These stones are dead
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 1st SUNDAY OF LENT, February 26, 2023:
There is an Aesop’s Fable about an argument between the wind and the sun over which was stronger. Suddenly a traveler was coming down the road, and the Sun said: “Whichever of us can make him take off his coat is stronger. You go first.” The Sun hid behind a cloud, and the Wind began to blow as hard as it could. But the harder it blew the more tightly the traveler wrapped his coat around him, until the Wind gave up. Then the Sun came out and shone gently; getting warmer and warmer upon the traveler, who soon found it too warm to walk with his coat on and took it off.
This fable reminded me of what we hear today taking place with Jesus in the desert today. In our Gospel, the Devil is like the wind trying to prove that he is stronger than God. He tempts Jesus in every way he can imagine – wealth, power, fame. But, as in our fable, the Son is stronger. It wasn’t the might of worldly temptations that won over Jesus, but the gentle persuasion of prayer and fasting.
Now, while Jesus had to go to the desert to face His temptations, ours usually find us. And, the Devil’s first temptation gives us a helpful image for understanding our own. The Devil said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” [Hold up stone] Now, look at this stone. This is what the Devil wants Jesus to turn to, to find happiness in life. This. My brothers and sisters, to state the obvious, this stone is dead. The Devil has got it all wrong. He wants Jesus to turn to a dead stone – something completely lifeless, completely unable to help Him, completely inadequate in making Him even a little happy – in order to find satisfaction. The great insight of Jesus in this moment is that He knows only God can give Him true life; only God can give Him true happiness. The Devil wants Jesus to command the dead stone to become life for Him. It is completely ridiculous when you realize what the Devil is doing.
But isn’t this image a little bit too familiar in our own lives? If you think about it, we all have stones – lifeless things – that we stare at commanding them to give us life; we all have equally dead things that we hope will make us happy; commanding them to make us popular or successful or wealthy or powerful. These things will never give us life. Perhaps our stone is pride, or a need to be right all the time even to the harm of relationships with family and friends. Perhaps it is a stone of jealousy, failing to be thankful for the blessings that God has bestowed in our lives and instead only coveting what we don’t have; wanting what others have. Perhaps we’re seek life in material things, simply wanting and seeking more things, all the while blind to the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the neglected that are all around us. Maybe we look to a stone of food; instead of eating to survive, we instead turn to food to deal with our feelings or feed our guilt. Perhaps it is drugs or alcohol; using these to number ourselves so that we don’t have to feel. Maybe it’s television or video games or the Internet – do we spend more time staring at a screen than with our families, friends, or just as importantly in prayer with our God?
The point is that all of us have stones that we look at; we stare at; that we command to give us life and happiness – some of them are big; some of them are small. But, my brothers and sisters, these stones are dead. They will never – ever – give us life. Perhaps you’ve come to this recognition in your life – that the things you have turned to are not providing what they promised? Whether it was Jesus in the desert, or Adam and Even in the garden, or you and me in our lives – the Devil’s promises never deliver; they are always empty.
But, of course, as always, Jesus has the answer. In fact, Jesus IS the answer. My friends, as we begin our Lenten journey, right here, right now, today in this church, Jesus is inviting us to do something radical – He is inviting us to put down our stones. He wants us to let go of those things that we falsely think will give us happiness, life and peace. All that these stones are successful at doing is binding us, holding us down, stealing our freedom, making us slaves to sin. Jesus wants us instead to put those stones down and journey with Him to a place of true freedom; true happiness; true peace – the fullness of the life He promised us.
So, let me offer three simple actions we can all do this Lent to help us put down our stones and choose the life that Christ invites us into – one personal, one communal and one universal.
First, the personal. As I share these words today, you know what your stone is. God is putting something on your heart right now; the stone He wants you to leave behind. Whatever it is, you know God is calling you to something specific and personal, something that needs to change if you are going to grow in holiness; if you are going to be free. Whatever this personal thing is, God invites us to surrender it to Him so that you may grow in His sight.
The second thing is communal. During Lent, find some extra time to gather with the community for prayer – maybe come to daily Mass, or to Stations of the Cross, or our Monday holy hours to seek out God’s healing in Confession. The point is, we navigate our life of faith best when we do it together. None of us should make this Lenten journey alone. Let’s travel together towards Easter joy.
And finally something universal. Growing in holiness should always mean growing in the ways we care for others – especially the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the needy all around us. Lent should help us to focus on others; so find a chance to contribute our time or treasure to the poor, to local charities, to the Church, to our Pope Francis Outreach Center. Our small sacrifices can have a big impact on the lives of others.
So, these are the things we can do – something personal, something communal, something universal – all of which help us to leave behind the dead stones that weigh us down and live in the true freedom of God.
May we all have a holy season of Lent and may the Lord give you peace.
Hold back nothing in love
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 12, 2023:
Everywhere you go this week stores are filled with hearts and chocolates and cards that say, “It’s Valentine’s Day!” The stores would have you think that this is the great moment of the year for the celebration of love – and that nothing really says love more than chocolates and roses. Of course, as people of faith we know better. Jesus has something different to say about what love is really about.
With the eyes of faith, we see love not as something we have and hold or possess, but something we do. For us, love is not a noun, it’s a verb. It’s action. And that means we have to do something. And the things we do in love are often far more challenging and impactful than roses and chocolates. True, Christ-centered love is challenging; and it is also transformative – of ourselves and those around us.
For example, when our neighbor really needs our help and support, even when we don’t have the time, love tells us to go the extra mile. When our coworker is negative and critical all the time, and we feel like we need to say something, love calls us to be a voice of compassion. When your spouse is hurting, but won’t really talk to about it, love invites us to sit patiently and prayerfully for the right moment to offer words that lead to healing and peace.
Here's another way to put it. To love everyone, generally is easy. But when people become an individual person – to love this person right here in front of me – that’s when it gets real. To stay married to someone through good times and bad, to maintain healthy communication between parents and teens, to commit to a friendship even during the times that friendship feels one sided, is tough.
And as much as we want to love the people in our lives well, Jesus raises the standard of love for His followers even more. While we’re working hard to love our parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends, Jesus says, “I need you to love more.” I need you to also love your difficult neighbor and your crabby customer. I need you to love the hungry and the homeless; and the immigrant and refugee. And then Jesus adds, you also have to love your persecutors; your detractors; and even love your enemies. Were love only as easy as chocolates and roses. But this deeper love is the defining characteristic of those who follow Jesus. “See how these Christians love” is what they said of the early community of believers.
This week, as we continue the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes us that extra mile in love. We heard a repeating phrase, “You have heard it was said…but, I say to you.” For example, He said, “You have heard it was said you shall not kill…But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment.” Jesus invites us to go further in love. What’s important is more than just what we do. What matters is the heart.
Now Jesus isn’t talking about regular anger – I stubbed my toe, or you cut me off, or my team lost the game. He’s talking about the kind of anger that we hold in our hearts, the kind we cherish and live with, and foster and never let go of. In other words, it is the anger with which we judge and reject someone, or dismiss them, or treat them as disposable or meaningless. That kind of anger is not anger for a moment – it’s the kind that makes us an angry person with that anger always seething just beneath the surface.
Jesus gives an important directive, though, of what we are to do with this darkness in our hearts. He says, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and then recall that your brother or sister has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled, and then come and offer your gift.” This is what someone does who does not hold anger in their heart. In Jesus’ time, making a sacrifice at the altar was the most sacred act imaginable and the most important thing a person could do. Jesus says you should love people so much that you would be willing to lay aside even this important responsibility to go and repair that relationship. Love causes us to do whatever it takes to mend and heal the broken places in our lives. God doesn’t want our sacrifices as a substitute for our love. Jesus elevates loving people to the highest standard imaginable for a person of faith. All of the examples that Jesus uses today in the Sermon have that same point – what is in your heart is what matters most.
Anger, hatred, jealousy, envy – any of these things given space in your heart will lead to consequences in your life. The more these things fill our hearts, the less room we have there for Jesus. Our challenge is to make space so that Jesus can fill it. You can’t hold onto anger in your heart and be a truly loving person. You can’t hold lust in your heart and be a truly loving person. You hold power, control, and manipulation in your heart and be a truly loving person.
But don’t worry. This message from Jesus is not meant to be a condemnation, but a challenge. We’re not bad because we experience these things; instead, we’re being called to work these things out of our hearts; clear that space. So how do we do that? First, we have to honestly get to know our heart, take a closer look at what’s really there (a lot of people have no idea). Second, take positive steps to change behaviors that corrupt the heart. Ask for humility to get rid of anger. Engage in fasting to get rid of lust. Apologize to those you’ve hurt and find a way to heal broken relationships. Third, invite God into the midst of it all and purify your heart in prayer; ask for the grace to remove what doesn’t belong there, so that there is only love there. Make room for God’s love in our hearts.
We shouldn’t be surprised that God calls us to this remarkable challenge of love. After all, the symbol of our Christian faith – the greatest symbol of love in the history of humanity – is the cross. The cross was an instrument of brutal, savage, inhumane death. God chose to give up His son Jesus on that cross to instruct us in love. The cross is the ultimate love lesson. It teaches us what true love looks like. St. Francis of Assisi said it this way, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself; so that He who has given Himself completely for you, may receive you completely.”
Let me end with a simple prayer. Lord, take our hearts and mold them; take our minds, and transform them; take our will, and conform them - to Yours, Oh Lord. Help us to love like You do.
May the Lord give you peace.
Salt & light
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, February 5, 2023:
In our Gospel today, we continue to make our way through the Sermon on the Mount. Last week, we heard Jesus share the Beatitudes. Today we hear another well-known part of the sermong, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” We know this passage well, and it is one of the most affirming passages in all of the Gospels. Jesus today is affirming the beautiful witness of faith that we – you and I – share with the world every day. As I reflected on this Gospel, what kept coming to me were images of different people that I encounter shining that light 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, children and grandchildren; a fire-fighter devoted to service. He was a man that everyone knew and loved. In fact, although his name was Sylvester, everyone called him ”Buddy” and indeed he was. 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 that night, there was a sense of joy in the room because we knew he was receiving the reward that God had prepared for him. He was truly the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
And as I speak of him today, I’m sure you’re thinking of someone in your life who was or is salt and light. We all know people like my grandfather and the holiness of lives inspires us. We can be tempted to think that holiness is something abstract or an ideal. But, holiness is as real and tangible as you and I are. We can be tempted to think that holiness is something rare and only for the privileged few –like St. Francis, St. Mother Teresa or St. John Paul the 2nd. But, holiness is actually as common as salt and light. 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, that we are holy right now and we’re not meant to keep that holiness hidden – the world needs us to offer it the flavor of the Gospel, the world needs us to light the way by our acts of goodness. Holiness is not something we earn or receive as a reward, it is something that we live out day by day, act by act, moment by moment.
Jesus, in calling us salt and light, knows how good we are; how holy we are; and He encourages us to share that with the world. All of us here are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. 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 commitment of those who come to daily Mass; in those devoted to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary; in those who have raised faithful families and taught them to share love God and His church. We can see holiness in the young people joyfully coming to church with a smile on their face; in those who care for the needy of our community at our Pope Francis Outreach Center; in those 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 faith. Once our eyes are opened, we see that holiness is all around us – as common as salt and light.
If there is a challenge to be found for us today it is this – 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. 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.” Where can we love more, care more, forgive more, help more, be present more, pray more – extend that holiness farther than it is today?
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.