FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 27, 2022:
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 “fattened 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 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 20, 2022:
Pope Francis tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. When he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and he planned on proposing to his girlfriend that day. Bu, as he passed by a local church, he decided to go in and pray. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced powerfully the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment his life had to be devoted to sharing with everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, He discovered a special vocation of mercy. He did not go to the train or the picnic that day. He did not propose to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that moment. And, because of that experience he adopted as his motto “miserando atque eligendo” which translates “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
This story came to mind as I was reflecting on our first reading today from Exodus. We heard, “God called out to Moses from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” With this moment, Moses’ life would also be changed forever. He would go from being a member of the Egyptian royal family to become a prophet and leader of a slave people on their way to freedom – all because of this encounter with our living and loving God.
We probably know this story in the life of Moses well, and I think many people hear stories like this with a sense of wonder and awe, but also with a sense that perhaps these things don’t happen anymore. Such miraculous encounters are a thing of the past and not something that will occur in our lifetime.
But, as the simple story from the young life of Pope Francis reminds us, God still desires to reach out and touch our lives and change them forever. Pope Francis, in his mission of mercy, said a few years ago, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.” The Pope knows this to be a true statement in his own life and we are reminded today that it can and should be true in ours. So, as we gather again today as God’s people, where do we need to have a real experience of God in our lives? What pains or troubles do we need to ask God to help us carry? Are we in need of a clearer idea of the direction He has set for us? Or do we simply have a deep desire to feel God’s presence, to know in the depths of our being that God is real and right here by our side?
In the Exodus encounter, we see that God was very present to Moses and was ready to rescue His people with infinite mercy, love and patience. This is what Moses learned on that day; and it this is what God wants us to remember today. Like Moses, God has a desire to reach out and encounter us in our lives. And this encounter can change everything if we are open to it.
In just a few moments, God will reveal Himself to us just as powerfully as He did to Moses; this time not in a burning bush, but in the Blessed Sacrament – His real and abiding presence among us. But we have to take the first step and believe. We have to open our eyes to see beyond the bread and wine on the altar and to see that it is our God who is present there – bread become Body; wine become Blood. Then, we have to receive that mercy that God wants to show us; we have to open our hearts to this encounter in order to be changed by it.
My friends, once again, God is waiting for you. God is calling out to you like He did to Moses, like He did to Pope Francis. He wants to have a real encounter with you so that you will know that He is real, and that this encounter might make all the difference in our life.
Feeling mercy changes everything. Let God today encounter your joy, your sorrow; your triumphs and your failures; your victories and your losses – let God shower you with His mercy and go forth renewed by the this encounter.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 13, 2022:
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, I began feeling drawn to the Mass, drawn specifically to the Eucharist. And, I will never forget one particular Sunday. There was nothing different about this Mass, it was the same as every other week. But, when the priest said, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…This is My Body. Take this and drink…This is the chalice of My Blood.” – it was though it was the first time I had ever heard them. In that moment, these were words that I knew were true in my heart. I knew that 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. My life has not been the same since.
Today, a similarly amazing story unfolds in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Imagine that scene for a moment. 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 would be a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet 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 voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light. From this moment, everything in their lives changed.
And, it was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter tells us in his second letter, “We were there,” he says, “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 also 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. We have been singing our meditation during Lent, “Transfigure us O, Lord. Break the chains that bind us. Speak your healing word.” 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. A presence that has the power to heal us, free us, mold and shape us. If you are open, perhaps today is your moment of Transfiguration. Perhaps nothing will be the same for you after today.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is the preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this 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. Let Him speak to your weary hearts words of love and compassion.”
The challenge, of course, 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 from the heavenly, from the miraculous, from the holy, 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 are once again renewed as 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; how it changed my life forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Will this be the moment?
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.
“Transfigure us O, Lord. Break the chains that bind us. Speak your healing word.”
May the Lord give you peace.
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