Love never fails
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 30, 2022:
There is a song that I remember from my youth by Dionne Warwick that said, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” That song was running through my head as I reflected on our second reading today and its great statement on Love. This passage from Corinthians is one of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture. And for good reason – if you want to know what true love is, read that chapter over and over again. And while this is most often used for weddings, St. Paul isn’t speaking specifically about a married couple – he’s talking about the life of all Christians and the way we’re called to love.
We talk about love all the time. But, as Jesus, St. Paul, – and Dionne – remind us, we need more love in our world. St. Paul was challenging the people of Corinth to be more loving; and he is challenging us the same way. Here’s a good way to judge our love level. St. Paul said, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
If we put “JESUS” wherever we find “LOVE”, we would hear that “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He is not jealous, He is not pompous, He is not inflated, He is not rude, He does not seek His own interests, He is not quick-tempered, He does not brood over injury, He does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That still sounds pretty good. But, here’s the test. What if we replaced the same words placing ourselves in the reading? Say it with me in your own heart. “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” Placing ourselves into the reading, do we pass the test? Is each line still true for us? How do we score ourselves on this love scale? Because, this is the measure of loving that God gives us; this is they way He wants us to love. “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.”
There is a story about a teacher who gave his class an assignment to go and tell someone that they loved them before the next week's class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. At the next class, one person stood up and recounted his story to the class. He said to the teacher, “I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I felt, ‘who were you to tell us to do something so personal?’ But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say “I love you” to. Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument which we have never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other since and hardly speak to each other. So last week by the time I had gotten home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him. It’s strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life saw me cry. We sat up half of the night talking.
“The next day I was up bright and early. At 9AM, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying ‘I love you too, son, but I’ve never been able to say it.’ My mother walked by just then with tears in her eyes. I had not felt that wonderful, happy and peaceful in a very long time. Two days after my visit, my dad, who had heart problems, had an attack and died. So my message is this: don’t wait to do the things you know need to be done, to express the love that is in your heart.”
My friends, we know that True Love transforms us and transforms our world. The love of God transformed our sins into the glory of Heaven through the Cross. God’s love today will turn mere bread and wine into His Real Presence in our midst. God’s love can turn around any challenging relationships in our lives, any sins we struggle to move away from, any brokenness or pain we might feel. It is that powerful.
There is no greater antidote to the greed, power, selfishness, cruelty, and evil that exists in our world than the Love that God gives us and calls forth from us. And it should be obvious to all of us that our world truly needs more love. Just imagine what our world could look like if we were truly guided by the love that God has placed in our hearts. If we could say with all truth, “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” It would look like Heaven on earth.
And so, maybe this week each of us could take up the same challenge as our story. Go home and tell someone you love them before next Sunday. Tell someone you really love, but to whom you have never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. Maybe you have a fractured or broken relationship that needs to be healed. Invite God’s love in because, my friends, “Love never fails.”
May the Lord give you peace.
I have a dream...
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 23, 2022:
Words have such power to shape and inspire us. I was thinking this at the beginning of the week as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Each year, on this day, I try and spend some time reading some of Dr. King’s powerful words – the very words he used to shape the civil rights movement; words that extended from his dream for our world. For example, he said, "I refuse to accept the view that humanity is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."
His words, and the words of so many others, have the ability to move us and inspire us. Think of some of most well-known words in our American history. Like Abraham Lincoln when he said, “We are not enemies, but friends. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Or Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 when he said in the midst of the great depression, “This great nation will endure…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he said, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. As what you can do for your country.”
I bet you, too, have words that have inspired you and had an impact on your life. Maybe they are some of the famous words of famous people that we’ve all heard. Or maybe it is simpler things said by people you know – a simple “I love you” at the right time, or a heartfelt “I’m sorry” in the midst of a fight. Words have meaning and power in our lives.
I was thinking of the power of words like these because our Gospel passage from the beginning of Luke today describes similarly inspiring words. Certainly, the words of Sacred Scripture hold a privileged place of not only inspiring, but directing our lives. Luke is writing to someone named Theophilus (a name that means in Greek, “one who loves God”) telling him what Christianity was about. That’s why Luke finds the incident in the synagogue in Nazareth important. In this moment, Jesus makes a solemn declaration of his mission in the world. It is His inaugural address at the beginning of His mission as Messiah and Savior. And, it is filled with inspiring and memorable phrases – as every inaugural address is.
Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” The words of this inaugural are filled with hope – hope for the poor, for the helpless, for the captives, hope for the sick and for the oppressed.
Jesus’ words outline a vision that cannot be carried out by one person alone. They must be carried out by everyone working together. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians today, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” In other words, we must work together and share the responsibility of making the dreams of our Leader, Jesus Christ, come true. We must be the ones to carry on His agenda if it is to be made a reality in our midst.
The dream that Jesus sets forth is a dream that can be realized only if we make it our dream too. And so, if victims of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in today’s world are to hear the Good News of Jesus, then we have to be the ones to tell them about it. If those who suffer with blindness, cancer or other illnesses are to recover their hope, then we have to be the ones who bring that hope to them. If the victims of violence and oppression throughout the world are to be set free, then we have to be the ones who raise our voices for their cause. And, if the darkness of our world is to be lit up with the Light of Christ, then we have to be the ones that shine that light and make it happen.
A man was walking along the beach after a big storm one day. Fifty yards ahead of him was a young woman. She was picking up starfish that the storm had stranded on the beach, and was throwing them back into the sea. When the man caught up with her, he asked her what she was doing. She replied that the starfish would die unless they were returned to the sea. The man said, “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are thousands of stranded starfish. How can your small effort make a difference?” Picking up a starfish and holding it lovingly in her hands, she said, “It makes a big difference to this one.” And with that, she returned it to the sea.
This is the mission that Jesus today invites us all into. When we wonder how our small efforts can make a difference in a world filled with so many crying out for help, we need to remember simply that it makes a big difference to the ones we can help. If we give generously of our own loaves and fishes, Jesus will find a way to multiply them and feed the multitude. Imagine what our community, our world, could look like if we took these inspiring words of Jesus to heart and carried His mission into our homes, our school, our workplace, our world? It would look like His Kingdom.
My brothers and sisters, today we are Theophilus – we are those who love God – and Jesus is inviting us to help Him accomplish His mission. He wants us to be the ones who go from this place and “bring glad tidings to the poor… proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
This is the kind of faith that will inspire others to join us and indeed shine the Light of Christ to dispel the darkness of our world. May we make the dream of Jesus, our dream and our mission as well.
May the Lord give you peace.
Do whatever He tells you
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 16, 2022:
When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a practicing Catholic family, but my Dad did not and had not ever been baptized. If you remember the church in the 1960s, this was somewhat of a scandal. You simply didn’t marry outside of your faith. And so, my parents were not allowed to have a Mass. They had to stand outside of the communion rail. And, my aunt, who is a religious sister, was not allowed to attend. As you can imagine, this was a negative experience, so becoming a Catholic was not high on my Dad’s list at that time.
Dad, though, was always the best non-Catholic church-goer you could imagine. He attended Mass with us as a family. He volunteered for every pancake breakfast, spaghetti supper and other events in the parish. Mom, of course, constantly hoped he would become Catholic, but to no avail. When I entered seminary, I added my voice to that chorus. As a person of Irish heritage, of course, my favorite tool of persuasion was good-old guilt. I can remember saying to my Dad, “You know Dad, it would be so amazing if I were able to give you communion on the day of my first Mass as a priest.” Now, that is some grade-A guilt, but it didn’t work.
The situation seemed impossible, and it didn’t seem like it would ever change. So, I had my own secret plan that if Dad ever got ill and it didn’t look like he would make it, I was just going to baptize him and deal with the consequences later. In the meantime, I continued to pray. After receiving Communion each day, I would say, “Lord, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place a desire for baptism in my Dad’s heart.” Mom was also praying the rosary every day for this same attention. But I don’t think that either one of us believed it would ever happen. And then, one day, a month before my Dad’s 69th birthday, he called me and said only two words, “I’m ready.” And, I knew what that meant. And in the joy and honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave first communion to my Dad.
But, in the midst of that joy, I also heard God chastising me. He was saying, “Didn’t you know that all things are possible with me. Didn’t you know that all things unfold according to My plan, in My time. Why didn’t you trust Me?” All the while, I thought it was my job to bring Dad into the Church, and I was failing. St. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” God was reminding me of that – be faithful, be prayerful, and then trust in God – and that great things would happen.
Now, while most of us haven’t been in my exact situation, I’m willing to bet that each one of us has something in our lives that we wish would change, that we’ve been praying would change, that we’ve been trying with all our might to change, but at the same time feels impossible. Maybe we wish that our spouse, our children, our friends, would find a deeper place for God in their lives; would practice the faith. Perhaps we know someone caught in addiction and it feels like nothing can change that situation. Maybe we have some broken relationships in our lives; or words we wish we could take back, or words that others have used to wound us – and we just don’t know how to find reconciliation and forgiveness. We don’t know how to fix it. It is natural for us to feel overwhelmed sometimes by what life throws at us.
Into the midst of these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, our Scriptures give us hope. “Do whatever He tells you” the Blessed Mother utters. We know this story of Cana so well that we can lose sight of its impact. After all, we know how it turns out. But think about the horror of this moment for the family throwing this wedding. When members of a family get married, the celebration is among the most important kind of celebrations we hold. They celebrate not only the love of the two people getting married, but the feast also says something about the family throwing the party. A family’s reputation and honor are on the line. Families go all-out when holding a wedding feast; often beyond their means. It is an act of love, an act of celebration, and a public act of honor. So imagine this family and just about the worst thing possible has happened. Imagine the terror when they realized that there was no more wine. This would disappoint their children, and certainly bring public shame to the whole family for their failure. They would become the “family who ran out of wine at the wedding” and would never live that down.
But, Mary says so simply, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” An act of trust that when we invite Jesus into our impossible situations, amazing things can happen. Jesus not only solves the problem and miraculously turns water into wine – but it is in fact the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Trusting Jesus is an invitation to allow the amazing power of God to change even the impossible situations in our lives.
And Jesus has not stopped doing the impossible. After all, just look at what He did in my Dad’s life when we stopped badgering and instead entered a space of prayerful trust. The impossible became reality. So, today, I want you to think about the impossible situations in your life. Have you been trying to fix them all by yourself? Have you given up hope that they could ever change? Have you simply learned to live with them and allow the wounds simply to remain? Take a word of advice from the Blessed Mother today, “Do whatever He tells you.”
Today, as Jesus once again miraculously appears on our altar, hand over your impossible situations to Him. Invite Jesus into the messiness of your life; invite Jesus into the messiness of your relationships or challenges. Because inviting Jesus in changes everything; and trusting Him leads to greatness. Hand over your impossible situations to Him in full faith and trust and then watch what unfolds – it might be nothing short of a miracle.
And, just imagine what our world could look like, what our lives could look like, if we lived with the same kind of trust in Jesus that Mary had. Imagine our impossible situations turned around; our relationships healed; our addictions cured; our problems resolved – all in the way that God intends. Mary didn’t beg, she didn’t hedge her bets, she didn’t try and fix things herself. She simply knew that Her Son could do this. We know this too. Whatever is impossible in our lives – Jesus has got it; He can do this. So, pray, hope, trust and don’t worry. And then, do whatever He tells you.
May the Lord give you peace.
Put on Christ
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 9, 2022:
A quiz show contestant was asked to name two of Santa's reindeer. The contestant smiled thinking he knew the answer to the question. “That’s easy,” he said, "Rudolph and Olive!" The host asked the contestant, "We'll accept Rudolph but can you explain Olive?" The man looked at the host and said, "You know, 'Olive', the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names."
A little bit of Christmas humor as we conclude our Christmas Season today with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. We have taken these weeks since Christmas Day to reflect on Jesus’ private life – from His birth through the finding in the Temple and last week’s visit of the Magi. Today’s celebration marks the beginning of His public ministry, a sort of passing of the torch to Jesus from John the Baptist as He seeks out baptism in the Jordan.
Even though we hear such beautiful words in today’s Gospel, the voice of God Himself from Heaven proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son,” it begs a very curious question – why is Jesus being baptized? Have you ever stopped to think about this? Baptism, as we know, is for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism places us in relationship with God. Jesus – of all people to ever exist – doesn’t need baptism. We know this. He was untouched by sin – “like us in all things, but sin.” You and I, born in a state of Original Sin, are born in desperate need of this sacrament of grace. We need these saving waters to wash over us and restore in us what was taken away by Adam and Eve. But, Jesus? Why would He need baptism?
I came across the best response to this question a few years ago when Pope Benedict, released his book, Jesus of Nazareth . Let me share a bit of what the Pope says about the question of Jesus baptism in this wonderfully spiritual book. First, the problem. He writes, “The real novelty is the fact that Jesus wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins?”
The Pope notes that Jesus doesn’t require the newness of life that we all need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His own sin, since He has none, who’s sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. This Yes to the will of God also expresses solidarity with men [and women], who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness…Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all [humanity’s] guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.”
So, as Jesus begins His public ministry – a ministry that will take Him to the Cross, the grave and to resurrection all for us – He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – on the Cross, He frees us from them. It is in the waters of the Jordan that Jesus steps into the place of sinners, into our place. In the Jordan, Jesus united Himself with us; so that in our own baptism, we can be united with Him – so that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, we can be saved. Again, the Pope writes, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising again with him.”
And so baptism is a branding of sort; it is an identification, an initiation, a welcoming. In Jesus’ baptism and in our own, we have been united, one with the other; welcomed into the Family of God as a brother or sister of Christ. When we are baptized, the priest or deacon says these words, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.” In the Jordan, Jesus was clothed in us, taking our sins onto Himself so that He could redeem us on the Cross. In the baptismal fonts of our Churches, we are clothed in Him – in the hopes that we will live lives worthy of the call; worthy of the name we bear – sons and daughters of God.
In the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place. Today, through the grace of our own baptism, He asks us to do the same. We must now be the ones to step into the place of Christ and be His presence in our world, so that the Father may say of us as He said of Him, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.