FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT, LAETARE SUNDAY, March 31, 2019:
A teacher explained to her CCD class the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and then she asked, "Now tell me: Who do you think suffered the most in this story?" A child raised her hand and answered plainly, "the fatted calf."
Charles Dickens was known to say that the story of the Prodigal Son is the best short story ever written. It is such an important story in our culture that some of the phrases from it have become common and even proverbial in our language – phrases like the Prodigal Son, or the “fatted calf” or “he was lost and has been found.” We hear these words regularly in our daily life and they take on a whole new level of meaning.
This is a story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. It has also changed the way the world looks at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves in God’s sight. It is a brief tale with tremendous scope, so wide that it embraces all of our sinfulness at one end and God’s tremendous and endless mercy at the other. And it does so in such a way to bring them both together. It is no wonder that we hear St. Paul beg us today, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” Seeking God’s mercy and offering God’s mercy are the most important things that we can do.
Jesus shares this story in response to his regular adversaries in the Gospels – the Pharisees and Scribes. They are upset with the people He keeps company with. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is their accusation. And Jesus gives them this story in the hopes that they will understand – once and for all – His nature and the welcoming and merciful nature of God. The word Pharisee means literally “separated ones” and this is often exactly what the Pharisees are trying to do – trying to use God’s law to create a world where some people are “in” and others are “out”. The consequence of their view of the world is to exclude many people from God’s love. Today, Jesus gives this wake-up call. He reminds them and us that God’s love is for everyone; God’s forgiveness has no limits. Jesus has come so that all people might know – whether the greatest saint or the worst sinner – that all people might know that they are welcomed, loved and forgiven in the Kingdom He came to inaugurate.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is the accusation that Jesus turns into a motto; into a way of life; and it should describe us as well. And, I think, this message of the Prodigal Son is one that we need to hear over and over and over again because we know that this tendency to separate people and exclude them is something that persists in our world. We are called to reject that notion.
God, of course, never asked us to be in the business of judgment or exclusion. Pope Francis said it more succinctly when he famously said, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement and reminder from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face. And, our story today reminds us that the one true judge is abundantly forgiving and merciful.
But, who are we to love? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to forgive and show mercy? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are our common call; this is our mission statement. Jesus is very explicit about these things. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate, merciful and forgiving presence in our world. So, how are we doing with that?
Let us remember that no sin of ours is ever too great to be forgiven. God never tires of forgiving us. And let it be said of us that we too “welcome sinners and eat with them.”
Today, let us “come to our senses,” as the Prodigal Son did. Today let us reject the voices in our world that want to exclude people; let us reject the voices that seek to judge others; and let us return once again to our loving and forgiving Father. Let us heed St. Paul’s command, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms and receive the mercy He has prepared for us. And then let us go forth sharing that same love, that same mercy with the world.
“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 17, 2019:
I always say that I am a well-named Thomas – a doubter. Especially in my teens and early 20s, I really struggled with faith. I wanted to believe more than anything in the world, but that gift had just not been given to me. And then, around 21 years old, God began to enter my life in a powerful way. I began feeling drawn to the Mass, drawn to the Eucharist. And, I will never forget one particular Sunday. There was nothing different about this Mass, it was just the same as it was every Sunday. But, when the priest got to the words of institution – “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…This is My Body. Take this and drink…This is the chalice of My Blood.” – when the priest said those words, it was though it was the first time I had ever heard them. In that moment, they were not words I was trying to understand with my mind; they were words that I knew were true in my heart. I knew in that moment that Jesus was real; that He was present before me; that He was transfigured in my sight – bread into Body; wine into Blood. After I received Holy Communion that day, I could feel the presence of Jesus in me in a real way. As I knelt back in my pew, tears began to roll down my face. My life has not been the same since that moment.
I was thinking of this moment in my own life as we hear a similarly amazing story unfold in our Gospel today. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment to 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 in their lives changed. 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 ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when 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.
Today, as we recall the transfiguration of Jesus, it is not a moment of mere historical memory. It is instead a moment of invitation. Jesus invites us to experience transfiguration in our own lives; to 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; God’s life-changing presence before us.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is a 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.
And if the altar is a place of transfiguration for us; so too is the Confessional. If we have the courage to step into that confessional and lay our sins before God, we too will become dazzling white as our sins are lifted. In that moment Jesus wants to lift off our burdens, take away our struggles, instill in us the beauty of His grace. Jesus wants to restore us to holiness. Imagine that. Imagine letting this thought settle in your heart and take root – I am holy. I am holy. I am without sin. I am free. In the confessional, we hear the voice of God who speaks the most incredible words to us. He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” In the confessional, we are transformed, transfigured by that Grace. In that moment, we once again become God’s beloved daughters, beloved sons, with whom God is well pleased.
My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today 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 changed my life forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever.
My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. He wants to forgive our sins and set us free. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that these encounters makes us.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, March 10, 2019:
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them? Pope Francis has been teaching us, through his example, that God looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are. Can we trust in that love?” These are the opening words of a pastoral letter issued on by Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, the bishop of Springfield, a few years ago. They are words that have resonated with me since.
The main thrust of Bishop Rozanski’s letter was to reach out to those who have ever felt unwelcome in Church or feel a distance from their faith. His hope was these words could be the beginning of a journey of closeness back into the faith, back into the Church for these people.
He said, “There are [those] who have distanced themselves from the church because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary. [Parishes] must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life. [Catholics must] evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us. We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective.”
“Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” I was moved by the bishop’s words because they are words that many have been longing to hear. But, I was also moved by these words because they also struck me at the start of this Lent as not only powerful words addressing a specific need, but also the kind of words that should define the attitude of every Christian; perhaps a sort of mission statement for us all. Pope Francis has said is more concisely, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”
Reconciliation, community, and forgiveness – these are all things that are intimately intertwined; these are all things that we need in order to continue to be strengthened and encouraged in our life of faith. Our psalm today proclaimed as much, “Be with me Lord.” When we seek out forgiveness from those we have harmed; when we received forgiveness from those who have hurt us – it is precisely then that the Lord draws nearest to us. He comforts our hearts, consoles our lives, strengthens our faith. Nothing compares to the closeness we find with the Lord.
And no where is that closeness stronger than in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we enter that confessional it is not a place of judgment; it is not a place of fear; it isn’t the divine courtroom where God hands down His sentence upon our soul. It is in fact a place of divine encounter – God waits for us there; God meets us there – and God removes anything that is keeping us away from Him, away from one another; away from the community of faith established by God. “Be with me Lord.”
My friends, as we stand at the start of this Lenten journey once again ask yourselves – do you want to draw closer to God? Do you want to feel God’s closeness in a powerful way in your heart and in your life. Is your life in this moment crying out – begging – God, “Be with me Lord.” Let me know Your closeness; let me feel Your presence; release me from my sins so that I may be pure and holy and sinless before you?
I ask you: “Do you believe in a God who loves you? Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?” Because these are the things that matter. These are the things that have the power – true power – to change your life and the lives of those around you. I also believe this is where too many of us struggle. We are perhaps uncertain of God’s love for us, or perhaps have never truly felt it. Maybe we have not sought out God’s forgiveness in far too long, or no longer believe we need it; or worse, no longer believe we are deserving of it. We, too often, fear to break the ice with the person from whom we need to simply say, “Please forgive me. I was wrong.” But, these are the words that change lives. These are the words that change the world. Perhaps this Lent you will speak them yourself. Do you believe? God never tires of forgiving you. God’s mercy has no limits. God is love itself and invites you to dwell in that love. Do you believe?
So, what do you want your Lent to be about this year? Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven. But, YOU are the Church – not this stone and mortar, stained-glass and marble – you are the church. May you be a place of mercy, may I be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed loved and forgiven. This is what our Lent should truly be about. Be with us Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019:
Every year, I like to informally ask people what they are giving up for Lent. The answers are what you would expect: some give up soda and soft drinks; some give up chocolates or sweets; some give up meat or Dunkin’ Donuts; some eating out at restaurants. Others name things that were changes in their habits, like giving up music in the car, embracing more silence, or trying to give up gossip. One said turning off electronic devices at 8 p.m. to limit the amount of time staring at screens. And, then there were those who were going to try and do more with their Lent like pledging to pray a rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet every day; or spending more time in service of others; and some said they’d so would get to Mass every day.
These are all great and are the kind of practices that we hope to be effective in our Lent and in our lives to help us become the kind of people that Jesus calls us to be. Our typical approach to Lent, I think, is to look at Lent as a 40 day spiritual boot camp. It is our time to get our spiritual act together, to engage in some rigorous practices that can once again rein in and drive out all of the laziness that has snuck into our spiritual lives since last year. It is best summed up by the statement as ashes are applied, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” And, there is certainly ample reason for us to think of Lent in this way.
But, I want to invite us to think about the next 40 days in a very different way this year – instead of the boot camp, let’s imagine these 40 days as the luxury spa; not as the place where we punish our sinfulness into submission, but the place where we allow our gracious and loving God to pamper us with His mercy.
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We sang this together in our response today. “Be merciful, O Lord.” This is a very appropriate theme for our 40 day journey towards Easter. It is also a theme that Pope Francis has been continually reminding us of these last few years. From virtually the first day of his papacy, Pope Francis has been speaking to us about this great gift and grace of God’s mercy – about our need to accept it and our need to extend it; about how it is the cure to what ails our world today.
He said, for example, “Feeling mercy changes everything’. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. This mercy is beautiful.” Be merciful, O Lord, because feelingmercy changes everything, and we want to be changed by Your mercy. This is what our Lent can be about – letting God treat us, spoil us, overwhelm us, cover us with His mercy. He doesn’t hold it back. He doesn’t try and keep it from us. He wants nothing more than for us to be awash in the healing waters of His mercy. Let God’s mercy spoil you. It is beautiful. It is the best thing you can feel. It will change you and the world.
The Pope said, “God defines himself as the God of mercy. In words which echo throughout the Old Testament, he tells Moses that he is ‘the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. The Hebrew word for mercy evokes the tender and visceral love of a mother for her child…God waits for us.” My friends, God waits for you and me with the tender love of a mother; whose love can heal us.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for us; God waits for you. He wants to spoil you and shower you with the gift of His mercy. This doesn’t mean we’re off the hook – it doesn’t mean bring on the cookies and ice cream! But, it means that we should be conscious that the things we “give up” should be tilling the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the loving gift of mercy there; so that He can spoil us with this mercy; so that we might in turn become that presence of mercy in our world. Our Lenten practices should lead us to beg as we did in our psalm, “Be merciful, O Lord.” Please, shower Your mercy upon us. Because feeling Your mercy changes everything. Our God waits for us so that we can feel His mercy. He waits for us to become His mercy. He hopes that we will extend that mercy to the world.
May the Lord give you His mercy!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, March 3, 2019:
Let me ask a question today – 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. Well, there is some good news. I came across a study recently out of the University of Hartfordshire in England that explored this question of luck and the answers were interesting. 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 eye contact. Lucky people tend to be optimistic and have positive expectations in life – from people and circumstances. 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.
I think a member of my community I lived with a number of years ago. He was the type who always seems to see the cloud around every silver lining. For example, faced with an unexpected warm, Spring-like day in the midst of this long winter; as everyone else rejoices in this gift, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll probably just be cold again tomorrow.” Or after a great Bruins or Red Sox win, as everyone is celebrating, his response would be, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They’ll probably just lose next time.” Or after being being praised for a job well done, as anyone else would be happy with the kind words, he’d likely say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They praise you today, they’ll 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 the luckiness and happiness also go hand-in-hand. The people more inclined towards good luck, also tended to be happier over all. The study offered a few suggestions to increase both luck and happiness in our lives First, keep an open mind that is willing to look for opportunities, not one that sees only negativity. 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.
This is what Jesus is getting at 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? 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 it is good; 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 is also at the heart of what Pope Francis has been trying to encourage in us during these years of his pontificate. 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, “Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.” 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, 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 can be certain of 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!
One last quote from the Pope. He said, “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.”
My friends, just imagine what our world could look like when we are the people who proclaim peace in the midst of wars and violence in our world; who invite unity in the face of the political and cultural divisions all around us; 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 comes 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 joy, our world needs.
May the Lord give you peace.