FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 29, 2023:
Earlier this week, Pope Francis returned to a theme that he has spoken of regularly during his pontificate – the quality and length of homilies. He said, “Keep your homilies to no more than eight to 10 minutes and always include in them a thought, a feeling and an image, so that the people may bring something home with them.” He added, “In general in the Catholic Church, the homilies are a disaster.” It was a fitting commentary this week in particular because our Gospel passage from Matthew today gives us a homily – in fact it is Jesus’ very first homily. We know it better as the Sermon on the Mount.
This homily comprises a full three chapters of Matthew and includes that most of the key ideas of Jesus’ preaching. In the Sermon we find the Beatitudes (which we have before us today). We have the Lord’s Prayer. The command to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute” us. It gives us the familiar command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is a truly amazing homily and in fact if you could only have one piece of Scripture that gives you the fullest picture of Jesus teaching and thought, it would be the Sermon on the Mount. Definitely longer than 10 minutes, but certainly not a disaster!
Today, we have just a small portion of that sermon; we have the beatitudes. We hear the familiar refrain, “Blessed are they…” Blessedness is another word for happiness and so in the beatitudes, Jesus is giving us the road to happiness if only we follow.
The great philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness is that which all people seek.” He observed that the things people do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are the things that they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. The problem is that what people think will bring them happiness rarely achieves that goal. Think about this in your own life. What are you investing in to find your own happiness and is it working?
What Jesus wants us to know today is that true happiness – or blessedness – can be found, but perhaps in unlikely places. The world often tells us that happiness can be found in money, power, fame, and beauty. And so, where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” the world says “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” the world says “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” the world says “Blessed are the cunning.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” the world says “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” the world says “Blessed are the powerful.” You get the idea.
The values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural values – often the opposite of what the world tells us to value. And so, we cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. We have to make a choice. Jesus invites us to put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.
The question for us today is this: Do we seek our happiness through the values of the world or do we live by the beatitudes of Jesus? If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Saint Pope John Paul II, spoke of the Beatitudes at World Youth Day in Toronto many years ago. I had the privilege of being present for his homily. He said, “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them! The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself. By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. Today Jesus’ voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice! 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!”
My friends, happiness is that which all people seek. Let us seek nothing less than the Kingdom of God.
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 15, 2023:
King Henry III was King of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing man but the demands of being king did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so tired of being king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. The Abbot said, “Your Majesty, do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “But, for the rest of my life I will be obedient to you.” The Abbott responded, “Good, here is what I command you to do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne and he ruled his people with kindness and justice and holiness. He was a saintly king.
In our second reading today St. Paul addresses each one of us with an extraordinary phrase. He calls us those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.” We these few words, Paul reminds us of an essential fact – we are all “called to be holy.” “Holy” is another word for “saint.” So if we are all called to be holy, my friends, we are all called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. Saintliness is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm for the followers of Jesus. We have been fortunate to live in an age of great saints – St. Mother Teresa, St. Padre Pio, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II.
Did you know that as Pope, St. John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he consciously canonized not just priests and religious. He made saints of women and men from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might all be reminded when we look at the saints that they look like us and so we are called to be like them, as St. Paul said, “called to be holy”.
Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become holy. But, as the Abbot reminded Henry, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives. Or stated another way, we are called to bloom where we have been planted.
As we enter Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare. Holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized person. It is meant to be in the reach of you and of me. We are all meant to be saints! And while we may not feel like we are saints yet, that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.
That God has called us to be “saints” doesn’t mean that we are called to be perfect and never without sin, it means that God wants us to be different than other people in the world. He wants us not to simply follow the crowd, but to blaze a new path – one that is marked by kindness, compassion, joy, forgiveness and healing. These are the tools of the saints, the tools of holiness. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux has become one of the most popular saints of the century or so; and whenever her name is brought up, so too is what she called her ‘Little Way’ which she wrote about in her autobiography The Story of a Soul. Throughout her life St. Thérèse wanted to become a saint. Yet, in her eyes, her life wasn’t all that extraordinary. She wrote, “You know it has always been my desire to become a Saint, but I have always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds.”
But, instead of being discouraged, St. Thérèse trusted in God and believed that it was in her ‘littleness’ that she could become a saint. She wrote, “I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realized, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new.”
Her ’Little Way’ consisted in performing ‘little virtues,’ not seeking grandiose sacrifices to God, but little acts of holiness. She wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest god and doing it all for love.” St. Thérèse never left the Carmelite monastery, didn’t become a martyr, and would have been lost to history if it weren’t for her autobiography and her ‘Little Way.’ She reminds us, like St. Paul today, that anyone can become a saint and that we are all called to holiness.
So, let us pray today, that God might inspire in us the same desire for holiness and saintliness in the ordinariness of our daily lives. To be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and then become those saints in the little acts of goodness and kindness we can do every day.
The recent funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded me of a moment in the funeral Mass of his predecessor, St. Pope John Paul. On that day, in 2005, the crowds cried out, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!" Similar cries could be heard for Benedict. Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito! Let us be saints today.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY (Christmas), December 25, 2022:
“The [Holy Spirit] is my ally and a powerful ally He is. [He proceeds from the love of the Father and the Son and His presence] surrounds us, binds us, and makes us grow. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Holy Spirit around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere.”
Now, I don’t know if any of you recognize this quote. I’m actually channeling my inner geek, my inner nerd, on this one. I’m a huge science fiction fan, and this is actually a quote, not by a famous theologian, a well-known holy figure, or a popular saint. It’s actually something said by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. The only difference is I have placed the “Holy Spirit” where the Jedi master speaks of the Force. But, this quote kept coming to me this week as I thought about our gathering in the darkness of this night to celebrate the entrance of Christ the Light into our world – I think this reminder that we are luminous beings speaks to us – especially at the Midnight Mass.
Light is a precious commodity at this time of year; as our days are so short and the light so slim, the night so long and so dark. It’s a big part of the reason why we cover everything with lights at Christmastime. We look for as many ways as we can to bring light into our homes, into our neighborhoods, and into our communities.
This custom of Christmas lights has an interesting history. Christmas light displays, as we know them, harken back to a 17th century German tradition of hanging lit candles on trees in front of people’s homes as symbols of faith and signs of hospitality. Eventually people began bringing these trees indoors. That tradition spread from Germany to England in the mid-19th century when German Prince Albert married the British Queen, Victoria. Illuminated Christmas Trees and Christmas lights became a popular tradition in the royal court. And when a London newspaper printed a photo of the Royal family sitting around a lit Christmas tree, that was enough for everyone else to want one too. That same photo was widely published in the United States, with a similar effect.
In 1880, Christmas lights took a giant leap forward when Thomas Edison created the very first electric Christmas light display around his New Jersey lab, as a stunt to win the electricity contract for Manhattan. A few years later, one of Edison’s protégés, Edward Johnson, had the idea of stringing Christmas lights together. He strung 80 red, white and blue electric light bulbs on a Christmas Tree and placed the tree on a revolving pedestal. These strung lights became an instant success and were soon seen in displays across the country. Today an estimated 150 million light sets are sold in America each year and consume 6% of the nation’s electrical load every December. And I don’t think this merely superficial, but rather a true longing for light at this dark time of year. The darker the world gets, the more important it is that we find the light and bring more light into the world.
“Luminous beings are we.” Scripture tell us that need for light is ultimately a need for God Himself. We need the light of God’s truth in our mind and the light of God’s peace in our hearts. Without them we really don’t know how to live, at least not as effectively as we could. The Bible itself begins with light. “God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. And God saw the light was good.”
My friends, on this holy night, we celebrate the Babe born in Bethlehem, who was born to be the light of the world; the light of our lives. This encounter with Him is meant to transform each of us into luminous beings; not the crude matter that this world wallows in. But maybe, as we gather tonight, you don’t feel particularly luminous. Instead, you may be walking in darkness right now because of illness that you or a loved one are experiencing. You may be walking in darkness because you have lost a loved one and can’t find your way through the grief. You may be walking in darkness because of marriage or relationship issues. Maybe you’ve hit a dark spot and the way forward is unclear. You may be walking darkness when it comes to parenting. You love your kids and want them to succeed but they don’t always make it easy; and especially today they can be very far away from God and the Church. You may be walking in darkness when it comes to work or finding a meaningful job, or challenges with a co-workers or a superior. Maybe your darkness is your finances; a struggle paying the bills or lifting yourself out of debt. Maybe you just feel lost wandering in the darkness and don’t know why. The list could go on and on, but in your hearts tonight you know what darkness your carrying that cries out for the light. It is no fun walking in darkness. It is scary. Its uncomfortable.
But tonight we remember – luminous beings are we. God wants nothing more than for you to know this. He sent His Son to shine brightly into all of the dark places in our world and in our hearts. God does not want you to live in the darkness of discouragement or doubt, of fear or failure; the darkness of conflict or confusion, or of shame or guilt. He wants you to experience the joy that comes from the light of His Son. He wants you to experience the confidence that comes from living in the light of His Truth. How? You know the answer already, “A child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
Luminous beings are we. A few years ago, the BBC did a story on St. Mother Teresa at a shelter that she ran for the dying in the slums of Calcutta. The shelter where they brought the TV crew was poorly lit inside and the crew thought it would be difficult to get any usable footage. To everyone’s surprise, the footage turned out spectacular. The whole interior of the shelter was bathed in a mysterious warm light impossible to explain. Writing about this, one journalist said, “Mother Teresa’s shelter is overflowing with love. One senses this immediately on entering. This love is luminous, like the halos artists make visible around the heads of saints. I find it not at all surprising that this luminosity should register on film.”
Pope Francis once said, “Light does not illuminate itself. Be the light to illuminate the world.” There’s a wonderful line we pray each week in the Creed. When speaking of Jesus, we refer to Him as “light from light, true God from true God.” Jesus receives the light from God – He is literally light from light, but then He comes to earth and brings that same light to us. If Jesus is light from light; then you and I are meant to be light from light from light.
My friends, luminous beings are we. Your journey into luminosity can begin tonight right here, in this holy Mass. On this holy night, simply ask the Lord to be your light and to light your way. Ask Him – beg Him – to conquer whatever problem you are facing, whatever challenges are unfolding; whatever darkness you need to conquer. Our world can often seem dark. The darkness can fill our minds and our hearts; and feel like it is overtaking us. But Jesus came to conquer the darkness; invite Him to conquer your darkness tonight.
Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis which serve as a good description of how God’s light conquers the darkness:
Lord, make us instruments of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4tH SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 18, 2022:
A kindergarten teacher was telling her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels’ glorious announcement to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky and travelling a tremendous distance to see this new born King. At the end of the story she asked, “Now tell me, of all these people, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we can miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is simple and obvious, and right in front of our eyes.
We can do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal moments of life. The child’s simple answer reminds us to look at the regular moments that we take for granted every day and see God’s hand in them. Especially at this time of year, we can get so caught up in the busyness of gifts and travel and parties, that we might miss the simple and profound reality right in front of us – that truth that God loves us and that God is with us.
Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” For the average person of Jesus’ time this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born in a normal way, born the same way as you and me. Though they knew the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, people believed the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was to somehow suddenly arrive in all His divine power. He would arrive on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship – in thunder, in glory, in majesty and in awe!
People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born and raised in their midst, like a regular kid. As we hear in John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary way of God’s arrival to be too simple, too obvious, to underwhelming to possibly be true.
We too are waiting for the arrival of God among us. How do we expect God to arrive? Sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that He is standing right by our side, but we don’t recognize His presence because we’re looking for something different. Can we accept God the way He chooses to be present, the way He hopes to speak His word; or do we insist that He conform His presence to our desires?
Just think of how often we treat our experience of the Holy Mass as commonplace, as ordinary. And yet, God is with us – right here, right now. God is with us as we gather in His holy name today. God is here as His Word is proclaimed from Sacred Scripture. And, so profoundly, God is here among us as ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – not a symbol, not a reminder, but the Real Jesus, right here on our altar and right here in our hearts as we receive Him. St. Francis of Assisi said, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”
It is often hardest to see God in the people, places and situations that are most familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is sometimes to see God even in ourselves. But if the birth of Jesus is a bridge between heaven and earth, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we can see the presence and action of God more and more in the ordinary moments of our daily lives. Remember, when God did the most spectacular thing in the history of the world – becoming one of us – He did it in the most ordinary way. And He comes to us today in the same ordinary ways.
Today, in these final days of Advent, as we prepare for the great celebration of Christmas, we are challenged to open our eyes to the God who comes to us in ordinary ways, through the person on our left and on our right and in the everyday, normal, ordinary moments of our lives. My brothers and sisters, God is with us. Do you see what I see?
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, GAUDETE SUNDAY, December 11, 2022:
We call this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. “Gaudete” is the Latin word for rejoice, and it comes from the entrance antiphon for Mass today. Taken from Philippians, it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
Now, what kind of rejoicing are we talking about? Well, we can really minimize the power of this celebration if we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, at this time of year we can enjoy things like a holiday concert, or a really nice dinner. We rejoice in and enjoy Christmas parties, and holiday sweets, and Christmas music, and so many of the other traditions that are popular and typical at this time of year. We enjoy many things at this level – we enjoy music, art, entertainment, food, friends and family. This list could go on and on because the things that we enjoy and rejoice in on a more superficial level are many and great.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our celebration today. Somehow, I think Jesus is calling forth something greater from us then these things which are, in the end, really trivial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
The kind of rejoicing we’re called to actually came into clarity for me a few years ago. I was celebrating the funeral of a 92 year-old woman of deep joy and deep faith. She had a hard life. Born during the Great Depression, she lived through the Second World War. She got married and started a family with five children, then her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old, and she was left to carry on.
Just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about the woman and her family. When her husband died so suddenly, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his bones that even though it was a tragic moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; Jesus is real; all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. It was a moment of sadness for him and his family – but it was a moment of rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead back to the funeral of the woman and the church was full of pink flowers and just about everyone on attendance was dressed with some pink – a pink scarf here, a pink flower on a lapel there. Shirts, jackets, and more. The church was filled with the color pink.
When it came time for my homily, I ignored the text I had prepared and instead said, “I don’t think I am going out on a limb today if I would suggest that pink was Mom’s favorite color?” Now, I know the family did not intend that pink to be a reflection of Gaudete Sunday, but I couldn’t resist making that connection for them. What I realized in that moment is that our celebration of Gaudete is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner.
Our pink flowers and pink vestments and the pink candle of our wreath are not meant to give us the message that there are only 14 shopping days left! No, these things are all meant to speak especially into those profound moments in our lives; the moments that define our lives, define who we are; the moments that form us and shape us – like the one that that family faced as they laid Mom to rest, “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
We all see the bumper stickers, posters, and memes on the internet that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus is the forgiveness of our sins. The reason for Jesus is to open the gates of paradise. The reason for Jesus is to show us how to live in harmony with one another and with our God. The reason for Jesus is to let us know profoundly in our hearts that our God is with us – right near us, by our sides, in our hearts, making sense of our tragedies, holding us in our sadness, comforting us in our trials, and multiplying and magnifying our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – not presents and parties and the Christmas goose! What is close to us is the salvation that the Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. This is Advent. This is Emmanuel – my friends, God IS with us! And if you know this; and if you really, truly know God – you can do nothing less than rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again – rejoice!
God wants to speak to us not only in the joy and celebration of the season – He also wants to speak to us in the sadness and loneliness and challenging moments of our lives. Especially when our hearts are heavy with grief or closed in anger or wounded by the words and actions of others – Jesus wants us to know how close He is to us in all of those moments. It is there and then that He wraps us lovingly in His strong and comforting arms.
So my friends, today above all days, we rejoice in the Lord because our salvation is at hand. We rejoice in the Lord because our God is ever near. We rejoice in the Lord because He is with us in our sadness and grief; He is with us in our sorrows and pains; He is with us in our joy and triumphs. He is with us - always.
Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” All because our God is near.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 4, 2022:
Last week, as we began this journey of Advent, I spoke about the importance o light in our lives. As the days get darker, and the nights longer, we more and more recognize our need for light. Light is life. We need light for our physical and emotional well-being, and we also need it for our spiritual well-being. We are born with a need, a desire, to be enlightened by the light of Christ. Without Christ’s light, pride and anger, selfishness and greed and all kinds of dark things can dominate our hearts.
There is a beautiful thing that happens when we let the light of Christ into our hearts – we also become the light of Christ for others. Pope Francis spoke on this theme reflecting on Jesus call that we be the light of the world. He said, “It’s curious to note that light is for others, not for oneself: light does not illuminate itself. We must be the light that illuminates the world.” Christ is the light for our lives. But even more than that, our lives are to be light for others so that they move in God’s direction.
We have no better example of this illumination than the one presented to us in our Gospel today – St. John the Baptist. Scripture tells us, “There came a man who was sent by God; his name was John. He came to testify to the light.” All four Gospel’s tell us about John, and he is one of those Biblical characters that always help guide our journey during Advent. John is considered to be a transitional figure – the last of the Old Testament prophets heralding in at last the age of the Messiah; and he was a cousin of Jesus. But his lineage wasn’t his claim to fame. His mission was. The Gospel of Matthew tells, “John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’”
What a strange way to begin your mission - in the desert wilderness. There were not a lot of people out there. But John begins preaching there. Why? There was powerful symbolism to his preaching there. By going to the wilderness John is rejecting the status quo; he’s not beginning where you think he would, like in the Temple. But the wilderness was also symbolic of John’s uncompromising service to God. And no one at the time would have failed to recognize the historic significance of John’s desert setting. Over and over again throughout the Scriptures, the wilderness is the place that God accomplishes his greatest work in people he intends to use. Abraham, Moses, David – in fact, Jesus Himself – all had desert experiences preparing them for the great work, the great impact they would eventually have.
Even more important than the place, was his message. John had a specific message to point people towards the light. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Repent is a word often misunderstood and certainly overused. It sounds intolerant and judgmental. But, repentance is about change. Repent means a change of mind which leads to a change of heart that results in a change of direction. John challenges people to change their direction back to God because He is near.
Crowds of people came out to the middle of nowhere to hear John preach. He was incredibly popular. He was one of the most celebrated and well-known people of his generation. But, he used his popularity not for himself, but to point to Jesus. Where John lived, how he lived and what he had to say all worked together to point people to the light Christ.
In the same way everything in our lives are meant to do the same – we too are meant to point people to the light of Christ. It begins with where God has placed you. Wherever you are right now, God has not placed you there by accident. God has placed you wherever you are to be His light and to point others towards Him.
You are not where you are by accident – not the family you are part of, the church you go to, the place you work, the school you attend. God has put you there to be a light. So, it is important to see where God has placed you as an opportunity. I think about some of the early assignments I had as a priest. It took me a while to learn to be obedient to God. Early on, I never once wanted one of my assignments. I always thought I should remain where I was and could do so much more. I eventually came learn to trust the Lord because each assignment has been filled with blessings and encounters I never could have imagined. God always gives us opportunities to shine His light in unexpected ways.
Wherever you are, you are there to show people, point people, even convince people that Christ is the Light of the World. Like John, your life, the way you live, says something, maybe quite a lot, at least it should, about what you believe. Just as John had a unique message and manner and platform to point to the Lord, so do you. Like John, you have influence. Some people look up to you and value your opinion. It maybe because of your position, it may be because of your personality or humor.
Whatever influence you have God has given it to you to point people to His Son. Your life can take on a whole greater meaning when you look at the influence you have to bring people into a relationship with Christ. It will impact and influence your relationship with Him too.
So the question is how do we point others to Christ? First of all we have to recognize that is a priority. That means when we enter the spaces that are part of our daily life, we look to see how we can be a light. There are some simple things you can do to influence people around you. No matter who you are, what you are, where you are you can influence other people.
First, Smile. I know that sounds ridiculously simple and it is. When you smile at someone, what happens? They smile back. When they smile back that means you had an impact on them. They did something joyful because of you.
Second, Call people by name. Notice the good they’re doing. The sweetest sound to anyone is the sound of their own name. Recognition and encouragement of the good things we do are a close second.
Third, engage in small acts of service and kindness. Open the door for someone. Help someone carry something heavy. Offer your support on a project. Pick up someone’s check, tip extra generously.
Finally, invite someone to Church for Christmas. No one is ever insulted to be invited and many people are very much alone and lonely this time of year and would love to join us if they knew they were welcome.
This world can often seem dark. The darkness can fill our minds and our hearts. But God’s invitation for us this Advent is to come out of the dark, and walk in his light. He invites us to walk in His ways, his peace, and His truth. There is no life without light and there is no light without God.
My friends, we are luminous beings and God has placed us where we are to shine His light to those around us. Let us testify to the light through our lives.
May the Lord give you His light and His peace.
*This homily is based on the preaching series, "Let there Be Light" from Rebuilt Parish.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 27, 2022:
“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” These words that we heard from Isaiah today form a theme to all our readings today – the light that conquers the darkness – and they are words that speak to us in a profound way at this time of year. As the sun sets just after 4 p.m., we can feel the darkness overtaking us. The days get darker, the nights get longer, and the more we recognize our need for light.
Light is life. Just think about the ways we need light in almost every aspect of our life. We need light for our physical health. Without light, we would have no food. Light grows the plants which feed and nourish us. Light provides warmth and heat. Without light the world grows cold. In fact, the coldest places are the places where light is most absent. We need light for our emotional health. At this time of year, the lack of light can make people feel depressed. We need the light of day.
On the flipside, the presence of light can fill us with hope and joy. And so we search out Christmas lights and decorate our homes during this dark time of year. Light also makes us feel safer. A gloomy alley or unlit street can feel unsafe. Entering a dark house can seem spooky. Late at night in the dark when you’re trying to sleep, problems can seem larger than life. In the light of day, they always seem smaller.
We also need light for our minds. When you are in a room that is properly illuminated you can move with confidence and ease. You know where you are going. When we’re in the dark we stumble around unsure of our steps and what might be ahead. When you are in the dark, life is no fun. And even worse is living in the dark. It is no fun being in the dark about your career or your family or your finances. Light shows us the way forward.
We know that our hearts can be dark too. We need light to shine on those dark places where we hold pride and greed and selfishness and envy and other things. It’s no fun to be caught in the darkness of sin. Sin grows in the dark but when light shines upon them they dissipate, they disappear like fog in the sunlight. Light is essential for our souls. The whole story of our salvation begins in Genesis with light. “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw the light was good.” Light is the starting point of creation. Life needs light.
This Advent we hear from the prophet Isaiah, the prophet who most explicitly points to the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah lived at a dark time in the history of Israel. The nation was divided, under attack from hostile neighbors and economically crippled. Leadership was corrupt and self-serving, the culture was amoral and increasingly godless. God had established Israel to be a “light to the nations” and so Israel’s corruption was like a descent into darkness. Far from showing others the way, they had lost their own way and fallen into darkness. Isaiah points out that darkness, but then looks forward to a brighter future. As we heard, “In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the highest mountain and raised above the hills…come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Isaiah paints a picture of this enlightened future so that the people can choose to be a part of God’s plan. He said, “[God] shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”
You see the Light of the Lord also brings peace. People are no longer fighting. Swords, used to wage war will be refashioned for peace. Instead of bloodshed, light brings life and growth. It’s a better way to live. And so Isaiah calls the people to action, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” And, the prophet call us too today to leave behind our own darkness and walk in the light of the Lord.
So how do we do it? I think there are two things that we can do to invite the Light of the Lord into our lives this Advent. First, we must listen to the Lord, like Isaiah did and let the light of God’s Word enlighten our daily life. So, for this Advent, I want to encourage you to spend some time with Scripture. If you usually do nothing, set aside 5 minutes a day. If you’re already doing 5 minutes, try 10. Between now and Christmas add 5 minutes with Scripture to your day. It will change everything.
And, it is not as daunting as it may seem. We’re not talking about reading the whole Bible cover-to-cover. Instead, just spend some time with the Bible in very small segments. Read a few pages or a few paragraphs or even a few sentences. Read them slowly so God can truly speak to you. God’s word helps us to understand our purpose and what this world is all about. Life comes into focus, our path becomes clearer. God wants to enlighten you. But, that only happens if you open the Book! Your job is to give God space and time to talk to you.
The second way to walk in the light is by actively pursuing peace this Advent and maybe that means setting aside your own swords. This is the season of peace and good will; of people coming together to learn from God while encouraging each other in holiness. And, we can’t encourage when we are fighting. So, what sword are you clutching ready for battle? Is there someone in your life that you are fighting with? Maybe they let you down, or didn’t show up; they somehow messed up, said something cruel; or they owe you? Maybe it’s a fight in your marriage or with one of your siblings, or your parents. Maybe it’s a friend and maybe you’re both are at fault. You both have your swords drawn and so the question is who will put down their sword first; who will drop the weapon and start sowing seeds of peace? Here’s the thing, it is usually the more mature person, the healthier person who makes the first move. Why not be that person this Advent?
As St. Paul said in our second reading, “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.” My friends, our world can often seem dark. This darkness can fill our minds and our hearts. But God’s invitation for us is to leave the darkness and walk in His light. He invites us to walk in His ways, in His peace and in His truth. There is no life without light and there is no light without God. Let us find some time to be with God this Advent; and let us seek the ways of peace together. Let us conduct ourselves as in the day.
May the Lord give you His light and His peace.
*This homily is based on the preaching series, "Let there Be Light" from Rebuilt Parish.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLMENITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 20, 2022:
Today we bring our Church year to an end with this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This always initially strikes me as an odd feast for Americans. After all, our national identity begins in the rejection of royalty. We revere the voice of the people above the Divine Right of Kings and Queens. But, I think we can make some sense of this feast, even in our own American context, by looking at perhaps our nation’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln.
In April 1865, the slain body of President Lincoln lay in state for a few hours in Cleveland, Ohio on its final journey from the nation’s capital to Springfield, Illinois. In the long line of people filing by to pay respects to the President was a poor black woman and her little son. When the two reached Lincoln’s body, the woman lifted her son and said to him in a hushed voice, “Son, you take a long, long look at him. That man died for you.”
What was said of Lincoln on that day, can be said in a profoundly deeper way about Jesus as our King. We struggle with the earthly notion of royalty that grants someone sovereign power simply because they were born into the right family. We believe, after all, that you can achieve any height if you work hard enough. Now, Jesus is our King because of who He is – the Son of God. But, He is also our King because of what He did – He died for us; He redeemed each and every one of us; His death on the cross reunited each one of us with God and made us subjects of His Divine Kingdom. So, we take a long, long look at Him. Because, that Man died for us.
And this is the point of our Gospel today. If we were celebrating an earthly understanding of Kingship with its power and triumphant reign, we might instead think of the passage where Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the people throwing palm branches at His feet and crying out, “Hosanna to the King of Israel!” But, instead, we are given Jesus in His final moments on the Cross where He has gone to die for our sins. We are reminded that our King ushers in a reign that is not based on domination, but instead it is based on service and love and compassion. Or as we will hear in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today, Jesus comes to bring us “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” The ultimate sign of Jesus as our King is not to be found with Him seated high on a throne, but rather to be seen with Him lifted high on the Cross. It is there that He reigns.
A number of years ago, divers discovered a 400 year old Spanish shipwreck buried in water off the coast of Northern Ireland. Among the treasures they found on that ship was a gold wedding ring. Etched into the band was a hand holding a heart and the words: “I have given myself completely to you. I have nothing more to give you.” Those same words could just as well be the words of Christ our King who united Himself with us on the Cross so that we might be ushered into His Kingdom. “I have given myself to you totally. There is nothing more to give to you.”
And we remember today, that Jesus wants to be an inspiring king. He wants us to look at Him; to see how selfless and self-giving He is and for our response to be one of imitation. We should all want to be like our Great King. We should all strive to live up to those same words, “I have given myself totally” – given in service to our brothers and sisters; given in love to our family and friends; given in charity to the neediest among us; given in prayer to those who are lonely and neglected. Let us be like our King. Let us be like Jesus. Let us be defined not by our last name, or where we were born, or how much power or authority we hold over others – let us be defined by these same characteristics of the Kingdom: let us be as kind and loving and joyful and compassionate and forgiving as our King.
Take a long, long look at him. He died for you. My friends, may Christ always reign in our hearts and in our lives as our King; and let remain faithful servants of His reign and help to usher forth His “kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 13, 2022:
Jim was a God-loving, Church-going man. One day there was a flood in his town and the whole town began to fill with water. Jim, however, was not worried. He was certain that God was on his side and would send him a sign to save him. As the water filled the first floor of his house, he went upstairs to his bedroom. Outside his window he saw his friend Fred going by in a rowboat. Fred said, “Hey Jim! Get in my boat and we’ll be safe!” But, Jim replied, “No Fred, I am waiting for a sign from God!” And Fred rowed away. The water got higher and Jim had to climb on his roof. Then he heard an approaching helicopter. “Climb up the ladder and get in the helicopter!” said the pilot. “No thanks,” Jim said. “I am waiting for a sign from God.” The water continued to rise higher and eventually swallowed up Jim. Jim arrived in heaven and approached the throne of God. Jim was not very happy with God and said to him, “Lord, I’ve been a good man all my life! I prayed every day. Went regularly to Mass. Treated my fellow brothers and sisters well. Gave to the poor. I did everything you asked of me. Why did you let me drown in the flood? Why didn’t you send me a sign?” And God said, “Why are you hear Jim? I sent you a friend, a boat and a helicopter! How many more signs did you need?”
Have you ever felt like you just wanted a sign from God? Maybe you’ve been praying about a new job, or new relationship, or some new direction in your life and you’re just not sure which way to go. All you want is God to give you a sign. And, any sign will do. Just a little thunder and lightning, maybe a rainbow on the horizon, or miraculous voice from Heaven – something that is an irrefutable sign from God. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And what the disciples want more than anything is to know irrefutably when this will happen. They ask Him, “What sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” Lord, just give us a sign!
Now, I’m no different than anyone else and I think of a particular time when I really wanted a clear sign from God. When I was discerning my vocation to the priesthood, I had met other young men who were also hearing God’s call in their lives and some of them shared amazing experiences about the ways that God had given them signs that they should be a priest. I remember going to Church one day and praying, rather aggravated with God. I said, “God, I’m ready to give my life to you as a priest! Why can’t you give me a sign like you gave them?” When I left the church that day, I drove down the street and as I turned the corner and there on a billboard, larger than life, it read, “Are you looking for a sign from God?” Now the rest of it read, “Join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I didn’t take it to mean that I should become a Mormon, but I did take it to mean that God was gently and humorously reminding me that signs were all around me, if only I took a moment to stop and look and see them.
What God wants us to realize is that signs are all around us – every moment of every day. God is gently guiding us along the way of His will; guiding us to our best selves, our holiest selves. But when what we’re looking for is God to write our sign in the sky, we’re probably missing the many ways that He is already communicating to us. Maybe He is speaking through Sacred Scripture – His word! – maybe He’s communicating to us through the loving and supportive people around us; maybe He is communicating to us through a sense of peace and contentment in our hearts that serves as a kind of confirmation that the direction we’re headed is the right one.
The key is for all of us to stop dictating to God the sign we want – whether the thunder clap; the miraculous voice from heaven; the supernatural special sign; and instead, be open to actual ways that God is talking to us in the very real moments of every day and every person we meet.
A few years ago, Pope Francis reminded us that we encounter Jesus in every day moments. He said, “We find Jesus in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked or humiliated, because they are in jail, or in the hospital. Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, through these” every day encounters. We encounter God in the everyday moments of our lives; and He is speaking to us in and through these moments. He is speaking to you right now in this church, through this Mass, if only we quiet our hearts to listen and open our eyes to see.
For me, when I stopped dictating to God what signs I would like Him to perform, I realized that He was giving me signs all the time – through my Mother who prayed her rosary every day that I might become a priest; through my second grade teacher, Sr. Louise, who regularly told me, “You know, Tommy, you’d make a wonderful priest.” Through my saintly grandfather who gave witness to a life lived for God. And through my own heart which has always found its deepest peace and God’s clearest voice in the celebration of the Eucharist. God speaks to our hearts here.
And so, as we ask God today the same question as the disciples, “What sign will there be?” let us remember, that the signs are all around us. We only have to pray that God will open our eyes so that we might see them, open our ears so that we might hear them, open our hearts so that we might welcome them; and then have the courage to follow where He leads us.
Lord, give us a sign.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 6, 2022:
What happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? I’m sure there’s not one among us who hasn’t asked this question at some point. Especially this week as we spent Tuesday and Wednesday celebrating all saints and all souls, we’ve probably given some consideration to this ultimate question – what happens after we die? All of our Scriptures today are focused on this very question. What happens when we die? Is there a resurrection? November, of course, is a good time to think about these things as the leaves fall, the skies turn gray and we celebrate a month of prayer for our beloved deceased. So what does Jesus have to say to us today about this eternal question?
First, of course, there is nothing more central to our faith than the resurrection from the dead that Jesus came to bring us. Jesus said, “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” And we pray in our Creed each week, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” We can sometimes be confused about the resurrection. After all, when was the last time someone you knew rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But having questions about the resurrection is not only a modern reality. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely the Sadducees.
We heard today, “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus.” The Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to Him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with this story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked, “In the resurrection whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.
Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life, but Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. His point - there is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living; resurrection is part of God’s very nature. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for death. God does not breathe life into us like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.
Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fear of death. Our belief is based on the nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, distant architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. The resurrection is the only effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism that focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, on the destructive nature of power, on the accumulating of money, on the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at all of that and says, “So what? What did all of that get you? You can’t take it with you!” Nothing that we can obtain or achieve in this life can come close to comparing with a God who loves each of us individually; who loves us eternally; who has counted even the hairs on our heads; and wants only that we be with Him forever in Heaven.
So, what will heaven look like? Heaven looks like the love that God has for us. And, I think in this age of Pope Francis, we are continually shown glimpses of this love. Think of some of the images that stick with us from this papacy: the Pope washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, his embrace of a young boy with cerebral palsy at Easter. Or the image of Pope Francis embracing a man whose body was covered in disfiguring boils, a condition known as neurofibromatosis. These are compelling images of the kind of love that God has for each one of us; shown through the love of our Holy Father.
It reminds me of the singular moment in the life of St. Francis of Assisi when in the early stages of his conversion, one day he got off his horse, embraced and kissed a leper – the kind of people that he formerly despised - and after he had done that, the man disappeared. He later understood the encounter to have actually been with Christ. That encounter changed the course of his life, he would later describe it this way, “What was once bitter to me had been changed to sweetness of body and soul.” And now Pope Francis does similar things on a daily basis. And perhaps this profound act of God’s love on display for the world to see is meant to change us.
The Pope’s embrace of those so often rejected by the world is an image of the love of God. Pope Francis loves the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity. Few of us suffer physically the way some do. We are typically not disfigured in our suffering. But maybe our scars are on the inside. Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s love. Yet our loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly and as lovingly as the Pope embraces the world. This is what God’s love looks like. This is what resurrection looks like – our pains, our sorrows, our suffering, our grief – all lifted up and transformed through love into glory, into joy, into eternity.
So, what will heaven look like? What does God’s love look like? Look no further than Jesus. Look no further than our loving Pope. And look no further than the daily opportunities to give and receive love that God places before us every day. The amazing reality is that this love is not limited to God. He invites us to love the same way. And this love will lead us to a share in the resurrection both today and forever.
My friends, resurrection is real. God’s unconditional and unending love for us is real; and it isn’t something that only matters at the end of our lives. It matters every day of our lives and we experience glimpses of it every time we receive or offer the same kind of unconditional love that God offers us. Jesus doesn’t give us the final answers about heaven today, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” So, let us live for God. Let us live for Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, October 23, 2022:
About seven years ago, I had the incredible chance to live in Manhattan for a few years for ministry. Aside from their unfortunate sports teams, New York City is an amazing place. It has an energy and diversity that is exciting to be a part of. There is always something going on in New York – new buildings are constantly going up, there are endless artistic experience – the museums, the symphony, Broadway. To give you an idea of when I lived there, the hit musical Hamilton was still off Broadway and I had the chance to see it a few times before the rest of the world heard of it. There’s a saying that captures the spirit well – locals like to say that New York will be a great city – if they ever finish it. It is a place where virtually every aspect of the city – the people, the places, the buildings, the communities – are constantly evolving and changing. It is an endless work in progress.
Our Gospel today wants to say something similar about being works in progress as it picks up from last week when Jesus told us to “pray always without becoming weary.” If last week’s message was about being persistent in our faith life, this week wants to remind us that it is okay to acknowledge that we are all still works in progress.
Jesus gives us this story of two believers - the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both believe in the same God, both belong to the same religion and both worship in the same temple. But, at the end of the day, one of them goes home at peace with God and the other doesn’t. Now the Pharisees were disciplined and devout men of religion. They were serious believers who committed themselves to a strict life of prayer and observance of God’s Law. In fact, they went far beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week even though they were only required to fast once a year. They gave tithes on all their income, not just parts of it. So, when the Pharisee said, “I am not like other people,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, I bet few of us today could measure up to the external standards of the Pharisees. The Pharisees acted as though they were finished products. That they had achieve religious perfection and should be admired and emulated for it. There was no room for them to grow in God’s plan. They had arrived. They were certain that they were better than the rest.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. They worked for the Romans occupiers, mixed with them and constantly handled their unclean money. They were said to be in a state of religious impurity. Tax collectors were considered public sinners of the highest grade. But the tax collector in our story still hoped for salvation. He knew that God was not done with him yet; he knew that he wasn’t close to being a finished product and still had a long way to go; and so, in humility he placed himself in God’s tender care.
Sometimes, especially in the church, we can create the impression that the church is meant only for the perfect. And that could not be further from the truth. Pope Francis understands well our need to realize that we are not completed projects, but always on the road to closeness with God. In The Joy of the Gospel, he said for example, “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollbooth; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
Simply saying all of the external prayers, devotions and other acts of faith we can muster doesn’t save us. God isn’t waiting for us to complete 1,000 rosaries, or donate $100,000, or receive the Eucharist 5,000 times. Now, these are all good things that can lead us closer to God, but they are not meant to be a checklist for salvation or the source of our self-righteousness. But if all of these things that we do never convert our heart to be more like God’s heart, they are not accomplishing their goal. If our thousands of rosaries haven’t made us more gentle, kind, forgiving, and compassionate, then they are no more than the mere multiplication of words. Our faith should make us every day more like Jesus; and that should be evident to those around us. And this is the key difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this parable because the Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” We are meant to trust in God alone.
The tax collector trusted in his need for God’s mercy. He would not even look up to heaven, but instead beat his breast and prayed, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew that he was a work in progress and that God was the master craftsman who would help him become the person he was created to be.
And, my friends, their story is today our story. Just like them, we too have come to God’s house today to offer our prayers. Just like the tax collector, we beat our breast and prayed, “I confess to almighty God and to my brothers and sisters that I have sinned.” May our prayerful hearts have the same humility as the tax collector. God isn’t finished with us yet. He is still working on us. We are clay in the Potter’s hands – and our prayer should be that He shapes us as He wants; that He transforms us – as He transforms the bread and wine into the Presence of His Son – that He transforms us to be more like Jesus through this Eucharist.
We actually already know the most powerful prayer that we can pray by heart: Thy will be done. We pray it every day. Thy will be done. Lord, make of me what you will – not what I will. Let us again today bow our heads, fall to our knees, humble our hearts and whisper the words God is waiting to hear. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I am a work in progress. I am YOUR work in progress. You’re not finished with me yet. And I am grateful for Your love, Your compassion, Your mercy and the time You give me to grow as Your daughter or Your son.
This is the gift that God values above all others: the honest prayers of a humble heart. Let us offer those prayers today and always until God is finished with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 16, 2022:
A CCD teacher was struggling to remember the combination on the lock to the supply cabinet. Finally, she asked the pastor for help. He started to turn the dial, but then paused, took a deep breath and looked serenely up to heaven as his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, confidently turned the numbers, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed, “Father, I'm in awe of the power of your prayer,” she said. “It's nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”
In my experience, at one point or another most people admit to having some challenges with prayer. We struggle with wondering when to pray, how to pray, how much to pray. We wonder if our prayer works. We bring the greatest frustrations and challenges and hopes of our lives to prayer – our broken relationships, our desire for change, our struggle with sin, our hopes for a new job or a new relationship – we bring so much, and how often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is there anyone listening? Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”
To these questions our readings today give us examples to inspire us in our life of prayer. The first reading from Exodus gives us a curious image of Moses. As we heard, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” What a great image of trust and perseverance in prayer. Israel went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God. Moses prayed literally with the weight of his arms outstretched which held the weight of the people’s expectation upon them. God showed He works through people who work with Him; so don’t be weary. If we trust in God, God will help us triumph.
We also heard in today’s Gospel, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, the story of the bad judge and the persistent widow is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. On the surface, this seems to be a simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer. But, this is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God in order to wear Him out.
Jesus reminds us that a life of prayer is not occasional; it is meant to be constant. It is not transactional, simply asking God for things; but it is conversational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No, a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving conversation with God. We’re called to be constantly engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. Prayer is a way of life; it is the conversation of life.
It reminds me of an experience in my own life that taught me about perseverance in prayer. My Dad grew up in a non-practicing family and was never baptized. When he met my Mom, she always prayed for him to be baptized, and when I was old enough to understand, I began to pray for it too. Especially once I entered the seminary, I thought for sure Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day, “Dear God, I ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” But, nothing happened. As I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” Still nothing. And still we prayed.
Then, just before Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him, Confirming him, and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” I realize that everything happened the way it should with my Dad – not in my time or Mom’s time or according to our plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect. My Dad was always in conversation with God, and sought baptism when he was ready. That’s the challenge of trusting in prayer. Things unfold the way God intends, not the way we do.
“Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt or question in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; God calls us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.
Pope Francis said, “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love God, in order to experience his tenderness.”
Let me end with this reflection on prayer: I pray because I am a Christian; and to do what a Christian must do, I need help. I pray because there is confusion in my life; and to do what is right, I need light. I pray because I must make decisions; but the choice is not always clear, so I need guidance. I pray because I have doubts; and to keep growing in my faith, I need help. I pray because so much in my life is a gift, so I need to give thanks. I pray because Jesus prayed; and if He considered it important, so should I.
My friends, let us be renewed as we dive once again into the sea of prayer trusting God to answer us in His way and in His time.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 9, 2022:
One day, a man went into a crowded restaurant to have a meal and just as he was about to begin, another man approached and asked if he could join him. The man invited his new friend to have a seat and, as was his custom, bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “What are you doing?” The first man replied, “I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” The first man paused and said, “You know, you’re just like my dog. He does the same thing!”
“And he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” The theme of thanksgiving winds its way through all of our readings today. In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian is healed from leprosy. His response is a great example of thanksgiving. Having been healed, he recognizes that God was powerfully at work through Elisha the prophet, and he makes a public profession of his conviction. He said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” and promises to offer sacrifice only to the one true God.
As we heard in our Gospel, “One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Our Scriptures remind us today that there are a lot of people in our world who are just like the man in our story, believing that they have earned every good that comes their way and, therefore, do not need to thank anyone or even God for their blessings. They forget that the blessings that come into our lives are first God’s blessings long before they become our achievements. Just think from the earliest moments of life - what did any of us do to “earn” being born? What did we do to deserve our parents and family? What did we do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to speak, feet to walk? How much did we to be intelligent or beautiful people? And certainly, what could we ever do to merit salvation and the reward of eternal life?
My friends, the message is simple and clear today: too often, we take our blessings for granted. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If the stars should only appear but one night every thousand years, how we would marvel and stare.” Friends, we have seen the stars so often that we don’t even bother to look up anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one returns to thank Him. Why didn’t the other nine lepers return? Here are some possibilities, maybe we’ve used excuses like this ourselves: Perhaps one said, “Jesus told us to go to the priest. He would be mad if we return now.” Perhaps one said, “I think we need to wait and see if the cure is real.” Perhaps another said, “There’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.” Perhaps one said, “Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place.” Maybe another said, “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well eventually.” Another might have said, “Jesus didn’t do anything special; any rabbi could have healed us.” And, perhaps one said, “Now that we are healed, we don’t need Him.”
We’ve all been in the position of making excuses that seem to make sense in the moment, but are really, in the end, just a lack of gratitude. Ingratitude is nothing more complicated than putting our personal needs before other’s needs; putting ourselves and our abilities before God. But, luckily for us, there is the 10th leper today who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He follows the impulse of his heart; the impulse of gratitude to God for the wondrous blessing – surely, the miraculous blessing – that he has received.
I can’t help but think about how this story today ties in to what we do each Sunday as we gather for the Holy Mass. The whole reason we gather each week is the same – not to get something, but to give something. We come here each week to give thanks to God for the myriad ways that He has blessed us. The very word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” If we count our blessing, if we realize that all is from above, from God, then we will act like the 10th leper when he realized he was healed – we return with joy and give God thanks and praise; and we do this every Sunday. How often I hear people say, “Do you think God really cares whether or not I’m at Mass? Does it even matter?” To that question, we hear Jesus say today, “Where are the other nine?” Let us never be counted among that number. God does care.
“One of them…returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” My friends, for all that is blessed in our lives, we need to give thanks; for the grace of God’s mercy daily in our lives, we need to give thanks; for the gifts that we receive each day; we need to give thanks. Let us be like Number 10 and return to the Lord, falling on our knees, as a people who give thanks to God for all the blessings we have in life; in fact, for the blessing of life itself.
I think of the refrain of one of my favorite hymns that says, “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son!” Today, in the midst of this Holy Mass, let us fall to our knees at the feet of Jesus and thank Him.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 2, 2022:
One day a man was hiking when he lost his footing and fell off a cliff. As he was falling, he grabbed the branch of a tree. Hanging there, dangling, unable to pull himself up, he decided to yell for help. He looked up and shouted, “Is anyone up there? Throw down a line and save me.” Suddenly he heard a voice from heaven, “Yes, I am here. It is the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouted back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. Please save me.” The Lord said, “If you really believe in me, you have nothing to fear. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” The man paused for a moment and shouted back, “Is anyone else up there?”
Let me ask you a question: Is the man in this story a believer? Of course, he is. After all, in his moment of distress, he turned to God. But, the story shows us that there is a difference between believing in God and trusting in God. The man couldn’t make the so-called leap of faith and trust the voice of God. We might laugh as we hear this story because maybe we can recognize ourselves in this man. We too believe in God – after all, here we are gathered in Church for Mass – but sometimes, particularly when the going gets tough, we so often take matters into our own hands or look for help elsewhere. We believe, yes; but sometimes we don’t trust.
Today’s Gospel about the mustard seed is familiar to us as Jesus reminds us that even the smallest bit of faith can work wonders, “can move mountains.” Even the tiniest faith can make miracles possible. But there’s another point here that we often miss. It is the reminder of how much God values even things that are small – things as small as a mustard seed, things as small as you and me, things as small as our needs and concerns, things as small as the simple faith-driven things we can do each day to make our world a better place. After all, small is the very way that God came to earth – as a small, beautiful baby who didn’t even have a place to lay His head. And even though He arrived as a small baby, that presence changed the course of the whole world – and the course of each one of our lives. God does great things with small.
Someone who knew this better than most is St. “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa dared to embrace and love those nobody else would even touch, and knew that the smallest effort could bring the greatest reward. She once said, for example, in the face of the countless number of hungry people in the world, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then just feed one.” She knew that if we all do our small part, it all adds up to the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis expressed a similar theme when he said, “Yes, you pray for the hungry. But, then you feed them. That's how prayer works.”
We are reminded that God asks precious little of us – just a little bit of faith, just a little bit of action – but that if we offer these things to Him, He will bless them, he will make them holy, he will multiply them and make them great and even miraculous good works.
So, don’t be overwhelmed by the hunger in our world – just feed one. Don’t be anxious about the homelessness that surrounds us – just do what you can for one. Don’t be afraid of the anger and hatred in our world – just love one. And then, another and another and another and another. God will do great things with our small acts of faith and goodness. God loves whatever small things we do.
Let me end with something that St. Teresa said. It is called her Anyway Poem:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
My friends, let us “Stir into flame the gift that God gave you.” Let us offer what little we have to God. He does wondrous things with the little we offer. Believe the truth that your faith can move mountains. Your actions can change the world. Then have the faith and be the change the world needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 25, 2022:
One of the most renowned individuals who lived a truly heroic life was the great Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer was a theologian, a minister, a musicologist, a writer, a humanitarian, a philosopher, and physician. In 1950, he was named the “man of the century” by the National Arts Foundation. Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of the “Reverence for all life.” He wrote, “Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing all life; and that destroys, harms, or hinders life is evil.”
Although he achieved great heights, this is not how Schweitzer’s life began. In fact, in his youth, Albert was much more focused on pursuing a life of pleasure. He promised himself that he would simply enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept that promise and enrolled in university to get a degree in medicine. He promised that he would go to Africa and work among the poor as a missionary doctor after graduating.
His friends and family all tried to change his mind. “Why would you waste your life like this?” they asked. Nevertheless, by 38 he was a doctor and at the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in Equatorial Africa. He would work there until his death at 90 years old in 1965.
What motivated him to give his life to work among the poorest of the poor? What caused him to alter the course of his life from a life of pleasure to a life of service? Well, Schweitzer himself said that it was today’s Gospel and the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He said, “After reading these words, it struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering. I had to do something.”
So, let’s think about these two images that Jesus gives us today – the rich man and the poor Lazarus. In this passage, what was the rich man’s sin? Did he order the poor Lazarus removed from his property? Did he beat him or shout obscenities at him? Did he otherwise directly harm the man? No. He did none of those things. The sin of the rich man was worse – he never even noticed Lazarus. The rich man’s response to the suffering right in front of him was apathy. He simply accepted this poor, sick, destitute beggar as just another part of the landscape. The sin of the rich man was doing nothing to help Lazarus when he should have. His sin was clinging to his personal wealth while not lifting a finger for the poor.
Last week, I shared a quote from Pope Francis about just this type of apathy. He said, “Poverty and the real needs of many people have become the acceptable norm. For example, if on a winter’s night a person dies in the cold, that’s not news. Or if there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! What matters is the love we express in our world by using our goods to help not just ourselves, but to help others in charity.”
I think this is, in part, why God chose to come among us as a poor, homeless person. Have you ever thought about that at Christmas time when we set up our beautiful nativity sets? The Nativity is really a scene of a poor, homeless family with nowhere to lay their heads. God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often turn a blind eye to. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we recognize them as icons of the very image of God as He was when He came to us?
I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other;” they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.
By now, you know well one of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis when he was reflecting on the encounter between Jesus and St. Thomas, when Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. 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. 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. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this 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.”
Jesus reminds us today that living our faith means having eyes that are open to the needs around us; and the willingness to do our part to make the world a better place, a kinder place, a more compassionate place. The only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. We are called to reach out to Christ in His wounds all around us. As St. Paul encouraged us in our second reading today, “But you, man or woman of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.”
May the Lord give us peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 18, 2022:
An angel appeared at a faculty meeting and told the dean that to reward him for his years of devoted service he could choose one of three blessings: either infinite wealth, infinite fame or infinite wisdom. Without hesitation, the long-time educator asked for infinite wisdom. “You got it!” said the angel, and disappeared. All heads turned toward the dean, who sat glowing in the aura of great wisdom. Finally one of his colleagues said, “Say something.” The dean looked at them brimming with infinite wisdom and said, “I should have taken the money.”
In addition to being a big baseball fan, I'm also a fan of baseball movies (especially when our Sox aren't doing so well). Just think of some iconic lines that come from baseball movies. There’s, “If you build it, he will come,” from Field of Dreams. Or the great line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” from A League of their Own. I recently re-watched another great baseball move, 42, which tells the story of Jackie Robinson and how he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues.
There is a dramatic scene in the movie when Dodger’s owner Branch Rickey offers to sign Robinson. He tells Jackie, “You will have to take everything they dish out to you and never strike back.” And he was right. On the field, pitchers brushed Jackie back with blazing fastballs and opposing fans and teams taunted him. Off the field, he was thrown out of hotels and restaurants because of the color of his skin.
But, through it all, Jackie kept his cool. He turned the other cheek. And so did Branch Rickey who was also hounded for signing Robinson. Together, they changed the face of baseball and professional sport for the better. Yes, Branch Rickey did a noble thing breaking down the color barrier in baseball, but the movie reminds you that he was also a smart business man and not all of his motives were pure. There was one scene when Rickey, played by Harrison Ford, says, “People ask me why I want to do this? You know why? Because I like money. And people will spend money to come see you play.” Even while doing a noble thing, Rickey was still out for his own best interest.
That scene came to mind as I reflected on today’s Gospel. Jesus gives us this image of the dishonest steward. We heard, “The children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of the light.” Or more simply, “People work harder for money than they do for heaven.” Jesus challenges us not only to strive for goodness, holiness and righteousness, but He also calls us to be smart and committed and eager in pursuing these heavenly things. He wants us to work just as hard and as smart for His Kingdom as we do to make our lives comfortable and successful.
This is also a message Pope Francis has been sharing with us. He wants us to think about and strive for the important things. For example, he said, “Poverty and the real needs of many people have become the acceptable norm. For example, if on a winter’s night a person dies in the cold, that’s not news. Or if there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! What matters is the love we express in our world by using our goods to help not just ourselves, but to help others in charity.”
The challenge of our Gospel, the challenge of Pope Francis, the challenge of our faith is this – can we be as vigilant for the things of God as we are for all the other things that are in our lives? Can we care as much for the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the immigrant, the refugee, and those on the margins all around us, as we care for ourselves? We are called to be recreated, made new, through our Baptism, to see with new eyes through our faith – and what we are meant to see is that we are not different, we are not separate, we are not “other”. Rather, we are connected and united; we are brother and sister to each other; we are one family of God.
And so, we pray today, Lord, open our eyes to your word, even when it challenges us more than we want to be challenged. Open our minds to your word, even when it disturbs us more than we want to be disturbed. Help us to put your word in practice, even when it means changing our lives more than we want to change. Above all, Lord, help us realize that you want to achieve great things through us and that we can achieve great things for you if we only open our hearts to you. Open our hearts Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 11, 2020:
There’s a short story by Richard Pindell called “Somebody’s Son.” It opens with a runaway boy, named David, sitting by the side of a road writing a letter home to his mother. The letter expressed the hope that his father will forgive him for all that he has done to wound his family and accept him again as a son. The boy writes: “Dear Mom, In a few days I’ll be passing home. If Dad will take me back, ask him to tie a white cloth on the apple tree in the field next to our house.”
Days later David was on a train approaching his home. Nervously, two images flashed in his mind: the tree with a white cloth tied on it and the tree without a cloth on it. As the train drew closer, David’s heart began to beat fast. Soon the tree would be visible. But David couldn’t bring himself to look; too afraid the white cloth won’t be there; too afraid that he will be rejected; too afraid that his father will not forgive him and accept him back.
Turning to the man next to him, he said, “Will you do me a favor? Around this bend on the right, you’ll see a tree. Tell me if there’s a white cloth tied to it.” As the train rumbled past, David stared straight ahead. And then, he asked the man, “Is a white cloth tied to one of the branches of the tree?” The man answers, “No. There’s not a white cloth on one branch, there’s one tied to every branch!”
Pope Francis regularly reminds us that, “God never tires of forgiving us.” This story of David and his father, illustrates the same point that Jesus wants to make today in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is a message so simple, so profound and yet so often overlooked – God loves us; God always forgives us; He forgives us generously, repeatedly, lovingly, joyfully. And nothing can take us away from that love and forgiveness – and, of course, we are called to forgive in the same way.
This parable is one of the best known and one that just about anyone could recall, but it’s one that I’m not sure we always appreciate in its depth. Yes, we get that the Son sinned. Yes we get that the Father forgave him. And yes, we get that the older brother didn’t like it one bit. But, this story is meant to teach us not only more about the depth of God’s love and forgiveness for us, but also more about how we are meant to truly love and forgive each other.
We live today in a world of broken relationships. There isn’t one among us here who hasn’t been touched by divorce – whether directly in our own families, or extended family or friends. There isn’t one of us here who doesn’t have a broken relationship somewhere in our lives – a friendship destroyed, a misunderstanding overblown, regretted words spoken and never taken back. But, the myth of the world is that we have to accept that brokenness and believe that those relationships can never be healed. Jesus tells us something different and gives us the opportunity to restore, heal and reconcile the broken relationships in our lives.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son is a story of broken relationships. The younger son has severed the relationship with his father. He recognizes his wrong actions and wants nothing more than to be accepted again into his father’s household – not in the status he had before, but even just as a lowly servant. That’s supposed to be us – recognizing our sin, approaching our God asking to simply be allowed to remain a member of His household; of His family. And, what is the father’s reaction to the younger son? He is overjoyed at the son’s return. He says, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
And the real kicker is that this is not just a story. Jesus tells us that God deals with us the same way. God will always forgive us with joy. “God never tires of forgiving us.” And, he expects us to do the same with each other. We pray it every day, “Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is the bargain we make. God forgives us and restores us to His family and He wants us to forgive each other the same way. There is a story about President Lincoln. Someone asked him how he would treat the South after the end of the Civil War. Lincoln responded, “I will treat them as if they’d never left home.” This is how we are meant to forgive as well – as God has forgiven us. We are called to forgive others and take them back into our hearts with the same generous love that God shows us.
Jesus came to establish a beautiful cycle of forgiveness. He came and died for our sins on the Cross. He gave us the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation so that when we sin, the forgiveness that God offers is never further away than the nearest confessional. And He invites us to model that forgiveness that we receive in the way we deal with one another. And yet, how frequently we look at that cycle of healing and say “no thank you.” Our confessionals remain unused. The forgiveness offered their remains unaccepted. The sins we carry remain on our hearts, clouding our lives, damaging our relationship with God and with each other. And yet, all we ever have to do is ask for forgiveness, and God says over and over and over, “Your sins are forgiven. Live in My love.”
As we hear this beautiful parable once again, let us banish from our hearts whatever it is that keeps us from seeking out God’s love and mercy found so beautifully through confession. Let us allow our loving God to take away our sins, and invite Him to help us find the healing we need in the broken places of our lives. Imagine living each day with those wounded places healed; our broken relationships mended, our heavy sins forgiven – renewed in God’s love and mercy. If we do this, we can be sure that when we depart this world and approach the gates of heaven, we too will see a tree with a white cloth tied to every branch. So, let us not be bound by the hurts and wounds we carry, but be freed by the forgiveness God extends to us and we can extend to others.
Let’s end with a prayer. Please close your eyes as I pray. Dear Lord, show me your mercy and fill my heart with your forgiving love. I am the younger child who ran away and has returned home. Thank you for receiving me back. I am also the older child who finds it hard to forgive sometimes. Touch my heart with your forgiving love. Help me to know the peace, the joy and the freedom that comes from dwelling in and offering to others Your forgiveness. Thank you for never tiring of forgiving me. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 4, 2022:
A number of years ago, I remember watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey show. The topic that day was “looking for love” and they had a group of women explaining what they were looking for in a husband. Most of them were looking for the kind of things you would expect on a daytime television show – they wanted to find a man who was really rich and could treat them the way they’d like; others were looking for someone who was extremely handsome so that the two of them would make a beautiful couple and beautiful babies. Just about all of them were naming qualities that were really pretty superficial. But, I still remember this particular show all these years later because of the answer of one particular woman. She said, “Oprah, I’m looking for a man who understands that he needs to love God more than he loves me.” Her answer was surprising, even shocking, given the rest of the show. But, I’ve never heard a better answer – for a married couple, or for life in general.
In our Gospel today, we just heard Jesus use some surprising and shocking language too. He said, “If anyone comes to me without hating their father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even their own life, they cannot be my disciple.” These are jarring words to our ears. Hate our father and mother? Don’t the Commandments tells us to “Honor your mother and father.” Of course, Jesus is not instructing us to hate our families, rather, He’s trying to get us to wake up; He’s trying to shake us up so that we might embrace the full impact of His message of the Kingdom of God. He’s trying to rhetorically make the point that nothing can take place in our lives before God. Remember the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Our world is often obsessed with wealth and competition; it’s full of violence and war. We usually refer to this as the “real” world. And if someone were to suggest that instead of power, money and fame, we can live lives guided by peace, love, joy, compassion, and forgiveness, they would probably be called crazy. But, Jesus reminded us that the so-called “real” world is actually the illusion; it is phony and full of false hopes and promises. This “real” world gets us to desire things that we probably can never have, and should not want in the first place. Jesus calls us to throw off that illusion and instead be immersed in the Kingdom of God. His strategy? Well, in today’s passage, the strategy is spiritual shock therapy. After those shocking words about hating our mother and father, He is essentially saying “Do I have your attention now?” Jesus wants to shake us out of our complacency and into a whole new way of thinking, acting, and being – Kingdom thinking, Kingdom being. Jesus wants to remind us today that we cannot follow Him half way. Our faith and our discipleship is meant to be all or nothing. It is meant to be the most important thing in our life. We’re not called to be kind of Christian, or sort of Catholic. Jesus wants us – like Him – to be all in.
This is the point of His shocking words to us today. If we’re going to follow Jesus, He wants us to go with Him the whole way. We can’t stop at His preaching and miracles and leave Him when it comes to the Cross. We’ll never reach resurrection unless we’re along for the whole journey. We have to accept His way of seeing life and put that into practice in the way we live. Just as that woman on Oprah understood, Jesus and His Gospel have to be the top priority in our lives. Because, the eternal truth is that when Jesus comes first, everything else falls into place. When we surrender our will, our desires, our hearts to Jesus – it is only then that we have been freed so that His plan for our lives can unfold.
So rather than judging our lives by the standards of our world – standards that are concerned with mere superficial trivialities, we need to judge our lives by the level of love and service offered to God through our relationships with those around us. What counts is not how we are looked at by others but the degree of care and compassion with which we look at them, and especially the most marginalized people in our midst.
That is the meaning of the two parables Jesus gives today. “Great crowds” were following Jesus with enthusiasm but were they ready for His message? Did they realize what it really meant to follow Him? If not, they are like the king who goes out to war totally unprepared. They are like a man who started to build a tower and ran out of funds or material. They are sort of followers; kind of believers. They become inauthentic. If we try to walk with Jesus without being ready to commit; we too will miss the joy and happiness of the totally fulfilled life that Jesus is offering us. All we have to do is surrender. Allow God’s will to be the driving force in our lives. Throw our hands in the air in praise and say, “My Lord, my God, my All.”
Jesus tells us today that to be His disciple is to make every other thing in life second to Him. He means that on the list of our goals and priorities in life, attaining the kingdom of God must come first and then everything else will follow. He, and only He, is the way, the truth and the life. Following Jesus is much harder than we may have thought at first. But, the Good News is that Jesus recognizes this and still invites us on this journey with Him.
St. Francis of Assisi often said very simply, “Jesus, You are enough for me.” Let us make his words our own, and let us know that we need to love God first and more than anything else in our lives. Jesus, you are my everything. You are enough for me.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 28, 2022:
There is a story from the American Revolution of an officer in civilian clothes who rode past a group of soldiers digging a foxhole. Their commander was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why, he replied indignantly, “Sir, I am their commander!” The stranger apologized, dismounted from his horse, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. When the job was done, he turned to the commander and said “The next time you have a job like this, and not enough men to do it, go to your Commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” It was only then that the man recognized who was standing before him, General George Washington. “The one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Our readings today are a loud and direct call to embrace humility in our lives as members of Gods’ family. We heard from Sirach, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in all of life – especially if we are truly seeking goodness and holiness– is this struggle between humility and pride. God’s message to us is clear – our faith and our baptism calls each of us to humility. And yet, our world cries out even more loudly with a different message – be Number One, be the best, be the richest, be the most famous, the most powerful. The one who dies with the most toys wins! But as St. Paul reminds us, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God.
Our Gospel today similarly uses parables to teach the virtues of humility and solidarity with the poor. The first parable is addressed to those invited to a feast and are seeking places of honor. Regardless of social status and importance we all come to the banquet as brothers and sisters of equal standing before God. In God’s Kingdom, the employer-employee relationship, the master and servant distinction, the division of rich or poor, popular or unpopular – these all dissolve and we recognize one another simply as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Jesus challenges us to abolish such distinctions and treat one another as equal brothers and sisters before God; no matter our position in the world. “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
If the first parable is about being invited, the second parable about those who have the opportunity to invite and be welcoming to others. “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be.” In this second parable, Jesus goes beyond merely removing distinctions and calls us to even have a preference for the poor, the disabled and the marginalized among us. He calls us to give the first place to those most in need in our communities. He reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is priority is to be given to the weakest members of our society.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “The true measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members.” This is even more true for the Christian community. Unfortunately, we live in a world of never-ending grievance that wants to say that the poverty around us is always someone else’s problem; that wants to blame the homeless, the hungry, the drug addict, and the refugee for their condition in life. Listen the next time you hear people argue about poverty or health care or immigration – or as people argue about the latest plan to forgive college debt. Is it a conversation of compassion or one of grievance? Where is the care, the preference, for the poor? One person’s blessing does not always need to be another person’s grievance. Jesus hopes that mercy will be our response to the poverty around us; that compassion will be in our hearts when we encounter others in need; that joy will fill us when their needs are being met and addressed. You see, when we love the poor, we do more than simply make their lives better, it is more than philanthropy. When we love the poor, we are loving God; when we reach out to the poor, we are encountering God; when we find the poor in our midst, we discover God in our midst. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for Me.”
Pope Francis spoke about this a few years ago speaking on the Feast of St. Thomas and his post-resurrection encounter with Jesus. The Pope said, “Jesus tells us that the path to encountering Him is to, like Thomas, find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked or humiliated, because they are in jail or the hospital. Those are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith towards Him through 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, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus. Just think of what happened to Thomas: his life changed.”
Jesus, today, is once again pointing us to what is really of value – caring for those in need of our help. And isn’t this what we do already? We care for family members and friends and neighbors; we offer our time and resources to soup kitchens and clothing drives; we support many worthy causes. We are just ordinary people attentive to others in ordinary ways that are really, when you think about it, extraordinary. In such situations, we do not claim places of honor; we do not insist on special recognition. Rather, we genuinely conduct our affairs in humility. And if our eyes our open, we just might notice that we have encountered Christ in those very same moments. And that should be life changing for us all.
There is a Greek proverb which says, “A society grows great, when the old plant trees, the shade of which they will never sit under.” My friends, the truth of our faith is that good people, holy people, do things for other people; especially those in need. That’s it. The end. Let us pray today and every day that we have an ever-growing compassion for those in most need in our midst and that we may reach out to them in charity and love – not as “other” or “unworthy”, but as our brothers and sisters, members of one family in Christ.
“Blessed indeed will you be…you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, August 21, 2022:
I saw a great cartoon earlier this week. It showed a man knocking on a bedroom door. From inside the room, a voice cries out, “No! I don’t wanna go back to school!” The man said in reply, “I know honey. I know. But, you have to.” The voice pleaded, “Why?” The man responded, “Because, honey, you’re the teacher!” Maybe some of you can relate to this theme? This is indeed for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for teachers and kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.
Summer is a wonderful time of year. Everything moves at a different pace. We put more emphasis on being with family and friends; on relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, good food, one another. We go to cookouts, baseball games, summer camp, the beach; we have vacation time, and so on. For me, it has been the most unique summer of my life. Following my surgery in May, this summer has been filled with rehab, a slower pace, and focusing on getting myself healthy again. And, thankfully, over the course of especially the last month, just feeling better and better, and once again more like myself.
As the days of summer begin to wane, we just really don’t want this special time to end. But, we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We want summer to last forever, but eventually we have to return to regular life. We can feel conflicted.
There is a similarly conflicted reality in what Jesus is telling His followers in today’s Gospel. Someone asks Him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is not the answer they were looking for; I’m sure it’s not the answer we wanted to hear either. We would like Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do whatever you want! Everyone is saved!”
But, I think rather than the wrong answer, the real problem here is that the person in our Gospel is asking the wrong question. He asks, “Will only a few be saved?” when what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Rather than a mere curiosity about others being saved, we need to be asking, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I reach out and be the kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving presence that God has called me to be?”
You see, too often, we turn our faith into a matter of comparison. In other words, we can be tempted to thing that as long as there is someone else worse than me, then somehow I’m okay. How can my small sins matter when there are so many bigger ones in the world? But, our faith in Jesus isn’t comparative, it is personal. It is a one-on-one relationship with the very means of our salvation – a one-on-one relationship with Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us in Word and Sacrament everything we need to know to be saved. The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. But the gate is not a mystery; it is not hidden. Jesus points us to the gate for our salvation; and the gate is open right in front of us and it is the right size for each of us to walk through. All we have to do is follow the person ahead of us through that gate; and that person is Jesus.
We can feel sometimes like those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten Your Body and we drank of Your Blood and You taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”
But to this Jesus says: “Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can like Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and then follow Me through the door that leads to My Kingdom, that leads to your salvation.”
This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” My friends, let us ask today, “What must I do to be saved?” And may God give each of us the strength to follow.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 15, 2022:
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 SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 24, 2022:
“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 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 SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, April 17, 2022:
A young woman was flying home from college at Eastertime. As she stared out of the window down at the countryside below, her heart was heavy and tears were in her eyes. Her first year of college was nearly over and it had been a disaster. She felt lost and was uncertain of what direction her life should take; if it even had any meaning. Her only ray of happiness lay in the fact that she’d soon see the ocean again, which she missed and loved so dearly. The plane touched down and her grandmother met her at the gate. The two of them drove home in complete silence. As they pulled into the driveway her only thought was to get into her car and drive to the ocean. It was well after midnight when she arrived at the beach. What happened next is best described in her own words. She writes, “I just sat there in the moonlight watching the waves roll up on the beach. Slowly my disastrous first year passed before my eyes day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month. But, then all of a sudden the whole experience fell into place. I realized something profound: It was over and past and if I chose, I could forget about it forever and let it simply be in the past. And there was a great freedom and relief in that realization. And, then, the next thing I knew, the sun was coming up in the east. As it rose gloriously breaking the darkness of the horizon, I sensed my feelings starting to peak, just as a wave peaks before it breaks. It was as though my mind, heart, and body were drawing strength from the rising sun and from the ocean. All my old goals and enthusiasm came rushing back stronger than ever. In that moment, I rose with the sun. Renewed, I got into my car, and headed for home.”
After her Easter vacation the young woman returned to school, picked up the broken pieces of her year, and fitted them back together again. In the short span of an Easter vacation, she lived and died and rose again. And for the first time in her life she understood the meaning of Easter; she understood the meaning of Resurrection.
My friends, on this holy day we celebrate the most amazing event in the history of the world – not only that God became one of us; but that after being put to death – the violent death of crucifixion – Jesus did something that defies the senses; that defies nature – He rose from the dead. Death has no power over Him. “Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?” We are so used to this mystery of our faith that it can lose its punch for us; but we are challenged tonight to remember just how extraordinary this is – Jesus, who was dead, returned to life and life in the full. And, through the grace of our Baptism, He invites us into the same life with Him. We know about the Resurrection, but tonight we need to ask, does this central reality of our faith have a real meaning, a practical meaning in our own lives?
Now, we know we will be raised on the Last Day, but what about experiencing Resurrection today? Think about the disciples. Before the tragedy of Good Friday, Jesus was the person who gave meaning to their lives. They had pledged their lives to Him. They had put their dreams in Him. They had pinned all their hopes on Him. But, then came Good Friday. All those pledges, all those dreams, all those hopes were smashed into a million little pieces. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, all those pledges, dreams, and hopes died on the cross with Jesus. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, their very lives died on the cross with Jesus. When the sun went down on Good Friday, they, too, were buried in the tomb with Him. To them, surely, it seemed as though it was all over.
But, then it happened! As the sun rose on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus rose with it and appeared to His disciples. He was more radiant and more fully alive than they had ever seen Him before. And at that moment, the power of Easter, the power of Resurrection, began to work in the lives of the disciples. Suddenly they were transformed from a band of despairing men, into a brigade of daring missionaries. At the command of Jesus, they set out to carry the news of Resurrection to the farthest corners of the earth. And everywhere they preached this good news, the power of Resurrection began to work in people’s lives, just as it had in their own lives. Beautiful things began to happen. Despair gave way to hope; darkness gave way to light; hatred gave way to love; sorrow gave way to joy.
In short, everywhere they preached, the power of Resurrection – of new life - began to work miracles in people’s lives. And, my friends, those miracles haven’t stopped yet. They continue to happen in our time. Easter is a broken-hearted college girl wiping away her tears and beginning again renewed. Easter is a band of defeated disciples transformed into an army of daring missionaries. Easter is a world in darkness throwing off its chains of despair and walking in the light of a new hope. And that brings us to this gathering, in this church, on this Holy Night. So, what is the power of this Resurrection for us today, in our lives now? How can we experience the Resurrection that Christ invites us into? Where do we see it in our lives?
The answer is simple. Every time we love again after having our love rejected, we share in the power of Resurrection. Every time we trust again after having our trust betrayed, is a moment of being Raised. Each time we fail at something and still pick ourselves up and try again, Easter is born in us. When we hope again after having our hopes and dreams smashed into pieces, new life is restored in us. Each time we wipe away the tears running down our cheeks, face the sun, and start again, we share in the power of the Risen Lord. When we dare see something good in others, especially those we struggle with, we are in the Light of New Life. Every time we forgive others or receive their forgiveness; every time we go out of our way and help those who are poor and in need, we embrace the liberating power of the Crucified and Risen Lord.
The message of Easter is simply and powerfully this: nothing can destroy us anymore - not pain, not sorrow, not sin, not rejection, not even death itself. The revelation coming from Easter is that Christ has conquered all, and that we too can conquer all, if we unite ourselves with Him. It is the Good News that every Good Friday in our lives now has an Easter Sunday. It is Good News that we don't have to wait until death to share in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus; we can experience new life in this life!
And we can begin to do it right now, in this life, at this moment, in this Holy Mass. All we have to do is open our hearts to the grace that Jesus won for us on that first Easter Sunday more than 2,000 years ago.
This is what Easter is all about. This is what we celebrate as we now prepare to break bread together on this great day of our Christian faith. My friends, Jesus has risen and as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God again He invites us to rise with Him. Will we rise again with Him?
Happy Easter and may the Risen Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 10, 2022:
Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. Today is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.
But today, let’s focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and in particular, let’s look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. It’s easy to focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Without them, we might not have a story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The point is that no matter how unknown or seemingly inconsequential a person is, no matter how small a role someone plays, every part is important in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem, if He is to complete His mission.
Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high value. So, giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was actually a big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith on the part of its owner; even though it seems very simple.
It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when God calls for our gifts, our talents and our treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs; each of us has something. Will we give it to Him freely?
The spiritual writer Max Lucado offered a reflection on this Gospel moment. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His.”
My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him.
So, what is your gift, your talent, your treasure? Your Master has need of it.
Have a blessed Holy Week and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, April 3, 2022:
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. 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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.