FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 23, 2020:
There is a wonderful children’s book by Susan Balika and Craig Boldman about a little boy named Bobby. In the book, Bobby tells us about his four best friends. First, there’s Jimmy. Jimmy and Bobby go on imaginary trips to the moon. But sometimes Jimmy visits his grandmother and leaves Bobby all alone and this makes him sad. Second, there’s Jamie. She and Bobby used to color pictures and tape them to the refrigerator door for everyone to see. But Jamie recently moved and now Bobby misses her very much. Third, there’s David. David and Bobby spend hours together buildings houses with wooden blocks. But sometimes they fight over the blocks and David goes home leaving Bobby all alone.
But, finally, there is Bobby’s best friend. This friend never leaves him. He never moves to a different city. Never gets mad and goes home. He always stays at Bobby’s side. In the summer, they lie on the grass together and talk about what they see in the clouds. In the winter they slide down hills together in the snow. You see Bobby’s best friend is – Jesus. The book ends with Bobby asking the reader, “Do you know my special friend Jesus?”
I like this story because it leaves us with the same question that our Gospel proposes today, “Who do you say that I am?” Bobby answers this question this way, “You are my special friend. You never leave me. You never move to another city. You never get mad at me and go home, even when I do something wrong. You stay at my side no matter what happens. You are always there to help me.” If we have trouble answering either of these questions – Bobby’s “Do you know my special friend Jesus?” or the Gospel’s, “Who do you say that I am?” – then maybe Jesus is speaking to us in a special way today.
Maybe Jesus is inviting us to get to know Him better. Maybe He is inviting us to get better acquainted with Him. Maybe He’s inviting us to enter into a deep and special relationship with Him. Most of us struggle with our faith at times, sometimes faith is stronger, sometimes it is weaker. And we often wonder why. But, the answer all comes back to Bobby’s question, “Do you know my friend Jesus?” Is Jesus your friend to?
When we want to get to know someone better, there is really only one way to do it. We find ways to spend time with them regularly. The more we do this, the more the relationship grows, develops, and deepens. The same is true if we want to know Jesus better. If we want to know Him with the same intimacy as friends, if we want to deepen our faith, deepen our friendship with Jesus, then we have to find the time to be with Him, and we have to do this every day. Daily prayer is simply the time we take each day out of our schedule to be with Jesus, to get to know Him better. This is the only way we can ever take our faith to a new and deeper level.
In his book Hunger for God, Ralph Martin writes, “A real estate man I know gets up early every morning to pray. An aerospace engineer reads Scripture every day during his lunch break; a manager at a computer firm prays every night after his children have gone to bed.” Martin notes that life has gotten so hectic for most of us that if we don’t make the effort to purposefully schedule prayer every day, it probably won’t happen. It’ll just remain among the good intentions that we have but don’t follow through on. When something is important to us, we don’t leave it to chance. We make sure it is a part of our regular activity. For many, this time of pandemic has given us a little bit more time on our hands; a break from the normal hectic pace – so what are we doing with it? Filling it with meaningless fluff or spending some time getting to know our friend Jesus better?
Today is a good day to make the commitment to spend more time with Jesus every day. If our answer to Bobby’s question today is, “No, I don’t know your friend Jesus as well as I would like,” then our readings today are meant for you. Jesus is inviting you to get to know Him better by spending some time with Him each and every day. He is inviting you to spend a few moments each night with Him reviewing your day and asking Him for help. He’s inviting you to spend some time every day with Him to talk about your hopes, your dreams, about your doubts and your problems. He’s inviting you to discover what Bobby discovered, that Jesus can be your friend, in fact, He should be your best friend.
When we have a friend in Jesus, our faith will deepen in ways we could never have imagined. This is a friendship that has the power to change our lives. What a friend we have in Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 16, 2020:
We heard in our Gospel, “Jesus said to [the woman], ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.” Our Gospel passage today is the flip side of the coin that we heard in last week’s Gospel – and both of them are a reflection on the nature of faith. Last week, of course, we heard the dramatic story of Jesus walking on water and inviting Peter to do the same. Peter, as we recall, was initially strong in his faith and walked on water with Jesus –but soon found doubt creeping back in and he began to sink. Last week gave us the story of a disciple – one of Jesus’ privileged inner circle – invited to share in a miracle; but who let doubt and fear diminish the power of his faith.
This week, we hear a story of someone who was quite the opposite of a disciple. The woman was a Canaanite, a group hated by the people of Jesus time. The definition of an outsider. But, like Peter, she met her encounter with Jesus with determination and perseverance; and she did not lose the miracle before her precisely because of the courage of her conviction. Her daughter was healed.
Peter last week showed us what doubt can do to our faith; this week the Canaanite woman shows us the transformative power of strong and courageous faith.
But, our Gospel today also makes another profound point in this simple exchange. It begs a question of us – who does God love? Is God’s love available to all? Or is it the property of a select few people or groups or sects or faiths?
Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography tells how, during his student days, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, their caste system. He had seriously considered becoming a Christian because of the equality he found in Jesus. He attended church one Sunday morning hoping to talk to the minister about converting. But, on entering the church the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said, 1“If Christians have their own caste system, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
Have you ever felt excluded? I think that feeling excluded or left out is a common thing for most people to experience at some point in their lives. Some of us have felt it more than others and many have felt it more strongly than others. Were you ever the last one picked for the baseball team and it seemed no-one wanted you? Did you feel snubbed by some group because they felt you weren’t good enough? Were you not invited to a party or other occasion because you didn’t seem to fit in? Were you excluded by others because of your economic status; or the color of your skin; or where you are from; or your liberal or conservative politics? I think that many of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives for any number of reasons.
We know that this happens in a faith context as well. On a basic level, as pastor, I hear it all the time when people will say of someone, “They don’t belong to this parish.” On a grander scale, the belief that God's blessings are limited only to certain people has been around for a very long time. Every people and culture has a handful of such prejudices – we can find in the Old Testament the notion that the Jews as the only beloved people of God or we can hear the phrase that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Our world experiences the prejudice of the caste system in India and the sin of racial superiority in Nazi Germany or the white supremacy and racial turmoil that has reared its ugly head once again here in America these last few years. There is the myth of the superiority of men over women and the notion of the superiority of Western culture over all others. Exactly these kinds of beliefs were alive in the society in which Jesus grew up too.
But, through this simple encounter with an outsider, the Canaanite woman, Jesus makes a profound statement – that God’s love and mercy are available to everyone. He shows us through miracle that perseverance and faith can activate God’s power in everyone’s lives – in anyone’s life. It calls to mind the hymn, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”
We can be tempted to think that we have cornered the market on God; that we are the only ones to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. That God loves us and only us. But, God poses to everyone the same invitation He poses to us, “Come and draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.” All He asks of us is faith in Him, and that faith can move mountains. And He invites us to stop embracing the culture of exclusion that surrounds us, and instead be His ambassadors of love, mercy, joy, compassion, and forgiveness – sharing those things with everyone, with anyone, we meet.
As we gather today for this Eucharist, let us all have hearts that hunger for the miracle that is Christ in our lives. Let us thank Him for the gift of our faith and let us be persistent in asking God for what we need. And our persistence, our courage and our faith will pay off in the end as the Lord says to each of us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy; there is grace enough for thousands; there is plentiful redemption…let us share it with the world.
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 9, 2020:
In the 1950s, Roger Bannister and John Landy were the first runners to break the four-minute mile – and they did it within days of each other. Not long after, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he shouldn’t have. He looked over his shoulder to see how far behind Bannister was. That was all he needed to shoot past Landy and win the race. Landy had taken his eyes off the prize.
In today’s Gospel, we are given a remarkable sight. Jesus is walking on the water, and He invites Peter to join him and do the same. It’s amazing, of course, because what Jesus is doing is asking Peter to do something impossible, perhaps even dangerous. People don’t ordinarily walk on water. But, because Peter believed in Jesus, he does the courageous thing and stepped out of the boat onto the water, and he quickly found himself doing the impossible. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter took his eyes off the prize for a moment. He took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below and began to sink.
Someone in our Bible Study this week asked why Peter, it seems, frequently making these kind of mistakes. He is with Jesus. He sees what Jesus has done; heard what He had to say. Why would His faith be weak? My answer was that I’m really glad that Peter doesn’t always get it right because that gives us all a little bit of hope for the times when our faith is weak too. After all, we’re all a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each one of us to be His followers. But trying to follow Jesus today can sometimes feel as difficult as trying to walk on water. It can feel nearly impossible. But Jesus believes in us just as much as he believed in Peter.
Hopefully, most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We become preoccupied by all of the crazy things happening in our world right now. We take our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And just like Peter, we sometimes lose our balance and begin to sink.
My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy seas of life, today is a good time to ask if our focus is on Jesus, or if we have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior; to focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even what might seem impossible right now. We only have to do what Peter did and cry, “Lord, save us." If we reach out to Jesus in our need, He will reach out His hand and lift us from our troubles.
The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right, and because of it, he walked on water! Remember, that the boat was full of disciples. Peter wasn’t there alone. But, only Peter had the courage to join Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace the impossible; embrace a miracle. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought asked Jesus to calm the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. And that decision made all of the difference.
My friends, Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the comfortable, to face our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever He wants to take us. He wants us to have the courage to face the impossible – the distance we may feel from God, the broken relationships that we have, the words we wish we could take back – if we face these impossible situations with our eyes fixed on Jesus, miracles can happen. If we have the courage of Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, with new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in powerful ways, and can become opportunities for healing, reconciliation, and newness in our lives with others and our life with God. We might even experience the miraculous.
So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 2, 2020:
Newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, once wrote a story about his friend Oscar in New York City. One day Art and Oscar were getting out of a taxi. As they did, Oscar said to the driver, “You did a superb job of driving.” The cabbie looked at him and said, “What are you? Some kind of a wise guy?” “Not at all,” said Oscar. “I really mean it. I admire the way you move about in the traffic.” The cabbie paused, then smiled, and drove off. “What was that about?” asked Art. “I’m trying to bring love back to New York City,” Oscar replied. “How can you do that?” said Art. “It’s simple. Take that cabbie,” Oscar explained. “I just made his day. Let’s suppose he has 20 fares today. He’s going to be nice to those 20 people. They, in turn, will be kinder to other people. Eventually, the kindness could spread to a thousand people.” Art said, “But even if he is better for it, you’re still only one man, and one person can’t change New York City.” “Yes, he can,” said Oscar. “The big thing is not to get discouraged. Bringing back love to New York is not easy. But if I can get other people to join me in my campaign, it will work.”
We heard in our Gospel today, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” We are given a scenario that at first glance seems impossible to conquer. We’re told that there were 5,000 men, “not counting women and children.” I think we should count the women and children, and when you do scholars put the number at closer to 20,000 people fed that day. It would seem a pretty impossible situation.
This same story in John’s Gospel gives us another interesting detail. We’re told this food belongs to a little boy. The boy trusted Jesus and gave him the little food he had and we all know what happened next. This feeding of the multitudes tells us that one person can make a big difference. Or rather, two people can – one person along with Jesus. This boy gave what meager food he had to Jesus, and Jesus shared the boy’s gift with tens of thousands.
We also notice that this feeding also prefigures so much more. When we hear, “He said the blessings, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,” this language immediately reminds us of the Eucharist and the Last Supper. So those who ate bread on that day – as many as they were – were only the beginning. They were just a foretaste of the billions or trillions – including you and me today – who would be fed by the bread of the Eucharist.
The feeding of this multitude is not the highpoint of Jesus nourishing His holy people; instead, it is just a beginning. On that beautiful day, on that beautiful hillside, Jesus was just getting started. The key difference is that on that glorious day 2,000 years ago, Jesus said the blessing prayer and gave to the people ordinary bread to eat; which sustained them for a day. Today, Jesus again says the blessing prayer, but will give to us the Eucharistic bread from Heaven. And, my brothers and sisters, this bread will not sustain us merely for a day; this bread – the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Himself – will keep us going for a lifetime and beyond into eternity. This miraculous feeding continues as long as we are on earth.
The message of today’s Gospel is this: One person – even you or me – can be the instrument of a miracle when we cooperate with God’s plan. One person, with the help of Jesus, can be the miracle for many. And when we cooperate with God’s plan, His abundance is more incredible than anything we could accomplish on our own; anything we could ever imagine.
British TV celebrity Malcolm Muggeridge converted to Catholicism because of the simple acts of kindness he witnessed in the life of Saint Mother Teresa. He said, “Words cannot express how much I owe her. She showed me Christianity in action. She showed me the power of love. She showed me how one loving person can start a tidal wave of love that can spread to the entire world.”
This is our Good News today: we are all important in God’s plan. If we share what meager gifts we have with Jesus, He can make them bear fruit beyond our wildest dreams. If we offer our talents and treasures to the Lord, He can perform miracles with them. And His abundance will last forever.
Let me close with a poem by the Mexican poet Amado Nervo:
I am only a spark,
Make me a fire.
I’m only a string,
Make me a lyre.
I’m only an ant-hill
Make me a mountain.
I’m only a drop,
Make me a fountain.
I’m only a feather,
Make me a wing.
I’m only a beggar,
Make me a king.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.