HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 28, 2019:
Just a week ago, on Easter Sunday, we were shocked once again as yet another terror attack took place. This time in Sri Lanka, targeting Christians gathered for Easter Sunday Mass. As we know more than 300 have died, more than 500 injured in these senseless and violent attacks. You may recall that a similar thing happened last year, as well, on Palm Sunday, as Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following last year’s attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” And addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, Amr Adeeb, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus. It reminds us that our faith is not always nice and fluffy, but that it has real world consequences in the most serious of moments.
Our Gospel presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets a bad rap known as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up – believing is! He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” So, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.
The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.
However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”
Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas’ perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.
Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first apostle to leave Jerusalem. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.
This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?
Pope Francis spoke about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."
My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us act in faith like Naseem, without question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMN VIGIL OF EASTER, April 20, 2019:
Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!
Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question about Easter. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the very course of the world, and changed the course of our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.
But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, as we gather in this church on this holy night, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, even far from God or far from the Church. But, tonight – on this night where everything is made new – our faithful God welcomes us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
As our former Pope, St. John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today; it isn’t a one-and-done kind of experience. No, Easter is so amazing, so unprecedented that it is far more profound than a mere moment – it is in fact a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent, our last 40 days, was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Take up things like finding more time with family and friends. Take up things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Take up things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world.
You know that I grew up in New Bedford. One of my favorite things about my home town is our city’s motto: Lucem Diffundo, or “We light the world.” It is a reference to the whaling past when whale oil was used to light the lamps of the world. We light the world. I think this could be a good motto for all of us tonight. Our Easter candle, after all, should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. It is meant to light a spark inside you and me, so that we can light the world – with our goodness, our holiness, our compassion, and our joy. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?” And we might answer them, “I am a Christian. I light the world!”
God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.
And, as an Easter people, we proclaim Lumen Christi, “Christ our Light” and Lucem Diffundo, “We light the world!” Let us go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. Let us light up the darkness of our world. After all, we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
A woman accompanied her husband to the doctor's office. After the checkup, the doctor called the wife into his office alone. He said, “Your husband is suffering from very severe stress. If you don't do the following, your husband will most definitely die.” The doctor said, “Every morning, fix him a healthy breakfast. Be pleasant at all times. Make him something nutritious for lunch. At dinnertime prepare an especially nice meal. Don't burden him and don't discuss your problems with him. Most importantly, never nag him. If you can do this for the next year, your husband will regain his health completely.” On the way home, the husband saw how distressed his wife was and asked, “What did the doctor say?” The woman looked at her husband and said, “Honey, the doctor said you're going to die.”
This humorous story points out the reality of what we gather to celebrate tonight – if love isn’t paired with service, we cannot truly live. We gather tonight and begin the Sacred Triduum – three days which really serve as one singular feast. Tonight’s feast recalls three things in particular – the institution of the Eucharist, the mandate to service in the washing of the feet, and the establishment priesthood – but ultimately I think tonight focuses on God’s bounty; God’s goodness to us. On this holy night, our God wants to spoil us.
These Holy Days seek to inspire us; to remind us who we are as children of God and members of the Church; and most profoundly to remind us through dramatic moments of ritual and sacrament and prayer of one powerful reality – that Jesus Christ is real. We do not merely gather here tonight to tell an old story. We gather tonight to meet a real person – our Savior Jesus Christ, who – although He walked the earth 2,000 years ago – is still living and active and in our midst today.
One of the most powerful statements of this realness came from the 4th Century. St. Ambrose, in a Holy Week homily instructed those entering the church about the awesome power of the Eucharist. He wrote, “Perhaps you say, ‘The bread I have here is ordinary bread.’ Yes, before the sacramental words are uttered this bread is nothing but bread. But at the consecration this bread becomes the body of Christ…When the moment comes for bringing the most holy sacrament into being, the priest does not use his own words any longer: he uses the words of Christ. Therefore it is Christ’s words that bring this sacrament into being. What is this word of Christ? It is the word by which all things were made. The Lord commanded and the heavens were made, the Lord commanded and the earth was made, the Lord commanded and all creatures came into being. See, then, how efficacious the word of Christ is. There was no heaven, there was no sea, there was no earth. And yet, as David says, ‘He spoke and it was made; he commanded and it was created.’ To answer your question, then, before the consecration it was not the body of Christ, but after the consecration I tell you that it is now the body of Christ. He spoke and it was made, he commanded and it was created…You see from all this, surely, the power that is contained in the heavenly word.” What is St. Ambrose’s point? Quite simply and quite powerfully – that Jesus is real!
What we celebrate tonight gets at the very heart of why we do all that we do as people of faith. Why do we come to church? What sense does it make in our modern world? In a very real sense Jesus says to us tonight, “I don’t want you to come to the church. I want you to be the church.” This is why we celebrate not only the Eucharist, but also the call to be foot washers. If we only celebrated the Last Supper we might begin to think that the Eucharist is a commodity that we come here to acquire. We come to acquire this special grace and then we leave on go on our way. Jesus reminds us that He is not a commodity, but that the Eucharist is a transformative prism through which we are transformed into people who love differently, who care differently, who reach out differently – or more simply, we become people who wash the feet of those around us, in love, and mercy, and joy. The Eucharist transforms us from being a consumer of the divine, to becoming a contributor to the divinity of our world. We come here not to be served, but to become servants.
Jesus tonight also reminds us that we are connected to one another as radical expressions of God’s love for the world. We love without exception – the homeless and the hungry, the immigrant and the refugee, the gay or transgendered person, the Muslim and the atheist, we love even our enemy – we love without exception. Too many voices in our world encourage us to love selectively, to love only those who are like us. It is not easy to love the way Jesus wants us to. Through the Eucharist, we become a community that loves in this transformative way together, side by side, arms linked in an unending chain of love; changing our world by it.
You see, in the washing of the feet, Jesus turns the Mantle of Privilege that comes from being the Son of God into an Apron of Service transforming the world with humble love. Jesus shows us that when we recognize Him in the Eucharist; when we have make Him part of our lives; then we powerfully make Him present in our world by the simple act of washing feet; the acts of service that make Jesus real.
So, the question tonight is this: are we willing to take off our outer garment? Are we willing to lay down our own Mantles of Privilege, or pride or jealousy, anger or selfishness, laziness or greed? Whatever our Mantle is, can we lay it down and replace it with the Apron of Service? When we take off our outer garments all things are possible for us. Someone said, “When we’re young we think we can change the world by sheer force of will. We march for our causes, speak out to be heard, we protest and write letters. But, as we grow in spiritual maturity we realize that the way to change the world is to put down our placards and pick up a towel and basin.”
My friends, on this Holy Night, look into the mirror that is Jesus Christ in His Sacred Body and Blood. Look there until you see your own image reflected in the face of Jesus. Then, become that mirror for the world, reflecting the face of Christ to all who see you. Reflect Christ through your own humble, simple acts of service to one another. Put on the Apron of Service and follow the example that Jesus has given us. My friends Jesus is real! Let us be filled once again with the Real and Abiding Presence of Christ here tonight and let us become his Real and Abiding Presence in our world. And, let us become like Him, washers of feet.
“‘Do you realize what I have done for you? I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, April 7, 2019:
Jesus is sitting in the Temple area teaching when a women caught in adultery is brought to Him to be stoned for her sins. Looking at the crowd Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” There is silence. Suddenly from the back of the crowd a rock comes hurling through and hits the woman on the head. Jesus looks up and says, “Mom, do you mind? I’m trying to make a point here.”
You’ve probably heard that one before. I like that joke because it shakes up a familiar story and invites us to think about things differently. And, shaking things up is exactly what Jesus intended in this encounter. It is one of those Biblical paradoxes where the holy response very different from the typical human response. As we hear in Scripture, the “wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” Jesus in this moment and in His teaching is shaking things up and inviting us to stop thinking only about the punishment others deserve, and instead to think about the power that His mercy can have to change lives and convert the world. In this encounter, His mercy opens up a whole new way of being for this woman. Surely her life was never the same again.
Pope Francis, of course, speaks frequently about the power of this mercy. In one of his Angelus messages, also reflecting on the woman caught in adultery, he said “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
So it begs the question for all of us today, when we think of mercy, when we think of forgiveness, what is our image? Is our image the Divine Court Room where we plead our case and throw ourselves on the court hoping for a light sentence? Or is our image that loving and merciful one that Jesus gave us last week in the story of the Prodigal Son? I think if we are honest, too many of us view it as that courtroom and this keeps us away from the grace and mercy that God offers us when we encounter Him in Confession.
You see, what the Father did for the Prodigal Son, what Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery and countless other people He encountered was simply this – He set them free. So the only real question we need to ask in our hearts is this one – do you want to be free? So what is the burden you are carrying? Well, do you want to be free from it? Because God wants to take it from you. What is weighing you down? No matter what it is, God wants to lift it off of you. Maybe you made some mistakes in your past, something you really regret. Maybe you’re really angry and lose your temper. Maybe you knock people down with your words, giving in to gossip and hurting other people’s feelings deeply. Maybe you’ve given in to the temptations around you and you feel trapped. Maybe you consumed with jealousy or envy or resentment? No matter what it is, why are you still holding it? Do you want to be free? Because that freedom is no farther away from you than confession.
The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust ourselves to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ We do not hear words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about the patience God has with each one of us? That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Pope Francis concluded that Angelus by saying, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. This mercy is beautiful.” My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Feeling mercy sets us free.
I want to invite you to take a moment right now and look at the Cross, look at Jesus hanging on it. Look at that cross like you’ve never looked at it before. Look at it not as a decoration in the church – but as a real sign of love – the greatest sign of love. Jesus was nailed to that cross for one reason – so that He could take away YOUR sins and mine. He was nailed to that cross so that we could be free! Jesus won’t take our sins away, unless we give them to him. He’s on that cross waiting to take them, to lighten our load, to help us carry it, to make us free. He’s on that Cross for us to take our sins away. Give Him your sins so that He can take them away and you can be free. Will you let Jesus set you free?
“The wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” My friends, let us all be fools for Christ. Because that godly foolishness can lead us to break the cycle of sin in our lives and in our relationships; it can free us in ways that we never imagined and offer us a joy greater than any we’ve ever experienced. We had First Reconciliation with our young people yesterday. When we were done, one of the little children with the brightest smile you’ve ever seen said, “Fr. Tom, I feel so different.” My friends, I promise you that if you seek true freedom through Confession and then go and offer the same forgiveness and healing to the angry places, situations and relationships in your life – change will happen because feeling mercy changes everything. I challenge us all to do that. Let us all be fools for Christ and a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Let us seek out forgiveness so that we can all be free.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
May the Lord give you peace.