Homilette for Monday, February 2, 2009

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

(Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-32)

We call today’s feast “the Presentation of the Lord,” but traditionally it was known as “Candlemas Day.” For centuries on this day churches blessed all the candles that they would use in the course of the year. The motive for this grand dedication is Simeon’s declaration in today’s gospel that Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.” He will be the Israelite through whom Isaiah’s vision of world unity and peace is fulfilled.

Jesus is light, fire, and flame, but not the whole candle. The wax of the candle is humanity. Like wax we have much fat to be burned away. We can equate the fat with our pride, greed, and lust. Jesus like a fire burning wax takes away these sins so that we might participate in his illumination. With our vices consumed, we are rendered sincere – a word coming from two Latin words meaning “without wax.”

We can think of Christ igniting us especially when we partake of the Eucharist. His words move us to repentance and his body and blood sanctify us to testify to his glory in the world. We do this by words and, perhaps more effectively, by lives of sincere service.

Homilette for Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:32-39; Mark 4:26-34)

Peter Maurin co-founded the Catholic Worker movement along with Dorothy Day. He was born in France and came first to Canada and then to New York after living as a Christian Brother. Maurin popularized Catholic Social Teaching with what he called Easy Essays. A typical essay reads,

The world would be better off
if people tried to become better.
And people would become better
if they stopped trying to become better off.

Maurin’s Easy Essays are much like Jesus’ use of parables in today’s gospel. Mark the Evangelist tells us at the end of the passage that Jesus speaks to the people in parables or images so that they might grasp his teaching. For example, Jesus describes God’s kingdom as seeds growing in a field and a mustard seed – common realities in the Palestinian countryside. To be sure, the dynamic of God’s kingdom is more complicated so Jesus has to explain it to his disciples in private.

Mark’s purpose is not strictly the same as Jesus’, however. He means to tell us, his readers, that Jesus is someone completely different from all our expectations. He is not like mere humans because from him -- like from a few seeds sown in a field or like a tiny mustard seed -- immense results come forth.

Homilette for Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:19-25; Mark 4:21-25)

Ancient Christians saw the pelican as a symbol of Christ. Their belief stemmed from the legend that the mother pelican pecked open her breast to give her offspring blood for nourishment. The believers understood Jesus’ shedding his blood for the salvation of sinners as the same type of life-giving sacrifice.

The Letter to the Hebrews provides vivid testimony to the efficacy of Jesus’ blood. For the last couple of weeks, readings from Hebrews at mass have testified how Christ’s blood surpasses all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant since he is totally unblemished. In fact, according to the letter, his Precious Blood has cleansed completely of sin those who partake of it. We have opportunity to drink his blood, like the pelican chicks are portrayed as taking the blood of the hen, when we receive the Eucharist. We might add that the fullness of the sign of blood is perceived in the consecrated wine -- the blood of the grape.

Today’s passage from Hebrews ends with an exhortation. Since those who drink the blood of Christ live anew, they should look out for their co-sharers in community. We surmise that the Letter to the Hebrews was written during a time of persecution when some Christians were falling away out of fear. Today people are leaving the Church because of the pitfalls of a secular age. We need to heed Hebrews’ plea that we encourage fellow Christians to stay the course of faith.

Homilette for Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(Hebrews 10:11-18; Mark 4:1-20)

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae makes the list of every scholar’s “Great books of Western Civilization.” Its combination of critical philosophical reasoning and acute theological sensitivity has engaged the best of thinkers for over six hundred years. But it is not easy to appreciate St. Thomas’ accomplishment. Partly out of the scholastic method and partly, perhaps, out of humility, Aquinas delivers astounding insights in an economy of words.

A perfect example of Aquinas’ ability to write profoundly and concisely is his application of the Scriptural passage used in today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. Thomas calls the New or Evangelical Law the Holy Spirit’s presence in the hearts of the people Christ saves. For the redeemed, according to Thomas, law does not so much restrict from evil as it propels toward good.

Aquinas not only commented on the Holy Spirit; he also moved with the Spirit’s promptings. Out of apostolic zeal he crisscrossed Europe on foot sharing his wisdom with kings and common people as well as his beloved Dominicans. Besides academic tomes, Thomas composed religious hymns that are still in vogue. According to contemporaries, Thomas was approachable, patient, and kind. Although Thomas was probably not portly as stories have him, there certainly was much about him for us to imitate.

Homilette for Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:1-10; Mark 3:31-35)

The gospel passage today has troubled Catholics for centuries. First, it seems to indicate that Jesus had brothers and sisters when we hold that Mary remained a virgin all her life. And then it apparently shows Jesus rejecting his own family when we know the importance of family and the need to honor one’s parents. What’s up?

Adequate explanations are not difficult to understand. The evangelist Mark, from whose gospel the passage is taken, is evidently not aware of the tradition that Jesus’ mother is a virgin. He does not mention the birth of Jesus, but begins his gospel with John preaching in the desert and Jesus coming to him for baptism. In any case, the references to Jesus’ “brothers and sisters” here do not necessarily mean that they were born to Mary. Perhaps they are Jesus’ half-brothers and sisters – children of Joseph who was possibly widowed before committing himself to the care of Mary and Jesus. A more traditional explanation sees these visitors as distant relatives of Jesus since the Hebrew word (and its Greek equivalent) for brother is sometimes used to mean cousin or nephew. This account is given by St. Jerome, a Biblical scholar renowned for literal attentiveness.

It would be rash to say that Jesus rejects his blood relatives when he recognizes others as his spiritual family. We rightly see his mother, Mary, as the epitome of sanctity, and his “brother,” James, as the eventual leader of the Jerusalem Christian community. It is also critical that we see ourselves among Jesus’ “brothers and sisters.” This distinction entails, of course, that we do as he says -- practice the will of God.

Homilette for Monday, January 26, 2009

Memorial of St. Timothy and St. Titus, bishops

(II Timothy 1:1-8; Mark 3:22-30)

The Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus follows at the heel of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul because the two men assisted Paul in his missionary efforts. Timothy accompanied Paul on part of his so-called second missionary journey. During that mission he stayed with Paul in Corinth, and later Paul puts his name with his own as the authors of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. This letter speaks of Titus as Paul’s emissary who brought a lost letter to the Corinthians after they evidently reacted to Paul’s scolding in the First Letter to the Corinthians. In Second Corinthians Paul calls Titus, “my partner and co-worker with you.”

A few facts about Timothy and Titus can be gleaned from the New Testament. Timothy was the son of a Greek father and Jewish mother. Paul permitted him to be circumcised because of his Jewish heritage. On the other hand, Paul insisted that Titus not be circumcised because he was of completely Gentile origins. More important than revealing their personal stories, the presence of the two men in the Scripture tell us about Paul. The apostle to the Gentiles was hardly a one-person show. It was in part his ability to collaborate that made his evangelizing efforts so successful. He also felt great affection for his associates and was honest enough to publicize their contributions to his work.

It may seem self-evident that there are no Christians without a church community, but some do speak and act as if they have private tête-à-têtes with Christ. There is always need for other people to pray with, to support our faith, and to assist our apostolic efforts. This was true of the archetypal missionary, Paul of Tarsus, and it remains the case today.

Homilette for Friday, January 23, 2009

Friday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 8:6-13; Mark 3:13-19)

When President Harry Truman campaigned to keep his residence at the White House in 1948, he took to the rails. He crisscrossed the country speaking to the people in every town with a train station. The tactic gave the president access to large numbers of citizens and also pictured him in their minds as one like them. The railway campaign was a symbol not only saying something about Harry Truman’s character but also accomplishing his purpose of being reelected.

We can see Jesus choosing twelve men as his core disciples or apostles in a similarly dynamic way. Jesus does not choose twelve because it is a number divisible by many other whole numbers, much less because he has only twelve men qualified for the job. No, he chooses twelve to symbolize the twelve tribes of the Kingdom of Israel which Jesus has come to restore. The Kingdom of Israel is to serve as the foundation of the wider Kingdom of God that is bringing peace to the whole world. The men are also to help realize the kingdom through their preaching and healing.

Sometimes we satisfy ourselves thinking that Jesus came to save individual souls for a heaven above and beyond the world. This is not the picture the gospels present us, however. Although we believe that we have an eternal destiny beyond our deaths, we need to recognize that the Kingdom which Jesus has inaugurated is a new world order where men and women live amicably together under God’s righteous rule. This vision remains the true Christian hope.

Homilette for Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 7:25-8:6; Mark 3:7-12)

“Build a better mousetrap,” goes a familiar adage in economics, “and the world will beat a path to your door.” In the gospel today the world seems to beat a path to Jesus’ door. He has provided people something more helpful than an effective mousetrap. He cures them of every disease. Still the people do not recognize Jesus as the Son of God. For them he is a human albeit wondrous healer.

The unclean spirits with their supernatural powers, however, do recognize Jesus for who he is. Either out of reverence or mock piety, they bow down before Jesus and proclaim his divine heritage. Jesus quiets them probably because the people about him are not yet able to understand his divine mission.

Fortunately we can, at least to some extent. Jesus came to redeem the world from sin by his ultimate sacrifice of self. For this he deserves our praise – the highest form of which, of course, is emulation. No, we probably do not have to give our lives, but all of us are called to service. Jesus’ healing all the people in the gospel today indicates that he has prepared us for this difficult task.

Homilette for Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Memorial of St. Agnes, Virgin and martyr

(Hebrews 7:1-3.15-17; Mark 3:1-6)

The man was lying in a hospital bed depressed. He had been diagnosed with cancer and was not sure whether he was going to live much longer. He was also unsure of his relationship with God. He was not attending mass on Sunday because, he said, he was often busy. Was that a sufficient reason or perhaps it was only an excuse for a lifetime of neglecting his God?

In today’s gospel the Pharisees bring to fore a similar issue of Sabbath observance. They want to condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Is that legitimate work on a Sabbath or is doing any work beyond sheer emergency on the holy day a way to mask one’s denial of God’s sovereignty?

Jesus will reveal the contradiction lodged like an embolism in the Pharisees’ hearts. He poses them the question, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” Then he restores the ability of the handicapped person to use his hand; meanwhile, the Pharisees begin to plot Jesus’ death on the same Sabbath.

We should see the Sabbath as a gift from God so that we might do good. Giving praise to God is the highest good. Also taking a day to rest and recreate is another appropriate good for the Sabbath. If it is necessary, we might also work on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. But we must take care that the labor is truly required and not pursued out of greed or, worse, to mask our neglect of God.

Homilette for Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 6:10-20; Mark 2:23-28)

Many years ago, when the school year went considerably longer than the institutional requirement, an old pastor, Monsignor Joseph, declared the feast of his patron saint a holiday in his parochial school. No doubt he acted out of love for his spiritual children. Although he was denying them a small opportunity to learn, he was showing how Christ gives us great cause to celebrate. Not anyone could proclaim such a holiday, but the pastor then had the authority.

In the same way Jesus demonstrates his authority over the law governing the Sabbath in today’s gospel. He permits the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath not because they are hungry but simply as a benefit of accompanying him. As the anointed son of God, Jesus possesses the authority to dispense the Law as he sees fit.

However, individuals have no such authority. We must take care not to alter God’s law according to our preferences. But the more important lesson here is that we look to Jesus as his disciples surely do after he grants them the indulgence of picking grain. We too should find in him the joy of our lives.

Homilette for Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 2:18-22)

Humans learn obedience when they have to do something that is hard. If a superior sends a young religious to an elite school where students learn quickly and the community has a gourmet cook, she will have no difficulty accepting the assignment. But if the superior sends her to Africa where children do not have books much less computers and the staple food is yam not ham, she will consider carefully what it means to obey.

It sounds strange to hear that Christ also had to “learn obedience” since he was God. But the Letter to the Hebrews realizes that Christ emptied himself of divinity in becoming human. He too, then, had to struggle to follow the Father’s will as indicated by his request in Gethsemane that he not have to drink of the cup of suffering. His obedience, of course, led to his being exalted as God’s own son when he rose from the dead.

It almost sounds quaint to speak of obedience today. Most people like to think of themselves as autonomous with the ability to determine right from wrong for themselves. Following Church teaching regarding birth control or days of obligation, for examples, seems to them a matter of personal discretion. Such an attitude, however, conflicts with what the Letter to the Hebrews is driving at. Obedience does not lessen a person’s stature; rather, it leads to her personal sanctification.

Homilette for Friday, January 16, 2009

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 4:1-5.11; Mark 2:1-12)

When Martin Luther King and companions called the bus strike in Montgomery, Alabama, many African-Americans walked to work. It was no mean sacrifice since the walkers often stood on their feet all day at their jobs. Yet they were willing to do it because they knew the bus strike was a step toward racial justice. One elderly lady who had participated in the strike expressed her satisfaction at day’s end. “My feet are tired,” she said, “but my soul’s at rest.” The author of the Letter to the Hebrews expresses such euphoria as his hope for the people he addresses in the first reading today.

Rest is always more than inaction. True rest includes the satisfaction of knowing that one has done his or her very best. When a teacher returns home after of a full day of instructing, disciplining, and encouraging her students, she can rest. We bear with difficulties and seek ways to announce the good news of God’s love so that we might enter God’s eternal rest. Others may scoff that we are crazy or they may dismiss us with faint praise, but we do not live to impress them, at least beyond the desire that they too might know the love of Jesus. No, we live in order to rest with our Lord.

Homilette for Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 3:7-14; Mark 1:40-45)

Fifty years or so ago, a journalist named John Howard Griffin performed a shocking social experiment. He dyed his skin black and toured the South to learn first hand how African-Americans there experience everyday. Predictably, he had trouble using public restrooms. In general, wherever white men had easy access, he was treated with suspicion. Eventually Griffin wrote an account of his travails which helped soften white resistance to the American civil rights movement.

We might say that Griffin was an insider who made himself an outsider so that outsiders might become insiders. Similar reversals take place in the gospel today. After Jesus cures the leper, his fame as a healer spreads so widely that he cannot any town without being besieged by needy petitioners. He is the insider who becomes an outsider for the sake of others. Meanwhile, the cured leper who by law had to remain outside populated areas now can enter any town freely.

Many people when contemplating a good deed wonder if they are not getting into an undesirable situation. They may that fear that sending a check to one charity will reap a windfall of other requests. Or they may ask themselves, if they help a person with rent one month, would the person return for the same help frequently? Jesus shows us today that we must not allow fear to overcome the prompting of our hearts to assist others. Rather like him we do the good we can and trust that God will deliver us from any unpleasant repercussions.

Homilette for Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:14-18; Mark 1:29-39)

For centuries the Church believed that St. Paul wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. There were a few dissenters in early times, but only in the sixteenth century did the great Erasmus begin to persuade the majority of scholars that Paul could not have authored the document. As a preeminent theologian of the third century put it, “everyone who is able to discern differences in style” would know that the letter did not come directly from the pen of Paul. The identity of the author remains unknown today.

Determining authorship is only one of the difficulties in studying the Letter to the Hebrews. It is also full of obscure terms that challenge the modern mind. In today’s passage, for example, we scratch our heads trying to interpret the meaning of how humans “through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life.” Is the letter trying to say, like Prince Hamlet in his “To be or not to be” soliloquy, that humans are not free to do what they want because they fear death?

No, it is not that. Such a fear would at least have us doing what is right. The fear to which the letter refers is a deeper anxiety that would paralyze us from doing any good at all. It is a fear that would so preoccupy us with the terror of death that we could not love God or neighbor. The letter tells us, however, that Christ has eliminated this kind of fear by his resurrection from the dead. Now we can, in the words of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, “befriend death” because it only unites us securely with God, the object of our living.

Homilette for Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:5-12; Mark 1:21-28)

Once in a while we see criticism of humanism from Christian groups. According to them humanism is the archenemy of faith because it seeks to replace the primacy of God with that of humans. But certainly this criticism is both wrong-headed and short-sighted. There are great saints like Thomas More who were humanists. Even Pope John Paul II was considered a Christian humanist. Calling humanism anti-Christian is like calling an athlete anti-intellectual. Such a label does not account for humanism’s possibilities.

Humanism endeavors to promote all men and women, not just the rich or the educated, but the poor and simple as well. It says that the value of the individual human must not be ignored. It is true that some humanists get carried away with these ideas. Secular humanists try to exalt humanity by denying the existence of God. Indeed, they attempt to turn humans into gods with the authority to make laws that are contrary to nature.

In the gospel Jesus shows himself to be a humanist. When a man who is possessed by an unclean spirit comes before him on the sabbath, he takes pity. Right away, he casts out the demon so the man may have his life back. The Pharisees consider the sabbath so holy that all regular activity must stop to give praise to God. But Jesus’ expelling the demon on the sabbath indicates that God is honored more by restoring humans to their full senses than by compliance with a narrow interpretation of the Law.

Homilette for Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 1:1-6; Mark 1:14-20)

PayPal is an Internet service that allows its users to pay bills without giving financial information. For example, PayPal users do not give their credit card numbers to Amazon or other companies doing business on the Internet. PayPal’s website features a service, which it names “Sarah,” to answer users’ questions. Although Sarah is pictured as a robust young woman, the website admits that she is not a real person. If you type in a question for Sarah, you will probably not receive an answer but only another question like, “What precisely are you looking for?” or “Could you simplify your question please?”

Most people by now have felt frustrated with computer websites like PayPal’s or answering devices that do not provide the information they are seeking. “If there only was a person I could talk with...,” we say. In the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer is expressing a similar dissatisfaction with God’s revelation in times past. It is “partial” and indirect as it comes in “various ways.” But now, the author says, God has spoken through a human person who understands our needs. The writer goes on to tell us that this person, Jesus Christ, has a message more reliable than an angel’s because he is God’s own Son.

The Letter to the Hebrews was written to keep early Christians from bolting Christ to follow strictly Old Testament beliefs and rituals. We face similar challenges today. Friends and relatives may be leaving the Church to join new religious cults. More typical are the choices of associates that accept only a sampling of what the Church teaches. The Letter to the Hebrews is warning us not to do likewise. It exhorts us to faithfully follow all Church teachings as the surest way to experience eternal happiness.

Homilette for Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday after Epiphany

(I John 5:5-13; Luke 5:12-16)

Stephen Jay Gould, the late Harvard evolutionist, opined that humans may not be as superior as we think. He acknowledged that the human brain has unequaled mental powers but offered as a comparable marvel the ability of certain bacteria to withstand temperatures of several thousands degrees. And so the academic debate continues. Are we merely cousins to other living things without a claim to priority in standing? Or are humans innately superior to all other kinds of earthly creatures?

Christians should have no doubt about the answer. We believe not only that we have been made in the image of God, but also that the Creator has deigned to take on our flesh in Jesus Christ. This second truth has especially vaulted us far beyond other kinds of plants and animals. Now humanness is no longer associated so much with fallibility but with decency, respect, and love. This is the import of Christmas, the feast that still commands our attention two weeks after its celebration.

Although humans are capable of the heights of heaven, we often act like starving dogs. Sin has so tarnished our self-perception that some of us do not recognize our potential for goodness. As the reading from the First Letter of John states, we must turn to Christ as the witness of the glory which is within our reach.

Homilette for Thursday, January 8, 2009

Christmas Weekday

(I John 4:19-5:4; Luke 4:14-22)

In 1961 when John Kennedy was inaugurated, he delivered one of the most inspiring speeches in history. “The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” the young president said, “born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage....” Now the United States awaits the inauguration of another young president with a claim to newness every bit as significant as that of his predecessor forty-eight years ago. But neither John Kennedy nor Barack Obama can match the anticipation that accompanies Jesus in the gospel today.

Jesus returns to his home town to deliver his first public address in Luke’s gospel. He enters the synagogue, takes the scroll with a passage from Isaiah, reads about someone being anointed by the Spirit to proclaim glad tidings to the poor, and finally announces that he has come to fulfill this prophecy. Humanity can sigh in relief. Women and men will have not only sound teaching to guide them to peace but also the strengthening of will to make it happen.

For all the great expectations that Barack Obama engenders, many are rightfully skeptical of his presidency because of his support of abortion. In any case, we must not place ultimate hope in political messiahs. They may improve the conditions of earthly life, but they cannot bring about a totally just society. For that we still look only to Jesus, the anointed one, who has long ascended to his throne to secure for us the deepest desires of our hearts.

Homilette for Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Christmas Weekday

(I John 4:11-18; Mark 6:45-52)

If we were asked to describe the meaning of Christmas, how would we reply? Would we speak of a societal surge in buying to strengthen the economy? Economic activity is certainly characteristic of the celebration of Christmas but hardly explains its meaning. Would we offer the experience of family togetherness about the decorated fur tree? Surely many people celebrate Christmas “at home” with loved ones who have cared for them all their lives. But there is a deeper, more comprehensive meaning that we would want to relate.

We hardly could find a better description of the meaning of Christmas that the familiar verse from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son...” At Christmas we rejoice in our certainty of God’s love and marvel at its enormity. God’s love moves us to come out of ourselves – to share what we have with others, not just our families but with friends and needy people around the world.

The reading from the First Letter of John explains some of the dynamic of divine love. God shares his Spirit of love with us. This Spirit drives out the fear that distances us both from God and from one another. We no longer resent God as a judge who might condemn us; rather, we love Him as a Father who will bestow on us eternal life. Likewise, we know that other people cannot do permanent harm to us because God promises us eternal life. We wish to care for them out of imitation of our benevolent Father.

Homilette for Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Christmas Weekday

(I John 4:7-10; Matthew 6:34-44)

A guest at a soup kitchen once questioned the affection of a volunteer who served him. “Miss Bea,” the man said, “do you love me?” The wife and mother replied, “Yes, Henry, I love you.” “Miss Bea,” the man went on, “would you come home with me?” “It ain’t that kind of love, Henry,” the woman objected.

There are different ways of loving which the wise person distinguishes. But there is only one love which is a thrust for unity. Married couples express love for one another in varied ways, most especially by the act of physical union. The volunteer showed her love for the poor man by her service. Where the first reading today says, “God is love,” it means that God desires to be one with everything that is. God’s love transcends natural love in that its scope includes the undesirable. For example, God loves us in our sinfulness. Indeed, God desires us so much that He came to live among us and died so that we might partake of His life.

God has also graced us with His love. We can desire to be with God even though we cannot see Him. We can also love others even though they have little to do with us and, indeed, even though they mistreat us. Choosing to love both God and others, we participate in God’s own life. This is eternal life. It begins here in our loving both appropriately and universally and not, as some think, in death.

Homilette for Monday, January 5, 2009

Memorial of St. John Neumann, bishop

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17; 23-25)

The gospel passage says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” We should not think, however, that Jesus is beating a retreat. Actually, he is charging to the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordan desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is even the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas, the Baptist’s nemesis, can hardly ignore it.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to show courage. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene or, at least, call for help. More often we exhibit courage by facing difficult tasks with calmness and determination. “When the going gets tough,” an adage declares, “the tough get going.” Courage is the operative virtue here.

St. John Neumann obviously demonstrated courage many times in his life. As a young man, he came to the United States from his native Bohemia. Newly ordained, his territorial parish included all of western New York State! Ordained a bishop, he started the first system of parochial schools and inaugurated eighty parishes in the Diocese of Philadelphia. Courage allows soldiers to conquer fear in battle. It also enables saints to overcome desire for comfort and weariness in daily life.

Homilette for Friday, January 2, 2009

Memorial of Saints Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzan, bishops and Doctors of the Church

(I John 2:22-28; John 1: 19-28)

Today the Church honors two theologians, Basil (called “the Great”) and Gregory Nazianzen. It celebrates them together not just because they were contemporaries but also because they were friends. The Church seems to be calling us to reflect on friendship as we begin the new year.

Gregory Nazianzen once preached about his friendship with Basil. He said that both came to Athens as students where they competed with one another to learn as much as possible. But, he went on, their rivalry never resulted in envy over each other’s achievements; rather, out of mutual love, they gladly yielded to one another the highest honors.

Aristotle sees various levels of friendship. He says that we befriend some people because they are useful for economic purposes and others because of their good humor or interesting viewpoints, but we reserve our deepest love for virtuous people in whom we see reflections of our ideal selves. These friends possess the goodness that we wish to attain. More than that, they help us achieve virtue by their honest and caring conversation.

At the end of the Gospel According to John, Jesus tells his disciples that they are his friends. He loves them deeply and wants them to share in the unity which he enjoys with God. One worthwhile resolution for the new year is to strive to be better friends to all our acquaintances and especially to Jesus, our perfect friend.