FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 26, 2021:
Today’s Scripture calls to mind a story from the life of St. Jerome, the great Biblical scholar. St. Jerome was praying and wanted to offer something worthwhile to God. “Lord,” he prayed, “I offer you my life.” But, God responded, “It was I who gave you your life. It is not yours to give.” Jerome prayed again, “Lord, I offer you my heart, my love.” Again, the voice of God spoke, “I gave you those as well.” Jerome didn’t know what he could offer when the voice of God spoke again, “Jerome, why don’t you give me your sins? Your sins are all your own.”
Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect on something that we typically prefer to avoid – our own sins. Most of the time we are ashamed of our sins, or frustrated by our inability to overcome them. In the worst of situations, we have minimized them and maybe even don’t consider them to be sins anymore. We think there are people far worse than us in the world, and so, we are okay. But, what if these thoughts are actually keeping us from living our best lives, or holiest lives, the lives that God has intended for us?
Jesus tries very hard today to get our attention. He says – hyperbolically – it would be better to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye than the allow them to cause us to sin. Of course, He doesn’t mean these extreme responses literally, but He does want us to take the sin in our life seriously. His strong words today remind us that our sin can’t possibly be inconsequential.
In the long form of the prayer of absolution – the prayer that forgives your sins during Confession – the priest says, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the part that we miss far too often. When we take our sins seriously, we are not embracing a negative self-image, or beating up on ourselves for the things we do – instead we are connecting with the most important reason that Jesus came to us – He came not to make us feel bad about sin; but He came to set us free from it.
I had an encounter almost 20 years ago in the Confessional that I have never forgotten. A person came to me and began by going through the usual motions of a good confession. They listed all of the regular things that many people struggle with – a white lie or two, a bit of gossip, an unkind word spoken, or some prayers missed. But, as they were speaking God was placing something on my heart very persistently that I felt I just had to say. And so I said, “Can we talk a little bit about pride?” The other person looked at me stunned. “Why did you say that?” they asked. I said, “God is just placing this on my heart in a way that I can’t ignore. God wants you to be free from pride.” At that the tears began to flow uncontrollably. They said through the tears, “Father, this is something I have struggled with for many years. My pride has gotten in the way of my relationships – harming several of them. It has kept me from advancing at work because I can never admit I’m wrong. It has gotten in the way of my relationship with God because I always think my way is better than God’s way. Pride has been the thing that has put my life on hold. And every time I come to confession I promise myself that I will confess it, but I’ve never been able to say the words.” When they were done, I simply said, “Do you want to be free?” This remains one of the most beautiful moments of my priesthood.
Pope Francis 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 forgets, 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? 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.’”
God never tires of forgiving us; and when we receive God’s forgiveness, we are set free of those things that are holding us back and keeping us down. Our sins are not something dark and secret; or something we should run from or hide away; something we should ignore and never talk about. Our sins are actually one of the greatest opportunities that God presents in our lives. When we encounter our sin – actually engage it and think about it and pray about it and bring it to God – we simultaneously have an encounter with Love. When we acknowledge our sin, we encounter a God who loves us so much that He wants to lift us out of that sin, who wants to free us from that sin, and help us to in fact become saints.
Why does Jesus have such strong words about sin this week? Because He wants us to experience the liberation that He came to bring us. To say “I have sinned” is not to say, “I’m such a horrible person,” rather it is the humble act of embracing the cross, encountering Christ there and allowing Him to raise us up from that sin and into the newness that is found in forgiveness. When we fail to seek out the freedom of God’s mercy, we leave Jesus hanging on that Cross for nothing.
Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. It is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God's love would make them white as snow. God’s mercy is beautiful.”
God calls each of us to be holy; and so the simple message today is this: our sins matter, but God’s mercy matters more! Feeling mercy changes everything. God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself – He wants to reconcile you to Himself. Let us give God our sins; and He will in turn set us free!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021:
Let me start with a question today. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you were the favorite child in your family? My older brother and I have had a long-running debate about who is the favorite child, the favorite grandchild. I say the debate was definitively ended a number of years ago when my grandmother was very ill. My Mom had called me one day and said, “Tommy, come to the hospital to anoint Grammy. The doctor’s say she won’t make the night.” When I got there, the family was gathered and my grandmother was not conscious at all. She was very unsettled, but not aware of anyone around. I invited everyone to lay their hands on Grammy as we began the Sacrament of the Sick, to pray that the Holy Spirit be with her. As I laid my hand on her forehead, her body immediately calmed and she began to breathe more easily. Then, when I finished anointing her with oil, her eyes opened, she looked up and said, “Is that Tommy, my angel?” And the debate over the favorite son was definitively answered!
We heard in our Gospel today, “Taking a child, [Jesus] placed it in their midst, and…said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’” Biblical scholars often speak of a pattern found in Bible stories that they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or sisters, almost always the younger one emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people – the favored one.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung gives a helpful theory. Jung said the human personality is driven by two energies, one he calls senex, meaning old person or senior, and the other puer eternis, or, the eternal child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child, on the other hand, is more adventurous and takes more chances. The senior is conscious about security and preservation, while the child is more easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is geared towards competition, power and success, the child is attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is responsible while the child is lighthearted. Jung says, to be fully human, fully alive, these two perspectives, the senior and the child, must find balance and harmony in the personality.
When we look at the disciples in today’s Gospel, we find they are acting more like the senior than the children. For the second time, Jesus tells them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem. They don’t understand, yet also don’t ask for an explanation. That is typical of the senex mentality which says, “I can figure this out on my own.” Then the disciples argue about which of them was the greatest. They are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you can begin to understand where the little child comes in.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when it comes to our lives of faith, it is better for us to engage the open and free energy of a child if we truly wish to follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us to have the freedom of the child; to be less worried about how we will be perceived, less afraid, and less concerned with rules, and with power and success. Like a child, Jesus wants us to be ready to take a leap of faith, to let go of our preconceived notions. Only then does truly believing and following Jesus completely become possible.
The problem for us is that our world is biased in favor of the senex way. Like the disciples we measure success by comparing ourselves with others. We even convince ourselves that this is what God wants, that prosperity and success and wealth are part of living in God’s ways. Time magazine did a cover story a few years ago on what is often called the Prosperity Gospel. Evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the best known for this. Time magazine posed the question, “Does God want you to be rich?” The Prosperity Gospel says that what God wants more than anything is to shower you with material goods. Joyce Meyers put it this way, “Who would want a faith where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” Of course, we don’t have to look any further than Matthew’s Gospel to find the truth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, does God want us to be rich? Well, I think God doesn’t care so much about whether or not we’re rich materially, he’s much more concerned with the richness of our compassion, the wealth of our love, the extravagance of our forgiveness, the generosity of our care for the hungry, the lonely, those on the margins of our world. If we trust and follow God, He will shower His choicest blessings upon us – but not in silver and gold – they blessings of love, relationships, peace and harmony, holiness and purity – the things whose value can never be measured.
This is what happens when we make room for the child in our hearts. Jesus today challenges us to be adventurous in our life of faith, take a chance on God’s way, to make the leap of faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given you – and God will show you greater blessings than you could have ever imagined in your life. Whether we are nine years old or 99, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart – especially in our faith life. This is the only way to join the company of the sons and daughters to whom the Kingdom of God truly belongs. This is how we become God’s favorite!
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 12, 2021:
One day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars which tells me, astronomically, that there are millions of galaxies and billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”
A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point there have been many answers. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.
But, up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” they finally get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.” And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today because understanding who Jesus is, also tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?
The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ!
Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there that He says now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods and idols – who will you say that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?
This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack, just think of the ways that moment caused us to say, “Who are we as Americans?” That was a defining moment; a moment that invited us into two options – vengeance or justice; hatred or love. And we reflect on the ways that we have responded – both the good ways and the bad – Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am? Pope Francis said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”
My friends, as we seek to lead lives of holiness, Jesus asks us the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. I pray that our answer will lead us to roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are, by what we say and do.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words. Who do you say that I am? You, Lord, are the Christ; and I Lord, am Your disciple.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021:
We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ — that is, ‘Be opened!’ — And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life. From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly completely deaf in my left ear. Two surgeries couldn’t solve the problem and it was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I would simply make sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would ask them to repeat things a lot. I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.
But, then, about 13 years ago, at the parish I was then stationed at, we were honored to welcome one of the so-called visionaries from Medjugorje, Vicka, to our parish. If you’re not familiar with Medjugorje, it is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina and since the early 1980s many believe that the Blessed Mother appeared there to a number of people including Vicka. Now, please know that the Church has not ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.
So, Vicka, in addition to receiving the apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. When she came to our parish, she also offered to pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone present. As she approached me, she placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.
Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so I was praying silently that God would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.
But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was full volume! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where the other priest was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened.
We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.
To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. He wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.
This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.
On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my hearing; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Especially in these difficult times, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.