FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 26, 2021:
Today’s Scripture calls to mind a story from the life of St. Jerome, the great Biblical scholar. St. Jerome was praying and wanted to offer something worthwhile to God. “Lord,” he prayed, “I offer you my life.” But, God responded, “It was I who gave you your life. It is not yours to give.” Jerome prayed again, “Lord, I offer you my heart, my love.” Again, the voice of God spoke, “I gave you those as well.” Jerome didn’t know what he could offer when the voice of God spoke again, “Jerome, why don’t you give me your sins? Your sins are all your own.”
Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect on something that we typically prefer to avoid – our own sins. Most of the time we are ashamed of our sins, or frustrated by our inability to overcome them. In the worst of situations, we have minimized them and maybe even don’t consider them to be sins anymore. We think there are people far worse than us in the world, and so, we are okay. But, what if these thoughts are actually keeping us from living our best lives, or holiest lives, the lives that God has intended for us?
Jesus tries very hard today to get our attention. He says – hyperbolically – it would be better to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye than the allow them to cause us to sin. Of course, He doesn’t mean these extreme responses literally, but He does want us to take the sin in our life seriously. His strong words today remind us that our sin can’t possibly be inconsequential.
In the long form of the prayer of absolution – the prayer that forgives your sins during Confession – the priest says, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the part that we miss far too often. When we take our sins seriously, we are not embracing a negative self-image, or beating up on ourselves for the things we do – instead we are connecting with the most important reason that Jesus came to us – He came not to make us feel bad about sin; but He came to set us free from it.
I had an encounter almost 20 years ago in the Confessional that I have never forgotten. A person came to me and began by going through the usual motions of a good confession. They listed all of the regular things that many people struggle with – a white lie or two, a bit of gossip, an unkind word spoken, or some prayers missed. But, as they were speaking God was placing something on my heart very persistently that I felt I just had to say. And so I said, “Can we talk a little bit about pride?” The other person looked at me stunned. “Why did you say that?” they asked. I said, “God is just placing this on my heart in a way that I can’t ignore. God wants you to be free from pride.” At that the tears began to flow uncontrollably. They said through the tears, “Father, this is something I have struggled with for many years. My pride has gotten in the way of my relationships – harming several of them. It has kept me from advancing at work because I can never admit I’m wrong. It has gotten in the way of my relationship with God because I always think my way is better than God’s way. Pride has been the thing that has put my life on hold. And every time I come to confession I promise myself that I will confess it, but I’ve never been able to say the words.” When they were done, I simply said, “Do you want to be free?” This remains one of the most beautiful moments of my priesthood.
Pope Francis said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
God never tires of forgiving us; and when we receive God’s forgiveness, we are set free of those things that are holding us back and keeping us down. Our sins are not something dark and secret; or something we should run from or hide away; something we should ignore and never talk about. Our sins are actually one of the greatest opportunities that God presents in our lives. When we encounter our sin – actually engage it and think about it and pray about it and bring it to God – we simultaneously have an encounter with Love. When we acknowledge our sin, we encounter a God who loves us so much that He wants to lift us out of that sin, who wants to free us from that sin, and help us to in fact become saints.
Why does Jesus have such strong words about sin this week? Because He wants us to experience the liberation that He came to bring us. To say “I have sinned” is not to say, “I’m such a horrible person,” rather it is the humble act of embracing the cross, encountering Christ there and allowing Him to raise us up from that sin and into the newness that is found in forgiveness. When we fail to seek out the freedom of God’s mercy, we leave Jesus hanging on that Cross for nothing.
Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. It is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God's love would make them white as snow. God’s mercy is beautiful.”
God calls each of us to be holy; and so the simple message today is this: our sins matter, but God’s mercy matters more! Feeling mercy changes everything. God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself – He wants to reconcile you to Himself. Let us give God our sins; and He will in turn set us free!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021:
Let me start with a question today. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you were the favorite child in your family? My older brother and I have had a long-running debate about who is the favorite child, the favorite grandchild. I say the debate was definitively ended a number of years ago when my grandmother was very ill. My Mom had called me one day and said, “Tommy, come to the hospital to anoint Grammy. The doctor’s say she won’t make the night.” When I got there, the family was gathered and my grandmother was not conscious at all. She was very unsettled, but not aware of anyone around. I invited everyone to lay their hands on Grammy as we began the Sacrament of the Sick, to pray that the Holy Spirit be with her. As I laid my hand on her forehead, her body immediately calmed and she began to breathe more easily. Then, when I finished anointing her with oil, her eyes opened, she looked up and said, “Is that Tommy, my angel?” And the debate over the favorite son was definitively answered!
We heard in our Gospel today, “Taking a child, [Jesus] placed it in their midst, and…said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’” Biblical scholars often speak of a pattern found in Bible stories that they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or sisters, almost always the younger one emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people – the favored one.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung gives a helpful theory. Jung said the human personality is driven by two energies, one he calls senex, meaning old person or senior, and the other puer eternis, or, the eternal child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child, on the other hand, is more adventurous and takes more chances. The senior is conscious about security and preservation, while the child is more easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is geared towards competition, power and success, the child is attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is responsible while the child is lighthearted. Jung says, to be fully human, fully alive, these two perspectives, the senior and the child, must find balance and harmony in the personality.
When we look at the disciples in today’s Gospel, we find they are acting more like the senior than the children. For the second time, Jesus tells them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem. They don’t understand, yet also don’t ask for an explanation. That is typical of the senex mentality which says, “I can figure this out on my own.” Then the disciples argue about which of them was the greatest. They are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you can begin to understand where the little child comes in.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when it comes to our lives of faith, it is better for us to engage the open and free energy of a child if we truly wish to follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us to have the freedom of the child; to be less worried about how we will be perceived, less afraid, and less concerned with rules, and with power and success. Like a child, Jesus wants us to be ready to take a leap of faith, to let go of our preconceived notions. Only then does truly believing and following Jesus completely become possible.
The problem for us is that our world is biased in favor of the senex way. Like the disciples we measure success by comparing ourselves with others. We even convince ourselves that this is what God wants, that prosperity and success and wealth are part of living in God’s ways. Time magazine did a cover story a few years ago on what is often called the Prosperity Gospel. Evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the best known for this. Time magazine posed the question, “Does God want you to be rich?” The Prosperity Gospel says that what God wants more than anything is to shower you with material goods. Joyce Meyers put it this way, “Who would want a faith where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” Of course, we don’t have to look any further than Matthew’s Gospel to find the truth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, does God want us to be rich? Well, I think God doesn’t care so much about whether or not we’re rich materially, he’s much more concerned with the richness of our compassion, the wealth of our love, the extravagance of our forgiveness, the generosity of our care for the hungry, the lonely, those on the margins of our world. If we trust and follow God, He will shower His choicest blessings upon us – but not in silver and gold – they blessings of love, relationships, peace and harmony, holiness and purity – the things whose value can never be measured.
This is what happens when we make room for the child in our hearts. Jesus today challenges us to be adventurous in our life of faith, take a chance on God’s way, to make the leap of faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given you – and God will show you greater blessings than you could have ever imagined in your life. Whether we are nine years old or 99, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart – especially in our faith life. This is the only way to join the company of the sons and daughters to whom the Kingdom of God truly belongs. This is how we become God’s favorite!
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 12, 2021:
One day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars which tells me, astronomically, that there are millions of galaxies and billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”
A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point there have been many answers. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.
But, up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” they finally get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.” And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today because understanding who Jesus is, also tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?
The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ!
Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there that He says now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods and idols – who will you say that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?
This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack, just think of the ways that moment caused us to say, “Who are we as Americans?” That was a defining moment; a moment that invited us into two options – vengeance or justice; hatred or love. And we reflect on the ways that we have responded – both the good ways and the bad – Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am? Pope Francis said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”
My friends, as we seek to lead lives of holiness, Jesus asks us the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. I pray that our answer will lead us to roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are, by what we say and do.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words. Who do you say that I am? You, Lord, are the Christ; and I Lord, am Your disciple.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021:
We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ — that is, ‘Be opened!’ — And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life. From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly completely deaf in my left ear. Two surgeries couldn’t solve the problem and it was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I would simply make sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would ask them to repeat things a lot. I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.
But, then, about 13 years ago, at the parish I was then stationed at, we were honored to welcome one of the so-called visionaries from Medjugorje, Vicka, to our parish. If you’re not familiar with Medjugorje, it is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina and since the early 1980s many believe that the Blessed Mother appeared there to a number of people including Vicka. Now, please know that the Church has not ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.
So, Vicka, in addition to receiving the apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. When she came to our parish, she also offered to pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone present. As she approached me, she placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.
Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so I was praying silently that God would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.
But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was full volume! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where the other priest was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened.
We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.
To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. He wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.
This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.
On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my hearing; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Especially in these difficult times, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 22, 2021:
You may recall the great movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, which came out a number of years ago now. It tells the story of a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on in the film that came to mind for me reflecting on our Scriptures today. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately says “no”. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, and says, “Yes, the man, he is the head. But the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
We heard from St. Paul today, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” It is always interesting to see the reactions to this particular line of Scripture. Wives be subordinate – or in some translations, submissive – to your husbands. This one single line has often been called the most dangerous sentence in the Bible; and because of the possible sexist connotations tied to it; it is more often than not completely avoided by most preachers. And, I think that is a real tragedy because what St. Paul is trying to say to us in this reading today is profound; it is important; and it also just might be exactly what our world needs to be reminded of right now. So bear with me and let’s see how we can come to understand this passage better.
You see, the problem with this phrase from Ephesians, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling and seems to support a subjugation of women, but that is an understanding that is out of context. When we look at the bigger picture, we find that St. Paul is not encouraging a chauvinistic household, but instead one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subordinate; everyone is the servant of the other.
There are two keys to this reading – the first is the initial words we hear, “Be subordinate to one another.” We are all called to be servants one to the other. So, if “wives be subordinate to your husbands” is true; then it is also true to say, “husbands be subordinate to your wives,” “children be subordinate to your parents,” “parents be subordinate to your children.” This reading doesn’t want to perpetuate a power dynamic, it’s not establishing a formal hierarchy in the Christian household with the husband at the top ruling over everyone else – quite the opposite; St. Paul wants to eliminate such notions; leaving in its wake a community of servants. “Be subordinate to one another.”
What does this Christian life of service look like? Just a few lines before, St. Paul says this, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” We cannot hear St. Paul’s words about being subordinate without hearing them in connection to these words. Subordination or service looks like compassion, and kindness, and humility, and gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
A good friend of mine just this week was telling me the story of how his grandparents met and I think it is a beautiful example of what St. Paul is speaking of when he asks husbands and wives to be servants of each other. Frederick and Bertha met in South Boston mere months before Frederick would head off to fight in World War I. Fred, although not Catholic, had a number of Catholic friends that were very involved in the Knights of Columbus and Fred would always be at their side helping with events. As their relationship developed, Bertha was taken with his kind heart and his devotion to volunteering in the church.
As Fred was off in the Navy during the war, the two would correspond regularly, eventually falling in love via this correspondence. Ironically, both Fred and Bertha were Lutherans, but neither knew that about the other. In fact, they each assumed the other was Catholic. And so as Bertha’s love for Frederick grew deeper, she decided to secretly speak with the local Catholic pastor. She told the priest, “I’m falling in love, and he’s Catholic. I would like to become a Catholic for him.” Bertha began to meet weekly with the priest and was welcomed into the Catholic faith. But, she didn’t say a word to Fred.
Once the war was over, Frederick returned and the first thing that Bertha wanted to do was go to Mass together to pray in gratitude for Fred’s safe return. They went, but he felt embarrassed because, not being Catholic, he wasn’t sure what to do. But, he saw the deep faith of the woman he loved and wanted what she had. So, off Frederick went, secretly, to the same pastor and said, “I’ve fallen in love with Bertha and she’s Catholic. I would like to become Catholic because she’s the woman I want to marry.” So he started meeting with the pastor weekly, and once he had been welcomed into the faith, he asked Bertha to marry him – both of them completely unaware of what the other had done. The night before their wedding, at the wedding rehearsal, the pastor shared the secret that they had become Catholic out of love for the other.
“Brothers and sister be subordinate to one another.” Fred and Bertha were servants to each other – they saw the good in each other; they wanted the same holiness that they saw in each other; they knew that their only happiness could be found in serving each other out of reverence for Christ.
My friends, we are not called to be powerful in relation to each other, we are called to be powerless; we are not called to be lords over one another; we are called to serve. In a world that seeks to pit us one against another day after day, let us instead be servants to each other – not just the people we like or who like us; but everyone. How do we end the cycle of anger, and hatred, and division? Be subject to each other out of reverence for Christ.
“Put on, as God's chosen ones heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” Let us be subordinate to one another.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF MARY, August 15, 2021:
How many of you have ever been told, “You’re just like your mother?” I hear this often, and especially since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, I take it as a great compliment as my Mom was my closest friend, and an example of a happy and holy life. I’m proud to be just like my mother. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard this.
As Catholics, we treasure our devotion to the Blessed Mother and this special relationship that Jesus leaves us with His mother. From the cross Jesus said to His beloved disciple and to us, “Behold your mother.” Today’s feast celebrates this wonderful teaching that Mary was assumed into Heaven body and soul when her time on earth was complete. This was proclaimed in 1950 by Pope Pius XII and when you think about it, Mary’s assumption just makes sense. The Assumption tells us that Mary did not suffer the corruption of death the way the rest of us do because she was immaculately conceived without the stain of original sin. Scripture tells us that bodily death is the result of original sin. So, since Mary didn’t have original sin, then she doesn’t suffer its penalty, and so after her 72 years on the earth, she was assumed into heaven, body and soul.
So, what does this have to do with us? Today is more than a commemoration of a moment in the life of Mary; it is also an invitation. Our Eucharistic prayer today says, “The virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection.” The beginning and the pattern of the Church. You see, Assumption is not only about Mary; it's also about you and me. Mary sets a pattern that we are meant to imitate – where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.
From the very beginning, God did not intend us to die. God created us for eternity, for immortality. And, this is where we hear the words, “You’re just like your mother.” What we celebrate in Mary today is what God promises for all of us – eternity and immortality with Him in Heaven. In his encyclical on the Rosary, Saint John Paul II reminded us that we “sit at the school of Mary and are led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ.” Mary shows us the way to follow her Son and how to reach eternity in our own lives.
In the Gospel we heard, “Blessed is the womb that carried you,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” Jesus reminds us, it was not Mary’s womb that made her blessed, it is that she repeatedly heard the Word of God and observed it. She said “yes” to what God would ask of her in life. And her “yes” was not only in response to the question of the angel. She continued to say yes to God throughout her life. She raised her son, she followed Him during His ministry, she endured the piercing of her heart by watching her son be tortured and killed, and even after Christ rose and ascended to Heaven, Mary went on saying “yes” to God. She became the spiritual mother to the disciples. Mary became their strength, their guide; the link between Jesus and His followers. She was there in the upper room when the Holy Spirit descended. Mary continued to spread the Good News, to give witness to a life dedicated to God, to help establish what would become the Church. Tradition holds that Mary made it as far as Ephesus and it was there that her earthly life ended. Mary believed in the potential of God to do anything – even the seemingly impossible – from the moment that the angel came to her until the moment of her Assumption into Heaven. Mary trusted that God’s plan would unfold in her life.
And what we see in Mary today, we can see in our own lives. As Mary is assumed, we’re reminded that “we too are just like our mother.” We can achieve the same eternity by hearing the Word of God and observing it. At the School of Mary we learn hear God’s Word and having the courage to follow. It is about obedience; it’s about listening, hearing with heart and mind, and then, of course, following. What God promises in Mary, He promises in us – and that is nothing short of Heaven.
Let us all strive to be just like our mother, Mary. Let us pray today, through her intercession, that Jesus will say of us as he said of His mother, “Blessed are you – all of you – who hear the Word of God and observe it.”
May the Lord give you peace.
In order to join the Navy, John first had to pass a routine physical. During the exam, the doctor discovered that, due to an abnormality, John couldn’t fully extend his arms above his head. Unsure if he should approve John, the doctor conferred with another doctor. "Let him pass," said the second doctor. "I don’t see any problems – unless he has to surrender."
Our first reading today is a story of surrender. We heard, “Elijah prayed for death saying, ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life.’” This is a statement that most of us can relate to, I think. How often do we feel like we are at a point in life when we want to throw up our hands, surrender, and say “This is enough! I’ve had enough!”
So, why was Elijah so down? Well, as we pick up his story today, God has asked a tremendous amount of him. He – a man alone – was sent by God to confront Queen Jezebel who had lead Israel astray to worship a false god. Elijah had just engaged in a major confrontation with her prophets before our passage today and the result was that the Queen sent a messenger to tell Elijah that before the day is done, he will be put to death. Elijah runs in fear for his life.
At this moment, Elijah did what God asked and was worried that his reward was to be execution. He has thrown his arms up in surrender, ready to give up. He has been plunged into darkness and doubt. Wanting to quit and turn his life over to the hands of God, he sleeps. But when he awakened, God sent an angel to care for him. Food and water appeared and the angel fed him. He experienced God’s care for him and through it discovered that he has the strength to make his way to safety - and to begin again. When Elijah surrendered fully to God; in response God refreshed and renewed him; gave him life once again.
Elijah’s story should sound familiar to us, because there’s not one of us here who hasn’t been brought low, or felt defeated, and ready to surrender at one point or another in our lives. Whether we’re the fifth grader who feels doomed by a difficult subject; the mom slowly worn down by a long summer tending to the children she loves; the disappointed spouse who despite trying and trying again, can see no hope for the future of their marriage; the investor who made all the wrong decisions till there was nothing left; the sick person who has tried every doctor, every cure, but to no avail… and so on.
In these moments, we might also feel like saying, “I’m finished, I’m empty; I have nothing left to give, to say, to do; I am too tired to lift a pencil; too tired to hope; too tired to cry. I’ve had enough. I surrender.” And what is God’s answer? He doesn’t say, “Buck up! Be strong!” He doesn’t say, “Get over it and move on.” God knows when our strength is spent and when we are empty. Instead, our loving and caring God sends an angel to us too and says, “Be still; rest with me awhile, and wait. As slow rain fills an empty cup, I will fill you; I will nurture you, care for you, feed you and restore your strength – if you hold up your cup, and wait, and be still with me.”
He sends these angels in the form of the good and supportive friends we have; in the love that people show us in life; in the kindness of a stranger; and so importantly in moments of prayer; pre-eminently in the Eucharist. Every Mass is exactly that kind of opportunity to be still with God, to be filled up with what He has to offer, to hear the gentle words of God’s encouragement in Scripture, and to be awakened to the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered in every Eucharist. Jesus said exactly this in today’s Gospel, “The bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Our Gospel today is a continuation of “Bread of Life discourse.” It reminds us once again, that Jesus sustains us, lifts us up and feeds us in ways that offer newness, freshness, relief and even the promise of eternal life. “I am the bread of life,” He says. “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” He says. This message is for us a great message of reassurance; a great message of hope.
So, if you come to this place today feeling a bit like Elijah – feeling a bit wearied by life, downtrodden by challenging situations, or hopeless in the face of impossible relationships; if you come here today feeling like you could say, “Lord, this is enough.” God says to you, “Be still and know that I am God.” So, be still and wait with Me. Listen to My words. Feel My presence. Let me refresh you, renew you and make you whole, once again. If on the other hand, you come here today filled with God’s goodness, God’s blessings, and God’s love – then perhaps He is calling you to be that comfort for your brothers and sisters in their challenges. Perhaps He is calling you to be the Bread of Life for someone you encounter.
God will give you what you need to be strengthened to finish your journey. All you have to do is let Him.
May the Lord strengthen you today and give you His peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 1, 2021:
A priest friend of mine tells a story of a time a few years ago when he was asked to preside at a very fancy wedding. The wedding was as lavish as you would imagine, with all the bells and whistles. After the ceremony, he went to the reception which was held on the grounds of a grand mansion. Laid out before the guests was the most sumptuous buffet you could imagine. There was a large table as long as the eye could see with an ice sculpture in the middle, and arrayed around it were piles of lobster, shrimp, and shellfish of every kind. As he was about to say grace, the shy flower girl stood by his side trying to see what was on the table. She asked what was going on and Father explained that everyone was getting ready to enjoy all the delicious food. The little girl then stepped on her tip-toes to get a better look at the table. She saw all of the lobster, shrimp, and everything else and said, “But, when does the good food come out? When do we get Froot loops?”
We find ourselves today in the midst of a four-week cycle that invites us to reflect upon the incredible gift of the Eucharist. Last week we saw the multiplication of loaves and fishes; next week Jesus tells us that He is “the bread of life;” and the week after would normally end with Jesus reminding us that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood “has eternal life.” This year, though, the final week will be pre-empted by the Assumption of Mary. While these weeks focus naturally on the material of the Eucharist – this bread from Heaven, this manna in the desert, this flesh and blood – today reminds us that there is more to eating than food. Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In other words, Jesus is asking a simple question, and it’s the same one really that the flower girl was asking: what are we really hungry for?
Jesus offers us the most incredible food ever – a food that feeds the body not merely for a moment, but feeds the soul for eternity. But, what He wants to know is if this is what we want to eat; if this is what we truly hunger for. We know that we are faced with many competing hungers – things that get in the way of God like hungers for wealth, power, material goods, or popularity; and of course other hungers that come from God like the hunger for love, truth, holiness, happiness, and everlasting life. In our Gospel, Jesus addresses this issue with those who pursued Him after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. He wants to know – are they only looking for signs and wonders? Do they just want more bread? Are they hungry only for things which satisfy the body today or are they really hungry for what matters – the things that can satisfy the heart and soul? Jesus echoes the question posed by the prophet Isaiah: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?”
We are reminded that only God can satisfy the spiritual hunger in our heart and soul – the hunger for truth, for holiness, for completeness, for wholeness, for happiness, and for love. So, what are we hungry for? Jesus wants us to be hungry for a life of love and service, the kind of service He modeled during His time among us. He wants us to be hungry for forgiveness that connects us to God's mercy and kindness. He wants us to be hungry for a life of holiness and purity that reflects God's own holiness. And, He wants us to be hungry for a life of obedience to God’s will and trust in God’s plan for our lives, which gives witness to the wisdom of God. In other words, we are called as St. Augustine said to “become what we receive.” This is what the Eucharist is all about – not that we merely consume the Body and Blood of Jesus today, but that we become it; that we become Christ in our world, to one another; that we become what we receive today.
And it all comes down to that initial question – what are we hungry for? Are we hungry to be fed on the bread that the world offers? That is a false bread, and will only satisfy for a moment but leaves us ultimately incomplete. Or do we hunger for the bread that comes from heaven; the miraculous bread-become-Body and wine-become-Blood made present in our midst on this altar? The Lord wants to know today that we hunger for Him and Him alone. He is ready to feed us once again today and everyday. Let us hunger for what only Jesus can give.
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
May the Lord give you peace,
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 25, 2021:
I had the great privilege of being at Fenway Park on Thursday night as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a 10th inning walk off. It was my first time being in Fenway since before the pandemic began; and so it was a wonderful night of something resembling our former normalcy. Of course, while I was there we were remembering some great moments in this century long rivalry. Of course, the greatest moment in this Sox-Yankees relationship was the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse. Maybe the greatest moment in sports history. Of course, with the Olympics now underway in Tokyo, I have also been thinking of some of those great sports moments. Like Michael Phelps record 23 Olympic gold medals. But, I think, the greatest Olympic moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet Union for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to win gold easily. That game ended with the iconic voice of Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.”
Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?
We know that our secular world makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical scholars question whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But the eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal those who were ill, Jesus did cast out demons, He did raise the official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins in Confession, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that with God anything – in fact, everything – is possible.
In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew; and they for us represent two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says. Andrew, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that with miracles, God builds on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our own five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.
A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication that has ever happened, each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then. At every Mass we simply offer Jesus simple bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His true Body and Blood; His real and abiding presence in our midst.
So, we should believe in miracles, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see this miracle at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive this miracle, and bodies that consume that miraculous bread-become-Body over and over again.
God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, cast out demons, raise people from the dead, institute the Eucharist, rise from the dead – if we believe these things, just imagine what God can do in our lives if we’re open to Him.
So what have you got to offer Jesus today? He will take anything. He will take our simple prayers and transform them into glory; He will take our simple loves and multiply them into a kinder and more compassionate world; He will even take our sins and transform them into holiness of life. Whatever we bring – no matter how simple, how meager – Jesus will transform in to grace and goodness; joy and peace; happiness and holiness. But, we have to do our part.
Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen. Do you believe in miracles?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 18, 2021:
Finish this sentence with me, “One small step for man…” Right, “…one giant leap for mankind.” I was reminded of that famous line as I was reading an article about the first moon landing this week. Tuesday marks the 52nd anniversary of that historic moon landing, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon. Maybe you do recall that moment vividly.
One of the more surprising stories of that day, though, is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the credit as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular and profound, as a man of faith.
He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, prayed. This is his description of the moment, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages that I had brought which contained some bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”
It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on another world were the words of Jesus Christ, the same One who made the Earth and the moon. It was a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin had traveled all the way to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.
This image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflect on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in the quiet place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many of us seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own quiet place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. I returned a few weeks ago from my vacation at the beach, which for me is an annual tradition and one of my favorite quiet places.
Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, rest from our work, engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, our spirits, and our faith. This year perhaps more than usual we carry the stress of this pandemic in our bodies, we carry the anxiety of this time in our hearts and minds. We need time to decompress, relax, enjoy – and renew. During my vacation, my favorite times are at sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.
Buzz Aldrin travelled all the way to the moon, and his first act was to find that quiet time to be renewed by God. Like him, we too need to find that time to allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls in the ways that only He can do.
Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Right here in this church is that chance to leave the world behind and exist in the midst of holiness and let God speak to our hearts. Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God immersed in prayer.
My friends, the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest and prayer; renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a quiet place to find peace we need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.
As we recall what transpired on the moon more than 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is the ocean of God’s love available to us every time we pray. So let us meet God in that tranquil place and let Him renew us one small step at a time.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 20, 2021:
Can I start with a question today and I know this one might be hard to answer publicly. How many of you feel anxious? How many feel like your anxiety has been on the increase during the pandemic and maybe even longer? Thank you for those who had the courage to raise your hands today – know that my hand is raised right there with you. I read an interesting report this week that was on this same issue. Mental health professionals have reported that during this time of pandemic, reports of depression and anxiety have increased by more than 50% over their normal rates.
And we know why. These are incredibly difficult and anxious times. We are fatigued by the ongoing nature of the pandemic; we are heartbroken at the nearly 4 million lives lost to this virus. We worry about our children, about our elderly parents and grandparents; about our job security, food security, housing security. In the midst of all of that is the political and civic polarization that spews vitriol at a nonstop rate. It is a polarization that even makes its way in to the church. Add to that our own daily struggles with family, friends, or co-workers. The hurt feelings, the regretful words, the daily challenges of life.
We can feel as though we are constantly being tossed around by the storm and we don’t know how we will get through it. It is enough to overwhelm us. It is enough to make us feel like the disciples in our Gospel passage today. We find them on the sea with Jesus in the boat. A violent squall comes up out of nowhere. They are being battered and tosses. The waves are crashing over the side of the boat. They are frightened for their lives. They cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In Matthew’s telling of this story, they are even more desperate, “Lord, save us!” they cry out. “We are dying!”
Where is Jesus in the midst of all of this chaos? Sleeping. “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” How could Jesus be so calm during such danger; during such anxiety? We got a hint in our first reading from Job. We remember that Job is perhaps the Bible’s greatest case study of affliction and anxiety. Job has been the victim of one disaster after another. He has lost his children and his possessions, and he has come down with leprosy. Through all this, Job has remained faithful to God. In our passage today, God responds to Job’s pleas. And listen to the interesting words we hear, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.”
Isn’t that curious? And yet it is a regular motif in the Old Testament. When God speaks, it is frequently in the midst of storm. From the very beginning in the Book of Genesis, God creates an orderly universe out of primordial chaos. Psalm 18 says, the Lord made “his canopy, the water-darkened storm clouds.” The prophet Nahum said, “In stormwind and tempest he comes.” In Habakkuk, we hear, “At the sight of you the mountains writhed. The clouds poured down water; the deep roared loudly. The sun forgot to rise.”
The point of it all? It is exactly in the most tumultuous moments of our lives, that God wants to speak His calming, loving, peaceful, gentle, quieting words. Only God can calm the storm of our souls. Only God can quiet the anxiety of our hearts. Only God can lead us to seek healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness in all of the broken places in our lives. And only if we rouse Him and invite Him to do so.
Back to our Gospel passage. Once roused, Jesus spoke, “He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” My friends Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me; if only we will rouse Him to address the chaos of our lives; the storms of our destruction; the waves that crash over us mercilessly.
The great St. Augustine spoke of today’s passage in one of his sermons. He said, “When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune – shipwreck. Why? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him. A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let Him remind you of those words: ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’”
So, my friends, if you, like me, are feeling the stress of the anxiety of our times; if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the crashing waves sometimes. If you, like me, sometimes have words you wish you could retrieve, or relationships fractured that you wish were healed; or sins you struggle with and want to overcome; then remember – Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him! Rouse Him to your side. Rouse Him to your aid. Rouse Him to your help. Invite Christ to speak to the storms you are facing those same powerful words, “Quiet! Be still!”
God, through all of time, has spoken powerfully from the midst of the storms of life. So, today, take a deep breath, go to the Lord and wake Him. Let Christ set you once again on calm waters that lead to His peace.
My friends, Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him once more!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, May 30, 2021:
“God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” We know those words from the great Trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy and they name the mystery of today’s feast. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – this great reality of faith that both draws us into the wonder of God’s nature and confuses us a bit when we try and understand or explain it intellectually. I was never very good at math, but it’s only in the Church that with the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 still equals 1. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God.
Our trouble with the Trinity comes when we try to dissect exactly what it means; when we try and come up with precise explanations of how something can be both three and one at the same time. And yet, we still try, don’t we? Most famously, St. Patrick gave the explanation of the Trinity using the image of the shamrock – three leafs, but still just one shamrock. We can spend a long time with furrowed brows trying to wrap our minds around this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself.” Now this statement, I think, helps us begin to get some place helpful. The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself. Or in more simpler terms, understanding the Trinity tells us something about the very nature of God.
Our Scriptures today give us some helpful insight. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes the intimacy of our relationship with God. He said,” “Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Did any god go and take a nation for himself…as the Lord did for you?” St. Paul speaks of God as Trinity in our passage from his letter to the Romans. “Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God….we cry, ‘Abba, Father’....[we are] hears of God with Christ.” In just those passages we encounter a God who is connected, interested, personal, intimate, involved in our lives.
St. Matthew, in the conclusion of his Gospel, sends us forth into the world in the mission of our three-fold God. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; baptizing them in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Interestingly, though, you won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but the nature of God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – is everywhere. Over and over, we are given examples of our God who so loved the world – who so loved you, and me, and every living being – that He gave His only Son so that we might live forever. Love is the nature of God. Love is the nature of the Trinity. And love is what our God in Three Persons invites each one of us to share.
Sacred Scripture also reminds us that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. And this message could not be more important than it is right now.
As our world begins to emerge from under the weight of the pandemic, for example, let’s not forget the countless and moving heroic acts of love in the words and actions of the many, many women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for and comforting those effected by the virus. The incredible scientists who created and distributed the vaccines worldwide in record time – saving countless perhaps millions of lives. God who is Three-in-One is working in them and through them to share that same love to those suffering through this crisis. You and I have shared in this same love through our smaller acts of love when we have worn our masks, sanitized our hands, gotten our vaccination – in each of these simple moments we have been embracing that love that comes from the very nature of God and sharing it with our sisters and brothers. In those moments, our God in Three Persons has become God in Many Persons – God in you and me and in anyone who responds to the challenges of our world with love.
Understanding the Trinity tells us that God is not only in Three Persons, but God is in many persons because He is in you and in me and everyone who is part of the beautiful world that He created. God is not a loner who exists in solitary individualism, distant and detached from us. God exists in a community of love and sharing – in His very nature He is a Father, loving a Son, loving the Holy Spirit with a love so great that it can’t be contained and spills out into the world – to you and to me. In God’s most inner reality, He is a relationship of love. And our world needs to be overwhelmed with that love today more than ever. Only God’s love can route out what ails us in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.
The racism, violence, and prejudice that have also accompanied this last year and a half are the counter sign of that love; they are a corruption of that divine image. We are called to reflect God’s community of love to everyone – especially those on the margins of our society; especially those the rest of the world doesn’t see; especially those who are treated as less than worthy of the same love. The believer who reflects God’s love doesn’t divert our attention from the violence we see; doesn’t make excuses for the racism and prejudice that is a dark part of our heritage; but instead with every fiber of their being tries to love the world to health, equality, justice, healing, and holiness. God in Many Persons.
God so loved the world that we too might love the world in return. My friends, let us call upon our God in Three Persons and ask Him to once again be God in Many Persons – God in you and in me and in everyone – and ask Him to overwhelm this pandemic at last; to overwhelm any hatred, or racism, or prejudice in our hearts with His love.
The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself; and God in us. Let us be encompassed by that mystery of love and light so that we might reflect God’s love, healing, justice, and peace to the whole world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 23, 2021:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word of God go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Fall River.
What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.
Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover and was tied to the harvest. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.
It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a mission, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.
Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we will give birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit today is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”
And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 16, 2021:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s the famous question pondered by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name? It’s a question we’re also invited to ponder today as we hear Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. So, what is in a name? Well, just think of your own family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important.
For example, I was named Thomas after my great-grandfather. And even though I never met him, a few years ago when I was doing some genealogical research, I discovered we share the same birthday – separated by about a century. But, having that name makes me feel connected to generations that came long before me. And every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I always take the opportunity to remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?
Another tradition in naming is to give children a religious name – either a name from the Bible or after a favorite saint. This used to be the common practice, which is why we had so many Michael’s and Anthony’s, and many Mary’s, Maria’s, and Elizabeth’s. This was a popular custom because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up to be unique (by the way Unique is also a popular name).
Studies have shown, though, that over the last roughly 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. For example, among the top 10 boys names last year were Noah, Elijah, James, and Benjamin– all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw for last year – the #18 name was Blessings.
So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.
So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Christian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 9, 2021:
I had two weddings yesterday, which is always wonderful, but was a little extra wonderful given that we haven’t had weddings really for the last year of the pandemic. It was a day of joy. One of the things I shared with the happy couples yesterday was a survey of 4-8 year-old kids who were asked the question, “What does love mean?” You can’t go wrong with advice from toddlers. Here’s what some of them said: Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Chrissy, age 6, said, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Danny, age 7, said, “Love is when mommy makes coffee for daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” And my favorite one from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Love is certainly the theme of our readings this weekend. Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.
But how would we answer our toddler’s question, what is love? Language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends (think “Philadelphia” – the city of brotherly love); and agape, which is love in its highest form; a love that is the complete gift of self. Agape is the word used most often in the New Testament and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.
John today paints for us a picture of God’s love that tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. John tells us, “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, that it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. Do you ever wonder if you’re living your Christian life correctly or well? The way we love is the measure of that success. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.
For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.
Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, like feeling good in someone’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes the ultimate sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.
Finally, John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.
We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As the hymn reminds us, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” So, how are we loving in our lives? Will they know you and I are Christians because of the way we love?
May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 2, 2021:
Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who founded the Catholic Worker Movement and 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.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.
As much as Easter is, of course, 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 these great events and our own life. 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 belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, constant newness, constant change and 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.
In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says, Paul “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord...” This was one mean guy.
Which 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, first and foremost, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment and was struck blind and mute for a time. 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; who saw what he could be in and through Christ. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who 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 believe, he was really talking about this. 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.
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 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 have come to 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 didn’t take the route that we too often take when faced with someone or something negative. More often than not, we become sons and daughters of judgment; sons and daughters of gossip; of complaint. But Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”; he loved a man who “breathed murderous threats against them”; and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.
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. Our world of division and conflict needs this kind of Christian encouragement more now than ever.
“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 the way that Barnabas encouraged; and we just might become saints in the process – just like Paul and Barnabas did. Let us be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven and bringing everyone else along with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 25, 2021:
In my homily for Easter Sunday, I shared a quote from a favorite book of mine. It said, “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” This quote has always struck me so poignantly because in my younger days, I knew what it felt like to be far from God. As a teenager, I was not terribly strong in my faith. In fact, I had only the merest spark of faith. A well-named Doubting Thomas, I simply did not yet know the Lord in any real or personal sense, and I had no idea of God’s plan for my life. But, then in my early 20s, I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Mass and to the Eucharist; I started on that road coming home to God and the Church. And when I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences of God’s true presence there. The Mass began to speak to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed and knew in my heart that this was Jesus; and that He was real. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom.
Today we hear Jesus tell us in our passage from St. John, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and mine know me.” This message of the Good Shepherd is an important one for us because it tells us something important about Jesus, and it also tells us something important about ourselves. Jesus shows us that our relationship with Him is not distant and sterile; but instead it is deeply relational and profoundly intimate. God loves us specifically, personally, individually, and intimately. He knows us, and we know Him. We recognize His voice speaking into the challenges of our lives, and we follow. Jesus reminds us that what He wants more than anything is to know us, and that we intimately know Him.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. When I started feeling drawn to the Holy Mass so many years ago, I was being drawn into my best self, because it was the version of “me” that God had planned from before time began. Or another way of saying it, as I got to know God better, I got to know myself better; and what God had in store for me. Psalm 139 says it this way, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” God has known exactly who He wants us to be before we even knew. In the eyes of the Good Shepherd we come to see God more clearly so that He can show us who we are called to be more clearly.
Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. But we first need to listen to His voice. Of course God knows us intimately, but we must take the time to get to know God just as intimately. “The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” God can only reveal His plan for our lives if our eyes are open, our hearts are tuned, and we are seeking that answer, that direction. Our challenge is to create environments that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we can follow where He leads.
The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s daughters and sons. Through prayer, and so profoundly through the Eucharist, we discover that identity. St. Clare of Assisi spoke of the Eucharist as a mirror – the more we look at Jesus, the more we find ourselves reflected back. When we take the time to enter into that personal relationship with Jesus, to listen and recognize His voice, Jesus helps us discover who we are.
If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do; if you want to know your truest destiny – meet Jesus in prayer He will reveal it to you. Create the space to listen to the Shepherd. Find the time to be alone with God. Strengthen or create new prayer habits for yourselves and for your families. If you do, you just might also be renewed in God’s love for you, God’s plan for you, God’s hopes and dreams for your life.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” May each of us hear that voice of Jesus calling us by name, showing us who He has called us to be.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 18, 2021:
In our Tuesday Night Bible Study this week, I was sharing a story from a little-known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. The wonderful thing is that in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.
I mentioned this scene to the class because we were discussing a repeating theme you might have noticed in the post-resurrection stories we have been hearing. In every story, Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal – and they come to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.
And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!
Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.
This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.
Have you ever thought about the tremendous intimacy Jesus invites into through the resurrection? The resurrection calls us to focus on the body – but not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead, but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.
My brothers and sisters, we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry because it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry for the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. There are many hungers in our lives – a hunger for closeness, a hunger for belonging, a hunger for happiness, a hunger for holiness. Jesus appears on our altar every day with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life. Let Me fulfill your hungers to the full.
My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, DIVINE MERCY, April 11, 2021:
In 2016, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” Addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. It has been one week since we celebrated the great feast of Easter – this great feast that teaches us something almost too amazing to be believed – that death has no power over us. Jesus rises, and through our own baptisms, we will also rise with Him. John’s Gospel today tells us of this powerful moment when the disciples are still locked in the upper room. They are confused and filled with fear. All their hopes have been dashed, and the world no longer makes sense. And, what is the first thing that the Risen Jesus says to them? He says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” His first words to the disciples are words of forgiveness and mercy. This is our faith.
Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday that St. John Paul II also named Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal church. The message of this day is the message of Easter – the great fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the gift of mercy. With His death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the gates of Heaven, gates that were closed by our sin beginning with Adam and Eve. In fact, one of the most powerful Easter icons depicts the Risen Jesus grasping the hands of Adam and Eve and lifting them from the grave. Adam and Eve are then the first to experience the mercy that was won for us in Christ.
Just look at how this message of mercy has been affirmed each day during this Octave of Easter. Each day has been a day of mercy and forgiveness as Jesus encounters His own disciples who betrayed Him, denied Him, and abandoned Him. The first thing that the Risen Jesus does is to seek them out, show them His mercy, forgive their sins, and reconcile them. Mercy is the great fruit of the resurrection.
St. John Paul made this a special day for the universal church because of his own devotion to God’s divine mercy. In 2001, he said, “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to God’s Divine Mercy’. Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
And, we have no greater promoter of mercy than our current Pope, Francis. His whole life has been formed, shaped, and directed by God’s mercy. For example, Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. As the story goes, when he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and his plan that day was to propose marriage to his girlfriend at the picnic. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession to him. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully what he described as the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, he felt called and he discovered his special vocation of mercy. That day, he never caught that train. He didn’t go to the picnic; and he never proposed to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that single, extraordinary moment of mercy. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto that he has used as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as, “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Mercy is the fruit of the resurrection. In an Angelus message devoted to the topic of mercy, Pope Francis 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 — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
And just as in the Eucharist there is an exchange – we become what we receive; so too with mercy. We receive this mercy that we do not deserve and could never earn; and then are called to extend that same mercy to all those we encounter. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? God understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Today, my friends, let us receive the gift of God’s mercy. A gift that He showers on us. It is limitless, powerful, overwhelming. And then, let us bear the fruit of that mercy by bringing it into all the broken places in our lives – the broken relationships, the persistent sins, the words spoken that we wish we could take back. All that mercy to bear fruit in your life and the lives of others. Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful. “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Offering mercy changes everything. Let us bring life to the dry bones around us by being agents of God’s mercy. “I have given you an example. As I have done, so too, you must do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021:
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a favorite book of mine called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, even though I read that book a number of years ago, this particular passage is one that I have thought of often during this year of pandemic. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
My friends, on this beautiful Easter morning, we are invited to reflect upon the most amazing event in all of history – something almost too amazing to be believed – that truth that Jesus has risen; that He has conquered even death itself. Today, especially as our whole world is wrapped up in this pandemic; as we are focused on the nearly 3 million dead from COVID around the world, more than 550,000 of them here in our own country – we today once again claim resurrection – for them, for all those who have died, for ourselves, for our world. We remember that God is faithful and wants nothing more than for us to come home to Him.
The story of the first Easter is one that can speak to us so profoundly once again because the message of the Resurrection is a message of triumph and hope; it is a message of presence and love; it is a message of life that conquers death – always, everywhere. While we have gone through a year of quarantine, lockdown, facemasks and social distancing – many places in the world still in the midst of lockdown, it is not all that different from what the disciples experienced on that first Easter. On the first Easter morning, the disciples were not gathered at the synagogue, they were not celebrating with family and friends. Where were they? St. John describes it this way, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Those first disciples, Jesus’ closest companions, on the first Easter were locked in a room in fear. They were in self-imposed quarantine in that upper room as the most amazing event in the history of the world unfolded. In a sense, we can connect with that first Easter, because for the first time in our lifetimes, we know what it feels like to be afraid even to go out. But, let’s not get lost in the comparison. The main difference between the first disciples and us today is that they did not know what we know. They were locked in the upper room because they were afraid of the crowds; they were disheartened because their Savior had died. They did not know – as we know – that the story was not over yet; that the stone has been rolled away; that Jesus had conquered even death itself and had been risen.
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” The disciples locked in their upper room were most certainly weary, bitter, and bewildered. But notice that even their fear could not keep Jesus away. God is faithful and wants us to come home. For the disciples, even their locked doors could not keep Jesus out. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
And He does the same for you and for me today. We may feel locked up because of our appropriate fear and caution about COVID – we can’t do the things we used to do; we can’t do them the way we used to – at least not yet. But, even with our fears and anxieties, Jesus still comes to us. He stands in our midst and says the words we have all been waiting to hear, “Peace be with you. Be filled with the gift of my peace. Let me take your fear, your worry, your anxiety; your weariness or bewilderment – give it to me and replace it with my peace.”
Pope Francis, reflecting on the women who had the courage to leave that locked room and go to the tomb, said, “Today we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, of rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone’, the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on Him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, He comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.”
My friends, today we celebrate the singular event that changed the course of human history, and changed the course of our own lives. We embrace it with the newness that reminds us that God is still faithful; God is still calling. But, today, especially in the midst of this difficult year, we need to embrace not just Christ’s resurrection, but our own as well. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” As we celebrate this holy day, we may find ourselves feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, anxious and fearful, even far from God or far from the Church. But, today our faithful God welcomes us home again; our faithful God enters our homes and our hearts again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
Pope Francis said, “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or am I looking for the Living One? Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek Jesus in all things and above all things. With Him, we will rise again.”
As we reflect on the ways that we feel weary or bitter or broken down by all that life has been dealing us, remember that even these struggles cannot keep Jesus out. He breaks own any walls in our lives, moves aside any stones blocking the way, and stands before each of us and says, “Peace be with you. Peace is my gift to you.” Open your hearts the His presence and allow yourselves to be filled with that peace that comes only from the Risen One.
My friends God is faithful. He has risen, as He promised, and is present to us every moment of our lives. “I am with you always,” He told us. Allow the grace of His resurrection make you a new creation, lift any pain or anxiety, take away any weariness or bewilderment. Allow Him to fill you with His peace.
“Do not be afraid. Behold, He has been raised from the dead.” My you be raised up as well today.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY, March 28, 2021:
Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation so profound that was greeted by an equally profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In fact, the directives after the Passion Gospel are this, “A brief homily should take place, if appropriate.” In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed, is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is not in words, but it is in image, it is in action – it is the Cross.
We find Jesus on the Cross today – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all of time. He is on that Cross because that’s how great His love is for us. Those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is as simple as that; it is as profound as that.
Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, for me, for everyone. Many of us have heard these words so many times that they no longer carry the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His sisters and brothers. He died for us!
And there is no more appropriate moment to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed by all that has happened over this last year. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the Son of God hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – that God has conquered death. There is nothing that we are facing – even in the midst of this pandemic – t that is bigger or more powerful than God. He died for us; and so we are saved. He died for us; and so we will be okay because we are wrapped in God’s loving and compassionate arms. Those arms that once spanned that beam from left to right are now wrapped around you and around me; and nothing in our world is more powerful than that. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and me.
As we proclaim the Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If Christ’s love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that worthy of this kind of love.
My friends, let us allow ourselves to be drawn into the profound silence this day demands – He died for you. Let those words linger all week. He died for you. Embrace those words and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again slowly and reflectively. He died for you. Let the reality of Christ’s Passion make this a truly holy week for us all.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 7, 2021:
I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. Historically, our Church is very important. St. Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest church in the Fall River diocese – so from Attleboro to Nantucket, this is the oldest church. It was built in 1852 replacing a small wooden church – St. John the Baptist – which also once stood on this site. That church was built in the late 1830s. This one was built because of the growing number of immigrant millworkers coming to Fall River. The community needed a church that could hold 1,200 people. Currently we hold 800, but the balcony at the back used to extend all the way around to the front. Later, in 1904, when our diocese broke away from the Diocese of Providence to become the Diocese of Fall River, this church took on another notable role becoming the Cathedral Church of the then-new diocese.
So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer the spiritual reason – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.
A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.
And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We bless ourselves with holy water, and make the sign of the Cross. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him. We act differently here than any other of the many places we go to.
And this brings us to our Gospel today. Today’s passage is the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.
But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living, breathing temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.
Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us. And if we treat this building – these stones and windows – different than we treat other buildings; then the same should be true of the Temple of our bodies. Do we treat our own bodies – by what we say, what we do, the things we engage in – do we treat this temple, our personal temple, with the reverence that it deserves?
”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.
My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, February 28, 2021:
Imagine the scene we just heard unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment and take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Now we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; but hopefully, we have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
For me, it called to mind our twice weekly Grab & Go meals at our Pope Francis Outreach Center. For almost a year now, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been offering two hot meals a week – every Wednesday and Friday – to anyone in our community experiencing food insecurity. We have been providing roughly 350 meals every time we do this. We will have provided over 40,000 meals when we reach that one year mark next month. Each week, this simple gesture of providing a meal gives us countless examples of experiencing the presence of Christ in our everyday lives. These have become moments of true transfiguration.
Let me share on particular encounter one of our volunteers had. She shared, “A gentleman I met expressed to me how grateful he was receiving the meals that we offer but especially the whole turkey we offered at Thanksgiving time. He wanted to make soup with it, but didn’t have anything to put into it. Then, he remembered we also offered fresh produce boxes and they had everything he needed. He made the soup, but then instead of keeping it just for himself, he gave it away to as many others people as it would feed, knowing they could use it too. He said that his mother told him to always have faith and God would take care of you.” You see, he saw God’s care for him in our food distribution, and he used that moment to be God’s care for those around him. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for me.”
This volunteer said, “In the beginning when we gave the food we would always say ‘God bless you’ to the people receiving it. For many months now, most of them say it to me before I do. People are not only in need of the food, but just as much, they are looking forward to interacting with us; to having a little bit of kindness and holiness in their day.”
My friends, this is Transfiguration if our eyes – like those of Peter, James, and John – are opened. Jesus continually takes us up the mountain of transfiguration and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changes the lives of our volunteers feeding the hungry. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Transfiguration is meant not to be limited and infrequent – it is meant to be multiplied. We see Jesus before us; and then multiply that presence in and through our lives.
My friends, let us open our hearts today to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. As we see Jesus revealed to us in the Holy Eucharist once again today, let us also turn our gaze to one another; to the world around us; to those on the margins – and recognize that Jesus is there too. Let us multiply this Transfiguration over and over and over again. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again His luminous presence in our world.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2021:
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “When on Ash Wednesday we hear 'you are dust,’ we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life forever."
My thoughts today are still stuck reflecting on our beautiful Ash Wednesday celebrations this week. We had a wonderful turnout for our COVID times, and particularly moving for me where our drive-thru ashes offered outside of the Cathedral in the afternoon. More than 50 cars pulled up filled with people who otherwise do not yet feel confident coming to in-persons services during the pandemic. It was wonderful for me, as your pastor, to see so many parishioners who I haven’t seen since all of this began nearly a year ago.
Ash Wednesday is so moving because it is one of the most authentic movements of faith that we see each year. None of us are obliged to attend on Ash Wednesday. It is not a holy day of obligation. It is an optional celebration. And yet, ask even the most marginal Catholic and they will tell you, “I have to get my ashes.”
I experienced Wednesday as a profound sign that says that even though there may be many people who do not attend Mass each week, there is still an incredible hunger for the divine, a yearning for something greater than ourselves, a desire for something more meaningful than the superficial pleasures the world has to offer, and even a deep recognition that we are sinners in need of God’s abundant mercy. This is true any normal year; I think all of these things are multiplied in these challenging times. We still desire that closeness to God in the depths of our hearts. And, I think, there is something profoundly humbling about placing ashes on our heads – something that roots us once again in God, reminding us of who He is and who we are in His sight.
Just think of the symbolism. On a very natural level, the ashes we receive are a reminder that all things end. They remind us that our time on earth is limited, that we will one day return to the dust from which we came. As we pray at a funeral Mass, “O God, who have set a limit to this present life, so as to open up an entry into eternity...” Our time on earth does not last forever, it has a limit. But, even that limit is a sign of new life – it opens up an entry into eternity.
Our ashes represent this cycle so beautifully. The ashes we scattered on our head as a reminder that we are dust, just a year ago were the vibrant and green palms that welcomed Christ and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have now replaced those “hosannas” of last year with the cry, “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” This paschal cycle of life, death, and new life is renewed once again as we enter into this sacred season.
Pope Francis, in his homily on Ash Wednesday last year, gave an incredibly evocative reflection on the phrase, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” and those ashes that we receive. He said, “Ashes are a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.” He said, “Lent is a time for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.” Not to remain ashes, but to be transformed from ashes to newness of life.
You know, scientists tell us that the matter that makes up every human body originally began as the matter of the stars. Every atom in our body started out as the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen of a star. That means that we are all literally composed of star dust – each one of us. And, I think God did that on purpose so that we will know from the moment of our creation is that our origin is luminous and our destiny is to shine just as brightly. From the origins of the universe until our individual births, we were created to be luminous beings. Our Lenten journey begins with that same dust on our heads as a reminder that these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving are all meant to renew us so that we can again shine the light and love and mercy and compassion of Christ more brightly than before. To become luminous once again.
The Holy Father said, “We are precious dust that is destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory. We are dust that is loved by God.”
My friends, “You are dust and to dust you will return.” But embrace that identity and all the luminosity it promises. Yes, we are dust – but we are dust that is loved by God. God loves every luminous part of your being and wants nothing more than for you to shine with the brightness of a thousand stars. And so, my friends, let us allow ourselves to be loved by God. Let us invite God to shower us with His forgiveness and mercy, especially during these 40 days. Let us remind ourselves of our preciousness in God’s sight – so precious that He created us out of the stars themselves.
As Rahner said, “We are nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; and dust that is God’s life forever.” May we all have a holy and luminous Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2021:
There is a sweet quality to our gathering here today as we once again enter into the season of Lent and begin our 40 day journey of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving that will lead us all the way to Easter Sunday. I say a sweet quality because last year, we gathered to begin our 40 days as we do each year; and then just two weeks later, it was taken away from us as we entered into a lockdown and quarantine that would last all the way to the summer.
As we went into lockdown last year and public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other sacraments were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious and difficult Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or in-person faith formation. It was the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, is that it was also a fruitful fast. St. “Padre” Pio said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” We know the meaning of these words more profoundly than we ever have before because of the year we have endured.
My hope as we gather today – once again in person; once again with all of the hopes and expectations of what this Lent will offer – is that if last year was the most difficult Lent of our lifetimes, let us make this year the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. Because we desperately need that holiness. We know the proverb that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts during this year of pandemic, we should be profoundly hungry for the things of God; profoundly hungry for the Eucharist that nourishes us; profoundly hungry for the grace of forgiveness that we find in Confession; profoundly in need of the connections we find here in the midst of the assembly; profoundly desperate for the holiness that can only be found through faith, through the sacraments, through the church. Sometimes you have to lose something to know what we you had.
So my encouragement to each one of us today is to make this a holy Lent; in fact the holiest Lent of your life. Do not let today be just like every other Ash Wednesday you’ve experienced. We heard the Prophet Joel’s plea, “Even now, says the Lord return to me with your whole heart.” God doesn’t want just part of us. He doesn’t want lip service. He doesn’t want superficial sacrifices during these 40 days. God doesn’t want us to engage in a Lent that is barely noticeable. He wants our whole heart. He wants everything. And He wants that because when we give everything to God, in return we receive everything; we receive nothing short of holiness.
Pope Francis said today, “Lent is a journey of return to God and an opportunity to deepen our love for our brothers and sisters. God is appealing to our hearts and our entire being, inviting us to Him. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends.”
This is what our Lent can be about – returning home to God on whom everything depends; allowing God to overwhelm us with His love, satisfy us with the Eucharist, and restore us with His mercy. God doesn’t hold back. God doesn’t try and keep His presence from us. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to be completely immersed in the healing waters of His mercy, completely satisfied with the Bread that comes from Heaven, completely filled with holiness by embracing these days of Lent.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself; so that He who has given Himself completely to you, can receive you completely.” This is the divine exchange that we are invited into today and all through Lent. God wants to give Himself to you and to me completely. And He asks that we do the same.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for you to shower you with His love and His mercy. Let us plan these 40 days well so that everything we do has one goal – to till the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the gift of His love, His mercy, His presence there; so that we might be transformed into those same gifts for the world to see. Our God waits for us so that this Lent might not be just another Lent – but that in fact it might become the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. And that will make all the difference.
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.