FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, December 8, 2021:
A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Saint Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract theological concept, but rather it is a concrete sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.
And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear we hear the words spoken by the angel to Mary in our Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”
Pope Francis, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, said, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts today – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.
There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than women and men who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”
Pope Francis said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."
The Holy Father reminded us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil. God is stronger than any darkness in our world; any darkness in our lives.
My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God; a generous God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.
Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow Jesus in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world; the fear in our hearts; and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.
And, let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 5, 2021:
A number of years ago, I watched a documentary called Untattoo You. It told the remarkable story of a program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with that way of life; tattoos that had physically marked them as part of these destructive groups. The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been leave gang life, not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.
Although dramatic, the story behind this film gets at an important point in all of our lives – the reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase. Usually these things aren’t as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as joining a gang, but we all make mistakes or poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased. We’re looking for the way to undo the things that we wish we could change.
If we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle of the season, we might discover that this is in fact also the message of Advent. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy; to transform your grief into glory. I’m here to make all things new for you.”
We hear the dramatic description of John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Those words are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.
Pope Francis echoes a similar message to the church and the world crying out inviting us to prepare. He reminds us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And in The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”
So, as we hear the words today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, what are we to do? Well, these words are not merely historic, they are present and alive today, meant for each one of us just as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, don’t let this Mass be like every other Mass, any other Mass. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Lay your burdens down on this altar, so that you may be lifted up in newness. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in the Eucharist fill you completely.
Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.
So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts that feel too heavy to carry or the parts you want to change – place it all on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, something new, let Him change you too into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 28, 2021:
Let me begin today with one of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” In the city of Marseilles there was an old shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself, “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give Him!” He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two tiny shoes of the softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. “I would give Him these, my finest work.” Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest.
Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name...”Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I will pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I will be your guest.”
Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose and tidied up his shop. On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing on his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. “Poor fellow, he must be half frozen,” thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea.” And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.
An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, poorly clothed women carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. “Come in and warm while you rest,” he said to her. “You do not look well.” “I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in, and my baby boy,” she explained. “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul.” “Poor child!” cried Martin. “You must eat something while you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a bright fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?” “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother. “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.” Martin took down from the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The young mother left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.
Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. “It was only a dream,” he sighed, with a heavy heart. “He has not come.” But suddenly the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. “Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?” Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My friends, as we embark once again on the Season of Advent today, we remember that this is the preeminent time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. We remember both His arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, as we look both to the past and to the future, let us not forget to look down right where we are today to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present 2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in our midst today – if our eyes are open to see Him.
Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…Be vigilant at all times.”
You see, Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how nice our car is, how large our home is, or how important our job is. Jesus won’t even ask us how many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead us to action, to love, to reaching out, to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” as we heard St. Paul say today.
So, let us so resolve on this first day of a new Church year, this first day of our Advent season, to be people ever more aware of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways – in the many ordinary people He sends into our lives every moment of every day. As we recognize Jesus on our altar today in His Sacred Body and Blood – let us extend that vision to the world and the people around us, abounding in love for one another and for all. And let us be people who witness to that presence in the lives of others – especially in those places that need God’s presence more than ever. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Open my eyes, Lord, so that I may see You!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 21, 2021:
We heard in our Gospel today that Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” As we gather today to celebrate the end of our Church year, this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – especially as we gather in the midst of pandemic, violence, war, and prejudice in our world – these words ring with a certain poignancy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The sad reality as we look around our world is that violence and terror reign; poverty and homelessness are on the rise; prejudice and fear have taken prominence in our public discourse. And Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” But, Jesus doesn’t say these words as a dire prediction without hope. Instead, it is, once again, an invitation to allow Jesus to transform us so that we can transform our world until it truly becomes His Kingdom.
As our Church year comes to a close, we have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus. It is a journey that intends to leave us differently than it found us. We are meant to be today simply more like Christ than we were a year ago when the Church year began. We are meant to be at this time next year more transformed into Christ’s image than we are today. But, first, we must desire to be part of His Kingdom, or as we pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come….”
Abraham Lincoln concluded his first Inaugural address with these powerful words: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." One of the most important reasons that we come to Mass each week is because it is here that we remember who we are; it is here that we recommit to our best selves, to the “better angels of our nature;” here we “swell the chorus of union” as we are united through this Holy Mass. One of the most beautiful things ever said of the Eucharist was said by St. Augustine who said that when we receive the Eucharist “we become what we receive.”
As the world around us entices to give voice to the “worst angels” of our nature, let us today, here, in this Eucharist once again become what we receive. Let us consciously become the real presence of Christ in our world – one that calls loudly for peace; one that seeks frequently the dialogue of reconciliation; one that speaks joy, love, healing and compassion to the world. These are not mere pious platitudes – this is how the world in fact becomes the Kingdom that Jesus, our King, came to inaugurate in our midst. That Kingdom – of love, peace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – cannot be left until tomorrow; it cannot forever wait until people change. It absolutely must start with each one of us individually here, today, and it must leave the walls of this Church and go out into the streets to make that Kingdom present wherever we are.
Challenging moments like the ones that our world faces are not moments to abandon our ideals and our faith – or even to put them on hold. Instead, these are precisely the times when who we truly are becomes evident. These are the moments to let the fullness and strength of our faith shine. This is how the world will change. This is how it becomes the Kingdom Jesus promised.
We know there are many voices in our world competing for our allegiance – calls to fear; calls to isolationism; calls to vengeance; calls to prejudice. There is no shortage of these calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is calling us to the challenging truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, the refugee, to those on the margins. He is calling us to transform our broken and hate-filled world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.
So, how do we do this? Perhaps, we embrace the beautiful words of prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. Let us make his words our own:
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it's in giving that we receive.
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Let us transform our world by being the instruments of God’s peace, love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy that our world desperately needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 14, 2021:
This is one of those times of year when what is going on in nature and what is going on in the life of the Church match up pretty well. Just think in nature – you can’t help but notice that just about all of the leaves have fallen off of the trees now, and we begin to engage in those annual rituals of digging out our warmer clothes as winter is close at hand. This season of the year, in its grayness, its starkness, its cold, reminds us of endings.
So, too, does our Church calendar remind us of endings. We heard Jesus say this in our Gospel passage, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” In other words, learn the lesson that the natural world can teach you. That is why we traditionally celebrate a month in honor of the dead during November. The natural surroundings of November lend itself to such thoughts and prayers. We also head into the final weeks of our Church year. In just two weeks, on the First Sunday of Advent, we begin again the great cycle in which we recall the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, eventually recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings.
The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that His story is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven.
Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed us?
In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel is writing about 500 years before Jesus. Wars and distress were all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.
How much do we need to be reminded of that right now? At every turn we hear the difficult challenges of our times – from COVID, to the economy, to the divisions and rancor that surround us – what’s our reaction? Do we run around declaring the end is near? Do we magnify the negativity around us, or do we cast out the darkness by shining the light? Trusting our faith in God and living accordingly?
In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.
My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.
Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 7, 2021:
A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”
My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.
But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.
What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.
The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.
“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 31, 2021:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Fred Rogers sing a little song that said, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Today, Jesus is posing the same Mr. Roger’s question to us from our Gospel. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis, speaking on this same topic, said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”
Our world needs this neighborly reminder more than ever. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. The state of the world is really as simple as a failure to see each other as neighbors, as connected, as worthy and worthwhile, as children of God.
Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Jesus tells us this is the most important commandment to follow. The most important.
Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. When we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.
“You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 24, 2021:
In Red Sox Nation today is sad today after losing this week to the Houston Astros. A week ago, we felt like a team of destiny and now we’ll be watching from the sidelines. But, as a consolation, I want to share one of my favorite Red Sox stories – and it is not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts.
This story took place three years ago, when the Sox successfully made it to the World Series. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends were certain they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.
That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a shopping cart, they loaded it up with all the food. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”
Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he was on course to be a World Series winner. You see, he didn’t act that night as a baseball celebrity. He acted as a good human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing.
I was reminded of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each language.
In Aramaic Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin – so, he was defiled. But in Greek the name Bartimaeus means "son of honor." By giving us this name with a double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given human dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.
And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our fractured world, we see Bartimaeus all around us, everyday. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets. We see him in the people whose dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly views people as sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or our compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.
Mookie Betts did such a simple thing that night three years ago. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that are broken, in reconciling relationships that are shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it could be for each of us to choose to be healers – we, too, have the power to heal our world.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY, October 17, 2021:
“Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated earlier this month, is one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church. One of the innovations in the leadership of the Order he founded more than 800 years ago is that the Franciscans have no religious superiors. Instead, those who are elected to roles of leadership are referred to as ministers and guardians. Why? Because St. Francis believed that the only true superior of his community was the Holy Spirit. And so, the ultimate ruling body of the Franciscans are the brothers themselves, when they come together intentionally in prayer, when they invoke the Holy Spirit and invite Him to be in their midst to lead, shape, and direct their conversations and their decisions. Those who are ministers and guardians are there to carry those decisions forward in between their gatherings of the fraternity.
I was thinking of that image from the Franciscans as we begin today this Synod on Synodality. I don’t know how many you are aware of this Synod – convened last week by Pope Francis and engaging the church throughout the world for the next few years – but the hope is that just like that image from the Franciscans, we will all come together as a community of believers, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to share our hopes and dreams about the future of the Church.
The word “synod” comes from two Greek words, syn which means “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”. So a synod is a coming together or a journeying together. Spending some time together along the way. The Synod of Bishops was first instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1965 following the Second Vatican Council. The Pope did this to keep alive the spirit of the Council and to help the church engage the signs of the times in the light of faith, so that the Church might always be attentive to the needs of all, so that, sharing in their grief and pain, their joys and hope, we may continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation. These synods have taken place every few years since 1965 and tackled topics like vocations and the priesthood, evangelization, the Eucharist, the missions, and most recently, in 2018 youth and the family.
This Synod which we begin today has a more ambitious goal than any before it. It is called the Synod on Synodality because Pope Francis hopes that the whole church will not merely have a brief experience of this type of journeying together, but that we will in fact become a synodal church – a church that listens. Pope Francis said, “Synodality is an expression of the Church’s style. The word ‘synod’ says it all: it means ‘journeying together’. And the movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play. Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy.”
If you are wondering what this journeying together could look like then there’s no better examples that our gospel passages both last week and this week. In both of these passages we see synodality at work. Recall last week we had the story of the rich young man who wanted to know what it would take to gain eternal life. Jesus in this encounter didn’t merely give the man list of tasks to perform, but so importantly, Jesus listened to him, allowed the man to speak about his own circumstance. He truly heard him.
This week we have another and perhaps the best example of synodality from Jesus – this literal walking together along the road to Emmaus. Let’s remember the scene. These two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways. They are disillusioned and disappointed and believe that all is lost. And then Jesus joins them as they walk away. Notice what Jesus does and doesn’t do. He doesn’t turn them around. He doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. He doesn’t chastise them for their lack of belief. Jesus simply says, “What are you talking about?” and He walks with them and He listens to them. It is only then that He brings the power of Scripture and Sacrament and that makes all the difference. This is what synodality is. This is what a synodal church can look like.
Pope Francis said, “The experience of encounter changes us and it suggests new ways we never thought of taking. This is how God so often points out new paths. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with Him and with one another.”
There could not be a better time in our world and in our church for us to embrace this synodality from the Vatican right down to each and every parish. We live in a world that does not listen to each other. Instead, we are all held captive in our camps, in our tribes, in our politics, in our anger; and all we want to do is to tell everyone else why they are wrong. We have reached a point where we no longer see each other as sister and brother – we only see people as “other.”
Pope Francis said, “Participating in a synod means taking the same path as the Word made flesh: following in His footsteps, listening to His word and the words of others, discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us with fresh paths and new ways of speaking.”
A simpler way of saying it is this – Jesus wants to walk with us on our journey. Whether we are journeying towards Him or away from Him; He comes up along side and simply asks us, “What are you talking about?” And Jesus can’t wait to patiently listen to our answer.
Imagine how things could look in our world and in our church, if we simply stopped and listened – truly listened to the joys and hopes, to the grief and pain of one another – and if we walked along together with Jesus and His Holy Spirit at the heart. This is what the Synod on Synodality hopes to accomplish for us. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to hear about and learn about this process. There will be opportunities for us to come together and to listen to one another. Let us embrace this incredibly moment in the life of the church, and we too might say with the disciples, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us along the way?”
A final quote from the Holy Father, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us listen to one another.”
"Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 10, 2021:
One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, busses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man walked over to a planter along the sidewalk, pushed aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was shocked, “How did you hear that?” The man simply said, “It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”
Our Gospel today asks us the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard today the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He was a good and faithful person, following all of God’s commands from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to for him to bear.
Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited? Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. The rich young man had the right desire – how to attain eternal life – but unfortunately for him, his possessions meant more. So, what was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.
This passage reaches out to us today and asks us the same question, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus completely? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? It could be our money or possessions as it was for the young man; or it could be something else – like grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us.
I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money ever make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the same bad choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or the countless other holy men and women we honor in the Communion of Saints. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
The famous Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part of that statement. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back to Jesus running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.
“All things are possible for God…There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more.”
So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 3, 2021:
A couple had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except one: The woman kept a shoe box in her closet that she forbade her husband from opening. But, when she was close to dying, she allowed him to open the box and he found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. She explained, “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue. Instead, I should keep quiet and just crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. After 60 years of marriage, there was only one doll in the box. He asked, “So what about all this money?” “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”
Today, our Scriptures speak powerfully of God’s hopes and dreams for the way we live with one another. We heard from Genesis, “It is not good for us to be alone.” Both Genesis and our passage from Mark’s Gospel invite us to reflect on the holiness that can be found in married life, and it is a holiness that we can extend to all of the relationships we experience in life.
This is a timely concern for us as we think of the ways that our world, our society are increasingly fractured. People get married later than ever today. The average age for a new couple today is 32. Fewer and fewer get married in the Church. Young people are increasingly likely to be disconnected from faith, from church, from community.
If entertainment is a reflection of culture, just take a look at some of the visions of married and family life we get from TV. There are a lot of reality TV shows that deal with marriage. There’s “Joe Millionaire” where women try and woo a man who they believe to be rich pursuing the relationship for money. There’s a show called “The Love Test” in which a couple purposely puts themselves in situations of temptation to see if their love will survive. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” turn marriage into a competition. There’s “Cheaters” which turns a couple’s infidelity into entertainment. There are a lot of these shows. There’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad,” “Married By America,” “Married At First Sight,” “Race to the Altar,” “Love Stories,” “Love Shack,” “Love Cruise,” and more than you can imagine. If these reflect our culture, what does that say about our view of the holiness of married life?
You see, there is something wrong with the way too many people in our world relate to one another today. We live in a world that is characterized by a profound lack of kindness, a lack of compassion for those in difficult situations, for those on the margins, a lack of care and joy. We increasingly fail to see ourselves as connected; as related; as concerned with and for one another. This all has an impact on our lives, on our families, on our church, and on our world.
To all of this God speaks some loving words to us today in Scripture. He says perhaps most profoundly, “It is not good to be alone.” He says, “The two shall become one.” What He says to us is essentially this – you are connected, you are related, you must care for one another. Care for those who are closest to you; care for those you don’t know. Care for those who are on the margins because of their poverty or homelessness or hunger or immigration status. Care even for those who are your enemies. Because God is our Father, we are all related. So, we need to see each other as brother and sister; as related and loved.
As part of the Synod on the Family a few years ago, Pope Francis said, “A Church which is family is able to show the closeness and love of a father…A Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other people are a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths. The Church is an open house hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts. This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.”
“It is not good for us to be alone.” This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for each of us. Our good and loving God desires for us to be in a relationship first with Him – one that is built on faithfulness, holiness, goodness and care. And, He calls us to mirror those same things – life, love, fidelity, commitment and sacrifice – in all of the relationships we have in life.
Pope Francis is calling us to have a bigger picture than the small squabbles we usually engage in; and he is also calling us to have bigger hearts that can embrace and love as God loves; that can see and care as God cares; that can be part of transforming this world of darkness into the kingdom of light that Jesus came to inaugurate in our midst. We are being called to live relationships – within marriage, with the person we love, within families, within our church, with the stranger and even our enemies – that have Christ at the center; that Christ Himself be the lens through which we live our lives. Having the courage to do this will make all the difference in our lives; will make all the difference in the world. That is God’s plan for us.
“It is not good to be alone,” and thank God, we have each other, we have our families, we have our faith, we have our God, and we have our Church. What God has united, let no one divide.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 26, 2021:
Today’s Scripture calls to mind a story from the life of St. Jerome, the great Biblical scholar. St. Jerome was praying and wanted to offer something worthwhile to God. “Lord,” he prayed, “I offer you my life.” But, God responded, “It was I who gave you your life. It is not yours to give.” Jerome prayed again, “Lord, I offer you my heart, my love.” Again, the voice of God spoke, “I gave you those as well.” Jerome didn’t know what he could offer when the voice of God spoke again, “Jerome, why don’t you give me your sins? Your sins are all your own.”
Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect on something that we typically prefer to avoid – our own sins. Most of the time we are ashamed of our sins, or frustrated by our inability to overcome them. In the worst of situations, we have minimized them and maybe even don’t consider them to be sins anymore. We think there are people far worse than us in the world, and so, we are okay. But, what if these thoughts are actually keeping us from living our best lives, or holiest lives, the lives that God has intended for us?
Jesus tries very hard today to get our attention. He says – hyperbolically – it would be better to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye than the allow them to cause us to sin. Of course, He doesn’t mean these extreme responses literally, but He does want us to take the sin in our life seriously. His strong words today remind us that our sin can’t possibly be inconsequential.
In the long form of the prayer of absolution – the prayer that forgives your sins during Confession – the priest says, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the part that we miss far too often. When we take our sins seriously, we are not embracing a negative self-image, or beating up on ourselves for the things we do – instead we are connecting with the most important reason that Jesus came to us – He came not to make us feel bad about sin; but He came to set us free from it.
I had an encounter almost 20 years ago in the Confessional that I have never forgotten. A person came to me and began by going through the usual motions of a good confession. They listed all of the regular things that many people struggle with – a white lie or two, a bit of gossip, an unkind word spoken, or some prayers missed. But, as they were speaking God was placing something on my heart very persistently that I felt I just had to say. And so I said, “Can we talk a little bit about pride?” The other person looked at me stunned. “Why did you say that?” they asked. I said, “God is just placing this on my heart in a way that I can’t ignore. God wants you to be free from pride.” At that the tears began to flow uncontrollably. They said through the tears, “Father, this is something I have struggled with for many years. My pride has gotten in the way of my relationships – harming several of them. It has kept me from advancing at work because I can never admit I’m wrong. It has gotten in the way of my relationship with God because I always think my way is better than God’s way. Pride has been the thing that has put my life on hold. And every time I come to confession I promise myself that I will confess it, but I’ve never been able to say the words.” When they were done, I simply said, “Do you want to be free?” This remains one of the most beautiful moments of my priesthood.
Pope Francis said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
God never tires of forgiving us; and when we receive God’s forgiveness, we are set free of those things that are holding us back and keeping us down. Our sins are not something dark and secret; or something we should run from or hide away; something we should ignore and never talk about. Our sins are actually one of the greatest opportunities that God presents in our lives. When we encounter our sin – actually engage it and think about it and pray about it and bring it to God – we simultaneously have an encounter with Love. When we acknowledge our sin, we encounter a God who loves us so much that He wants to lift us out of that sin, who wants to free us from that sin, and help us to in fact become saints.
Why does Jesus have such strong words about sin this week? Because He wants us to experience the liberation that He came to bring us. To say “I have sinned” is not to say, “I’m such a horrible person,” rather it is the humble act of embracing the cross, encountering Christ there and allowing Him to raise us up from that sin and into the newness that is found in forgiveness. When we fail to seek out the freedom of God’s mercy, we leave Jesus hanging on that Cross for nothing.
Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. It is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God's love would make them white as snow. God’s mercy is beautiful.”
God calls each of us to be holy; and so the simple message today is this: our sins matter, but God’s mercy matters more! Feeling mercy changes everything. God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself – He wants to reconcile you to Himself. Let us give God our sins; and He will in turn set us free!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021:
Let me start with a question today. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you were the favorite child in your family? My older brother and I have had a long-running debate about who is the favorite child, the favorite grandchild. I say the debate was definitively ended a number of years ago when my grandmother was very ill. My Mom had called me one day and said, “Tommy, come to the hospital to anoint Grammy. The doctor’s say she won’t make the night.” When I got there, the family was gathered and my grandmother was not conscious at all. She was very unsettled, but not aware of anyone around. I invited everyone to lay their hands on Grammy as we began the Sacrament of the Sick, to pray that the Holy Spirit be with her. As I laid my hand on her forehead, her body immediately calmed and she began to breathe more easily. Then, when I finished anointing her with oil, her eyes opened, she looked up and said, “Is that Tommy, my angel?” And the debate over the favorite son was definitively answered!
We heard in our Gospel today, “Taking a child, [Jesus] placed it in their midst, and…said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’” Biblical scholars often speak of a pattern found in Bible stories that they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or sisters, almost always the younger one emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people – the favored one.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung gives a helpful theory. Jung said the human personality is driven by two energies, one he calls senex, meaning old person or senior, and the other puer eternis, or, the eternal child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child, on the other hand, is more adventurous and takes more chances. The senior is conscious about security and preservation, while the child is more easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is geared towards competition, power and success, the child is attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is responsible while the child is lighthearted. Jung says, to be fully human, fully alive, these two perspectives, the senior and the child, must find balance and harmony in the personality.
When we look at the disciples in today’s Gospel, we find they are acting more like the senior than the children. For the second time, Jesus tells them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem. They don’t understand, yet also don’t ask for an explanation. That is typical of the senex mentality which says, “I can figure this out on my own.” Then the disciples argue about which of them was the greatest. They are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you can begin to understand where the little child comes in.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when it comes to our lives of faith, it is better for us to engage the open and free energy of a child if we truly wish to follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us to have the freedom of the child; to be less worried about how we will be perceived, less afraid, and less concerned with rules, and with power and success. Like a child, Jesus wants us to be ready to take a leap of faith, to let go of our preconceived notions. Only then does truly believing and following Jesus completely become possible.
The problem for us is that our world is biased in favor of the senex way. Like the disciples we measure success by comparing ourselves with others. We even convince ourselves that this is what God wants, that prosperity and success and wealth are part of living in God’s ways. Time magazine did a cover story a few years ago on what is often called the Prosperity Gospel. Evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the best known for this. Time magazine posed the question, “Does God want you to be rich?” The Prosperity Gospel says that what God wants more than anything is to shower you with material goods. Joyce Meyers put it this way, “Who would want a faith where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” Of course, we don’t have to look any further than Matthew’s Gospel to find the truth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, does God want us to be rich? Well, I think God doesn’t care so much about whether or not we’re rich materially, he’s much more concerned with the richness of our compassion, the wealth of our love, the extravagance of our forgiveness, the generosity of our care for the hungry, the lonely, those on the margins of our world. If we trust and follow God, He will shower His choicest blessings upon us – but not in silver and gold – they blessings of love, relationships, peace and harmony, holiness and purity – the things whose value can never be measured.
This is what happens when we make room for the child in our hearts. Jesus today challenges us to be adventurous in our life of faith, take a chance on God’s way, to make the leap of faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given you – and God will show you greater blessings than you could have ever imagined in your life. Whether we are nine years old or 99, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart – especially in our faith life. This is the only way to join the company of the sons and daughters to whom the Kingdom of God truly belongs. This is how we become God’s favorite!
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 12, 2021:
One day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars which tells me, astronomically, that there are millions of galaxies and billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”
A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point there have been many answers. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.
But, up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” they finally get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.” And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today because understanding who Jesus is, also tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?
The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ!
Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there that He says now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods and idols – who will you say that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?
This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack, just think of the ways that moment caused us to say, “Who are we as Americans?” That was a defining moment; a moment that invited us into two options – vengeance or justice; hatred or love. And we reflect on the ways that we have responded – both the good ways and the bad – Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am? Pope Francis said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”
My friends, as we seek to lead lives of holiness, Jesus asks us the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. I pray that our answer will lead us to roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are, by what we say and do.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words. Who do you say that I am? You, Lord, are the Christ; and I Lord, am Your disciple.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021:
We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ — that is, ‘Be opened!’ — And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life. From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly completely deaf in my left ear. Two surgeries couldn’t solve the problem and it was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I would simply make sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would ask them to repeat things a lot. I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.
But, then, about 13 years ago, at the parish I was then stationed at, we were honored to welcome one of the so-called visionaries from Medjugorje, Vicka, to our parish. If you’re not familiar with Medjugorje, it is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina and since the early 1980s many believe that the Blessed Mother appeared there to a number of people including Vicka. Now, please know that the Church has not ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.
So, Vicka, in addition to receiving the apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. When she came to our parish, she also offered to pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone present. As she approached me, she placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.
Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so I was praying silently that God would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.
But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was full volume! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where the other priest was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened.
We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.
To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. He wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.
This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.
On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my hearing; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Especially in these difficult times, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 22, 2021:
You may recall the great movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, which came out a number of years ago now. It tells the story of a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on in the film that came to mind for me reflecting on our Scriptures today. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately says “no”. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, and says, “Yes, the man, he is the head. But the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
We heard from St. Paul today, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” It is always interesting to see the reactions to this particular line of Scripture. Wives be subordinate – or in some translations, submissive – to your husbands. This one single line has often been called the most dangerous sentence in the Bible; and because of the possible sexist connotations tied to it; it is more often than not completely avoided by most preachers. And, I think that is a real tragedy because what St. Paul is trying to say to us in this reading today is profound; it is important; and it also just might be exactly what our world needs to be reminded of right now. So bear with me and let’s see how we can come to understand this passage better.
You see, the problem with this phrase from Ephesians, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling and seems to support a subjugation of women, but that is an understanding that is out of context. When we look at the bigger picture, we find that St. Paul is not encouraging a chauvinistic household, but instead one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subordinate; everyone is the servant of the other.
There are two keys to this reading – the first is the initial words we hear, “Be subordinate to one another.” We are all called to be servants one to the other. So, if “wives be subordinate to your husbands” is true; then it is also true to say, “husbands be subordinate to your wives,” “children be subordinate to your parents,” “parents be subordinate to your children.” This reading doesn’t want to perpetuate a power dynamic, it’s not establishing a formal hierarchy in the Christian household with the husband at the top ruling over everyone else – quite the opposite; St. Paul wants to eliminate such notions; leaving in its wake a community of servants. “Be subordinate to one another.”
What does this Christian life of service look like? Just a few lines before, St. Paul says this, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” We cannot hear St. Paul’s words about being subordinate without hearing them in connection to these words. Subordination or service looks like compassion, and kindness, and humility, and gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
A good friend of mine just this week was telling me the story of how his grandparents met and I think it is a beautiful example of what St. Paul is speaking of when he asks husbands and wives to be servants of each other. Frederick and Bertha met in South Boston mere months before Frederick would head off to fight in World War I. Fred, although not Catholic, had a number of Catholic friends that were very involved in the Knights of Columbus and Fred would always be at their side helping with events. As their relationship developed, Bertha was taken with his kind heart and his devotion to volunteering in the church.
As Fred was off in the Navy during the war, the two would correspond regularly, eventually falling in love via this correspondence. Ironically, both Fred and Bertha were Lutherans, but neither knew that about the other. In fact, they each assumed the other was Catholic. And so as Bertha’s love for Frederick grew deeper, she decided to secretly speak with the local Catholic pastor. She told the priest, “I’m falling in love, and he’s Catholic. I would like to become a Catholic for him.” Bertha began to meet weekly with the priest and was welcomed into the Catholic faith. But, she didn’t say a word to Fred.
Once the war was over, Frederick returned and the first thing that Bertha wanted to do was go to Mass together to pray in gratitude for Fred’s safe return. They went, but he felt embarrassed because, not being Catholic, he wasn’t sure what to do. But, he saw the deep faith of the woman he loved and wanted what she had. So, off Frederick went, secretly, to the same pastor and said, “I’ve fallen in love with Bertha and she’s Catholic. I would like to become Catholic because she’s the woman I want to marry.” So he started meeting with the pastor weekly, and once he had been welcomed into the faith, he asked Bertha to marry him – both of them completely unaware of what the other had done. The night before their wedding, at the wedding rehearsal, the pastor shared the secret that they had become Catholic out of love for the other.
“Brothers and sister be subordinate to one another.” Fred and Bertha were servants to each other – they saw the good in each other; they wanted the same holiness that they saw in each other; they knew that their only happiness could be found in serving each other out of reverence for Christ.
My friends, we are not called to be powerful in relation to each other, we are called to be powerless; we are not called to be lords over one another; we are called to serve. In a world that seeks to pit us one against another day after day, let us instead be servants to each other – not just the people we like or who like us; but everyone. How do we end the cycle of anger, and hatred, and division? Be subject to each other out of reverence for Christ.
“Put on, as God's chosen ones heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” Let us be subordinate to one another.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY, August 15, 2021:
How many of you have ever been told, “You’re just like your mother?” I hear this often, and especially since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, I take it as a great compliment as my Mom was my closest friend, and an example of a happy and holy life. I’m proud to be just like my mother. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this.
As Catholics, we treasure our devotion to the Blessed Mother and this special relationship that Jesus leaves us with His mother. From the cross Jesus said to His beloved disciple and to us, “Behold your mother.” Today’s feast celebrates this wonderful teaching that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul when her time on earth was complete. This was proclaimed in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and when you think about it, Mary’s assumption just makes sense. The Assumption tells us that Mary did not suffer the corruption of death the way the rest of us do because she was immaculately conceived without the stain of original sin. Scripture tells us that bodily death is the result of original sin. So, since Mary didn’t have original sin, then she doesn’t suffer its penalty, and so after her 72 years on the earth, she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
So, what does this have to do with us? Today is more than a commemoration of a moment in the life of Mary; it is also an invitation. Our Eucharistic prayer today says, “The virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection.” The beginning and the pattern of the Church. You see, Assumption is not only about Mary; it's also about you and me. Mary sets a pattern that we are meant to imitate – where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.
From the very beginning, God did not intend us to die. God created us for eternity, for immortality. And, this is where we hear the words, “You’re just like your mother.” What we celebrate in Mary today is what God promises for all of us – eternity and immortality with Him in Heaven. In his encyclical on the Rosary, Saint John Paul II reminded us that we “sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ.” Mary shows us the way to follow her Son and how to reach eternity in our own lives.
In the Gospel we heard, “Blessed is the womb that carried you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Jesus reminds us, it was not Mary’s womb that made her blessed, it is that she repeatedly heard the Word of God and observed it. She said “yes” to what God would ask of her in life. And her “yes” was not only in response to the question of the angel. She continued to say yes to God throughout her life. She raised her son, she followed Him during His ministry, she endured the piercing of her heart by watching her son be tortured and killed, and even after Christ rose and ascended to Heaven, Mary went on saying “yes” to God. She became the spiritual mother to the disciples. Mary became their strength, their guide; the link between Jesus and His followers. She was there in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended. Mary continued to spread the Good News, to give witness to a life dedicated to God, to help establish what would become the Church. Tradition holds that Mary made it as far as Ephesus and it was there that her earthly life ended. Mary believed in the potential of God to do anything – even the seemingly impossible – from the moment that the angel came to her until the moment of her Assumption into Heaven. Mary trusted that God’s plan would unfold in her life.
And what we see in Mary today, we can see in our own lives. As Mary is assumed, we’re reminded that “we too are just like our mother.” We can achieve the same eternity by hearing the Word of God and observing it. At the School of Mary we learn hear God’s Word and having the courage to follow. It is about obedience; it’s about listening, hearing with heart and mind, and then, of course, following. What God promises in Mary, He promises in us – and that is nothing short of Heaven.
Let us all strive to be just like our mother, Mary. Let us pray today, through her intercession, that Jesus will say of us as he said of His mother, “Blessed are you – all of you – who hear the Word of God and observe it.”
May the Lord give you peace.
In order to join the Navy, John first had to pass a routine physical. During the exam, the doctor discovered that, due to an abnormality, John couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Unsure if he should approve John, the doctor conferred with another doctor. "Let him pass," said the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems – unless he has to surrender."
Our first reading today is a story of surrender. We heard, “Elijah prayed for death saying, ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.’” This is a statement that most of us can relate to, I think. How often do we feel like we are at a point in life when we want to throw up our hands, surrender, and say “This is enough! I’ve had enough!”
So, why was Elijah so down? Well, as we pick up his story today, God has asked a tremendous amount of him. He – a man alone – was sent by God to confront Queen Jezebel who had lead Israel astray to worship a false god. Elijah had just engaged in a major confrontation with her prophets before our passage today and the result was that the Queen sent a messenger to tell Elijah that before the day is done, he will be put to death. Elijah runs in fear for his life.
At this moment, Elijah did what God asked and was worried that his reward was to be execution. He has thrown his arms up in surrender, ready to give up. He has been plunged into darkness and doubt. Wanting to quit and turn his life over to the hands of God, he sleeps. But when he awakened, God sent an angel to care for him. Food and water appeared and the angel fed him. He experienced God’s care for him and through it discovered that he has the strength to make his way to safety - and to begin again. When Elijah surrendered fully to God; in response God refreshed and renewed him; gave him life once again.
Elijah’s story should sound familiar to us, because there’s not one of us here who hasn’t been brought low, or felt defeated, and ready to surrender at one point or another in our lives. Whether we’re the fifth grader who feels doomed by a difficult subject; the mom slowly worn down by a long summer tending to the children she loves; the disappointed spouse who despite trying and trying again, can see no hope for the future of their marriage; the investor who made all the wrong decisions till there was nothing left; the sick person who has tried every doctor, every cure, but to no avail… and so on.
In these moments, we might also feel like saying, “I’m finished, I’m empty; I have nothing left to give, to say, to do; I am too tired to lift a pencil; too tired to hope; too tired to cry. I’ve had enough. I surrender.” And what is God’s answer? He doesn’t say, “Buck up! Be strong!” He doesn’t say, “Get over it and move on.” God knows when our strength is spent and when we are empty. Instead, our loving and caring God sends an angel to us too and says, “Be still; rest with me awhile, and wait. As slow rain fills an empty cup, I will fill you; I will nurture you, care for you, feed you and restore your strength – if you hold up your cup, and wait, and be still with me.”
He sends these angels in the form of the good and supportive friends we have; in the love that people show us in life; in the kindness of a stranger; and so importantly in moments of prayer; pre-eminently in the Eucharist. Every Mass is exactly that kind of opportunity to be still with God, to be filled up with what He has to offer, to hear the gentle words of God’s encouragement in Scripture, and to be awakened to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered in every Eucharist. Jesus said exactly this in today’s Gospel, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Our Gospel today is a continuation of “Bread of Life discourse.” It reminds us once again, that Jesus sustains us, lifts us up and feeds us in ways that offer newness, freshness, relief and even the promise of eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” He says. “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” He says. This message is for us a great message of reassurance; a great message of hope.
So, if you come to this place today feeling a bit like Elijah – feeling a bit wearied by life, downtrodden by challenging situations, or hopeless in the face of impossible relationships; if you come here today feeling like you could say, “Lord, this is enough.” God says to you, “Be still and know that I am God.” So, be still and wait with Me. Listen to My words. Feel My presence. Let me refresh you, renew you and make you whole, once again. If on the other hand, you come here today filled with God’s goodness, God’s blessings, and God’s love – then perhaps He is calling you to be that comfort for your brothers and sisters in their challenges. Perhaps He is calling you to be the Bread of Life for someone you encounter.
God will give you what you need to be strengthened to finish your journey. All you have to do is let Him.
May the Lord strengthen you today and give you His peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 1, 2021:
A priest friend of mine tells a story of a time a few years ago when he was asked to preside at a very fancy wedding. The wedding was as lavish as you would imagine, with all the bells and whistles. After the ceremony, he went to the reception which was held on the grounds of a grand mansion. Laid out before the guests was the most sumptuous buffet you could imagine. There was a large table as long as the eye could see with an ice sculpture in the middle, and arrayed around it were piles of lobster, shrimp, and shellfish of every kind. As he was about to say grace, the shy flower girl stood by his side trying to see what was on the table. She asked what was going on and Father explained that everyone was getting ready to enjoy all the delicious food. The little girl then stepped on her tip-toes to get a better look at the table. She saw all of the lobster, shrimp, and everything else and said, “But, when does the good food come out? When do we get Froot loops?”
We find ourselves today in the midst of a four-week cycle that invites us to reflect upon the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Last week we saw the multiplication of loaves and fishes; next week Jesus tells us that He is “the bread of life;” and the week after would normally end with Jesus reminding us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood “has eternal life.” This year, though, the final week will be pre-empted by the Assumption of Mary. While these weeks focus naturally on the material of the Eucharist – this bread from Heaven, this manna in the desert, this flesh and blood – today reminds us that there is more to eating than food. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words, Jesus is asking a simple question, and it’s the same one really that the flower girl was asking: what are we really hungry for?
Jesus offers us the most incredible food ever – a food that feeds the body not merely for a moment, but feeds the soul for eternity. But, what He wants to know is if this is what we want to eat; if this is what we truly hunger for. We know that we are faced with many competing hungers – things that get in the way of God like hungers for wealth, power, material goods, or popularity; and of course other hungers that come from God like the hunger for love, truth, holiness, happiness, and everlasting life. In our Gospel, Jesus addresses this issue with those who pursued Him after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. He wants to know – are they only looking for signs and wonders? Do they just want more bread? Are they hungry only for things which satisfy the body today or are they really hungry for what matters – the things that can satisfy the heart and soul? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
We are reminded that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul – the hunger for truth, for holiness, for completeness, for wholeness, for happiness, and for love. So, what are we hungry for? Jesus wants us to be hungry for a life of love and service, the kind of service He modeled during His time among us. He wants us to be hungry for forgiveness that connects us to God's mercy and kindness. He wants us to be hungry for a life of holiness and purity that reflects God's own holiness. And, He wants us to be hungry for a life of obedience to God’s will and trust in God’s plan for our lives, which gives witness to the wisdom of God. In other words, we are called as St. Augustine said to “become what we receive.” This is what the Eucharist is all about – not that we merely consume the Body and Blood of Jesus today, but that we become it; that we become Christ in our world, to one another; that we become what we receive today.
And it all comes down to that initial question – what are we hungry for? Are we hungry to be fed on the bread that the world offers? That is a false bread, and will only satisfy for a moment but leaves us ultimately incomplete. Or do we hunger for the bread that comes from heaven; the miraculous bread-become-Body and wine-become-Blood made present in our midst on this altar? The Lord wants to know today that we hunger for Him and Him alone. He is ready to feed us once again today and everyday. Let us hunger for what only Jesus can give.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
May the Lord give you peace,
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 25, 2021:
I had the great privilege of being at Fenway Park on Thursday night as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a 10th inning walk off. It was my first time being in Fenway since before the pandemic began; and so it was a wonderful night of something resembling our former normalcy. Of course, while I was there we were remembering some great moments in this century long rivalry. Of course, the greatest moment in this Sox-Yankees relationship was the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse. Maybe the greatest moment in sports history. Of course, with the Olympics now underway in Tokyo, I have also been thinking of some of those great sports moments. Like Michael Phelps record 23 Olympic gold medals. But, I think, the greatest Olympic moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet Union for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to win gold easily. That game ended with the iconic voice of Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.”
Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?
We know that our secular world makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical scholars question whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But the eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal those who were ill, Jesus did cast out demons, He did raise the official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins in Confession, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that with God anything – in fact, everything – is possible.
In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew; and they for us represent two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says. Andrew, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that with miracles, God builds on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our own five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.
A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication that has ever happened, each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then. At every Mass we simply offer Jesus simple bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His true Body and Blood; His real and abiding presence in our midst.
So, we should believe in miracles, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see this miracle at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive this miracle, and bodies that consume that miraculous bread-become-Body over and over again.
God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, cast out demons, raise people from the dead, institute the Eucharist, rise from the dead – if we believe these things, just imagine what God can do in our lives if we’re open to Him.
So what have you got to offer Jesus today? He will take anything. He will take our simple prayers and transform them into glory; He will take our simple loves and multiply them into a kinder and more compassionate world; He will even take our sins and transform them into holiness of life. Whatever we bring – no matter how simple, how meager – Jesus will transform in to grace and goodness; joy and peace; happiness and holiness. But, we have to do our part.
Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen. Do you believe in miracles?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 18, 2021:
Finish this sentence with me, “One small step for man…” Right, “…one giant leap for mankind.” I was reminded of that famous line as I was reading an article about the first moon landing this week. Tuesday marks the 52nd anniversary of that historic moon landing, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon. Maybe you do recall that moment vividly.
One of the more surprising stories of that day, though, is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the credit as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular and profound, as a man of faith.
He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, prayed. This is his description of the moment, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages that I had brought which contained some bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”
It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on another world were the words of Jesus Christ, the same One who made the Earth and the moon. It was a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin had traveled all the way to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.
This image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflect on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in the quiet place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many of us seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own quiet place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. I returned a few weeks ago from my vacation at the beach, which for me is an annual tradition and one of my favorite quiet places.
Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, rest from our work, engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, our spirits, and our faith. This year perhaps more than usual we carry the stress of this pandemic in our bodies, we carry the anxiety of this time in our hearts and minds. We need time to decompress, relax, enjoy – and renew. During my vacation, my favorite times are at sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.
Buzz Aldrin travelled all the way to the moon, and his first act was to find that quiet time to be renewed by God. Like him, we too need to find that time to allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls in the ways that only He can do.
Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Right here in this church is that chance to leave the world behind and exist in the midst of holiness and let God speak to our hearts. Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God immersed in prayer.
My friends, the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest and prayer; renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a quiet place to find peace we need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.
As we recall what transpired on the moon more than 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is the ocean of God’s love available to us every time we pray. So let us meet God in that tranquil place and let Him renew us one small step at a time.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 20, 2021:
Can I start with a question today and I know this one might be hard to answer publicly. How many of you feel anxious? How many feel like your anxiety has been on the increase during the pandemic and maybe even longer? Thank you for those who had the courage to raise your hands today – know that my hand is raised right there with you. I read an interesting report this week that was on this same issue. Mental health professionals have reported that during this time of pandemic, reports of depression and anxiety have increased by more than 50% over their normal rates.
And we know why. These are incredibly difficult and anxious times. We are fatigued by the ongoing nature of the pandemic; we are heartbroken at the nearly 4 million lives lost to this virus. We worry about our children, about our elderly parents and grandparents; about our job security, food security, housing security. In the midst of all of that is the political and civic polarization that spews vitriol at a nonstop rate. It is a polarization that even makes its way in to the church. Add to that our own daily struggles with family, friends, or co-workers. The hurt feelings, the regretful words, the daily challenges of life.
We can feel as though we are constantly being tossed around by the storm and we don’t know how we will get through it. It is enough to overwhelm us. It is enough to make us feel like the disciples in our Gospel passage today. We find them on the sea with Jesus in the boat. A violent squall comes up out of nowhere. They are being battered and tosses. The waves are crashing over the side of the boat. They are frightened for their lives. They cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In Matthew’s telling of this story, they are even more desperate, “Lord, save us!” they cry out. “We are dying!”
Where is Jesus in the midst of all of this chaos? Sleeping. “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” How could Jesus be so calm during such danger; during such anxiety? We got a hint in our first reading from Job. We remember that Job is perhaps the Bible’s greatest case study of affliction and anxiety. Job has been the victim of one disaster after another. He has lost his children and his possessions, and he has come down with leprosy. Through all this, Job has remained faithful to God. In our passage today, God responds to Job’s pleas. And listen to the interesting words we hear, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.”
Isn’t that curious? And yet it is a regular motif in the Old Testament. When God speaks, it is frequently in the midst of storm. From the very beginning in the Book of Genesis, God creates an orderly universe out of primordial chaos. Psalm 18 says, the Lord made “his canopy, the water-darkened storm clouds.” The prophet Nahum said, “In stormwind and tempest he comes.” In Habakkuk, we hear, “At the sight of you the mountains writhed. The clouds poured down water; the deep roared loudly. The sun forgot to rise.”
The point of it all? It is exactly in the most tumultuous moments of our lives, that God wants to speak His calming, loving, peaceful, gentle, quieting words. Only God can calm the storm of our souls. Only God can quiet the anxiety of our hearts. Only God can lead us to seek healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness in all of the broken places in our lives. And only if we rouse Him and invite Him to do so.
Back to our Gospel passage. Once roused, Jesus spoke, “He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” My friends Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me; if only we will rouse Him to address the chaos of our lives; the storms of our destruction; the waves that crash over us mercilessly.
The great St. Augustine spoke of today’s passage in one of his sermons. He said, “When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune – shipwreck. Why? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him. A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let Him remind you of those words: ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’”
So, my friends, if you, like me, are feeling the stress of the anxiety of our times; if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the crashing waves sometimes. If you, like me, sometimes have words you wish you could retrieve, or relationships fractured that you wish were healed; or sins you struggle with and want to overcome; then remember – Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him! Rouse Him to your side. Rouse Him to your aid. Rouse Him to your help. Invite Christ to speak to the storms you are facing those same powerful words, “Quiet! Be still!”
God, through all of time, has spoken powerfully from the midst of the storms of life. So, today, take a deep breath, go to the Lord and wake Him. Let Christ set you once again on calm waters that lead to His peace.
My friends, Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him once more!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, May 30, 2021:
“God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” We know those words from the great Trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy and they name the mystery of today’s feast. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – this great reality of faith that both draws us into the wonder of God’s nature and confuses us a bit when we try and understand or explain it intellectually. I was never very good at math, but it’s only in the Church that with the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 still equals 1. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God.
Our trouble with the Trinity comes when we try to dissect exactly what it means; when we try and come up with precise explanations of how something can be both three and one at the same time. And yet, we still try, don’t we? Most famously, St. Patrick gave the explanation of the Trinity using the image of the shamrock – three leafs, but still just one shamrock. We can spend a long time with furrowed brows trying to wrap our minds around this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself.” Now this statement, I think, helps us begin to get some place helpful. The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself. Or in more simpler terms, understanding the Trinity tells us something about the very nature of God.
Our Scriptures today give us some helpful insight. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes the intimacy of our relationship with God. He said,” “Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Did any god go and take a nation for himself…as the Lord did for you?” St. Paul speaks of God as Trinity in our passage from his letter to the Romans. “Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God….we cry, ‘Abba, Father’....[we are] hears of God with Christ.” In just those passages we encounter a God who is connected, interested, personal, intimate, involved in our lives.
St. Matthew, in the conclusion of his Gospel, sends us forth into the world in the mission of our three-fold God. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; baptizing them in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Interestingly, though, you won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but the nature of God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – is everywhere. Over and over, we are given examples of our God who so loved the world – who so loved you, and me, and every living being – that He gave His only Son so that we might live forever. Love is the nature of God. Love is the nature of the Trinity. And love is what our God in Three Persons invites each one of us to share.
Sacred Scripture also reminds us that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. And this message could not be more important than it is right now.
As our world begins to emerge from under the weight of the pandemic, for example, let’s not forget the countless and moving heroic acts of love in the words and actions of the many, many women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for and comforting those effected by the virus. The incredible scientists who created and distributed the vaccines worldwide in record time – saving countless perhaps millions of lives. God who is Three-in-One is working in them and through them to share that same love to those suffering through this crisis. You and I have shared in this same love through our smaller acts of love when we have worn our masks, sanitized our hands, gotten our vaccination – in each of these simple moments we have been embracing that love that comes from the very nature of God and sharing it with our sisters and brothers. In those moments, our God in Three Persons has become God in Many Persons – God in you and me and in anyone who responds to the challenges of our world with love.
Understanding the Trinity tells us that God is not only in Three Persons, but God is in many persons because He is in you and in me and everyone who is part of the beautiful world that He created. God is not a loner who exists in solitary individualism, distant and detached from us. God exists in a community of love and sharing – in His very nature He is a Father, loving a Son, loving the Holy Spirit with a love so great that it can’t be contained and spills out into the world – to you and to me. In God’s most inner reality, He is a relationship of love. And our world needs to be overwhelmed with that love today more than ever. Only God’s love can route out what ails us in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.
The racism, violence, and prejudice that have also accompanied this last year and a half are the counter sign of that love; they are a corruption of that divine image. We are called to reflect God’s community of love to everyone – especially those on the margins of our society; especially those the rest of the world doesn’t see; especially those who are treated as less than worthy of the same love. The believer who reflects God’s love doesn’t divert our attention from the violence we see; doesn’t make excuses for the racism and prejudice that is a dark part of our heritage; but instead with every fiber of their being tries to love the world to health, equality, justice, healing, and holiness. God in Many Persons.
God so loved the world that we too might love the world in return. My friends, let us call upon our God in Three Persons and ask Him to once again be God in Many Persons – God in you and in me and in everyone – and ask Him to overwhelm this pandemic at last; to overwhelm any hatred, or racism, or prejudice in our hearts with His love.
The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself; and God in us. Let us be encompassed by that mystery of love and light so that we might reflect God’s love, healing, justice, and peace to the whole world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 23, 2021:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word of God go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Fall River.
What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.
Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover and was tied to the harvest. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.
It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a mission, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.
Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we will give birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit today is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”
And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 16, 2021:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s the famous question pondered by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name? It’s a question we’re also invited to ponder today as we hear Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. So, what is in a name? Well, just think of your own family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important.
For example, I was named Thomas after my great-grandfather. And even though I never met him, a few years ago when I was doing some genealogical research, I discovered we share the same birthday – separated by about a century. But, having that name makes me feel connected to generations that came long before me. And every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I always take the opportunity to remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?
Another tradition in naming is to give children a religious name – either a name from the Bible or after a favorite saint. This used to be the common practice, which is why we had so many Michael’s and Anthony’s, and many Mary’s, Maria’s, and Elizabeth’s. This was a popular custom because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up to be unique (by the way Unique is also a popular name).
Studies have shown, though, that over the last roughly 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. For example, among the top 10 boys names last year were Noah, Elijah, James, and Benjamin– all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw for last year – the #18 name was Blessings.
So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.
So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Christian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.