Homilette for Monday, August 3, 2009

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:13-21)

A recent play and movie is entitled Doubt. The plot involves suspicion of child abuse by a priest. But a reflective viewing of the work indicates doubt not only about criminal activity but, more profoundly, about God´s interaction in the world. We find similar this second kind of doubt in the first reading.

Moses has led the Israelites out of captivity. Or perhaps we should say that Moses and the Israelites have followed the Lord’s lead from captivity to freedom. Now they have to live in the environs where their exodus has brought them. The desert, of course, is a difficult place – not only dry but devoid of cultivation and abundant wildlife. It presents a challenge to which Moses and the Israelites must respond with continued trust in God. Unfortunately they give in to the dark sentiment that God might have tricked them. They wonder why they left subjugation in Egypt where they at least had regular food to eat. It sounds like they are just ungrateful but perhaps some of us have given into the same doubt of God´s goodness.

Most of us have never been slaves even in the contemporary sense of the word. But many have walked the paths of self-absorption. Perhaps we used to brag about ourselves all the time or maybe we suffered a worse affliction, like addiction to pornography. Giving up these kinds of vices, we sometimes miss the pleasure they brought us. Of course, we are not likely to complain to God, but we may wonder if the new path that we have taken is worth the effort. Of course, it is, and we can look to Jesus for reassurance. He understands the feelings of loss and doubt that crop up inside us. He also provides the fortitude to keep marching on until we realize all the benefits that our sacrifices afford us.

Homilette for Friday, July 31, 2009

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.27.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

A man once complained that everything he hears in church he has heard before. “Isn’t there something new that the Church can teach?” he asked. This man appears to be like the townspeople of Nazareth who reject Jesus out of too great a familiarity with him.

What of the man’s objections? Does the Church have anything fresh and stimulating to say? We can answer “yes” and “no” to that understandable wish. Yes, the Church reinterprets the gospel anew for every place and time. These days the Church’s message is often that Jesus knows and accepts us as a friend who also calls us to move beyond our felt limitations. Two recent best-selling books, Dinner with a Perfect Stranger and A Day with a Perfect Stranger, indicate the popularity of this message. Forty years ago the Church saw Jesus more as a reformer who could bring about peace in our time. Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church in the Modern World exemplifies this optimistic teaching.

But it would not be disingenuous to answer the man’s query by saying “no,” the Church’s teaching remains the same. And there is good reason for the permanence of the message. As much as humans like to think of themselves as progressing, humanity remains hobbled by the same basic problems. Science and technology have contributed greatly to alleviating the burden of work, but they have not made people morally better. We still think too much of ourselves and too little of others. Rather than give thanks to God, we want to take credit for ourselves. The Church’s message today is the same as Jesus’ two thousand years ago which was little different from the great prophets’ hundreds of years before that. Humans have to reject sin and turn to the Lord!

Homilette for Thursday, July 30, 2009

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

Years ago religious sisters teaching in schools admonished their pupils to make room for the Holy Spirit in their souls. They were to reject sin so that the Spirit would find a fitting place to reside. The lesson sounds naive today, but it is not far from what the author of Exodus pictures Moses doing in the first reading.

The reading is quite definite about Moses being the builder of the Dwelling place for the Lord. Moses seems to take great pains to follow the instructions he had received for the Dwelling. The result is obviously favourable. The glory of the Lord fills the dwelling like a cloud. It serves as a guide leading the people through foreign terrain to the Promised Land.

Is it really too pious a thought to consider our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit? The body, we might say, is the tent wherein lies the soul which the Holy Spirit occupies. Like Moses we need to take care of our bodies with a healthy diet and exercise routine. Even more important, we should avoid polluting our souls with violent fantasies and sexual whims. The Holy Spirit confers much peace when we invite it into such an orderly dwelling place.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Memorial of St. Martha

(Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 10:36-42)

Two weeks ago the president of Bolivia Evo Morales criticized Catholic bishops for, in his words, using prayer to anesthetize people. Referring to the archbishop of Honduras, who has taken a position against the return of the deposed president of that country, Mr. Morales went on to accuse bishops for employing law, prayer, and even guns to dominate their peoples. It was a statement at best misleading after all that the bishops of Latin America have done to promote an informed and active Church. But Morales´ remark finds a bit of an echo in the posture of Martha in the gospel today.

Martha evidently believes that the presence of the Lord necessitates action. She even chides Jesus for not telling her sister Mary to assist with the chores of entertainment. But Jesus, a champion of women, recognizes Mary´s right to sit at his side to learn and to pray. There is a lesson here for those of us who want to do as much as we can for others. Although it is true that many times people fail to act as generously or as humbly as they should, still sometimes our action needs to give way to prayer and study so that true and enduring good may come about.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 33:7-11.34:5b-9.28; Matthew 13:36-43)

A Catholic man plans to marry outsider the Church without permission from his bishop. His mother is worried that he is committing a sin. But, she says, God wouldn’t condemn him to hell for that. Is the mother thinking correctly?

Of course, we are not to say who is ultimately condemned and who is saved. But it does look like the man in question is guilty of failure to act in an important matter. In any case, we must take care not to instruct others that ignoring Church teaching or transgressing divine law is readily excusable. In the gospel today Jesus makes clear that those who cause others to sin are as guilty as those who perform reproachable acts.

Homilette for Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 32:14-24.30.34; Matthew 13:31-35)

In a famous remark John Lennon once boasted that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. It was a brash statement that exaggerated even the Beatles’ fame, but it did indicate the hold that idols have on people’s consciousness. Just as the Beatles commanded the attention of young people forty years ago, the golden calf stirs the imagination of the Israeiltes in the reading from Exodus today.

What could the people have possibly seen in the golden calf made with their own hands? Was it the magnificence of gold that gleamed in their eyes or the vitality that the image of a calf conjures? In any case the object was sinful because the first commandment of the Decalogue prohibited such images. Their attention is to be riveted on God who fulfills all their needs.

Like the Israelites people today often turn created things into idols. Some talk about food as if they lived only to eat. Others seem preoccupied with transformable devices that serve as telephones, computers, cameras, and what have you. We must be wary of such pursuits and keep God in the forefront of our minds. Only He provides what is necessary for a life truly worth living.

Homilette for Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

We recognize the Ten Commandments or Decalogue in the first reading today not only because we likely engraved these rules in our brains as children but also because they are written on our hearts as natural law. That is, they hold not just for Jews and Christians but for every person, with due contextualization and provisions.

A number of years ago a retired judge from Alabama hauled around the country a 5000 pound granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments. He wanted to impress on everyone he met that the Decalogue is more than a personal code for one to live by. Rather it forms a coherent basis of law for a society or nation. Although the Ten Commandments mention God and even prescribe worship of Him, it is not primarily a religious code but, again, the ground for nation-building.

We may sometimes resent the commandments because they seem to inhibit our lifestyle. Perhaps we want to work on Sunday or avoid problems by lying in defiance of the commandment not to bear false witnesses. Such resentment is only unfortunate because it blurs our seeing the Commandments as a sign of God’s great mercy. In attending to them we live a worthy life. By infusing them with love, as Jesus tells us, we move well along the way to happiness.

Homilette for Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ex 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20b; Matthew 13:10-17)

Flannery O’Connor has been called the greatest American Catholic novelist. Yet her novels are seldom about Catholics. Rather they concern the working of grace in peculiar Southern country people. Once she was asked why she wrote about such strange characters. She answered that when people are near deaf, you have to shout at them.

Jesus responds similarly to the question, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?” We need such on-the-money stories to wake us up to God’s goodness. The parables tell us that God is so generous he will pay laborers who only work an hour a full day’s wage and that God’s kingdom is such a treasure that it is worth selling all we have to attain it. But in a world with so many diversions – from home entertainment systems to iPhones – Jesus’ message still does not always get through.

Some people see parables as make believe. Since they do not bring immediate gratification, they are not worth pondering, much less pursuing. These people might be right if the parables were not validated by Jesus’ life. He becomes the seed that dies in order to produce abundant life when he allows himself to be crucified. He is the shepherd who searches for lost sheep when he spends his time with sinners and the poor. Because of Jesus’ testimony the parables not only entertain, they move people to follow him.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

(Exodus 16:1-5.9-15; John 20:1-2.11-18)

A peculiar painting of the gospel story today was recently featured in a leading Catholic magazine. Although the encounter of Mary Magdalene with Jesus is a favourite subject of Renaissance painters, the one by Lavinia Fontana stands out because it pictures Jesus wearing a gardener’s hat and holding a shovel. The author of the commentary on the painting says that Fontana actually wanted to express how Jesus is a like a gardener who cares for our souls.

He certainly seems to have taken care of Mary’s. Although she is sometimes spoken of as a reformed prostitute, all that is certain of Mary Magdalene’s background comes from Luke’s mentioning that Jesus cast out from her seven demons (Luke 8:2). After that she follows him in the company of other women and his disciples. Almost certainly she is among the women whom, Luke says, witness his death on the cross from afar (Luke 23:49). The evangelist John pictures Mary Magdalene among the women who stand with Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple at Jesus’ crucifixion and then in our reading today.

As Jesus cared for Mary Magdalene’s soul, he would cultivate ours as well. When we attend to his words in the gospel, he extricates our sins like weeds. When we follow his commands to assist the poor, he plants in us seeds that grow into eternal life. Finally, when we trust in his love, Jesus irrigates us with courage and tranquillity to face the vicissitudes of life.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 14:21-15:1; Matthew 12:46-50)

Nothing like an army gives the illusion of absolute power. To see brigade after brigade of armed men marching in file, to feel the rumble of tanks in procession as far as the eye can see, to hear the roar of jets screeching overhead – one has the sense of human invincibility. Yet as history routinely testifies, even massive armies can be defeated; sometimes as much by circumstances as by opposing legions. One example is Napoleon’s campaign against Russia where climate as much as opposing force wiped out the Grande Armée of France with well over half a million soldiers.

The first reading provides another demonstration of military might bowing to greater forces. The mighty Egyptian force composed of chariots is first stymied by mud and then devastated by the waves of the Red Sea. The author assures us that God, not Pharaoh, possesses absolute power. God alone is worthy of ultimate trust. No, God does not usually defeat hostile armies with a breath of wind. Most times, in fact, trust in God means to judiciously defend ourselves. However, we do so with respect toward His commands.

Certainly at times in our lives we feel our situation hopeless as if we were facing a million-man army. Perhaps our spouse has died leaving us with three young children. Perhaps we have been injured at work and left with a painful disability. Scripture reminds us today that we are not to give up. Indeed, we need to put ever more trust in God. He has the power to deliver us.

Homilette for Monday, July 20, 2009

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 14:5-18; Matthew 12:28-32

People are foolish not to seek a sign of good faith before they place their trust in a stranger. What bank would loan someone money without the person having collateral? Indeed, who would be allowed past the security gate at any public airport without producing identification? Then why, we should ask, is Jesus so upset when the scribes and Pharisees ask him for a sign in today´s gospel?

The answer must be that Jesus has already cured many people and expelled many demons as signs of his legitimacy. Not only that but the scribes and Pharisees can judge from Jesus´ preaching that he is not an impostor, but a true prophet and sage. It is time for them to dismiss their doubts and heed Jesus´ message. Of course, following Jesus will exact some sacrifice, and adopting a sceptical stance toward him will always seem easier.

People today look toward us Christians for a sign that Jesus is really divine. Not only in countries where Christians are a small minority but increasingly in Western countries where Christianity is losing ground to agnosticism and indifference, non-believers and doubters look toward professed Christians to live the love that Jesus preached. We might argue like Jesus does in the gospel that they will never be convinced. But it seems even more in line with Jesus’ teaching that we make more effort to live in solidarity with the poor and to foster an atmosphere of sincere care for one another in our parish communities. Such actions will not only attract others to faith in Jesus but also make us more coherent in our following of him.

Homilette for Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 11:10-12:14; Matthew 12:1-8)

We cannot sufficiently appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address unless we consider its context. Lincoln gave the speech just a few months after the famous Battle of Gettysburg. It was the deadliest battle of the Civil War and had no clear victor. But it did mark a turning of the tide. Lee’s Army of Virginia was forced to retreat. The Confederacy was on the defensive. It was mostly a matter of time before it surrendered. Lincoln used his opportunity to speak on the bloody battlefield to describe what the war meant – a sacrifice whose purpose was no less than the second founding of the American nation. This time, however, the Union would be true to its first principle that all men and women are created equal.

In order to appreciate the gift of the Eucharist we likewise need to understand its context. Jesus instituted it while following the ancient tradition of a Passover supper, described in the first reading. At the original Passover, taken in Egypt where the Hebrews were treated as slaves, each Hebrew household ate a roasted lamb, the blood of which was spread over the household’s portals. This blood was understood as the cause of the angel of death´s passing over their dwellings while decimating their Egyptian masters.

During the course of the Passover meal he celebrated with his friends, Jesus pronounced a new meaning to the feast. It would mark his death and resurrection. He was the lamb that was to be literally slain the next day at his crucifixion. His blood would also have a saving effect. Christians do not reject the Jewish celebration of Passover today as somehow irreverent to Christ. Indeed, we are grateful for it as a key to understanding the significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. It marks our passing over from the slavery of sin to freedom in Christ’s Spirit and from subjugation by death to the hope of everlasting life.

Homilette for Thursday, July 16, 2009

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:13-30; Matthew 11:28-30)

For good reason people do not want to be slaves. African slaves in America often experienced cruel brutality along with arduous labor. Contemporary slavery exploits women and children who become sex objects for rapacious men.

But what if a so-called slavery offers a greater freedom than that of being one’s own master? Might it not then be acceptable? Might we not want to submit ourselves to it? In mind here is not just free will to do what we believe is right but the ability to act with perfection in every situation. This freedom would be the equivalent to act in daily life with the grace of a Nadia Comaneci on the parallel bars or of Van Cliburn at the piano.

In the gospel today Jesus offers such a slavery. He invites us to exchange our inclination to sin for an attachment to himself. He does not use the term “slavery,” of course, but speaks of a “yoke.” In biblical language, however, a yoke -- which fastened oxen together for work in the fields -- is considered a metaphor for slavery. Jesus wants us to leave our sinfulness behind in order to make a firm commitment to him. He will then send us his Holy Spirit to bring us to grace-filled perfection.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:1-6.9-12; Matthew 11:25-27)

The world was shocked a few weeks ago by the crash of an airliner into the Atlantic off the coast of Brazil. More than 200 lives were lost in an instant. Why, people ask, did it happen? As terrible as that disaster was, there are certainly other even more perplexing calamities taking place all the time. Why, we might as well ask, does humanity continue to suffer so much from poverty, disease, natural calamity, and war?

We believers put the question another way. Why does God permit so much evil? If God is as good and as powerful as we claim, why does He not halt the violence, end the disease, and stem the disaster? These are ancient questions that resist definitive answers. But there are multiple attestations in Scripture showing how God takes note of human precariousness and acts to relieve its conditions. In today’s reading from Exodus we hear of God coming to the rescue of Israel trapped in an intolerably unjust situation.

God not only will deliver the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt but will also form them into a people that conform to His ways. Looking back on the history of Israel, we Christians will recognize that the Israelites’ unique covenant with God will not be enough to stem the tide of evil. A more powerful solution will be required. This will be God’s sending in time His son, the Christ, to save humanity. But salvation does not end suffering, on this earth at least. Evil is no weed easy to uproot. Still victory belongs to those who conform themselves to Christ. He will relocate them in a new world where war, disease, and disaster are void.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekawitha, virgin

(Exodus 2:1-15a; Matthew 11:20-24)

We rightly say that God is all-forgiving. But we should not think this means that He automatically forgives all our sins! Rather, we can rest assured that God forgives all the sins that we sincerely repent of. If there is an unforgiveable sin, it is that which inherently precludes asking pardon like, perhaps, one’s preempting the action of the Holy Spirit by solemn oath. This is to say that if we somehow make a pact with the devil like the famous case of Dr. Faust. It should be added that we cannot judge who is forgiven and is not. Scripture reminds us that only God can scrutinize the human heart for sincere repentance.

In today’s gospel Jesus manifests the necessity of responding to God with repentance. The mighty deeds he performs are indications of God’s presence in him. They are not meant just to impress us but to summon reform within us. Something like those people on television who receive absolutely free a brand new home are expected not just to care for it but to show care to others, we who witness Jesus’ mighty deeds in the graciousness of those around us are expected to live earnestly our faith in God. Evidently many in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum after witnessing Jesus’ cures and exorcisms refuse to take up his message of reform. Now he warns them that they will pay for their apathy. We want to take care that we do much better than they.

Homilette for Monday, July 13, 2009

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 1:8-14.22; Matthew 10:34-11.1)

Ethnic cleansing is a euphemism for genocide. It refers to a people’s attempt to rid themselves of a rival nation, race, culture, or religion. We can rightly classify the Egyptians throwing every male child of Israel into the river as ethnic cleansing. Although we think of the practice as so barbaric and primitive that it is restricted to remote places if not centuries, we might discern a close proximity to ethnic cleansing in contemporary America.

Two years ago the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all pregnant women take a test to determine if their fetuses carry Downs Syndrome. Although the doctors purportedly want to give the women a choice to have a baby affected with the disability, in effect the recommendation means the end of people with Downs Syndrome. Few women will take up the challenge of parenting a Downs Syndrome baby, not because it is so daunting but because everyone wants a normal-looking son or daughter. The crime is greater than the monstrosity of abortion. It is tantamount to genocide of a cultural subgroup whose members time and again have lived well-adjusted lives while contributing to the moral development and often rich happiness of their families.

Homilette for Friday, July 10, 2009

Please excuse the recent error and delays of publication. I have been away from my regular habitat with less access to the Internet.

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 46:1-7.28-20; Matthew 10:16-23)

A Mexican child will answer the call of his mother or father by saying, “Mande,” meaning “send (me).” The implicit idea conveyed by this word is that the child is willing to do whatever the parent commands. We find this same willingness in the first reading when Israel responds to the call of the Lord with, “Here I am.” It is the response of Samuel to Eli, “Here I am. I come to do your will” and of the Virgin Mary to the angel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your will.” Israel’s response is remarkable, however, because he was not always so compliant. As a young man, he duped his brother and his father trusting in his craftiness rather than in the Lord to get ahead. God, however, taught him, through a slow but sure process, how to trust in Him.

Willingness to conform to God’s will is one requirement of fathering a great nation. Another, more obvious need is to assure the welfare of one’s family. Israel shows that he has looked after this concern when he hugs his son Joseph and confesses that he can now die in peace. He has been faithful to the tradition of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham although he followed them in his unique way.

Jesus shows these two traits of nation-building in an eminent way. He follows his Father’s will to the end, and he sends his Spirit, as indicated in today’s gospel, to protect his disciples. We might add that given the nature of his relationship with God, the Father, there is something very unique about Jesus’ preparation of the holy nation that bears his name.

Homilette for Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 44.18-21.23b-29.45:1-5; Matthew 10:7-15)

The appeal of Joseph’s story lies both in its parallel to the gospel and in its mirroring a perennial human situation. To indicate his favor for Joseph, Jacob clothes him royally. Out of envy his brothers plot to get rid of him. God, however, intervenes so that Joseph might save the family from ruin once the drought arrives. The Christ story follows a similar course. God has indicated his favor on Jesus by empowering him to do mighty deeds. Out of jealousy for his winning the favor of the people, the Jewish leaders with the Roman authority – a conspiracy indicative of the whole world -- have Jesus executed. But God steps in again to raise Jesus from the dead so that he might be the source of the world’s salvation.

Many years ago a popular song sounded a like note of betrayal between loved ones. “You always hurt the one you love,” the lyrics read, “the one you should not hurt at all.” In a world marked by human failure our first and most grieved victims are often the very people with whom we live under the same roof. Perhaps we utter harsh words or belittle a significant effort made by a loved one in order to distance ourselves from him. But the song ends on a note of reconciliation. The narrator can tell her loved one that she loves him most of all. Just so, Joseph is reconciled to his brothers, and God adopts us into His family with the forgiveness of our sins. It should be pointed out that this benign result requires both God’s grace and human acceptance of the divine favor.

Homilette for Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 41:55-57.42:5-7a.17-24a; Matthew 10:1-7)

Matthew begins his gospel with a list of names tracing the lineage of Jesus. He starts with Abraham, the exemplar of faith, and ends with Jesus, the savior of the world. He mentions only a few women in the line because they lived in extraordinary circumstances – like Rahab and Ruth, both foreigners who become heroines as well as ancestors of Jesus. Reading the lineage, we get the idea that God is directing the process that will eventuate in the birth of His son.

In today’s gospel Matthew provides another list of names. In a way these men compose a counter to those of the previous list. As the Old Testament figures lead up to Jesus, they will carry Jesus’ name to the world as his apostles. In another sense, however, they are similar to the Jesus’ ancestors. They seem to be an extraordinarily unlikely group to carry out the work of growing an institution. Once again we have a sense of God directing the process.

We should see ourselves as part of still another list of people connected to Jesus with similarities to the ones already mentioned. As the first group comprised Jesus’ ancestors, we are his spiritual descendants. And like the apostles we are called by Jesus to give growth to the Church by caring for one another and by professing Jesus’ name wherever we go.

Homilette for Tuesday, July 7, 2008

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary time

(Genesis 32:23-33; Matthew 9:32-38)

Today’s episode of the saga of Jacob takes place at least twenty years after his famous dream that was reported yesterday. In this long interval Jacob has acquired two wives and twelve children. He has become rich by hard work, skill, and cunning, but not through noticeable reliance on God. As he returns to his father’s land and to his probably vengeful brother Esau, a man attacks him. The two wrestle all night with neither actually prevailing. Then the assailant, in a hurry to leave, strikes Jacob at his hip which will bring about a limp. Still Jacob holds on tenaciously to make a bargain with his opponent. He will release him only if the man returns the favor with a blessing. The man gives Jacob a new name suggestive of his new stature. From now on he is no longer Jacob, a name which means heel catcher because he was born holding his twin brother Esau’s heel, but Israel, a name indicating that he has struggled with God and prevailed.

What are we to make of all this? For most of his life to this point Jacob has ignored God. As he is about to encounter his brother Esau, however, God throws Himself on Jacob in an act of saving grace. Jacob is forced to struggle with God, who mercifully does not destroy him but leaves him limping as a constant reminder of Jacob’s dependence. The incident changes Jacob’s life entirely. He is no longer defined by Esau, but by God whom he comes to acknowledge as Lord.

Perhaps we in our doubts and fears also struggle with God. It may be that out of love for God we always try to accommodate others. “Why,” we ask, “is it always I who must give in?” Yes, we are a bit jaded by the experience of forever making ourselves available. But we are also left closer to God who, we can be sure, has bestowed on us His blessing.

Homilette for Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

Jacob displays the character of most young people throughout time. He is obviously self-centered for he has just stolen the birthright of his older brother. He goes off seeking adventure although, to be sure, an angry Esau provides more than enough motive for him to leave home with all possible speed. He is also taken up by experience as he describes the site of his dream, in peculiarly contemporary fashion, as “awesome.” And he is reluctant to commit himself making a vow to God only with conditions. What more might be said of Jacob?

We have to say that he has much to learn about life. In growing up we come to understand that the world does not revolve around us. In fact, other people have needs that not only are different from ours but also, at times, we must attend to. Also we have to learn that God remains as the one whose commands we are to heed most. Pope Benedict XVI tells a story about himself that illustrates this lesson. Right after being ordained to the priesthood, he returned to his hometown in Bavaria for his first mass. The townspeople prepared elaborate festivities for their simple faith stood them in awe that one of their own could now turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The young Fr. Ratzinger had to remind himself continually as he was receiving royal treatment, “This is not about you, Joseph. This is not about you.”

Homilette for Friday, July 3, 2009

Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

(Ephesians 2:19-22; John 20:24-29)

Like Thomas some of us might question the resurrection of Jesus. We might speculate that life would be simply neater if death were the end of our existence. We could then set forth our own goals in life – be they making a million dollars, helping the poor, or raising a family – without having to consider the knottier question of whether we are working for salvation by assenting to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel today, however, asserts unreservedly that Jesus rose from the dead. He appears not only to those inclined to believe but to a man who gives no credibility at all to the word of witnesses and insists on touching the wounds of the crucified before acknowledging him as alive. This skeptical empiricist, of course, then turns into the person who makes the boldest claim of faith in all the gospels. Thomas’ final words, “My Lord and my God,” are always taken to mean that Jesus is not only God’s son, whatever that means, but God himself!

Of course, we can deny the historicity of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas. We can say that this is just a pious story fabricated to get simple people to believe. But does not such a stance deny our experience? There is plenty of evidence to show that people of faith live fuller, happier lives facing hardship with less turmoil and recovering from setback more resiliently. Likewise, when we call upon the resurrected Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” we experience the assurance of his guiding hand.

Homilette for Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 22:1b-19; Matthew 9:1-8)

In considering the story of Abraham being called to slay his beloved son Isaac, we cannot help but being horrified by the proposal. It seems preposterous for God to suggest that anyone take an innocent life because He has written on our hearts an injunction against it. Natural law tells us that murder is wrong and therefore murdering one’s own offspring is especially abominable. We accept the story as revelation but are forced to question, not unlike those who ponder how God might permit a tsunami killing hundreds of thousands of people or a dictatorial regime taking a hundred times that number, the benevolence of such a God.

Of course, the text says from the beginning that God is testing Abraham. Tests are by nature hypothetical. They do not mean everything they say. In true or false tests, for example, not every statement of the tester is true. Does this mean that she lies? Tests, we should acknowledge, are at least as much a stimulus to learning as they are a tool of evaluation. In fact, in the long run we are probably more likely to recall a wrong answer on a test than a correct one.

The crucial lesson in Abraham’s test is that he, and by extension we, must subordinate ourselves completely to God. We are not the most important person even, in our own small universe; He is. If Abraham is ever to father a truly great nation, he and his descendants must learn that national interest does not trump justice, that one’s leisure should not take preclude the obligation to worship, and that one’s concern for family is not a reason for denying the poor outside one’s door. Question God’s reasons if we must, but always render Him sovereignty over our lives!