FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 25, 2021:
I had the great privilege of being at Fenway Park on Thursday night as the Red Sox beat the Yankees in a 10th inning walk off. It was my first time being in Fenway since before the pandemic began; and so it was a wonderful night of something resembling our former normalcy. Of course, while I was there we were remembering some great moments in this century long rivalry. Of course, the greatest moment in this Sox-Yankees relationship was the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory ending an 86 year curse. Maybe the greatest moment in sports history. Of course, with the Olympics now underway in Tokyo, I have also been thinking of some of those great sports moments. Like Michael Phelps record 23 Olympic gold medals. But, I think, the greatest Olympic moment would have to be the 1980 winter Olympics when the U.S. hockey team defeated the dominant Soviet Union for the gold medal. This rag-tag group of American amateurs handed a major upset to the seasoned Soviet team who were expected to win gold easily. That game ended with the iconic voice of Al Michaels as he shouted out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” The U.S. hockey team in that moment accomplished what seemed to be the impossible and we still refer to this moment as the “Miracle on Ice.”
Now, of course, in the proper theological sense this was not a miracle, even though it was spectacular, but the question uttered at the end of that game speaks to us today – Do YOU believe in miracles?
We know that our secular world makes no room for miracles or spiritual realities and is instead limited only to what can be observed and verified. We are taught to be skeptical when things seem too good to be true. Today's Gospel is a good example. Some look at today’s story of the feeding of the 5,000 with skepticism. Skeptical scholars question whether or not Jesus actually fed that many people. Maybe the miracle is that everyone shared, they say. But the eyes of faith open us to the possibility that God does indeed accomplish miracles in our midst. Faith tells us that Jesus did feed a multitude, Jesus did heal those who were ill, Jesus did cast out demons, He did raise the official’s daughter and His friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus did Himself rise from the dead, and He perhaps closer to our own experience – Jesus does offer us His real Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the forgiveness of our sins in Confession, and so much more. These things are all spectacular, and beyond the ordinary, but we believe because our faith convinces us that with God anything – in fact, everything – is possible.
In our passage today, John mentions two disciples by name: Philip and Andrew; and they for us represent two types of faith. Philip is the skeptic, not ready to accept a miracle. To the problem of all these hungry people Philip responds, “Two hundred days' wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little,” he says. Andrew, on the other hand, makes room for miracles and so he becomes a partner in one with Jesus. Andrew says, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish.” Now, Andrew was realistic enough to know that five loaves and two fish were nothing before a crowd of more than 5,000, yet he had enough faith to see that it was enough for a start. His faith helped him to see that possibility, to know that with miracles, God builds on nature. Perhaps Andrew remembered the marriage feast at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t make wine out of nothing at Cana; He made it from something – the water presented to Him. Andrew understood that it’s the disciple’s job to provide the basic something which Jesus in His love would then transform, like water into wine; or that He could multiply, like bread and fish to feed a hungry crowd. Expectant faith does not make us fold our hands, do nothing, and simply look to heaven. Rather it encourages us to make our best contribution – our own five loaves and two fish – knowing that without it there would be no miracle. You see, a miracle is not God working for us; it is God working with us and through us, and in turn us working with God.
A skeptic looks at the feeding of 5,000 and says, “That probably didn’t really happen.” But the person of faith looks and says, “5,000 people is that all? Jesus has been miraculously feeding millions, even billions of people through his Body and Blood at Mass for over 2,000 years.” Have you ever stopped to realize that you and I are part of the greatest miracle of multiplication that has ever happened, each and every time we worship? Jesus spoke those words once, 2,000 years ago, “This is my body. This is my blood,” and the Eucharist continues to be multiplied in our presence since then. At every Mass we simply offer Jesus simple bread and wine to work with, and for more than 2,000 years He continually transforms that into His true Body and Blood; His real and abiding presence in our midst.
So, we should believe in miracles, not only because we have faith, but also because we have eyes that see this miracle at every Mass, hands that touch and hold and receive this miracle, and bodies that consume that miraculous bread-become-Body over and over again.
God needs us to do our part and whatever we do, He will multiply, He will transform – often with miraculous results. If we truly believe that Jesus did heal, cast out demons, raise people from the dead, institute the Eucharist, rise from the dead – if we believe these things, just imagine what God can do in our lives if we’re open to Him.
So what have you got to offer Jesus today? He will take anything. He will take our simple prayers and transform them into glory; He will take our simple loves and multiply them into a kinder and more compassionate world; He will even take our sins and transform them into holiness of life. Whatever we bring – no matter how simple, how meager – Jesus will transform in to grace and goodness; joy and peace; happiness and holiness. But, we have to do our part.
Jesus often said, “According to your faith will it be done to you.” Let us pray today and everyday to have the expectant faith of Andrew, to be open to what God wants to do in our lives. Let us today and always bring our meager offering to the Lord with the certainty that He can change it, multiply it, transform it into a miracle. Through our faith, truly miraculous things will happen. Do you believe in miracles?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 18, 2021:
Finish this sentence with me, “One small step for man…” Right, “…one giant leap for mankind.” I was reminded of that famous line as I was reading an article about the first moon landing this week. Tuesday marks the 52nd anniversary of that historic moon landing, which happened on July 20, 1969. I don’t really have a personal memory of the event, as I was 10 months old at the time, but we’ve all seen that famous footage of Neil Armstrong stepping off the ladder of his lander onto the surface of the moon. Maybe you do recall that moment vividly.
One of the more surprising stories of that day, though, is one that is not so widely known, but it is one that speaks deeply of faith. Neil Armstrong, of course, gets all the credit as the first man to walk on the surface of the moon, and speak his famous first words, but the other astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, also did something that was spectacular and profound, as a man of faith.
He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement to the listening world, “I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, prayed. This is his description of the moment, “In the radio blackout, I opened little plastic packages that I had brought which contained some bread and wine. I poured the wine into a chalice my church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the Scripture where Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.’ Then, I ate the tiny host and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think: the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the very first food eaten there, were the elements of holy communion.”
It is amazing to think that among the first words spoken on another world were the words of Jesus Christ, the same One who made the Earth and the moon. It was a humble and holy act of remembrance. “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus said. In the peacefulness of the Sea of Tranquility, Buzz Aldrin had traveled all the way to the moon and remembered The One who made it possible.
This image of the moon landing is a helpful one as we reflect on our Gospel today. Jesus invited His apostles to “come away…to a deserted place and rest awhile.” Now, you cannot find a more deserted place than the surface of the moon, in the quiet place known as the Sea of Tranquility. And of course, the middle of July is a time of year when many of us seek out our own “Sea of Tranquility,” our own quiet place where we try to unwind. It’s summertime which means vacation time. I returned a few weeks ago from my vacation at the beach, which for me is an annual tradition and one of my favorite quiet places.
Summertime and vacation time is an important time to renew our bodies, rest from our work, engage in different, relaxing pursuits. But, we also need to make the time to renew our souls, our spirits, and our faith. This year perhaps more than usual we carry the stress of this pandemic in our bodies, we carry the anxiety of this time in our hearts and minds. We need time to decompress, relax, enjoy – and renew. During my vacation, my favorite times are at sunrise and sunset at the beach. There is something so beautiful and spiritual about those moments; something that connects me deeply to God in creation. It renews me and renews my soul.
Buzz Aldrin travelled all the way to the moon, and his first act was to find that quiet time to be renewed by God. Like him, we too need to find that time to allow God’s abiding presence to renew our souls in the ways that only He can do.
Every Mass, every moment of prayer, is a chance to “go away with Jesus and rest awhile.” Right here in this church is that chance to leave the world behind and exist in the midst of holiness and let God speak to our hearts. Nothing offers us more refreshment and renewal than the time we spend with God immersed in prayer.
My friends, the job of being a faithful Christian isn’t all work. It’s also rest and prayer; renewal and refreshment. It is seeking out a quiet place to find peace we need in our lives. In the chaos of daily life, each of us needs to return to Christ, and to find a deserted place to rest, a sea of our own tranquility for prayer with our God.
As we recall what transpired on the moon more than 50 years ago, let us remember that the deepest and most tranquil sea is one we often take for granted. It is the ocean of God’s love available to us every time we pray. So let us meet God in that tranquil place and let Him renew us one small step at a time.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 20, 2021:
Can I start with a question today and I know this one might be hard to answer publicly. How many of you feel anxious? How many feel like your anxiety has been on the increase during the pandemic and maybe even longer? Thank you for those who had the courage to raise your hands today – know that my hand is raised right there with you. I read an interesting report this week that was on this same issue. Mental health professionals have reported that during this time of pandemic, reports of depression and anxiety have increased by more than 50% over their normal rates.
And we know why. These are incredibly difficult and anxious times. We are fatigued by the ongoing nature of the pandemic; we are heartbroken at the nearly 4 million lives lost to this virus. We worry about our children, about our elderly parents and grandparents; about our job security, food security, housing security. In the midst of all of that is the political and civic polarization that spews vitriol at a nonstop rate. It is a polarization that even makes its way in to the church. Add to that our own daily struggles with family, friends, or co-workers. The hurt feelings, the regretful words, the daily challenges of life.
We can feel as though we are constantly being tossed around by the storm and we don’t know how we will get through it. It is enough to overwhelm us. It is enough to make us feel like the disciples in our Gospel passage today. We find them on the sea with Jesus in the boat. A violent squall comes up out of nowhere. They are being battered and tosses. The waves are crashing over the side of the boat. They are frightened for their lives. They cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” In Matthew’s telling of this story, they are even more desperate, “Lord, save us!” they cry out. “We are dying!”
Where is Jesus in the midst of all of this chaos? Sleeping. “Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.” How could Jesus be so calm during such danger; during such anxiety? We got a hint in our first reading from Job. We remember that Job is perhaps the Bible’s greatest case study of affliction and anxiety. Job has been the victim of one disaster after another. He has lost his children and his possessions, and he has come down with leprosy. Through all this, Job has remained faithful to God. In our passage today, God responds to Job’s pleas. And listen to the interesting words we hear, “The Lord addressed Job out of the storm.”
Isn’t that curious? And yet it is a regular motif in the Old Testament. When God speaks, it is frequently in the midst of storm. From the very beginning in the Book of Genesis, God creates an orderly universe out of primordial chaos. Psalm 18 says, the Lord made “his canopy, the water-darkened storm clouds.” The prophet Nahum said, “In stormwind and tempest he comes.” In Habakkuk, we hear, “At the sight of you the mountains writhed. The clouds poured down water; the deep roared loudly. The sun forgot to rise.”
The point of it all? It is exactly in the most tumultuous moments of our lives, that God wants to speak His calming, loving, peaceful, gentle, quieting words. Only God can calm the storm of our souls. Only God can quiet the anxiety of our hearts. Only God can lead us to seek healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness in all of the broken places in our lives. And only if we rouse Him and invite Him to do so.
Back to our Gospel passage. Once roused, Jesus spoke, “He rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ The wind ceased and there was great calm.” My friends Jesus wants to do the same for you and for me; if only we will rouse Him to address the chaos of our lives; the storms of our destruction; the waves that crash over us mercilessly.
The great St. Augustine spoke of today’s passage in one of his sermons. He said, “When you have to listen to abuse, that means you are being buffeted by the wind. When your anger is roused, you are being tossed by the waves. So when the winds blow and the waves mount high, the boat is in danger, your heart is imperiled, your heart is taking a battering. On hearing yourself insulted, you long to retaliate; but the joy of revenge brings with it another kind of misfortune – shipwreck. Why? Because Christ is asleep in you. What do I mean? I mean you have forgotten His presence. Rouse Him, then; remember Him, let Him keep watch within you, pay heed to Him. A temptation arises: it is the wind. It disturbs you: it is the surging of the sea. This is the moment to awaken Christ and let Him remind you of those words: ‘Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?’”
So, my friends, if you, like me, are feeling the stress of the anxiety of our times; if you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the crashing waves sometimes. If you, like me, sometimes have words you wish you could retrieve, or relationships fractured that you wish were healed; or sins you struggle with and want to overcome; then remember – Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him! Rouse Him to your side. Rouse Him to your aid. Rouse Him to your help. Invite Christ to speak to the storms you are facing those same powerful words, “Quiet! Be still!”
God, through all of time, has spoken powerfully from the midst of the storms of life. So, today, take a deep breath, go to the Lord and wake Him. Let Christ set you once again on calm waters that lead to His peace.
My friends, Christ is asleep in you. Rouse Him once more!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, May 30, 2021:
“God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” We know those words from the great Trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy and they name the mystery of today’s feast. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – this great reality of faith that both draws us into the wonder of God’s nature and confuses us a bit when we try and understand or explain it intellectually. I was never very good at math, but it’s only in the Church that with the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 still equals 1. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet one God.
Our trouble with the Trinity comes when we try to dissect exactly what it means; when we try and come up with precise explanations of how something can be both three and one at the same time. And yet, we still try, don’t we? Most famously, St. Patrick gave the explanation of the Trinity using the image of the shamrock – three leafs, but still just one shamrock. We can spend a long time with furrowed brows trying to wrap our minds around this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself.” Now this statement, I think, helps us begin to get some place helpful. The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself. Or in more simpler terms, understanding the Trinity tells us something about the very nature of God.
Our Scriptures today give us some helpful insight. In our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses describes the intimacy of our relationship with God. He said,” “Did anything so great ever happen before? Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of fire, as you did, and live? Did any god go and take a nation for himself…as the Lord did for you?” St. Paul speaks of God as Trinity in our passage from his letter to the Romans. “Those who are led by the Spirit are children of God….we cry, ‘Abba, Father’....[we are] hears of God with Christ.” In just those passages we encounter a God who is connected, interested, personal, intimate, involved in our lives.
St. Matthew, in the conclusion of his Gospel, sends us forth into the world in the mission of our three-fold God. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; baptizing them in the name of the Most Holy Trinity. Interestingly, though, you won’t find the word “Trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but the nature of God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – is everywhere. Over and over, we are given examples of our God who so loved the world – who so loved you, and me, and every living being – that He gave His only Son so that we might live forever. Love is the nature of God. Love is the nature of the Trinity. And love is what our God in Three Persons invites each one of us to share.
Sacred Scripture also reminds us that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. So, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. And this message could not be more important than it is right now.
As our world begins to emerge from under the weight of the pandemic, for example, let’s not forget the countless and moving heroic acts of love in the words and actions of the many, many women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for and comforting those effected by the virus. The incredible scientists who created and distributed the vaccines worldwide in record time – saving countless perhaps millions of lives. God who is Three-in-One is working in them and through them to share that same love to those suffering through this crisis. You and I have shared in this same love through our smaller acts of love when we have worn our masks, sanitized our hands, gotten our vaccination – in each of these simple moments we have been embracing that love that comes from the very nature of God and sharing it with our sisters and brothers. In those moments, our God in Three Persons has become God in Many Persons – God in you and me and in anyone who responds to the challenges of our world with love.
Understanding the Trinity tells us that God is not only in Three Persons, but God is in many persons because He is in you and in me and everyone who is part of the beautiful world that He created. God is not a loner who exists in solitary individualism, distant and detached from us. God exists in a community of love and sharing – in His very nature He is a Father, loving a Son, loving the Holy Spirit with a love so great that it can’t be contained and spills out into the world – to you and to me. In God’s most inner reality, He is a relationship of love. And our world needs to be overwhelmed with that love today more than ever. Only God’s love can route out what ails us in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.
The racism, violence, and prejudice that have also accompanied this last year and a half are the counter sign of that love; they are a corruption of that divine image. We are called to reflect God’s community of love to everyone – especially those on the margins of our society; especially those the rest of the world doesn’t see; especially those who are treated as less than worthy of the same love. The believer who reflects God’s love doesn’t divert our attention from the violence we see; doesn’t make excuses for the racism and prejudice that is a dark part of our heritage; but instead with every fiber of their being tries to love the world to health, equality, justice, healing, and holiness. God in Many Persons.
God so loved the world that we too might love the world in return. My friends, let us call upon our God in Three Persons and ask Him to once again be God in Many Persons – God in you and in me and in everyone – and ask Him to overwhelm this pandemic at last; to overwhelm any hatred, or racism, or prejudice in our hearts with His love.
The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself; and God in us. Let us be encompassed by that mystery of love and light so that we might reflect God’s love, healing, justice, and peace to the whole world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 23, 2021:
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That, of course, is a line from one of the most quoted speeches of the 20th century – the inaugural address of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. It is an incredible speech; and was one that alerted the world that change was in the air; there was a generational shift. Kennedy stated boldly, “Let the word go forth… that the torch had been passed to a new generation.”
Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, those five words could also sum up the meaning of today’s great feast: Let the Word go forth. In the dramatic events of that first Pentecost, when the bewildered and excited disciples poured into the streets of Jerusalem, they had one purpose in mind: to let the Word of God go forth. And it did. The Word went forth from Jerusalem to Judea, and on to Corinth and Ephesus and Rome and Africa and Spain and even, eventually, in succeeding centuries, right here to America, right here to Fall River.
What began with a few frightened people in a darkened room in Jerusalem has spilled out and touched every corner of the earth. The word has gone forth in every language and is felt and understood in the hearts of billions-upon-billions of people. And it all began on this day we celebrate, Pentecost, often called the birthday of the Church.
Birthday is an appropriate image for Pentecost – especially when we look at it in the bigger Scriptural picture. The word “Pentecost”, means 50th and was for the Jewish people a celebration that took place 50 days after the Passover and was tied to the harvest. For them, this was a day to celebrate the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. There, what were different tribes entered into a covenant with God and with one another and became the People of God. Pentecost celebrated the birth of this new people. We know that the Holy Spirit gives birth to God’s presence in amazing ways. It is through a different kind of Pentecost – when the Holy Spirit descended on Mary – that Jesus was born into our world. And it is through this Pentecost – the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary and the disciples huddled and afraid in that upper room – that the Body of Christ is once again born into the world; this time as the Church. We, too, are part of that miracle. We too are called to continue to bring forth the same Body of Christ into our world today.
It is said that the Church doesn’t have a mission, but that the Mission has a Church. Jesus didn’t come to give us an institution or an organization. Instead, Jesus gave us a mission, “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you;” or in the words of JFK, to “let the word go forth.” Just as Jesus came to reveal God’s love, forgiveness, mercy and joy to us, we are to continue that Revelation, we are commissioned to spread that same Good News to everyone we encounter.
Just as Jesus came to show us how to live, we are called to be the example of Christian love to our brothers and sisters. Just as Jesus was rooted in Scripture, we are called to do the same. Just as Jesus reached out to the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned – we are called to reach out to those in most need in our world today. In short, we are called to be that presence of Christ, the Body of Christ, in the world today. The Holy Spirit descended upon Mary and God was born in our world; the Holy Spirit descended upon the gathered disciples and the Church was born. Today, the Holy Spirit descends upon the bread and wine on our altar, and the Presence of Christ will be born in them; and, today, the Holy Spirit will come upon each of us in this Holy Mass and will be born within us once again – all in he hopes that we will give birth to that Presence of God outside of the walls of this church.
The gift of the Holy Spirit today is a strong reminder to us that God is still right here, in our midst; that God is still truly present. We have not been abandoned by our God, rather, He still dwells among us; He dwells in us, God dwells through us. The presence of the Holy Spirit in us makes good the promise of Jesus, “Know that I am with you always until the end of the world.”
And so as the Holy Spirit of God once again descends upon us in this Mass; upon the Church in this Pentecost – let the word go forth that we will be the people who love and praise our God; let the word go forth that we will be members of His Church going from this place to be His presence of love and joy and peace; that we will go forth sharing His kindness and goodness and gentleness. That we will go forth to be the gentle, forgiving and compassionate presence of God in our world.
“Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of Your love.” And let the Word go forth.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 16, 2021:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” That’s the famous question pondered by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name? It’s a question we’re also invited to ponder today as we hear Jesus say, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me.” Keep them in your name. So, what is in a name? Well, just think of your own family. One of the outward signs that unites a family are the common names we share. Last names and their meanings are important. First names are also important.
For example, I was named Thomas after my great-grandfather. And even though I never met him, a few years ago when I was doing some genealogical research, I discovered we share the same birthday – separated by about a century. But, having that name makes me feel connected to generations that came long before me. And every time someone tells me they are pregnant, I always take the opportunity to remind them what a beautiful name Thomas is. No takers yet. But, isn’t it a source of pride when the newest member of your family becomes your namesake?
Another tradition in naming is to give children a religious name – either a name from the Bible or after a favorite saint. This used to be the common practice, which is why we had so many Michael’s and Anthony’s, and many Mary’s, Maria’s, and Elizabeth’s. This was a popular custom because a name says something, means something. It says something about who we are, and it says something about who we hope to be. Today, though, we live in an age where names come from different sources – movies, television, sometimes just made up to be unique (by the way Unique is also a popular name).
Studies have shown, though, that over the last roughly 10 years, people are returning to Biblical names for their children. For example, among the top 10 boys names last year were Noah, Elijah, James, and Benjamin– all good Biblical or saintly names. Popular girls names are not necessarily Biblical, but definitely spiritual. Girls are being named things like Destiny, Genesis, Trinity and perhaps the most interesting one I saw for last year – the #18 name was Blessings.
So, what’s in a name? We hear in Acts of the Apostles that it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians; a name which means literally “little Christ.” This is a name that each of us has been given through the grace of our Baptism. We too are called Christians. We are called to be little Christ’s going out into the world witnessing to the One in whose Name we have been claimed. As we sing in the familiar hymn, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” It is up to each of us to claim the name we have been given, the name of the daughters and sons of God. It is up to us to live up to that name and all that it challenges us to and all that it promises.
So, what is in that name? Well, in the name of Jesus, the Son of God, since the day of our Baptism, we have been claimed for eternity; named for the Savior, welcomed into the family of God. In the name of Jesus, in this Church today, bread and wine will become His Body and His Blood. In the name of Jesus we will be blessed at the end of Mass. In the name of Jesus, sins are forgiven, the sick are healed, the blind can see, the deaf can hear, demons are driven out, the dead are raised. In the name of Jesus, we can pray for what we need with a confidence that what we ask for in His Holy Name will be granted. In the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we were welcomed into this community of faith and it is in this same name that we will be commended to the joy of Heaven when our final day comes.
“Holy Father, keep them in your name.” Let us allow ourselves to be kept in God’s Name. Embrace the name of Christian that has been given to you. Live as a daughter or son of God; as a little Christ in the world. We pray, in the words of the Divine Praises, “Blessed be His Holy Name.” And may we be blessed in the name He has given us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 9, 2021:
I had two weddings yesterday, which is always wonderful, but was a little extra wonderful given that we haven’t had weddings really for the last year of the pandemic. It was a day of joy. One of the things I shared with the happy couples yesterday was a survey of 4-8 year-old kids who were asked the question, “What does love mean?” You can’t go wrong with advice from toddlers. Here’s what some of them said: Karl, age 5, said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Chrissy, age 6, said, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Danny, age 7, said, “Love is when mommy makes coffee for daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Noelle, age 7, said, “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it, like, every day.” And my favorite one from Bobby, age 7, who said, “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Love is certainly the theme of our readings this weekend. Our second reading the First Letter of John reminded us, “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God.” In fact, our Scriptures today and all week have focused on the nature of love – God’s love for us and His command that we love each other.
But how would we answer our toddler’s question, what is love? Language is such an imprecise thing. Just think of how imprecise the word love is. We use the same word to talk about ice cream, music, spouses, and even God. Surely the way we love ice cream is different from the way we love God. In Greek, which most of the New Testament was written in, there are actually different words for love. The two used in the New Testament are philia or the love between friends (think “Philadelphia” – the city of brotherly love); and agape, which is love in its highest form; a love that is the complete gift of self. Agape is the word used most often in the New Testament and it’s the one that St. John is using today when he speaks of the love from God that we are called to imitate in our own lives.
John today paints for us a picture of God’s love that tells us why we should love, what love is about, and how we are to love. John tells us, “Because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” John reminds us that love is from God, that it finds its origin, its starting point in God. Living a life of love, therefore, is the way to be sure that we know God and that we are children of God; born of God. Do you ever wonder if you’re living your Christian life correctly or well? The way we love is the measure of that success. It is this simple: If we have love in our lives, we have God in our lives; and if we do not have love in our lives, we cannot have God either. God and love are two different words that mean the same thing. You cannot separate one from the other.
For example, we cannot claim to love God and have no care for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, the needy, the sick, and so on. To love God is to love them – all of them; in fact, especially those who are often difficult to love; or who have no love in their lives. To grow in our knowledge and love of God, we must endeavor to grow in our knowledge and love of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need.
So, what does God’s love look like, and how does it differ from natural human love? John gives us a practical example. He says, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.” So, Jesus is what God’s love looks like. Unlike much of human love, which is driven by self-interest, God is moved to love us not because He needed something but because we needed something which only He can give.
Human love starts with the question, “What is in it for me?” God’s love begins with the question, “What can I do for you?” Human love comes because we want to receive something, like feeling good in someone’s company. God’s love it is about giving. That is why God’s gift of His only Son on the Cross becomes the ultimate sign of the way God loves us and the model for the way we should love one another.
Finally, John says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” My friends, God loves us unconditionally, God love us perfectly, completely, personally, and generously; God gives Himself to us in His Son; God’s love is freely, eagerly given.
We can sometimes view the command to love as just one of many things that God asks of us. Today John teaches us that love is, in fact, the only commandment; it is the source and motivation for all the other commandments. It should in fact be what defines our lives as believers. As the hymn reminds us, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” So, how are we loving in our lives? Will they know you and I are Christians because of the way we love?
May God, our loving Father, who is love itself; love incarnate, help us to purify our love for Him and multiply our love for one another, so that we can love as generously and as unconditionally as He loves us.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 2, 2021:
Consider this quote, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who founded the Catholic Worker Movement and who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let that one sink in a little bit as we focus in on our readings today.
As much as Easter is, of course, about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.
I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between these great events and our own life. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect belief from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, constant newness, constant change and return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.
In today’s passage from Acts, St. Paul was still a fresh convert to the faith and newly arrived from Damascus. I hope your ears perked up like mine did at the beginning of the passage: “they were all afraid of him.” Isn’t that stunning? The early Christians knew who this guy was and what he did– he was a persecutor, he was a Christian-hunter. Among the Christians in Jerusalem Paul wasn’t very popular. Nobody trusted him. They even feared for their lives just because he was there. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter we have today, it says, Paul “still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord...” This was one mean guy.
Which brings us back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, first and foremost, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that Paul fell to the ground in that moment and was struck blind and mute for a time. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him; who saw what he could be in and through Christ. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul’s conversion – and believed in him. Today’s reading says Barnabas “took charge” of Paul. Biblical scholars think it was more than that. One commentator suggested that there would not even be a Paul if there wasn’t first a Barnabas – someone who after that tremendous moment of conversion became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas was someone who personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I believe, he was really talking about this. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint.
Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we have come to revere.
To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas didn’t take the route that we too often take when faced with someone or something negative. More often than not, we become sons and daughters of judgment; sons and daughters of gossip; of complaint. But Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”; he loved a man who “breathed murderous threats against them”; and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life.
My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else. Our world of division and conflict needs this kind of Christian encouragement more now than ever.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging the way that Barnabas encouraged; and we just might become saints in the process – just like Paul and Barnabas did. Let us be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven and bringing everyone else along with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 25, 2021:
In my homily for Easter Sunday, I shared a quote from a favorite book of mine. It said, “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” This quote has always struck me so poignantly because in my younger days, I knew what it felt like to be far from God. As a teenager, I was not terribly strong in my faith. In fact, I had only the merest spark of faith. A well-named Doubting Thomas, I simply did not yet know the Lord in any real or personal sense, and I had no idea of God’s plan for my life. But, then in my early 20s, I felt drawn for the first time in my life to the Mass and to the Eucharist; I started on that road coming home to God and the Church. And when I began going to Mass, I started to have powerful experiences of God’s true presence there. The Mass began to speak to me in ways it never had before. I felt the presence of Jesus that I had never felt before. I remember receiving the Eucharist at one of these Masses and in a spiritual sense this was my first Communion because it was the first time that I truly believed and knew in my heart that this was Jesus; and that He was real. And when I met Him personally, for the first time, in that Eucharist, He began to show me who He wanted me to be. It was through meeting Jesus in the Eucharist that I discovered my vocation, my calling, my place in God’s Kingdom.
Today we hear Jesus tell us in our passage from St. John, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and mine know me.” This message of the Good Shepherd is an important one for us because it tells us something important about Jesus, and it also tells us something important about ourselves. Jesus shows us that our relationship with Him is not distant and sterile; but instead it is deeply relational and profoundly intimate. God loves us specifically, personally, individually, and intimately. He knows us, and we know Him. We recognize His voice speaking into the challenges of our lives, and we follow. Jesus reminds us that what He wants more than anything is to know us, and that we intimately know Him.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “You are what You are before God. That and nothing more.” And nothing less. When I started feeling drawn to the Holy Mass so many years ago, I was being drawn into my best self, because it was the version of “me” that God had planned from before time began. Or another way of saying it, as I got to know God better, I got to know myself better; and what God had in store for me. Psalm 139 says it this way, “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” God has known exactly who He wants us to be before we even knew. In the eyes of the Good Shepherd we come to see God more clearly so that He can show us who we are called to be more clearly.
Jesus, as our Good Shepherd, knows each one of us individually. He knows the cares and concerns of our lives. He knows our needs. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. But we first need to listen to His voice. Of course God knows us intimately, but we must take the time to get to know God just as intimately. “The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” God can only reveal His plan for our lives if our eyes are open, our hearts are tuned, and we are seeking that answer, that direction. Our challenge is to create environments that allows us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, so that we can follow where He leads.
The Good Shepherd helps us to see ourselves through the eyes of faith – as God’s daughters and sons. Through prayer, and so profoundly through the Eucharist, we discover that identity. St. Clare of Assisi spoke of the Eucharist as a mirror – the more we look at Jesus, the more we find ourselves reflected back. When we take the time to enter into that personal relationship with Jesus, to listen and recognize His voice, Jesus helps us discover who we are.
If you want to know what Jesus asks of you; if you want to know what Jesus wants you to do; if you want to know your truest destiny – meet Jesus in prayer He will reveal it to you. Create the space to listen to the Shepherd. Find the time to be alone with God. Strengthen or create new prayer habits for yourselves and for your families. If you do, you just might also be renewed in God’s love for you, God’s plan for you, God’s hopes and dreams for your life.
“I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” May each of us hear that voice of Jesus calling us by name, showing us who He has called us to be.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 18, 2021:
In our Tuesday Night Bible Study this week, I was sharing a story from a little-known comedy from the 1990s with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep called Defending Your Life. In the story, Brook’s character Daniel has died, but before he goes to heaven, in a sort of purgatory called Judgment City, he has to literally defend his life before God’s representatives. A successful defense means entry into Heaven. But, my favorite scenes in the movie is an interaction between Daniel and Julia, who one night go to a restaurant in Purgatory. The wonderful thing is that in Purgatory, they serve only the best food; you can eat as much of it as you want; and you don’t gain any weight! So, as the camera pans the restaurant you see people devouring heaping platters of lobsters, steaks, pasta and desserts! Purgatory doesn’t sound so bad, now, does it?! Makes you hungry just thinking about it.
I mentioned this scene to the class because we were discussing a repeating theme you might have noticed in the post-resurrection stories we have been hearing. In every story, Jesus seems awfully hungry. When He encounters the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they stop to have a meal – and they come to recognize Him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus then appears to Peter and others at the sea of Tiberius as they are fishing. Here, after a miraculous catch of fish, He sits down with them and prepares a breakfast.
And of course, we have the passage before us today. As Jesus appears once again, and asks the now-familiar question, “Have you anything to eat?” Jesus is hungry again and we’re told that they gave Him a piece of baked fish and He enjoyed it. We can only come to one deep, theological conclusion – rising from the dead makes you really hungry! I guess Defending Your Life was right! What Jesus wouldn’t give for a Country Buffet!
Now, of course, that’s not the point of these details. But, this focus on eating is there for an important reason. These stories don’t want to merely recall the encounters that Jesus had with His disciples after His resurrection, but they want us to know something important – that the man they encounter is real. The resurrected Jesus is a flesh and blood, breathing and eating human being – just like you and me. What the disciples encounter after the resurrection is not a ghost or a spirit; it’s not a mirage or even an angel. Just like before the resurrection, Jesus is a full human being. This is why we profess in the Creed that we believe in the resurrection of the body. Ghosts don’t eat baked fish. Angels don’t enjoy bread and wine. Spirits don’t get hungry. Humans do and that’s what Jesus is after the resurrection just as He was before.
This isn’t meant to be just an interesting detail for us to pick up. Instead, we are reminded that through our own baptism, we too are welcomed into a life that is eternal with God. That we too will be resurrected, body and soul, one day. We will not be ghosts; we will not be angels; we will not be spirits in the afterlife – we will continue to be human beings who need to eat and sleep, live and breathe, but somehow perfected or glorified through a life of grace in God’s Kingdom where sin and death are no more.
Have you ever thought about the tremendous intimacy Jesus invites into through the resurrection? The resurrection calls us to focus on the body – but not only the Body of Jesus raised from the dead, but, also the Body and Blood of Christ present in our midst at every Mass; the Body and Blood of Jesus that we take into our own bodies to mingle with us, unite with us, as we receive Holy Communion. As St. Augustine said, in the Eucharist “we become what we receive.” The Body of Christ becomes part of us and we are transformed, day-by-day, bit-by-bit, Eucharist-by-Eucharist into resurrection; into eternity.
My brothers and sisters, we keep encountering a Jesus who each week seems to be hungry because it is a reminder to us that we too should be hungry – hungry for the things of Heaven; hungry for the Body and Blood that do not merely nourish us for today, but fulfill all our hungers for eternity. There are many hungers in our lives – a hunger for closeness, a hunger for belonging, a hunger for happiness, a hunger for holiness. Jesus appears on our altar every day with an invitation: Receive my Body and Blood. Take Me into yourselves. Let Me be united with you in the most intimate way possible. Feel my body and blood coursing through your veins giving you life; giving you eternal life. Let Me fulfill your hungers to the full.
My friends, today and at each Eucharist, Jesus wants to be one with us; He wants communion with us through the Blessed Sacrament. Each time we gather, we are becoming more and more what we receive; more and more the Body of Christ together. We are alive today because the Body and Blood of Christ poured out for us; runs through our veins. Let us live in the resurrection Christ promised us at our Baptism and affirms in us at each and every Mass. We believe in the resurrection of the Body – Jesus’ body and ours – and we believe in life everlasting. Amen.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, DIVINE MERCY, April 11, 2021:
In 2016, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” Addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. It has been one week since we celebrated the great feast of Easter – this great feast that teaches us something almost too amazing to be believed – that death has no power over us. Jesus rises, and through our own baptisms, we will also rise with Him. John’s Gospel today tells us of this powerful moment when the disciples are still locked in the upper room. They are confused and filled with fear. All their hopes have been dashed, and the world no longer makes sense. And, what is the first thing that the Risen Jesus says to them? He says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” His first words to the disciples are words of forgiveness and mercy. This is our faith.
Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday that St. John Paul II also named Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal church. The message of this day is the message of Easter – the great fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the gift of mercy. With His death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the gates of Heaven, gates that were closed by our sin beginning with Adam and Eve. In fact, one of the most powerful Easter icons depicts the Risen Jesus grasping the hands of Adam and Eve and lifting them from the grave. Adam and Eve are then the first to experience the mercy that was won for us in Christ.
Just look at how this message of mercy has been affirmed each day during this Octave of Easter. Each day has been a day of mercy and forgiveness as Jesus encounters His own disciples who betrayed Him, denied Him, and abandoned Him. The first thing that the Risen Jesus does is to seek them out, show them His mercy, forgive their sins, and reconcile them. Mercy is the great fruit of the resurrection.
St. John Paul made this a special day for the universal church because of his own devotion to God’s divine mercy. In 2001, he said, “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to God’s Divine Mercy’. Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
And, we have no greater promoter of mercy than our current Pope, Francis. His whole life has been formed, shaped, and directed by God’s mercy. For example, Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. As the story goes, when he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and his plan that day was to propose marriage to his girlfriend at the picnic. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession to him. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully what he described as the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, he felt called and he discovered his special vocation of mercy. That day, he never caught that train. He didn’t go to the picnic; and he never proposed to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that single, extraordinary moment of mercy. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto that he has used as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as, “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Mercy is the fruit of the resurrection. In an Angelus message devoted to the topic of mercy, Pope Francis said, “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
And just as in the Eucharist there is an exchange – we become what we receive; so too with mercy. We receive this mercy that we do not deserve and could never earn; and then are called to extend that same mercy to all those we encounter. The Pope 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 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? God understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Today, my friends, let us receive the gift of God’s mercy. A gift that He showers on us. It is limitless, powerful, overwhelming. And then, let us bear the fruit of that mercy by bringing it into all the broken places in our lives – the broken relationships, the persistent sins, the words spoken that we wish we could take back. All that mercy to bear fruit in your life and the lives of others. Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful. “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Offering mercy changes everything. Let us bring life to the dry bones around us by being agents of God’s mercy. “I have given you an example. As I have done, so too, you must do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021:
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a favorite book of mine called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, even though I read that book a number of years ago, this particular passage is one that I have thought of often during this year of pandemic. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
My friends, on this beautiful Easter morning, we are invited to reflect upon the most amazing event in all of history – something almost too amazing to be believed – that truth that Jesus has risen; that He has conquered even death itself. Today, especially as our whole world is wrapped up in this pandemic; as we are focused on the nearly 3 million dead from COVID around the world, more than 550,000 of them here in our own country – we today once again claim resurrection – for them, for all those who have died, for ourselves, for our world. We remember that God is faithful and wants nothing more than for us to come home to Him.
The story of the first Easter is one that can speak to us so profoundly once again because the message of the Resurrection is a message of triumph and hope; it is a message of presence and love; it is a message of life that conquers death – always, everywhere. While we have gone through a year of quarantine, lockdown, facemasks and social distancing – many places in the world still in the midst of lockdown, it is not all that different from what the disciples experienced on that first Easter. On the first Easter morning, the disciples were not gathered at the synagogue, they were not celebrating with family and friends. Where were they? St. John describes it this way, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Those first disciples, Jesus’ closest companions, on the first Easter were locked in a room in fear. They were in self-imposed quarantine in that upper room as the most amazing event in the history of the world unfolded. In a sense, we can connect with that first Easter, because for the first time in our lifetimes, we know what it feels like to be afraid even to go out. But, let’s not get lost in the comparison. The main difference between the first disciples and us today is that they did not know what we know. They were locked in the upper room because they were afraid of the crowds; they were disheartened because their Savior had died. They did not know – as we know – that the story was not over yet; that the stone has been rolled away; that Jesus had conquered even death itself and had been risen.
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” The disciples locked in their upper room were most certainly weary, bitter, and bewildered. But notice that even their fear could not keep Jesus away. God is faithful and wants us to come home. For the disciples, even their locked doors could not keep Jesus out. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
And He does the same for you and for me today. We may feel locked up because of our appropriate fear and caution about COVID – we can’t do the things we used to do; we can’t do them the way we used to – at least not yet. But, even with our fears and anxieties, Jesus still comes to us. He stands in our midst and says the words we have all been waiting to hear, “Peace be with you. Be filled with the gift of my peace. Let me take your fear, your worry, your anxiety; your weariness or bewilderment – give it to me and replace it with my peace.”
Pope Francis, reflecting on the women who had the courage to leave that locked room and go to the tomb, said, “Today we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, of rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone’, the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on Him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, He comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.”
My friends, today we celebrate the singular event that changed the course of human history, and changed the course of our own lives. We embrace it with the newness that reminds us that God is still faithful; God is still calling. But, today, especially in the midst of this difficult year, we need to embrace not just Christ’s resurrection, but our own as well. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” As we celebrate this holy day, we may find ourselves feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, anxious and fearful, even far from God or far from the Church. But, today our faithful God welcomes us home again; our faithful God enters our homes and our hearts again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
Pope Francis said, “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or am I looking for the Living One? Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek Jesus in all things and above all things. With Him, we will rise again.”
As we reflect on the ways that we feel weary or bitter or broken down by all that life has been dealing us, remember that even these struggles cannot keep Jesus out. He breaks own any walls in our lives, moves aside any stones blocking the way, and stands before each of us and says, “Peace be with you. Peace is my gift to you.” Open your hearts the His presence and allow yourselves to be filled with that peace that comes only from the Risen One.
My friends God is faithful. He has risen, as He promised, and is present to us every moment of our lives. “I am with you always,” He told us. Allow the grace of His resurrection make you a new creation, lift any pain or anxiety, take away any weariness or bewilderment. Allow Him to fill you with His peace.
“Do not be afraid. Behold, He has been raised from the dead.” My you be raised up as well today.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY, March 28, 2021:
Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation so profound that was greeted by an equally profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In fact, the directives after the Passion Gospel are this, “A brief homily should take place, if appropriate.” In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed, is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is not in words, but it is in image, it is in action – it is the Cross.
We find Jesus on the Cross today – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all of time. He is on that Cross because that’s how great His love is for us. Those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is as simple as that; it is as profound as that.
Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, for me, for everyone. Many of us have heard these words so many times that they no longer carry the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His sisters and brothers. He died for us!
And there is no more appropriate moment to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed by all that has happened over this last year. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the Son of God hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – that God has conquered death. There is nothing that we are facing – even in the midst of this pandemic – t that is bigger or more powerful than God. He died for us; and so we are saved. He died for us; and so we will be okay because we are wrapped in God’s loving and compassionate arms. Those arms that once spanned that beam from left to right are now wrapped around you and around me; and nothing in our world is more powerful than that. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and me.
As we proclaim the Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If Christ’s love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that worthy of this kind of love.
My friends, let us allow ourselves to be drawn into the profound silence this day demands – He died for you. Let those words linger all week. He died for you. Embrace those words and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again slowly and reflectively. He died for you. Let the reality of Christ’s Passion make this a truly holy week for us all.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 7, 2021:
I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. Historically, our Church is very important. St. Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest church in the Fall River diocese – so from Attleboro to Nantucket, this is the oldest church. It was built in 1852 replacing a small wooden church – St. John the Baptist – which also once stood on this site. That church was built in the late 1830s. This one was built because of the growing number of immigrant millworkers coming to Fall River. The community needed a church that could hold 1,200 people. Currently we hold 800, but the balcony at the back used to extend all the way around to the front. Later, in 1904, when our diocese broke away from the Diocese of Providence to become the Diocese of Fall River, this church took on another notable role becoming the Cathedral Church of the then-new diocese.
So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer the spiritual reason – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.
A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.
And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We bless ourselves with holy water, and make the sign of the Cross. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him. We act differently here than any other of the many places we go to.
And this brings us to our Gospel today. Today’s passage is the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.
But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living, breathing temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.
Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us. And if we treat this building – these stones and windows – different than we treat other buildings; then the same should be true of the Temple of our bodies. Do we treat our own bodies – by what we say, what we do, the things we engage in – do we treat this temple, our personal temple, with the reverence that it deserves?
”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.
My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, February 28, 2021:
Imagine the scene we just heard unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment and take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Now we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; but hopefully, we have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
For me, it called to mind our twice weekly Grab & Go meals at our Pope Francis Outreach Center. For almost a year now, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been offering two hot meals a week – every Wednesday and Friday – to anyone in our community experiencing food insecurity. We have been providing roughly 350 meals every time we do this. We will have provided over 40,000 meals when we reach that one year mark next month. Each week, this simple gesture of providing a meal gives us countless examples of experiencing the presence of Christ in our everyday lives. These have become moments of true transfiguration.
Let me share on particular encounter one of our volunteers had. She shared, “A gentleman I met expressed to me how grateful he was receiving the meals that we offer but especially the whole turkey we offered at Thanksgiving time. He wanted to make soup with it, but didn’t have anything to put into it. Then, he remembered we also offered fresh produce boxes and they had everything he needed. He made the soup, but then instead of keeping it just for himself, he gave it away to as many others people as it would feed, knowing they could use it too. He said that his mother told him to always have faith and God would take care of you.” You see, he saw God’s care for him in our food distribution, and he used that moment to be God’s care for those around him. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for me.”
This volunteer said, “In the beginning when we gave the food we would always say ‘God bless you’ to the people receiving it. For many months now, most of them say it to me before I do. People are not only in need of the food, but just as much, they are looking forward to interacting with us; to having a little bit of kindness and holiness in their day.”
My friends, this is Transfiguration if our eyes – like those of Peter, James, and John – are opened. Jesus continually takes us up the mountain of transfiguration and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changes the lives of our volunteers feeding the hungry. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Transfiguration is meant not to be limited and infrequent – it is meant to be multiplied. We see Jesus before us; and then multiply that presence in and through our lives.
My friends, let us open our hearts today to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. As we see Jesus revealed to us in the Holy Eucharist once again today, let us also turn our gaze to one another; to the world around us; to those on the margins – and recognize that Jesus is there too. Let us multiply this Transfiguration over and over and over again. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again His luminous presence in our world.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2021:
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “When on Ash Wednesday we hear 'you are dust,’ we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life forever."
My thoughts today are still stuck reflecting on our beautiful Ash Wednesday celebrations this week. We had a wonderful turnout for our COVID times, and particularly moving for me where our drive-thru ashes offered outside of the Cathedral in the afternoon. More than 50 cars pulled up filled with people who otherwise do not yet feel confident coming to in-persons services during the pandemic. It was wonderful for me, as your pastor, to see so many parishioners who I haven’t seen since all of this began nearly a year ago.
Ash Wednesday is so moving because it is one of the most authentic movements of faith that we see each year. None of us are obliged to attend on Ash Wednesday. It is not a holy day of obligation. It is an optional celebration. And yet, ask even the most marginal Catholic and they will tell you, “I have to get my ashes.”
I experienced Wednesday as a profound sign that says that even though there may be many people who do not attend Mass each week, there is still an incredible hunger for the divine, a yearning for something greater than ourselves, a desire for something more meaningful than the superficial pleasures the world has to offer, and even a deep recognition that we are sinners in need of God’s abundant mercy. This is true any normal year; I think all of these things are multiplied in these challenging times. We still desire that closeness to God in the depths of our hearts. And, I think, there is something profoundly humbling about placing ashes on our heads – something that roots us once again in God, reminding us of who He is and who we are in His sight.
Just think of the symbolism. On a very natural level, the ashes we receive are a reminder that all things end. They remind us that our time on earth is limited, that we will one day return to the dust from which we came. As we pray at a funeral Mass, “O God, who have set a limit to this present life, so as to open up an entry into eternity...” Our time on earth does not last forever, it has a limit. But, even that limit is a sign of new life – it opens up an entry into eternity.
Our ashes represent this cycle so beautifully. The ashes we scattered on our head as a reminder that we are dust, just a year ago were the vibrant and green palms that welcomed Christ and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have now replaced those “hosannas” of last year with the cry, “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” This paschal cycle of life, death, and new life is renewed once again as we enter into this sacred season.
Pope Francis, in his homily on Ash Wednesday last year, gave an incredibly evocative reflection on the phrase, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” and those ashes that we receive. He said, “Ashes are a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.” He said, “Lent is a time for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.” Not to remain ashes, but to be transformed from ashes to newness of life.
You know, scientists tell us that the matter that makes up every human body originally began as the matter of the stars. Every atom in our body started out as the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen of a star. That means that we are all literally composed of star dust – each one of us. And, I think God did that on purpose so that we will know from the moment of our creation is that our origin is luminous and our destiny is to shine just as brightly. From the origins of the universe until our individual births, we were created to be luminous beings. Our Lenten journey begins with that same dust on our heads as a reminder that these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving are all meant to renew us so that we can again shine the light and love and mercy and compassion of Christ more brightly than before. To become luminous once again.
The Holy Father said, “We are precious dust that is destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory. We are dust that is loved by God.”
My friends, “You are dust and to dust you will return.” But embrace that identity and all the luminosity it promises. Yes, we are dust – but we are dust that is loved by God. God loves every luminous part of your being and wants nothing more than for you to shine with the brightness of a thousand stars. And so, my friends, let us allow ourselves to be loved by God. Let us invite God to shower us with His forgiveness and mercy, especially during these 40 days. Let us remind ourselves of our preciousness in God’s sight – so precious that He created us out of the stars themselves.
As Rahner said, “We are nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; and dust that is God’s life forever.” May we all have a holy and luminous Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2021:
There is a sweet quality to our gathering here today as we once again enter into the season of Lent and begin our 40 day journey of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving that will lead us all the way to Easter Sunday. I say a sweet quality because last year, we gathered to begin our 40 days as we do each year; and then just two weeks later, it was taken away from us as we entered into a lockdown and quarantine that would last all the way to the summer.
As we went into lockdown last year and public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other sacraments were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious and difficult Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or in-person faith formation. It was the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, is that it was also a fruitful fast. St. “Padre” Pio said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” We know the meaning of these words more profoundly than we ever have before because of the year we have endured.
My hope as we gather today – once again in person; once again with all of the hopes and expectations of what this Lent will offer – is that if last year was the most difficult Lent of our lifetimes, let us make this year the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. Because we desperately need that holiness. We know the proverb that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts during this year of pandemic, we should be profoundly hungry for the things of God; profoundly hungry for the Eucharist that nourishes us; profoundly hungry for the grace of forgiveness that we find in Confession; profoundly in need of the connections we find here in the midst of the assembly; profoundly desperate for the holiness that can only be found through faith, through the sacraments, through the church. Sometimes you have to lose something to know what we you had.
So my encouragement to each one of us today is to make this a holy Lent; in fact the holiest Lent of your life. Do not let today be just like every other Ash Wednesday you’ve experienced. We heard the Prophet Joel’s plea, “Even now, says the Lord return to me with your whole heart.” God doesn’t want just part of us. He doesn’t want lip service. He doesn’t want superficial sacrifices during these 40 days. God doesn’t want us to engage in a Lent that is barely noticeable. He wants our whole heart. He wants everything. And He wants that because when we give everything to God, in return we receive everything; we receive nothing short of holiness.
Pope Francis said today, “Lent is a journey of return to God and an opportunity to deepen our love for our brothers and sisters. God is appealing to our hearts and our entire being, inviting us to Him. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends.”
This is what our Lent can be about – returning home to God on whom everything depends; allowing God to overwhelm us with His love, satisfy us with the Eucharist, and restore us with His mercy. God doesn’t hold back. God doesn’t try and keep His presence from us. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to be completely immersed in the healing waters of His mercy, completely satisfied with the Bread that comes from Heaven, completely filled with holiness by embracing these days of Lent.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself; so that He who has given Himself completely to you, can receive you completely.” This is the divine exchange that we are invited into today and all through Lent. God wants to give Himself to you and to me completely. And He asks that we do the same.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for you to shower you with His love and His mercy. Let us plan these 40 days well so that everything we do has one goal – to till the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the gift of His love, His mercy, His presence there; so that we might be transformed into those same gifts for the world to see. Our God waits for us so that this Lent might not be just another Lent – but that in fact it might become the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. And that will make all the difference.
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 14, 2021:
In 1981, violinist Peter Cropper, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. The Royal Academy of Music in London had loaned him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius violin for use in the concert. The violin takes its name from its maker, Antonio Stradivari, who made it from over 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. The special sound of a Stradivarius has never been duplicated.
Peter arrived in Finland with the rare and beautiful instrument for his concert, however, as he was walking on stage for the performance, he tripped and fell, landing on top of the priceless treasure, breaking it into several pieces. He flew back to London in a state of shock. However, his good fortune was a master craftsman named Charles Beare who worked for well over a month to attempt to repair the violin. Once he had it back together, came the dreaded moment of truth – what would the violin sound like?
Beare handed the violin to Cropper, who’s heart was pounding inside his chest as he picked up his bow to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, it even sounded better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on a worldwide tour, beginning in New York at Carnegie Hall and the precious violin that everyone thought ruined drew standing ovations everywhere it went.
The story of this violin is a helpful in understanding what is going on in our Scriptures today. Both our First Reading and Gospel passage talk about something that is not really a part of our daily lives anymore – the scourge of leprosy. It was something more commonly seen in ancient times and even just a century ago – we recall saints like Saint Marianne Cope and Saint Damian of Molokai who cared for lepers in Hawaii about 100 years ago – but in our own world today, encountering people with this difficult disease is not a part of our regular life. But, in ancient times, people were terribly afraid of encountering a leper; afraid that they themselves might catch the disease from them. The leper’s life was difficult to say the least. People turned away at their sight and even Psalm 31 tells us from the leper’s perspective, “Those who know me are afraid of me; when they see me in the street, they run away. I am like something thrown away.”
To this tragic figure, Jesus responds lovingly and with compassion, not turning or running away, but moving close, touching the man and healing him. The story of the leper, like the story of the violin, both serve as a metaphor for our contemporary experience. The remind us of something that happens over and over in life. Too frequently tragedy strikes our lives – perhaps a loved one dies, or a friend betrays us, or an accident leaves someone disabled, or we or someone we know loses their job, or we know people suffering from the challenge of addiction. The list can go on.
When struggle, challenge and even tragedy strike our lives, we can be overwhelmed and crushed, just like the leper must have been when he realized the disease he had contracted. We can be plunged into shock, like Peter Cropper when he broke the precious violin. But, both of these stories remind us that, with Jesus, there is nothing that we can’t survive; there is nothing that we can’t recover from; that there is no moment from which we can’t pick up the pieces and begin again.
Like the craftsman who fixed the violin – Jesus is always waiting to repair whatever is broken in our lives. That and more. Jesus can take our brokenness and transform it into something better and more beautiful than it was before. St. Paul sums it up this way in Second Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we are not discouraged.”
This, my friends, is the Good News of our Scriptures today – that even bad news can be transformed through faith. That Jesus can transform our challenge and suffering into something beautiful and more precious if we surrender it to Him and invite Jesus into the middle of it. Our story, our faith, always ends with resurrection and renewal. It never ends at the Cross.
Let me conclude with an old prayer that you may have heard before:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 7, 2021:
Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. And it is a particularly relevant question in the midst of this year of pandemic. There is a lot of suffering in our world, and it is natural for us to want to know why.
Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture – the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job had lost everything – his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”
Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer; or trying to understand this virus that has taken 2.3 million lives around the world in less than a year; nearly half a million of them here. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.
Job reminds me of the mother of a good friend of mine. Her name was Adele and she passed away a number of years ago. She was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid it or ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith in the transformative power of suffering.
The dramatist Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering is an opportunity to participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an invitation to be united with Christ on His cross; to be united in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence; giving it meaning; making it holy.
So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. Job, for example, was righteous and did nothing wrong to warrant his suffering. And when we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to allow God to transform our suffering. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that it is Job, even in the midst of his suffering, who proclaims one of the most famous statements in Scripture: “I know that my redeemer lives.”
So, my friends, tonight, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world; especially the suffering from this pandemic – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and transform it into nothing short of glory.
May the Lord fill you with His presence tonight – especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 31, 2021:
Let me ask you a question. Do you think you know who is going to win the Super Bowl next week? I’m a bit torn this year. Of course, what Tom Brady has done is so impressive making it to his 10th Super Bowl, but I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven him yet for leaving us. Regardless of how we all feel, though, today we don’t know how the game will go next week. Just like we don’t know who will win the World Series next Fall or any other event. You see, not knowing is a part of our human condition. It is our lot to live, sometimes uneasily, with uncertainty. There are many occasions in life where it would be great to have a chance to “ask the audience” or “phone a friend,” but instead we’re stuck with not knowing; we must live in the moment and experience things as they unfold.
Our Scriptures today, though, paint a very different picture. In place of our normal state of uncertainty and unknowing, we are given images of authority and clarity, wisdom and knowledge. In our first reading, Moses foretells the authority we’ll see in Jesus, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” And Jesus shows that authority in our Gospel. As we heard, “The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.”
Our passage shows Jesus as an invited speaker at the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. Those gathered were wondering what He was going to say, and how He was going to say it. It was the typical practice of rabbis to build on the teachings of their predecessors. They would often refer to explanations given by more famous rabbis in the past to give greater credibility to their own. They spoke on someone else’s authority. The people in our Gospel passage today are astounded at Jesus words because He doesn’t speak on the authority of great rabbis of the past. He speaks with His own authority, which comes from Him alone as the Son of God. And His Word, His authority is effective. Notice His dealing with the unclean spirit. Jesus merely speaks and the unclean spirit comes out of the man, just like that.
This reminds us of God’s own voice that we hear of in the Book of Genesis. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When He said, “Let there be dry land,” there was dry land, and so on. God’s word is active and creative and does not rely on any other power or authority. It is a power all its own.
Jesus, the very same Word of God in human form, shares in this same power and authority. He speaks differently than everyone else. If He were simply a rabbi or a scribe, He’d have explained the Law of Moses to them. No more, no less. If He were only another prophet, He would simply have handed on the Word of God to them. He would have said, “Thus says the Lord…” But, Jesus speaks for Himself. He is God’s voice, God’s authority. Small wonder then, that they were so amazed at His words. After all it was like no other teaching before.
My friends, when Jesus says, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven,” it isn’t a suggestion. It happens; they are gone as though they never existed. When He says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood” His word is so powerful that it not only created the Eucharist that night of the Last Supper, it created every Eucharist that would ever exist throughout all of time – that’s what we connect with sacramentally here today and at every Mass. Jesus Body and Blood are as truly present on this altar as they were in the Upper Room on the night of the Last Supper. Psalm 33 tells us that “He spoke and it came to be. He commanded and it sprang into being.” His words created the universe. His words forgive sins. His words change bread into Body. His words change our lives.
And, what’s even more incredible, is that Jesus continues to speak with this authority today to each and every one of us. He says with authority to you and me the same powerful words: “Your sins are forgiven”, “This is my Body”, “Behold I make all things new.” And so imagine what Jesus can do in our lives. Imagine the impossible situations that we believe we’re in sometimes; the type of situations that we think can never change, can never be made better, that we must simply accept. The moments of loneliness, or broken relationships, or grief and sorrow. Jesus wants to speak His word into those moments of our lives. Jesus word isn’t only about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood – His word is about changing this broken world into the Kingdom He promised us – one that reaches out to the margins, to the dark places, and even into our very own lives and hearts.
So think today about where you need to hear Jesus word spoken with authority in your life. What can Jesus transform and heal and make whole in our hearts? The relationships He can restore, the sins He can overcome, the hearts He can mend, the compassion He can extend, the love He can show, the world He can change – if only we ask Him to speak His Word – a Word of power and authority unlike any other to have ever been spoken – to speak that Word to our hearts. He will speak and we will be made new.
“The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.” Let the word of Jesus spoken again here today change you, heal you and make you new – and let us take that word to the world around us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 24, 2021:
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn't always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours.”
These are the words of a young woman, Amanda Gorman, from perhaps the most stunning moment this week as our nation went through it’s every-four-year moment of civic liturgy with the peaceful transition of power. I think one of the things I always find moving about inauguration is that it brings all of our nation together – it doesn’t matter who you voted for, or what side of the various arguments you find yourself on – this is a day to celebrate America, to celebrate democracy, to be united – even if that union is brief.
As always, I am in awe once again as our Scriptures today speak so powerfully to the moment in time we find ourselves in. Amanda mentioned braving the belly of the beast, a reference to the story of Jonah in our first reading today. I think Jonah is a good prophet for our times, for this moment, even though, when you look at the story, Jonah was not a good prophet. He was an angry one, who did not want to bring God’s message of mercy to his enemy.
As a child, I had one of those illustrated children’s Bible’s that I’m sure many of you had. In particular, I can still vividly remember the engaging and dramatic illustrations that helped the stories come to life. I think of the image of Noah’s Arc being tossed by the storm. Or the dramatic scene from Mark’s gospel of the man being lowered through the roof of the house by his friends so that Jesus could heal him. And, of course, I remember Jonah with the dramatic picture of him being coughed onto the beach from the belly of the whale, the belly of the beast, which brought him to Nineveh.
Our passage today picks begins right after that moment. It’s an understatement to say that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. In fact, that is the whole point of the whale. God came into Jonah’s life and gave him this great mission – to be His prophet and to proclaim a message of healing, unity, and mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to do this. For Jonah, the Ninevites were his greatest enemy. This was the capital of the empire that had conquered Israel. The city itself was a den of iniquity – full of godlessness, immorality, and corruption. He would have gladly brought them a message of doom – “The end is near; soon you will be punished.” But mercy? Never. In fact, Jonah ran the other way trying to get as far away from this task as he could. But God would not relent – He sent a storm to topple the ship Jonah was fleeing on, and then a great fish to swallow him up and bring him back to Nineveh.
Jonah eventually complies with God’s request – but barely. The great surprise to Jonah is that as soon as these “godforsaken” people heard his message of repentance, they received it with eagerness, they repented with sincerity – from the King to the most lowly – and they regained God’s mercy and forgiveness. They found God in their lives again. Happy ending, right? Not for Jonah. After his enemy repents, Jonah is angrier than he was in the beginning. We’re told, “This greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry…[He said], ‘O Lord, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ Jonah left the city, built himself a hut, and waited under the shade, to see what would happen.” Jonah’s heart was full of hatred for his enemy; and it blinded him to what God wanted to do.
And this is why I think Jonah is a helpful prophet for our times. His story shows us, as Scripture often does, that nothing is impossible for God. God can change the hearts of even the most godless people, and if we preach His message, we can be part of that change, we can be a partner with God in bringing forth goodness, healing, mercy, and forgiveness. But, how often are we more like Jonah? We don’t want what’s best for our enemies, or those we disagree with, we want their destruction. Our victory can only come through their defeat.
But God is calling us to something better; something bigger; something holier. When we look at those with whom we struggle – can we wish what’s best for them? Can we hope for their goodness? Can we pray for their holiness and conversion of heart? Can we help them to change? Or do we only wish their defeat.
My friends, the message for us today is that what God asked of Jonah, He asks of us. God wants each one of us to be His witnesses, His servants, His messengers. He wants us to deliver His message that no one is beyond His love, no one is beyond His forgiveness; no one is beyond the ability to be changed from darkness into light, from sorrow to joy, from even sin into glory – all by the loving mercy of our God. And this should be our deepest wish for our enemies; not their destruction, but their reception of all that God promises.
My brothers and sisters, God is still sending each of us on mission to Nineveh. He wants us to bring His Word to all of the places where it is missing; even to the places that seem the farthest away from Him; even to those we might consider an enemy, or unworthy of that call. God invites us to be the Good News spoken to unimaginable places and impossible situations. The good news for us is that these hopeless cases are not hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can any situation we encounter in life. Nothing – no difficulty, no hurt or pain, no illness, no broken relationship, no sin, no division or disagreement – nothing, is beyond the power of God to heal, to change, to turn into glory.
Let us pledge to be missionaries of God’s loving and merciful message; and in doing so be the instruments of peace and unity that our world so desperately needs right now. Let me end as I began, with some of the words of Amanda Gorman:
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it
And yet, the dawn is ours.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 17, 2021:
Jesus asks what is perhaps the most fundamental question of faith in our Gospel today. He says, “What are you looking for?” Of all the things that Jesus says throughout the Gospels, this is the foundational question that every follower of Jesus has got to ask at some point in their journey with the Lord. What are you looking for? It’s a profound question and I think John’s Gospel wants us to hear it that way. John wants that question to hang in the air a bit to let it do its work on us.
And, I think it is given even greater weight in the midst of our world today. In the midst of a global pandemic, in the midst of the anger, violence, and division in our nation, in the midst the challenges facing our economy, and food insecurity, and renewed racism and prejudice – Jesus wants to know, “What are you looking for?” or more directly, why are you here?
There is an interesting, and even humorous, pattern in John’s Gospel. In John, Jesus often makes such deep and profound statements, and those He speaks to just as often miss the point. For example, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to see the kingdom, “you must be born again, from above.” Nicodemus misses the point as he tries to figure out the logistics of being physically reborn, “How can a person once grown old be born again?” he asks. Or when Jesus says to the woman at the well that He can give her living water springing up to eternal life, she responds, “Where are you going to get that water? You don’t even have a bucket!”
Similarly in today’s passage, when Jesus asks the disciples, “What are you looking for?” he’s asking them the deep, profound question of faith. Their response, “Where are you staying?” It reminds me of the early days of St. Francis of Assisi’s conversion. In a spectacular and miraculous moment, Jesus spoke to Francis from the cross in the chapel of San Damiano. Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see has fallen into ruins.” St. Francis physically and literally rebuilt four churches before he realized that Jesus was calling him to lead a renewal of the universal church, a renewal of faith in the people – not become the church’s new contractor.
And as we look at these challenging situations all over our world, and especially here in our nation – mostly by people who call themselves Christians – it can seem like perhaps we too need to refocus ourselves on what it means to be a believer; on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. What are you looking for?
The reality is that it is too easy to miss the incredible experience of the living God that is presented to us over and over. Just think of the Eucharist. This is the most incredible encounter with God possible on Earth. God miraculously transforms mere bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of His Son, and more incredibly invites us into the same transformation by our reception of the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, how often do we come to Mass with eyes that are not fully open to this miracle before us? We come from the busyness of our lives; we come consumed with our cares and concerns; we come with a sort of boredom because even this miracle can become ordinary. And yet, God will come down upon this altar once again today; and He wants to enter our lives once again today. What are you looking for?
Today, Jesus is asking us that critical question once again, “What are you looking for?” Why are you here? Let us not be so dulled to the question; let us not be so engrossed in worldly things that we miss the invitation right in front of us. When Jesus asked the first disciples, “What are you looking for?” it was His way of seeing what they think is important, what matters? Because if they are going to follow Him, they will have to discover what is important to Him. Their response, simply because they don’t seem to grasp His deeper meaning, is to ask, “Where are you staying?” Although they don’t understand the question, it isn’t really a bad answer. It says that they are willing to learn. They are willing to spend time with Jesus. Jesus responds, “Come and see,” and they go stay with him. There they begin learn from Jesus what really matters. They learn what it means to be invited into His kingdom of love, compassion, joy, and forgiveness.
To the question, what are you looking for, there is really only one answer: I’m looking for holiness; I’m looking for peace; I’m looking for unity; I want to be like Jesus – these are all the fruits of the believer. The other things that are so prominent in our world today – anger, violence, and division – these are fruits too, but they are not the fruits of faith; they are the fruits of the Great Deceiver, the Evil One.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday on Monday, it is fitting that we reflect on what his life of faith taught us about what matters. He showed us that what matters is the unity of humanity; what matters is peace, dignity, justice, and love. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” These are the kinds of words that our nation needs to hear now, perhaps more than anytime in our past. Unity, peace, dignity, justice, and love. Perhaps this is what we should be looking for. And these words don’t need to come only from the likes of Dr. King – they should be the words on the lips of every believer – these should be the words that come from you and me because of the One we follow.
So Jesus places the question one more time before us: what are you looking for? If you are looking for a life of meaning; if you want to be part of what heals our nation; if you want to be a beacon of hope, a source of compassion, an instrument of peace – then you can find it and in fact have found right here as God once again reveals Himself to us all. Let God transform you once again by His presence, let God transform you into His presence and then go from this place to live that truth out as a disciple of the Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 10, 2021:
I’m going to be very honest with everyone today – I’m struggling with finding the right words to say. We celebrate today the Baptism of the Lord, the end of our Christmas season; normally a moment to beautifully bring to an end our reflection on the birth of Jesus and His early years; to sing once again our Christmas carols before we put them away for another year. But, instead, it is the swirling tides of indignation, anger, resentment, division, violence, and fear in our land that weigh so heavily on my – and I’m sure your – heart today. How did we get here?
We have reached a moment that was previously unthinkable; a moment that is terrible; a global embarrassment; a moment that is the antipathy of the values we hold dear as the great democracy we aspire to be. Or perhaps the events that unfolded this week were predictable if we look at the ever increasing polarization, division, and combativeness of our society over the last several years; maybe this explosion of terror and violence was the unavoidable result of the path we have been on. What we have seen unfold in the span of the last two months in particular has been a nation that has disregarded common decency, rejected mature and civil discourse; thrown aside respect for the dignity proper to every human being no matter their race, creed, or political persuasion. And the result was the violent assault on the heart of our democratic government; an assault that has taken the lives of five fellow citizens.
What are we to do? What can we possibly say in the midst of this? Well, I think that the feast we celebrate today can help us remember who we are and what we are called to be. As always, I believe it is our faith that can help direct us through these dark and murky waters – if we will follow where the Lord leads.
As I mentioned, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus today. Have you ever stopped to ask why Jesus was baptized? Baptism, after all, is for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism places us in relationship with God. Jesus – of all people to ever exist – doesn’t need baptism. We know this. So why would He choose to be baptized?
The best response I have heard to this question comes from Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth . Let me share a bit of what he said. He writes, “The real novelty is the fact that Jesus wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. Baptism was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could even do?”
Jesus doesn’t need the newness of life that we need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His sin, whose sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “Looking at [this baptism] in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of [humanity’s] guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross…The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity.”
In other words, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – it is there that He frees us from them. It is in the waters of the Jordan that Jesus steps into the place of sinners, into our place. In the Jordan, Jesus united Himself with us; and in our own baptism, we are united with Him – so that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, we can be saved. Again, the Pope writes, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising with him. That is the way to become a Christian.”
This is the image that I think can give us some help today. We are meant today, not to reflect only on Jesus’ baptism; we’re called to be reminded of our own and of the divine exchange that took place there – Jesus took on our sins; and we took on His holiness. Jesus made Himself like us; so that we will make ourselves like Him. If this week has shown us anything, it has shown us that we are not living up to our end of that baptismal bargain. What we see in our nation right now – whether in the extreme as insurrectionists tried to overthrow our democratic government; or closer to home as we engage in angry arguments with others in person or online – what we see is a failure to identify our lives with the One who saved us; to identify with the One who stepped into the waters of the Jordan to lift the burden of our sins off of our shoulders and take them onto His own. We’re meant to be like Him because of our baptism.
This week, as these tragedies have unfolded, I keep thinking of the profound words of Abraham Lincoln, our great president who forged unity out of our greatest moment of division. In his first inaugural he reminded us, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
My friends, in the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place, so that we might be free. We have let Him down and have put on public display how stuck we remain in sin. Today, let us ask Jesus to renew in our hearts; to renew in every heart, the grace of baptism. Jesus has already stepped into our place. We must again be the ones to step into His place and be the ones to bring His peace, His healing, His reconciliation, His compassion into our deeply wounded world. Let us again be touched by the better angels of our nature, let us remember that we are not enemies, and let us pray, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
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;
And where there is sadness, joy.
May the Lord heal our nation; and may He give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH, December 27, 2020:
In my homily for Christmas, I mentioned that the birth of Jesus invites us to remember a simple, but essential, truth – that the God we worship is real. That He became one of us; and when He came, He didn’t just appear magically out of thin air. No, when God decided to come to earth as one of us, He appeared in the world the same way we do – as part of a family – a family that begins with Abraham and Sarah, a family that includes King David and King Solomon, one includes Joseph and Mary – and one that includes us. A real family with real people just like you and me.
Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take a moment to reflect a bit more deeply on that same reality. Christmas, as we know, is not done in a day. Maybe it is in our secular world, which is already turning its attention to New Year’s, and soon after Valentine’s Day and then whatever other opportunity to sell more things comes along. But, here in the Church, this reality of Christmas, the truth that the Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us; this reality takes time for us to properly pray with. In fact, we will continue to celebrate Christmas for a few more weeks as we consider the Holy Family, then the Epiphany, and finally the Baptism of Jesus.
All of our songs, our symbols and our prayers are inviting us to draw more deeply into the experience of the incarnation of the Lord. One of those profound ways we enter into this moment more deeply is through our beautiful Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. We have large beautiful ones here in our church, and we have them in many forms large and small in our homes. One of my most treasured ones is in my room in the rectory. It is very simple. A few pieces of wood hammered together, a ziplock full of hay that has been with the manger at least as long as I’ve been alive, and some very inexpensive figurines. But, it is special because it has been in my family for a long time and is the manger that I remember most profoundly from my own youth. It reminds me not only of the scene it represents – the birth of Jesus, but it also call to mind countless meaningful Christmases as a child; and since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, it reminds me deeply of her.
If you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was St. Francis of Assisi who originated this custom in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to literally enter the scene of Jesus birth to understand the impact of that momnt. He wanted to imagine what it was like. This was obviously a popular gesture as we know it is now shared all over the world.
Today’s feast in particular invites us to reflect on the fact that when God chose to come to us; He chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but very simply He entered the world within a family. And, reflecting on our Christmas Nativity, it also tells us that He chose to enter humanity in some unexpected ways – as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head; as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a refugee, as they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. And, He chose to enter our world completely and utterly defenseless - as a little baby, someone helpless and relying upon the assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.
God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very same image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning?
Our Christmas mangers are an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their head. And every day there are thousands of people around us right here in our own community who are also homeless, or hungry, or unable to meet their most basic needs. As we encounter these people, do we see the similarity between their image and the image of the Holy Family? “When did we see you Lord? What you did for the least of these, you did for me.” God is as present in these people and these places today as He was in that manger 2,000 years ago.
In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets remain in the men and women in need all around us. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other”; instead, they are our brother, our sister, our holy family – and He wants us to reach out to them in their need.
My friends, Jesus came among us to bring God’s presence into our midst, into our lives so that we might see that same presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that Godly presence, yes to that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 20, 2020:
Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting things, and especially for traditional Biblical names, even just a name can tell a story.
In our weekly Bible Study on Tuesday, I was addressing just this point with the names that are presented to us in our Gospel passage today. We are given five names – Gabriel, Joseph, David, Mary, and Jesus. If we had only those names from this passage, it still tells a powerful story. Gabriel means, “God is my strength;” Joseph means, “God will increase;” both David and Mary mean “beloved;” and the name Jesus means, “God will save.” That alone is a powerful proclamation.
What’s in a name? Names usually have something to tell us about who we are. How often we are named after family members or close friends. Our names say something about our people, our family, who and where we come from. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family. So much of our Advent reflection is also about two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name is Jesus, the child whose birth we eagerly await.
When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel tells us something very important about the birth of this child. This is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. Our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes intimately – as we know them; to know our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. God is with us!
And then we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells Joseph that he is to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that His presence in our midst will also do something so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!
As we enter these final days of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys. That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever. That we are His beloved and through us, He wants to increase His presence in our lives and our world.
And let us also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the name Christian, a name that means literally “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us.
God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. So, what’s in a name? Nothing less than our salvation.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.