FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 24, 2022:
“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 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 SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, April 17, 2022:
A young woman was flying home from college at Eastertime. As she stared out of the window down at the countryside below, her heart was heavy and tears were in her eyes. Her first year of college was nearly over and it had been a disaster. She felt lost and was uncertain of what direction her life should take; if it even had any meaning. Her only ray of happiness lay in the fact that she’d soon see the ocean again, which she missed and loved so dearly. The plane touched down and her grandmother met her at the gate. The two of them drove home in complete silence. As they pulled into the driveway her only thought was to get into her car and drive to the ocean. It was well after midnight when she arrived at the beach. What happened next is best described in her own words. She writes, “I just sat there in the moonlight watching the waves roll up on the beach. Slowly my disastrous first year passed before my eyes day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month. But, then all of a sudden the whole experience fell into place. I realized something profound: It was over and past and if I chose, I could forget about it forever and let it simply be in the past. And there was a great freedom and relief in that realization. And, then, the next thing I knew, the sun was coming up in the east. As it rose gloriously breaking the darkness of the horizon, I sensed my feelings starting to peak, just as a wave peaks before it breaks. It was as though my mind, heart, and body were drawing strength from the rising sun and from the ocean. All my old goals and enthusiasm came rushing back stronger than ever. In that moment, I rose with the sun. Renewed, I got into my car, and headed for home.”
After her Easter vacation the young woman returned to school, picked up the broken pieces of her year, and fitted them back together again. In the short span of an Easter vacation, she lived and died and rose again. And for the first time in her life she understood the meaning of Easter; she understood the meaning of Resurrection.
My friends, on this holy day we celebrate the most amazing event in the history of the world – not only that God became one of us; but that after being put to death – the violent death of crucifixion – Jesus did something that defies the senses; that defies nature – He rose from the dead. Death has no power over Him. “Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?” We are so used to this mystery of our faith that it can lose its punch for us; but we are challenged tonight to remember just how extraordinary this is – Jesus, who was dead, returned to life and life in the full. And, through the grace of our Baptism, He invites us into the same life with Him. We know about the Resurrection, but tonight we need to ask, does this central reality of our faith have a real meaning, a practical meaning in our own lives?
Now, we know we will be raised on the Last Day, but what about experiencing Resurrection today? Think about the disciples. Before the tragedy of Good Friday, Jesus was the person who gave meaning to their lives. They had pledged their lives to Him. They had put their dreams in Him. They had pinned all their hopes on Him. But, then came Good Friday. All those pledges, all those dreams, all those hopes were smashed into a million little pieces. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, all those pledges, dreams, and hopes died on the cross with Jesus. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, their very lives died on the cross with Jesus. When the sun went down on Good Friday, they, too, were buried in the tomb with Him. To them, surely, it seemed as though it was all over.
But, then it happened! As the sun rose on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus rose with it and appeared to His disciples. He was more radiant and more fully alive than they had ever seen Him before. And at that moment, the power of Easter, the power of Resurrection, began to work in the lives of the disciples. Suddenly they were transformed from a band of despairing men, into a brigade of daring missionaries. At the command of Jesus, they set out to carry the news of Resurrection to the farthest corners of the earth. And everywhere they preached this good news, the power of Resurrection began to work in people’s lives, just as it had in their own lives. Beautiful things began to happen. Despair gave way to hope; darkness gave way to light; hatred gave way to love; sorrow gave way to joy.
In short, everywhere they preached, the power of Resurrection – of new life - began to work miracles in people’s lives. And, my friends, those miracles haven’t stopped yet. They continue to happen in our time. Easter is a broken-hearted college girl wiping away her tears and beginning again renewed. Easter is a band of defeated disciples transformed into an army of daring missionaries. Easter is a world in darkness throwing off its chains of despair and walking in the light of a new hope. And that brings us to this gathering, in this church, on this Holy Night. So, what is the power of this Resurrection for us today, in our lives now? How can we experience the Resurrection that Christ invites us into? Where do we see it in our lives?
The answer is simple. Every time we love again after having our love rejected, we share in the power of Resurrection. Every time we trust again after having our trust betrayed, is a moment of being Raised. Each time we fail at something and still pick ourselves up and try again, Easter is born in us. When we hope again after having our hopes and dreams smashed into pieces, new life is restored in us. Each time we wipe away the tears running down our cheeks, face the sun, and start again, we share in the power of the Risen Lord. When we dare see something good in others, especially those we struggle with, we are in the Light of New Life. Every time we forgive others or receive their forgiveness; every time we go out of our way and help those who are poor and in need, we embrace the liberating power of the Crucified and Risen Lord.
The message of Easter is simply and powerfully this: nothing can destroy us anymore - not pain, not sorrow, not sin, not rejection, not even death itself. The revelation coming from Easter is that Christ has conquered all, and that we too can conquer all, if we unite ourselves with Him. It is the Good News that every Good Friday in our lives now has an Easter Sunday. It is Good News that we don't have to wait until death to share in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus; we can experience new life in this life!
And we can begin to do it right now, in this life, at this moment, in this Holy Mass. All we have to do is open our hearts to the grace that Jesus won for us on that first Easter Sunday more than 2,000 years ago.
This is what Easter is all about. This is what we celebrate as we now prepare to break bread together on this great day of our Christian faith. My friends, Jesus has risen and as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God again He invites us to rise with Him. Will we rise again with Him?
Happy Easter and may the Risen Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 10, 2022:
Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. Today is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.
But today, let’s focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and in particular, let’s look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. It’s easy to focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Without them, we might not have a story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The point is that no matter how unknown or seemingly inconsequential a person is, no matter how small a role someone plays, every part is important in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem, if He is to complete His mission.
Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high value. So, giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was actually a big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith on the part of its owner; even though it seems very simple.
It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when God calls for our gifts, our talents and our treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs; each of us has something. Will we give it to Him freely?
The spiritual writer Max Lucado offered a reflection on this Gospel moment. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His.”
My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him.
So, what is your gift, your talent, your treasure? Your Master has need of it.
Have a blessed Holy Week and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, April 3, 2022:
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. 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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.