FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 25, 2021:
In my homily for Easter Sunday, I shared a quote from a favorite book of mine. It said, “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.” This quote has always struck me so poignantly because in my younger days, I knew what it felt like to be far from God. As a teenager, I was not terribly strong in my faith. In fact, I had only the merest spark of faith. A well-named Doubting Thomas, I simply did not yet know the Lord in any real or personal sense, and I had no idea of God’s plan for my life. But, then in my early 20s, I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Mass and to the Eucharist; I started on that road coming home to God and the Church. And when I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences of God’s true presence there. The Mass began to speak to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed and knew in my heart that this was Jesus; and that He was real. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom.
Today we hear Jesus tell us in our passage from St. John, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and mine know me.” This message of the Good Shepherd is an important one for us because it tells us something important about Jesus, and it also tells us something important about ourselves. Jesus shows us that our relationship with Him is not distant and sterile; but instead it is deeply relational and profoundly intimate. God loves us specifically, personally, individually, and intimately. He knows us, and we know Him. We recognize His voice speaking into the challenges of our lives, and we follow. Jesus reminds us that what He wants more than anything is to know us, and that we intimately know Him.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. When I started feeling drawn to the Holy Mass so many years ago, I was being drawn into my best self, because it was the version of “me” that God had planned from before time began. Or another way of saying it, as I got to know God better, I got to know myself better; and what God had in store for me. Psalm 139 says it this way, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” God has known exactly who He wants us to be before we even knew. In the eyes of the Good Shepherd we come to see God more clearly so that He can show us who we are called to be more clearly.
Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. But we first need to listen to His voice. Of course God knows us intimately, but we must take the time to get to know God just as intimately. “The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” God can only reveal His plan for our lives if our eyes are open, our hearts are tuned, and we are seeking that answer, that direction. Our challenge is to create environments that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we can follow where He leads.
The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s daughters and sons. Through prayer, and so profoundly through the Eucharist, we discover that identity. St. Clare of Assisi spoke of the Eucharist as a mirror – the more we look at Jesus, the more we find ourselves reflected back. When we take the time to enter into that personal relationship with Jesus, to listen and recognize His voice, Jesus helps us discover who we are.
If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do; if you want to know your truest destiny – meet Jesus in prayer He will reveal it to you. Create the space to listen to the Shepherd. Find the time to be alone with God. Strengthen or create new prayer habits for yourselves and for your families. If you do, you just might also be renewed in God’s love for you, God’s plan for you, God’s hopes and dreams for your life.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” May each of us hear that voice of Jesus calling us by name, showing us who He has called us to be.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 18, 2021:
In our Tuesday Night Bible Study this week, I was sharing a story from a little-known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. The wonderful thing is that in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.
I mentioned this scene to the class because we were discussing a repeating theme you might have noticed in the post-resurrection stories we have been hearing. In every story, Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal – and they come to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.
And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!
Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.
This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.
Have you ever thought about the tremendous intimacy Jesus invites into through the resurrection? The resurrection calls us to focus on the body – but not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead, but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.
My brothers and sisters, we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry because it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry for the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. There are many hungers in our lives – a hunger for closeness, a hunger for belonging, a hunger for happiness, a hunger for holiness. Jesus appears on our altar every day with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life. Let Me fulfill your hungers to the full.
My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, DIVINE MERCY, April 11, 2021:
In 2016, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the 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 the 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.” 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, 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. It has been one week since we celebrated the great feast of Easter – this great feast that teaches us something almost too amazing to be believed – that death has no power over us. Jesus rises, and through our own baptisms, we will also rise with Him. John’s Gospel today tells us of this powerful moment when the disciples are still locked in the upper room. They are confused and filled with fear. All their hopes have been dashed, and the world no longer makes sense. And, what is the first thing that the Risen Jesus says to them? He says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” His first words to the disciples are words of forgiveness and mercy. This is our faith.
Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday that St. John Paul II also named Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal church. The message of this day is the message of Easter – the great fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the gift of mercy. With His death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the gates of Heaven, gates that were closed by our sin beginning with Adam and Eve. In fact, one of the most powerful Easter icons depicts the Risen Jesus grasping the hands of Adam and Eve and lifting them from the grave. Adam and Eve are then the first to experience the mercy that was won for us in Christ.
Just look at how this message of mercy has been affirmed each day during this Octave of Easter. Each day has been a day of mercy and forgiveness as Jesus encounters His own disciples who betrayed Him, denied Him, and abandoned Him. The first thing that the Risen Jesus does is to seek them out, show them His mercy, forgive their sins, and reconcile them. Mercy is the great fruit of the resurrection.
St. John Paul made this a special day for the universal church because of his own devotion to God’s divine mercy. In 2001, he said, “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to God’s Divine Mercy’. Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
And, we have no greater promoter of mercy than our current Pope, Francis. His whole life has been formed, shaped, and directed by God’s mercy. For example, Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. As the story goes, 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 his plan that day was to propose marriage to his girlfriend at the picnic. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession to him. 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 unmistakably and powerfully what he described as the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, he felt called and he discovered his special vocation of mercy. That day, he never caught that train. He didn’t go to the picnic; and he never proposed to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that single, extraordinary moment of mercy. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto that he has used as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as, “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Mercy is the fruit of the resurrection. In an Angelus message devoted to the topic of mercy, Pope Francis 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 — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
And just as in the Eucharist there is an exchange – we become what we receive; so too with mercy. We receive this mercy that we do not deserve and could never earn; and then are called to extend that same mercy to all those we encounter. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself 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 has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the 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.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? God understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Today, my friends, let us receive the gift of God’s mercy. A gift that He showers on us. It is limitless, powerful, overwhelming. And then, let us bear the fruit of that mercy by bringing it into all the broken places in our lives – the broken relationships, the persistent sins, the words spoken that we wish we could take back. All that mercy to bear fruit in your life and the lives of others. Pope Francis said, “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. This mercy is beautiful. “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Offering mercy changes everything. Let us bring life to the dry bones around us by being agents of God’s mercy. “I have given you an example. As I have done, so too, you must do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021:
“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 favorite book of mine 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, even though I read that book a number of years ago, this particular passage is one that I have thought of often during this year of pandemic. “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.”
My friends, on this beautiful Easter morning, we are invited to reflect upon the most amazing event in all of history – something almost too amazing to be believed – that truth that Jesus has risen; that He has conquered even death itself. Today, especially as our whole world is wrapped up in this pandemic; as we are focused on the nearly 3 million dead from COVID around the world, more than 550,000 of them here in our own country – we today once again claim resurrection – for them, for all those who have died, for ourselves, for our world. We remember that God is faithful and wants nothing more than for us to come home to Him.
The story of the first Easter is one that can speak to us so profoundly once again because the message of the Resurrection is a message of triumph and hope; it is a message of presence and love; it is a message of life that conquers death – always, everywhere. While we have gone through a year of quarantine, lockdown, facemasks and social distancing – many places in the world still in the midst of lockdown, it is not all that different from what the disciples experienced on that first Easter. On the first Easter morning, the disciples were not gathered at the synagogue, they were not celebrating with family and friends. Where were they? St. John describes it this way, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Those first disciples, Jesus’ closest companions, on the first Easter were locked in a room in fear. They were in self-imposed quarantine in that upper room as the most amazing event in the history of the world unfolded. In a sense, we can connect with that first Easter, because for the first time in our lifetimes, we know what it feels like to be afraid even to go out. But, let’s not get lost in the comparison. The main difference between the first disciples and us today is that they did not know what we know. They were locked in the upper room because they were afraid of the crowds; they were disheartened because their Savior had died. They did not know – as we know – that the story was not over yet; that the stone has been rolled away; that Jesus had conquered even death itself and had been risen.
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” The disciples locked in their upper room were most certainly weary, bitter, and bewildered. But notice that even their fear could not keep Jesus away. God is faithful and wants us to come home. For the disciples, even their locked doors could not keep Jesus out. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
And He does the same for you and for me today. We may feel locked up because of our appropriate fear and caution about COVID – we can’t do the things we used to do; we can’t do them the way we used to – at least not yet. But, even with our fears and anxieties, Jesus still comes to us. He stands in our midst and says the words we have all been waiting to hear, “Peace be with you. Be filled with the gift of my peace. Let me take your fear, your worry, your anxiety; your weariness or bewilderment – give it to me and replace it with my peace.”
Pope Francis, reflecting on the women who had the courage to leave that locked room and go to the tomb, said, “Today we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, of rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone’, the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on Him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, He comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.”
My friends, today we celebrate the singular event that changed the course of human history, and changed the course of our own lives. We embrace it with the newness that reminds us that God is still faithful; God is still calling. But, today, especially in the midst of this difficult year, we need to embrace not just Christ’s resurrection, but our own as well. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” As we celebrate this holy day, we may find ourselves feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, anxious and fearful, even far from God or far from the Church. But, today our faithful God welcomes us home again; our faithful God enters our homes and our hearts 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.
Pope Francis said, “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or am I looking for the Living One? Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek Jesus in all things and above all things. With Him, we will rise again.”
As we reflect on the ways that we feel weary or bitter or broken down by all that life has been dealing us, remember that even these struggles cannot keep Jesus out. He breaks own any walls in our lives, moves aside any stones blocking the way, and stands before each of us and says, “Peace be with you. Peace is my gift to you.” Open your hearts the His presence and allow yourselves to be filled with that peace that comes only from the Risen One.
My friends God is faithful. He has risen, as He promised, and is present to us every moment of our lives. “I am with you always,” He told us. Allow the grace of His resurrection make you a new creation, lift any pain or anxiety, take away any weariness or bewilderment. Allow Him to fill you with His peace.
“Do not be afraid. Behold, He has been raised from the dead.” My you be raised up as well today.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.