than satisfied. Jesus feeds their bodies as well as their souls.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

A friend says that she can no longer watch nature films on television. Viewing the story of a killer whale chasing a smaller whale and her calf for hundreds of miles before it separated the two and made its kill was so jarring an experience that now she dreads the sight of animals preying on one another.

We may think that original sin has caused alienation between humans and God and among other humans, but the transgression has even wider effect. The sin of Adam and Eve is said to have imperiled relationships among animals as well, indeed, throughout the whole of creation. For this reason Paul will tell the church in Roman, “...creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19).

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah strikingly illustrates how the alienation is about to end. A ruler shall come from the line of King David who will restore original justice. He will cast out evil and lift up the oppressed. His actions will teach everyone knowledge of the Lord, the lack of which characterizes the present state of universal victimization. Proof of the new reign of justice will be found in the most vicious and the most defenseless of animals coexisting in peace. We see this prophecy’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ. As the gospel indicates, he brings knowledge of God the Father to all who care to listen. He humbles the arrogant and lifts up the lowly. When he returns in glory, peace will reign everywhere.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

(Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22)

Although we know very little about St. Andrew, Christians remember the date of his feast before that of any other apostle. November 30 is etched in our minds because of its association with Advent. The feast does not really mark the beginning of the season, but the Sunday nearest the date is always the first day of Advent.

As Advent marks a new liturgical year, St. Andrew represents the power of Jesus’ preaching. Today’s gospel shows Jesus calling the fishermen Andrew and his brother Peter to follow him. The evangelist Matthew indicates that they do not hesitate a moment but leave their fishing nets “at once.” In John’s Gospel Jesus encounters Andrew along with another man (not Peter) – both of whom are disciples of John the Baptist. The two begin to tail Jesus when he bids them to come into his home and share his life. In both Matthew and John, Jesus precipitates a radical choice from his followers. We must leave behind our former ways of life. That is, we must renounce the nets of our capriciousness and flee the comforts of our sins.

Homilette for Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7:2-14; Luke 21:29-33)

We have difficulty appreciating apocalyptic literature. We live in a time where the main material worry is over the Dow-Jones average. In apocalyptic times people worried about ravaging armies and systematic servitude. Apocalyptic writers offered hope to the victims by providing a vision of eventual triumph after a long, hard struggle. The only example of a completely apocalyptic work is the Book of Revelation in which faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors. In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is one of the prime examples of the apocalyptic. Written during the oppression of the wicked Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Daniel foresees an eventual reversal of lots. Israel will overturn its oppressor, and God will reign over it forever.

Interestingly, the grotesque passage from Daniel that we read today makes sense when it is interpreted with the aid of the Book of Revelation. The text at hand is obscure. But John, the visionary of Revelation, cites the same passage but works from a different manuscript which provides a sensible rendition of the passage’s meaning. It tells the same story as the passage from Daniel that we heard on Tuesday: the succession of empires leading to an everlasting reign of God.

This background should warn us not to take apocalyptic literature literally. Then how are we to understand it? We might spiritualize its meaning: we must struggle against the evil in our lives, be it lust, pride, or hatred. Or we might allow the stories to remind us that other people in the world live today with the same kind of oppression as the ancients: Tibetans, Chechens, and Mynamarians come to mind. Or we might appropriate the hope offered by these texts as the future of the earth: a time of universal peace, goodwill, and friendship among all nations under God.

Homilette for Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; Luke 17:11-19)

Why is Jesus annoyed that the other nine lepers do not return to give him thanks? Can he not appreciate how their first reactions after being so completely marginalized might be jubilation, not thanksgiving? Since he healed ten, does he feel personally offended that all do not recognize his power? Or is there another explanation more characteristic of Jesus?

The fourth preface for weekdays may provide a clue to answer these questions. The preface is the prayer of thanksgiving that the priest makes on behalf of the people at Mass just before the consecration of the bread and wine. One option of the many prefaces available uses these words: “Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness but makes us grow in your grace.” In the gospel Jesus is not upset because he is slighted by the nine lepers who do not return. Rather he is sorry that they do not take advantage of the gift that God extends by our giving thanks. Jesus reveals God’s inestimable gift of salvation when he tells the grateful leper, “...your faith has saved you.” As terrible a curse as leprosy is, it cannot compare to eternal oblivion. In contrast, the tenth leper has found his way to never-ending communion with the Lord.

Today we pause to thank God’s for many gifts, but especially prosperity to our nation. Although salvation has a radically personal element, still the environment in which we find ourselves contributes to it. God has blessed Americans with universal education, an over-abundant food supply, and almost limitless opportunity to practice virtue. Like the good leper we seek salvation today as we turn to God in thanksgiving for all our blessings.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28; Luke 21:12-19)

In his autobiography Justice Clarence Thomas writes of the ordeal he underwent after being nominated to the Supreme Court. He says that a coalition of self-interest groups conspired with a group of senators to undermine his confirmation. Throughout the struggle Senator John Danforth, Thomas’ mentor and an ordained Episcopalian priest, counseled him to allow the “Holy Ghost” speak through him. Much like Jesus advises his followers to do in the gospel today, Thomas was to trust in the Lord to see him through the lies and calumnies that his detractors were raising.

For awhile Catholics in the United States did not have to worry about defending themselves against persecution. Earlier in the nation’s history a virulent anti-Catholicism festered in America. The Ku Klux Klan, for example, singled out Catholics as well as Blacks and Jews as America’s enemies. Then, for roughly the middle of the last century, a genuine toleration of religion thrived through most of the country. Everyone was encouraged to “attend the church or synagogue of your choice.” More recently, however, Christian beliefs and practices have been under severe scrutiny. Many, especially the sophisticated, cannot accept as genuine those who profess a religion which forbids extramarital sex and values human life as inviolable from conception to natural death. We are likely to have to defend our faith again if not our own lives.

As Jesus would tell us, the current secular atmosphere does not call us to prepare speeches in defense of our faith. But we should pray to God for enlightenment and also take advantages of opportunities to learn what the Church teaches. Fortunately, excellent resources are at hand. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example, is available on the Internet. We need not worry that our faith is unreasonable much less ridiculous. The truth is just the opposite. Although faith is a divine gift, it does not oppose rationality. Indeed, for twenty centuries Christian intellectuals have contributed immensely to world thought.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 24, 2009

St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companions, martyrs

(Daniel 2:31-45; Luke 21:5-11)

Scholars claim that Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is not entirely accurate. Although there has been disagreement in the past about which empires the different parts of the statue’s body represent, today experts are convinced that the golden head is the empire of the Assyrian-Babylonians; the silver upper body, that of the Medes; the bronze lower body, the Persian Empire; and the iron and tile feet, Alexander’s Greek domain. The historical mistake in Daniel’s interpretation would be that the Persians, not the Medes, conquered Babylon.

Most likely the writer of the Book of the Prophet Daniel was using the popular Jewish understanding of events when he wrote in the second century before Christ. Obviously, this writer was not the prophet who lived in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, four centuries earlier. He was an interpreter of history seeing the great empires leading up to the recreation of Israel’s monarchy. This was “the stone hewn from the mountain...which broke in pieces the tile, iron, bronze, silver, and gold.”

Christians have taken Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream as realized in Jesus. He inaugurated another kind of kingdom that, we believe, will be eternal. It is a kingdom unlike all others because it does not claim rule over land nor does it tax people’s pocketbooks. Rather, it moves us interiorly to love God above all and neighbors as ourselves. We might add that it is the Kingdom for which St. Lung Dung-Lac and the other Vietnamese martyrs gave their lives.
Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 1:1-6.8-20; Luke 21:1-4)

Dr. Andrew Weil is one of America’s most noted nutritionists. In one of his books he writes of the superiority of a vegetarian diet and the harmful effects of alcohol. Dr. Weil would probably find the first reading today, telling of the four young men who thrive on vegetables and water, significant. He might call it ancient corroboration of the best modern scientific research on diets.

However, the writer of the Book of the Prophet Daniel tells the story of Daniel, Hananhiah, Azariah, and Mishael with a different idea in mind than nutrition. He sees the boys’ thriving not because of their diet but in spite of it. He notes that they refuse the fare from the royal table because eating it would mean defiling the Law of Moses. These are pious lads who resist fine foods in order to carry out God’s commands.

Many Americans are thinking about food this week. Some cannot wait to taste the latest Thanksgiving appetizers. Others worry about standing their ground against the onslaught of calories from Thursday until Super Bowl Sunday. The four Jewish boys show America the most enlightened attitude toward food possible. It provides sustenance so that we might, in turn, give God thanks and praise.

Homilette for Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59, Lucas 19:45-48)

The first reading today describes the origins of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Many see this feast as the Jewish Christmas because it is celebrated around the same time of year and is especially mindful of children. However, its significance to Jews seems as thin as a pencil in comparison to the meaning of Jesus’ birth to Christians.

As we have heard for the last week, the Maccabees clan resisted the reforms of the Seleucid (Syrian) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The king tried to impose pagan customs on the people to the extent of desecrating the Temple with an altar to Zeus. After eight years of outrage, Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons had enough. They rallied faithful Jews behind them to oust the occupiers. In the passage today Mattathias’ son Judas leads the rededication of the Temple and declares an annual celebration which Jews observe today as Hanukkah.

In the gospel we find Jesus performing a vaguely similar cleansing of the Temple. The situation, of course, is very different but it is the same zeal for the holy that impels Jesus to drive out the vendors. Both readings remind us of the centrality of a consecrated place to worship. We might praise God anywhere and should pray wherever we find ourselves. But formerly the Temple and now the synagogue for Jews and the church for Christians have a unique importance. They are the designated places of encounter with God hallowed by the prayers of forbearers in many cases for ages.

Homilette for Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 215-29; Lucas 19:41-44)

A proverb says, “The old man who will not cry is a fool.” Everyone should come to tears as she or he realizes that life is often tragic because people fail to learn its most important lesson. This is that we are to give glory to God by caring for one another. Too often we humans take life as a game in which we are to gather as much prestige and gain as much prosperity for ourselves as possible.

In the passion account of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the women of Jerusalem that they are not to weep for him but for their children. In today’s passage he does exactly this. Jerusalem refuses to learn life’s lesson taught in the Law, reiterated by the prophets, and confirmed by Jesus himself. Its inhabitants would rather retain its values of wealth and honor. Although Jesus is hardly an old man, in his day at thirty-three years he has already entered middle age. In any case he shows himself as wiser than the ages with his tears.

Should we cry at what we see around us? There is, for sure, enough egotism about to make even children weep. After we shed our tears we should resolve to live lives worthy of the gospel. That is, we should amend our ways by placing the good of others alongside our own and by praying that God turn the situation around.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Psalm 150; Luke 19:11-28)

One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century was completed on December 10, 1948. On that day the United Nations overcame cultural and ideological barriers to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Of course, the system of rights and responsibilities has not always been honored by its signees. We will even find breaches in the conduct of the United States government despite its founding on many of the same principles as the Universal Declaration.

One right which Pope Benedict thinks resides at the very core of the freedoms expressed in the Universal Declaration is that of practicing one’s religious beliefs. Taken seriously, religion is not a personal choice much less a whimsical fancy, but the following one’s conscience where God speaks to the person. Furthermore, religion gives one reason to live virtuously respecting others and striving for personal perfection. Where religion is downplayed or its expression unreasonably curtailed, we should expect not only loss of initiative and other personal values but also rebellion and eventually anarchy.

The pious story that the Second Book of Maccabees today relates tells of the attempt of a ruler to suppress the Jewish religion. Evidently many Jews went along with the barbarism possibly thinking that religion does not matter so much as long as there is food on one’s table and a roof overhead. The mother and her seven sons know better. Because they believe that violating a commandment of God is worse than death, they willingly accept the latter. Their sacrifice anticipates that of Jesus who likewise dies in obedience to God. But his sacrifice seems even greater since he had to endure the contempt of the religious leaders of his own people.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

The word scandal comes from the Greek skandalon meaning a trap or stumbling block. Scandals are moral potholes into which weak individuals may fall and injure themselves. We see scandal in the well-substantiated reports of American officials torturing Muslim detainees after 9-11. Such immoral behavior belies human dignity. Unless it is repudiated soon, future generations of Americans will accept the fallacy that torture is acceptable and even beneficial.

In the first reading today we find a counter-example. Eleazar, a ninety year-old Jew, refuses to give scandal to younger Jews who might be inclined to compromise the integrity of their faith. Rather than feigning to eat pork by substituting kosher meat for it, he decides that he would rather die at the hands of his persecutors. The noble stand has not only won Eleazar Maccabees a place in heaven; it has also become an example of righteousness and integrity for all history.

We should look to the elderly for guidance on what truly matters. Chastened by experience, they might remind younger generations that God counts above all and that our neighbors deserve as much of our love as we have for ourselves. In the upcoming holiday season they will hopefully show us again that our first obligation is to give thanks to God for all that we have. Then let them demonstrate how continued and caring concern for others outshines diamonds as gifts.

Homilette for Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63; Luke 18:35-43)

Many see God’s scrambling the speech of the builders of the Tower of Babel as a punishment. Perhaps they are right, but it was also as an act of mercy. The men who constructed such an edifice in the vane hope of forcing a meeting with God could only have killed themselves if they continued. It was better that God garbled their speech so that they could no longer work together.

But humans can be slow learners. In the first reading today from Maccabees the Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes wants all people in his kingdom, which includes Palestine, to assimilate Greek customs. Their children are to attend Greek schools, speak the Greek language, and adopt Greek culture. Any faithful Jew is abhorred by this prospect because he or she recognizes that God has called the Jewish people to stand apart. They are to shine as a beacon of righteousness for the world to emulate. God, we might say, revels in a multiplicity of cultures.

The Church today recognizes the imperative of preserving many cultures. Although she seeks world unity in everyone recognizing Jesus as Lord, she nevertheless promotes cultural differences. She sees the various artistic expressions, racial features, and even languages as if it were a symphony of instruments coming together to praise the Creator.

Homilette for Friday, November 13, 2009

Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin

(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)

“Don’t ask for whom the bells toll,” the poet-priest John Donne writes, “it tolls for thee.” Of course, the bells in mind here ring the death march. Although we prefer to put off thinking about it, the hour of our judgment is near. For some of us it will be sooner rather than later that we give account of our lives.

Jesus makes the same point in the gospel today. With an image that might send a chill up a polar bear’s back, he says, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” That is, death is part of our lot in life because we have bodies which will one day stop functioning. So, Jesus adjures us, we must prepare ourselves for the inevitable.

Jesus’ prescription for dealing with our mortality deserves attention. We are not to try staving off death indefinitely through art or science. Rather, we are to give ourselves over to death by denying ourselves. We can look toward St. Frances Cabrini as an example. Like Mother Teresa two generations later, Mother Cabrini worked tirelessly to meet the needs of the poor. It is said that parents chided their teenagers when they came home late, “Who do you think you are -- Mother Cabrini walking the streets day and night?” Still we hope that our young will, like her, extend themselves for the good of others.

Homilette for Thursday, November 12, 2009

Memorial of St. Josaphat, bishop and martyr

(Wisdom 7:22b-8:1; Luke 17:20-25)

However arrogant the Pharisees appear in the gospels, they also sincerely want to know about God. In today’s gospel, the Pharisees ask Jesus when the Kingdom of God will come about. Like us they long for a society where everyone behaves as God commands.

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees -- that the Kingdom is in their midst -- echoes what he has said before. The Kingdom presents itself gradually like wheat growing in a field. It is there even as Jesus speaks. As a matter a fact, it has come in the person of Jesus who stands before them. It is present in us as well as we carry Jesus in our person through Baptism.

The Kingdom of God is present when we make ourselves “Advent Angels” or some other kind of caregiver. It is found in our presence when we reach to help the stranger. It is there where the man stops on the highway to assist a driver with a flat tire and no idea how to jack up a car. It is there when we smile at the driver who comes into our lane.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Memorial of St. Martin of Tours, bishop

(Wisdom 6:1-11; Luke 17:11-19)

During the Viet Nam War, President Lyndon Johnson once was handed a memo concerning the pros and cons of using tactical nuclear weapons. According to his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, the memo stated that use of such weapons would move China to enter the war its own nuclear weapons starting a full-fledged nuclear war. Rusk later reported that the words of the memo “popped out of the page” to Johnson who as President of the United States felt responsibility for not just his country but for the world.

The reading from Wisdom tells us that princes and kings (and we can surely add to the list presidents and prime ministers) should indeed feel grave responsibility for their actions. It emphasizes that the burdens of their offices will not exempt them from divine judgment. Rather those responsibilities will entail God’s intensified scrutiny of their actions.

The Church recognizes the responsibilities and difficulties of civil leaders. Together with prayers for Church needs, the General Instructions for the Roman Missal (GIRM for short) specifies that the faithful are to pray for “public authorities and the salvation of the world” in the intercessions after the homily. Although there are always those who think that they can do a better job, we are wise to pray for those in power rather than covet their positions.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Wisdom 2:23-3:9; Luke 17:7-10)

The passage from the Book of Wisdom today includes some of the most consoling words that Catholics hear at funerals. They especially give hope to families of those who have died after living justly and charitably over many decades. Since Wisdom was written in the Greek language neither Jews nor Protestants accept it in their canon of Scripture. Yet its message of hope is universal.

Wisdom was probably composed in the century before Christ in Alexandria, Egypt. In some ways the Jews in that context were dealing with the same challenges Christians today face. Individualism was on the rise along with skepticism and dissatisfaction with traditional beliefs. Formerly religious people were turning to pagan belief systems and secular philosophy while all felt the threat of persecution. The author turned to the Scriptures for answers to the questions that his co-religionists were asking under these conditions.

One of the answers is related in today’s reading. God rewards the just for their virtue. Trials come with living. Indeed, God sends them to determine who is worthy of happiness with him. There is no mention of resurrection from the dead in Wisdom. However, we can see how Christians given the experience of Jesus’ resurrection would readily embrace this scripture.

Homilette for Monday, November 9, 2009

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

(Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; I Corinthians 3:9c-11.16-17; John 2:13-22)

A woman once badgered an official of a minute city not to approve a request for rezoning. The request came from a small Christian community that wanted to use a storefront for its church. The woman opposed the request because the property would no longer generate tax revenue. The official approved the request, however, because he thought it advantageous to have churches within the city.

Not only in the marketplace but also within the Christian community there exists ambivalence about church structures. We build churches not only to give people a place to congregate but also to testify to the glory of God. Yet we know that churches transcend buildings. The primary theological definition for the church is “the people of God” forming the “Body of Christ.” As Paul teaches the Corinthians in the second reading today, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

The Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of Rome, is called “the mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world.” In celebrating its dedication today we celebrate all church buildings. They are not as important as the people who worship inside them. But they perform an invaluable service by providing those worshippers a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the world where they may pray to their Creator.

Homilette for Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 15:14-21; Luke 16:1-8)

Once an ecumenical group of ministers was discussing a gospel passage much like the one we read today. The ministers were nonplussed at the obvious implication that people should help others out of their own self-interests. Is love really the motivator, the ministers seemed to ask themselves, if ones benefits from the action?

The ministers were responding from the perspective of the influential Lutheran theologian, Anders Nygren. Intolerant of self-love, Nygren drove a wedge between real love, which he termed agape or divine love, and acquisitive love, which since the Greek philosophers has been called eros. According to Nygren, the former has nothing to do with the latter. He would label any action falling short of pure selflessness as unworthy of Christianity and revelatory of fallen human nature.

But Nygren’s thesis does not adequately account for how humans are created. We are people with real needs. Beyond physical necessities we need support and assurance which come to us when we go out to others. It is not necessarily selfish to satisfy these needs. What differentiates love from exploitation is the presence of cooperation for the good of all concerned. With this distinction in mind Jesus in the gospel today shows his disciples that they, like the parable’s steward, must show kindness to the poor, who are like the parable’s debtors, so that God will in turn favor them.

Homilette for Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 14:7-12; Luke 15:1-10)

A recent decision by Pope Benedict has created a roe among Catholics. Two weeks ago the Vatican announced that it would set up ecclesiastical structures by which whole dioceses of Anglicans continuing their own traditions might be accepted into the Roman Catholic Church. Liberal Catholics are responding to the announcement with consternation for they see acceptance of these Anglicans as strengthening the conservative positions against homosexual sex and women’s ordinations. Of course, conservative Catholics see the development as a positive step toward Christian unification. What would St. Paul say of all this?

The reading from Romans today is part of a long passage addressed to the problem of “strong” or liberal Christians (probably the Gentile Christians) and “weak” or conservative Christians (probably Christians of Jewish origin). In Paul’s time an issue is dietary customs, e.g., whether a Christian has to observe the customary fast days of Wednesday and Friday. In the passage Paul exhorts his readers to avoid judgment on these matters but to allow each person to live according to her or his conscience. Of course, Paul does not condone everyone doing what he or she pleases. After all, it is the Lord who speaks to us through consciences being informed by valid interpretation of His word.

Today Paul would likely give thanks that at least part of the Anglican community is being reconciled with the Church. In any case he would chastise those who continually harp at Vatican decisions as too conservative or, in rare cases, too liberal. Rather, he would exhort each side of an issue to be more considerate of the other’s perspective. This means that we search for the value of what those who disagree with us are saying and, unless the situation becomes outrageous, accept the other side as brothers and sisters in the Lord with the assurance that the Lord himself will ultimately judge what is right.

Homilette for Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Memorial of St. Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Romans 13:8-10; Luke 14:25-33)

Gospel commentators call Jesus’ saying that his followers are to hate their families a “Semiticism.” This term means the way Jesus’ contemporaries expressed themselves in their own language. Evidently the Aramaic language, which Jesus spoke, did not use comparatives. For Jesus to mean that his disciples had to love him more than their families, he had to say that they were to love him and to hate their families. Of course, he never intended that they were to scorn their loved ones. After all, how could Jesus -- who taught about the primacy of love long before St. Paul wrote about it to the Romans – want us, his followers, to literally hate those who mean the most to us?

But still some of us may have trouble with the idea of loving Jesus more than our children and our parents, to say nothing of our spouses. “How could we do that?” we might ask. The answer is both simple and hopeful. First, we can and should love Jesus above all because he is so good – really perfect. Then, by loving Jesus above all, we actually love our children, our parents, and our spouses not less but better. Primary allegiance to Jesus means doing what is truly good for all. We will not confuse indulgence with care and give in to the whims of our children. We will not accept the prejudices that lived in our parents’ home but treat all people with respect. We will not allow communication with our spouses to shrivel but make a continued effort to express our thoughts and feelings.

Homilette for Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Memorial of St. Martin de Porres, religious

(Romans 12:5-16a; Luke 14:15-24)

God does seem to lift up the lowly as Mary proclaims in her great song The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Last week we celebrated the feast of the most obscure yet most popular of apostles, St. Jude. Certainly St. Therese, the Little Flower, seems to have eclipsed in fame her patroness, St. Theresa of Avila. Perhaps no saint is more broadly known than St. Francis who is thought of as il poverello, the little poor one. Today we celebrate a humble Dominican saint who has come to shine in more people’s heavens than any of his illustrious confreres, Martin de Porres.

Martin was the son of a Spanish nobleman and a former slave Black woman. It is said that he might have become a street urchin had his mother not taught him kindness and generosity. Martin evidently did not take advantage of anyone because he thought of himself as lowlier than everyone. As St. Paul urges the Romans in the first reading today, Martin anticipated everyone in showing honor. Martin also followed Paul’s advice to not lack zeal for doing good.

In our age of increasing awareness of the environment we can again look to Martin de Porres for patronage. He was trained as a physician, which in his day meant as much an herbalist who grew his own medicines as a diagnostician or therapist. He also befriended animals. Indeed, he is often pictured with a rat at his side because he was a person who could readily thank God for all creation.

Homilette for Monday, November 2, 2009

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

Mark Twain once said about the Bible, “Most people are bothered about the verses that they do not understand, but the passages that bother me are those I do understand.” He meant that the word of God challenges us to assist others more and please ourselves less than we likely do. The consequences for not meeting those challenges, the Bible warns, are not at all reassuring.

And so we have All Souls Day to pray for the many people who had difficulty getting beyond pleasing themselves. They were not necessarily big sinners but people like most of us here, I am afraid, who could not pass up the opportunity to share a bit of gossip or to watch television rather than visit the lonely. Catholics have long placed these souls in Purgatory, a state not described in the Bible but logically deduced from squaring the prevalence of sin with belief in a merciful God.

We may have grown up thinking that Purgatory is punishment for venial sins. As far as one is prevented from enjoying what she comes to want more than anything else, there may be frustration to the point of pain involved in Purgatory. But the Eastern Church, what Pope John Paul II was fond of calling Christianity’s other lung, probably is closer to the mark when it sees Purgatory as a time of purification. In Purgatory we will work out our selfishness like a mother living in misery picks lice out of her children’s hair so that we might enter the presence of God without a blush of embarrassment. Our prayers today beseech God to expedite the process.

Homilette for Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 9:1-5; Luke 14: 1-6)

The Scripture scholar Fr. Raymond Brown posed the question, if Paul had any children, would he have raised them as Jewish Christians? Some might think not since Paul aggressively taught that Christians were dead to the Jewish law. Brown himself, however, believed that he would have. The reading from Romans today indicates why.

Obviously Paul retains a tremendous respect for Judaism. After all, he notes, God has bestowed numerous blessings on its adherents. Paul names the traditional seven and then adds one more that we will readily appreciate. The seven blessings are: 1) adoption as children of God; 2) the presence of God both in the desert and in the Temple; 3) the covenants made to the patriarchs and especially to Moses; 4) the law by which God expressed His holy will; 5) the cult which was free of barbarisms like human sacrifice; 6) the promises that Israel will become a great nation; and 7) the patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob -- whose adherence to God won for their descendants the promise of salvation.

The final blessing on Israel is Jesus himself in whom the whole world is reconciled. If there were no other reason to be grateful for the Jews, we would do so because our savior springs from their seed. But there are many other reasons. The Jewish people have given to the world a rich cultural heritage and many of the greatest minds in history. More importantly, they have struggled with no little success to be a beacon of moral integrity following God’s eternal law and not their whims or base nature. We see their morality reaching its perfection in Jesus and his followers, but again the Jews have given us Jesus.

Homilette for Thrusday, October 29, 2009

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:31b-39; Luke 13:31-35)

A frustrated Illinois state official named James Shields once challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel. Lincoln had criticized Shields in a local newspaper, and the latter felt he had to defend his honor. Having the right to choose the dueling weapons, Lincoln called for cavalry swords thinking he might intimidate his diminutive opponent before the duel began. Besides, Lincoln knew that there was less possibility of either being killed with sabers than with pistols. The strategy worked. When Shields realized that he had little chance of prevailing over the six foot four inch Lincoln, he accepted the future president’s explanation that the criticism was never meant to defame the state official’s character.

In today’s gospel Jesus is challenged to a duel of sorts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Herod wants to kill him. No doubt Herod resents Jesus because he, like John the Baptist, preaches repentance and reform which Herod needs as much as any scoundrel in history. We can easily imagine that Jesus would like to confront Herod. John is Jesus’ kinsman and may have been his mentor whom Herod has murdered with impunity. Evidently Jesus does not fear Herod since he mentions that he will accomplish his purpose. But, unlike Lincoln, he avoids the duel altogether. His rule is always to do his Father’s will and not his own. Jesus knows that God is leading him away from Herod’s territory to Jerusalem where he will give his life for the world’s salvation.

Abraham Lincoln shows us how to use our wits to save face and perhaps life when challenged directly. But Jesus gives a more valuable lesson. He exemplifies subservience to God’s will as we face all life’s challenges. No matter how great our desire to react, no matter how much of our ego or self-image is on line, we should follow the Lord’s, not our own, will.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles

(Ephesians2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

The title “Jude, the Obscure,” belongs to a novel written by Thomas Hardy, but it might describe one of the two apostles whom we celebrate today. Besides his appearance on the lists of apostles given by Luke, Jude’s (or, more accurately, not the traitorous Judas’) name is mentioned in the Gospel according to John as the apostle who asks Jesus why he well reveal himself to the apostles and not to the world (John 14:22). It is not likely that this apostle wrote the New Testament letter that bears the same name.

Simon’s story is a bit thicker than that of Jude although all that we know of him comes from the distinction the evangelists make between him and Simon Peter. Luke says that he is known as “a Zealot,” meaning that he is passionate about fulfilling the Jewish law. Nevertheless, we should not think of him as a member of the revolutionary band that is known as Zealots a generation after Jesus. In Matthew and Mark, the same Simon is designated “the Cananean” which actually stems from the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word zelotes.

The first three evangelists are clear that Jesus intentionally chooses only twelve men to form his inner group of disciples. They also show that the men come from different backgrounds -- fishermen and a tax collector, for example. The fact that Simon is a zealot about the law and Matthew (or Levi) is of a profession that downplays the Law’s authority further indicates that Jesus intends that his followers bridge their differences for the project he is establishing. What we should find here is that Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God is neither ersatz nor haphazard. He has a plan which encompasses fulfilling the prophetic hope of the reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel. Inclusion of non-Jews into the Kingdom is not excluded by Jesus, but it begins only with the inauguration of the Church after Pentecost.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

In Robert Duvall’s film “The Apostle” a slick evangelist preacher with an eye for other women kills the man who is having an affair with his wife and then flees the law. He experiences true conversion and begins to preach again but in a much humbler mode. The redemption reaches a climax when the preacher courts another woman whom he is tempted to seduce. But now the man no longer fools himself and resists the sin.

Duvall’s apostle perfectly illustrates the spiritual renewal of which St. Paul writes to the Romans. The redeemed person can no longer live by the flesh and yet his/her body groans with desire. Fortunately God’s Spirit, now within the redeemed, triumphs. Paul indicates the dynamics of the Spirit’s victory. It fills the convert with hope for the recreation of all nature, what we see as the reward of heaven.

We experience our nature at odds with the Spirit in different ways. When we desire to make a cruel remark to someone who offends us, we experience a duel between sin and righteousness. When we are inclined to lie to escape a tax or a fine, we undergo the same war within. At such moments it is helpful to recall that our everlasting life is at stake.

Homilette for Monday, October 26, 2009

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17; Luke 13:10-17)

Jesuit Scripture scholar Joseph Fitzmyer has shown that the Aramaic word abba is not meant to say “daddy” as we once excitedly learned. Yet we should not become disillusioned. St. Paul may have reverted to the Aramaic word to indicate the esteem that many Jewish children, like himself and his siblings, feel for their fathers. Pious Jewish fathers, at least, are not playboys but providers who raise their children in faith and with love. Sons and daughters of such men fear them when they are small, but as they mature the fright dissolves into love and then into a respect bordering on awe.

Paul is saying that related to God, the same movement from fear to awe is implemented in us believers by the Holy Spirit. Certainly Paul has in mind something more than a change in psychological attitude toward God as the Spirit’s fruit here. He is saying that the Spirit establishes us God’s adopted daughters and sons capable of sacrifices, like that of Jesus, which gain for us access to everlasting life.

Homilette for Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

“Red sky in the morning: sailors, take warning.” In the gospel today Jesus exhorts the people to prepare for the coming storm. Of course, he is not talking about the weather, but about judgment day which comes for most people sooner than expected.

When he mentions the need to settle with our opponent, Jesus is again telling us to prepare for judgment. We should remember that if our case goes to trial, God will be both our opponent and our judge. It’d be better, Jesus warns, that we reconcile with God now or He will easily convict us of wrong-doing.

It may be hard for some of us who attend daily mass or, at least, read the biblical texts used at mass to identify ourselves in this reading. We might have noticed that Jesus is addressing himself to the crowds and not to his disciples. Yet all of us, no doubt, find ourselves at times at odds with what we know to be true and good. Jesus then is urging us as well to recognize our selfishness and to ask forgiveness for the times that we have allowed it to override our good judgment.

Homilette for Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

Sex scandals at high levels this summer provoked a controversy regarding marriage. After the revelations of extramarital affairs involving a U.S. senator and the governor of a southern state, people have asked what marriage is for. Is its purpose the personal fulfilment of the individuals involved? Or, more traditionally, is it the procreation and education of children? With its tellingly high divorce rate, American society seems to want individual satisfaction from marriage most of all. The Church teaches differently. She says that along with the mutual sanctification of the couple in love, marriage is about bringing up children who will glorify God and benefit society.

In the first reading today, St. Paul asks his Roman Christian readers a similar question. He notes that previously they followed the licentious customs of the society around them. What good did that do for you? Paul asks. In other words, he wants to know if the fleeting pleasure of promiscuity is worth the cost of death which he rightly associates with sin. Until Christ some might have rationalized that, yes, it was worth it. But with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead another answer is in order. Now that we will gain eternal life by associating ourselves with Christ, we want to reject sin and to put our faith in him.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-48)

In today’s passage from Romans St. Paul deals with a question much like one that troubles society today. He knows that Christ has freed humans from the complexity of following the Law of Moses. The question then arises: since there is no law saying the contrary, is one free to sin? Today many ask whether the copious freedom cherished by western humanity is really good for people?

Paul answers the question of being free to sin negatively. He reasons that just as there is a slavish attention to the Law, there is also slavishness to sin. People give themselves over to sin and resultant death by doing what they know to be wrong. They usually cannot control themselves once they have started down the road to perdition. We can see this happening in addictions. Drug, alcohol, and sex addicts cannot stop doing immeasurable harm to themselves and others. Because of the damage, society to date has restricted freedom in these areas, at least a little.

Theologians after Paul have clarified the nature of true freedom. It is not only a lack of restriction but also an orientation to the good. Paul, somewhat awkwardly, calls true freedom “becoming slaves of righteousness.” It consists of practicing virtue continually so that doing what is right becomes as natural and as healthy as eating cereals and fruit for breakfast.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 5:12.15b.17-19.20b-21; Luke 12:35-38)

Paul nowhere mentions the words original sin, but in the passage from Romans that we hear today he examines it. To understand what he is saying, we need to review the story of creation.

Genesis distinguishes human creation as the only handiwork God makes in His own image. This means that we, like God, have the capacity to love. That is, we can know others as well as ourselves and give ourselves to them in relationships of trust. Genesis goes on to tell how the first humans -- Adam and Eve -- act on the tempter’s half truths to reject God’s authority. The result of their disobedience, which we name original sin, is a triple alienation. The pair become at odds with each other, with material creation, and with God. The alienation is epitomized in the bitter reality of death for them and their descendants.

Paul then completes the story. As grave as the first humans’ sin is, Christ’s grace more than makes up for it. He has overcome the triple alienation by his singular act of obedience to God, his Father. Humans can now re-enter relationships of love. No more must we die if we unite ourselves with Christ in faith.

Homilette for Monday, October 19, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

The seventeenth century English poet George Herbert wrote a poem about creation called “The Pulley.” In it he describes God’s creating humanity with all blessings save one – rest. According to Herbert, God did not grant humans respite out of mercy, not meanness. He did not want them to be so satisfied with themselves that they might ignore the God who made them. Unfortunately, this is the hole that the rich man in the gospel today falls into.

The man is completely self-satisfied. He plans for himself, provides for himself, and even talks to himself. He does not think of the poor around him, much less of God. God, as we know, is just the opposite. He thinks of everyone, even the one who ignores Him. The man will die without having benefited from the fruit of his labors or from God. The Lord would have been overjoyed to have helped him if he would have just considered others besides himself and, perhaps, his family.

Homilette for Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:1-8; Luke 12:1-7)

The French philosopher Albert Camus made a hero out of the rogue mythological king Sisyphus. In Camus’ story Sisyphus temporarily redeems humanity by putting Death itself in chains. As a punishment for his deception, the gods assign Sisyphus the task of pushing up a mountain a boulder which falls to the bottom as soon as Sisyphus approaches the summit. Sisyphus must repeat the quest forever.

Sisyphus’ fate is not unlike the dilemma of humans without Christ. Try as they might, humans on their own could never be justified before God. The Law pointed them in the right direction, but proved to be more than any person on his or her own could fulfill. St. Paul tells us today that justification comes by faith as it did in the case of Abraham of old. In the coming days we will hear Paul proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection as the definitive content of faith. To be justified, Paul will say, we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The news of salvation through faith is too grand for a grim realist like Albert Camus to bear. Camus thought that the best humans could do is to achieve integrity and, perhaps, an esprit de corps in carrying on the daily struggle of life until death. But we Christians dare to hope for much more because of the testimony of those like Paul. The apostles’ encounter with the risen Jesus changed their lives and sent them testifying until their bloody deaths his message of everlasting life.

Homilette for Thursday, October 15, 2009

Memorial of St. Theresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

The University of St. Thomas in Rome ("the Angelicum") is situated in a formidable construction not far from the famous Coliseum. The building was erected in the sixteenth century to house a community of nuns. It is said that the nuns were wealthy matrons who arrived at the convent with their servants. Each nun evidently took an amply-sized, comfortable room on the first floors while the servants were given much less spacious quarters on the second floor. The life-style was likely equivalent to that in Carmels which St. Theresa of Avila set out to reform in the same sixteenth century.

In the gospel passages which we read at Mass this week Jesus assumes the role of a reformer of sorts. He criticizes the piety of the scribes and Pharisees, which was gaining popularity in his days, for being more concerned about superficiality than about significant moral matter. They insist on ritual washing but give little to the poor. They pay tithes on small things but care little about the judgment of God in substantial matters like due honor to parents. They build monuments to the slain prophets of old but are ready to murder the apostles whom Jesus will send out to preach God’s Kingdom.

It is sometimes said that the Church is in a constant state of reform. This means that the Church must always recall its roots and strive to remain faithful to them. In a world where comforts soon turn into needs, where charity becomes tax shelter, and church-going melts into socializing, it is necessary for all of us to redouble efforts to live the gospel.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 2:1-11; Luke: 11:42-46)

In allowing for human failure, the Church must take care not to accept it as permissible. Sin not only damages human relations, it also undermines the thanksgiving offering that the Church makes to the Creator. Paul in the first reading today shows urgency about not condoning sin.

Paul indicates that God’s tolerance of sin is an act of mercy not permission. In not destroying sinners outright, God wants them to take advantage of His goodness by repenting. But Paul is clear that the time for repentance is limited. Sooner or later, sinners will have to pay the price of their iniquity. Paul also emphasizes that God plays no favorites. Poor as well as rich who do not turn their backs on sin will face annihilation.

Perhaps we tolerate our own sins with the thought that striving for perfection leads to neurosis. We also make excuses for our failings with such banalities as “charity covers a multitude of sins.” But perfection is a goal, not an expectation. Only by striving for it can we, with God’s help, approach perfection. It is worth the effort because it gives God glory and, again with God’s grace, merits for us eternal life.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” Most Americans recognize these words from the Declaration of Independence almost as surely as they recognize the red, white, and blue. However, by speaking of truths that are “self-evident,” the words imply a reality that many Americans have trouble seeing. That reality is natural law governing human actions.

In the reading from Romans today, Paul refers to natural law. He writes, “...for although they knew God, they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.” He means to say that Greek and Roman pagans should be aware that their carnal excesses are offensive to the Creator by their observance of human nature. For this reason Paul exhorts Roman Christians not to follow the example of their neighbors.

Today law courts and law schools increasingly deny natural law in favor of the idea that law is the agreement of citizens. The failure to recognize natural law is subversive for it not only has led to such a pernicious practice as physician-assisted suicide but also can easily deny an ideal so fundamental as human rights. The Church, citing St. Paul among many other sources, benefits society greatly by insisting on the existence and the pertinence of natural law.

Homilette for Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

St. Augustine famously said, “With you I am a Christian; for you I am a bishop.” The first title, the bishop of Hippo went on, filled him with consolation while the second one made him fearful. Augustine, like Paul in his introduction to the Romans which we read today, realized that Christ comforts his people. On the other hand, to be a bishop or any minister means to stand in the place of Christ – which is the humongous task of treating others with his care.

Christians, like Paul says of himself, are in a sense slaves of Christ. We do what he commands. But this term by no means exhausts our identity. More than that, we are Christ’s sisters and brothers, adopted into God’s family as daughters and sons. This means that we carry out Christ’s commands not out of submission but out of freedom. We no longer see God as a prisoner views the warden watching every move he makes. Rather God is more like a mother observing her baby begin to walk and ready to assist the baby with each step.

Paul also emphasizes that Christ has sent him out as his apostle. But he does not claim any particular privilege for being so named. Rather he realizes the terrible burdens that Christ has laid upon him with the sending. In other writings Paul lists the sufferings that he has undergone in bringing the gospel to others. For now he seems content with mentioning how the call to apostleship links him with women and men in different places as sisters and brothers.

Homilette for Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

A colonial legislature was in session when a towering thunderstorm darkened the skies. The occasion seemed so ominous that some of the legislators, fearing it was the biblical “day of the Lord,” thought it would be best to adjourn the session and return to their families for the Lord’s arrival. The Speaker of the chamber, however, thought differently. He spoke up, “If it is the ‘Day of the Lord,’ then we will want to be found at work when He comes. If it is not, then we would look foolish for fearing that it is. Therefore, I say, bring in the candles.”

We find warnings of the “day of the Lord” in many of the prophets like in Joel today. They view it as the end of the world -- a time of judgment for which people must prepare by turning away from their evil ways. Jesus, also a prophet, gives a hopeful note to the “day of the Lord.” Besides judgment, he sees it as the moment of vindication to those who live righteously. It is not that the “day of the Lord” will be easy for anyone in Jesus’ mind but that rejoicing will follow for those who have been faithful to his ways.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke see the “day of the Lord” arriving with the crucifixion. The sky in these three gospels darkens, as Joel foresees in the reading today, when Jesus dies on Calvary. The first three evangelists are indicating – as John does in a unique way – that the cross presents the moment of judgment for the world. Those who recognize Jesus as the Son of God by his sheer innocence in death are saved. Those who cannot distinguish Jesus’ goodness are condemned. Of course, recognition here implies willingness to conform to his ways.

Homilette for Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Why is it that some people – mostly men? – have difficulty asking God for help? Perhaps we do not want to feel foolish should God not answer our prayers as we expect. Or maybe we like to think of ourselves as independent on Him as well as everyone else. In the gospel today Jesus provides two images to free us from our debilitating reluctance to seek assistance.

First, Jesus suggests that we may consider God as a friend to whom we may go with our problems. But, he indicates, God is better than a friend because He will assist us not just to avoid the embarrassment of denying a needy associate, much less to quiet a persistent acquaintance. No, God is the perfect friend who cares for us like a father – the second image -- loves his children. That is, God seeks only what is truly good for us. The difference between God’s friendship and every other friendship -- or, for that matter, God’s Fatherhood and any other fatherhood -- is that God can afford us the perfect gift, the Holy Spirit, who fills us with joy, love, and peace.

Homilette for Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Lady of the Rosary

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

“’Teach us to pray...’” the disciples ask Jesus in the gospel today. If the appeal were made to us, we might respond by telling the petitioner to find a rosary. For good reason Catholics view the rosary as the unofficial prayer of the Church.

The rosary is both physical and mental, both Scriptural and devotional prayer. Although it is often recited on one’s knees, posture is not as integral to the rosary as fingering its beads. Pressing each bead as we progress through the five “Our Fathers” and Glory Bes” and fifty “Hail Marys,” we remind ourselves that our salvation took place through God becoming human like ourselves. More importantly, the rosary invites us to consider the whole story of Christ as it moves from the announcement of his birth in the Joyous Mysteries, through his instructive ministry in the Luminous Mysteries, to his salvific death in the Sorrowful Mysteries, and finally to his heavenly reign in the Glorious Mysteries.

Scripture not only gives us matter for reflection but also provides the words we recite. The “Our Father” comes from today’s gospel, and the first part of the “Hail Mary” is derived from salutations by the angel Gabriel’s and Mary’s relative Elizabeth in Luke’s infancy narrative. When we pray the rosary, we put ourselves in communion with people reciting it around the world. Just as remarkable, the rosary lends itself to communal recitation. We may say it alone, but it is especially satisfying to pray it with others as if it were the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church, where we echo one another in offering God praise.

Homilette for Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Giving a talk to Missionaries of Charity, the congregation Mother Teresa founded, will likely humble any priest aware of what is going on. The sisters place a chair in the center of the room for the priest and then sit on the floor around him. No doubt they see themselves as taking the posture of Mary listening to Jesus in the gospel today.

In the passage Jesus acts prophetically in a number of ways. First, he visits a woman’s home and then he allows a woman to sit at his feet. Rabbis do not take such liberties in biblical days for obvious reasons. But Jesus is in no way constrained by social customs neither to associate with women nor to have one in the position of his disciple. Indeed, he wants women must hear the gospel as well as men.

The great fourteenth century theologian Meister Eckhart saw Martha as Jesus’ disciple even more than Mary. He taught that where Mary only listens to the word of God as it comes from Jesus, Martha puts that word into practice by serving others. It’s a novel interpretation of the gospel but one which reinforces the idea that women as well as men express discipleship of Jesus in different ways.

Homilette for Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 1:1-2:1.11; Luke 10:25-37)

Americans cherish autonomy. That is, we want to choose for ourselves what we will do. We see autonomy as the source of freedom and the cornerstone of happiness. Of course, we recognize the need for laws, but for many Americans the fewer, the better!

Jonah might be considered a typical American. Where God tells him to go to Nineveh as a prophet, he goes the other way as an autonomous person. Jonah is even less attentive to God than the pagan sailors who at first refuse to throw Jonah overboard because their consciences tell them that it would be wrong.

If we think of autonomy as freedom from servitude, it has something to commend itself. Humans should not be forced to submit themselves to others except for a serious reason like incarceration or imminent danger. Nevertheless, autonomy that runs against God’s intentions can endanger the welfare of a society. Because no one lives independently of others, everyone has responsibilities for the common good of all. Acting as if we were completely autonomous, we may refuse to recognize the benefits that others bring us and may reject the possibility of happiness in caring relationships with them.