FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 24, 2020:
Going through my desk recently, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s sister and she passed away a number of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. “Please read this at my funeral,” and on the other side, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for everyone she loved.
Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet most of us don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the crisis happening in the world that we can’t seem to escape right now. There are so many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are, instead of what lies above.
But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” Easter and the Ascension are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this focus and purpose for our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home; perhaps especially now when our daily cares can seem so dire; when the end to this crisis seems elusive; and the answers to our questions seem so hard to find.
We heard Jesus in today’s Gospel say, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Eternity is an invitation into nothing less than knowing God personally, intimately, eternally. The great joys in life come from the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be without others to share them with – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God – to know God and to know Jesus. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.
You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home at the end of each adventure.
At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last. What a hopeful reminder for us in the midst of this moment of crisis. This too will pass, and what God has in store for each of us is so much more amazing that we can even imagine.
My friends, Jesus promises us an everlasting adventure that only gets better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is absurd.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”
My friends, let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 17, 2020:
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 2020.” It means that sometimes we don’t understand things so clearly as they are happening, but when we have the chance to reflect back on moments and see how they played out, we see things we didn’t see before, make connections we weren’t aware of before; things come into a focus that only comes by being on the other side of an experience. I have great hopes that our hindsight once we are beyond this coronavirus crisis will also be 2020. Right now we are knee-deep in the challenges all around us – when will we go back to work? How will we pay the rent, the bills? Do I still have a job? When will things get back to normal? But, I also have great hopes that when we do return to normal living, our hindsight will make clear some of the things we’ve experienced in these months – how good it is to slow down and be attentive to one another, our families; how over-programmed our lives have become; and so crucially – how precious is the gift of faith, the gift of Church, community, the gift of the sacraments – especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. These things that in our craziness we have taken for granted, or even left behind, perhaps now will receive a renewed zeal, enthusiasm, and deep desire. Let’s pray for that holy clarity on the other side of this.
In our Gospel passages this week and last, we’ve also been engaged in a little bit of hindsight clarity as St. John has been returning us to the Last Supper, giving us a chance to dig deeper into its meaning. We can understand why. After all, at the Last Supper, Jesus and the Twelve are in the Upper Room, gathered for the Passover. Jesus begins to tell them about his coming suffering. He tells them that he will be leaving them to go back to the Father. We can picture the Apostles confusion, and growing sadness. They have staked their lives on Jesus! They have given up everything to follow Him. And now He says that He must go away from them. Their hopes seemed dashed, and so perhaps they weren’t fully hearing what He was saying.
But, Jesus knows their hearts. He knows their fears. Twice during the meal He tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He repeats it because He knows that their hearts are truly troubled. And then He makes them a promise we heard today, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He promises never to abandon His chosen followers. The crucifixion will come, the darkness, the suffering, the persecution, the apparent failure and defeat. But through it all, the Apostles can cling with firm faith to this promise: I will not leave you orphans; I will never abandon you.
What comforting words for us to hear today in the midst of our global crisis. Jesus knows that our hearts too are troubled. He knows that we are filled with fear and confusion, with regret and sorrow in the midst of our own Good Fridays. And He makes the same promise to us: I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. I will be with you. His Resurrection is the first and definitive step in his fulfillment of this promise. Jesus is faithful. We can count on it.
He proves His faithfulness over and over again. The miracles he performed during his earthly ministry were all signs of this faithfulness. The greatest sign of all was the Resurrection - His definitive victory over sin and suffering, the bedrock of our hope. And, these signs have continued throughout the history of the Church. In the First Reading we heard about the deacon Philip healing crippled people and casting out demons. His miracles brought joy to the whole city, because they showed that the Good News of the Gospel, which Philip was preaching, was more than just wishful thinking. And the miracles have never stopped flowing. Skeptics always try to explain them away, and they aren't the main pillar of our faith, but they still keep happening.
Just think, every year the Pope beatifies and canonizes new saints, events that can only happen when miracles through their intercession confirm the holiness of the saints. Most of us have probably experienced miracles ourselves; sometimes great miracles, more often smaller ones. But, miracles do happen; and continue to serve as reminders of God’s presence and action in our world and in our lives.
In today's Mass, Jesus renews His promise to never abandon us, and we should thank Him for that. Jesus is always with us. He is with us in our hearts, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is with us in the Eucharist. He is with us in private prayer. He is with us in Scripture, the revealed Word of God that will always nourish our souls if we read it with faith. He is with us in the Church– He is with us whenever we need him. Jesus has not left us orphans.
But there is a chance that we have made ourselves into orphans. Maybe we look like Christians on the outside, but still haven't really become Christians on the inside. And maybe that's why we feel gnawing frustration or loneliness, anxiety or frustration deep in our souls.
Today, Jesus is giving us another chance. Today, we are given the gift of hindsight, to look back on all that has happened with a new clarity. Today, Jesus issues a new invitation to each of us to let Him take up residence on the throne of our hearts, or, as St Peter said today, to “sanctify Christ as the Lord of our hearts.” There can only be one King in our hearts. Either ourselves, with our weakness and limitations, or Christ, with his infinite wisdom, power, goodness and holiness.
Today, let us once again make Jesus the Lord of our hearts. Let us hear His words today and allow them to speak into our anxiety, frustration, and pain. He says to you and to me, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” Let us put our trust in His promises, even when it hurts; let us follow His teaching, even when it is inconvenient and unpopular; let us take up our crosses with Christ, remembering with the gift of hindsight, that our story doesn’t end with the Crucifixion; it leads us all the way to the new life of the Resurrection.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 10, 2020:
Have you ever thought about the reality that you have been called by God? Each one of us isn’t a Catholic by accident. We are Catholics today for one singular reason – because God has called us to be. Now, typically when we talk about being called, we are usually talking only about those whose vocation it is to be a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious brother or sister, but being called by God, God having a plan for our lives, this is something that belongs to each and every one of us. God calls each of us just personally, He calls each of us tenderly. He calls all of us with a plan in mind.
We heard one of the most beautiful articulations of this call in our second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In the next verse beyond our reading, St. Peter says, “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people.” These words of St. Peter are directed to all of us, not a select few. Peter reminds us that we are chosen, we are God’s own. He has called US out of darkness. We were no people and now we are God’s people. Each and every one of us.
When we embrace God’s call, we gain a clarity about our identity, a clarity about who God wants us to be. I read a wonderful book a few years ago by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly Protestant pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you - What is the Lord asking of me in this moment? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well, then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it?”
I love the thought that God calls us to be present in the world as artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges that our world presents in ways that transform them into something new and holy. And it is all about our identity in Christ, and identity given to us through our call. An identity that means to give us and bring out from us incredible joy.
If we are artists, the color we are called to paint the world with is the color of Christian joy. Pope Francis speaks about joy constantly. It is his major theme. In one of his earliest Masses, he said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”
This simple message of joy is critical because we know we live in a world that lacks joy – especially in this moment of crisis. So much of our world in quarantine is filled, absolutely overflowing, with negativity. It’s hard to watch the news or tune in to social media without feeling overwhelmed by the negativity there. The world needs us to share our call, our joy, as God’s followers. In the midst of our isolation, we can feel frustrated asking “What can I do?” The answer is to respond to this moment as artists and actively paint the world with joy; joy that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said, “Joy…always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” by God.
My friends, this is, what it means for us to be called. You are God’s chosen. Now you are God’s people. And He is calling you to radiate joy. We should be joyful as Jesus was joyful, as joyful as Pope Francis is; radiating the joy that is a gift of God.
The Pope said, “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
My friends, as we continue our Easter journey, as we encounter Jesus who is waiting for us in this Mass today, I want to renew that invitation of Pope Francis in each of our hearts today. Renew your encounter with Jesus who has called you. Renew your encounter with the God who loves you and who has called you to be a people uniquely His own. Let God’s love be planted in you again so that you may beam with joy.
We have been called to show the world how to love. We are here to be the joyful face of God that conquers the darkness of our hearts, the darkness of our times, the darkness of this crisis. Let us be artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the joy that is a gift from God. You were no people, now you are God’s people.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 26, 2020:
Most of you know that my dear, sweet Mom passed away almost two years ago. My Mom and I used to talk on the phone just about every day, and one of the real gifts that I received after her passing was the realization that the many voicemails that she had left me were still saved on my iPhone. I immediately saved them to my computer and so I still have about 40 recordings of my own mother’s voice. I have everything from a casual, “Called to chat. Call me back,” to my Mom singing Happy Birthday to me. These are a real treasure. But, the most important ones, when I’m especially missing Mom the most, are ones where she simply says my name. Mom, and the rest of my family, always call me Tommy. And to hear my mother say “Tommy” cuts right through any sadness and makes me feel close to her.
There is something special about the way that a simple word can break through all of the things that cloud our hearts. Just think of how we see this in the stories of the Resurrection of Jesus that we have been spending time with during our Easter season. We have heard from John’s Gospel, when Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb on that first Easter morning; she is distraught. She sits outside of the tomb weeping. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him,” she says. Jesus appears to her, but in her anguish and sorrow, she doesn’t recognize him. But Jesus simply says her name, “Mary!” and she immediately recognizes Him. A simple word from Jesus pulls Mary Magdalene out of her sorrow, out of her grief, out of her desolation and into incomparable joy. So much joy that she runs from that place to share the good news, “I have seen the Lord!”
Last Sunday it was St. Thomas’ turn. He was not present when Jesus appeared in the upper room. In his own sorrow and distress, He refused to believe the fantastical story the rest were telling Him. So obstinate that he said he would only believe if he could put his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus hands. When Jesus appears again, He merely speaks a few words to Thomas, “Peace be with you” and in an instant all of his doubts dissolve and he makes one of the greatest proclamations of faith in all of Scripture, “My Lord and my God!”
We should not be surprised, then, as we come to today’s Gospel. Once again we have two disciples, this time not Apostles or Jesus most important disciples, instead we have someone named Cleopas and another whose name we are not given. They are travelling along the road to Emmaus. They had followed Jesus with hope and joy. They had truly believed he was sent by God to establish the promised Kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and quite literally walked away.
It was on this journey away from it all that they met a stranger on the road. They listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen. But note a few things in this passage. The idea of the resurrection was not unknown to them. They tell Jesus, “Some women from our group have astounded us,” and they recount how Mary came and told them of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed to them – they simply didn’t believe it. Their doubts, their dashed hopes, their disillusionment kept them from believing; kept them from seeing the Lord. They let their anger and their confusion get in the way.
And, once again, Jesus breaks through with a word. For Mary it was her name. For Thomas it was the gift of peace. For the disciples this week it was the breaking open of Scripture and sharing the bread. The Risen Lord let Mary weep and waited for her to recognize Him. The Risen Lord let Thomas doubt and waited for him to see. The Risen Lord allowed the disciples on the road to express their dashed hopes and dreams, and waited for their eyes to open. Resurrection waits for grief; it waits for doubt, it waits for dashed hopes and disappointments. Even in the midst of those things, the Risen Christ was there; He was present. Risen, yes. But waiting and weeping; offering peace, and breaking open Word and Sacrament. Because that’s what living, loving people do. They wait, and then with a word of knowing, with a word of peace, with a word of comfort; they break through and new life begins.
We spend so much time reflecting on these stories because we, too, often find ourselves in these same situations. We are often like Mary, inconsolable in our grief. We are often like Thomas, focused on our doubts or our inability to see beyond what we believe to be possible. We are like Cleopas and the other disciple, feeling lost and dejected and uncertain about tomorrow. I think there’s an important reason why we aren’t given the name of the second disciple – it is so we might place our own name there, because we are just like them.
And so these Easter gospels contain an important message for all of us – if we have felt like them in their grief, doubt, and disappointment; maybe we can also feel like them today with their hopes and dreams renewed; their faith restored. My friends, Jesus wants to speak the same words to us today. He speaks our names, He offers us peace, He breaks open Word and Sacrament. He does this so that our hearts might be opened once again to His amazing, miraculous, resurrected presence in our lives. We hear from the prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD, who created you, and formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.”
Notice that each of the disciples felt sad, confused, and dejected the first time they lost Jesus on the Cross – they denied Him, they abandoned Him, and they rejected Him. Notice how different their reaction was when He left them again. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they said. “They set out at once” and proclaimed “The Lord has truly been raised!"
My friends, listen carefully as Jesus speak your name today, welcome His offer of peace deeply into your heart, open your eyes as he breaks Word and Sacrament, so that you might see Him and let Him set your heart on fire. Resurrection makes us new so that we can again proclaim Christ risen to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
IF YOU'D LIKE TO HEAR MY MOTHER'S VOICE, CLICK BELOW:
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 5, 2020:
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 for one reason – 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. 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. If you’ve seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you have at least a sense of the immensity of that love. 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!
This is a story of the profound love that God has for each one of us; the profound hope that God places in each of us; and the profound confidence that God has that we truly can be His people, we can truly achieve the Kingdom, we can truly overcome our own sinfulness, our own weakness – with His grace and with His help. He died for us. How will you respond to what God has done for you?
And there is no more profound moment in my lifetime, and perhaps yours, to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed right now by all that is going on around us. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the very Son of God Himself hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – God has conquered even death. There is nothing that we are facing even in the midst of this crisis that is bigger or more powerful than our 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 reality. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and around me.
Of all of the words that Jesus ever spoke, ever preached, ever taught – the most profound message He ever gave us was on that Cross. Jesus could not have explained how much He loves us with all the words in the world. They would never fully contain a love so powerful. And we could never express our gratitude with all the words in the world. “Thanks Jesus” just somehow wouldn’t quite cut it. Instead, as we proclaim this Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If His love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the very action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that strive to be worthy of this kind of love. We are called to give witness to a people who are not afraid, but instead who are comforted by God’s loving embrace. Let us make our prayer, the prayer of St. Faustina, and say with confidence especially in the midst of this moment, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
My friends, today’s celebration marks our entry way into Holy Week. We will spend this next week entering deeply into the story; deeply into the imagery and symbolism and ritual of our salvation – from the Last Supper, through that death and crucifixion, right through to newness of life in the Resurrection of our Lord. We will walk with Him as He conquers His own death; and ours. Today reminds us that our story is one that is full of triumph, the triumph of our King, but it is also one that is full of suffering. Our story is one of grace in the Eucharist, in our own Baptism, it is one that calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters.
My friends, today’s celebration hopes to drive you inward into a profound silence, reflecting on that powerful reality – He died for me. Embrace it and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again; perhaps watch The Passion of the Christ, think about what it means to say that Jesus died for you! Jesus, I trust in You.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 29, 2020:
My Dad always worked as a truck driver; and when I was a young boy, he was a long-haul trucker. This means that he would be away on long trips that would take him to all parts of the country for weeks at a time. This meant, of course, that time with Dad was precious, especially during those years because it was rare. In the 1970s, when I was just a kid, our country found itself in the midst of an oil crisis when OPEC declared an oil embargo. These were difficult times in our nation. I remember, maybe you do too, cars lined up for a quarter of a mile beyond every gas station. I remember the signs in front of stations that just said, “No gas today.” And I remember the rationing of gasoline when you could only go to buy gas on certain days based on your license plate number.
As you can imagine, this crisis struck anyone who worked in any travel related industry very hard, and this was true for my Dad, a truck driver. In fact, during this time, he was let go from his job, and was looking for work for quite some time. This was a very difficult time for our family even trying to survive financially.
But here’s the thing; the reason why I’m telling you this story. Of course, as a very young boy, my parents shielded us from these harsh realities that were swirling around us. At the time, we were not conscious of how bad things were around us, or even for our family. I always think back on these years as some of the most wonderful in my childhood. Why? Because all my brother and I knew at the time was this – Dad was home! And that was wonderful. Dad was home when we went off to school. He made us breakfast, sent us off with our lunches; and Dad was there when we got home. We got such a big dose of that precious time with Dad and this was the gift and the grace of what were otherwise difficult years for my family and the country.
I was thinking of this moment in my childhood because, of course, we are all living through a difficult and anxious time in our world today. If we have the news on, our thoughts are being filled with numbers of cases, numbers of fatalities, situations going from bad to worse around our country and around our world. We can be tempted to give into this anxiety and fear and see only the tragedy around us. But, I also know, that even in the midst of our current challenge, there are multiple gifts and graces surrounding us, if only we open our eyes to them.
We heard from Ezekiel today, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, O my people! I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.” God’s words to us, His people, today, through the prophet are a reminder that in our Paschal story of life, death, and resurrection, death is never the end of the story. Our story always ends in renewal, in life more abundant than we could possibly imagine.
We hear the same message clearly from Jesus in our Gospel. We know this story of the raising of Lazarus well, but notice what Jesus says to His disciples before He goes to His friend who has died. He said, “This illness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” And glorified He is. When Jesus arrives on the scene, Martha is certain that this story ends in death. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died,” is her accusation to Jesus. It is the kind of accusation that we have perhaps felt in this midst of our crisis. Maybe in our minds we have though, “Lord, why are you allowing this to happen?”
But, let me be clear, as Jesus was clear to Martha. God does not create the illness in our world; God does not cause the death and destruction in our world. He is not responsible for the pain and suffering in our world. God does not create these terrible things just to teach us a lesson. That would be capricious and cruel. Each of these horrible things are the very opposite of who and what God is. God is love, God is mercy, God is our salvation – always and in every situation. But, it doesn’t mean that we can’t find His grace, His glory, His gift in the midst of this crisis.
A dear friend of mine, a Poor Clare nun named Claire, was always fond of reminding me, “Tom, life is messy. Invite God into the mess.” God did not cause this mess, but God is in the midst of it – because that’s where God always is – in our midst, trying to be close to us, helping us to carry the burden, trying to lift the anxiety, desiring nothing more than to fill us with His peace, His love, His holiness. It’s up to us to invite God in so that even in the midst of crisis, we can find a renewed faith, a renewed experience of our living God who is close to us.
On Friday, Pope Francis spoke to the whole world when he held an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing. This blessing, “to the city and to the world” typically only takes place twice a year – at Christmas and Easter. The Holy Father knew that in this extraordinary global moment, we could all benefit from this blessing. In his reflection, he spoke about the Gospel passage where Jesus and the Apostles are on a boat at sea, and the waters become dangerous.
He said, “Like the disciples, we find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. But, we have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. Just like the disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying ‘We are dying’, so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this. The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. You, Lord, are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others.”
My friends, God has not caused this moment – but He is very present in the midst of it. Can you feel that Divine presence? As with every moment, there is an opportunity to discover the gift and the grace that is hidden here. Use your time of isolation as a time of prayer. Use your time together as a family as a time to renew, rebuild, or even create a strong family build on faith and love. Think about how you will act differently when this moment passes – do not simply go back to the crazy, busy, unnecessarily hectic lives we have allowed ourselves to create; and instead remember that it is good to slow down; it is good to be together; it is good to gather around the table for a meal; it is good to pray as a family; it is good to have the chance to connect with one another in ways that are deeper than we are used to.
The Holy Father said, “By ourselves we flounder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning everything that happens to us to the good, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.”
My friends, life is messy – especially in this moment – but invite God into the mess. Let him fill this moment with His love, mercy, grace, and hope. Let this be the gift we discover today.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN LENT, March 22, 2020:
Join me in song for a moment – you all know this one: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” You are all officially members now of our virtual choir.
I was blind, but now I see. Our Scriptures today are full of these opposing images of darkness vs. light; and blindness vs. sight. “Surely we are not also blind?” is the surprising question of the Pharisees and it is a question that is meant to speak to us today as well. Surely, we are not blind also?
Today’s Gospel passage gives us an incredible story of Jesus that functions on different levels. On the surface is a spectacular story of the healing power of Jesus. How amazing it must have been to witness this scene. Everyone knew this man to be blind all his life. And, now through this dramatic action of mud and saliva, Jesus restores physical sight to the man. And, all are amazed, but the story quickly shifts away from that level to the deeper level that asks where true blindness exists? Is it merely in the eyes? Or is real blindness in the heart; in the soul?
The author John Howard Griffin was best known for his book Black Like Me, which describes his experience of living disguised as a black man in the South in the early 1960s; later made into a movie. What is not widely known about Mr. Griffin is that during World War II, he was blinded in an airplane explosion; and he lived for 12 years completely blind. Then one day, walking down a street near his parent’s home in Texas, he suddenly began to see what he described as “red sand” and without warning his sight returned. A specialist later told him that he had been suffering from a blockage to an optic nerve that had suddenly cleared. Referring to that experience, he told a reporter, “You can’t imagine what it is like for a father to see his children for the first time. I had constantly pictured them in my mind and then there they were - so much more beautiful that I had ever imagined.”
Blindness, whether physical or spiritual, whether interior or exterior, is about what we are failing or unable to see. You know, the very first words that God speaks in the Bible are these, “Let there be light.” The very first words of God make it possible for our eyes to see the beauty of His creation; to literally see His presence that is all around us. When we are spiritually blind – and that is the blindness that really matters – we are blind because we have failed to see God who is right in front of us; all around us; speaking to our hearts; speaking to our lives.
Surely, we are not also blind, are we? This question has continued to echo in my heart throughout this week as each day we are being invited into greater and greater isolation because of the threat of this virus. And, it echoes not because I knew I was blind; it echoes because even in the midst of this crisis, I am beginning to see new things all around us.
Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched - they must be felt with the heart.” In the midst of the anxiety and even fear that people are currently experiencing, I also see moment after moment of people reaching out to one another and finding new ways to care for one another. Our Grab & Go dinners which began on Friday were a great example. We encountered person after person who are already experiencing the anxiety that comes from the loss of their job, their lively hood, and the uncertainty about the days and weeks ahead. One after another, they were touched by a gesture as simple as a meal. Jesus words from Matthew’s Gospel were heavy on my heart, “When Lord did we see you hungry and feed you?”
Another example would be what we’re doing right now, celebrating this Holy Mass online. You might recall that a study came out at the end of the summer that showed that 2/3 of Catholics did not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; that His presence was merely symbolic. I would love to take that poll again right now. We have only been without direct access to our Eucharistic Lord for a week, and already I can see the ways that God is increasing that hunger for what only He can give. I keep thinking of a well known quote by St. Padre Pio. He said, “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” How many of you are feeling that right now?
I have had moments this week where – even in isolation – I have felt more connected than ever to each one of you and even our global faith community through prayer. God does not ever create the darkness in our world. These dark moments – whether disease, war, despair, or other challenges – are the very opposite of what God does. But, what God always wants to do is open our eyes, lift our blindness, let there be light? This moment is opening our eyes to things we had not previously seen.
What is God showing you in these days? Be attentive to this movement. God wants this moment to be a grace for you and for your family. You and your family are spending more time together – make it meaningful time; renew your personal prayer life and the prayer life of your family; or discover that life of prayer for the first time. Create space that opens the eyes of everyone to the grace, goodness, and mercy that surrounds you.
Let me share a poem with you that you may have seen online. It was written by a Franciscan friar in Ireland called Lockdown.
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But, They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
People are singing to each other across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
So that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Join me again, won’t you? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 15, 2020:
Just a few years ago, in 2017, Pope Francis canonized two young people, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Francisco and Jacinta were two of the three children to whom the Blessed Mother appeared in Fatima, Portugal in 1917. In his homily for their canonization, Pope Francis said, “Confirmed in hope, we give thanks for the countless graces bestowed over these past hundred years. All of them passed beneath the mantle of light that Our Lady has spread over the four corners of the earth, beginning with this land of Portugal, so rich in hope. We can take as our examples Saint Francisco and Saint Jacinta, whom the Virgin Mary introduced into the immense ocean of God’s light and taught to adore Him. That was the source of their strength in overcoming opposition and suffering. God’s presence became constant in their lives, as is evident from their insistent prayers for sinners and their desire to remain ever near to ‘the hidden Jesus’ in the tabernacle.”
Within two years of their experience of grace, their miraculous experience of the Blessed Mother, both Francisco and Jacinta would die as victims of the 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic. They were 9 and 10 years old. When Pope Francis canonized them in 2017, they became the youngest people ever to be canonized as saints of the church who did not die a martyr’s death.
I have been thinking a lot about the 1918 epidemic as it has tremendous resonance to what we are experiencing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost moment-by-moment, we hear of new protocols, new closures, new cases unfolding all over our country and all over our world. As we know, here in our diocese, Bishop da Cunha has called for various protocols on our behavior at Mass – all designed to minimize physical contact and lessen the threat of spreading the virus. The obligation to attend Mass this weekend was lifted and so you are all here on a voluntary basis. It would not surprise me in the days ahead if our diocese followed what others have done and ban all publicly celebrated Masses. We will keep you posted should that develop.
Just as a century ago, people today are experiencing high levels of fear and anxiety and uncertainty about what is taking place. In the midst of all of this, we can wonder how we should be responding. I believe that in the story of Francisco and Jacinta there is a very important lesson for us. The lesson is this – as tragic as the 1918 epidemic was, as challenging as this current pandemic is, God always wants to break through our struggles, our challenges, our pains, and our sorrows to spread His love; to be close to us in the midst of it all; to share our pain and turn it to joy. 1918 was a difficult time for the world. The First World War was winding down, and as the world was healing from those wounds, the Spanish flu raged across the globe. And in the midst of it, the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Light, appeared to these beautiful children in the countryside. Her message radiated out to the world. It was a message of light, joy, prayer, conversion, and peace. The world was not overcome by the darkness it experienced a century ago, instead it was flooded with God’s light.
Because of the coronavirus, our Lent is perhaps about to become the most serious Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we may be called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our prayer groups, fast from meeting for Bible Study, or faith formation, or the Stations of the Cross – this list can go on and on. This will perhaps be the hardest fast of our lives. But, it can also become the most fruitful we have ever experienced. There is great potential for this moment to be one of profound grace for each of us who embraces it.
Our Gospel today tells us of this encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. And He says something quite ordinary to her that I think can become for us an extraordinary desire. He says, “Give me a drink.” Now, of course, we all know what it is like in life to be thirsty, this is a common experience. But, I think we also know, especially as people of faith, that the more important thirsts in life aren’t the physical ones, but the spiritual ones we encounter.
There are many references to the spiritual life as a thirst for God in the Old Testament. Psalm 42 says, “As the deer longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts for the living God.” From Isaiah we hear God say, “Come to me, all you who are thirsty.” We all feel a thirst for God. This isn’t new. It is the same inner thirst that people have experienced since the beginning of time. The great Church father, St. Augustine explained it this way, “Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest, until they rest in Him.” Another way of saying this is that we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill.
If we come to the point where attending Mass is not something available to us, let us not moan and complain, judge and second-guess our leaders. Instead let us be attentive to this fast and its power to make us profoundly thirsty, profoundly hungry for God. These extraordinary protocols will not last forever. In a matter of weeks, or perhaps months, we will return to normality. How will we use this time? Will we be attentive to the holy hunger that these days will induce in us? Hunger for the Eucharist, hunger for our community, hunger to be fed by God? Imagine the joy when we are able to gather around the Table of the Lord in the ways that we are so used to. In the meantime, listen to your “longing for running streams” and let it speak to your heart about your deep desire for what only God can give.
In the mist of the challenges a century ago, God broke in and His light shone in the darkness. It was a time that literally made saints. In the midst of this challenge, allow God to make you a saint too. One of the most well-known quotes of St. Padre Pio is, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry.” Let us make this our motto too during this challenging days. Let us pray for all those effected by this crisis; let us hope in God’s ability to be near to us and lead us through; and let us turn our worries into prayer, our anxieties into faith, handing them over to God.
Jesus, and Jesus alone, can calm the restlessness of our souls. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can satisfy the thirst in our hearts. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can fill the void in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God, who has come to fill that God-shaped hole in each of us. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, who has come to calm that restlessness of our hearts. Jesus is the water from heaven, who has come to satisfy that spiritual thirst we feel.
Let us be attentive in these days to the work that God is doing in our hearts and let us be renewed in our hunger and thirst for God. O Lord, my heart is restless until it rests in You.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 8, 2020:
I always say that I am a well-named Thomas – a doubter. Especially in my teens and early 20s, I really struggled with faith. I wanted to believe more than anything in the world, but that gift had just not been given to me. And then, around 21 years old, God began to enter my life in a powerful way. I began feeling drawn to the Mass, drawn to the Eucharist. And, I will never forget one particular Sunday. There was nothing different about this Mass, it was just the same as it was every Sunday. But, when the priest got to the words of institution – “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…This is My Body. Take this and drink…This is the chalice of My Blood.” – when the priest said those words, it was though it was the first time I had ever heard them. In that moment, they were not words I was trying to understand with my mind; they were words that I knew were true in my heart. I knew in that moment that Jesus was real; that He was present before me; that He was transfigured in my sight – bread into Body; wine into Blood. After I received Holy Communion that day, I could feel the presence of Jesus in me in a real way. As I knelt back in my pew, tears began to roll down my face. And my life has not been the same since that moment.
I was thinking of this moment in my own life as we hear a similarly amazing story unfold in our Gospel today. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment to take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything in their lives changed. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Today, as we recall the transfiguration of Jesus, it is not a moment of mere historical memory. It is instead a moment of invitation. Jesus invites us to experience transfiguration in our own lives; to have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst; God’s life-changing presence before us.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is a preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Welcome Him. Let Him become a part of you. Listen to Him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
And if the altar is a place of transfiguration for us; so too is the Confessional. If we have the courage to step into that confessional and lay our sins before God, we too will become dazzling white as our sins are lifted. In that moment Jesus wants to lift off our burdens, take away our struggles, instill in us the beauty of His grace. Jesus wants to restore us to holiness. Imagine that. Imagine letting this thought settle in your heart and take root – I am holy. I am holy. I am without sin. I am free. In the confessional, we hear the voice of God who speaks the most incredible words to us. He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” In the confessional, we are transformed, transfigured by that Grace. In that moment, we once again become God’s beloved daughters, beloved sons, with whom God is well pleased.
My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changed my life forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever.
My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. He wants to forgive our sins and set us free. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that these encounters makes us.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 1, 2020:
One Ash Wednesday, the church was packed with the faithful eager to receive their ashes. Another minister helped the priest distribute the ashes, and they each started at opposite ends of the line and worked towards each other. But the other minister was having trouble remembering what to say. The priest said, “It is easy, you say, ‘Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” As they were about to begin, the minister panicked unable to remember the phrase. He hurried back to the priest and asked for the phrase again. Father told him and he went back to his station. But no sooner had he left, then he returned again. This time in frustration, the priest said, “Remember, you are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy.” The minister said, “Okay, okay, I’ve got it” and sheepishly went back and distributed ashes. As the line shrank and the priest and the minister came closer together, Father was stunned to hear the words the minister was saying, “You are a dummy and you’ll always be a dummy.”
Judging by our Ash Wednesday celebrations, I think our Lenten journey is off to a good start. We were blessed with packed churches in all of our parishes, and I have heard from other priests who likewise experienced larger-than-usual turnout this year. And, none of our ministers called anyone a dummy!
Ash Wednesday is a celebration that always moves me and causes me to ponder what it means. For example, even though we were at near standing-room-only on Wednesday, not one of us was obliged to attend Mass, or get ashes on our foreheads. Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation. It is a completely optional celebration. And yet, ask even the most marginally active Catholic and they will tell you, “I have to get my ashes.” Why is it that so many people go out of their way on Ash Wednesday to essentially come to church and leave with a dirty forehead?
I experienced Wednesday as a profound sign that says that even though there may be many people who do not practice their faith by coming to 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. We still desire that closeness to God in the depths of our hearts. And, I think, there is something profoundly humbling about these dirty foreheads – something that roots us once again in God when we so publicly and literally mark ourselves with this symbol of ashes.
Just think of the symbolism. On a very natural level, the ashes on our foreheads are a reminder that all things end. They remind us in a very direct way that our time on earth is limited, that we will one day return to the dust from which we came. As we pray in one of the opening prayers for 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, that limit is not depressing, it is in fact the sign of new life – it opens up an entry into eternity.
Our ashes represent this cycle so beautifully. The ashes we placed on our forehead as a reminder that we are dust, just a year ago were the vibrant and green palms that we waved as we 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.” The 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 Wednesday, gave an incredibly evocative reflection on the phrase, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” and the image of those ashes that we all embraced mere days ago. 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 not a time for useless sermons, but 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.
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 foreheads 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. Let us rise again from ashes as we journey once again toward Easter. And let us share that same love of God luminously with everyone we meet.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 23, 2020:
One of the single most powerful spiritual moments of my life happened on September 12, 2001. We all remember the tragic events of the day prior as our nation was brutally attacked and more than 3,000 innocent people lost their lives. It was a moment unlike anything that most Americans had ever experienced as the occasions have been very few that we have ever been attacked on our own soil. But, it was the next morning that struck me in a powerful way. I was a new priest, just a week shy of my first anniversary of ordination, and people were flooding to the Church for prayer and to find some solace and hope in the aftermath of war. As I sat in prayer that morning, getting ready to offer some words of spiritual consolation, my heart nearly stopped as I read the words of the Gospel on that day. The Gospel passage that the liturgy of the Church had to offer us on September 12th was this, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.”
I don’t know that there were ever a more difficult time to hear those words; but also I do know that it was the most important time to hear them. As our hearts were full of sorrow, as well as anger, and confusion, and perhaps even a desire for vengeance – God had His most powerful message ready for us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” In other words, God was saying very simply and powerfully to our hearts – don’t forget who you are. In the midst of this tragedy, do not let your hearts be filled with anger and hate – but remember who you are; remember what it means to follow My Son. I have never forgotten that moment or the impact that those words had on my heart that day. And, there was no coincidence in those words. In fact, just another day later was the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and then the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. God had His message ready for us in those days. “I love you, I am with you, do not let your hearts be turned to hate. Conquer this darkness with the light of My Son.”
Today’s Gospel message to love our enemies can be one of the most difficult parts of the Gospel for us to embrace. It is contrary to our human nature, contrary to what the world tells us. Many of us hear these words with some doubts – are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, to not judge people, to pray for those who are unkind to us? It would be difficult to find another passage in the Gospel that is more at odds with our world’s normal way of behaving. If we turn the other check, after all, won’t we just get hit on that one too?
But, at the same time, this passage states more clearly than just about any other exactly how we are different from the world as believers in Jesus. Our reading from Leviticus today said it well, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Radical, constant, unrelenting love is the unique and particular call of all of us who were baptized in Jesus Christ.
Jesus reminds us to stop wasting energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. Just think, how many of us are angry with someone because of the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, even years ago? As Christians, we are not called to anger, judgment and resentment. We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him to love His enemies all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He did that for you because he loves you.
We love our enemies because when we love Jesus, everyone is within our circle of love – even our enemies. No one is excluded; no one is shut out. If Christianity is to ever change our world it will only be accomplished by the noticeably different behavior of Christians. In this world that is so full of hate, anger, and division, do we stand out in contrast as recognizably different; to paraphrase the hymn, “Will they know that we are Christians by our love”?
Jesus calls us to rise above the pettiness of the world. So, the one who was struck on the cheek should rise above the attack or insult and not respond in kind. The one who lost the tunic relinquishes even the cloak, not to be outdone in generosity. It is a way of saying: I will undo your violence toward me with generosity, goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. I will erase your evil with my constant acts of goodness. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love, forgiveness and the mercy of God – as shown to the world by you and by me. We are not called to overlook the evils in our world, but to overwhelm the evil in our world with our unrelenting acts of goodness, kindness, and holiness.
I like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really mean; or really deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless, and forgive, and pray.” This is a Christian heroism that does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it. It is not easy. But if we could be called to it on September 12, 2001; surely we can be called to it today. This is the only way that the Kingdom of God will ever reach its fulfillment; if it begins in the converted hearts of believers.
Today, Jesus is urging you and me to join Him again on a journey. We’ve all come a certain distance and now He wants us to move just a little more. Can we give a little more to those in need, forgive a little more those who hurt us, love a little more even those who have not earned it? He says today, “You have followed me this far; and now join me for the extra mile – it will make all the difference.”
Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and you will transform first your soul and then, the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 16, 2020:
Everyone has heard of Jesse Owens, famous for winning four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1936. Not so many, though, have heard of Lutz Long. Lutz was one of Germany’s top athletes in the 1936 games and one of Adolph Hitler’s favorites. In the long jump trials, Lutz broke the Olympic record. There was only one man who could possibly beat him – Jesse Owens.
Just before Jesse’s turn to qualify, Hitler infamously left his box and walked out of the games. This was viewed as a snub of the black athlete who didn’t fit into Hitler’s ideal. Jesse said of that moment, “It made me mad as anyone can be. Then, I fouled on my first try and didn’t jump far enough to qualify on my second. With only one try left, I began to panic.” But, then, Jesse felt a hand on his shoulder and it belonged to Lutz Long. Lutz suggested that Jesse draw a line a few inches short of the takeoff board and jump from there. And it worked. Jesse qualified by a foot.
That moment of heroic kindness sparked the beginning of a close friendship between the two. In the days ahead, Jesse won three gold medals with Lutz cheering him on at every event. Then came the long jump finals pitting Jesse against Lutz. Again, Jesse won. He recalled what happened next, “While Hitler glared, Lutz held up my hand and shouted to the gigantic crowd, ‘Jes-se Ow-ens!’ Then the stadium picked up the chant. My hair stood on end.”
Ordinarily athletes don’t help their opponents, but Lutz Long showed Jesse an heroic kindness that was truly miraculous. Ordinarily athletes don’t celebrate an opponent’s victory. But Lutz Long was no ordinary athlete. He rejoiced in Jesse’s achievement in a way that spoke truth, and love, and hope to the watching world.
In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is reminding us that we too are called to offer acts of heroic kindness. He reminds us of the incredible power that showing kindness can have in our lives and in our world. Jesus urged His followers to show kindness to one another, even to the point of “turning the other cheek” when someone treated them unkindly. He warns those who treat others with anger, “You have heard that it was said…’Whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.” Jesus lived this message Himself showing kindness to sinners, compassion to the sick, mercy to His enemies. And so should we.
Kindness blesses the person to whom we are kind and it also blesses us when we extend that kindness. Today’s readings invite us to take a look at our own lives and ask ourselves how they compare to the life that Jesus calls us to in the Sermon on the Mount. The invite us to ask ourselves what could happen in our world and in our lives if the energy we expend on anger, or even apathy, were instead expended on kindness? How would our lives and those around us change if instead of mimicking the anger and division we hear around us, we embraced heroic kindness as our mission and our daily focus? The pattern of anger begetting anger is too ordinary in our world. We give in to it often without even noticing. We’re called to something bigger, something better, something stronger.
Kindness is a power greater than any other on earth. And it is at the disposal of every person in every nation; at the disposal of each and every one of us here today. What’s more, it has no limit. In fact, the more kindness that we give, the more there is to receive, the more it changes our world.
When we feel the desire to respond to the challenges of our world with anger or even hatred, let’s remember Lutz Long and face that anger with heroic kindness. Let us live the lives of extraordinary kindness that Jesus Himself lived and that He calls forth from each one of us, His followers. Let us engage in heroic acts of kindness as though it were the only thing we were called to do.
Let me end with the Prayer of St. Francis, which exemplifies the lives of kindness that we are called to live:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 9, 2020:
Three people were viewing the Grand Canyon one day. One was an artist, one a priest and the third was a cowboy. As they stood on the edge, each one responded to the wonder before them. The artist said, “What a beautiful scene to paint!” The priest cried, “What a wonderful example of God’s handiwork!” And the cowboy sighed and said, “Heck of a place to lose a cow.”
My friends, perspective matters. In our Gospel today, Jesus proclaimed, “You are the salt of the earth…You are the light of the world… Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” We know this passage well, but I think that we most often focus on our failure in its regard. In other words, we usually hear, “You are supposed to be the salt of the earth and light of the world; so get to it!!” But, as I reflected on this Gospel this week in my own prayer, what kept coming to me were images of different people. These weren’t people who are failing at their mission as salt and light in our world, but rather people shining brightly and bringing the full flavor of the Gospel to bear.
For example, I kept thinking about my grandfather and in particular the night that he returned to Heaven. When he passed, of course, there was sadness, but it wasn’t the same kind of sadness that we often experience with a loss. And that was because we knew where he was going. My grandfather lived his life as a deeply prayerful Catholic man, devoted to God; devoted to the Church; devoted to his wife and children; devoted to service. He was a man that everyone knew and loved. He always had a smile on his face, a joke to tell (that he never told correctly), a joyful song to sing (whether or not he could carry a note), and a kind word to share. For me, he was a model of how a good, holy, Christian man lives his life. And as I held his hand surrounded by family on the night he returned to Heaven, there was in that room even a sense of joy because we knew he was receiving the reward that God had prepared for him. For me, he was the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
And you know, as I speak of him, I’m sure you’re thinking of someone in your family or in your life who was or is salt and light to those around them. We all know people like my grandfather and their lives inspire us. We can sometimes be tempted to think that holiness is something abstract or an ideal. But, I know that holiness is real and tangible. We can be tempted to think that holiness is something very rare and only for the privileged few – like like St. Francis, St. Mother Teresa or St. John Paul the 2nd. But, I think that holiness is actually as common as salt. When Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world,” He didn’t say, “you will be,” He said you are! He was reminding us, His followers, of our call to live and spread His Gospel. He was telling us what we have been made through His grace. I think Jesus paying His followers a compliment – then and now. Jesus was telling them that He already knew how good they are; how holy they are; and He is saying the same to you and to me.
Any homilist today has a choice between a homily that is a pat on the back or a slap on the cheek. I think today is a good day for a pat on the back. All of us here are the salt of the earth and the light of the world already. If we look around, we just might realize that we meet holiness in and through each other every day. We can see it in the devotion of those who come to daily Mass; in those devoted to the Blessed Mother and the prayer of the Rosary; in those who have reared their families and taught them to share a devotion to God and His church – like the beautiful family we have here today bringing their child for baptism. We can see it in the beautiful young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face. We see this holiness in those who care for the needy of our community, whose ministry brings them to prisons and nursing homes and homeless shelters; we see it in our bereavement ministers who accompany grieving families through the loss of a loved one; we see this holiness in the sick and the dying facing the greatest challenge of their lives with tremendous faith. Holiness is all around us. We are salt and light.
This holiness is prayer-powered and grace-filled! This much we all know, but we also need remember that this holiness reveals itself to us in human form. It is the sanctity that nods to us on the street; that offers us a bowl of hot soup on a cold day or helps to shovel us out from a snow storm. It is in the face of the person who tells us not to worry or that they understand what we’re going through or that they will offer a prayer for us and our needs. If our eyes our open, we can recognize the holiness that surrounds us at nearly every moment not floating high in the heavens out of reach, but right in front of us in the places that we live.
If there is a challenge to be found for us today as we hear these words about salt and light it is this – let us all pledge to expand the area of goodness and holiness in our lives. If we are reaching out this far in goodness, let us agree to reach out that much farther. Let us acknowledge today in this holy place for this Holy Mass that we are holy; let us remember all of the good and important ways that God’s holiness already shines on our faces and in our lives through our idealism, our commitment to faith and family and Church, through our devotion to prayer, our acceptance of the values of the Gospel, our prayerful celebration of the Holy Mass, our continual outreach to the homeless, the hungry, the grieving, the sick and imprisoned. Be the change you want to see in the world; be the holiness the world needs. Shine your light.
Pope Francis said, “It’s curious, both salt and light are for others, not for oneself: salt does not give flavor to itself; light does not illuminate itself. The Christian is salt given to others by God. Our attitude must be to give of ourselves, to give flavor to the lives of others, to give flavor to many things with the message of the Gospel, to light the world with the light of Christ.”
I think that Jesus wants us to know today that holiness is not only our destination it is also our present reality – always in need of purification and perfection, of course; but we are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world and our good deeds give glory and praise to our Heavenly Father.
Let us leave this place and light the world with God’s love and spread the flavor of the Gospel wherever we go.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD, February 2, 2020:
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. This is one of the oldest feasts in the Church and it is the oldest feast that honors our Blessed Mother. As we heard in our Gospel, following the precepts of the Law, Mary and Joseph, brought Jesus to the Temple to be presented to God 40 days after his birth and so we celebrate it today, 40 days after our celebration of Christmas.
Today’s feast is really a feast for families, to celebrate family, and in particular to celebrate the great responsibility and privilege that parents have in raising their children in the faith. It is a day, also, for us to reflect upon the great gift of our own baptism. After all, the Presentation in the Temple is reminiscent of what parents to today when they bring their children to the church to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.
I keep thinking of one particular line from the Baptismal ritual that stands out for me. During the rite, the priest or deacon reminds the parents, “You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do.” It is a powerful moment in the rite of Baptism, but I think it is a powerful reminder for all of us who have received the grace of Baptism.
Certainly for the parents and the godparents, it is a strong reminder of the great responsibility that they take on when they bring their children to the Church. It is not just a matter of becoming a part of the Christian community. They are not merely fulfilling an obligation that is expected of them from the church and their own families. But, they, too, are pledging to live a certain kind of life – a life that gives witness to their faith through all that they are – in what they say and in what they do.
This is a point that is so important, I want to spend a moment with it. We know that we live in times when the numbers of people practicing their faith are in decline. The greatest increase each year are among those we call “nones.” In other words, when asked what faith tradition they belong to, more and more Americans are responding “none.” But, less we lose hope, there is one category that shows promise. A 2014 study entitled Young Catholic America took a deep look at these trends. The authors found something really interesting – they found that more than 80% of young people who have parents that are active in their faith maintain an active faith life into adulthood. The study remarked, “The single most important measurable factor determining the religious and spiritual lives of teenagers and young adults is the religious faith, commitments, and practices of their parents.”
“You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do.” As parents, leading an active Catholic life is not just a good thing, but it has a real impact on the faith life of your children. I often ask our parents – whether in our faith formation program or our Catholic school – where do you want to be in 20 years. When your beautiful young person is an adult, and married, with children of their own; and that beautiful child – now your grandchild – is ready to receive First Holy Communion – where do you want to be? Do you want to be right here with a beautiful tear in your eye as your grandson or granddaughter receives Communion for the first time? Or do you want to be somewhere arguing with your kids about why they have abandoned the faith?
“You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers.” Parents who are active in their faith have kids who likewise maintain that active faith into adulthood. That’s how it works. It is how it works for you and me, it is how it will continue to work for succeeding generations. So, when someone asks you why you go to Church every week tell them – it is because I want to continue to hand down the faith from my generation to the next.
And, none of this should surprise us. For the more than 2,000 year history of the Church, the faith has been spread – not by printed book or newspaper; not by television broadcast or the internet – it has been spread through the witness of faithful followers of Jesus. One of the most ancient sayings about the Church is that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The word martyr means witness and it refers to the early followers of Christ whose witness was so powerful that they often gave even their lives for the faith. This kind of witness has a powerful impact. The threat of martyrdom didn’t leave people running away from the faith in fear, but rather running toward the Church so that more and more could have even just a seed of the same kind of faith that those early followers did.
When we look at the state of the church or the state of the faith in our world today, it is an incorrect assumption to think that the end is near. Rather, this is a moment in time when we are all called to be the best teachers of faith to those around us – by what we say and what we do. Mary and Joseph challenge all of us to reflect on the example of living faith that we’re setting. Do we make the practice of our faith important? Do we let the people closest to us, those whom we live with, know how important that faith is? Do we pray together as a family, with friends, in the community of the Church?
The renewal of the church today is no farther away than the person on your left and right. We have the power to be the seed of the Church today exactly as those who went before us were. We all share the privilege of witnessing to our faith in such a way that others are inspired to follow. Joseph and Mary show us that the best way to achieve this is by the good example of our own lives; knowing God’s law, following it; and working together for the spiritual wellbeing of the whole.
Let us all take up this challenge anew today. I’ve seen many times the power of one person renewing their commitment to the practice of their faith. It can change your life. It can change your family.
Let us pray today through the intercession of Joseph and Mary that we all be renewed as the best teachers of the faith to all those around us. This will renew our lives, the lives of those around us, the life of our community of faith.
“You are the first teachers of your children in the ways of faith. May you also be the best of teachers, bearing witness to the faith by what you say and do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 26, 2020:
Each year, the Church invites us into a special week of prayer called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is a time for all Christians of our various denominations to pray that one day we may find our way back to one another and make true Jesus desire as articulated in John’s Gospel, “That all may be one.” The week of prayer comes to its conclusion today, but its theme, I think, is one that is more needed in our country and in our world than ever before. We are a people who hunger for unity. And the challenges we face every day, it seems, are challenges that highlight our extreme disunity.
As we know, we are a people who are profoundly polarized at this moment in our history – and it is a polarization that effects our politics, our faith, our family lives, and virtually all aspects of our society.
Without diving into those fraught political waters, I think that we, as people of faith, can be the leaven that our society needs to find civility and unity even in the midst of disagreement. As JFK said in his famous inaugural speech, “Let us begin a new – remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness.”
A few years ago, I came across an essay by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite in the Washington Post. Commenting on the divisions in our world, she made the simple but profound point that there is a missed lessons that we tend to overlook – the lesson is that we are actually all in this together. In other words, we are connected - what happens in Tokyo affects what happens in Paris and London and New York. What happens in one part of the world can affect the day-to-day life of someone a world away.
Reverend Thistlewaite also looked back at another moment in history when we were all united despite a tremendous crisis, The Great Depression. She looked at another famous inaugural address, that of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. This is the one that gave us the quote, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But, listen to what else FDR said, “The measure of our restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.” Roosevelt reminded us that there was something greater than the economy binding us together. And we came out of The Great Depression primarily because America came to realize that were all in it together – with a shared sense of community and common purpose.
As we gather today, we find ourselves praying in a particular way for a similar sense of community and common purpose; praying for that unity that we all hunger for. And our Scriptures today speak to this. In the second reading, St. Paul cries out for unity among the people of Corinth. It was another moment in time when people – the early Church – were united by a crisis, and were struggling to survive. “Is Christ divided?” he asks. “I urge you …that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
And when we come to Matthew’s Gospel today we are struck by the way in which Christ Himself went about building the first Christian community. He walked along the sea one day, and called first one set of brothers, and then another. He called them two by two. Brother with brother. In other words, from the very beginning, the message was clear: being church is not a solitary endeavor. Remember that the next time someone asks you why you go to church. “Can’t I just pray on my own?” Christ built a community; a family; living, working, praying – together.
As Matthew tells us, Christ’s Church would be made up of people who didn’t work alone. They were fishermen, after all, casting large nets into the sea. We live here in a commercial fishing area, so we know that it takes more than one person to haul in a big catch. You need help. I think that’s one reason why Jesus chose His apostles from that particular line of work. They had stamina. They had strength. And they knew how to work together. The great work they would undertake would demand collaboration and compromise. There is a lesson here, I think, for all of us, as we pray for unity.
Some scripture scholars believe there may have been rivalry and tension between the followers of John the Baptist and those who would follow Jesus. You’ll notice that when Jesus begins His ministry, He uses the very same words as John the Baptist: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He isn’t trying to compete with the Baptist. Rather, He is continuing the work that John began – and enlarging and amplifying it. It’s a powerful example for all of us seeking to enlarge and amplify the Gospel and bring it into the world. And we should never forget that what unites us is greater than what divides us. As Paul put it, Christ is not divided – and we are His Body.
The last few years have reminded us that our world is smaller than ever. The global economy means all of us are inextricably linked, for better or for worse. Let us not simply mimic the division dictated daily to us by our world; but let us be what breaks that chain, breaks that cycle – let us become the very leaven that lifts our world out of its division and bring it back into unity. Now, more than ever, we need to bear with one another, listen to one another, hope with one another, and uplift one another -- as residents of the world, and as members of the Body of Christ
We have nothing to fear, but fear itself. Ask not what Christ can do for you; ask what you can do for Christ. And together, bound by a common purpose, we can achieve great things, no matter what our differences and difficulties. To use a metaphor the first apostles would understand: the sea may at times be rough. But we’re all in the same boat.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters…that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” Let us amplify and magnify that message for all our world to hear.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE EPIPHANY OF THE LORD, January 5, 2020:
One morning three fruit farmers were engaged in a debate about the best way to know God – in prayer, in deed, or in Scripture. Samuel sat quietly listening to the debate. The others to him and asked, “Decide for us, Samuel. Which way is the best?” Samuel said thoughtfully, “Well, there are three ways to get from here to the marketplace when you bring your fruit to sell. You can go right over the hill. That is shorter but it is a steep climb. You can go around the hill on the right side. That is not too far, but the road is rough and full of potholes. Or you can go around the hill on the left side. That is the longest way, but it is also the easiest.” He paused and then added, “But you know, when you get there with your fruit, the people don’t ask you how you came. All they ask is, ‘How good is your fruit?’”
We continue our celebration of Christmas today with the familiar story of the visit of the three wise men to the child Jesus. We call this the feast of the Epiphany. But, really each day of our Christmas celebration is a feast of epiphany. The word epiphany comes from the Greek meaning “manifestation.” In an epiphany, God’s divine nature is manifested and perhaps more importantly recognized. Just think of the many epiphanies we’ve celebrated throughout this season. When the baby leaped in the womb of Elizabeth at the arrival of the pregnant Mary, that was an epiphany, a manifestation and recognition of God’s presence. When the shepherds receive the message from the angels and rush to the manger to see the Lord, that was an epiphany. As we heard today, even Herod has searched the Scripture, consulted the scribes, and recognized the manifestation of the Lord’s presence.
Today’s Epiphany to the Magi ranks high among our recognition of Jesus’ divinity because the visit of the Magi is an eye-opener. Unlike the shepherds who learned of the birth of Jesus through a revelation from angels, or Herod’s scribes who learned through Scripture, the Magi learned of the birth of Jesus by observing a star – a star that did not say anything to them. They had to interpret this natural sign of the star to know what it meant and where it led. The Magi show us that God manifests Himself to us in numerous ways, all the time. The challenge put before us is: Do we see these signs of God around us? Are our eyes attuned to the divine or has our vision of God clouded?
The Christmas season asks us to do much more than recall this story of faith from long ago – it challenges us to see this story being realized again and again in our daily lives. We don’t look at Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men and the rest and say, “Good for them.” We’re called to look at them and say, “Wait! I’ve had a similar experience of God’s manifestation in my life too!” Our epiphanies may not be that of angels speaking on a silent night or divining the message of a miraculous star. But, God is revealing Himself in our lives. To each one of us. Do we have the eyes, ears, hearts, minds and souls to recognize that Epiphany, that true presence of God speaking into the depths of your heart, your life?
The great tragedy of King Herod and so many others at the time of Jesus is that they received a great epiphany – God was in their midst. But their hearts were cold and their eyes were closed and they missed the very visitation of God before them. Let us pray that is never the case for you and for me.
Today we are reminded that God is not limited to any form of communication; God does not limit who He will reveal Himself to. God wants to manifest Himself to each of us. Notice how the people in our stories came to know that the Son of God was born. The shepherds came to know through a direct vision of angels. The Magi knew through a reading of the stars. And King Herod’s scribes came to know through searching the scriptures. Visions, stars, scriptures -- different ways of arriving at the same Truth. Like the fruit farmers in the story, when you get to heaven, God won’t ask how you got there, but instead will ask, “How well have you lived? How well have you followed my commands? How have you shared My love with the world?” – in other words, “How good is your fruit?”
This Christmastime – and all the time – God is manifesting His divinity to us. God is inviting us into renewed and deeper relationship with Him through His Son. God is revealing Himself to us in Word, in our hearts – and so powerfully in the Eucharist.
Today, in this Holy Mass, we have already been witnesses to epiphany – God has already revealed Himself to us in His Word proclaimed and in just a few moments, there will be an Epiphany of the Lord on this very altar. God will reveal Himself to us in the Body and Blood of His Son. Will we at that moment “come and do him homage?” And He has also revealed Himself to us through the person on your left and on your right – “Wherever two or more are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them?”
Pope Francis has also reminded us that Jesus reveals Himself in those who are marginalized in our world and we can encounter that manifestation, that epiphany, when we “carry out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked because and humiliated, because they are in jail, or in the hospital.” God is revealing Himself always.
Are our eyes open to this amazing presence of God that surrounds us and binds us into the luminous beings He has created us to be? Let us all pray that we have hearts that can recognize the very revelation of God that surrounds us, and the strength to follow where He will lead us.
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” My friends, open your eyes, He is right here in your midst.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (Christmas), December 25, 2019:
I came across an old Celtic poem recently that begins, “The magic of Christmas lingers, as childhood days have passed.” This sentence really struck a chord with me as the magic and the wonder of Christmas time is something that we usually associate with our childhood. We remember all of the things that we did as families, or that our parents did for us, that made Christmas a moment of true wonder and awe.
I particularly remember all of the Christmas TV specials. During that time from Thanksgiving to Christmas we were so excited when any of them would come on. After dinner, we would hurriedly take our bath, put on our PJs and sit in front of the TV to watch, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, or How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It wouldn’t be Christmastime without watching It’s a Wonderful Life, and my all-time favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I recently saw something online that made the message of A Charlie Brown Christmas even more profound. At the heart of A Charlie Brown Christmas is the scene were young Linus reminds every one of the true meaning of Christmas as he recites the story of the birth of Christ from the Gospel of Luke. It is the same passage we just heard proclaimed tonight. “The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”
But, for as many times as I have seen that special, there was one small but important detail that I had never noticed before until now. Charlie Brown is best known for his striped shirt, and Linus is most associated with his ever-present security blanket. Throughout the story of Peanuts, Lucy, Snoopy, Sally and others all are always trying to separate Linus from his blanket. And they always fail. Even though his security blanket is a source of ridicule for the otherwise mature and thoughtful Linus, he refuses to give it up. It makes him feel safe and secure.
Until this moment. As Linus is sharing the story of Christ’s birth, he drops his blanket. In that climactic scene when Linus shares what Christmas is all about, he drops his security blanket, and most telling is the specific moment he drops it: when he utters the words, “Do not be afraid.”
This cannot be a coincidence or something unintentional. It seems instead that Peanuts creator Charles Schultz was telling us something so simple, so important, so brilliant. He was reminding us that the birth of Jesus separates us from our fears. The birth of Jesus frees us from the habits we are unable (or unwilling) to break ourselves. The birth of Jesus allows us to simply drop the false security we have been grasping so tightly, and instead to trust and cling to Jesus.
We all know that we live in times that are in so many ways defined by fear. Fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the refugee, fear of the poor and the homeless and the addict. Fear of war, fear of terror, fear of gun violence. Fear seemingly everywhere. We may be among those who find ourselves grasping at something – anything – that offers a sense of security, whatever that might mean.
But, in the midst of it all, Jesus comes once again to remind us of something profound and deeply meaningful – “Do not be afraid…For today a savior has been born for you.” My friends, we are reminded especially today of this eternal truth: We were not created for fear. Fear is not a place or a space that we were ever meant to occupy. Fear keeps us from being ourselves; from being who we were created to be. And we were created for hope. We were created for joy. We were created for holiness. We were created kindness and compassion. We are the “light of the world.” We are the “salt of the earth.” We are called to be the leaven in our society, lifting the world out of its fear and anger and negativity into the joy, love, compassion, forgiveness and healing of Jesus. We have been created for hope. Do not be afraid.
A local church was conducting a Christmas pageant one year. The grand finale came as a class of six-year-old’s rose to sing the song, "Christmas Love." As they sang, the children in the front row held up large letters, one by one, to spell out the title of the song. As each letter was presented, the children would sing "C is for Christmas," or "H is for Happy," and so on, until each child holding up their portion had presented the message "Christmas Love." Everything was going smoothly, until everyone noticed a small, quiet, girl in the front row holding her letter "M" upside down - totally unaware her letter appeared as a "W."
The audience chuckled at the little girl’s mistake. She had no idea they were laughing at her, so she stood tall, proudly holding her "W.” Although the teachers tried to quiet the children, the laughter continued until the last letter was raised. And when it was, a hush came over the audience and eyes began to widen. In that instant, they understood the true message of that day, and that perhaps God had a plan in the little girl’s “W.” For when the last letter was held high, the message read loud and clear: "CHRIST WAS LOVE.” And, my brothers and sister, I believe, He still is.
My friends, “Do not be afraid”. Instead let the wonder and awe of Christmas linger long beyond today. Be the light, be the salt, be the leaven, be the hope and joy and kindness and love that Christ created you to be. Let the wonder of Christmas linger in you.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 21, 2019:
A kindergarten teacher told her class the story of Christmas complete with the angels’ glorious announcement of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds and the Three Wise Men recognizing the star in the sky and travelling a tremendous distance to see this new born King. At the end of the story she asked, “Now tell me, of all these people, who was the first to know about the birth of Jesus?” A little girl raised her hand and answered simply, “Mary.” How many of us missed that? Sometimes we, as adults, miss the obvious because we’re expecting more complicated answers, all the while the real answer is simple and obvious, and right in front of our eyes.
We do this with God too. We have a tendency to associate God with the phenomenal and the spectacular, like the host of angels or the guiding star, so much so that we can fail to notice God’s presence and action in the ordinary and normal things of life, such as pregnancy and birth. The child’s simple answer reminds us to take a moment to look at the ordinary things that we take for granted every day and see God’s hand in them, and this is a good message for us as we are just days away from celebrating Christmas. Especially at this time of year, we can get so caught up in the busyness of gifts and travel and dinners, that we just might miss the simple and profound reality of the day – that God loves us and that God is with us.
Our gospel today begins with a seemingly casual statement: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about…” But for the average person of Jesus’ time this statement would be a shock because popular belief in those days did not expect the Messiah to be born of a woman, born in a normal way, as an average baby, born the same way as you and I. Though the scribes and scholars were aware of the prophecy that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the average person held to the popular belief that the Messiah would arrive unexpectedly and in an extraordinary way. The Messiah was expected to somehow drop suddenly from the skies, full-grown in all His divine power. He would arrive, of course, on the Temple mount – at the very heart of Jewish worship – in thunder, in glory, in majesty and in awe!
People found it hard to reconcile these expectations with the reality of Jesus who they knew was born normally and raised in their midst, like a regular kid. As we hear in Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, “We know where this man is from; but when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.” They found the ordinary way of God’s arrival, the ordinary experience of God’s presence and God’s every day action among His people to be too simple, too obvious, to underwhelming to possibly be true.
And much like the people of Jesus time, we are also waiting for the coming of God among us, for our Emmanuel. Maybe we should take a moment and ask ourselves, how do we expect God to come to us? How does God work among us? This is important because sometimes when we feel that God is not with us, the reality is that He is standing right by our side, but we don’t recognize His presence and action among us because we’re looking for something else. Can we accept God the way He is, the way He desires to be present among us, the way He hopes to speak His word; or do we wait insisting that He conform His presence to our desires?
Just think of how often we treat the Holy Mass as commonplace, as ordinary, as nothing special, even as something boring. And yet, God is with us – right here, right now. God is with us as we gather in His holy name today – “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst of them.” God is here as His word, not ours, is proclaimed in the readings from Sacred Scripture. And, so profoundly, God is here among us as simple bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus – not a symbol, not a reminder, but the Real Jesus, right here on our altar and right here in our hearts as we receive Him. St. Francis of Assisi said of the Eucharist, “O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under the simple form of bread! Look at the humility of God and pour out your hearts before him.”
The coming of the long awaited Messiah, the light of the world, the King of kings and the desire of nations, not through clouds and lightning but through the nine-month pregnancy of a simple young woman, through 30 years of the normal human process of infancy, adolescence and adulthood, reminds us that God comes to us in the ordinary, normal, daily circumstances of life. God comes to us in the regular people we see around us being born, growing up, growing old and even dying – and in His Real Presence in this bread and wine transformed into Body and Blood.
It is often hardest to see God in the people, places and situations that are most familiar to us, not to mention how hard it is sometimes to see God even in ourselves. But if we see the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, as a bridge between heaven and earth, between the divine and the human, between the order of grace and the order of nature, between the sacred and the ordinary, maybe we will begin to see the presence and action of God more and more in our daily lives. Remember, when God did the most spectacular thing ever in the history of the world – becoming one of us – He did it in the most ordinary way. So, why should we expect Him to act any differently today; with us?
There is a proverb that says, “Listen closely, and you can hear even the footsteps of ants.” Today, in these final days of Advent, as we prepare for the great event of Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, we are challenged to listen closely and hear even the footsteps of God who comes into our lives in ordinary ways, through the person on our left and on our right and at the everyday, normal, ordinary moments of our lives.
My brothers and sisters, God is with us. Do you see what I see?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, GAUDETE SUNDAY, December 15, 2019:
The entrance antiphon for our Mass today is what gives today’s celebration its theme and direction. The antiphon, taken from Philippians, says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” We call this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice and it takes its name from that first word of the antiphon, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
We can really minimize the power of this celebration if we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, this week I had the chance to go to the Holiday Pops concert at Symphony Hall in Boston. I really enjoyed that. I also really enjoyed the nice dinner we went out for after the concert. At this time of year, we rejoice in and enjoy Christmas parties, and holiday sweets, and Christmas music, and so many of the other traditions that are popular and typical at this time of year. We enjoy many things at this level – we enjoy music, art, entertainment, food, casual friends and acquaintances. This list could go on and on because the things that we enjoy and rejoice in on a more superficial level are many and great.
Somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our celebration today. Somehow, I think Jesus is calling forth something greater from us then these things which are, in the end, really trivial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
This actually came into crystal clarity for me just yesterday. I celebrated a funeral yesterday for a parishioner at St. Stan’s church. This parishioner was 92 years old and a woman of deep joy and deep faith. She had a hard life. Born during the Great Depression, she lived through the Second World War. She got married and started a family with five children, then 42 years ago, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old.
But, in the sacristy, just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about this woman and her family. When her husband died 42 years ago so suddenly, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his very bones that even though it was a tragic moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; Jesus is real; all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. It was a sadness of separation for him and his family – but it was a moment of profound rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead 42 years to yesterday’s funeral and I was moved again by the faith of this family. When I entered the church for the funeral Mass, the church was full of pink flowers and just about everyone on attendance was dressed with some pink – a pink scarf here, a pink flower on a lapel there. Shirts, jackets, and more. The church was filled with the color pink.
When I approached the ambo for the homily, I had a whole text that I had prepared to deliver at the funeral, but instead I felt like God was asking me to say something else. I said, “I don’t think I am going out on a limb today if I would suggest that pink was Emily’s favorite color?” I know the family did not intend all of that pink to be a reflection on Gaudete Sunday, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make that connection for them. What I realized in that moment is that our celebration of Gaudete is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner.
Our pink flowers and pink vestments and the pink candle of our wreath are not meant to give us the message that there are only 10 shopping days left! No, these things are all meant to speak especially into those profound moments in our lives; the moments that define our lives, define who we are; the moments that form us and shape us – like the one that Emily’s family faced yesterday and surely today and for many days ahead, “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
We all see the bumper stickers, posters, and memes on the internet that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus is the forgiveness of our sins. The reason for Jesus is to open the gates of paradise. The reason for Jesus is to show us how to live in harmony with one another and with our God. The very reason for Jesus to let us know profoundly in our hearts that our God is with us – right near us, by our sides, in our hearts, making sense of our tragedies, multiplying and magnifying our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – not presents and parties and the Christmas goose! What is close to us is the very salvation that the little Babe of Bethlehem came to inaugurate. This is Advent. This is Emmanuel – my friends, God IS with us! And He wants to speak to us not only in the joy and enthusiasm of the season – He also wants to speak to us in the sadness and loneliness and challenging moments of our lives. Especially when our hearts are heavy with grief or closed in anger or wounded by the words and actions of others – Jesus wants us to know how close He is to us in all of those moments. It is there and then that He wraps us lovingly in His strong and comforting arms.
So my friends, today above all days, we rejoice in the Lord because our salvation is at hand. We rejoice in the Lord because our God is ever near. We rejoice in the Lord because He is with us in our sadness and grief; He is with us in our sorrows and pains; He is with us in our joy and triumphs. He is always with us.
Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” All because our God is near.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 8, 2019:
A few years ago, I read a story about a very interesting program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos – especially gang-related tattoos – from the bodies of young people. A surprising thing happened after the story first appeared in the newspaper. Over a thousand letters flooded in from young people all over the country asking about the program. Because of the remarkable response, the Los Angeles School District and a local cable TV company produced a film called Untattoo You. It told about the dangers of tattooing and showed how difficult it was to remove even small tattoos from arms and faces and larger ones from chests and backs. The stars of the film were the young people themselves. They talked honestly about why they got them in the first place and why they wanted them removed.
The story behind this film gets at an important point in our lives – the simple reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase. These things aren’t always as visible as a tattoo, but we all make mistakes or make poor decisions, it is part of being human and sometimes we wish we could make these mistakes just disappear. The tragedy is that too often we don’t know what to do about it.
Now, if we take a moment to slow down this Advent, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle of the season, we might discover that this is in fact the message of Advent. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy. I’m here to make all things new for you.”
We hear the dramatic description of John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Those words are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.
Pope Francis has been a similar voice to the church and the world crying out inviting us to prepare. He has reminded us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And in The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”
So, as we hear the words of Scripture today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand”, “The one who will come after me is greater than I”, what are we to do? Well, these words are not merely historic, they are present and alive, meant for each one of us today just as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, you should “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, don’t let this Sunday at Mass be like every other, any other Sunday. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in the Eucharist fill you completely.
Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.
So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts you want to change – spiritually on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, let Him change you too into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 1, 2019:
One day, a man received a parrot as a gift, but the parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird’s mouth was rude and obnoxious. The man tried to change the bird’s attitude by saying only polite words and prayers. Finally, fed up, he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. He shook the parrot. It only got angrier. In desperation, he grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer. For a few minutes the parrot squawked and screamed, but then suddenly there was total quiet. Fearing that he’d hurt the bird, the man opened the door to the freezer. The parrot calmly stepped out and said “Sir, I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I’m very sorry and I fully intend to correct my rude behavior.” The man was stunned and as he was about to ask the parrot what had changed his behavior, the bird pointed to the item next to him in the freezer and said, “May I ask what the turkey did wrong?”
A little turkey humor for you on this Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, you’re still full from Thursday. One of the interesting Thanksgiving suggestions I saw on a cooking show was the Turduken. If you don’t know it, it is a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken – a sort of mash-up of a few different things. I remember hearing the ultimate mash-up a few years ago with the word, Chrismahanukwanzakah – a combination of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanza into one mega-holiday. I saw a new one online this week, a holiday dessert called Cherpumple. Have you heard of this? It’s essentially three different pies – cherry pie, pumpkin pie and apple pie – all stacked one on top of the other all brought together with a sugary frosting. Guaranteed to put you into a diabetic coma! It goes nicely with TurDucKen! I’m not sure why we are so fascinated with these kind of mash-ups. But, I bet it has something to do with the fact that there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. The more we can combine, the better.
But, in the midst of this silliness, this busyness, the Church gives us this beautiful, peaceful, and calming season of Advent. I think it is purposefully given to us right in the middle of the busiest time of the year. In the midst of holidays, parties, and shopping, the Church invites us to stop, to breathe, to reflect, to take our time, to be renewed and refreshed once again in Jesus – to step out of our normal time, and into this precious Advent-time.
We’re invited to spend some time pulling apart all that the world has tried to mash together for us. It isn’t Christmas yet. There aren’t a million things to be done. You haven’t fallen behind. So stop, pause, and let the wonder of the beauty of this season unfold. Embrace the waiting and watching and anticipation that Advent welcomes us into.
And our readings today have a particular message for us. In case you missed it, the message was: wake up! Our second reading told us that now “is the hour for you to awake from sleep.” Jesus was more direct saying simply, “Stay awake!” I hope it isn’t reflective of the quality of the homily today and its ability to lull you to sleep. Instead, we are being reminded to stay awake because something is on the horizon; wake up because something is about to happen; something new is around the corner and we don’t want to miss it. We want to prepare; we want to be ready; to see with new eyes.
What are we waiting for? What are we meant to be awake for? Of course, for Jesus. But, not merely to recall His birth on Christmas Day. But, to be awakened to remember, once again, that He never left; that He is always right here and if we are not awake, we might be in danger of missing the presence of God in our midst.
My friends, here we are, all of us, often living in apprehension and anxiety; trying to make sense of our world, coping with our struggles as best we can – sickness, death, disappointment, loss, loneliness and fear. And in the eternal now that is our God, Jesus comes to join us; to comfort us as only God can comfort us and make us feel loved, as only God can make us feel loved. And, that is the point of Advent – to slow down, to wake up, to see that Jesus is right here. So, let Him wrap you – wrap your struggles, your anxieties, your fears and disappointments; as well as, your joys, your triumphs, your love and your blessings – let God wrap all of that tightly in His loving and cradling arms. He wants to be present to you; to comfort you and share His profound love for you and with you.
The world wants to tempt you with its busyness, with its activity, with its Chrismahanukwanzakah and even with its Cherpumple. But, resist the temptation and instead enter Advent-time where Jesus wants to break through all of that busyness and be made present to us once again; present on this altar as bread and the wine become Body and Blood for us; present in our hearts and in our lives, so that we can become the comfort and love that He wants to extend to everyone we meet.
My friends, let us stay awake so that we may not miss the Visitation of Christ in our midst. Stay awake and let God comfort us, love us, and prepare us to welcome Him with renewed joy at Christmas.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 17, 2019:
One of my favorite comic strip shows a ragged-looking man in tattered robes with a long flowing beard walking down a crowded city street carrying a sign proclaiming doom to everyone who reads it. The sign says simply and ominously, “The end is near.” And, about five steps behind that man is a second man carrying another sign that simply reads, “The end.” The end…is near!
Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you today that the end is indeed near! Actually, there are a lot of endings that are near. As we embrace the Autumn weather, we know that warmth is more-or-less over and cold of winter is beginning to creep in. Thanksgiving in a few weeks reminds us that November is almost over. The Christmas decorations that are out in the stores already, tell us that Christmas will soon be here and that another year is almost over. As I said, the end is near!
And here in church today, we enter into the final two weeks of our Church year. Two Sundays from now, we embrace Advent once again, a new Church year, and so today and during these next two weeks our Scriptures also turn to the same theme that the end is near. The first reading from the prophet Malachi proclaims, “Lo, the day is coming!” In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And He is asked, “When will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
I think He is asked these questions because we all have a natural anxiety about “the end.” We ask, will we be ready? Will we be among the chosen? Will we make it to Heaven? One of the things I love to do when working with our young people is to give them a chance to ask any faith question they want answered. Not surprisingly, they often ask questions about this very topic – they want to know about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory – they want to know about the End. We see this in our culture periodically. Just think about the turn of the new millennium. There were lots of articles about the end of time; or those focused on the so-called Mayan prediction that the world would end in 2012 (we’re still here). It seems every 10 years or so there’s yet another person or group who claims to know when the end will be and how it will happen. If we choose to look at the negative in our world – our negative political discourse, the scourge of guns and drugs, the endless wars – we can probably read any of those as signs of the end.
This is nothing new. Historically, just about every age has thought it would be the last. And to all of this, Jesus said, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.”
I don’t know about you, but I find these to be comforting words. I don’t find it problematic that we don’t know when the end will come. I think Jesus wants to convey basically two things to us today. The first is this: Do not interpret the crises of the world or even the crises of your life as if they were the end-of-the-world. We tend to do this far too often, and when we entertain this train of thought, we are not following the will of God. We are instead simply giving in to our fears and anxieties. We are letting fear win the day and rule our lives, instead of letting God rule our lives. We are letting anxieties rule our hearts instead of God’s love and peace. Our God is not a God of fear and anxiety – He is a God of love, peace, kindness, joy, compassion and healing.
The second lesson is that there will be many people who will come claiming to be true prophets, saying that they speak in Jesus’ name. I think of some of the televangelists that you see on TV who – for just three easy payments of $19.99 – will tell you exactly when the end is coming. But, the truth of the matter is that Jesus tells that even He doesn’t know the day or the hour when the end will come. Those who say otherwise are nothing other than false prophets. Jesus says clearly today, “Do not follow them.” The greatest sign of a false prophet is that they attempt to sow fear in the hearts of people. Even the political dialogue currently in our country seeks only to sow fear and anxiety about the future. Our world is too full of fear-mongering, fear-sowing voices. Again, Jesus says, “Do not follow them.”
So, what are we to do? Well, a true prophetic voice is always one that spreads the hope and confidence, the encouragement and peace that comes from the One True God. A true prophetic voice reminds us that we can live through all of the crises of our lives, all the challenges we may ever face with peace in our hearts and with a sense of hope and trust that our God has not – and will not – ever abandon us. And we know this is true because we have lived through challenges with God at our side over and over and over again. To a world that proclaims, “The end is near,” our God counters, “Be not afraid. I go before you always.”
So whether we are worried about the end of the world, or the end of our own lives; or maybe we’re just worried about some of the relationships in our lives that could be better, or the ways we can grow in our own personal holiness, Jesus wants to say this to us today: that in the face of challenge and trial, it is the peace in our hearts, it is our hope and trust in God that become the seeds of new life. Cast out all fear and anxiety and let these seeds of faith help to carry us through all of the difficulties and the joys of life. Jesus tells us that what truly gets us through life is worship and fidelity to our God; working through challenges with forgiveness; changing the things that can and must be changed; and developing a patient endurance that will consecrate and transform all of our suffering into glory. Jesus’ message dares us to trust that, even in difficulty, God still reaches out to us with love and with hope and new and abundant life bursts forth. “Be not afraid, I go before you always.”
My friends, the end is near….or not. But, nothing will ever happen that we cannot handle as long as we have the help of God.
May the Lord give you peace.
R. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 3, 2019:
One day, a young turtle slowly began to climb a tree. After great effort, he reached the top, jumped into the air waving his front legs, and promptly fell crashing to the ground with a hard knock. He brushed himself off, climbed the tree again, reached the top, and again hit the ground with a thud. The little turtle persisted again and again while two birds watched with sorrow. Finally, one bird said to the other, ”Honey, I think it’s time to tell our son he’s adopted.”
I don’t know about you, but as a child, I loved climbing trees. I grew up on the edge of the woods so there were seemingly endless trees to choose from. Trees had a magnetic quality to them. I couldn’t be near one without resisting the urge to climb it. I loved nothing more than climbing up a tree as high as I could. It seemed like you could just keep going, and, if you got high enough, it almost felt like you could fly. Everything – the whole world – looked so different from high atop a tree. It gave a new perspective to everything. I don’t recall feelings from my childhood that felt quite as free as climbing a tree. Somewhere along the line though, we hear an anti-tree message. We hear that it is dangerous, that you might hurt yourself, the tree might break, you really shouldn’t be doing it! But the memories of those eternal moments of freedom high atop the branches swaying in the wind lingers.
We heard in our Gospel today, Zacchaeus “ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” What can this image teach us today? Zacchaeus was the he chief tax collector in Jericho, and so was one of the richest men in Israel. As chief tax collector, he moved in the highest circles, and he had power — and lots of it. He was also a crook, a collaborator with the Roman enemy, and a target of hatred for his countrymen. He’d always thought of himself as successful. But suddenly, at the height of his career, it dawned on him that his life wasn’t working. There was a void at the core. He was regarded as a public sinner, as a traitor and as someone unclean before God. Although he was financially well to do, he lived of life of loneliness, alienated from his own people and from God. There was no joy, and intuitively he understood that there would be no joy as long as he continued on the same path.
Picture this scene if you can. Here is perhaps one of the most feared men of his community, someone who would be likely surrounded by an entourage, and now he is running like a child and climbing a tree to see this poor, relatively unknown preacher who was passing through town. And you know what? This new perspective, found high up in a tree, was liberating for Zacchaeus and it changed everything for him.
Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in the tree, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” He hurried down the tree with a big smile on his face and the crowd made way for him as he led Jesus to his house. Take note that at dinner Jesus did not preach to Zacchaeus that he must repent or he would go to hell. Jesus did not issue an edict of Zacchaeus’ sins that he must correct before Jesus would speak to him. Instead, Jesus showed him a non-judgmental and unconditional mercy, love and acceptance that spoke more eloquently to his heart than the best sermon ever could. The effect? Zacchaeus stood up and said, “Half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” By giving half of his wealth to the poor and using the other half to repay fourfold all those he had defrauded, Zacchaeus’ wealth would be all but gone. But he had realized one of the great truths of life – all of the money in the world can’t buy you happiness; all the power in the world can’t give you the meaning that comes from a life with Christ.
Zacchaeus learned what many people learn once they take the time to stop, climb a tree and see things differently – the world wants to sell us a way of life that is ultimately empty – only Jesus can bring things that are truly meaningful into our lives. How many of us have our priorities in the wrong order? How many of us spend our days accumulating wealth, working endlessly to have a better job, a bigger position, one that offers more money, more power, more prestige. Only to discover at the end of the day that it is empty, that it does not bring any greater level of happiness or peace at all – in fact, it may be the very thing robbing us of quality relationships with family, friends and ultimately God. The author Jack Higgens, was asked what he would like to have known as a boy. His answer: “That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there.”
Jesus challenges us today to have the courage of Zacchaeus and climb a tree to see things differently, to gain a new perspective, a Christ perspective. And He promises us that if we do that, we too will be liberated and set free from all that ties us down, that binds our lives and relationships, that keep us from the happiness He promises.
There are figurative trees in front of us all the time, just waiting for a climb. There are the chances to gain a new perspective in our faith life with God, but how often we walk past because we fear that we might get hurt, that we might not be strong enough, that it might be dangerous. Every time we seek out the Sacrament of Reconciliation; every time we come to the Table of the Lord for the Eucharist – these are tree climbing moments. God offers us here the chance to see things differently; to see them as He sees them; to make a change that will bring true happiness. We only have to embrace it; to climb; to be free.
If we take the time to climb the tree that leads to a deeper faith, we just might find a greater freedom than we have ever known in life. The tree gave Zacchaeus the ability to see Jesus instead of the world that he knew; the world that clouded his sight. If we have the courage to take our lives of faith to this new perspective we too will hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” So, my friends, let us go climb a tree!
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 27, 2019:
Earlier this week, I had the chance to visit some friends that I haven’t seen in about three years in New York City. Aside from their poor choice in sports teams, New York City is an amazing place. This city of over 8 million people has an energy and diversity that is very exciting to be a part of. There is always something going on in New York – new buildings are constantly going up, there are endless artistic experience – the museums, the symphony, Broadway. It is a place of seemingly endless creativity. There’s even a saying that captures this spirit – locals like to say that New York will be a great city – if they ever finish it. It is a place where virtually every aspect of the city – the people, the places, the buildings, the communities – are constantly evolving and changing. It is an endless work in progress.
Our Gospel today wants to say something similar about being works in progress as it picks up from last week when Jesus told us to “pray always without becoming weary.” If last week’s message was about being persistent in our faith life, this week wants to remind us that it is okay to acknowledge that we are all still works in progress.
Jesus gives us this story of two believers - the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both believe in the same God, both belong to the same religion and both worship in the same temple. But, at the end of the day, one of them goes home at peace with God and the other doesn’t. The Pharisees were disciplined and devout men of religion. They were serious believers who committed themselves to a strict life of prayer and observance of God’s Law. In fact, they went far beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week even though they were only required to fast once a year. They gave tithes on all their income, not just parts of it. When the Pharisee said, “I am not like other people,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, I bet few of us today could measure up to the external standards of the Pharisees. The Pharisees acted as though they were finished products. They had achieve religious perfection and should be admired and emulated for it. There was no room for them to grow in God’s plan. They were certain that they were better than the rest.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. They worked for the Romans occupiers, mixed with them and constantly handled their unclean money. They were said to be in a state of religious impurity. Tax collectors were considered public sinners of the highest grade. But the tax collector in our story still hoped for salvation. He knew that God was not done with him yet and in humility placed himself in God’s tender care.
Sometimes, especially in the church, we can create the impression that the church is meant only for the perfect. And that could not be further from the truth. Pope Francis understands well our need to realize that we are not completed projects, but always on the road to closeness with God. In The Joy of the Gospel, he said for example, “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a [tollbooth]; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
Simply doing all of the external prayers, devotions and other acts of faith we can muster doesn’t save us. God isn’t waiting for us to complete 1,000 rosaries, or donate $10,000, or receive the Eucharist 5,000 times. Now, these are all good things designed to lead us closer to God, but they are not meant to be a checklist for salvation or a source of our self-righteousness. But if all that we do never converts our heart to be more like God’s heart, they are not accomplishing their goal. And this is the key difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this parable because the Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.”
The tax collector trusted in his need for God’s mercy. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and prayed, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew that he was a work in progress and that God was the master craftsman who would help him become the person he was created to be. And their story is today our story. Just like them, we too have come to God’s house today to offer our prayers. May our prayerful hearts be the same the tax collector. God isn’t finished with us yet. He is still working on us. We are clay in the potter’s hands – and our prayer should be that he shapes us as He wants.
In fact, we already know the most powerful prayer by heart: Thy will be done. Make of me what you will – not what I will. Let us again today bow our heads, fall to our knees, humble our hearts and whisper the words God is waiting to hear. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I am a work in progress. You’re not finished with me yet. And I am grateful for your love, your compassion, your mercy and the time you give me to grow as your son, your daughter. This is the gift that God values above all others: the prayers of a humble heart. Let us offer those prayers today and always until God is finished with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 20, 2019:
A CCD teacher was struggling to open a combination lock on the supply cabinet for her class. She had been told the combination, but just couldn't remember it. Finally she asked the pastor for help. He began to turn the dial, but after the first two numbers, paused and stared blankly for a moment. Finally he took a deep breath and looked serenely up to heaven as his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, and confidently turned the final number, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed and said, “Father, I'm in awe of the power of your prayer.” she said. “It's really nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”
I think if most of us were honest, we would admit to an uncertain relationship with prayer. We struggle with wondering when to pray, how to pray, how much to pray. We wonder if our prayer works. We bring the greatest frustrations and challenges and hopes of our lives to prayer – our broken relationships, our desire for change, our struggle with sin, our hopes for a new job or a new relationship – we bring so much, and how often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is anyone up there? Is there anyone listening? Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”
And to these questions our readings today give us examples to inspire us in our life of prayer. The reading from Exodus gives us a curious image of Moses. As we heard, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” What a great image of trust and perseverance in prayer. Israel went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God. Moses prayed literally with the weight of his arms outstretched which held the weight of the people’s expectation upon them. God showed He works through people who work with Him; so don’t be weary. If we trust in God, God will help us triumph.
We also heard in today’s Gospel, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, the story of the bad judge and the persistent widow is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. On the surface, this seems to be a pretty simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer. But, this is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God in order to wear Him out.
Jesus reminds us that a life of prayer is not occasional; it is meant to be constant. It is not one way, simply asking God for things; but it is conversational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No, a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving conversation with God. We’re called to be constantly engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. Prayer is a way of life; a conversation of life.
It reminds me of an experience in my own life that taught me about perseverance in prayer. My parents were married in 1965; my Mother a lifelong Catholic and my Dad never baptized. Dad becoming a Catholic was something my Mom always prayed for, and when I was old enough to understand, I began to pray for it too. Especially once I entered the seminary, I thought Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day, “Dear God, I ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” Beautiful prayer, but, still nothing happened. As I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I thought, a little Irish guilt might work. I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” Still nothing. And still we prayed. I even had my emergency plan for Dad. Should he get sick and it looked like he might not make it, I was going to baptize him whether he wanted it or not; and let God sort things out later!
But, then, just before Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him, Confirming him, and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” I realize that everything happened the way it should with my Dad – not in my time or Mom’s time or according to our plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect. My Dad was always in conversation with God, and sought baptism when he was ready. That’s the challenge of trusting in prayer.
“Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt or question in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; God calls us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.
Pope Francis said, “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love God, in order to experience his tenderness.”
Let me end with this reflection on prayer: I pray because I am a Christian; and to do what a Christian must do, I need help. I pray because there is confusion in my life; and to do what is right, I need light. I pray because I must make decisions; but the choice is not always clear, so I need guidance. I pray because I have doubts; and to keep growing in my faith, I need help. I pray because so much in my life is a gift, so I need to give thanks. I pray because Jesus prayed; and if He considered it important, so should I.
My friends, let us be renewed as we dive once again into the sea of prayer trusting God to answer us in His way and in His time.
May the Lord give you peace.