FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 14, 2019:
If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Mr. Fred Rogers sing a little song that went something like this, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could 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.
We know we live in difficult times. We’re flooded with images that haunt us – people displaced by the destruction of natural disasters, images of adults and children in cages, the scourge of the opioid epidemic, the endless numbers of mass shootings throughout our country (there have been more than 250 this year already). With the constant barrage of bad news that fills the newspapers and airwaves, we can begin to believe that violence, death and killing are out of control in our midst. We live in an extraordinary time of terror, of violence, of division and polarization and fear. And to all of that our God says to us over and over again – in fact more than 300 times in the Bible – “Do not be afraid.” Love conquers all.
And this is why we daily turn back to God and His Holy Word for our guidance, our inspiration, and our hope. As always, our Scriptures today once again remind us of what God wants of us in the midst of so much anger. He wants us to remember that we are not at odds, we are not in conflict, but that we are all neighbors – even if, and especially if, we thought we were divided.
Jesus proclaim again to us today the Christian Golden Rule, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Nearly every religion and culture in the world has a Golden Rule in one form or another. In Judaism, they say, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.” In Buddhism, “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” In Hinduism, “Do nothing unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.” And in Islam, “No one is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.”
When we look at the situation of our world and wonder what we can do, the answer lies in not adding our voice to the chorus of negativity in the world. Our response needs to be one of tenderness, kindness and compassion. Robert Kennedy, who also knew very violent times, said, “Each time we stand up for an ideal, or act to improve the lot of others, or strike out against injustice, we sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Or more simply, won’t you be my neighbor?
Jesus proclamation of the Golden Rule insists that all humanity is really one big neighborhood – we are all connected. Jesus broke down the walls of division and the borders of prejudice and suspicion that humans have erected between “us” and “them” throughout time. To bring home this point He tells the story of the Good Samaritan. This man regarded as an enemy by the people of Jesus’ time for no other reason than he is a Samaritan, is ironically the one who truly proves himself to be neighbor to the Jewish man in need. Thus to the question “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus offers new and challenging answer to His hearers: Anyone and everyone is your neighbor – without exception – even the person you thought was your enemy.
In our own world today we need to be reminded that everyone is our neighbor – even the enemy; even the immigrant; even the person who is different than us; even the person we don’t like or who doesn’t like us. They are our neighbor and we must offer them mercy. We must overcome the tendency to think in terms of “us” and “them” and instead heed the command of Jesus to, “Go and do likewise” – to offer mercy, to treat everyone with respect, to be neighbor to the world.
The Christian understanding of “neighbor” has no borders or boundaries. Today we are called to identify and tear down all the walls we have erected between those who belong to us and those who don't belong to us. The Gospel today challenges us all to dismantle these walls. This way we work with Jesus to realize His dream of the world as a neighborhood without borders or boundaries.
As we gather today, we come to church for some comfort, we come to church for a measure of peace, we come to church to hear what word God has to speak to us. But, we also come to church to be sent back out. “Go and proclaim the Gospel,” “Go and glorify God by your life.” We come to be healed, strengthened, renewed and sent once again to be that peaceful presence in our world. Jesus, today, sends us to “go and do likewise” and to be neighbors to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 7, 2019:
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” When we hear this quote, we are usually quick to interpret in light of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate or religious life. That makes a lot of sense to us. After all, we know that fewer men and women are pursuing these ways of life in our times, and so the natural temptation is to preach today about the need for more men and women to be dedicated in service to God, humanity and the Church. And, this would be a valid way to understand this passage. We do need a renewed desire for people to pursue the ordained and consecrated life.
But, when Jesus said these words, of course, we did not have the structures of ordained and consecrated life as we do today. There were no Dominican Sisters of Hope, Sisters of Mercy, Jesuits or Franciscans when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples. So, who are these words directed to? And, of course, these words are directed to all of us – certainly to priests and religious – but the call to be “sent out” for the harvest, is the call Jesus gives to every single believer; every last one of us.
It reminds me of the old Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism used illustrations to make a point about vocations. On one page there were two men side-by-side, one was dressed in an ordinary business suit, the other was a priest. The caption under the business man read, “This is good.” And under the priest, “But, this is better.” The next page had a woman in a dress with children at her side, and next to her was a religious sister, a nun. The captions again, under the Mom, “This is good,” and under the nun, “But, this is better.” I don’t think this is quite how Jesus would explain vocations. One is certainly not better than the other. The caption should have read, “These are both good, but they are different ways of serving God and the Church. Which one is God calling you to?” The danger of focusing only on the ordained and consecrated as those “called to the harvest” is that it let’s the rest of us off the hook. They’ll bring in the harvest, I don’t need to worry about that.
Jesus, then and now, intends to call each and every last one of us who believe in Him and in His message to be the laborers who spread His message around the world; no matter what it is that we do in life. What Jesus means when tells us, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few,” is that the world is full of people in need. Whether it is people in the third world or the homeless and drug addicted on our city streets, or even members of our own families – people are looking for help; looking for connection; looking for compassion; looking for God. The problem is that there are too few people willing to offer those things. All we have to do is turn on the TV to see how people respond to the need all around them. They too often respond with anger, with accusations, we prejudice, or the worst of all, with complete indifference. Never before has there been such a need for compassionate people – people like you and me – to step forward and help Jesus with the harvest.
A few years ago, Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel passage where St. Thomas the Apostle places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. Reflecting on that, the Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness and thus we will certainly have the grace to worship the living God.”
My friends, our Gospel today reminds us that it is the responsibility of us all – whether we are priests, deacons, religious, popes or any of the myriad of beautiful, wonderful Baptized members of the Body of Christ – we are all called; we all have that vocation to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. We all share the call the be the laborers in the field who bring in God’s harvest of goodness, holiness, and compassion. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed for the better by it; because we will be changed to be more like Christ.
The Lord once again sends each of us today to proclaim the Kingdom of God; to live the Kingdom of God; to be the very Kingdom of God in the midst of our world; to encounter Christ through His wounds. It is the call – it is the vocation – of us all.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 13th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 30, 2019:
“Brothers and sister, for freedom Christ has set us free…You were called for freedom.” As our nation prepares to celebrate its Independence in just a few days, we could not have asked for better readings from Scripture. Our nation’s independence of course focusses our attention on the great gift of freedom that we enjoy in the United States. The freedom so bravely declared in that Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the freedom that we try to continue to preserve today. At this time of year, I always take a few moments to read the Declaration of Independence slowly, word for word. How can you not be moved by words like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
How perfect then that today we have a powerful reflection on freedom from St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians. But, St. Paul offers an understanding of freedom more comprehensive, profound and challenging than any Fourth of July orator is likely to provide. As we heard St. Paul say, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” And this is where things get interesting.
According to St. Paul, through Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been freed from something and for something – we have been freed from the dominion of sin, death and the flesh, and freed for life in the Spirit. This is the type of freedom that is worth something; this is the type of freedom that makes life worth living.
Too often, we define freedom very narrowly. Freedom means I can do what I want; or anything goes. Freedom in this way is a freedom from. We are free from things like oppression, or want, or hunger, or poverty, or even violence or other terrible things. And while this is certainly a good thing, it really doesn’t help us discover who we are, what we are called to, what we can be. Through Christ, we have all been made free. St. Paul asks us today, “What are we doing with that freedom?” He reminds us that through our Baptism, in Christ, the freedom that He won for us on the cross is not merely a freedom from some sort of oppression, but more powerfully it is a freedom for the world. It is a freedom that calls us to be something great.
It reminds me of when I took my vows as a religious – vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. We had an older friar who used to like to describe them this way: He would says, the vows are No Money, No Honey, No Say. He was, of course, joking, but this is a view that sees religious vows only as restrictions, when in reality, in these vows – much like marriage vows – we see exactly the kind of freedom for Christ that St. Paul envisions. In the vow of poverty, we see the freedom to not be concerned with high paying jobs, acquiring material goods, power, or status and instead be completely free to be where Jesus and the Church needs us. In the vow of chastity, we see the freedom that instead of being a loving presence to one spouse, we embrace the freedom to be God’s loving presence to all of His people. And in the vow of obedience, we become free to not be preoccupied with our own will and our own desires, but to move with the freedom of the wind in the ways that God calls us through the Church.
While the way we live out these vows is particular to someone who is a religious or a priest, the idea and the freedom behind them is for everyone. St. Paul said, “Stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” We see how heavy and pervasive this yoke of slavery is in our world today. How many people are yoked so strongly to their desire to make money and acquire material that they ignore their fundamental relationship with God and even with their own families? How many people are yoked so strongly to the damaging culture of today that they worship that and deny the beauty and sanctity of every created person? How many people today are yoked so strongly to their own will, their own way that they trample right over those in front of them through lies, deceit, gossip and control? God has given us freedom. Nothing can take that away. But, now that we are free from things, what will we be free for? Let us be free to love radically, forgive completely, show compassion constantly, reach out to our neighbor faithfully, welcome the immigrant, the refugee, the stranger joyfully. These are the things that will change not only our lives, but will make our world the kind of place worthy of the freedom we have been gifted.
As we mark our nation’s freedom this week, let us be reminded that God is calling us to something greater – the most radical freedom ever seen in this world. “For freedom Christ set us free…you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters…serve one another through love.”
You were called for freedom. Do you want to be free?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, June 9, 2019:
“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. 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, June 2, 2019:
Going through my desk earlier this week, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s oldest sister and she passed away a number of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, my cousins, gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. One said simply, “Please read this at my funeral.” But on the other side she wrote, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for everyone she loved.
Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet we don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the things happening in the world like the endless negativity on cable news; or the challenges of homelessness, or poverty, or violence. There are so many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are, instead of what lies above.
But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” Easter and the Ascension, which we celebrated on Thursday, are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this focus and purpose for our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from the daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home.
I think there’s also another reason we don’t give much thought to Heaven: because picturing eternal life is difficult. This is where Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are helpful. He said, “As you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…I wish that where I am they also may be with me.”
We all know that the great joy in life is so clear in the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art, even nice homes and cool cars – what would all of these be without others to share them with? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.
You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home at the end of each adventure.
At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last.
My friends, this is the eternal life that Jesus promises us – an everlasting adventure that only gets better and better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. Imagine a baseball player who never thought about the game; an actor who never thought about the performance; a writer who never thought about the story. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is equally absurd.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”
My friends, St. Bernadette and my Aunt Pat had it right: let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD, May 29, 2019:
There is such a beautiful symmetry in our celebration today of the Ascension of Jesus. As we gather in this Church today, it has been 40 days since we celebrated the Easter Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We know that God does great things in 40s. The world was renewed through the 40 days of the flood. God’s Chosen People were prepared to enter the Promised Land through 40 years in the desert. Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert before beginning His public ministry. We just spent 40 days of Lent preparing for Easter and now today, 40 days later, we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. As a side note, is it just me or do the 40 days of Lent feel so much longer than the 40 days from Easter to today?
Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days after rising from the dead. Forty days of teaching them, 40 days of being with them, and now He has returned to be seated at the right hand of His Father. And because Jesus likes to spoil us there is still more to come; 10 more days of the Easter season; 10 more days to sit and pray with the wonder of Resurrection; 10 days to ready ourselves to celebrate the arrival of Christ’s promised gift of the Holy Spirit at the Feast of Pentecost which will then bring our Easter season to a close.
Let me say a word about ascension. In the Church year, we celebrate two feasts that sound similar – the Ascension of the Lord, and in August the Assumption of Mary, when she returned bodily to Heaven. So, what’s the difference between Ascension and Assumption? Well, it all comes down to who does the heavy lifting. Since Jesus is God, He does not need to be taken up – or assumed – into Heaven. He has the power to do this on His own, so under His own power, He simply ascends to Heaven. Mary of course, is not God, and does not have that power to ascend on her own. Someone else must bring her to Heaven and so God assumes her body and soul into Heaven. The same activity, but a different active party. But, they both point to the same reality – that we are all destined for Heaven; that Heaven is our truest home; that when we are saved, when we achieve the Kingdom that God has prepared, we will all be re-united in Heaven.
There is a story about the famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton. After his conversion to Catholicism, a friend of his asked a simple question, “Now that you are a Catholic, what do you want to be?” Merton said simply, “I guess I want to be a good Catholic.” His friend said, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint!” Merton said incredulously, “How do you expect me to become a saint?!” His friend responded, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
My friends, we don’t gather here to simply commemorate Jesus journey to the Father. We gather tonight in anticipation of our own sainthood. In one of his last statements before retirement, Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded us of just this. He said, “You were made for greatness!” Pope Francis has also picked up the theme, saying, “Do not be content to live a mediocre Christian life: walk with determination along the path of holiness.” If we believe all that we have heard these last 40 plus days – the trial, death and resurrection of Jesus – if we believe that He did those things for us then we must also believe that just as He returned to the Father in Heaven, we will too. And if we believe that we will return to Heaven; then we believe that God desires to make us saints because that is all that a saint is – someone who’s worthy of life in Heaven. Let us desire to be saints!
Jesus shows us what is possible if we live in His love, live in His ways. He gives us a command, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” It is as simple as that. Our mission is to bear witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ to everyone. We’re called to remember our commission; we’re called to be renewed in that mission today; to evaluate our lives in the light of that mission. After all, that is the only criteria for a successful life that matters. It doesn’t matter how much money we make or things we accrue. God’s only question will be how have you loved? How have you lived the Gospel, preached the Gospel in word and in deed? Have you desired to be a saint? Let us walk with determination on the path of holiness so that where Jesus has gone, we too may follow.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 26, 2019:
There was a man who wanted to tell soldiers on a military base about Christ's love for them. But, he was prohibited from going on the base to spread his message. So instead, he came up with a creative solution. He had several thousand hand mirrors delivered as gifts to the soldiers. On the back, was the message from John 3.16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” A message below that text read, “If you wish to see whom God loves, turn to the other side.”
In our Gospel today, Jesus also gives us a mirror of sorts to remind us of His love for each us. As Jesus nears the events that will lead to His death on the Cross and Resurrection, He reminds us that He will never leave us alone. Instead, He will send an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who will always be by our side. Jesus says these words in the sermon that we find in John’s Gospel during the Last Supper. He announced His impending departure and this left the disciples nervous, anxious, even afraid. But, Jesus made sure they knew that what He had begun in them would continue – through this gift of His Holy Spirit.
And He gives a specific name to the Holy Spirit. He tells them He will send “The Advocate.” This names comes to us from the Greek, Paraclete which literally describes someone who is called to stand beside a client; what we would think of as an attorney. But this Advocate is much more than an attorney. Probably the best word that we use today that captures the meaning is “coach.” The Advocate is our coach, always by our side, to instruct and correct us when we make mistakes, to encourage and motivate us when we feel down, to challenge and inspire us to be the best we can be, to defend us and fight for us when the world is unfair. In short, the Advocate is for us what Jesus was for the disciples.
Why do we need an Advocate? For the same reason that athletes and sports people need coaches. No matter how good they are, athletes always need coaches. Even Dustin Pedroia, JD Martinez, and Mookie Betts – all need a coach to help them be the best players they can be. The same is true for us. Left on our own, we are prone to mistakes and errors. Without God we can do nothing. We need an Advocate who brings out the best in us, and keeps us on the path that God wants us to be on.
In the 5th century, there was a British thinker named Pelagius who taught that human beings have the ability to fulfill God's commands all by themselves. The church condemned his teaching as heresy, insisting that we always need God's grace in order to fulfill His will. Pelagianism is the belief that we can fulfill our destiny all by ourselves, and that we don’t need the grace of God that comes through faith, prayer, the sacraments, or the church. It’s obvious today that Pelagnianism isn’t relegated to the 5th century. It’s alive and well today. Many people today are Pelagians without even knowing it. Too many people today think they can live their lives without God, without the sacraments, without the church. Pope Francis addressed this last summer. He said, “Prevalent in the church are many new forms of Pelagianism. There is no room for God and God’s grace in this framework. Salvation and holiness get reduced to our own power, success, and action.”
Jesus reminds us that we stand in constant need of divine help. We all need the divine Helper, the Holy Spirit who stands always by our side, the Advocate. We receive this all-important Advocate by striving to live according to the law of Christ, as He said today, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our dwelling with them.” After the Ascension of Our Lord, the disciples “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” retired to the upper room to wait and pray for the promised Holy Spirit. We cannot do better than follow their example. We must do as they did and invite this Advocate into our lives. The Holy Spirit will not enter uninvited. He waits for an invitation. But, once invited, He will lead us into truth. He guarantees we are God's children. He helps us pray. He offers us hope. He empowers us to help other believers. He aids us to be like Him. He gives us spiritual strength.
Pope Francis said, “Holiness is the most attractive face of the Church. The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created. He wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence.” God wants us to be saints, and He sends us the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to lead us and guide us and inspire us on that journey to holiness.
A poet sums up the Spirit well: “Eternally the Holy Spirit is love between the Father and the Son but historically the Holy Spirit is love between God and the world.” Come, Holy Spirit, the Advocate, into our lives and help us to be saints!
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 19, 2019:
Consider this statement, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Or as Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Let those words ruminate as we unpack today’s readings.
As much as Easter is about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.
I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between the great events we recall from so long ago and our own life here today. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect adherence from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle with our practice; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, newness, constant change, constant return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.
When we encounter St. Paul in Acts, he was still a fresh convert to the faith and new at being a Christian. Previously, he was the chief persecutor of these new Christians. Elsewhere Acts tells us that Paul had been “breathing murderous threats” against the followers of Jesus. The early Christian community knew who this guy was and what he did. Nobody trusted him. They even feared him. That brings us back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that the encounter knocked Paul to the ground. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul and his conversion. Today’s reading shows them together proclaiming the good news. Without Barnabas, there would not be a St. Paul. After Paul’s conversion, Barnabas became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas embraced this man everyone else feared because he knew with God all things would be possible. Barnabas personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I think he was really talking about this kind of love. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which translated means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we revere.
To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”, a man who “breathed murderous threats against them” and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life. “As I have loved you, so you should also love one another.”
My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else, for those who are far off, for those who no one else seems to love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging as Barnabas encouraged, we too will be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven and bringing everyone else along with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER (GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY), May 12, 2019:
As a teenager, I was not terribly strong in my faith. In fact, I had only the merest spark of faith. A well-named Doubting Thomas, I simply did not yet know the Lord in any real or personal sense. But, then in my early 20s, I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Mass and specifically to the Eucharist. And when I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences of God’s true presence there. The Mass began to speak to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed and knew in my heart that this was Jesus; and that He was real. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom.
“I am the Good Shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Jesus today tells us something so essential about who He is and about our relationship with Him. Jesus shows us in this simple image that He does not want to interact with us in a hierarchical way – top down; but He wants to interact with us in a relational way, in an intimate way. As Jesus tells us in Luke’s Gospel, “Yet not one of you has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of your head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” God loves us specifically, personally, individually, intimately. Jesus reminds us that what He wants more than anything is to know us, and that we intimately know Him.
When Jesus uses this image of the Shepherd, it is an image the people of His time would understand well. In Jesus’ time, there were basically two kinds of shepherds. First, there was the hired hand for whom keeping the sheep was just a job. He moved from flock to flock depending on the conditions of service and he would not risk his life for them in a dangerous situation. Then there is the shepherd-owner of the flock who grows up with the flock and stays with the same sheep all his life. He knows each and every sheep in the flock individually. He calls each one by name and knows everything about each of his sheep. He knows which ones are strong, which are weak; which ones might stray from the flock and would keep an eye on them. When in danger, he would risk his life to defend his sheep.
Jesus tells us that this is the kind of shepherd He is. He knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows what we can be. And this is where our personal stories intersect with the Good Shepherd, and with what we gather for here today – this Eucharist. It is here in this and every Eucharist that we encounter our Good Shepherd who wants to show us who we are called to be in God’s sight.
But we need to listen to what God is saying to us. “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.” Of course God knows us intimately, but we must take the time to get to know God just as intimately. “My sheep know me.” God can only reveal His plan for our lives if our eyes are open, our hearts are tuned, and we are seeking that answer, that direction. Our challenge is to create environments that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we can follow where He leads.
The Good Shepherd is calling all of us to something, and the answer to what that is lies right before our eyes in the Eucharist. St. Claire of Assisi would say that the Eucharist is a kind of mirror for us. The more we gaze into that mirror, the more we will see what God is asking of us reflected back. Her prayer before the Eucharist was always, “Gaze upon Christ, consider Christ, contemplate Christ, imitate Christ.” It is a reminder that we may begin today on the surface merely gazing, but the more deeply we look into Jesus, the more we will eventually reflect Him to the world.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s sons and daughters. In this Mass we discover that identity. Receiving the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, tells us something about Jesus, but also something about ourselves. When we enter into that personal relationship with Jesus that we can only have in the Eucharist, Jesus helps us to discover who He calls us to be. In fact, we are never more clearly ourselves than we are right here; gathered around the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist. If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do; if you want to know your truest destiny – meet Jesus here and he will reveal it to you.
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 28, 2019:
Just a week ago, on Easter Sunday, we were shocked once again as yet another terror attack took place. This time in Sri Lanka, targeting Christians gathered for Easter Sunday Mass. As we know more than 300 have died, more than 500 injured in these senseless and violent attacks. You may recall that a similar thing happened last year, as well, on Palm Sunday, as Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following last year’s attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” And addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, Amr Adeeb, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus. It reminds us that our faith is not always nice and fluffy, but that it has real world consequences in the most serious of moments.
Our Gospel presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets a bad rap known as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up – believing is! He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” So, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.
The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.
However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”
Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas’ perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.
Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first apostle to leave Jerusalem. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.
This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?
Pope Francis spoke about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."
My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us act in faith like Naseem, without question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMN VIGIL OF EASTER, April 20, 2019:
Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!
Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question about Easter. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the very course of the world, and changed the course of our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.
But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, as we gather in this church on this holy night, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, even far from God or far from the Church. But, tonight – on this night where everything is made new – our faithful God welcomes us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
As our former Pope, St. John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today; it isn’t a one-and-done kind of experience. No, Easter is so amazing, so unprecedented that it is far more profound than a mere moment – it is in fact a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent, our last 40 days, was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Take up things like finding more time with family and friends. Take up things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Take up things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world.
You know that I grew up in New Bedford. One of my favorite things about my home town is our city’s motto: Lucem Diffundo, or “We light the world.” It is a reference to the whaling past when whale oil was used to light the lamps of the world. We light the world. I think this could be a good motto for all of us tonight. Our Easter candle, after all, should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. It is meant to light a spark inside you and me, so that we can light the world – with our goodness, our holiness, our compassion, and our joy. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?” And we might answer them, “I am a Christian. I light the world!”
God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.
And, as an Easter people, we proclaim Lumen Christi, “Christ our Light” and Lucem Diffundo, “We light the world!” Let us go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. Let us light up the darkness of our world. After all, we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After the checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”
This humorous story points out the reality of what we gather to celebrate tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live. We gather tonight and begin the Sacred Triduum – three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service in the washing of the feet, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think tonight focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God wants to spoil us.
These Holy Days seek to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell an old story. We gather tonight to meet a real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.
One of the most powerful statements of this realness came from the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed those entering the church about the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real!
What we celebrate tonight gets at the very heart of why we do all that we do as people of faith. Why do we come to church? What sense does it make in our modern world? In a very real sense Jesus says to us tonight, “I don’t want you to come to the church. I want you to be the church.” This is why we celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also the call to be foot washers. If we only celebrated the Last Supper we might begin to think that the Eucharist is a commodity that we come here to acquire. We come to acquire this special grace and then we leave on go on our way. Jesus reminds us that He is not a commodity, but that the Eucharist is a transformative prism through which we are transformed into people who love differently, who care differently, who reach out differently – or more simply, we become people who wash the feet of those around us, in love, and mercy, and joy. The Eucharist transforms us from being a consumer of the divine, to becoming a contributor to the divinity of our world. We come here not to be served, but to become servants.
Jesus tonight also reminds us that we are connected to one another as radical expressions of God’s love for the world. We love without exception – the homeless and the hungry, the immigrant and the refugee, the gay or transgendered person, the Muslim and the atheist, we love even our enemy – we love without exception. Too many voices in our world encourage us to love selectively, to love only those who are like us. It is not easy to love the way Jesus wants us to. Through the Eucharist, we become a community that loves in this transformative way together, side by side, arms linked in an unending chain of love; changing our world by it.
You see, in the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have make Him part of our lives; then we powerfully make Him present in our world by the simple act of washing feet; the acts of service that make Jesus real.
So, the question tonight is this: are we willing to take off our outer garment? Are we willing to lay down our own Mantles of Privilege, or pride or jealousy, anger or selfishness, laziness or greed? Whatever our Mantle is, can we lay it down and replace it with the Apron of Service? When we take off our outer garments all things are possible for us. Someone said, “When we’re young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.”
My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see you. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another. Put on the Apron of Service and follow the example that Jesus has given us. My friends Jesus is real! Let us be filled once again with the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ here tonight and let us become his Real and Abiding Presence in our world. And, let us become like Him, washers of feet.
“‘Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, April 7, 2019:
Jesus is sitting in the Temple area teaching when a women caught in adultery is brought to Him to be stoned for her sins. Looking at the crowd Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” There is silence. Suddenly from the back of the crowd a rock comes hurling through and hits the woman on the head. Jesus looks up and says, “Mom, do you mind? I’m trying to make a point here.”
You’ve probably heard that one before. I like that joke because it shakes up a familiar story and invites us to think about things differently. And, shaking things up is exactly what Jesus intended in this encounter. It is one of those Biblical paradoxes where the holy response very different from the typical human response. As we hear in Scripture, the “wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” Jesus in this moment and in His teaching is shaking things up and inviting us to stop thinking only about the punishment others deserve, and instead to think about the power that His mercy can have to change lives and convert the world. In this encounter, His mercy opens up a whole new way of being for this woman. Surely her life was never the same again.
Pope Francis, of course, speaks frequently about the power of this mercy. In one of his Angelus messages, also reflecting on the woman caught in adultery, he said “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
So it begs the question for all of us today, when we think of mercy, when we think of forgiveness, what is our image? Is our image the Divine Court Room where we plead our case and throw ourselves on the court hoping for a light sentence? Or is our image that loving and merciful one that Jesus gave us last week in the story of the Prodigal Son? I think if we are honest, too many of us view it as that courtroom and this keeps us away from the grace and mercy that God offers us when we encounter Him in Confession.
You see, what the Father did for the Prodigal Son, what Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery and countless other people He encountered was simply this – He set them free. So the only real question we need to ask in our hearts is this one – do you want to be free? So what is the burden you are carrying? Well, do you want to be free from it? Because God wants to take it from you. What is weighing you down? No matter what it is, God wants to lift it off of you. Maybe you made some mistakes in your past, something you really regret. Maybe you’re really angry and lose your temper. Maybe you knock people down with your words, giving in to gossip and hurting other people’s feelings deeply. Maybe you’ve given in to the temptations around you and you feel trapped. Maybe you consumed with jealousy or envy or resentment? No matter what it is, why are you still holding it? Do you want to be free? Because that freedom is no farther away from you than confession.
The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust ourselves 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 kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ We do not hear 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.’ God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about the patience God 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.’”
Pope Francis concluded that Angelus by saying, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. This mercy is beautiful.” My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Feeling mercy sets us free.
I want to invite you to take a moment right now and look at the Cross, look at Jesus hanging on it. Look at that cross like you’ve never looked at it before. Look at it not as a decoration in the church – but as a real sign of love – the greatest sign of love. Jesus was nailed to that cross for one reason – so that He could take away YOUR sins and mine. He was nailed to that cross so that we could be free! Jesus won’t take our sins away, unless we give them to him. He’s on that cross waiting to take them, to lighten our load, to help us carry it, to make us free. He’s on that Cross for us to take our sins away. Give Him your sins so that He can take them away and you can be free. Will you let Jesus set you free?
“The wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” My friends, let us all be fools for Christ. Because that godly foolishness can lead us to break the cycle of sin in our lives and in our relationships; it can free us in ways that we never imagined and offer us a joy greater than any we’ve ever experienced. We had First Reconciliation with our young people yesterday. When we were done, one of the little children with the brightest smile you’ve ever seen said, “Fr. Tom, I feel so different.” My friends, I promise you that if you seek true freedom through Confession and then go and offer the same forgiveness and healing to the angry places, situations and relationships in your life – change will happen because feeling mercy changes everything. I challenge us all to do that. Let us all be fools for Christ and a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Let us seek out forgiveness so that we can all be free.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT, LAETARE SUNDAY, March 31, 2019:
A teacher explained to her CCD class the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and then she asked, "Now tell me: Who do you think suffered the most in this story?" A child raised her hand and answered plainly, "the fatted calf."
Charles Dickens was known to say that the story of the Prodigal Son is the best short story ever written. It is such an important story in our culture that some of the phrases from it have become common and even proverbial in our language – phrases like the Prodigal Son, or the “fatted calf” or “he was lost and has been found.” We hear these words regularly in our daily life and they take on a whole new level of meaning.
This is a story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. It has also changed the way the world looks at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves in God’s sight. It is a brief tale with tremendous scope, so wide that it embraces all of our sinfulness at one end and God’s tremendous and endless mercy at the other. And it does so in such a way to bring them both together. It is no wonder that we hear St. Paul beg us today, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” Seeking God’s mercy and offering God’s mercy are the most important things that we can do.
Jesus shares this story in response to his regular adversaries in the Gospels – the Pharisees and Scribes. They are upset with the people He keeps company with. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is their accusation. And Jesus gives them this story in the hopes that they will understand – once and for all – His nature and the welcoming and merciful nature of God. The word Pharisee means literally “separated ones” and this is often exactly what the Pharisees are trying to do – trying to use God’s law to create a world where some people are “in” and others are “out”. The consequence of their view of the world is to exclude many people from God’s love. Today, Jesus gives this wake-up call. He reminds them and us that God’s love is for everyone; God’s forgiveness has no limits. Jesus has come so that all people might know – whether the greatest saint or the worst sinner – that all people might know that they are welcomed, loved and forgiven in the Kingdom He came to inaugurate.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is the accusation that Jesus turns into a motto; into a way of life; and it should describe us as well. And, I think, this message of the Prodigal Son is one that we need to hear over and over and over again because we know that this tendency to separate people and exclude them is something that persists in our world. We are called to reject that notion.
God, of course, never asked us to be in the business of judgment or exclusion. Pope Francis said it more succinctly when he famously said, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement and reminder from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face. And, our story today reminds us that the one true judge is abundantly forgiving and merciful.
But, who are we to love? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to forgive and show mercy? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are our common call; this is our mission statement. Jesus is very explicit about these things. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate, merciful and forgiving presence in our world. So, how are we doing with that?
Let us remember that no sin of ours is ever too great to be forgiven. God never tires of forgiving us. And let it be said of us that we too “welcome sinners and eat with them.”
Today, let us “come to our senses,” as the Prodigal Son did. Today let us reject the voices in our world that want to exclude people; let us reject the voices that seek to judge others; and let us return once again to our loving and forgiving Father. Let us heed St. Paul’s command, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms and receive the mercy He has prepared for us. And then let us go forth sharing that same love, that same mercy with the world.
“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 17, 2019:
I always say that I am a well-named Thomas – a doubter. Especially in my teens and early 20s, I really struggled with faith. I wanted to believe more than anything in the world, but that gift had just not been given to me. And then, around 21 years old, God began to enter my life in a powerful way. I began feeling drawn to the Mass, drawn to the Eucharist. And, I will never forget one particular Sunday. There was nothing different about this Mass, it was just the same as it was every Sunday. But, when the priest got to the words of institution – “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…This is My Body. Take this and drink…This is the chalice of My Blood.” – when the priest said those words, it was though it was the first time I had ever heard them. In that moment, they were not words I was trying to understand with my mind; they were words that I knew were true in my heart. I knew in that moment that Jesus was real; that He was present before me; that He was transfigured in my sight – bread into Body; wine into Blood. After I received Holy Communion that day, I could feel the presence of Jesus in me in a real way. As I knelt back in my pew, tears began to roll down my face. My life has not been the same since that moment.
I was thinking of this moment in my own life as we hear a similarly amazing story unfold in our Gospel today. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment to take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything in their lives changed. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Today, as we recall the transfiguration of Jesus, it is not a moment of mere historical memory. It is instead a moment of invitation. Jesus invites us to experience transfiguration in our own lives; to have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst; God’s life-changing presence before us.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is a preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
And if the altar is a place of transfiguration for us; so too is the Confessional. If we have the courage to step into that confessional and lay our sins before God, we too will become dazzling white as our sins are lifted. In that moment Jesus wants to lift off our burdens, take away our struggles, instill in us the beauty of His grace. Jesus wants to restore us to holiness. Imagine that. Imagine letting this thought settle in your heart and take root – I am holy. I am holy. I am without sin. I am free. In the confessional, we hear the voice of God who speaks the most incredible words to us. He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” In the confessional, we are transformed, transfigured by that Grace. In that moment, we once again become God’s beloved daughters, beloved sons, with whom God is well pleased.
My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changed my life forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever.
My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. He wants to forgive our sins and set us free. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that these encounters makes us.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 10, 2019:
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them? Pope Francis has been teaching us, through his example, that God looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are. Can we trust in that love?” These are the opening words of a pastoral letter issued on by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, a few years ago. They are words that have resonated with me since.
The main thrust of Bishop Rozanski’s letter was to reach out to those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church or feel a distance from their faith. His hope was these words could be the beginning of a journey of closeness back into the faith, back into the Church for these people.
He said, “There are [those] who have distanced themselves from the church because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary. [Parishes] must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life. [Catholics must] evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us. We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective.”
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that many have been longing to hear. But, I was also moved by these words because they also struck me at the start of this Lent as not only powerful words addressing a specific need, but also the kind of words that should define the attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis has said is more concisely, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
Reconciliation, community, and forgiveness – these are all things that are intimately intertwined; these are all things that we need in order to continue to be strengthened and encouraged in our life of faith. Our psalm today proclaimed as much, “Be with me Lord.” When we seek out forgiveness from those we have harmed; when we received forgiveness from those who have hurt us – it is precisely then that the Lord draws nearest to us. He comforts our hearts, consoles our lives, strengthens our faith. Nothing compares to the closeness we find with the Lord.
And no where is that closeness stronger than in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we enter that confessional it is not a place of judgment; it is not a place of fear; it isn’t the divine courtroom where God hands down His sentence upon our soul. It is in fact a place of divine encounter – God waits for us there; God meets us there – and God removes anything that is keeping us away from Him, away from one another; away from the community of faith established by God. “Be with me Lord.”
My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again ask yourselves – do you want to draw closer to God? Do you want to feel God’s closeness in a powerful way in your heart and in your life. Is your life in this moment crying out – begging – God, “Be with me Lord.” Let me know Your closeness; let me feel Your presence; release me from my sins so that I may be pure and holy and sinless before you?
I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. Do you believe? God never tires of forgiving you. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites you to dwell in that love. Do you believe?
So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church. May you be a place of mercy, may I be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about. Be with us Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019:
Every year, I like to informally ask people what they are giving up for Lent. The answers are what you would expect: some give up soda and soft drinks; some give up chocolates or sweets; some give up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some eating out at restaurants. Others name things that were changes in their habits, like giving up music in the car, embracing more silence, or trying to give up gossip. One said turning off electronic devices at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent like pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or spending more time in service of others; and some said they’d so would get to Mass every day.
These are all great and are the kind of practices that we hope to be effective in our Lent and in our lives to help us become the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be. Our typical approach to Lent, I think, is to look at Lent as a 40 day spiritual boot camp. It is our time to get our spiritual act together, to engage in some rigorous practices that can once again rein in and drive out all of the laziness that has snuck into our spiritual lives since last year. It is best summed up by the statement as ashes are applied, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” And, there is certainly ample reason for us to think of Lent in this way.
But, I want to invite us to think about the next 40 days in a very different way this year – instead of the boot camp, let’s imagine these 40 days as the luxury spa; not as the place where we punish our sinfulness into submission, but the place where we allow our gracious and loving God to pamper us with His mercy.
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We sang this together in our response today. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is a very appropriate theme for our 40 day journey towards Easter. It is also a theme that Pope Francis has been continually reminding us of these last few years. From virtually the first day of his papacy, Pope Francis has been speaking to us about this great gift and grace of God’s mercy – about our need to accept it and our need to extend it; about how it is the cure to what ails our world today.
He said, for example, “Feeling mercy changes everything’. This 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. This mercy is beautiful.” Be merciful, O Lord, because feelingmercy changes everything, and we want to be changed by Your mercy. This is what our Lent can be about – letting God treat us, spoil us, overwhelm us, cover us with His mercy. He doesn’t hold it back. He doesn’t try and keep it from us. He wants nothing more than for us to be awash in the healing waters of His mercy. Let God’s mercy spoil you. It is beautiful. It is the best thing you can feel. It will change you and the world.
The Pope said, “God defines himself as the God of mercy. In words which echo throughout the Old Testament, he tells Moses that he is ‘the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. The Hebrew word for mercy evokes the tender and visceral love of a mother for her child…God waits for us.” My friends, God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. He wants to spoil you and shower you with the gift of His mercy. This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – it doesn’t mean bring on the cookies and ice cream! But, it means that we should be conscious that the things we “give up” should be tilling the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the loving gift of mercy there; so that He can spoil us with this mercy; so that we might in turn become that presence of mercy in our world. Our Lenten practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm, “Be merciful, O Lord.” Please, shower Your mercy upon us. Because feeling Your mercy changes everything. Our God waits for us so that we can feel His mercy. He waits for us to become His mercy. He hopes that we will extend that mercy to the world.
May the Lord give you His mercy!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, March 3, 2019:
Let me ask a question today – how many of us wish that we were luckier in life? And I mean that in just about every way – not just the lottery, but luckier in work, in love, in friendships, and more. I think we all wish we were luckier in life. Well, there is some good news. I came across a study recently out of the University of Hartfordshire in England that explored this question of luck and the answers were interesting. Just when you begin to think that some people have all the luck in the world, this study shows that there are in fact some common qualities to lucky people.
Lucky people for example smile twice as often as unlucky people, and engage in more eye contact. Lucky people tend to be optimistic and have positive expectations in life – from people and circumstances. Unlucky people, on the other hand, have a much more negative view of the world, of people, of their lives, and of circumstances in general. They tend to see the very same situations and instead of seeing the lucky possibilities, they see only the negatives.
I think a member of my community I lived with a number of years ago. He was the type who always seems to see the cloud around every silver lining. For example, faced with an unexpected warm, Spring-like day in the midst of this long winter; as everyone else rejoices in this gift, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll probably just be cold again tomorrow.” Or after a great Bruins or Red Sox win, as everyone is celebrating, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll probably just lose next time.” Or after being being praised for a job well done, as anyone else would be happy with the kind words, he’d likely say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They praise you today, they’ll tear you down tomorrow.” We all know someone like this, and if we’re honest, sometimes we are that person.
The British study found that the luckiness and happiness also go hand-in-hand. The people more inclined towards good luck, also tended to be happier over all. The study offered a few suggestions to increase both luck and happiness in our lives First, keep an open mind that is willing to look for opportunities, not one that sees only negativity. Second, have an optimistic view of the positive things in life. Focusing on the negative crushes our spirits and lowers our expectations. Finally, try something new. Routines can quickly become ruts, but an openness to change can bring about new possibilities that we could never have imagined.
This is what Jesus is getting at in our Gospel today as He speaks about splinters and beams in people’s eyes, and what kind of fruit a tree will bear. Jesus is asking us a very basic question today – what is your view of the world? Do you see the world as an inherently negative place where life is a drudgery and everyone is out to get us? Do you have a view that only sees the things that are wrong with everyone? Or do you see the world through the eyes of God – a God who created everything and so it is good; a God who desires goodness, and holiness; healing and joy for all of His creation? A God who only wants what is best for His people?
As Jesus said today, “A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” Jesus reminds us that we can look only at splinters and be part of the negativity around us; or we can share in His light and shine that light to the world. We can produce goodness from the store of goodness He gave us.
This is also at the heart of what Pope Francis has been trying to encourage in us during these years of his pontificate. In his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel he speaks about the contrast between joyful proclaimers of the Gospel and what he calls “sourpusses.” He said, for example, “Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.” It makes me think of a quote I heard many years ago from a speaker who said, “Why is it that some Christians go around looking as though they were baptized in pickle juice?”
Pope Francis is continually inviting us to live lives that are characterized not by negativity, but by the joy that is a gift from God. The Pope said, “Joy always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” And, there is the heart of the matter – we are joyful because we know that we are infinitely loved by God. And we can be certain of this because we hear it in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us...We love because he first loved us.” God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love is what gives birth to our joy. My friends, as we gather in this church today, do you know how much God loves you? Have you let that certainty sink into the depths of your heart? You are loved by God; you are His beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away – and that is the source of our joy!
One last quote from the Pope. He said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”
My friends, just imagine what our world could look like when we are the people who proclaim peace in the midst of wars and violence in our world; who invite unity in the face of the political and cultural divisions all around us; who live community and equality in a society filled with prejudice and racism; homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. Our world today lacks the joy that comes from God. And Jesus is inviting us once again to be His face, His hands, His voice to the world – He invites us to be the people who bring that joy wherever we go.
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” With Christ, let us be the change, the joy, our world needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 24, 2019:
Like most people, I can never forget the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. Of course we were all stunned to witness the violent attacks on our country. For me, personally, I was still a new priest at the time of the attacks. I had not yet been ordained for a full year. And, I remember in the aftermath of the attack, how much of a moment of faith it was for our nation, and especially for the parish where I was stationed. We immediately began holding special Masses and prayer services and just kept the doors of the church open. People came in droves to draw near to God in those days. But, perhaps the most poignant memory of that moment for me was the day after, September 12th, 2001. I was preparing for Mass for that day and begging God in prayer for the right words for his hurting people. And, as I opened up Scripture to look at the readings for Mass that day, my jaw dropped, and my heart sank. What words had God given to comfort our wounded hearts the day after the worst attack on American soil? “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I don’t know if there was ever a more difficult day to hear those words from Jesus. I also know, however, it was the most important day I ever heard them or preached on them. In the midst of the aftermath of a day before, precisely at the moment when our minds were angry and our hearts wanted to turn to vengeance, God’s Holy Word instead said, “I know that this is horrible. I know that this moment is difficult. But, do not allow it to change who I created you to be. Remember who you are.” It is quite simply, a moment that I will never forget – one of the most formative moments in my life, in fact.
Today, 18 years later, these words of Jesus still need to be spoken to our hearts. Thankfully we have not seen another day as bad as that one and pray that we won’t, but Jesus message to love our enemies is one that we regularly need to be reminded of. It offers us a message that is the antidote to what we hear every day. Our world is full of voices that encourage us to vilify others, seek revenge, and be the aggressor. Are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, refuse to pass judgment on people, pray for those who are unkind to us? Of course we are – it is the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ.
With this bold command to love our enemies, Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. Leviticus said it best today, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. How many of us are angry with someone because of the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, how about years ago? This is not what we are called to. We aren’t called to anger, judgment and resentment. We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because He loves you.
Jesus wants us to do in the world what He did for us - to outdo violence toward us with generosity, goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. I overwhelm any evil with our constant acts of goodness. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as expressed in the world by you and by me; expressed not just when nothing is happening, when all is calm – but expressed when everything is on the line.
I often like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really, really mean; or really, really, deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This Christian heroism does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it.
A priest was preaching on the theme of “Love your enemies.” In the midst of the homily, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. Everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, you are not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “That is very unusual. Can I ask how old you are?” “One hundred and two,” she responded. The priest said, “Please tell me how you have lived for 102 years and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet lady, smiled, and said, “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, by now, I’ve outlived them all!”
Today, Jesus challenges us once again to be radically different than the world. To love even the most difficult in our midst; to love even our enemies. Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and together we will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you are willing to love your enemies?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 17, 2019:
Let me start today with a simple survey. Raise your hand if you would love to be poor, starving, weeping and hated by everybody. Anyone? Okay, now raise your hand if you would love to be rich, well fed, laughing and well-spoken of in the community. A few more of you. One final question, raise your hand if you would like to be among those considered “blessed” by God? Okay, this could be challenging. Listen to Jesus, “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. But woe to you who are rich, who are filled now, who laugh now, when all speak well of you.” Maybe I should ask the questions again?
We hear today a very familiar and beloved passage of Scripture: the Beatitudes. But, if we’ve never really thought about its message, perhaps today we realize it can be challenging, or even misunderstood. Just think of the famous line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, “Did he say blessed are the cheesemakers?” If you don’t know the reference, please google it when you go home. And yet, St. Pope John Paul II called the Beatitudes “the Magna Carta of Christianity.”
This passage always calls to mind for me a trip I made with the youth in my parish to World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada. St. John Paul focused on this passage at that gathering. He said, for example, “A crowd of people is gathered around Jesus, all of them anxiously awaiting a word, a gesture that will give them comfort and hope. We too are gathered here to listen attentively to the Lord. He looks at you with affection, feels the deep longing that beats within your hearts: you want to be happy! Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides and speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out two thousand years ago. Words that we have heard again tonight: ‘Blessed are they.’ The key word in Jesus’ teaching is a proclamation of joy: ‘Blessed are they’ People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory.”
Now to be clear, Jesus is not saying that poverty is great, that hunger, weeping, hatred, sorrow are all wonderful. Rather, He is reminding us of our priorities – that following God, no matter the cost – is the best thing in the world. Jesus wants us to be people who seek blessing above all other things. We should seek that blessing even if the world offers us money, power, prestige and position. The key to the passage are the words, “on account of the Son of Man.” Luke reminds us that if we do everything and anything “on account of [Jesus],” it will be turned into blessing. And so even poverty on account of Jesus is better than riches on account of ourselves and the selfishness our world encourages.
When Luke wrote this gospel being named a Christian would result in being disowned by family, rejected by friends, excluded from the synagogue, losing your inheritance, and any commerce in the community. Following Christ would mean being quickly reduced to a state of poverty. And so Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” We may not face the same extremes today as followers, but Jesus still wants us to seek blessing in our lives above all else. Jesus wants us to take the risk and to be people of His Beatitudes and not people of the world. Jesus wants us to see that all of the riches and power in the world will never bring even one soul to Heaven. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?”
Let me end with a few more words St. John Paul from that World Youth Day, “Dear friends, the Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you! Today Jesus calls you to choose goodness, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace. His call has always demanded a choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death. He makes the same invitation today to you. Answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out his plan of salvation! Christ needs [you] to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer his call by placing your lives at his service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because He trusts you.”
Let us all live lives so focused on Christ above all else that we too may one day be counted among those who are blessed by God.
May the Lord give you Blessing and Peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 10, 2019:
One of my favorite movies is the Steven Speilberg movie, Amistad. If you know it, Amistad tells the story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But the illustrations in this Bible fascinated him. At one point, two of the slaves are alone in their jail cell. One thinks that the other carries the book simply to impress people and he says, “No one is watching you here, you can put the book down.” But the other responds, “No, I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”
That changed everything. When I was a young man around 22 years old, I was working as an investigative reporter here in the South Coast. I covered New Bedford Superior Court and the District Attorneys Office, and at that time in my life, I was very far from God. But, then, one night something happened to me that had never happened before. I was struck with a desire to go to Mass. That might sound like a normal desire to you, but for me at that point in my life, I had never really felt that way before. Faith was something that I appreciated in friends and members of my family, especially my Mom, but it was not something strong in my life. This desire to go to Mass was such a strong feeling that I couldn’t ignore it and the next day I went to church. The experience was unlike any other time that I had ever been before. Suddenly the readings from Scripture seemed to have impact in my life, the homily of the priest seemed like every word spoken was just for me. And, when he prayed the words of the Eucharistic Prayer, “This is my Body given for you. This is my Blood for you,” it was as though I had never heard them before, and in this moment I knew they were true, not just in my mind but in my heart. When I returned to my pew to pray after receiving Holy Communion, I was reduced to tears, so powerfully had I experienced God in my life that day. From that moment, God’s presence in my life continued to grow until I came to the reality that I had to give God all of myself, all of my life, and I knew that I needed to become a priest. That moment, that night, when God placed in my heart a desire to go to Mass, is literally the moment in time that changed everything for me. It was a moment that defined who I am, who God wanted me to be.
This changes everything. Hopefully in all of our lives there are these singular moments that define who we are, that set our lives on their course, that change everything for us. Nothing will be the same. For some it is finding the right job, the one we’ve always dreamed about; for others it can be meeting the right person, the one you were meant to spend your life with; for still others, it can be the birth of a child and how that changes your perspective on life. These moments can also be in the negative – losing that job, finding a key relationship fractured, losing a loved one you were close to. But, how many of those life-changing moments involve God?
Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace has not been ineffective.” And Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
This changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter, and yet despite their very different lives, they each have a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us. And that is change we can believe in!
As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean it! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes to change us by this encounter.
Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is all around us waiting to engage us in the hopes that we will be daily changed into more loving, kind, compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle people. Just imagine what our world would look like if we so eagerly sought out those life-changing encounters with God that are all around us.
Our celebration of the Holy Mass today is asking us – how do I react to God’s presence? Am I blind to God, not even aware that He is here? Do I shy away from God because I know my sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Even in the moments when we feel the greatest distance from God; He is always present waiting to transform us in His love and Grace.
Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.
This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR 4TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 3, 2019:
How many of you remember the old Dionne Warwick song, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” That song was running through my head as I reflected on our second reading today and its great statement on Love. This passage from Corinthians is one of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture. And for good reason – if you want to know what true love is, read that chapter over and over again. Many times in church we speak about the importance of love. The Christian life is all about love. Even God, Scripture tells us, is love itself.
Today, however, I want us to do more than just talk about love. We talk about love all the time. But, as Jesus – and Dionne – remind us, we need more love in our world. This reading causes us to ask in our own lives, how much of a loving person am I? An exercise based on this reading helps us to find that out easily. The reading we heard proclaimed said, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
But what if we changed some of the words put “JESUS” and “HE” wherever we find “LOVE” and “IT.” So, instead, we hear that “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He is not jealous, He is not pompous, He is not inflated, He is not rude, He does not seek His own interests, He is not quick-tempered, He does not brood over injury, He does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That still sounds pretty good. And we would all agree with it, I’m sure. But, what now if we went one more step farther and replaced the same words placing ourselves in the reading? Say it with me in your own heart. “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” Placing ourselves into the reading, do we still agree with every line in the passage? Is each line still true for us? How do we score ourselves on this love scale? Because, this is the measure of loving that God gives us; this is they way He wants us to love. “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.”
There is a story about a teacher who gave his class an assignment to go and tell someone that they loved them before the next week's class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. At the next class, one person stood up and recounted his story to the class. He said to the teacher, “I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I felt, ‘who were you to tell us to do something so personal?’ But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say “I love you” to. Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument which we have never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other since and hardly speak to each other. So last week by the time I had gotten home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him. It’s strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life saw me cry. We sat up half of the night talking.
“The next day I was up bright and early. At 9AM, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over after work and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying ‘I love you too, son, but I’ve never been able to say it.’ My mother walked by just then with tears in her eyes. I had not felt that wonderful, happy and peaceful in a very long time. Two days after my visit, my dad, who had heart problems but hadn’t told us, had an attack and died. So my message is this: don’t wait to do the things you know need to be done, to express the love that is in your heart.”
My friends, we know that True Love transforms us and transforms our world. The love of God transformed our sins into the glory of Heaven through the Cross. God’s love today will turn mere bread and wine into His very presence in our midst. God’s love can turn around any challenging relationships in our lives, any sins we struggle to move away from, any brokenness or pain we might feel. It is that powerful.
There is no greater antidote to the greed, power, selfishness, cruelty, and evil that exists in our world than the Love that God gives us and calls forth from us. And it should be obvious to all of us that our world truly needs more love. Just imagine what our world could look like if we were truly guided by the love that God has placed in our hearts. If we could say with all truth, “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” It would look like Heaven on earth.
And so, I offer to each of you, and to myself, the same challenge as our story. Go home and tell someone you love them before next Sunday. Tell someone you really love, but to whom you have never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. Maybe you have a fractured or broken relationship that needs to be healed. Invite God’s love in because, my friends, “Love never fails.”
May the Lord give you peace.