Homilette for Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 9:1-10; John 6:52-59)

St. Thomas Aquinas uses Aristotelian categories to answer the question of the Jews, “’How can (Jesus) give us his flesh to eat?’” He explains that the substance, or underlying nature of bread, is changed into the substance of Jesus’ flesh while the accidents, or qualities that we see and touch, remain those of bread.

This process of change, called transubstantiation, has served the Church through the centuries. Still some people do not accept Aristotelian categories and others cannot comprehend them. Even those who can understand and do accept the explanation must admit that the change takes place miraculously. It is a matter of faith in Scripture. Three of the gospels and Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians testify that Jesus told his disciples to offer the bread as he did at the Last Supper when he said, “This is my body.”

We believe that Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist is an act of God. Like resurrection from the dead, it defies ordinary experience. Yet it does help us appreciate our need to attend mass on Sunday or, for many of us, every day. We participate in the mass with others so that we might be brought together in Christ and with these same companions might experience the eternal life eating his flesh promises.

Homilette for Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 8:26-40; John 6:44-51)

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma food activist Michael Pollan criticizes the American industrial-agricultural system. He says that it has caused corn to far outdistance wheat as the American dietary mainstay. He cites statistics and personal experience to show how farmers are encouraged to grow ever increasing amounts of corn to be fed to livestock and to be processed into human food. Pollan’s analysis raises the question whether Jesus, if he were to preach today, would say, “I am the bread of life.”

Probably he would! Whatever the popularity of corn, well-made bread is both nutritious and delectable. Jesus also challenges assumptions like “the more, the better” and “what is convenient is also preferable.” He makes himself bread to be eaten at the Eucharist, but this bread is something different from the bread we consume at table. As the gospel says, we do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus comes from God as the source of eternal life that brings back to Him.

Because they are turned into the body and blood of Christ, churches should choose quality bread and wine for the Eucharist. For a while many parishes made their own bread for the altar table. That practice often has proven impractical, but still parishes can purchase hosts which have the appearance and texture of well-made bread. Likewise, they should avoid cheap wine for consecration. Pricey wines are unnecessary, but good wine made available in sufficient quantities for all who care to drink of the precious blood is imminently called for.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 29

St. Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Acts 8:1a-8; John 635-40)

As glorious as the thirteenth century was for Western Civilization, the fourteenth century was calamitous. The Church was in disarray with the pope fleeing to Avignon. Continental Europe was being torn apart with the advent of the Hundred Years’ War (which actually lasted one hundred sixteen years). Nature itself seemed to rebel against humanity. The world plummeted into an Ice Age, and the Black Death wiped out approximately one half of Europe population, between 25 and 50 million people.

Yet there were beacons of hope in this especially dark period. Perhaps the leading lady of the century was a humble Italian girl named Catherine from the town of Siena. It is said that she never learned to write but by the sheer force of prayerfulness and personality she was able to correspond with everyone – princes, popes, and the common people. She evidently dictated a spiritual classic, the Dialogues, which tell of her conversations with the Almighty. Beyond caring for the poor and sick of the time, Catherine’s most famous accomplishment was convincing an Avignon pope to return to Rome. As a mark of holiness, she received the stigmata – our Lord’s wounds on her hands, feet, and side.

We might see Catherine of Siena as we do Philip in the first reading. Just as the likes of Paul before his conversion persecuted the Church in Philip’s time so internal dissension threatened it during Catherine’s time. Just as Philip, Catherine spoke with a powerful voice calling for reform and renewal. Not quite as wondrously as Philip but still very effectively, Catherine performed deeds of love for God and humans.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 3:31-36)

Cletus Post was a Benedictine priest and pastor in a small North Texan town near the Oklahoma border. He was a kind, gentle man and progressive in the best sense of the word. At about the age of retirement, a cancerous tumor invaded his brain to claim his life. As he was dying, he was asked if he was afraid. No, he said, he had counseled so many people to trust in God that he had to follow his own advice.

Fr. Cletus showed half of what it means to die a Christian death. By exhibiting trust on his deathbed he, like Stephen in the reading from Acts, was asking the Lord to receive his spirit. Of course, Stephen is only imitating Jesus who, in Luke’s gospel, prays from the cross, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The other half of a truly Christian death is to pray for one’s enemies. As Jesus asks his Father to forgive his crucifiers, Stephen asks Jesus to pardon those hurling stones at him.

Many people talk about the “quality of life” of those in their final days. They usually measure this characteristic in terms of communicating with loved ones, of living without excruciating pain, and of enjoying simple pleasures like ice cream. We might pray to maintain these standards as death closes in on us. But let our prayer include as well that God accept our spirit and that He forgive all who have offended us. These latter intentions, really more than the others, raise our quality of life to the highest level.

Homilette for Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

Acts relates that Stephen and six other Hellenist Jews are ordained to bring food to Hellenist widows. However, it never describes them doing so. Rather, whatever else they do, Stephen and another Hellenist Jew, Philip, proclaim the word of God. It is not far-fetched, therefore, to think of their table ministry as involving the Eucharistic table. Perhaps they offered mass in the vernacular to meet the spiritual needs of Greek-speaking Jewish converts in Jerusalem.

Today’s first reading tells of Stephen being brought to the Sanhedrin because of his preaching. It says that false witnesses testify that he spoke of Jesus destroying the temple and changing Mosaic customs but never verifies these accusations. In his long polemic against the Jews that follows the statements, Stephen does say that God “does not dwell in houses made by human hands” – an obvious reference to the temple. Not only does Stephen speak forcefully then; he also represents a new trend within the early Church to move away from temple-centered Jerusalem to Greek-speakers with a universal spirituality.

As in the early Church with Stephen and the Hellenist Jews, the evangelizing Spirit is moving the contemporary Church to new frontiers. The new frontiers, however, are in many cases long-Christian countries that have lost their dynamism. In the United States we witness the energy of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America, from Vietnam and the Philippines, from Africa and Poland packing otherwise half-empty Catholic churches with a welcome vigor. It is tempting to criticize the enthusiasm as simplistic, but a more honest appraisal might recognize it as the vibrant faith of the first believers in Christ.

Homilette for Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)

It is safe to say that Pharisees are not gospel favorites. Many pick on Jesus because they cannot not recognize that his healing on the Sabbath mark the dawning of a new age. But the New Testament does describe some Pharisees as friendly to Christ and to the movement he institutes. One example is Nicodemus in the Gospel of John who comes first by night to learn from Jesus and then in daylight to bury him. Another, from the first reading today, is the celebrated teacher Gamaliel who defends the apostles in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Of course, Gamaliel does not accept Christianity. He only states that as a matter of policy religious tolerance is more prudent than persecution. His reasoning is summarized in the memorable lines: “But if (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Vatican II similarly declares religious tolerance essential but uses a different logic. The Council teaches that the human conscience is inviolable so that no individual or society may dictate how another is to worship God.

During Easter-time we are especially called to review the experience of the early Church. Every day at Mass we read from the Acts of the Apostles. We see how the Church starts as a small community in Jerusalem and spreads throughout the western world. Guided by the Holy Spirit, she does not threaten legitimate governments. Rather her teachings, formed by the same Spirit, provide nations with a font of wisdom to develop a strong and loyal populace.

Homilette for Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

“We must obey God rather than men” (or women, we should add). This maxim from the first reading today may be delusive since God sometimes speaks through others and since our sense of God speaking to us may be mistaken. Discernment guided by Scripture and Church teaching provides necessary assistance in determining what God expects of us when the dictates of others conflict with our own ideas and actions.

A recent development in government points to an impending conflict between obedience to God and compliance with civil law. The Obama Administration has called for inquiries on whether the protections of medical workers and institutions from prosecution for not performing abortions should be lifted. In other words, the Obama Administration is contemplating pressuring Catholic facilities, doctors, and nurses into doing abortions. Catholic bishops have raised their voices decisively and vigorously in defense of freedom of conscience. Removal of protections, they claim, would mean violation of many consciences, non-Catholic as well as Catholic. It would also facilitate the taking of human life in its most vulnerable period.

Many Americans are pleased with policy changes introduced by the Obama Administration. His friendly overture to the Cuban government, for example, seems productive and right-minded. It is also in line with the approach the Church has taken in recent years. But Catholic Americans especially should be wary not to allow their enthusiasm for positive change allow them to overlook areas where the Administration may tread on sacred values upholding the common good.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:17-26; John 3:16-21)

After a tragedy such as the killing of thirty-two people at Virginia Polytechnic Institute two years ago by a deranged gunman, humans rack their brains to figure out why such atrocities take place. There is no shortage of answers.

Liberals usually criticize the lack of social safeguards that might protect the public from harm. Conservatives tend to blame the tragedies on the erosion of personal responsibility. Atheists may snicker that God should be held accountable for not intervening. Religious zealots may rant that God is only sending a brutal message calling for reform.

The Gospel of John does not provide detailed reasons for the occurrence of evil. It does tell us today, however, that people prefer darkness to light. From almost the very beginning the world has been marred by wickedness which is not about to stop. Today’s passage further points out how God acts to relieve suffering. He sends His son to mend many hurts and to preach better ways than the narrow self-interests people tend to pursue. Christ also dies on a cross which unites him in solidarity with the suffering from around the world and through the ages. More significantly, the cross provides humans the opportunity to vouch for Christ with faith so that we may experience the turnabout of his resurrection.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:32-37; John 3:7a-15)

Testy preachers sometimes refer to the first reading today as Communism in the early Church. Of course, the practice of the first Jerusalem Christians has no resemblance to Marxist socialism. It is more like the ideal of Catholic religious congregations where members are supposed to submit all their possessions to the superior who sees that are redistributed equitably. The rule, however, is often breached. Many religious today have difficulty turning in everything they receive and are also reluctant to trust their fate completely to the discretion of another. Interestingly, aberrations also creep into the Jerusalem community. The very next passage in Acts tells of a couple who keep some of the receipts from the sale of its property rather than giving all to the apostles as is the custom.

Like the early Church, Christ’s resurrection from the dead calls us to a radical change in our lives. We not only help others but try to dedicate ourselves to the Lord in every way. The experience of others not being as needy as they appear and the attraction of goods other than living for Christ may disillusion many. We should count on Easter grace to enable us to both understand the human condition and become tolerant of some human failings. Nevertheless, we do not want the tempering of our idealism to erode the desire to unite ourselves wholly with the risen Lord.

Homilette for Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:23-31; John 3:1-8)

Where the Gospel of John notes that Nicodemus comes to Jesus “at night,” its purpose is not to give the reader the time of day. Rather, “night” in this gospel indicates ignorance and possibly evil. In this case could Nicodemus do better than to consult Jesus, “the light of the world”?

Jesus sounds obscure to Nicodemus (and possibly to us as well) as he advises that one must be “born from above” to see the Kingdom of God. We know that Jesus is referring to Baptism here, but we should not think of it as a ceremonial washing. No, for the Gospel of John Baptism is the profound experience of being adopted into a whole new family. It is the joy of being loved not out of familial obligation, much less from egotistical passion, but from recognition of one’s innate dignity and despite one’s shortcomings and past mistakes. It is, as well, the Spirit’s empowerment to love others with like abandon.

Protestants often speak of their “born again” experiences which lead to Baptism. They may use Nicodemus’ term but have Jesus’ understanding of being “born from above” in mind. Catholics, typically baptized as infants, are at a loss with either expression. To get an idea of what Jesus means, we might recall an instance where we erred dismally – perhaps failing to visit a dying friend or cruelly insulting another. Then after confessing our sin and making some kinds of amends, we felt the love of Christ return to us as soothing as it was undeserved. This is, at least in part, the experience of being born again.

Homilette for Friday, April 17, 2008

Friday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

Resurrection means, of course, that Christ is no longer dead but alive. His body may have ascended to heaven, but his Spirit remains with us. We should not think of this Spirit as merely a common sentiment like people share when reminiscing about the “the good old days.” Rather his Spirit is a dynamic force that transforms us interiorly so that we might fulfill his mission. Today’s gospel describes the working of Jesus’ Spirit with rich symbols.

Have the disciple’s really returned to their old fishing profession? It would be extraordinary after receiving the commission of the Lord in his previous appearances to them. But perhaps fishing is the metaphor for their preaching. They have become “fishers of men.” It is laborious work which may yield nothing unless blessed by the Lord. Under his tutelage, however, its results are bountiful. The crew actually meets Jesus in the meal to which he invites them. There they hear his words which guide them and consume his food which nourishes them.

The gospel passage suggests Jesus’ presence to us as well as to his immediate disciples. He engages us in our daily occupations. There we too can produce marvelous results on behalf of our families, communities, and society. Attentive to the words he speaks in the gospel and fortified by his body and blood received in the Eucharist, we are prepared to bring his mission of redemption to completion.

Homilette for Thursday, April 16, 2009

Thursday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; Luke 24:35-48)

If on the cross the Jews executed an innocent man, Christians have more than excised repayment. Their crimes against Jews through the centuries are extensive and bloody. At times Christian leaders supported or at best turned a blind eye to these atrocities. Interestingly, the Gospel according to Luke and Luke’s Acts of the Apostles takes a judicious approach to the Jewish people’s complicity in Jesus’ death. On the cross in Luke’s passion narrative Jesus prays for forgiveness of his persecutors. “Father, forgive them,” he says, “for they do not know what they are doing.” In today’s reading from Acts, Peter reiterates the Lucan interpretation of Jewish responsibility. Addressing himself to the Jews of Jerusalem, Peter says, “’...you acted out of ignorance, just as your leaders did.’”

The ignorance of the Jews does not so much regard the night trial and swift execution of Jesus as the inability to recognize who he is. As Peter indicates, he is God’s “Holy and Righteous One” sent to bring new life to the people. It is a large truth for us to grasp even after two millenniums of spiritual reflection. We continue to sin, and our sins conspire with those of the Jews and the Romans in Jerusalem that fateful Passover when Jesus was put to death. So we like the Jews addressed by Peter do not fully know what we do when we ridicule others or take something that does not belong to us. And, yes, we too, become beneficiaries of Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness from the cross.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-35)

Some of us may be disappointed that the gospels do not give a physical description of Jesus. Try as we might, we never find a word about his stature, his complexion, or any distinguishing mannerism, other than that he spoke with authority. Once a journalist wrote that he was short since the Gospel of Luke mentions that Zacchaeus has to climb a tree to see him. However, the more common interpretation of this story is that Zacchaeus is the little guy.

Perhaps since Jesus is so nondescript in the gospels, it should not strike us as altogether peculiar that his disciples do not recognize him at first glance after the resurrection. Both Mary Magdalene in yesterday’s gospel reading from St. John and the two disciples today in Luke’s gospel fail to distinguish the Lord from ordinary people. Until he speaks with his old authority, that is. Then his words go straight to the heart. Mary is lifted out of her fog of grief when he mentions her name. The disciples too achieve insight as he blesses and breaks the bread.

We are used to seeing pictures of a long-haired, blue-eyed, bearded Jesus, but these are surely idealized portraits. Rather than seek his image, we should listen for his words. He calls us by name in Baptism as surely as he calls Mary Magdalene in the graveyard. He pronounces the same blessing over the bread and wine in the Eucharist as he does for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Like these disciples, we are commissioned to tell others of his resurrection. As peculiar as it may sound, we are to say that he is the one whom we visit at mass. We hear his words in the gospel, and we shake his hand in the breaking of the bread.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tuesday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

A teacher was worried about her job. Economic realities had forced her school district to announce pending cuts of a considerable number of teaching positions. The woman knew that she was competent; indeed, she had received a number of teaching awards. But she was unsure whether her fifteen years of service were enough seniority to survive a brute competition of credentials. The woman prayed and started thinking about how she might cut back her lifestyle in case she was let go. It turned out, however, that she not only retained her job but was given a sizeable raise in salary.

Mary Magdalene’s search for the dead Jesus in the gospel today likewise results in more than she imagined possible. Her devotion to the Lord takes her to his tomb. Evidently she hopes only to be near his remains for in John’s gospel no mention is made of Mary Magdalene’s coming to anoint Jesus nor does it say that she expects the covering stone to be removed. Her faithfulness, however, brings more consolation than she could have ever hoped for. Joy fills her heart as she recognizes her risen Lord.

Life is full of uncertainty and setbacks. As much as we would like to avoid them, we simply cannot. However, we can be faithful to our Lord in these trials with prayer and our best daily efforts. Then, like the teacher in today’s world and Mary Magdalene in the gospel, we too are likely to be surprised by more benefit than we ever thought possible.

Homilette for Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday in the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:14.22-33; Matthew 28:18-15)

Wars change territorial maps. After almost any war the victors annex disputed lands while the vanquished forego their claims. After World War I, for example, France, Poland, Demark, Belgium, and Czechoslovakia gained possession of lands from Germany. The resurrection of Jesus also brings about change. It alters not exterior but interior maps of everyone illumined by its brilliance. We see clear change in Peter as he boldly preaches Jesus in the reading from Acts today.

Of course, the proclamation takes place when Peter receives the Holy Spirit with the other disciples on Pentecost. But as courage, understanding, and the other gifts are works of the Spirit, so the coming of the Spirit is a function of Jesus’ resurrection. We can view the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit as one great Easter event with so much content that its wonder becomes appreciable only when we consider them separately.

Peter who denied Jesus at the high priest’s house now tells the Jews openly that Jesus is the long-awaited heir of David. He even has no qualms about charging the Jews with the death of Jesus. However, his purpose is not retribution but forgiveness. He will go on to say that repenting of their sin, they too may receive the same transforming Spirit.

Homilette for Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 15:23-26; John 13:1-15)

At a Jewish Passover meal the youngest at table asks, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” We might make a similar question for our meeting here this evening. How is this mass different from other masses? The answer is, of course, that in this mass we give ourselves in a special way to remembering.

The word remember literally means to put the component parts or members back together. When we remember we recreate what existed in the past to make it present to us now. This evening we remember three events of faith found in the Scripture readings. First, we recall God’s liberating the Israelites from their exile in Egypt. Second, we reestablish Jesus’ initiation of the Eucharist on the night before he died. And finally, we bring to mind Jesus’ astonishing show of humility when he washes his disciples’ feet.

Dogs can remember in a sense, and we regularly pay a false compliment to computers by speaking of their memory. We must distinguish our act of remembering as different from the trivial memories in animals and machines. When we humans remember, we assign meaning to past events and allow the new meanings to shape our lives. In our first memory this evening we understand the liberation of the Israelites as our own deliverance from the captivity of sin accomplished through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our remembrance of the first Eucharist allows us to imagine the celestial banquet in which we hope to participate with Jesus, the Father, the saints, and all our beloved. Our final instance of remembering shows us to reach our heavenly goal. We are to become like Jesus imitating his service to others in the spirit of love.

Homilette for Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; John 18:1-19:42)

A woman confides that she cherishes her Catholic faith but cannot marry in the Church the man she is living with. His refusal to rid himself of vices has convinced her that he does not care about her very much. An elderly gentleman cannot confide anything because Alzheimer’s has deteriorated his mind. At one time he was a ready conversationalist. Now he sits mumbling his name, mostly passive to every question asked of him.

These two as well as the soldier who pierced Jesus’ side, the eyewitness who testifies to the blood and water flowing from Jesus’ side, and the rest of us “’look upon him whom they have pierced.’” All hopefully see more than a man who has suffered a cruel death and more than a martyr who has given his life in testimony to what he believed. All hopefully recognize the son of God Himself completely innocent of wrong-doing yet suffering in obedience to his Father so that the world may have access to eternal life.

Robert Frost wrote, “As long on earth/ As our comparisons were stoutly upward/ With gods and angels, we were men at least,/ But little lower than the gods and angels.” When we fix our eyes on Jesus crucified, we keep our comparison upward. As worthy as we may consider ourselves and as good as others may think of us, we know that in truth we are nowhere near as innocent as he. We even have to acknowledge that our sins, like the soldier’s lance, have contributed to his ordeal. Confessing our sinfulness and admitting our complicity, we become beneficiaries of the grace which the blood and water signify. This grace assures the woman that she can do what is necessary to live with integrity. It strengthens the caregivers of the gentleman with Alzheimer’s to respect his human dignity. And it provides us the spiritual strength to bear our own crosses. This grace finally leads all who accept it to eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

Few passages of Scripture give better context for appreciating Jesus passion than the four so-called Servant Songs which we read on Monday, Tuesday, today Wednesday, and Friday of Holy Week. These passages are taken from the work of an unnamed prophet who is called “Second Isaiah” because his writings are attached to those of the great prophet of Judah. Second Isaiah lives in Babylon with other exiled Jews. He recognizes his call from God to preach to the people about the wonderful deliverance God is going to work on their behalf. Second Isaiah’s writings comprise much of the middle part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. They appear to be autobiographical telling how the prophet has suffered on behalf of the people.

What Second Isaiah says about his own trials, we can apply with greater relevance to Jesus. In today’s Servant Song, for example, we remember how Jesus communicates with God in prayer, how both Jews and Romans revile him during his court trials, and how God vindicates him when the persecution ends in his death. The Servant Songs announce a completely new form of messianism. No longer is the Messiah a sword-wielding conqueror of armies; rather, he defeats evil by patiently taking upon himself the sins of others.

What Second Isaiah says of the Suffering Servant and what Jesus validates in his own ordeal we Christians should take to heart. We want to make a presumption against the use of force to accomplish our ends because Jesus is non-violent. We also want to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others as Jesus does in the gospels. Such postures will distinguish us from others. Indeed, they will make us a guiding light like Jesus himself which the world will come to acknowledge and, at least in part, to emulate.

Homilette for Tuesday, April 7, 2008

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 12:21-33;36-38)

The gospel today invites us to compare and contrast Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial of Jesus. Preachers sometimes say that the two offenses amount to the same sin of infidelity. That opinion, however, seems mistaken. It would be like equating setting a house on fire and failing to call the fire department when we see the blazes. “First, do no harm,” wrote the primordial physician-philosopher Hippocrates.

Preachers may also condemn Judas’ treachery of handing Jesus over to his enemies but dismiss Peter’s failure to stand up for Jesus out of fear. This way of thinking also seems misguided. There is no evidence that Peter suffered clinical anxiety. Indeed, he appears as a head-strong man. Doing good almost always involves some negative factors. Peter’s failure to act righteously when forced to declare himself about Jesus indicates that he considers his losses in standing up for Jesus as greater than his benefits. Although his repeated denials comprise lies, Peter’s principal sin is one of omission.

Nor can Judas’ treason be defended by saying that the devil makes him do it. Although the passage states, “Satan entered him,” a bit later when Judas leaves the supper it adds, “...it was night.” This reference is not to give the time of day but to indicate that Judas deliberately chooses the darkness of evil to the light of Christ. We are wise to consider that we too are susceptible to the same tragic mistake.

Homilette for Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-7)

Humans may attack one another more mercilessly than wolves stalking sheep. They also may care for others with the tenderness of a bird mouth-feeding her chick. Horror stories of boy soldiers in Africa testify to the first assertion. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity provide evidence of selfless love for the most miserable of people. In the gospel today we see both the worst and the best of humanity. Jesus is the touchstone which reveals a person’s soul.

Although Mary has reason to be grateful to Jesus, she expresses her love for him extravagantly. Because Jesus has brought her brother back to life, Mary pours expensive perfume over his feet. She intuitively recognizes that Jesus is more than a miracle worker but the Son of God whose self-deliverance to death is about to take away the sin of the world. As the aroma of Mary’s gracious deed fills the house, the forces of evil spread their darkness. Judas grumbles apparently because the perfume spent on Jesus could have been sold to line his own pocket. Also, the chief priests plan to kill Jesus as he threatens their authority over the people.

Typically, John’s Gospel is calling us to choose for or against Jesus. This episode implies that there is no possibility of half-heartedness. We are to serve him with a prodigal love that knows no boundaries or we are to opt for money or for power or perhaps for our own comfort and pleasure. We know the costs and benefits of both options. Which one will we follow?

Homilette for Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)

People whose memories extend to the years before Vatican II’s liturgical reforms may remember a gospel passage very similar to today’s being read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent. That Sunday was called “Passion Sunday,” and the remaining time in Lent, “Passiontide.” On that day crucifixes and other images in Catholic churches were covered with purple cloth because the gospel proclaimed that Jesus went into hiding when the Jews sought to kill him (see yesterday’s gospel passage).

Presently, the Holy See leaves the covering of sacred images during the last part of Lent to national Episcopal Conferences. Although American bishops have decided not to mandate it, individual parishes may do so. The reason for veiling the images today would be less a reference in the gospel to hiding and more the solemnity of the season. Veiling would aid the faithful in focusing their thoughts on the suffering Christ endured for their salvation.

Today’s gospel indicates that his suffering was not random or arbitrary. Rather, as John’s gospel intimates from its beginning, it conforms to God’s plan made before time. Earlier in the gospel Jesus says, ANo one takes (my life) from me...I have the power to lay it down, and power to take it up again@ (10:18). Here we see the prophecy fulfilled. The Jews cannot kill Jesus at will. He will die when he is ready when, as he says in another place, he calls all people to himself. We who recognize him as God’s son and ourselves as accomplices in his death can only marvel and give thanks that we are included in God’s gracious plan for salvation.

Homilette for Thursday, April 2, 2009

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Lent

(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)

Albert Einstein once said, “Time exists so that everything does not happen at once.” That’s important. We get upset when two things happen at once – we’re preparing dinner and the doorbell rings. How could we ever cope with everything happening at the same time? But is it possible that someone exists outside of time? That one would have created time and everything else. Philosophers call this being who exists outside of time “God.” In the gospel today Jesus equates himself with that One, Being, or God. This is what he means by saying, “I Am.”

Of course, all this is difficult to comprehend. The Jews may be resisting belief in Jesus but not without cause. They ask, how can a man whose date of birth is known and who will one day die be God? That is another good question. There is an answer, however. The Son of God existed from all eternity but joined himself to a human body and soul two thousand years ago. He did this to redirect humanity from sin, which displeases God, to virtue which God favors. God’s becoming human demonstrates His great care for us.

The Jews rightly see Abraham as their father in faith. But Christians claim him as their father as well. Indeed, it is through Christ that Abraham has become the patriarch of many nations. But seeing prophecy’s fulfillment in the number of adherents that a religion has is a questionable enterprise since popularity hardly makes for truth. If Christ has fulfilled the hope of Abraham, it is because he brought peace among peoples. Although that peace often wobbles, we can see in what he taught and the way he lived the ideal which his followers have pursued with some success.