FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 27, 2022:
By a show of hands, how many of us wish that we were luckier in life? And I mean that in just about every way – not just the lottery, but luckier in work, in love, in friendships, and more. I think we all wish we were luckier in life. Interestingly, I came across a study recently out of the University of Hartfordshire in England that explored this question of luck. And, just when you begin to think that some people have all the luck in the world, this study shows that there are in fact some common qualities to lucky people.
Lucky people for example smile twice as often as unlucky people, and engage in more direct eye contact. Lucky people tend to be optimistic and have positive expectations for the outcomes in life. Unlucky people, on the other hand, have a much more negative view of the world, of people, of their lives, and of circumstances in general. They tend to see the very same situations and instead of seeing the lucky possibilities, they see only the negatives.
It reminds me of someone I lived with years ago in community. He was the type who always seemed to see the cloud around every silver lining. For example, faced with an unexpected warm, Spring-like day in the midst winter – like we had on Wednesday; as everyone else rejoices in this gift, his would sayd, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just gonna snow on Friday.” Or after being being praised for a job well done, as anyone else would be happy with the kind words, he’d say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They praise you today, they tear you down tomorrow.” We all know someone like this, and if we’re honest, sometimes we are that person.
The British study found that luckiness and happiness go hand-in-hand. The people more inclined towards good luck, also tended to be happier. The study offered a few suggestions to increase both luck and happiness in our lives. First, keep an open mind that is always looking for opportunities, not one that sees only problems. Second, have an optimistic view of the positive things in life. Focusing on the negative crushes our spirits and lowers our expectations. Finally, try something new. Routines can quickly become ruts, but an openness to change can bring about new possibilities that we could never have imagined.
And I think Jesus is getting at something like this in our Gospel today as He speaks about splinters and beams in people’s eyes, and what kind of fruit a tree will bear. Jesus is asking us a very basic question today – what is your view of the world? Do you see the world as an inherently negative place where life is a drudgery and everyone is out to get us; a conspiracy around every corner? Do you have a view that only sees the things that are wrong with everyone? Or do you see the world through the eyes of God – a God who created everything and so sees the inherent goodness in everything; a God who desires goodness, and holiness, healing and joy for all of His creation? A God who only wants what is best for His people?
As Jesus said today, “A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” Jesus reminds us that we can look only at splinters and be part of the negativity around us; or we can share in His light and shine that light to the world. We can produce goodness from the store of goodness He gave us.
This has been constantly echoed by Pope Francis during these years of his pontificate. For example, in his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel he speaks about the contrast between joyful proclaimers of the Gospel and what he calls “sourpusses.” He said, for example, “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. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy everywhere they go.” It makes me think of a quote I heard many years ago from a speaker who said, “Why is it that some Christians go around looking as though they were baptized in pickle juice?”
Pope Francis is continually inviting us to live lives that are characterized not by negativity, not by conflict, not by conspiracy – but by the joy that is a gift from God. The Pope 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.” And, there is the heart of the matter – we are joyful because we know that we are infinitely loved by God. And we know this because we hear it in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us...We love because he first loved us.” God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love is what gives birth to our joy. My friends, as we gather in this church today, do you know how much God loves you? Have you let that certainty sink into the depths of your heart? You are loved by God; you are His beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away – and that is the source of our joy!
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” My friends, we are being called once again to reject the negativity that is swirling all around us. We are being called to be the people who proclaim peace in the midst of war and violence in our world; to be those who invite unity in the face of the political and cultural divisions all around us; to be brothers and sisters who live community and equality in a society filled with prejudice and racism, homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. Our world today lacks the joy that is a gift from God. And Jesus is inviting us once again to be His face, His hands, His voice to the world – He invites us to be the people who bring that joy wherever we go.
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” With Christ, let us be the change, the peace, the joy, the healing, and the reconciliation that our world so desperately needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 20, 2022:
None of us will ever forget the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. We were all stunned to witness the violent attacks that day on our country. I was still a new priest at the time of the attacks, ordained a little less than a year, and I remember in the aftermath of the attack, what a profound moment of faith it was for our nation, and especially for the parish where I was stationed. We immediately began holding special Masses and prayer services and just kept the doors of the church open. People came in droves to draw near to God in those days. But, perhaps the most poignant memory of that moment for me was the day after, September 12th, 2001. I was preparing for Mass for that day and begging God in prayer for the right words for His hurting people. And, as I opened up Scripture to look at the readings for Mass that day, my jaw dropped. What words had God given to comfort our wounded hearts the day after the worst attack on American soil? “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I don’t know if there was ever a more difficult day to hear those words from Jesus. But I also know it was the most important day I ever heard them or preached on them. Precisely at the moment when our minds were angry and our hearts wanted to turn to vengeance, God’s Holy Word instead said, “I know that this is horrible. I know that this moment is difficult. But, do not allow it to change who I created you to be. Remember who you are.” It is quite simply, a moment that I will never forget – one of the most formative moments in my life, in fact.
Today, 21 years later, these words of Jesus are being spoken to our hearts once again. Thankfully we have not seen another day as bad as that one and pray that we won’t, but Jesus message to love our enemies is one that we need to be reminded of. It offers us a message that is the antidote to what we hear every day. Our world is full of voices that encourage us to vilify others, seek revenge, and be the aggressor. We are more divided and polarized than any time I can remember. Are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to judge people, pray for our persecutors? Of course we are – it is the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ. It is who we are.
With this bold command to love our enemies, Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. It is here that He gives us the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, or engaging in the political divisions of our time. How many of us are angry with someone because of who they voted for, or 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, how about years ago? This is not what we are called to. We aren’t 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 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 didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because He loves you. This is who we are.
And now, Jesus wants us to do in the world what He did for us - to outdo violence toward us with generosity, to conquer the hatred around us with kindness, to overwhelm the division around us with unity, mercy and compassion. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as expressed in the world by you and by me; expressed not just when nothing is happening, when all is calm – but expressed when everything is on the line. To love especially when it is hard to. This is who we are.
I often 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 pray.” This Christian heroism 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.
A priest was preaching on the theme of “Love your enemies.” In the midst of the homily, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. Everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, you are not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “That is very unusual. Can I ask how old you are?” “One hundred and two,” she responded. The priest said, “Please tell me how you have lived for 102 years and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet lady, smiled, and said, “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, by now, I’ve outlived them all!”
Today, Jesus challenges us once again to be radically different than the world. To love even the most difficult in our midst; to love even our enemies. Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and together we will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you are willing to love your enemies?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, February 13, 2022:
Let me start today with a simple survey. Raise your hand if you would love to be any of these things: poor, starving, weeping and hated by everybody. Anyone? Okay, now raise your hand if you would love to be rich, well fed, laughing and well-spoken of in the community. A few more of you. One final question, raise your hand if you would like to be among those considered “blessed” by God?
Listen to what we just heard Jesus say in our Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are now hungry. Blessed are you who are now weeping. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Maybe I should ask the questions again?
We hear today a very familiar and beloved passage of Scripture: the Beatitudes. But, if we’ve never really thought about its message, perhaps today we realize it can be challenging, or even misunderstood. And yet, Pope St. John Paul II called the Beatitudes “the Magna Carta of Christianity.” This passage always calls to mind for me an experience I had with that great Pope. It was World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada. St. John Paul focused on this same passage at that gathering. He said, for example, “A crowd of people is gathered around Jesus, all of them anxiously awaiting a word, a gesture that will give them comfort and hope. We too are gathered here to listen attentively to the Lord. He looks at you with affection, feels the deep longing that beats within your hearts: you want to be happy! Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides and speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out two thousand years ago. Words that we have heard again tonight: ‘Blessed are they.’ The key word in Jesus’ teaching is a proclamation of joy: ‘Blessed are they’ People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory.”
Now to be clear, Jesus is not saying that poverty is great, that hunger, weeping, hatred, sorrow are all wonderful. Rather, He is reminding us of our priorities – that following God, no matter the cost; even at the cost of these things – is the best thing in the world. Jesus wants us to be people who seek blessing above all other things. We should seek that blessing even if the world offers us money, power, prestige and position. The key to the passage are the words, “on account of the Son of Man.” Luke reminds us that if we do everything and anything “on account of [Jesus],” it will be turned into blessing. And so even poverty on account of Jesus is better than riches on account of ourselves and the selfishness our world encourages.
When Luke wrote this gospel being named a Christian would result in being disowned by family, rejected by friends, excluded from the synagogue, losing your inheritance, and any commerce in the community. Following Christ would mean being quickly reduced to a state of poverty. And so Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” We may not face the same extremes today as followers, but Jesus still wants us to seek blessing in our lives above all else. Jesus wants us to take the risk and to be people of His Beatitudes and not people of the world. Jesus wants us to see that all of the riches and power in the world will never bring even one soul to Heaven. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?”
Let me end with a few more words St. John Paul from that World Youth Day, “Dear friends, 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! Today Jesus calls you to choose goodness, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace. His call has always demanded a choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death. He makes the same invitation today to you. Answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out his plan of salvation! Christ needs [you] to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer his call by placing your lives at his service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because He trusts you.”
Let us all live lives so focused on Christ above all else that we too may one day be counted among those who are blessed by God.
May the Lord give you Blessing and Peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 6, 2022:
One of my favorite movies is the film, Amistad. Amistad tells the true story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But the illustrations in this Bible fascinated him. At one point, he explains to another person in the jail cell with him, “I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”
That changed everything. Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own prior persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace has not been ineffective.” And Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
This changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Isaiah grew up as a member of the Jewish royal family. St. Paul was Christianity’s greatest persecutor; and St. Peter was a simple, humble fisherman. Yet despite their very different lives, they each has a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us.
Hopefully in all of our lives there are these singular moments that define who we are, that set our lives on their course; that change everything for us. Nothing will be the same. For some it is finding the right job, the one we’ve always dreamed about; for others it can be meeting the right person, the one you were meant to spend your life with; for still others, it can be the birth of a child and how that changes your perspective on everything. These moments can also be in the negative – losing that job, relationships broken or fractured, losing a loved one you were close to. But, how many of those life-changing moments involve God?
As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean those words! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes that even this encounter today at the Holy Mass will change everything for us. Each Mass has the power to change it all – if we let it.
Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is present to us in countless ways because every moment of every day, God wants to change everything for us. He waits to engage us in the hopes that we leave this encounter more loving, more kind, more compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle. Allow God to change you today – even if just a little bit.
Our celebration of the Holy Mass today is asking us – how do I react to God’s presence? Am I blind to God, not even aware that He is here? Do I shy away from God because I know my sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Pray those words more intentionally today than you ever have before.
Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.
This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.