Homilette for Monday, June 1, 2009

Memorial of St. Justin, martyr

(Tobit 1:3.2:1a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

A priest who was also a pastor was promoted to a position at the archdiocesan pastoral office. The job was full-time which meant that the priest had to give up his parochial responsibilities. When he told his mother of his promotion, his mother seemed disappointed. When the priest asked why, she responded, “How are you going to get to heaven if you don’t visit the sick and bury the dead?”

In the first reading today Tobit shows himself to be heaven-bound. He magnanimously takes the dead man off the street so that he may be properly buried. We can call him righteous because he takes pity on the suffering even after they die. He not only will open the ground to give proper respect to a corpse which housed an image of the divine maker but experiences sorrow just thinking about the poor man’s plight.

It is sometimes said that we attend funerals not for the dead but for their survivors. But this is not really the case. We participate in funerals for the sake of both the dead and the living. We pray that God will accept the dead into paradise, and we console the living that they are not alone in their loss.

Homilette for Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John21:15-19)

Many evangelical Protestants openly profess their love of Jesus. But surely love of the Lord is as much a characteristic of true Catholics. Mother Teresa used to describe herself by saying, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

In the gospel today Jesus uses love for him as the one criterion for service of his lead apostle. Some will scoff that it is silly to say that we love someone who died two thousand years ago. They also will question what kind of love it is if the beloved, like a baseball star or a pop singer, has millions of professed lovers. But these objections really do not faze us because we know that Jesus is alive and dwells among us spiritually. We can even have a personal relationship with him by caring for his body, the Church, and listening to his words in Scripture. Finally, because he is God, we know that he can care for all his lovers with the utmost personal attention.

Homilette for Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 22:30; 23:6-11)

Often when we feel criticized, we plan on how we are going to defend ourselves. We search for impressive words that will show off our wit and put down our critics. But this might be a foolish strategy. We would do better to listen carefully to what others are saying, pray to the Holy Spirit that we might respond prudently, and speak forthrightly what comes to mind. Jesus tells us as much when he says, “'When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.’”

In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles Paul follows Jesus’ advice. He evaluates the situation and speaks to it. His reference to being a proponent of the resurrection of the dead divides his persecutors. What starts as a probable conspiracy to condemn Paul turns into a debate with half the assembly supporting him. The Holy Spirit is the driving force behind this and all apostolic activity in Acts. He brings Christianity from its humble beginning in Jerusalem to center stage in Rome where it will fan out throughout the whole world.

The Holy Spirit is God’s incomprehensible gift of Himself to us. The Spirit chastens our passions and perks up our senses so that we too might convert others by manifesting divine love. When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago died in 1996, an abortionist gave up his practice in nearby Indiana. The doctor had never met the cardinal but was evidently impressed by Bernardin’s ability to express care for all people without backing away from his stand against abortion.

Homilette for Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11-19)

Latin America has become pluralistic with regard to religion. In most cities Protestant churches dot neighborhoods like little grocery stores, and missionaries pace the streets inviting people to taste their spiritual food. There is little concern for ecumenism. Priests see the missionaries as bandits raiding their flocks. Meanwhile, Protestant pastors criticize Catholicism as the unfaithful spouse of the word of God. The situation defies Jesus’ prayer for unity in the gospel today.

Jesus asks his Father to make all those who believe in him one in faith and charity. He has in mind all the churches that his disciples will establish. We extend that vision today with the hope, expressed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical That They May Be One, that Christian communities of the Reformation as well as those of Orthodoxy some day share with Catholics the Eucharist. We can move toward the realization of this goal by cooperating with other branches of Christianity on charitable projects and by participating in ecumenical dialogues and prayer services.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Memorial of St. Philip Neri, priest

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

Ten years ago a movie related the saga of an all-black (except for officers) regiment during the Civil War. The unit overcomes external prejudice and internal fear to become a crack fighting force. The last scene shows the courageous soldiers going into their final battle where they will be killed fighting not only for their country but for the freedom of their people. The movie was titled “Glory” because the men give their lives for a cause much bigger than individual happiness.

In the gospel Jesus speaks of the glory he intends to achieve by doing his Father’s will. That will, of course, is no less than the redemption of humanity through Jesus’ death on the cross. The world has never before seen such self-sacrifice because Jesus himself has no part in the sin which demands his life for expiation. However, there is a link between the glory won by soldiers dying for their country and that of Jesus giving himself over to crucifixion. In as much as the soldiers transcend the pitfalls of war – hatred, brutality, pride, and licentiousness – to serve both God and country, the glory they achieve reflects and, indeed, adds to the glory Jesus attains in his death and resurrection.

Homilette for Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

As we pray for our war dead today, we need to face the horror of it all. Once a movie featuring the British Air Force during World War I exposed the frivolousness with which aviators spoke about battle. The film made clear that only because they never witnessed the actual deaths or saw the remains of fallen comrades, could pilots boast of the glory of combat. Surely, a more realistic viewpoint is that of the infantryman like Wilfred Owen, the English poet who died in World War I. He writes that if we could see war’s vile and gore, we would not say “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (that it is a sweet and noble thing to die for one’s country).

In the gospel Jesus assures us that despite the horror of war or of any other evil, we can be at peace. We need not worry because he has conquered the twin nemeses of evil and death. We only have to remain close to him. And if we, like his disciples, find ourselves separated from him, we only have to turn again in his direction asking forgiveness.

Homilette for Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

The account of Gallio’s judgment in Acts today is significant for two reasons. First, it gives a clue for dating Paul’s missionary activities. Second, it gives biblical precedent for the separation of Church and state.

Roman records show that Gallio was proconsul in Corinth for only the summer of 51 A.D. Because Paul is thought to have left Corinth shortly after the episode with Gallio, he must have stayed there from 50 to 51 A.D. (if what Acts says about his being there only a year and a half is accurate). That year then acts as a hinge for determining other dates in Paul’s sojourn. Although the date is disputed, Paul likely concluded the controversy over circumcision in Jerusalem in 49 A.D. Also, his first letter to the Thessalonians, the earliest New Testament piece and written in Corinth, carries a 50-51 A.D. vintage.

The Jews haul Paul off to the tribunal because he is converting non-Jewish “God-fearers” to Christ rather than to an orthodox Judaism. However, Gallio, the emperor’s representative, believing it imprudent for the state to meddle in religious affairs, dismisses the case. His action is reminiscent of the position that the Church takes vis-à-vis government. The Church teaches that a government must not allow religious belief to be imposed on any person. Rather, it should guarantee every person the freedom to choose the faith that his or her conscience dictates. Americans should be thankful that their government has followed this rule and that their representatives to Vatican II successfully explicated the doctrine there.

Homilette for Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-8; John 16:16-20)

We know the mechanism of weeping. It is caused by secretion of fluid from the lachrymal glands to lubricate the surface between the eyeball and the eyelid. But exactly why people cry is an open question. Some say simply that it is a response to strong emotions. Others, proceeding from biochemical analysis, claim that it removes hormones associated with stress.

Self-introspection associates crying with loss of affection. We cry when those who love us take their leave. So parents sob at weddings, and the bereaved weep at funerals. For this reason Jesus anticipates the tears of his disciples on the night before his death in the gospel today.

In another gospel and with a different context Jesus tells his disciples, “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” The result of tear-shedding in both cases, however, is the same. Crying will not necessarily produce heavenly comfort, but it does when the cause of the tears is the need for Jesus to direct us through moral turmoil and to share our suffering. Also, we must remember that he is not completely gone. Rather he has sent his Spirit to accompany us. The Holy Spirit brings us a foretaste of the joy which comes to fullness as we enter eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 17:15.22-18:1; John 16:12-15)

The scene of the first reading will inspire many Christians. Athens represents the epitome of Western Civilization, the home of the philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; of the playwrights Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, and Euripides; and of the historians Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon. Now Paul, the best educated and most successful of Christian missionaries, clears his throat to speak to the learned populace. His words do not disappoint us. They, in colloquial terms, “meet the people where they are.” They hint at the superior Greek culture and mention its traditional regard for religion. They also appeal to the people’s strong sense of justice. Certainly, we feel, Paul will win Athens for Christ.

Of course, the result of Paul’s preaching is catastrophic. The Athenians not only reject his ideas; they scoff at him. Their response, “We should like to hear you on this some other time,” is only a nice way of saying, “Get lost.” But Paul learns from this bitter experience. No longer will the apostle meet his audiences with lofty elocution. He will tell the Corinthians that he came preaching Christ crucified. Following Paul, Christianity through the centuries has often defended the gospel with reasonable argument. But it has realized all along that faith is God’s gift that neither rhetoric nor logic can implant.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

The pious story of how Paul and Silas save the jailer from self-destruction almost misses the point that the jailer becomes Paul’s first convert in Europe. Philippi is Paul’s initial stop on the new continent. He has spoken with the women at the riverside but these are Jews with a definite belief in God. The jailer, however, is presumably a pagan who comes to know God through the testimony of the two missionaries. For this reason the passage ends by stating that the jailer and his household “come to faith in God.”

Still, most likely Paul is not the first missionary on European soil. We know that he will write to an established church in Rome only six to eight years later. Yet his work in Philippi is historic because it chronicles the inexorable movement of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. We see this progress continuing today with the growth of the Church in Africa and Asia. We might also find the Spirit at work in ourselves converting all our thoughts and desires to what is truly good and holy.

Homilette for Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26-16:4)

Jews have been persecuted so much throughout history that it is hard to imagine them persecuting others. Yet this is the claim of Palestinians who say that Israelis occupied their land after World War II and continue taking it today on the West Bank. It is also the charge of Jesus in the gospel who foresees the eviction of Christians from Jewish synagogues in the latter part of the first century.

Christian Jews prayed alongside other Jews for almost forty years after the crucifixion. Evidently they looked on one another something like contemporary Charismatics from various Christian denominations praying in the churches of their childhood on Sunday morning but coming together at other times for meetings featuring the Holy Spirit. Regular Jews accepted the diversity of belief in the synagogues until the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. catalyzed a reform. Then they systematically expelled Christian Jews from their midst with the charge that Christians adulterated worship with teachings about Jesus. In today’s gospel Jesus refers to the expulsion proceedings when he says that he will send the Advocate to testify that Christians truly worship God.

This Advocate, more literally “the Paraclete,” is the Holy Spirit who remains with the Church always. Today we might discern its presence in the Church’s consistent sexual ethic despite society’s acceptance of immoral practices like premarital cohabitation.

Homilette for Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

There is no inherent contradiction in being both Christ’s slaves and his friends. A slave can win the confidence of his or her master to be treated as a friend or even as a relative. Bishop Edward Braxton once wrote an article about a slave in Georgia who labored for a Catholic family. There was such mutual love between slave and masters that the woman chose to stay with the family after Emancipation and was eventually buried in the family plot.

Being slaves to Christ means that we follow him unreservedly. If he tells us – as he does – that it is a sin to divorce one person in order to marry another, then we do not divorce, at least in the sense that the Church interprets the word. In calling his disciples “friends” Jesus underscores his confidence in us. He trusts us implicitly to listen to his words and to carry out his will.

The two terms – slaves and friends – should be seen as complimenting one another. At times we may have difficulty following what Jesus says. It is hard, for example, for the family of a murder victim to pray for the perpetrator of the crime. Yet it does so out of faithfulness to its master. Most of the time, however, we can reflect on and appreciate the wisdom of Jesus, our friend, as when he invites us to eat his flesh in the Eucharist.

Homilette for Thursday, May 14, 2009

Feast of St. Matthias, apostle

(Acts 1:15-17.20-26; John 15:9-17)

Eleven men make up a football team, and there are “twelve apostles.” No coach would think of sending only ten players onto the field, but is it unthinkable that there would be only eleven in the inner group directing the early Church? We might say not, but in the first reading today the whole community of disciples in Jerusalem evidently considers it critical that there are twelve leaders. One of its first decisions after Jesus’ ascension is to replace Judas, the lost soul.

Jesus was definite about choosing only twelve as his core group of disciples. He wanted no more and no less in order to epitomize his mission. Jesus came to inaugurate the Kingdom of God by gathering together the twelve tribes of Israel as a magnet to attract all peoples of the earth. He needed one judge or leader for each of the tribes.

The New Testament does not mention Matthias other than in this passage. His significance is to indicate the clarity of Jesus’ vision for the church he founded. This realization should fill us with confidence. The Church to which we belong is no happenstance but the product of Jesus’ conscious design. Even more significantly, we -- her members -- have also been deliberately chosen by Jesus (as the gospel tells us).

Homilette for Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

In one of her novels Anne Tyler writes of a misleading advertisement boasting “vine-grown tomatoes.” Her character criticizes the sign saying something like, “All tomatoes are vine grown, but juicy and tasty tomatoes are vine-ripened.” We know that too often tomatoes are harvested prematurely and taste as much like paper as food.

In today’s gospel Jesus exhorts us to remain close to his vine so that our lives may be fruitful. This means that we are to take his words to heart contemplating their meaning and judiciously putting them into action. Franciscan Friar of Renewal Benedict Groeschel describes how Mother Teresa once asked him if he wanted to be more productive. Of course, he did. Then Mother Teresa told him that he should make a holy hour everyday. When Fr. Benedict objected that he was too busy for that, Mother Teresa only chided him that he really did not want to do more. Fr. Benedict finally surrendered to the idea, and the outcome has been abundance in preaching, writing, and harvesting vocations.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Jesus defies many of our hopes when he promises us his peace. We think of peace as the absence of conflict – a respite in the constant struggle to make ends meet or to please those around us. For our brand of peace we may take a cruise or find an apartment miles away from the helter-skelter of work.

But Jesus indicates in the gospel that peace is a condition of psychology not geography. As he is about to undergo the worse of human upheavals in the crucifixion and yet is undisturbed because of his relationship with the Father so he urges us not to worry about the predicament in which we find ourselves. Rather, we are to be confident of his love which conquers any and all of the troubles that the world slings at us. For sure, it is a tall order, but we have the assurance of his resurrection to show us that our trust is warranted.

Homilette for Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26)

The almost comic way the people of Lystra begin to worship Paul and Barnabas in the reading from Acts is reminiscent of how many today idolize movie starlets and sports heroes. On fall Sundays not a few Texans glue their eyes on Dallas Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo rather than go to church. Likewise, the public craves pictures of Brittany Spears as if she were an incarnate divinity.

Paul and Barnabas have not only to prove their ordinariness but also to proclaim the wonder of God. So should we. We have to check our awe for headliners in favor a more discerning appreciation of people who graciously serve others. A step in this direction a decade ago was Bill Gates’ listing not the richest people in the world but those who give the most money away. Of course, Gates’ list would not include any widow giving her last mite, but it does divert popular attention from greed.

Homilette for Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

The Philippines will remember Douglas MacArthur for the words he spoke at his forced departure from the country at the beginning of World War II. He promised the people, “I shall return,” and he did. No doubt, some Filipinos joined the resistance to the Japanese invaders on the strength of MacArthur’s promise. In the gospel today Jesus means to instill such confidence in his disciples with a similar promise.

The passage is taken from the beginning of the second part of John’s gospel, the so-called Book of Glory. Jesus is making a farewell speech to his disciples among whom we should see ourselves. He does not want us to think that he is leaving us behind. Rather, he wants us to trust in him. “Why?” we may ask with the same uncertainty as Thomas displays in the passage. He answers, because “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus is the way that leads to God. He speaks the truth which shows us the way. And he conveys life in the Eucharist which provides us strength on the journey.

We sometimes find ourselves in bleak situations. Perhaps we face job termination, mortgage foreclosure, or an iffy diagnosis. We must not cower but be confident. Jesus sublimely demonstrates this trust on the cross. In John’s account of the crucifixion, Jesus is not perturbed in the least. He has completed the mission of his Father by his submission to death. Now he returns to Him in glory. We can and should face our trials by similarly trusting God.

Homilette for Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

Biblical students count three distinct “missionary journeys” of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. Although Paul himself did not likely divide his preaching so neatly, the three-journey arrangement helps us appreciate the apostle’s tremendous sacrifice. The section from Acts that we read today shows Paul shortly after commencing his first expedition.

Paul typically goes to the Jewish synagogue of the town he is visiting. There people would at least have perspective for understanding his message. He preaches salvation by faith in Jesus – what is frequently called the kerygma of the early Church. In today’s reading Paul’s kerygmatic message summarizes the story of salvation from the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt to the preaching of John the Baptist. It continues tomorrow with his relating the role of Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise.

As Paul proclaims the kerygma on his missionary journeys, the Church calls us to be missionaries. Two years ago the bishops of Latin America described Catholic Christians as “missionary disciples.” As disciples, we allow ourselves to be formed according to the word of God. As missionaries, we give testimony of that word to others. We should not shy away from speaking of how belief in Jesus has meant all the difference in the world to us. We should also proclaim the word by rendering loving service to family, neighbor, and community.

Homilette for Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 12:44-50)

A few weeks ago President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University. The address caused some consternation because the university covered up some of its explicitly Catholic images. However, a university spokesperson said that the images were concealed not because they were Catholic but because they were going to be only partly visible. In any case, the president’s speech described the nature of the economy in what may be called a media event. That is, the speech was staged not for the benefit of immediate listeners but to be broadcasted far and wide. In the gospel today Jesus’ address might be seen as a similar media event.

Jesus’ words conclude the first half of John’s gospel sometimes called by scholars the “Book of Signs.” They do not contain any new teaching but rather nicely summarize all that Jesus has revealed of himself so far. Of course, Jesus’ primary message has been that he is sent by God the Father to save the world. The signs or miracles, which punctuate the teachings in the first half of the gospel, testify to the legitimacy of Jesus’ mission.

As this passage marks the midpoint of the gospel so today we come to the midpoint of Easter time. The celebration so far should have been uplifting, but will anyone say that it is “awesome” or “exciting,” especially for those who have already lived through many Easter seasons? This latter group has learned that living Jesus’ resurrected life does not continually bring mountaintop experiences. Rather, it assures us of truth based on love. As much as anything else, this truth will sustain us to the eternity promised at the end of the journey.

Homilette for Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)

Leonard Bernstein’s Mass makes a marvelous tribute to the word of the Lord. In a piece with that title Bernstein states that powers may lock up preachers but they cannot contain the message they preach. In Acts Luke also shows the word of God moving with similar dynamism.

Today’s first reading shows Hellenist Christians forming Christian communities elsewhere after being persecuted in Jerusalem. These communities do not consist solely of Jews who accept Jesus but also of gentiles who acknowledge Jesus as their savior as well. The new community makeup and the new practices it entails call for a new name for church members. They are now Christians.

If the word of God seems stymied today because of agnosticism in many Western countries, it has hardly lost its dynamism in Africa and Asia. Christians are continually being made. The Church still grows. For the old Christian world, we might say with Jesus, “Blessed is the one who takes no offense in (him).”

Homilette for Monday, May 4, 2009

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:1-10)

“Growing pains” occasionally affect children in their sleep. They cause some to wake up in the night with discomfort in their legs. Since researchers have not found an underlying cause for these pains, they are named for growth, a phenomenon associated with children. In the first reading we find the early Church afflicted with its “growing pains.”

One of the great issues for the Church in its first decades is whether to accept non-Jews into its fold. Non-Jews are not gentiles who become Jews through circumcision and eating kosher but gentiles who refuse to accept Jewish customs. Since Jesus was a Jew, could gentiles follow him without living as he did? This is the critical question. In the reading from Acts today Peter defers to none other than the Holy Spirit for an answer. He explains to the Jerusalem inquisition that he baptized Cornelius’ household upon seeing that they manifested the gifts of the Spirit.

Today the Church has other issues to deal with. We can easily name a few – Church and politics, the morality of contraception, the proper roles of lay ministers. Too often differences on these questions create fragmentation and suspicion. Like Peter we should turn to the Holy Spirit for guidance. That is, we should recognize that what is authentically Christian is the primacy of charity in the lives of believers.