FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, February 28, 2021:
Imagine the scene we just heard unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment and take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Now we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; but hopefully, we have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
For me, it called to mind our twice weekly Grab & Go meals at our Pope Francis Outreach Center. For almost a year now, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been offering two hot meals a week – every Wednesday and Friday – to anyone in our community experiencing food insecurity. We have been providing roughly 350 meals every time we do this. We will have provided over 40,000 meals when we reach that one year mark next month. Each week, this simple gesture of providing a meal gives us countless examples of experiencing the presence of Christ in our everyday lives. These have become moments of true transfiguration.
Let me share on particular encounter one of our volunteers had. She shared, “A gentleman I met expressed to me how grateful he was receiving the meals that we offer but especially the whole turkey we offered at Thanksgiving time. He wanted to make soup with it, but didn’t have anything to put into it. Then, he remembered we also offered fresh produce boxes and they had everything he needed. He made the soup, but then instead of keeping it just for himself, he gave it away to as many others people as it would feed, knowing they could use it too. He said that his mother told him to always have faith and God would take care of you.” You see, he saw God’s care for him in our food distribution, and he used that moment to be God’s care for those around him. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for me.”
This volunteer said, “In the beginning when we gave the food we would always say ‘God bless you’ to the people receiving it. For many months now, most of them say it to me before I do. People are not only in need of the food, but just as much, they are looking forward to interacting with us; to having a little bit of kindness and holiness in their day.”
My friends, this is Transfiguration if our eyes – like those of Peter, James, and John – are opened. Jesus continually takes us up the mountain of transfiguration and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changes the lives of our volunteers feeding the hungry. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Transfiguration is meant not to be limited and infrequent – it is meant to be multiplied. We see Jesus before us; and then multiply that presence in and through our lives.
My friends, let us open our hearts today to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. As we see Jesus revealed to us in the Holy Eucharist once again today, let us also turn our gaze to one another; to the world around us; to those on the margins – and recognize that Jesus is there too. Let us multiply this Transfiguration over and over and over again. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again His luminous presence in our world.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Dust filled with eternity
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2021:
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “When on Ash Wednesday we hear 'you are dust,’ we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life forever."
My thoughts today are still stuck reflecting on our beautiful Ash Wednesday celebrations this week. We had a wonderful turnout for our COVID times, and particularly moving for me where our drive-thru ashes offered outside of the Cathedral in the afternoon. More than 50 cars pulled up filled with people who otherwise do not yet feel confident coming to in-persons services during the pandemic. It was wonderful for me, as your pastor, to see so many parishioners who I haven’t seen since all of this began nearly a year ago.
Ash Wednesday is so moving because it is one of the most authentic movements of faith that we see each year. None of us are obliged to attend on Ash Wednesday. It is not a holy day of obligation. It is an optional celebration. And yet, ask even the most marginal Catholic and they will tell you, “I have to get my ashes.”
I experienced Wednesday as a profound sign that says that even though there may be many people who do not attend Mass each week, there is still an incredible hunger for the divine, a yearning for something greater than ourselves, a desire for something more meaningful than the superficial pleasures the world has to offer, and even a deep recognition that we are sinners in need of God’s abundant mercy. This is true any normal year; I think all of these things are multiplied in these challenging times. We still desire that closeness to God in the depths of our hearts. And, I think, there is something profoundly humbling about placing ashes on our heads – something that roots us once again in God, reminding us of who He is and who we are in His sight.
Just think of the symbolism. On a very natural level, the ashes we receive are a reminder that all things end. They remind us that our time on earth is limited, that we will one day return to the dust from which we came. As we pray at a funeral Mass, “O God, who have set a limit to this present life, so as to open up an entry into eternity...” Our time on earth does not last forever, it has a limit. But, even that limit is a sign of new life – it opens up an entry into eternity.
Our ashes represent this cycle so beautifully. The ashes we scattered on our head as a reminder that we are dust, just a year ago were the vibrant and green palms that welcomed Christ and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have now replaced those “hosannas” of last year with the cry, “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” This paschal cycle of life, death, and new life is renewed once again as we enter into this sacred season.
Pope Francis, in his homily on Ash Wednesday last year, gave an incredibly evocative reflection on the phrase, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” and those ashes that we receive. He said, “Ashes are a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.” He said, “Lent is a time for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.” Not to remain ashes, but to be transformed from ashes to newness of life.
You know, scientists tell us that the matter that makes up every human body originally began as the matter of the stars. Every atom in our body started out as the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen of a star. That means that we are all literally composed of star dust – each one of us. And, I think God did that on purpose so that we will know from the moment of our creation is that our origin is luminous and our destiny is to shine just as brightly. From the origins of the universe until our individual births, we were created to be luminous beings. Our Lenten journey begins with that same dust on our heads as a reminder that these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving are all meant to renew us so that we can again shine the light and love and mercy and compassion of Christ more brightly than before. To become luminous once again.
The Holy Father said, “We are precious dust that is destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory. We are dust that is loved by God.”
My friends, “You are dust and to dust you will return.” But embrace that identity and all the luminosity it promises. Yes, we are dust – but we are dust that is loved by God. God loves every luminous part of your being and wants nothing more than for you to shine with the brightness of a thousand stars. And so, my friends, let us allow ourselves to be loved by God. Let us invite God to shower us with His forgiveness and mercy, especially during these 40 days. Let us remind ourselves of our preciousness in God’s sight – so precious that He created us out of the stars themselves.
As Rahner said, “We are nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; and dust that is God’s life forever.” May we all have a holy and luminous Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
The holiest Lent of our lives
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2021:
There is a sweet quality to our gathering here today as we once again enter into the season of Lent and begin our 40 day journey of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving that will lead us all the way to Easter Sunday. I say a sweet quality because last year, we gathered to begin our 40 days as we do each year; and then just two weeks later, it was taken away from us as we entered into a lockdown and quarantine that would last all the way to the summer.
As we went into lockdown last year and public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other sacraments were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious and difficult Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or in-person faith formation. It was the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, is that it was also a fruitful fast. St. “Padre” Pio said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” We know the meaning of these words more profoundly than we ever have before because of the year we have endured.
My hope as we gather today – once again in person; once again with all of the hopes and expectations of what this Lent will offer – is that if last year was the most difficult Lent of our lifetimes, let us make this year the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. Because we desperately need that holiness. We know the proverb that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts during this year of pandemic, we should be profoundly hungry for the things of God; profoundly hungry for the Eucharist that nourishes us; profoundly hungry for the grace of forgiveness that we find in Confession; profoundly in need of the connections we find here in the midst of the assembly; profoundly desperate for the holiness that can only be found through faith, through the sacraments, through the church. Sometimes you have to lose something to know what we you had.
So my encouragement to each one of us today is to make this a holy Lent; in fact the holiest Lent of your life. Do not let today be just like every other Ash Wednesday you’ve experienced. We heard the Prophet Joel’s plea, “Even now, says the Lord return to me with your whole heart.” God doesn’t want just part of us. He doesn’t want lip service. He doesn’t want superficial sacrifices during these 40 days. God doesn’t want us to engage in a Lent that is barely noticeable. He wants our whole heart. He wants everything. And He wants that because when we give everything to God, in return we receive everything; we receive nothing short of holiness.
Pope Francis said today, “Lent is a journey of return to God and an opportunity to deepen our love for our brothers and sisters. God is appealing to our hearts and our entire being, inviting us to Him. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends.”
This is what our Lent can be about – returning home to God on whom everything depends; allowing God to overwhelm us with His love, satisfy us with the Eucharist, and restore us with His mercy. God doesn’t hold back. God doesn’t try and keep His presence from us. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to be completely immersed in the healing waters of His mercy, completely satisfied with the Bread that comes from Heaven, completely filled with holiness by embracing these days of Lent.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself; so that He who has given Himself completely to you, can receive you completely.” This is the divine exchange that we are invited into today and all through Lent. God wants to give Himself to you and to me completely. And He asks that we do the same.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for you to shower you with His love and His mercy. Let us plan these 40 days well so that everything we do has one goal – to till the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the gift of His love, His mercy, His presence there; so that we might be transformed into those same gifts for the world to see. Our God waits for us so that this Lent might not be just another Lent – but that in fact it might become the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. And that will make all the difference.
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Transformed by Grace
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 14, 2021:
In 1981, violinist Peter Cropper, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. The Royal Academy of Music in London had loaned him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius violin for use in the concert. The violin takes its name from its maker, Antonio Stradivari, who made it from over 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. The special sound of a Stradivarius has never been duplicated.
Peter arrived in Finland with the rare and beautiful instrument for his concert, however, as he was walking on stage for the performance, he tripped and fell, landing on top of the priceless treasure, breaking it into several pieces. He flew back to London in a state of shock. However, his good fortune was a master craftsman named Charles Beare who worked for well over a month to attempt to repair the violin. Once he had it back together, came the dreaded moment of truth – what would the violin sound like?
Beare handed the violin to Cropper, who’s heart was pounding inside his chest as he picked up his bow to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, it even sounded better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on a worldwide tour, beginning in New York at Carnegie Hall and the precious violin that everyone thought ruined drew standing ovations everywhere it went.
The story of this violin is a helpful in understanding what is going on in our Scriptures today. Both our First Reading and Gospel passage talk about something that is not really a part of our daily lives anymore – the scourge of leprosy. It was something more commonly seen in ancient times and even just a century ago – we recall saints like Saint Marianne Cope and Saint Damian of Molokai who cared for lepers in Hawaii about 100 years ago – but in our own world today, encountering people with this difficult disease is not a part of our regular life. But, in ancient times, people were terribly afraid of encountering a leper; afraid that they themselves might catch the disease from them. The leper’s life was difficult to say the least. People turned away at their sight and even Psalm 31 tells us from the leper’s perspective, “Those who know me are afraid of me; when they see me in the street, they run away. I am like something thrown away.”
To this tragic figure, Jesus responds lovingly and with compassion, not turning or running away, but moving close, touching the man and healing him. The story of the leper, like the story of the violin, both serve as a metaphor for our contemporary experience. The remind us of something that happens over and over in life. Too frequently tragedy strikes our lives – perhaps a loved one dies, or a friend betrays us, or an accident leaves someone disabled, or we or someone we know loses their job, or we know people suffering from the challenge of addiction. The list can go on.
When struggle, challenge and even tragedy strike our lives, we can be overwhelmed and crushed, just like the leper must have been when he realized the disease he had contracted. We can be plunged into shock, like Peter Cropper when he broke the precious violin. But, both of these stories remind us that, with Jesus, there is nothing that we can’t survive; there is nothing that we can’t recover from; that there is no moment from which we can’t pick up the pieces and begin again.
Like the craftsman who fixed the violin – Jesus is always waiting to repair whatever is broken in our lives. That and more. Jesus can take our brokenness and transform it into something better and more beautiful than it was before. St. Paul sums it up this way in Second Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we are not discouraged.”
This, my friends, is the Good News of our Scriptures today – that even bad news can be transformed through faith. That Jesus can transform our challenge and suffering into something beautiful and more precious if we surrender it to Him and invite Jesus into the middle of it. Our story, our faith, always ends with resurrection and renewal. It never ends at the Cross.
Let me conclude with an old prayer that you may have heard before:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
May the Lord give you peace.
Why do good people suffer?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 7, 2021:
Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. And it is a particularly relevant question in the midst of this year of pandemic. There is a lot of suffering in our world, and it is natural for us to want to know why.
Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture – the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job had lost everything – his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”
Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer; or trying to understand this virus that has taken 2.3 million lives around the world in less than a year; nearly half a million of them here. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.
Job reminds me of the mother of a good friend of mine. Her name was Adele and she passed away a number of years ago. She was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid it or ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith in the transformative power of suffering.
The dramatist Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering is an opportunity to participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an invitation to be united with Christ on His cross; to be united in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence; giving it meaning; making it holy.
So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. Job, for example, was righteous and did nothing wrong to warrant his suffering. And when we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to allow God to transform our suffering. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that it is Job, even in the midst of his suffering, who proclaims one of the most famous statements in Scripture: “I know that my redeemer lives.”
So, my friends, tonight, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world; especially the suffering from this pandemic – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and transform it into nothing short of glory.
May the Lord fill you with His presence tonight – especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.