FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 29, 2023:
Earlier this week, Pope Francis returned to a theme that he has spoken of regularly during his pontificate – the quality and length of homilies. He said, “Keep your homilies to no more than eight to 10 minutes and always include in them a thought, a feeling and an image, so that the people may bring something home with them.” He added, “In general in the Catholic Church, the homilies are a disaster.” It was a fitting commentary this week in particular because our Gospel passage from Matthew today gives us a homily – in fact it is Jesus’ very first homily. We know it better as the Sermon on the Mount.
This homily comprises a full three chapters of Matthew and includes that most of the key ideas of Jesus’ preaching. In the Sermon we find the Beatitudes (which we have before us today). We have the Lord’s Prayer. The command to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute” us. It gives us the familiar command to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is a truly amazing homily and in fact if you could only have one piece of Scripture that gives you the fullest picture of Jesus teaching and thought, it would be the Sermon on the Mount. Definitely longer than 10 minutes, but certainly not a disaster!
Today, we have just a small portion of that sermon; we have the beatitudes. We hear the familiar refrain, “Blessed are they…” Blessedness is another word for happiness and so in the beatitudes, Jesus is giving us the road to happiness if only we follow.
The great philosopher Aristotle said, “Happiness is that which all people seek.” He observed that the things people do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, are the things that they believe will bring them happiness in one form or another. The problem is that what people think will bring them happiness rarely achieves that goal. Think about this in your own life. What are you investing in to find your own happiness and is it working?
What Jesus wants us to know today is that true happiness – or blessedness – can be found, but perhaps in unlikely places. The world often tells us that happiness can be found in money, power, fame, and beauty. And so, where Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” the world says “Blessed are the rich.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are those who mourn” the world says “Blessed are those having fun.” Where Jesus says “Blessed are the meek” the world says “Blessed are the cunning.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” the world says “Blessed are those who wine and dine.” Where Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful” the world says “Blessed are the powerful.” You get the idea.
The values prescribed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount are in fact counter-cultural values – often the opposite of what the world tells us to value. And so, we cannot accept these teachings of Jesus and at the same time accept all the values of the society in which we live. We have to make a choice. Jesus invites us to put God first in our lives because only God can guarantee the true happiness and peace that our hearts long for. Nothing in the world can give this peace, and nothing in the world can take it away.
The question for us today is this: Do we seek our happiness through the values of the world or do we live by the beatitudes of Jesus? If you live by the teachings of Jesus, then rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Saint Pope John Paul II, spoke of the Beatitudes at World Youth Day in Toronto many years ago. I had the privilege of being present for his homily. He said, “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them! The Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of those who have accepted the Kingdom of God. The joy promised by the Beatitudes is the very joy of Jesus himself. By looking at Jesus you will learn what it means to be poor in spirit, meek and merciful; what it means to seek justice, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers. Today Jesus’ voice resounds in the midst of our gathering. His is a voice of life, of hope, of forgiveness; a voice of justice and of peace. Let us listen to this voice! The Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you!”
My friends, happiness is that which all people seek. Let us seek nothing less than the Kingdom of God.
May the Lord give you peace.
HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 15, 2023:
King Henry III was King of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing man but the demands of being king did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so tired of being king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. The Abbot said, “Your Majesty, do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “But, for the rest of my life I will be obedient to you.” The Abbott responded, “Good, here is what I command you to do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne and he ruled his people with kindness and justice and holiness. He was a saintly king.
In our second reading today St. Paul addresses each one of us with an extraordinary phrase. He calls us those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.” We these few words, Paul reminds us of an essential fact – we are all “called to be holy.” “Holy” is another word for “saint.” So if we are all called to be holy, my friends, we are all called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. Saintliness is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm for the followers of Jesus. We have been fortunate to live in an age of great saints – St. Mother Teresa, St. Padre Pio, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II.
Did you know that as Pope, St. John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he consciously canonized not just priests and religious. He made saints of women and men from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might all be reminded when we look at the saints that they look like us and so we are called to be like them, as St. Paul said, “called to be holy”.
Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become holy. But, as the Abbot reminded Henry, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives. Or stated another way, we are called to bloom where we have been planted.
As we enter Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare. Holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized person. It is meant to be in the reach of you and of me. We are all meant to be saints! And while we may not feel like we are saints yet, that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.
That God has called us to be “saints” doesn’t mean that we are called to be perfect and never without sin, it means that God wants us to be different than other people in the world. He wants us not to simply follow the crowd, but to blaze a new path – one that is marked by kindness, compassion, joy, forgiveness and healing. These are the tools of the saints, the tools of holiness. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux has become one of the most popular saints of the century or so; and whenever her name is brought up, so too is what she called her ‘Little Way’ which she wrote about in her autobiography The Story of a Soul. Throughout her life St. Thérèse wanted to become a saint. Yet, in her eyes, her life wasn’t all that extraordinary. She wrote, “You know it has always been my desire to become a Saint, but I have always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds.”
But, instead of being discouraged, St. Thérèse trusted in God and believed that it was in her ‘littleness’ that she could become a saint. She wrote, “I concluded that God would not inspire desires which could not be realized, and that I may aspire to sanctity in spite of my littleness. For me to become great is impossible. I must bear with myself and my many imperfections; but I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight, a little way that is wholly new.”
Her ’Little Way’ consisted in performing ‘little virtues,’ not seeking grandiose sacrifices to God, but little acts of holiness. She wrote, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest god and doing it all for love.” St. Thérèse never left the Carmelite monastery, didn’t become a martyr, and would have been lost to history if it weren’t for her autobiography and her ‘Little Way.’ She reminds us, like St. Paul today, that anyone can become a saint and that we are all called to holiness.
So, let us pray today, that God might inspire in us the same desire for holiness and saintliness in the ordinariness of our daily lives. To be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and then become those saints in the little acts of goodness and kindness we can do every day.
The recent funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict reminded me of a moment in the funeral Mass of his predecessor, St. Pope John Paul. On that day, in 2005, the crowds cried out, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!" Similar cries could be heard for Benedict. Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito! Let us be saints today.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.