FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 28, 2021:
Let me begin today with one of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” In the city of Marseilles there was an old shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself, “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give Him!” He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two tiny shoes of the softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. “I would give Him these, my finest work.” Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest.
Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name...”Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I will pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I will be your guest.”
Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose and tidied up his shop. On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing on his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. “Poor fellow, he must be half frozen,” thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea.” And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.
An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, poorly clothed women carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. “Come in and warm while you rest,” he said to her. “You do not look well.” “I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in, and my baby boy,” she explained. “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul.” “Poor child!” cried Martin. “You must eat something while you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a bright fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?” “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother. “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.” Martin took down from the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The young mother left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.
Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. “It was only a dream,” he sighed, with a heavy heart. “He has not come.” But suddenly the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. “Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?” Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My friends, as we embark once again on the Season of Advent today, we remember that this is the preeminent time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. We remember both His arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, as we look both to the past and to the future, let us not forget to look down right where we are today to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present 2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in our midst today – if our eyes are open to see Him.
Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…Be vigilant at all times.”
You see, Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how nice our car is, how large our home is, or how important our job is. Jesus won’t even ask us how many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead us to action, to love, to reaching out, to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” as we heard St. Paul say today.
So, let us so resolve on this first day of a new Church year, this first day of our Advent season, to be people ever more aware of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways – in the many ordinary people He sends into our lives every moment of every day. As we recognize Jesus on our altar today in His Sacred Body and Blood – let us extend that vision to the world and the people around us, abounding in love for one another and for all. And let us be people who witness to that presence in the lives of others – especially in those places that need God’s presence more than ever. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Open my eyes, Lord, so that I may see You!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 21, 2021:
We heard in our Gospel today that Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” As we gather today to celebrate the end of our Church year, this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – especially as we gather in the midst of pandemic, violence, war, and prejudice in our world – these words ring with a certain poignancy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The sad reality as we look around our world is that violence and terror reign; poverty and homelessness are on the rise; prejudice and fear have taken prominence in our public discourse. And Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” But, Jesus doesn’t say these words as a dire prediction without hope. Instead, it is, once again, an invitation to allow Jesus to transform us so that we can transform our world until it truly becomes His Kingdom.
As our Church year comes to a close, we have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus. It is a journey that intends to leave us differently than it found us. We are meant to be today simply more like Christ than we were a year ago when the Church year began. We are meant to be at this time next year more transformed into Christ’s image than we are today. But, first, we must desire to be part of His Kingdom, or as we pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come….”
Abraham Lincoln concluded his first Inaugural address with these powerful words: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." One of the most important reasons that we come to Mass each week is because it is here that we remember who we are; it is here that we recommit to our best selves, to the “better angels of our nature;” here we “swell the chorus of union” as we are united through this Holy Mass. One of the most beautiful things ever said of the Eucharist was said by St. Augustine who said that when we receive the Eucharist “we become what we receive.”
As the world around us entices to give voice to the “worst angels” of our nature, let us today, here, in this Eucharist once again become what we receive. Let us consciously become the real presence of Christ in our world – one that calls loudly for peace; one that seeks frequently the dialogue of reconciliation; one that speaks joy, love, healing and compassion to the world. These are not mere pious platitudes – this is how the world in fact becomes the Kingdom that Jesus, our King, came to inaugurate in our midst. That Kingdom – of love, peace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – cannot be left until tomorrow; it cannot forever wait until people change. It absolutely must start with each one of us individually here, today, and it must leave the walls of this Church and go out into the streets to make that Kingdom present wherever we are.
Challenging moments like the ones that our world faces are not moments to abandon our ideals and our faith – or even to put them on hold. Instead, these are precisely the times when who we truly are becomes evident. These are the moments to let the fullness and strength of our faith shine. This is how the world will change. This is how it becomes the Kingdom Jesus promised.
We know there are many voices in our world competing for our allegiance – calls to fear; calls to isolationism; calls to vengeance; calls to prejudice. There is no shortage of these calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is calling us to the challenging truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, the refugee, to those on the margins. He is calling us to transform our broken and hate-filled world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.
So, how do we do this? Perhaps, we embrace the beautiful words of prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. Let us make his words our own:
Lord make Me an instrument of Your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it's in giving that we receive.
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Let us transform our world by being the instruments of God’s peace, love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy that our world desperately needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 14, 2021:
This is one of those times of year when what is going on in nature and what is going on in the life of the Church match up pretty well. Just think in nature – you can’t help but notice that just about all of the leaves have fallen off of the trees now, and we begin to engage in those annual rituals of digging out our warmer clothes as winter is close at hand. This season of the year, in its grayness, its starkness, its cold, reminds us of endings.
So, too, does our Church calendar remind us of endings. We heard Jesus say this in our Gospel passage, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” In other words, learn the lesson that the natural world can teach you. That is why we traditionally celebrate a month in honor of the dead during November. The natural surroundings of November lend itself to such thoughts and prayers. We also head into the final weeks of our Church year. In just two weeks, on the First Sunday of Advent, we begin again the great cycle in which we recall the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, eventually recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings.
The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that His story is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven.
Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed us?
In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel is writing about 500 years before Jesus. Wars and distress were all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.
How much do we need to be reminded of that right now? At every turn we hear the difficult challenges of our times – from COVID, to the economy, to the divisions and rancor that surround us – what’s our reaction? Do we run around declaring the end is near? Do we magnify the negativity around us, or do we cast out the darkness by shining the light? Trusting our faith in God and living accordingly?
In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.
My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.
Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 7, 2021:
A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”
My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.
But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.
What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.
The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.
“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.