FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 1, 2019:
Very soon after his election, Pope Francis held a press conference with the media and, of course, they immediately asked him why he had chosen the name Francis – after all, in the more than 2,000 years of the Church, it is a name no one has ever chosen before. The Pope answered, “Some people wanted to know why I wished to be called Francis. Some thought of Francis Xavier, Francis De Sales, and also Francis of Assisi. I will tell you the story. During the election, I was seated next to the Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo, Cardinal Claudio Hummes: a good friend. When the votes reached two thirds, there was applause, because that meant a Pope had been elected. And he gave me a hug and leaned in and said to me: ‘Don't forget the poor!’ And those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then, I thought of all the wars in the world. Francis is also the man of peace. That is how the name came into my heart: Francis of Assisi. For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation. He is the man who gives us this spirit of peace, the poor man. How I would like a Church which is poor and is for the poor!”
I couldn’t help but think of this story from the very beginning of this papacy because I think it speaks to what Jesus is telling us today in the Gospel. We heard Jesus say, “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
We know that the poor were the most beloved of Jesus. The Beatitudes are themselves a hymn of praise for the poor. Just look who are listed among the blessed by God. Blessed are you: who are poor, who are hungry, who are meek, who are persecuted – it is to them that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs. Jesus loved the poor and spent most of His time among them. They held a special place in His heart. And Pope Francis reminds us that love for the poor is meant to be at the heart of our call too. He reminds us that we are most perfectly and beautifully and clearly Church when we are serving these most beloved of Jesus – the poor.
Our Christian message-in-action is so pure when we serve the poor, isn’t it? Just think of all the times that we explain Catholic doctrine – whether it’s the theology of the Eucharist or Confession – these are complex and deep and abiding mysteries that are not easily explained or understood. But, when we feed the hungry in a soup kitchen, does that require explanation? When we house the homeless, does anyone miss the faith connection? When we give warm coats and blankets to the needy in the cold winter, do we need to write a doctrinal thesis? No, our faith and its witness is pure and powerful when we love the poor and when we show that love for the poor in what we do. This is what Pope Francis means when he speaks of wanting “a church that is poor and for the poor.” A Church that is poor and is for the poor is pure in its intent, its mission and its witness. It is also at that moment that it is attractive to those on the outside of the Church. When they see this Christian love-in-action, they become curious about this faith that inspires us to act in this counter-cultural way.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that wants to say that the poverty around us is always someone else’s problem. Our society wants to blame the homeless, the hungry, the drug addict, and the refugee. My friends, we are called to let our faith inspire in us the same kind of love for those who are in need in our world. To develop mercy in our hearts so that when we see someone in need on the margins of our society, we don’t fall into the trap of our culture to blame the poor for their poverty, but instead to look on them as precious in the sight of God; beloved in the eyes of Jesus; and so beloved in our eyes as well. And more importantly, we need to see them as our brothers and sisters who we seek out with joy and mercy to help in their need. When we love the poor, we do more than simply make their difficult their lives better, it is more than mere philanthropy. When we love the poor, we are loving God; when we reach out to the poor, we are encountering God; when we find the poor in our midst, we discover God in our midst. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for Me.”
A few years ago, for the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle, the Pope reflected on the moment when Jesus invited Thomas to touch His wounds. He said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded sister or brother, because they are hungry or thirsty, because they are naked or humiliated, because they are a slave, or in jail, or in the hospital. Those 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 bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness, we have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and 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."
Let us allow our discovery of God here at Mass – especially as we discover Him truly present in the Eucharist today – let this be the inspiration that leads us to discover Him once again outside of this church, in all the people we meet, but especially in the poor and those in need. Truly then, we are living as daughters and sons of God. Truly, if we love to poor and reach them in their need, this will change everything for us too.
“When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 25, 2019:
I saw one of my favorite commercials on TV this week. It is a Staples commercial that shows an overjoyed Dad dancing behind a shopping cart around the store with two dejected-looking children behind him. The music playing in the background, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” And the Dad screams gleefully, “They’re going back!!” I know that this is for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for teachers and kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.
Summer really is a wonderful time of year. Everything seems to move at a different pace. We put more emphasis on being with family and friends; on relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, good food, one another. We go to cookouts, baseball games, summer camp, the beach; we have vacation time, and so on. And especially as the days of summer begin to wane, we really want all of it to go on forever. But, the reality is that we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We must return to gain knowledge, to learn how to live and interact in our society, to gain and perfect the skills we need in life; to earn the money we need to enjoy the pace of summer. We want summer to last forever, but eventually we have to return to regular life.
There is a similarly conflicted reality in what Jesus is telling his followers in today’s Gospel. Someone asks him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Jesus responds, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This is not the answer they were looking for; I’m sure it’s not the answer we wanted to hear either. We would like Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do what you want, everyone is saved!”
But, I think rather than the wrong answer, the real problem here is that the man in our Gospel isn’t asking the right question. He asks, “Will only a few be saved?” when what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Rather than a mere curiosity about others being saved, we need to be asking, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I reach out and be the kind, loving, compassionate, forgiving presence God has called me to be?”
Too often, we turn our faith into a matter of comparison. In other words, as long as there is someone else worse than me, then somehow I’m okay. But, our faith in Jesus isn’t comparative, it is personal. It is a one-on-one relationship with the very means of our salvation – Jesus Himself. Jesus shows us in Word and Sacrament everything we need to know for our salvation. The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. But the gate is not a mystery; it is not hidden. Jesus points us to the gate for our salvation; and the gate is open and it is the right size for each of us to walk through. All we have to do is follow the person ahead of us through that gate; and that person is Jesus.
We can feel sometimes like those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten Your Body and we drank of Your Blood and You taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”
To this Jesus says: “Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can like Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not the one that is locking you out. You are locking yourself out. I’m not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and then follow Me through the door that leads to My Kingdom.”
This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” My friends, let us ask today, “What must I do to be saved?” And may God give each of us the strength to follow.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 11, 2019:
A priest walked into a bar and made an announcement. He said, “Anyone who wants to go to heaven, please stand up now." Everyone there stood up except for one man who continued to sip his drink at the bar. The priest said to him, “Sir, don't you want to go to heaven when you die?” The man looked up and said, “When I die? Yes. But, I thought you were gathering a group to go right now.”
We heard in our Gospel today, “You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." I have had the opportunity a few times to spend a month in Italy doing some work a Franciscan conference Assisi. It was a great experience, but also a great chance to experience Italian culture. One of the wonderful aspects of this culture is that Italians are known for their relaxed approach to life. For example, an afternoon siesta is a must, and they take the whole month of August off for vacation. Sounds pretty good. But, they are also fond of frequently responding “Domani” to many requests. Domani is the Italian word for “tomorrow.” So, can you help me today? Domani, come have some wine; domani, have some prosciutto; have a little pasta. It is a domani culture. In most ways this is admirable. It’s an approach that places family and friends and engaging the other first over the more mundane and tiresome aspects of life. But, as we are reminded today, there is one area of our life that we cannot take a domani approach and that is in our life of faith.
“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Today’s Gospel challenges when it comes to our faith life, not be people of tomorrow, but, instead, to be people who are filled with the love of God, who live lives dedicated to Christ, who are ready for his return - today.
There’s a bumper sticker that says, “Jesus is coming – look busy.” My friends, if Jesus were to come today, right now, here during this Mass what would He find? Would He find in us a people who had prepared themselves for His return? Ready for His judgment? Or would He people who have said, Domani, tomorrow Lord; tomorrow I will get my relationship with You in order. Tomorrow I will work on my sins. Tomorrow I will say “I’m sorry”. Tomorrow I will right that wrong. I do love you Lord, and dedicate myself to You, but not today – tomorrow, domani.
“At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." Jesus is right, we do not know the day or the hour that He will return, but we do know the day and the hour that we can get ready – the day and the hour are right now. Jesus wants us to live completely and fully in His love; to be freed completely and fully from our sins through the gift and grace of Confession; to be filled with the power and holiness that comes through His Body and Blood. He wants us, quite simply and quite profoundly, to be the people that He created us to be. And, He wants us to be that today, not tomorrow. And all we have to do is choose it. Choose Christ. Choose holiness. Choose goodness and kindness and compassion.
Pope Francis said at World Youth Day in Poland, “I ask you: Are you looking for empty thrills in life, or do you want to feel a power that can give you a lasting sense of life and fulfillment? To find fulfillment, to gain new strength, there is a way. It is not a thing or an object, but a person, and he is alive. His name is Jesus Christ. All together, then, we ask the Lord: Launch us on the adventure of mercy! Launch us on the adventure of building bridges and tearing down walls, barriers and barbed wire. Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor, those who feel lonely and abandoned, or no longer find meaning in their lives. The Lord does not keep his distance, but is near and real. He is in our midst and he takes care of us.”
So my friends, today is the day for us all to cast off our fear, to cast off our lack of trust, to cast off whatever it is that has kept us up until this point from living fully and completely for God.
In fact, we do know the day and the hour of our faith. The day is today and the hour is now. Let us be the ones who are ready for the Savior’s return. Let us surrender our hearts and our lives to Him. Let us ‘put on Christ’ and live for God alone and our lives will be full and happy and holy and fruitful. Let us all be able to say: Jesus is coming, I am ready!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 14, 2019:
As you know, we are once again into another long and drawn out election cycle, and now it seems like every other week there’s yet another candidates debate going on. This is what we have to look forward to for the next year and a half. But when we enter into these times, seeing all of these candidates always reminds me of some of the most famous political slogans and statements over the years. The best ones always get us to think of something bigger than ourselves. Slogans like, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” A number of years ago, I heard a speaker who was trying to motivate people to make a difference in the world. His words reminded me of these slogans. He said, “Instead of asking, ‘What do I want today?’ ask ‘How can I serve today?’ Instead of asking, ‘What can I get today?’ ask, ‘What can I give today?’ It’s no longer, ‘What’s in it for me?’ rather it’s, ‘How can I help?’” In our Gospel today, Jesus words sound something like a slogan – but one that is meant to make a real difference in our lives.
The shift from focus on the self to focus on others is at the heart of our Gospel message. We heard, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” A simplistic reading of this passage can lead us to the conclusion that if you are rich, Heaven will be difficult for you to enter; or if you are interested in living a comfortable life, having a nice car or house, then the Kingdom is far from you. But, I think this superficial reading of the text misses the bigger point that Jesus is making today.
Jesus, like that speaker I heard, is trying to lead us from ‘What can I get today?’ to ‘What can I give today?’ The question isn’t about whether or not possessions or wealth are good or bad, the question is what is our relationship to these things and how do they affect the way we relate to others, to the world, and to the most needy in our midst.
Things, of course, are nice and even necessary for life. But possessions can sometimes assume such an importance in our lives that they become obsessions. When we are so concerned about the things that we can have, that we no longer hear the urgent call of God, then we have got our priorities mixed up. Such is the man in today’s Gospel who asks Jesus to come and make his brother give him his share of the family inheritance. Jesus isn’t against him having more wealth, nor is he against justice being done between him and his brother. But Jesus is disappointed that after listening to all His preaching, the man’s concern is still about his money. The very Words of Life were falling on deaf ears.
Jesus, fearing there could be more people in the crowd like this man, turns and says to them, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist of possessions.” To illustrate His point Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Fool. Now when you read the parable you might ask, “What wrong did this man do?” Think about it. He did honest work on his farm and the land gave a bumper crop, so he decided do build larger storage so that he could live the rest of his life on Easy Street. Only he did not know that the rest of his life was less than a day. Jesus uses him to illustrate greed in its many forms. The man’s greed lies not in what he did, but in what he failed to do, just like we pray in the Confiteor, “forgive me for what I have failed to do.” Instead of using his material wealth for the good of the world, to do the things that God calls us to do – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc. – he used it to better only himself.
Pope Francis has talked about this same theme calling it the Cult of Money in our world. He has said, “It breaks my heart to say that today, finding a homeless person who has died of the cold, is not news. Today, the news is scandals – that is news. But the many children who don't have food - that's not news. This is grave. We can't rest easy while things are this way. Today, if investments in banks fail, it is a ‘tragedy’ and people say 'what are we going to do?' but if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that's nothing. This is our crisis today. A Church that is poor and for the poor has to fight this mentality."
There is a quote that says, greed is “the belief that there is no life after death. We grab what we can, while we can, however we can, and then hold on to it hard.” The rich man in our Gospel – and many people in our world today - qualify as examples of this kind of greed. That’s why Jesus was so hard on them. That’s why the Holy Father, so often, speaks about this.
Today’s Gospel invites us to ask the fundamental questions that I began with: “‘How can I serve today?’ ‘What can I give today?’ ‘How can I help?’” Let us use those questions to help us respond in ways that make the world a better place. God calls us to realize that the most valuable possession in the world is faith in His Son; and He wants us to be rich in what matters to Him. God wants us to realize that the greatest thing we can do is to work every day – through the gifts of our time, talent and treasure – to make the world a better place; a more Christian place; a more caring, loving and compassionate place. That is the truest measure of success.
So, let us all pray today that we might become rich in the Words, in the Will and in the Way of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And let us ask: what will we give today?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY OR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 4, 2019:
The parish bookkeeper was struggling one day to open the safe so she could count the weekend collection. She just could not remember the safe’s combination. After many tries, she finally asked the pastor for help. The pastor came into the room and began to turn the dial. But, after the first two numbers he paused also struggling to remember the code. Then, he took a deep breath, looked up to Heaven and his lips began to move ever so silently. Then he looked back at the lock, and quickly turned to the final number, and opened the safe. The bookkeeper was amazed. “I'm in awe of your faith, Father. You have to teach me that prayer,” she said. “Oh, that wasn’t prayer,” he said. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”
Our Gospel today invite us to reflect upon the power of prayer in our lives. The disciples make the most import request that we can make in the spiritual life: “Lord, teach us how to pray.” This is a question we’ve all asked at one point or another. Everyone knows that we should be people of prayer, but understanding how to pray isn’t always easy.
Sometimes we think that prayer is about finding the right formula – if we say the correct words in the correct way, we’ll get what we’re looking for. Perhaps if we pray the right novena on the right days, God will answer us. Now, I’m not looking for a show of hands, but just think for a moment, how many of us have prayed the following types of prayers before:
These are what we call prayers of desperation, or 911 Prayers. As though all prayer consisted of were those moments when we pick up the God phone, dial 911, and help is on the way. Now, this isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t be calling on God for help in tough times. He should always be our first call. The problem with these prayers is that they view prayer as Divine Bargaining – God, You do this and I’ll do that. In other words, the question behind them is what do I have to give (or do, or say) to get the thing I want.
But, Jesus reminds us today that prayer is not about a bargain; it is always about relationship. Prayer is not merely an event that responds to certain situations in our lives, it has to be our way of life. This is what St. Paul is talking about in First Thessalonians when he tells us to “be unceasing in prayer.” He means, we should lead lives that themselves become prayer.
So prayer is relationship. But, what kind of relationship? Well, notice how Jesus begins and ends what He has to say about prayer in today’s Gospel. He begins by saying, “When you pray, say: ‘Father’“ and He ends with the words, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father.” Jesus sandwiches everything He has to say about prayer in the language of a relationship between child and father, between child and parent. Prayer is a family affair based on a relationship of familiarity and love, of tenderness and intimacy – not on power, authority, or bargaining.
One way to think about this relationship is to think of the word “FAMILY” as an acronym standing for: Forget About Me, I Love You in opposition to a world that tells us to Forget about YOU, I Love ME! The life of prayerful relationship cares about God first, then others before ourselves. So, our prayer doesn’t begin with asking God to do things for us in exchange for other things. It begins with getting to know a God who loves us so deeply and so intimately that He wants us to think of Him as our Father. Jesus understood this so well that He called God “Abba,” a title best translated as “Daddy.” When someone prays before their Abba, it isn’t about correct formulas; it is only about correct hearts. Hearts that understand family: forget about me, I love you.
You see, when we nurture our relationship with God through prayer, He knows our needs just like we know the needs of the people closest to us before they ever say them. He knows our hearts when we share our hearts with Him each and every day and so He can respond to what we need because we have been with Him in our moments of prayer as a Father or Mother is with their child. Prayer is powerful and can move mountains – but the power of prayer comes from its regularity, its depth of relationship. Anyone can have powerful results in prayer, but they must nurture a daily relationship with God to get there.
Let us ask with the disciples today, “Lord, teach us how to pray.” I encourage everyone to do a few simple things. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each day to say, “Abba, Father, I love you. I know that there is nothing that can happen today that you and I can’t handle together.” In the middle of the day, say, “God, I’m thinking of you. Be with me today.” At the end of the day, simply say, “God, thank you for gift and blessings of this day. I’m sorry for all the things I may have done wrong. I ask your forgiveness and strength to do better tomorrow.” It really is that easy! “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
May the Lord give you peace.