St. Therese of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Nehemiah 8:1-4.5-6.7b-12; Luke10:1-12)

We have all heard the mistaken notion that in the Old Testament God reveals Himself as the mighty Lord demanding justice while in the New Testament Christ reveals Him to be a loving Father. Such an error comes from frequent references in the Prophets to God punishing His chosen people for their sins while forgetting that Jesus too speaks of “wailing and gnashing of teeth.” No, God can be recognized in both parts of the Bible as full of hesed, the Hebrew word for merciful love.

Why else would the Jews break out in tears when they hear "the law" read to them in the reading from Nehemiah today? Certainly there is something more at play than words of a legal code provoking such pathos. Law here means Torah, the first five books of what we call the Old Testament, which tell of God carefully forming Abraham and his descendants into a holy people like Himself and then rescuing them from the tyranny of Pharaoh.

But we must not be too hard on those who find God as revealed by Jesus somehow superior to the One the Jews had known. After all, in time God truly did perform the unimaginable. He came to us in the flesh so that we might have a personal experience of His goodness. God did not change, but we became aware of the depth and breath of His love. St. Therese was aware of this as much as just about anyone. She prescribed the appropriate human response to God when she wrote, “Love is repaid by love alone.”

Homilette for Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Memorial of St. Jerome, priest

(Nehemiah 2:1-8; Luke 9:57-62)

For whatever setbacks that they have incurred on the Catholic faith, it seems that contemporary times have returned the radicalness to the choice of following Christ. Many think that when families were large and incomes were small, Catholic parents would almost designate one or two children as nuns and/or priests. These commentators go on to say that now when the average family has only one, two, or possibly three children, parents want to assure themselves of grandchildren so a young person has to almost turn her or his back on the family to pursue a vocation.

This gospel passage today provokes this kind of speculation as it deals with the difficulty of discipleship. Jesus’ followers are called to sleep under the stars, to be absent from their homes when parents die, and indeed to leave aside totally family concerns. However, a problem emerges. Christian discipleship extends far beyond religious life and the priesthood. Both married and single persons are called to follow Christ with the same kind of radicalness that we find in the gospel.

Married couples who adhere to Church teaching on artificial contraception certainly swim against the tide of convention and ease. Single persons who dedicate their lives to caring for others – be they young students or aged parents – while adhering to Catholic moral norms certainly will find struggle part of the package. The key to Christian discipleship is letting go of personal desires to live as Jesus want us to. This takes radical commitment in any time or place. We can accomplish it with joy only by accepting God’s infinitely more radical love.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

(Revelation 12:7-12ab; John 1:47-51)

In Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet is alone when his father’s ghost reveals how he was murdered. Then Hamlet’s friends arrive asking what just happened. Before he tells them, Hamlet demands an oath of secrecy. At this point the voice of the ghost chimes in to underscore the need of secrecy. Hearing the voice but seeing nothing, Hamlet’s companion exclaims, “...this is wondrous strange,” to which Hamlet counters, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Like Horatio says of the ghost’s voice, many people find the doctrine of angels “wondrous strange.” Believing that only what they can see and hear actually exists, they doubt the reality of angels. To paraphrase Hamlet, angels are not parts of their philosophy. But we Catholics, who accept a spiritual order of reality, forthrightly admit the doctrine of angels. As Scripture attests in numerous places, angels exist as God’s attendants carrying out His commands.

The stories of the three archangels further reveal how angels extend God’s mercy. Michael wages war against Satan to free humans from tyranny; Gabriel announces the coming of mercy incarnate, Jesus Christ; and Raphael leads Tobias from peril to peace. We should happily admit that God sends angels as means for reaching our eternal destiny.

Homilette for Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Zechariah 8:1-8; Luke 9:46-50)

What is it about children that makes Jesus say to accept them is to accept him? It is hard to tell because childhood keeps on changing. No doubt, being a child in Jesus’ time was very different than it is today. Nevertheless, there is at least one constant characteristic that was existent in the first century, became prominent between 1850 and 1950 when -- according to social commentator Neil Postman -- childhood reached its epitome, and still is perceptible today. It is that children follow the directives of their parents confident that obedience will lead to their welfare. In the gospels Jesus trusts his Father so implicitly, but many adults balk at doing what God’s commands.

It is true that we adults have the considerable task of discerning what God wants. But more problematic is our ego’s visualization of God’s will according to our own designs. One sage has called “the dark night of the soul” precisely letting go of “our ego’s hold on the psyche” to allow for a change in our lives which will bring about a new understanding of our relationship with God. It is the painful process of fidelity through questioning and near desperation that ends in our awareness of being God’s children doing what He tells us, ever rejoicing in His love.

Homilette for Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Zechariah 8:1-8; Luke 9:46-50)

What is it about children that makes Jesus say to accept them is to accept him? It is hard to tell because childhood keeps on changing. No doubt, being a child in Jesus’ time was very different than it is today. Nevertheless, there is at least one constant characteristic that was existent in the first century, became prominent between 1850 and 1950 when -- according to social commentator Neil Postman -- childhood reached its epitome, and still is perceptible today. It is that children follow the directives of their parents confident that obedience will lead to their welfare. In the gospels Jesus trusts his Father so implicitly, but many adults balk at doing what God’s commands.

It is true that we adults have the considerable task of discerning what God wants. But more problematic is our ego’s visualization of God’s will according to our own designs. One sage has called “the dark night of the soul” precisely letting go of “our ego’s hold on the psyche” to allow for a change in our lives which will bring about a new understanding of our relationship with God. It is the painful process of fidelity through questioning and near desperation that ends in our awareness of being God’s children doing what He tells us, ever rejoicing in His love.

Homilette for Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 2:1-9; Luke 9:18-22)

“Nine-eleven” was such an outrageous assault on the United States not only because it claimed so many lives but also because it attempted to destroy the nation’s dominant symbols. Its perpetrators were able to bring down the World Trade Center, the symbol of economic power, and to damage the Pentagon, the symbol of military power. The terrorists who hijacked the fourth airliner may well have targeted the White House or the Capitol – centers of political power before they were thwarted The first reading today similarly focuses on a potent national symbol.

The Temple became the center of Jewish worship and of Jerusalem’s economic life. Its original construction by King Solomon was laden with riches. Its reconstruction after the Exile – the focus of the reading today – was necessarily humbler given the hardship of the people during those times. Its final version, engineered by King Herod, contained the largest area dedicated to sacred worship in ancient times. Jerusalemites lived off the revenue received from pilgrims visiting its confines.

The Roman army destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D., an event which ended the Jewish legacy of Temple worship. The Gospel, however, sees the Temple functionally destroyed with the crucifixion of Jesus and then rebuilt in three days with his resurrection. The new Temple, which is not a physical structure but a spiritual one, fulfills Haggai’s prophecy. God has brought peace to earth because in the Body of Christ -- that is, the Church -- people of every nation give glory to God by living justly and lovingly.

Homilette for Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 1:1-8; Luke 9:7-9)

We should not take satisfaction in Herod's recognizing Jesus as we might have done when Bill Clinton named Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Herod the tetrarch is an adulterer, a spy, and an assassin. The evangelist Luke mentions him here not to show how Jesus is attracting attention on high, but to indicate that storm clouds are gathering over his head. Like John the Baptist Jesus too will soon face martyrdom.

Herod also serves the evangelist’s intention by asking the critical question, “Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” Like John, Jesus is a powerful preacher calling people to righteousness. Like Elias, he works wonders that demonstrate his divine mission. But what else might he be? In a world with so many distracting allurements we need to continually keep the correct answer to Herod’s question in our consciousness. As Peter proclaims after the Pentecost event, Jesus is “Lord and Messiah.” This means for us that he is God who came to rescue us from our sinful tendencies and to lead us on the way to eternal life.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Memorial of St. Pio of Pietrecina, priest

(Ezra 9:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)

Once, a group of Peace Corps trainees were left individually in villages outside the training center in their host country. The volunteers were provided only with carfare back to the center. When they regrouped that evening, most of them had tales to tell of gracious hospitality. In almost every case villagers invited them into their homes for dinner, and a few even drove their newly acquainted friends back to the center.

In today’s gospel, Jesus’ apostles are sent out in a roughly similar way. They, however, are not to bring anything with them “just in case.” Rather, they are to trust completely in Providence working through the villagers they encounter. Of course, the Twelve will rescue the people from demons, cure their diseases, and proclaim to them the good news of God’s kingdom, but these blessings are not meant as ways to finagle hospitality or even to reward it. Rather, they are to demonstrate God’s favor upon those who have humbly awaited His coming.

The dependency of the apostles upon Providence awakens our consciences like bugle reveille. Today our society, including most church workers, strives to avert risks. The credit card has long served as a way never to be caught without money. With cellular telephones in emergencies help is always a few pushed buttons away. Insurance protects against almost every kind of loss. Although these privileges are defended as prudential, they leave us with the question: What does it mean today to trust in Providence if we always and everywhere avoid risk?

Homilette for Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 6:7-8.12b.14-20; Luke 8:19-21)

Fishing on Sunday morning, a man wondered why some thought he should be in church. Was he not close to God on the lake communing with creation and thanking the Lord for the serenity his heart felt? We might ask, what is the need for churches in the first place? People could pray together in small groups meeting in homes.

Yet churches serve the human need to respond to God’s goodness. Much more than places for the community to assemble, churches praise God by the dedication of human ingenuity and effort to a structure that no person really owns but is “God’s house.” In most cultures churches, temples, and synagogues express the human desire to reserve the best for God. Surely this is why tour guides always feature a church or temple as a “must see.”

The first reading today refers to the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple after the exile. Judah’s returning remnant finished the construction and dedicated the building in 515 B.C. It was necessarily humbler its predecessor and definitely less spectacular than its successor built by Herod the Great and frequented by Jesus. Obviously, however, this temple was the best that the people could manage and represented their tribute to the Lord who rescued them from foreign lands.

Homilette for Monday, September 21, 2009

Feast of St. Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

A social worker in a Catholic nursing home was doing what we might call gospel therapy. She read the first part of a familiar gospel verse to a resident expecting him or her to complete it. It was amazing how many of the verses one aged resident knew. His responses seemed second nature, without thinking much less groping for words. For example, the social worker said something like, “I am the way...,” and the resident replied immediately, “...and the truth and the life.” The worker’s verses included some from the Gospel according to Matthew that are etched in Catholic consciousness like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit...”; “Come after me and I will make you...”; “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine...”

As with the other gospels we can say little with certainty about the background of Matthew’s. Because its Greek language is refined, someone schooled in that language, and not in Hebrew, is believed to have written it. Since it refers to the destruction of the Temple which occurred in the year 70 A.D., it was likely composed after that date. Its familiarity with the Jewish Scripture and customs suggests that the author intended it for a community with at least some Jewish roots.

In the passage selected for today feast, Jesus characteristically quotes the Old Testament. However Matthew alters those words a bit, however. Where the prophet Hosea says that God wants mercy more than sacrifice, Jesus is quoted as saying that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. Whatever Jesus’ original words were, he also expresses his purpose for coming to the world. We should take them to heart because they contain the key to salvation. Let me begin the verse and have you complete it for yourselves: “I did not come to call the righteous...”

Homilette for Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 6:2c-12; Luke 8:1-3)

When one of the twentieth century’s most famous thieves, Willie Sutton, was asked why he robbed banks, he reportedly answered, “...because that’s where the money is.” Everyone understands what Sutton means because only people breathing their last have no need of money. Like a master key, it seemingly allows its holder access to anywhere.

However, the New Testament makes a poor friend of money. In the Gospel according to Luke Jesus often warns against its accumulation although, as today’s passage indicates, he and his disciples had needs that the women’s money presumably took care of. Perhaps Scripture is no where more wary of money than in the first reading today. We should note, however, that the First Timothy does not condemn money itself, but says that it is “the love of money (that) is the root of all evils...” One does not have to live very long to see people make fools of themselves. Many grade schools students, for example, watched the class hustler swallow a goldfish for a quarter.

Should charities accept money from patently sinful sources? Much good can be done with so-called tainted money, but then virtue’s kissing vice leaves many people morally confused. Scandal must be avoided, but at times thieves may make reparation for their crimes by privately reciprocating institutions that care for the truly needy.

Homilette for Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 4:12-16; Luke 7:36-50)

Once in medieval times, two monks were walking through a forest and came to a river. There a beautiful young woman was waiting for someone to help her. Because she could not swim, she asked the monks if one of them would carry her to the other side. The older of the monks picked her up and waded across the water with her in his arms. The younger monk was aghast at the action. After they had gone their way, he asked the senior monk if he were not ashamed to hold so intimately such a lovely woman. “Younger brother,” the elder monk said, “I only picked her up in my arms and let her go on the other side of the river. You, however, picked her up in your mind and have not yet ceased to let go of her.”

Like the older monk, Jesus can allow the woman in the gospel today to stroke his feet with tears, hair, and hands without becoming infatuated. He evidently realizes that the woman is not flirting with him but knows that he is God’s messenger capable of bringing peace to her troubled heart. As remarkable as his allowing the woman to shower him with affection is Jesus’ concern for the Pharisee. Perhaps he merely does not want to leave him with the wrong impression, but more likely Jesus desires that Simon recognize and repent his own evil ways. Like the prodigal father who, after celebrating his younger son’s return, leaves the party to address the resentment of his older son, Jesus desires all to become reconciled with God.

Beyond indicating how God is ready to forgive even the gravest of sins, this unforgettable story shows us how to resist sexual temptation. People often show affection to others not to convey desire for sexual intimacy but out of the need for healthy human relations. We are wise not to allow our imaginations to run wild but to respond to all, like Jesus, with concern for their welfare.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Memorial of St. Cornelius, pope, and St. Cyprian, bishop, martyrs

(I Timothy 3:14-16; Luke 7:31-35)

“You will be known by the company you keep,” our mothers used to tell us. They were only repeating a proverb that generally serves its listeners well. Not only are people inclined to judge us as good or bad on the basis of our associates, but also we tend to become like our friends.

But folk wisdom has its limitations. What do we do, for example, when proverbs contradict one another? Is “discretion the better part of valor” or is “the one who hesitates lost”? Obviously, we have to look beneath the surface to attain the truth in matters like this. Just so, Jesus appeals to his listeners in the gospel today to look beyond what meets their eyes to the effect that his eating and drinking with sinners creates. He is not conforming to their sinful ways, but sinners are leaving behind their sins like corn dogs at a gourmet fest.

Jesus is telling us not only to stop judging by superficial criteria but also to step out of our social confines. He wants the young to greet the elderly, blacks and whites to dialogue together, and workers to extend a hand to the unemployed. Whether we talk about Jesus or not when we reach beyond our typical company, we give testimony to his goodness by imitating his ways.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(I Timothy 3:1-13; John 19:25-27)

It is tempting to hear these nearly final words of Jesus as an only son’s concern for his widowed mother after he dies. However, the context calls for a different and perhaps richer interpretation. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus does not look back to his childhood family but beyond to his divine one. Here we can see him giving his mother to his beloved disciple and his beloved disciple to his mother so that they too might be part of God’s eternal family. Their coming together will initiate the community called Church as they become adopted children of God and heirs of places in the heavenly household. When Jesus expires, John says that he “hand(s) over his spirit.” We may consider his mother and beloved disciple as the recipients of that spirit springing the Church into existence.

Yet Mary is still “the Mother of Sorrows.” Artists never depict this moment of church formation as a happy one. Rather they show Mary with tears in her eyes and, sometimes, John too distressed to show his face. It is not that they, or we in similar moments of loss, are too much part of the world to feel satisfaction that their loved one is heaven-bound. Rather, Jesus has loved them both so long and so well that being deprived of his presence will test their endurance. Thus, the scene provides us with a lesson about love. Worthy human love always makes us want to be united with the object of our love. Such love (eros in Greek) grows into divine love (agape in Greek or caritas in Latin) when God’s grace enables us to give the beloved back to God knowing He will reunite him or her to us forever.

Homilette for Monday, September 14, 2009

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Beholding jeweled crosses and hearing how perfect the cross is as geometric design, we have difficulty contemplating its scandal for early Christians. It is said that people mocked the first followers of Jesus when they found out that he was nailed to a cross. We might similarly chide a teenager today for idolizing a rock star. In Jesus’ day crucifixion was the basest of punishments the state imposed because it entailed the most gruesome suffering. We do not consider it an alternative form of execution today precisely because it comprises “cruel and unusual punishment.” Yet the cross is the instrument by which Christ won our salvation.

The gospel today curiously does not mention the cross. It merely states that those who believe in Jesus “lifted up” will be saved. In the Gospel of John Jesus is lifted up twice – first on the cross and then in the resurrection. Either time when we look on him with faith, we find ourselves in the magnetic field of salvation. When we believe in Jesus crucified for our salvation and lifted up for our glory, we are saved.

However, faith is more than paying lip service that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. Faith indicates our willingness to follow him through suffering to everlasting life. Still, the purpose of today’s feast, as those of Holy Week, is to indicate that not by our own effort do we achieve our life’s end. As when we were little children with nothing to repay our relatives for the gifts they brought us, we cannot earn eternal life. We can only say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” to Jesus for his death on the cross.

Homilette for Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 1:1-2.12-14; Luke 6:39-42)

Nathaniel Hawthorne tells the haunting tale of a scientist that marries an extraordinarily beautiful woman. The scientist notices one slight defect in his wife’s face – a birthmark on her cheek -- and desires to remove it through drug therapy. At first the woman dismisses the birthmark as charming not detracting, but for her husband’s sake she drinks the elixir he prescribes. The result is calamitous. Although the birthmark fades away, the lovely woman dies as well.

Hawthorne’s story illustrates Jesus’ admonition in the gospel today. The scientist makes a disastrous guide because a wooden beam -- belief in the power of science to remedy all ills –lodges in his eye blinding him to the fact that the birthmark is but a superficial blemish, a splinter.

We should take care not to suffer the same illusion as the scientist that material and scientific progress has made or indeed can make life nearly perfect. Yes, people today live longer than before and are less likely to suffer from back-breaking labor. Yet they still treat one another cruelly and sometimes end feeling desperate in an uncaring world. It is a far from perfect situation and indeed difficult to tell if the quality of human life is actually improving.

Homilette for Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 6:27-38)

The third century theologian Tertullian quoted pagans admiring Christian, “Look how they love one another.” Evidently early Christians took to heart Scriptural passages like the one we read from the Letter to the Colossians today. We are told to “have heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another...”

Perhaps in the name of honesty Christians today criticize one another with all the fervor of hardened politicians. For the past generation at least the measure has been the liberal-conservative divide. Liberals speak of conservatives as compassionless while conservatives fault liberals for wavering commitment to Church belief. It may be imprudent and perhaps impossible to refrain from judgment on fundamental Christian principles like mercy and faithfulness. Still judgment does not require always speaking one’s mind. We follow Christ, in the words of the reading, by “bearing with one another and forgiving one another.” Or is it that when we act with such forbearance Christ follows us putting into our hearts his peace?

Homilette for Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Memorial of St. Peter Claver, priest

(Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 6:20-26)

In the gospel today Jesus almost sounds like Fidel Castro delivering a harangue on economic justice. Some might want to press the mute button for the duration of his sermon. But he is the Lord and definitely has something to say to us that will transcend the speech of political messiahs.

On one hand, Jesus addresses those experiencing serious deprivation. He is talking to the poor who scavenge for food in garbage dumps and to weeping parents who have had to bury multiple sons and daughters. But he does not mean all the poor, all the hungry, all the weeping, and all the insulted. No, he specifically addresses his disciples -- both then and now -- who patiently bear hardships without becoming bitter and mean.

Jesus does not limit his address to the have-nots but delivers choice words to the haves as well. Their future is bleak, he says, if they do not use what they have for the good of all. Jesus is not condemning the rich, the sated, the joyful, and the well-spoken of per se but only when they reserve for themeselves everything they have. They would be wise, he implies, to share their wealth and their joviality so that everyone may live grateful lives.

Homilette for Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:1-16.18-23)

We sometimes speak of the patriarchs of Israel, and we hear in today’s gospel mostly male names in the lineage of Jesus. Yet women of Scripture regularly exemplify great virtue. The four mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy are no exception.

Tamar was Jacob’s son Judah’s daughter-in-law whose husband died without giving birth to a child. As was the custom, Tamar was then given to her husband’s brother, the infamous Onan, so that her original husband’s family line would continue. Because Onan selfishly did not wish to have children by Tamar, he too died prematurely. There was a third brother whom by right Judah should have given to Tamar, he Judah refused to do this out of fear. Tamar then resolved to show the critical importance of family over personal desire. She dressed as a prostitute, was propositioned by Judah, and gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah. Judah learned the need of self-sacrifice in raising children.

Rahab was an actual prostitute of Jericho who came to believe in God from the story of Yahweh bringing the Israelites across the Red Sea. At the risk of her life, she became instrumental in the Israeli occupation of the Promised Land. Ruth, another non-Jew, refused to abandon her widowed mother-in-law Naomi and the God of Israel when her first Jewish husband died. Later she married Boaz, and the two became great-grandparents of King David. The former wife of Uriah, and mother of Solomon, is nameless in the gospel text but most people remember her as Bathsheba, whom the adulterous David seduced. She is not so much a heroine as a victim of the rapacious king.

As the stories of the other women mentioned in Jesus’ lineage, Mary’s motherhood is unconventional. She miraculously bears a child through the Holy Spirit. Matthew, unlike Luke, does not dwell on her virtue. Nevertheless, she silently follows her husband Joseph in doing God’s will for Jesus her son, the Savior.

Homilette for Monday, September 7, 2009

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time (Labor Day)

(Colossians 1:24-2:3; Luke 6:6-11)

This year the French government underwent a heated political debate on whether to allow stores to be open on Sunday. For over a hundred years the country’s commerce has been largely curtailed on the traditional day of rest. Recently, however, President Sarkozy and liberal politicians have campaigned for reform to spur France’s flagging economy. They were opposed by a rare coalition of labor advocates and social conservatives who argued that the country could do better than imitate American “commuting, sleeping, and buying.”

Would France’s liberal politicians find an ally in Jesus? In the gospel today Jesus defies the scribes and Pharisees who reject any kind of work on Sunday. But Jesus hardly seems a social a revolutionary for wanting to cure the man with a withered right hand on Sunday. He argues that because restoring life is not human pursuit of profit but God’s work, it cannot be prohibited.

It seems fitting to read a gospel passage dealing with Sabbath observance on Labor Day. Americans have today off not just to rest but to reflect on the value of work. We work in order to live, but also to create a better society. On the other hand, time to rest is necessary to replenish energy and to recognize that there are other, even higher, purposes in life than “commuting, sleeping, and buying.” Sunday worship and relaxation serve these other purposes. With or without government mandate everyone does well to curb activity on this day in favor of faith, family, reflection, and some fun.

Homilette for Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 5:33-39)

It is always perplexing to hear people seemingly without a prejudiced sentiment in their soul deride old age. Perhaps they invert a friend’s age saying that she is “thirty-seven” rather than “seventy-three.” Or maybe they repudiate that the friend has any age at all be calling her “seventy-three years young.”

What is it about old age that we don’t like to think of ourselves or those whom we love as having any part in it? When living things become old, they naturally die so humans at least fear growing old for that reason. Similarly we know that in old age people experience a decrease in ability, be it physical -- the capacity to work day and night, or mental – the tendency to forget. But becoming old has positive connotations as well. People often correct destructive behavior patterns in old age, and there is some truth to the celebrated “wisdom of old age.” Antiques have a definite charm as they imply craftsmanship and originality. In today’s gospel Jesus reminds us of an item that generally improves with years – wine.

American Catholics need to be wary of denigrating old age because both their faith tradition and their government are practically ancient. The Catholic Church is sometimes subtitled “the oldest institution in the world.” Likewise, there are few constitutional governments older than that of the United States. We can say that it is good to be old when age has a regenerating element that self-corrects corrupting tendencies and adapts to current ways of life. In the Church we recognize this factor as the Holy Spirit. In American society we see it as a sense of human equality that recognizes the value of every person whether native born or emigrating from another land.

Homilette for Thursday, September 3, 2009

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

(Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 5:1-11)

Even before Pope John Paul II died, some Church commentators wondered whether he would go down in history as “John Paul the Great.” It would be an extraordinary tribute. Only two other popes have had the distinction of being so characterized: St. Gregory whom we celebrate today and St. Leo whose feast was in June. Just as John Paul II’s, Gregory's papacy was marked by accomplishment. He is credited with saving Rome from the invading Lombards and became a temporal leader with the virtual abdication of the Roman emporer. He wrote extensively on different subjects. His Pastoral Care became a standard manual for church leaders, and his Moralia is considered a great spiritual work of antiquity. He also reformed the liturgy publishing the Gregorian Sacramentary. In fact, Gregorian chant is named after him.

The gospel today indicates the source of the prodigious achievements of popes like Gregory the Great and John Paul II. By relating how their boats are deluged with fish when Jesus’ disciples’ heed his command to “(P)ut out into the deep and lower your nets,” it suggests that the critical element of greatness is following Jesus’ directives. This rule applies to us as well. We too may achieve remarkable feats – at least the salvation of our own souls. In such cases our survivors may not think of us “Maria the Great” or “Stephen the Great,” but they will likely give thanks to God that we have lived.

Homilette for Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1: 1-8; Luke 4:38-44)

When a President is leaving office, political commentators often reflect on his legacy. In others words, they speculate on how the President hopes to be remembered in history. They said, for example, that Bill Clinton wanted to be remembered for bringing peace to Israel-Palestine, which he almost managed to achieve. No doubt, many individuals today take up the concern for legacy. Some want to be remembered for their philanthropy; others, for their stylish fashions; and others, perhaps for their independent nature.

By contrast to the contemporary preoccupation for legacy, the first reading today notes how the Christians of Colossae are concerned about destiny. The writer, who is probably a disciple of Paul, remarks that the love these Christians have for others springs from their hope of heaven. Typical of Pauline epistles, the reading actually focuses on the three so-called theological virtues. It indicates that faith in Jesus as Lord induces Christians to imitate his love for others and to hope for the resurrection into the eternal glory that he experienced. Faith, hope, and love then lead us to God, which is why they are called theological. They form a solid structure which, like R. Buckminster Fuller’s amazing geodesic dome, becomes stronger the more times these basic elements are multiplied.