God isn't done with you yet!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, October 23, 2022:
About seven years ago, I had the incredible chance to live in Manhattan for a few years for ministry. Aside from their unfortunate sports teams, New York City is an amazing place. It has an energy and diversity that is exciting to be a part of. There is always something going on in New York – new buildings are constantly going up, there are endless artistic experience – the museums, the symphony, Broadway. To give you an idea of when I lived there, the hit musical Hamilton was still off Broadway and I had the chance to see it a few times before the rest of the world heard of it. There’s a saying that captures the spirit well – locals like to say that New York will be a great city – if they ever finish it. It is a place where virtually every aspect of the city – the people, the places, the buildings, the communities – are constantly evolving and changing. It is an endless work in progress.
Our Gospel today wants to say something similar about being works in progress as it picks up from last week when Jesus told us to “pray always without becoming weary.” If last week’s message was about being persistent in our faith life, this week wants to remind us that it is okay to acknowledge that we are all still works in progress.
Jesus gives us this story of two believers - the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both believe in the same God, both belong to the same religion and both worship in the same temple. But, at the end of the day, one of them goes home at peace with God and the other doesn’t. Now the Pharisees were disciplined and devout men of religion. They were serious believers who committed themselves to a strict life of prayer and observance of God’s Law. In fact, they went far beyond the requirements of the law. They fasted twice a week even though they were only required to fast once a year. They gave tithes on all their income, not just parts of it. So, when the Pharisee said, “I am not like other people,” he wasn’t kidding. In fact, I bet few of us today could measure up to the external standards of the Pharisees. The Pharisees acted as though they were finished products. That they had achieve religious perfection and should be admired and emulated for it. There was no room for them to grow in God’s plan. They had arrived. They were certain that they were better than the rest.
Tax collectors, on the other hand, were generally regarded as people of low moral standards. They worked for the Romans occupiers, mixed with them and constantly handled their unclean money. They were said to be in a state of religious impurity. Tax collectors were considered public sinners of the highest grade. But the tax collector in our story still hoped for salvation. He knew that God was not done with him yet; he knew that he wasn’t close to being a finished product and still had a long way to go; and so, in humility he placed himself in God’s tender care.
Sometimes, especially in the church, we can create the impression that the church is meant only for the perfect. And that could not be further from the truth. Pope Francis understands well our need to realize that we are not completed projects, but always on the road to closeness with God. In The Joy of the Gospel, he said for example, “The Eucharist…is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak…Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollbooth; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.”
Simply saying all of the external prayers, devotions and other acts of faith we can muster doesn’t save us. God isn’t waiting for us to complete 1,000 rosaries, or donate $100,000, or receive the Eucharist 5,000 times. Now, these are all good things that can lead us closer to God, but they are not meant to be a checklist for salvation or the source of our self-righteousness. But if all of these things that we do never convert our heart to be more like God’s heart, they are not accomplishing their goal. If our thousands of rosaries haven’t made us more gentle, kind, forgiving, and compassionate, then they are no more than the mere multiplication of words. Our faith should make us every day more like Jesus; and that should be evident to those around us. And this is the key difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus told this parable because the Pharisees “trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” We are meant to trust in God alone.
The tax collector trusted in his need for God’s mercy. He would not even look up to heaven, but instead beat his breast and prayed, “Be merciful to me, a sinner!” He knew that he was a work in progress and that God was the master craftsman who would help him become the person he was created to be.
And, my friends, their story is today our story. Just like them, we too have come to God’s house today to offer our prayers. Just like the tax collector, we beat our breast and prayed, “I confess to almighty God and to my brothers and sisters that I have sinned.” May our prayerful hearts have the same humility as the tax collector. God isn’t finished with us yet. He is still working on us. We are clay in the Potter’s hands – and our prayer should be that He shapes us as He wants; that He transforms us – as He transforms the bread and wine into the Presence of His Son – that He transforms us to be more like Jesus through this Eucharist.
We actually already know the most powerful prayer that we can pray by heart: Thy will be done. We pray it every day. Thy will be done. Lord, make of me what you will – not what I will. Let us again today bow our heads, fall to our knees, humble our hearts and whisper the words God is waiting to hear. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” I am a work in progress. I am YOUR work in progress. You’re not finished with me yet. And I am grateful for Your love, Your compassion, Your mercy and the time You give me to grow as Your daughter or Your son.
This is the gift that God values above all others: the honest prayers of a humble heart. Let us offer those prayers today and always until God is finished with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
Weary no more!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 16, 2022:
A CCD teacher was struggling to remember the combination on the lock to the supply cabinet. Finally, she asked the pastor for help. He started to turn the dial, but then paused, took a deep breath and looked serenely up to heaven as his lips moved silently. He looked back at the lock, confidently turned the numbers, and opened the lock. The teacher was amazed, “Father, I'm in awe of the power of your prayer,” she said. “It's nothing,” he answered. “The combination is written on the ceiling.”
In my experience, at one point or another most people admit to having some challenges with prayer. We struggle with wondering when to pray, how to pray, how much to pray. We wonder if our prayer works. We bring the greatest frustrations and challenges and hopes of our lives to prayer – our broken relationships, our desire for change, our struggle with sin, our hopes for a new job or a new relationship – we bring so much, and how often do we find ourselves wondering, “Is there anyone listening? Why doesn’t God answer my prayer?”
To these questions our readings today give us examples to inspire us in our life of prayer. The first reading from Exodus gives us a curious image of Moses. As we heard, “As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.” What a great image of trust and perseverance in prayer. Israel went into battle trusting Moses’ power given him by God. Moses prayed literally with the weight of his arms outstretched which held the weight of the people’s expectation upon them. God showed He works through people who work with Him; so don’t be weary. If we trust in God, God will help us triumph.
We also heard in today’s Gospel, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Again, the story of the bad judge and the persistent widow is a story about our need for prayer and God’s faithfulness to us. On the surface, this seems to be a simple parable about how we should be tireless in our prayer. But, this is not an encouragement to try and wear God down with our prayers. Prayer, or persistence in asking, is more than just multiplying our words to God in order to wear Him out.
Jesus reminds us that a life of prayer is not occasional; it is meant to be constant. It is not transactional, simply asking God for things; but it is conversational. We can’t engage in drive-through prayer, simply popping in on the Lord when we need something, and taking off again when we get it. No, a life of prayer is a relationship with God that never gives up. Waiting, hoping, watching, and longing, are all parts of this loving conversation with God. We’re called to be constantly engaged in the conversation of prayer; faithfully bringing our needs, our joys, our lives to God – sometimes grumbling and questioning, sometimes praising and thanking, but always persisting in the relationship. Prayer is a way of life; it is the conversation of life.
It reminds me of an experience in my own life that taught me about perseverance in prayer. My Dad grew up in a non-practicing family and was never baptized. When he met my Mom, she always prayed for him to be baptized, and when I was old enough to understand, I began to pray for it too. Especially once I entered the seminary, I thought for sure Dad would become a Catholic. In fact, I began to pray at Mass every day, “Dear God, I ask that you place within my Dad a desire for Baptism.” But, nothing happened. As I got close to my ordination to the priesthood, I said to my Dad, “You know Dad, nothing would be more special to me than to be able to offer you Holy Communion at my first Mass.” Still nothing. And still we prayed.
Then, just before Dad’s 70th birthday, he called me on the phone and said two words to me, “I’m ready;” and I knew exactly what he meant. And, in the greatest honor of my priesthood, I welcomed my own father into the faith baptizing him, Confirming him, and giving him his First Holy Communion. And in the midst of that, I could hear the words of Jesus, “Pray always without becoming weary.” I realize that everything happened the way it should with my Dad – not in my time or Mom’s time or according to our plan – but in God’s time and according to God’s plan; which is always perfect. My Dad was always in conversation with God, and sought baptism when he was ready. That’s the challenge of trusting in prayer. Things unfold the way God intends, not the way we do.
“Jesus told his disciples about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” Instead of falling into doubt or question in our prayer; instead of chastising God for not answering our prayers in our way or our time; instead of giving up on our prayer because of uncertainty or length of time; God calls us once again to be faithful and tireless in our life of prayer with Him. Like Moses, we hold up our hands in prayer, confident that God will bring us victory if only we will trust in His will; His Word; His ways; His plan; and in His time.
Pope Francis said, “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love God, in order to experience his tenderness.”
Let me end with this reflection on prayer: I pray because I am a Christian; and to do what a Christian must do, I need help. I pray because there is confusion in my life; and to do what is right, I need light. I pray because I must make decisions; but the choice is not always clear, so I need guidance. I pray because I have doubts; and to keep growing in my faith, I need help. I pray because so much in my life is a gift, so I need to give thanks. I pray because Jesus prayed; and if He considered it important, so should I.
My friends, let us be renewed as we dive once again into the sea of prayer trusting God to answer us in His way and in His time.
May the Lord give you peace.
Don't forget to look up
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 9, 2022:
One day, a man went into a crowded restaurant to have a meal and just as he was about to begin, another man approached and asked if he could join him. The man invited his new friend to have a seat and, as was his custom, bowed his head in prayer. When he opened his eyes, the other man asked, “What are you doing?” The first man replied, “I was simply thanking God as I always do before I eat.” The man said, “Oh, you’re one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know that I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don’t have to give thanks to anybody when I eat. I just start right in!” The first man paused and said, “You know, you’re just like my dog. He does the same thing!”
“And he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” The theme of thanksgiving winds its way through all of our readings today. In our first reading, Naaman the Syrian is healed from leprosy. His response is a great example of thanksgiving. Having been healed, he recognizes that God was powerfully at work through Elisha the prophet, and he makes a public profession of his conviction. He said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” and promises to offer sacrifice only to the one true God.
As we heard in our Gospel, “One of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” Our Scriptures remind us today that there are a lot of people in our world who are just like the man in our story, believing that they have earned every good that comes their way and, therefore, do not need to thank anyone or even God for their blessings. They forget that the blessings that come into our lives are first God’s blessings long before they become our achievements. Just think from the earliest moments of life - what did any of us do to “earn” being born? What did we do to deserve our parents and family? What did we do to have eyes to see, ears to hear, tongues to speak, feet to walk? How much did we to be intelligent or beautiful people? And certainly, what could we ever do to merit salvation and the reward of eternal life?
My friends, the message is simple and clear today: too often, we take our blessings for granted. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “If the stars should only appear but one night every thousand years, how we would marvel and stare.” Friends, we have seen the stars so often that we don’t even bother to look up anymore. How easily we grow accustomed to our blessings and forget to give thanks for them.
In today’s Gospel Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one returns to thank Him. Why didn’t the other nine lepers return? Here are some possibilities, maybe we’ve used excuses like this ourselves: Perhaps one said, “Jesus told us to go to the priest. He would be mad if we return now.” Perhaps one said, “I think we need to wait and see if the cure is real.” Perhaps another said, “There’s plenty of time to see Jesus later, if we need to.” Perhaps one said, “Maybe we never even had leprosy in the first place.” Maybe another said, “There was no doubt in my mind that we would get well eventually.” Another might have said, “Jesus didn’t do anything special; any rabbi could have healed us.” And, perhaps one said, “Now that we are healed, we don’t need Him.”
We’ve all been in the position of making excuses that seem to make sense in the moment, but are really, in the end, just a lack of gratitude. Ingratitude is nothing more complicated than putting our personal needs before other’s needs; putting ourselves and our abilities before God. But, luckily for us, there is the 10th leper today who says nothing but simply turns back to thank Jesus. He follows the impulse of his heart; the impulse of gratitude to God for the wondrous blessing – surely, the miraculous blessing – that he has received.
I can’t help but think about how this story today ties in to what we do each Sunday as we gather for the Holy Mass. The whole reason we gather each week is the same – not to get something, but to give something. We come here each week to give thanks to God for the myriad ways that He has blessed us. The very word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word meaning “to give thanks.” If we count our blessing, if we realize that all is from above, from God, then we will act like the 10th leper when he realized he was healed – we return with joy and give God thanks and praise; and we do this every Sunday. How often I hear people say, “Do you think God really cares whether or not I’m at Mass? Does it even matter?” To that question, we hear Jesus say today, “Where are the other nine?” Let us never be counted among that number. God does care.
“One of them…returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” My friends, for all that is blessed in our lives, we need to give thanks; for the grace of God’s mercy daily in our lives, we need to give thanks; for the gifts that we receive each day; we need to give thanks. Let us be like Number 10 and return to the Lord, falling on our knees, as a people who give thanks to God for all the blessings we have in life; in fact, for the blessing of life itself.
I think of the refrain of one of my favorite hymns that says, “Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son!” Today, in the midst of this Holy Mass, let us fall to our knees at the feet of Jesus and thank Him.
May the Lord give you peace.
Is there anyone else up there?
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 2, 2022:
One day a man was hiking when he lost his footing and fell off a cliff. As he was falling, he grabbed the branch of a tree. Hanging there, dangling, unable to pull himself up, he decided to yell for help. He looked up and shouted, “Is anyone up there? Throw down a line and save me.” Suddenly he heard a voice from heaven, “Yes, I am here. It is the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouted back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. Please save me.” The Lord said, “If you really believe in me, you have nothing to fear. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” The man paused for a moment and shouted back, “Is anyone else up there?”
Let me ask you a question: Is the man in this story a believer? Of course, he is. After all, in his moment of distress, he turned to God. But, the story shows us that there is a difference between believing in God and trusting in God. The man couldn’t make the so-called leap of faith and trust the voice of God. We might laugh as we hear this story because maybe we can recognize ourselves in this man. We too believe in God – after all, here we are gathered in Church for Mass – but sometimes, particularly when the going gets tough, we so often take matters into our own hands or look for help elsewhere. We believe, yes; but sometimes we don’t trust.
Today’s Gospel about the mustard seed is familiar to us as Jesus reminds us that even the smallest bit of faith can work wonders, “can move mountains.” Even the tiniest faith can make miracles possible. But there’s another point here that we often miss. It is the reminder of how much God values even things that are small – things as small as a mustard seed, things as small as you and me, things as small as our needs and concerns, things as small as the simple faith-driven things we can do each day to make our world a better place. After all, small is the very way that God came to earth – as a small, beautiful baby who didn’t even have a place to lay His head. And even though He arrived as a small baby, that presence changed the course of the whole world – and the course of each one of our lives. God does great things with small.
Someone who knew this better than most is St. “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa dared to embrace and love those nobody else would even touch, and knew that the smallest effort could bring the greatest reward. She once said, for example, in the face of the countless number of hungry people in the world, “If you can’t feed 100 people, then just feed one.” She knew that if we all do our small part, it all adds up to the Kingdom of God. Pope Francis expressed a similar theme when he said, “Yes, you pray for the hungry. But, then you feed them. That's how prayer works.”
We are reminded that God asks precious little of us – just a little bit of faith, just a little bit of action – but that if we offer these things to Him, He will bless them, he will make them holy, he will multiply them and make them great and even miraculous good works.
So, don’t be overwhelmed by the hunger in our world – just feed one. Don’t be anxious about the homelessness that surrounds us – just do what you can for one. Don’t be afraid of the anger and hatred in our world – just love one. And then, another and another and another and another. God will do great things with our small acts of faith and goodness. God loves whatever small things we do.
Let me end with something that St. Teresa said. It is called her Anyway Poem:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
My friends, let us “Stir into flame the gift that God gave you.” Let us offer what little we have to God. He does wondrous things with the little we offer. Believe the truth that your faith can move mountains. Your actions can change the world. Then have the faith and be the change the world needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.