FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 27, 2022:
“Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” These words that we heard from Isaiah today form a theme to all our readings today – the light that conquers the darkness – and they are words that speak to us in a profound way at this time of year. As the sun sets just after 4 p.m., we can feel the darkness overtaking us. The days get darker, the nights get longer, and the more we recognize our need for light.
Light is life. Just think about the ways we need light in almost every aspect of our life. We need light for our physical health. Without light, we would have no food. Light grows the plants which feed and nourish us. Light provides warmth and heat. Without light the world grows cold. In fact, the coldest places are the places where light is most absent. We need light for our emotional health. At this time of year, the lack of light can make people feel depressed. We need the light of day.
On the flipside, the presence of light can fill us with hope and joy. And so we search out Christmas lights and decorate our homes during this dark time of year. Light also makes us feel safer. A gloomy alley or unlit street can feel unsafe. Entering a dark house can seem spooky. Late at night in the dark when you’re trying to sleep, problems can seem larger than life. In the light of day, they always seem smaller.
We also need light for our minds. When you are in a room that is properly illuminated you can move with confidence and ease. You know where you are going. When we’re in the dark we stumble around unsure of our steps and what might be ahead. When you are in the dark, life is no fun. And even worse is living in the dark. It is no fun being in the dark about your career or your family or your finances. Light shows us the way forward.
We know that our hearts can be dark too. We need light to shine on those dark places where we hold pride and greed and selfishness and envy and other things. It’s no fun to be caught in the darkness of sin. Sin grows in the dark but when light shines upon them they dissipate, they disappear like fog in the sunlight. Light is essential for our souls. The whole story of our salvation begins in Genesis with light. “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw the light was good.” Light is the starting point of creation. Life needs light.
This Advent we hear from the prophet Isaiah, the prophet who most explicitly points to the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah lived at a dark time in the history of Israel. The nation was divided, under attack from hostile neighbors and economically crippled. Leadership was corrupt and self-serving, the culture was amoral and increasingly godless. God had established Israel to be a “light to the nations” and so Israel’s corruption was like a descent into darkness. Far from showing others the way, they had lost their own way and fallen into darkness. Isaiah points out that darkness, but then looks forward to a brighter future. As we heard, “In the days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the highest mountain and raised above the hills…come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
Isaiah paints a picture of this enlightened future so that the people can choose to be a part of God’s plan. He said, “[God] shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another.”
You see the Light of the Lord also brings peace. People are no longer fighting. Swords, used to wage war will be refashioned for peace. Instead of bloodshed, light brings life and growth. It’s a better way to live. And so Isaiah calls the people to action, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” And, the prophet call us too today to leave behind our own darkness and walk in the light of the Lord.
So how do we do it? I think there are two things that we can do to invite the Light of the Lord into our lives this Advent. First, we must listen to the Lord, like Isaiah did and let the light of God’s Word enlighten our daily life. So, for this Advent, I want to encourage you to spend some time with Scripture. If you usually do nothing, set aside 5 minutes a day. If you’re already doing 5 minutes, try 10. Between now and Christmas add 5 minutes with Scripture to your day. It will change everything.
And, it is not as daunting as it may seem. We’re not talking about reading the whole Bible cover-to-cover. Instead, just spend some time with the Bible in very small segments. Read a few pages or a few paragraphs or even a few sentences. Read them slowly so God can truly speak to you. God’s word helps us to understand our purpose and what this world is all about. Life comes into focus, our path becomes clearer. God wants to enlighten you. But, that only happens if you open the Book! Your job is to give God space and time to talk to you.
The second way to walk in the light is by actively pursuing peace this Advent and maybe that means setting aside your own swords. This is the season of peace and good will; of people coming together to learn from God while encouraging each other in holiness. And, we can’t encourage when we are fighting. So, what sword are you clutching ready for battle? Is there someone in your life that you are fighting with? Maybe they let you down, or didn’t show up; they somehow messed up, said something cruel; or they owe you? Maybe it’s a fight in your marriage or with one of your siblings, or your parents. Maybe it’s a friend and maybe you’re both are at fault. You both have your swords drawn and so the question is who will put down their sword first; who will drop the weapon and start sowing seeds of peace? Here’s the thing, it is usually the more mature person, the healthier person who makes the first move. Why not be that person this Advent?
As St. Paul said in our second reading, “Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.” My friends, our world can often seem dark. This darkness can fill our minds and our hearts. But God’s invitation for us is to leave the darkness and walk in His light. He invites us to walk in His ways, in His peace and in His truth. There is no life without light and there is no light without God. Let us find some time to be with God this Advent; and let us seek the ways of peace together. Let us conduct ourselves as in the day.
May the Lord give you His light and His peace.
*This homily is based on the preaching series, "Let there Be Light" from Rebuilt Parish.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLMENITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 20, 2022:
Today we bring our Church year to an end with this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. This always initially strikes me as an odd feast for Americans. After all, our national identity begins in the rejection of royalty. We revere the voice of the people above the Divine Right of Kings and Queens. But, I think we can make some sense of this feast, even in our own American context, by looking at perhaps our nation’s greatest president, Abraham Lincoln.
In April 1865, the slain body of President Lincoln lay in state for a few hours in Cleveland, Ohio on its final journey from the nation’s capital to Springfield, Illinois. In the long line of people filing by to pay respects to the President was a poor black woman and her little son. When the two reached Lincoln’s body, the woman lifted her son and said to him in a hushed voice, “Son, you take a long, long look at him. That man died for you.”
What was said of Lincoln on that day, can be said in a profoundly deeper way about Jesus as our King. We struggle with the earthly notion of royalty that grants someone sovereign power simply because they were born into the right family. We believe, after all, that you can achieve any height if you work hard enough. Now, Jesus is our King because of who He is – the Son of God. But, He is also our King because of what He did – He died for us; He redeemed each and every one of us; His death on the cross reunited each one of us with God and made us subjects of His Divine Kingdom. So, we take a long, long look at Him. Because, that Man died for us.
And this is the point of our Gospel today. If we were celebrating an earthly understanding of Kingship with its power and triumphant reign, we might instead think of the passage where Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the people throwing palm branches at His feet and crying out, “Hosanna to the King of Israel!” But, instead, we are given Jesus in His final moments on the Cross where He has gone to die for our sins. We are reminded that our King ushers in a reign that is not based on domination, but instead it is based on service and love and compassion. Or as we will hear in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today, Jesus comes to bring us “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.” The ultimate sign of Jesus as our King is not to be found with Him seated high on a throne, but rather to be seen with Him lifted high on the Cross. It is there that He reigns.
A number of years ago, divers discovered a 400 year old Spanish shipwreck buried in water off the coast of Northern Ireland. Among the treasures they found on that ship was a gold wedding ring. Etched into the band was a hand holding a heart and the words: “I have given myself completely to you. I have nothing more to give you.” Those same words could just as well be the words of Christ our King who united Himself with us on the Cross so that we might be ushered into His Kingdom. “I have given myself to you totally. There is nothing more to give to you.”
And we remember today, that Jesus wants to be an inspiring king. He wants us to look at Him; to see how selfless and self-giving He is and for our response to be one of imitation. We should all want to be like our Great King. We should all strive to live up to those same words, “I have given myself totally” – given in service to our brothers and sisters; given in love to our family and friends; given in charity to the neediest among us; given in prayer to those who are lonely and neglected. Let us be like our King. Let us be like Jesus. Let us be defined not by our last name, or where we were born, or how much power or authority we hold over others – let us be defined by these same characteristics of the Kingdom: let us be as kind and loving and joyful and compassionate and forgiving as our King.
Take a long, long look at him. He died for you. My friends, may Christ always reign in our hearts and in our lives as our King; and let remain faithful servants of His reign and help to usher forth His “kingdom of truth and life, of holiness and grace, of justice, love, and peace.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 13, 2022:
Jim was a God-loving, Church-going man. One day there was a flood in his town and the whole town began to fill with water. Jim, however, was not worried. He was certain that God was on his side and would send him a sign to save him. As the water filled the first floor of his house, he went upstairs to his bedroom. Outside his window he saw his friend Fred going by in a rowboat. Fred said, “Hey Jim! Get in my boat and we’ll be safe!” But, Jim replied, “No Fred, I am waiting for a sign from God!” And Fred rowed away. The water got higher and Jim had to climb on his roof. Then he heard an approaching helicopter. “Climb up the ladder and get in the helicopter!” said the pilot. “No thanks,” Jim said. “I am waiting for a sign from God.” The water continued to rise higher and eventually swallowed up Jim. Jim arrived in heaven and approached the throne of God. Jim was not very happy with God and said to him, “Lord, I’ve been a good man all my life! I prayed every day. Went regularly to Mass. Treated my fellow brothers and sisters well. Gave to the poor. I did everything you asked of me. Why did you let me drown in the flood? Why didn’t you send me a sign?” And God said, “Why are you hear Jim? I sent you a friend, a boat and a helicopter! How many more signs did you need?”
Have you ever felt like you just wanted a sign from God? Maybe you’ve been praying about a new job, or new relationship, or some new direction in your life and you’re just not sure which way to go. All you want is God to give you a sign. And, any sign will do. Just a little thunder and lightning, maybe a rainbow on the horizon, or miraculous voice from Heaven – something that is an irrefutable sign from God. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
In our Gospel, Jesus gives a prediction about the end of the Temple, “All that you see here--the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” And what the disciples want more than anything is to know irrefutably when this will happen. They ask Him, “What sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” Lord, just give us a sign!
Now, I’m no different than anyone else and I think of a particular time when I really wanted a clear sign from God. When I was discerning my vocation to the priesthood, I had met other young men who were also hearing God’s call in their lives and some of them shared amazing experiences about the ways that God had given them signs that they should be a priest. I remember going to Church one day and praying, rather aggravated with God. I said, “God, I’m ready to give my life to you as a priest! Why can’t you give me a sign like you gave them?” When I left the church that day, I drove down the street and as I turned the corner and there on a billboard, larger than life, it read, “Are you looking for a sign from God?” Now the rest of it read, “Join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” I didn’t take it to mean that I should become a Mormon, but I did take it to mean that God was gently and humorously reminding me that signs were all around me, if only I took a moment to stop and look and see them.
What God wants us to realize is that signs are all around us – every moment of every day. God is gently guiding us along the way of His will; guiding us to our best selves, our holiest selves. But when what we’re looking for is God to write our sign in the sky, we’re probably missing the many ways that He is already communicating to us. Maybe He is speaking through Sacred Scripture – His word! – maybe He’s communicating to us through the loving and supportive people around us; maybe He is communicating to us through a sense of peace and contentment in our hearts that serves as a kind of confirmation that the direction we’re headed is the right one.
The key is for all of us to stop dictating to God the sign we want – whether the thunder clap; the miraculous voice from heaven; the supernatural special sign; and instead, be open to actual ways that God is talking to us in the very real moments of every day and every person we meet.
A few years ago, Pope Francis reminded us that we encounter Jesus in every day moments. He said, “We find Jesus in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister, because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked or humiliated, because they are in jail, or in the hospital. Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, through these” every day encounters. We encounter God in the everyday moments of our lives; and He is speaking to us in and through these moments. He is speaking to you right now in this church, through this Mass, if only we quiet our hearts to listen and open our eyes to see.
For me, when I stopped dictating to God what signs I would like Him to perform, I realized that He was giving me signs all the time – through my Mother who prayed her rosary every day that I might become a priest; through my second grade teacher, Sr. Louise, who regularly told me, “You know, Tommy, you’d make a wonderful priest.” Through my saintly grandfather who gave witness to a life lived for God. And through my own heart which has always found its deepest peace and God’s clearest voice in the celebration of the Eucharist. God speaks to our hearts here.
And so, as we ask God today the same question as the disciples, “What sign will there be?” let us remember, that the signs are all around us. We only have to pray that God will open our eyes so that we might see them, open our ears so that we might hear them, open our hearts so that we might welcome them; and then have the courage to follow where He leads us.
Lord, give us a sign.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 6, 2022:
What happens to us when we die? Is there any more profound question? I’m sure there’s not one among us who hasn’t asked this question at some point. Especially this week as we spent Tuesday and Wednesday celebrating all saints and all souls, we’ve probably given some consideration to this ultimate question – what happens after we die? All of our Scriptures today are focused on this very question. What happens when we die? Is there a resurrection? November, of course, is a good time to think about these things as the leaves fall, the skies turn gray and we celebrate a month of prayer for our beloved deceased. So what does Jesus have to say to us today about this eternal question?
First, of course, there is nothing more central to our faith than the resurrection from the dead that Jesus came to bring us. Jesus said, “I have come to give life and give it to the full.” And we pray in our Creed each week, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” We can sometimes be confused about the resurrection. After all, when was the last time someone you knew rose from the dead and came back to talk about it? But having questions about the resurrection is not only a modern reality. Even at the time of Jesus there were people who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead – namely the Sadducees.
We heard today, “Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus.” The Sadducees came to Jesus and wanted to prove to Him how absurd it is for any reasonable person to believe in the resurrection. They came up with this story of seven brothers who were all in turn married to the same woman and asked, “In the resurrection whose wife will the woman be?” Jesus replied that it was impossible to understand life in Heaven in the same way that we understand life on earth.
Notice that the problem of the Sadducees has to do with how things are in the resurrected life, but Jesus’ response has to do with the why of the resurrection. His point - there is a resurrection quite simply because our God is God of the living; resurrection is part of God’s very nature. God has created us from the moment of our conception for life and not for death. God does not breathe life into us like bubbles, here now, gone in a moment. No, God gifts us with life even after our time on earth is complete.
Jesus fundamental point is that our hope of life beyond death is not based on wishful thinking or a fear of death. Our belief is based on the nature of God. The God who Jesus reveals is not an unknown, unseen, distant architect of the universe. Our God is the God of the living, and this God of the living is a loving God who wants only one thing from us – our love and our eternal dwelling with Him.
If there is one belief that the men and women of our world need today it is the belief in the resurrection. The resurrection is the only effective antidote to the infectious disease of materialism that focuses all our energy on the here and now, on the grabbing of things, on the destructive nature of power, on the accumulating of money, on the competition of ownership. The resurrection looks at all of that and says, “So what? What did all of that get you? You can’t take it with you!” Nothing that we can obtain or achieve in this life can come close to comparing with a God who loves each of us individually; who loves us eternally; who has counted even the hairs on our heads; and wants only that we be with Him forever in Heaven.
So, what will heaven look like? Heaven looks like the love that God has for us. And, I think in this age of Pope Francis, we are continually shown glimpses of this love. Think of some of the images that stick with us from this papacy: the Pope washing the feet of prisoners on Holy Thursday, his embrace of a young boy with cerebral palsy at Easter. Or the image of Pope Francis embracing a man whose body was covered in disfiguring boils, a condition known as neurofibromatosis. These are compelling images of the kind of love that God has for each one of us; shown through the love of our Holy Father.
It reminds me of the singular moment in the life of St. Francis of Assisi when in the early stages of his conversion, one day he got off his horse, embraced and kissed a leper – the kind of people that he formerly despised - and after he had done that, the man disappeared. He later understood the encounter to have actually been with Christ. That encounter changed the course of his life, he would later describe it this way, “What was once bitter to me had been changed to sweetness of body and soul.” And now Pope Francis does similar things on a daily basis. And perhaps this profound act of God’s love on display for the world to see is meant to change us.
The Pope’s embrace of those so often rejected by the world is an image of the love of God. Pope Francis loves the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity. Few of us suffer physically the way some do. We are typically not disfigured in our suffering. But maybe our scars are on the inside. Maybe there is something in us that makes us feel unworthy of God’s love. Yet our loving God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly and as lovingly as the Pope embraces the world. This is what God’s love looks like. This is what resurrection looks like – our pains, our sorrows, our suffering, our grief – all lifted up and transformed through love into glory, into joy, into eternity.
So, what will heaven look like? What does God’s love look like? Look no further than Jesus. Look no further than our loving Pope. And look no further than the daily opportunities to give and receive love that God places before us every day. The amazing reality is that this love is not limited to God. He invites us to love the same way. And this love will lead us to a share in the resurrection both today and forever.
My friends, resurrection is real. God’s unconditional and unending love for us is real; and it isn’t something that only matters at the end of our lives. It matters every day of our lives and we experience glimpses of it every time we receive or offer the same kind of unconditional love that God offers us. Jesus doesn’t give us the final answers about heaven today, but He does give us the way to prepare for our homecoming – through Him, with Him and in Him. “God is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive.” So, let us live for God. Let us live for Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.