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.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 13, 2020:
Years ago, there was a monastery that was going through a crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates were joining them; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy hermit living in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying about this, the hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.
With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the hermit told him. The monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who, among them, could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and could never fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits to disguise His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. All they knew for sure was that any of them could be the Christ.
So, from that day on they began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and worship. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again as the monks grew in holiness. All this because of their awareness of a simple truth: Christ was living in their midst.
My sisters and brothers, Advent is for us a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: we recall His birth 2,000 years ago; we look forward to His return at the end of time. But, now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ for whom we are waiting is already here in our midst – what difference would that make? Would we treat each other with more reverence, with more kindness and compassion?
We live in a world that feels more devoid of kindness, compassion, love, concern, goodness and holiness than ever before. Bu, today, John the Baptist is our hermit, our holy man, with a life-changing message. John tells us, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.”
Now, the reason the people of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had their own ideas about how the Messiah was going to come. He would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from because He came from God. So when Jesus finally arrived, born of a woman just like everyone else, they did not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too much like them, and so, far too many people didn’t see the very presence of God in their midst.
We face the same challenge today. We too have our own expectations of what God in our midst should look like. We too have created expectations so amazing that they can keep us from seeing God among us, seeing God in one another. God is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often – God is present within us, and in every single person we meet. God is present even in those we don’t like, or those with whom we disagree, or in those our world has deemed unworthy. After all, this is why when we hear, “The Lord be with you,” we respond, “And with your spirit.” These words recognize God’s presence in those around us. The Lord is in you and is in me. I recognize God’s spirit within you.
And so, my friends, listen carefully today because I have a secret for you. One of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” So, how will we recognize this presence of God in our midst? Because God is right here before us, waiting for us to invite Him in.
Let us revere each other as the very presence of God in our midst, let us care for each other, as though caring for Christ Himself. Let us greet even our enemies with the dignity of those who bear the Spirit of the Lord. Because, my friends, it will make all the difference.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 6, 2020:
Back in my seminary days we did a production of the musical Godspell. I was recently listening to the wonderful music from the show, and thinking of it today because the musical begins with the same cry that we hear from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is our annual season of preparation; it is a a season of waiting, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time.
In life we are certainly used to waiting. Just think of the hours spent waiting in traffic. In a normal year, we would be thinking about the time spent waiting in line at stores doing our Christmas shopping. We’ve replaced that waiting with other kinds of waiting – waiting to take a COVID test, waiting for the results, waiting for the vaccine to become available – just waiting for all of this to be over. A lot of waiting – like in traffic or at a store - are not purposeful. They’re usually not worth the wait.
During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. The prayerful waiting we engage during Advent is indeed worth the wait because instead of a frustrating wait with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in a purposeful way. And Scripture gives us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives and ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.
If we look at our Scriptures as a story, at this point in the story, Mary is pregnant awaiting the birth of the baby Jesus. We can learn a lot about purposeful waiting from pregnancy. Pregnancy is all about waiting. I remember a few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and his wife who shared the news that they were expecting their third child. I responded excitedly, “Congratulations! That’s great! You must be so excited!” But to my enthusiasm, my friend’s wife looked at me, rolled her eyes a bit, sighed and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about having another baby. I just wish I could do it without going through pregnancy.” We tend to romanticize pregnancy don’t we? Pregnancy is so beautiful. Women look so radiant. But, for my friend’s wife, and many women like her, pregnancies are difficult. With her two prior pregnancies, they were so difficult that she had to remain in bed during the final months. She experienced serious medical issues during her last pregnancy. For this third child, she was also very closely monitored.
The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a spiritual sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”
As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult time. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.
So we continue to wait in the midst of this Advent-tide. Is our waiting purposeful? With the days we have ahead of us, create space in your life every day to be present to God. Allow Him to prepare your soul. Pope Emeritus Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey."
Prepare by embracing all that the Sacraments have to offer. Allow God to cleanse you in Reconciliation. Allow God to nourish you through the Eucharist and be transformed into the very Presence of Christ you receive.
And reach out to others. Reach out to those who don't know Christ. Reach out to those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.
Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 22, 2020:
A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend enough time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?
Well, as we end our Church year and celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven. The King separates people into two categories – sheep and goats. And of course we want to be counted among the sheep who are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.
Here is Jesus criteria for Heaven: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.
The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. These are the qualities that the sheep possess.
Pope Francis said, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”
So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here at this and every Mass. St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so must be loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.
So, today, let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.
And you know, little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 15, 2020:
Let me ask by a show of hands, how many of us would like to be rich? Especially heading into the holiday season, or during these challenging times of pandemic, we often think we could use just a little more help, and the lure of things like $100 million Powerball lotteries can set our imagination aflame. Being rich is something that our culture glorifies in song, TV, and movies, and something that most of us have probably thought of more than once. So much of the so-called American Dream is a dream of rising from nothing to have it all.
In our Gospel today, we hear about a few people who, it seems, got rich. The parable of the talents is about three men who had the opportunity to gain tremendous wealth. The master gave our one talent to one person, two to another, and five to a third. Now, this was a lot of money even to begin with. A talent was a monetary figure equal to 6,000 days’ wages. To put it in contemporary standards, given the current average annual salary in America, one talent today would be about $130,000 – a significant amount by any stretch of the imagination. So, they were given the equivalent of $130,000, $260,000, and $650,000 – all off to a great start.
But, of course, this parable is not meant to be a version of the Prosperity Gospel. Jesus isn’t given us investment strategies for our 401K. Jesus is instead asking us to think about the gifts and talents that we have received from God and where are we investing those? As we hear earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Jesus isn’t concerned with our investments on Wall Street; but He is deeply concerned about our investments in ‘the Kingdom of God.’ In other words, our talents and the way we use them are meant to help us become the holy people God has created us to be. This is the greatest measure of our success.
So, to the question we began with, Who wants to be rich? Jesus responds, “You already are.” The reality is that in this life, we all start off rich – no matter what our bank accounts say about it. For example, Psalm 103 reminds us that God is slow to anger, rich in compassion; and in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about God being rich in mercy. And, just like the master giving talents to his servants, God has invested these gifts in us from the moment of our baptism. We’ve all received such profound gifts from God – the gift of His merciful love, the gift of His Son Jesus, the very gift of life itself. And we receive these gifts over and over again in all the sacraments – so profoundly in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. We are rich indeed.
But, just like the servants in today’s parable, God expects us to do something with these gifts. He wants us to invest them and multiply them and get a great return on our investment. God is asking us today to consider how we have invested His love in the world. Have we multiplied God’s forgiveness to the people around us? Have we gotten a good return on His compassion? How have we multiplied His joy in our hearts, in our homes, in our community? Have we invested in those who are hungry, or homeless, or refugees, or in need?
In today’s Gospel, the man who received the one talent was paralyzed with fear – a fear that kept him from appreciating what he had received, so much so that he didn’t share it, he didn’t multiply it, instead he dug a big hole and hid it away. And sometimes, we can act in the same way. Especially in our world today where it seems every conversation is fraught with confrontation and anger, we can be afraid to speak a word of love, a word of care, a word of healing. In our relationships, our pride can keep us from being the first one to break the ice and offer forgiveness. St. Theresa of Avila said that we’re often tempted to live in the past or in the future; but, in the end, the only place we can actually love God and others is in the present. It is here in the present moment that God invites us to invest.
In the end, all God is asking of us is that we try. Notice the one who made five talents and the one who made two both received the same reward. The reward was not based on the return; it was based on the attempt. The one given the single talent didn’t even try. So, let us try to invest in the kingdom of God all around us. How much love, joy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness can we share and multiply in our world? This is what God calls us to invest; and as long as we try, He will reward us for our efforts.
Jesus invites us to recognize that we are all rich in the gifts and talents that we’ve received from God – gifts of love, mercy, joy and compassion – and we are called to invest those gifts and talents in the world around us. And, when we have lived a life of helping God to multiply that love and mercy in our world, we too will hear Him say to us, “Come, share your master’s joy!”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 8, 2020:
“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters…so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” This passage from St. Paul is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and my absolute favorite when it comes to understanding grief through the lens of faith. In this one sentence, Saint Paul reminds us that we are not “like the rest, who have no hope.” When it comes to death, when it comes to grief, the defining characteristic of the believer is that we don’t look at those difficult moments with despair or confusion – we see them with a profound hope that reminds us that not even death can separate us from Christ; can separate us from one another. In Jesus, even death is transformed into eternal life. Hope is what defines the Christian approach to living. And, it is profoundly different than the way the rest of the world looks at things. You are not like the rest.
I was thinking of this passage while watching all the election coverage this week. Yesterday was an historic moment for our nation as it saw only the second Catholic ever to be elected president of the United States, and the first women of color to reach the vice-presidency. But, for half of our nation, yesterday was a long-awaited and hard-fought victory; while simultaneously a devastating loss that still requires further judication before a trustworthy conclusion can be reached for the other half.
As our readings invite us to reflect not on the kingdoms of this world, but of the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns in perfect glory for all time, they reminds us to embrace St. Paul’s words, “you are not like the rest.” You and me, we are not meant to be just like the world. And yet, when we look at the election results this week, Catholics were exactly like the rest. We are as equally divided as the rest of the nation. The Catholic vote was split 50-50 between both candidates.
But, today, I don’t want to talk about all the things that brought us to this moment, instead, where do we go from here? What can the follower of Christ do to help us break out of this cycle of vitriol, division, even hatred. And, I think the most important thing we can do is to remember St. Paul’s charge that we are not like the rest of the world. That we can stop subjecting ourselves to the world – simply picking a side and accepting what they offer – and instead become the transforming presence that we are called to be.
Just look at the images that Jesus gives us to explain and shape our presence in the world. He tells us we are called to be leaven, that makes the world rise. He tells us we are salt, flavoring the world around us with the Gospel. He tells that we are light; shining brightly in the darkness that envelops us. And if this task seems too big for us to handle, He tells us that if our faith is even the size of a mustard seed we could say to the mountain “Move from here to there” and it would move.
You see, we are not like the rest, who have no hope. So, what is this hope? We normally conceptualize hope in ordinary ways. We think of hope as a kind of optimism (“I hope things will go well”); or a form of positive thinking (“I’m very hopeful about the future”). Or even a kind of wish or blind faith (“I hope I’ll get through this”). These are good things, but this isn’t what St. Paul is talking about. Our Christian hope is something far more powerful. Our hope expresses something so profoundly deep that it is life changing. Something so amazing that this kind of hope leaves us different than the way it found us. Because our hope is not a wish or a dream, it is a person. Jesus is our hope. And this hope is yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is the hope that came into a weary world. When Jesus came, the world was weary of Roman occupation that crushed the Jewish people under the weight of empire. The world was weary of religious oppression that made it difficult and even illegal for people to worship God. It was weary of waiting for the promises that God had been speaking for centuries to be fulfilled. The world was weary of many things.
And, we can relate to this. We live in a weary world. We are weary of this election, weary of the divisions, negativity, and hatred around us; weary of war and terror and violence; weary of racism and prejudice; and so very weary of this virus that has changed our lives and changed our world, and taken far too many from us. We are weary indeed.
And into our weariness, Jesus is our hope. And His hope transforms us and changes us. Just think of what He does in the Eucharist – He transforms the bread and wine so that they go from being just like the rest into the miraculous presence of God in our midst. And if He can do that to bread and wine, imagine what He wants to do to you and me. He wants to change us so that we are not like the rest, who do not possess this hope. The Eucharist changes everything – each time we receive we become more like Jesus; we become more loving, joyful, compassionate and forgiving. In short, we are no longer like the rest. The presence of Jesus in our lives signifies an end to our weariness. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way. We don’t have to keep asking the same questions. We don’t have to keep fighting the same fights. Jesus is here. Hope is here. Our hope can transform the world.
Our hope is expansive enough to embrace all sides. We are capable of embracing the dignity of the unborn child in the womb; and the dignity of the prisoner on death row. We have the ability to care for the hungry and the homeless; and want immigrants and refugees to be treated with compassion. Our hope can change our divisions into unity. Our hope can make enemies, friends.
My friends, as we come to this moment of change in our nation; let us become leaven, the salt, and the light that Jesus has called us to be. Let us help the world rise in its respect for the dignity of one another; let us flavor our communities with the kindness and compassion of the Gospel; let us shine the light of Jesus to cast out the darkness of hatred, racism, and prejudice.
You are not like the rest, who have no hope. Let us transform the world around us through our hope in Jesus Christ.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2020:
French novelists Leon Bloy famously said, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is to not become a saint.”
We heard a question from the Book of Revelation today that echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great answer to this question is that they – those in white robes – are us. Today we celebrate our annual solemnity of All Saints Day. This day calls to mind for us many saints – those represented in stained glass or statuary; those we have deep and special devotion to; but also the great and vast communion of saints – the many, many, many more women and men who have reached the glory of Heaven, but whose names we may never know.
Properly understood, this feast is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who attained holy perfection in life. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints. Too often, though, we functionally think of sainthood as an honor bestowed on a select few, instead of the very hope and expectation that God has for each and every one of us. Pope Francis said, “To be a saint is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
I’m sure if I were to ask who here would like to go to Heaven, every hand in this church would be raised. By saying that we want to go to Heaven, we are, in fact, proclaiming our desire to be saints. After all, that is all that a saint is – someone who lived a life worthy of heaven. Becoming saints is the goal of everyone who has been baptized.
The problem when we think that sainthood is out of our reach is because we usually focus on how much the saints are like God. But today’s feast invites us to remember the other side of that equation and remember how much the saints are also like us. Saints did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become holy women and men. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins they struggled with and spiritual victories they rejoiced in. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.
How do we become saints? Jesus just told us how in the Gospel – live the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training.
Pope Francis in a homily for All Saints gave a list of modern Beatitudes. He said, “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others. Surely they will receive from him their merited reward.”
We also become saints when we embrace the life of the sacraments; the life of the church that Jesus came to give us. Jesus didn’t institute the church and its sacraments to create an organization. He gave them to us to create saints! Baptism welcomed us into this saintly family. Confirmation strengthened us to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards holiness. The Eucharist transforms us just as it transforms the bread and wine so that we may become what we receive; that we may become more like Christ every time we participate. And he gave us Reconciliation so that His grace can be renewed and restored in us whenever we fall off the path of holiness because of our sin. We have everything we need to become a saint right here in the Church.
Pope Francis said, “Saints are not superheroes who are born perfect. But rather, they are ordinary people who follow God will all their heart.”
Today, as we remember all the saints – named and unnamed – let us live the Beatitudes; let us live lives worthy of our own holiness; our own saintliness. It is what we have been called to. Let us have the courage to desire to be the saints that God has called each of us to be.
The only real sadness in life, is to not become saint.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 25, 2020:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a favorite childhood memory. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”
This concern resonates with what we see in our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor? As we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 18, 2020:
It seems like every four years, our system of election for the highest office in the land gets more-and-more polarized, more-and-more tense and anxious, more-and-more negative. If you’re like me, it is hard to even watch the news, read a newspaper, or tune in to social media. The vitriol seems to only increase and just when it seems like it can’t get worse, it shows us that in fact it can. So, what are we to do? How are we to vote? How does a person of faith navigate these stormy seas with intelligence, with grace, and civility?
Well, Jesus actually enters into the fray today, but perhaps in a way we would not have expected. You see, too many people keep looking to the church, the clergy, the bishops with the hope that someone will tell them who you can vote for, who you cannot vote for, who the “Catholic” candidate is. These are not the right questions to ask. Jesus today reminds us instead to ask about the things that are eternal.
In our passage today, the Pharisees are trying to drag Jesus into the politics of His time. Why wouldn’t they? After all, things were fairly terrible. This once great nation, God’s chosen people, has found itself occupied by a foreign invader. The Roman Empire had conquered them, taken away their control and their freedoms, even limited much of their religious liberty. Surely Jesus would stand up and say who the right candidate was, or how everyone should act or what they are to do politically; surely He would speak out against this behemoth who had Israel under its thumb? But instead, He says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
What do you think that Jesus means? Is this about church-state relations? Does Jesus mean to divide things between Ceasar and God as a child divides candy – one for you and one for me; one for Ceasar and one for God? He can hardly mean that there are some things that belong to Ceasar and other things that belong to God because that would suggest that reality is divisible into the secular and the sacred, as if the things we do for the world have nothing to do with God. And that is surely not right. So what does Jesus mean?
First, we have to recognize that the question itself is a trap: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax or not?” If Jesus responds “yes” He is allying himself with the Roman occupiers and that would put Him in trouble with His fellow Jewish patriots. If He says “no” then He is in trouble with the Roman authorities and is liable to be arrested as encouraging rebellion. Does Jesus fall into the trap? No, instead He asks them for the Roman coin used to pay the tax. Once they produce the coin, He is saying to them, “I don’t have one – you do.” You have Ceasar’s coin. By using his currency, you are the ones allying yourself to his system, accepting his rule, recognizing his empire, his authority. So, if you have taken his money, give him back his money. “Repay to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar.” Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer because it is not a straight question. It is a trap which He skillfully avoids.
But, as always Jesus surprises the crowd with the challenge He adds, “Repay to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is saying that our obligation to worldly things is judged by a higher obligation – our obligation to God. If you think you feel an obligation to the state, it can’t compare to the obligation you should feel to God. Jesus uses this opportunity to remind the people of the first and greatest commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Forget about smart questions intended to trap Jesus, instead, worship God – not with mere externals as the Pharisees do, but from deep within your soul. When things are right in your relationship with God, the way you should act and speak in the world will be clear.
Jesus uses this chance to remind us that membership in the Church is membership in a worshipping family. The Church reaches her fullness when she falls on her knees in prayer. She stands straight and walks tall when she bows her head in adoration to the One True God. The care of the sick, the struggle for justice, the needs of the poor, the education of the young – all of these are essential to the mission of the Church, but they flow from the highest function of the Church – the prayerful worship of our Almighty God. The Church is most powerfully herself when she gathers to celebrate the Holy Mass. The Mass is the very summit of her activity, the Everest of her life. The spirit of the Church finds noble expression in the many works of service that we engage in, but it is the worship of God that takes place here that we must look to discover her soul, and hence, our souls.
And this is what we have upside down in our world, especially as the election draws near. We begin in the wrong place. We worry about which party is correct, which tribe to belong to and which tribe to hate, which candidate fits our bill, how to influence and convince, how to make change. But that should be not where we start, but where we end. This is where we start – right here for the Holy Mass. This is more than a mere custom we fulfill; it is where we worship our God and dsicover ourselves; allowing God to enter our lives and change us to be more like His Son. The way we act in the world must flow from the grace, the love, the joy, mercy, and compassion that are born in us here every time we celebrate the Holy Mass. Begin with repaying to God what belongs to God and all the rest will follow.
So if you are struggling with what to do in the ballot box this year, start by placing yourself before God here. Place your lives, your cares, your worries, our nation and our world, on this altar and allow God to send His Holy Spirit upon them just like He will send it upon the bread and wine. Once we are transformed fully into members of His Kingdom through our worship; only then can we transform our world to become the Kingdom He promised us.
As St. Teresa of Jesus, whose feast we celebrated this week, said, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
My friends, let us “repay to God what belongs to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 4, 2020:
There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged a defenseless Austrian town. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss surrender. As they talked, a wise old man stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to church where the bells rang to assemble the town for prayer. But, when Massena heard the ringing of the bells he concluded that reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.
We heard St. Paul say to the Philippians today, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” St. Paul reminds us of something the people of that Austrian town knew; something that we all need to be reminded of in these challenging times today – our faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. People who have no faith respond to life's problems with worry, and fear, and anxiety. But people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer, with trust, and with hope.
We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety. In our times we worry about our health in the midst of a virus that no one is safe from – not even the President and his wife. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages us to raise our hands in surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands in petition to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.
St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.
So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about COVID or other health issues, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to stop, take a deep breath, and throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.
The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. At this Mass we will receive once again the Christ’s gift of peace which is meant to calm the worry of our souls. What we experience here today, it is our job to bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.
My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” “Have no anxiety at all…make your heart known to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 27, 2020:
As I look out at the congregation today, of course, what I see is an ocean of beautiful, but masked, faces. Wearing a mask is something that we have all become used to in a relatively short amount of time. It is required of us, it is necessary, and it is good – it is an effective measure to protect us from this terrible virus on our world. This past week, I made some class visits at our school. And one of my favorite classes was fourth grade. One wall in the fourth grade depicts all of the students as masked superheroes. And I was included on the wall driving a very cool car, not all that different from the bat mobile. Before COVID, we viewed masks differently. We think in the movies, very often people who wear masks are often the bad guys – they are robbers, and thieves, and the like. But, we know there are also others who wear masks too – we think of heroes like the Lone Ranger or Zorro, and superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, or the Flash. But why do these people wear a mask? Well, whether good or bad, the mask hides your true identity from the world around you.
I was thinking of masks when reflecting on our Gospel today. One of the most frequent sins that Jesus contends with is hypocrisy. The original meaning of the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning: an actor; one who wears a mask. In the ancient world, actors portrayed different characters by literally holding a mask in front of their face. And this is the straight-forward theme that Jesus is addressing today – saying we are one thing and doing another. Or put another way, Jesus invites us to make a choice between living the life of a hypocrite or living a life of Christian sincerity.
Jesus tells a parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had initially said no.
Jesus had a very low tolerance for hypocrisy. Perhaps because it is one of the easiest sins to fall into. It's too easy to change our outward behavior to fit in with everyone around us. And, it isn’t easy to honestly witness to the truths of our faith in a world that constantly calls us into sin. But falling into this type of hypocrisy is a losing strategy, because sooner or later every actor has to take off their mask.
An example of this hypocrisy comes from the Marquis de Condorset, a nobleman who lived during the French Revolution. The Revolution was tough on the nobility. For years they had exploited the common people, forcing them to suffer and starve while the nobles lived in luxury. With the revolution came payback and so many nobles tried to escape by disguising themselves and slip out of the country undetected. And so, the Marquis donned the ragged clothes of a peasant and attempted to make his way to the border. It worked until he stopped at an inn full of actual peasants. The disguised nobleman walked into the inn, sat down at a table, and ordered an omelet made with a dozen eggs; a bad move in front of a group of people who could never afford such an extravagant meal. They immediately saw through his mask; and he was sent off to prison.
Hypocrisy is like that: we put on different masks in order to be someone or something we are not. But, Jesus reminds us that when we lose sight of who we really are, we also lose sight of everyone else, including God.
And this is where sincerity comes in; the antidote to hypocrisy. If hypocrisy makes us blind to God's presence in our lives; sincerity opens the eyes of our hearts to find Him everywhere, helping us to be more clearly and honestly the people He has called us to be. And so, we are called to reject any hypocrisy in our lives and embrace sincerity in three key areas of our lives.
First, we’re called to be sincere in our relationship with God. We must never try to impress God or put on a show for Him; or change Him into the God of our own making. We must simply open our hearts to Him like little children, so that he can touch our hearts with His transforming grace; so that He can fill our hearts with His message and direction for our lives. After all, He knows our hearts and thoughts and minds thoroughly already. And He knows the truth of what we are called to be.
Second, we must be sincere in our relationship with ourselves. We must never lie to ourselves about the reasons we do things, making false excuses or immaturely passing the buck. We must take responsibility for our actions, good and bad, confident that God can fix whatever we may break. The truth will always set us free.
Third, we are called to be sincere in our words. It’s easy to distort the truth when we talk. We like to flatter people, or try and make them admire us, and so we say things that aren't really true; we say things that are an exaggeration. Now, we don't have to tell everything to everyone, but we always have to be truthful in what we say; especially when witnessing our faith. Our world needs sincere followers of Christ who are not afraid to share their faith in beauty, in joy, with the world. Do people know we are followers of Christ by the sincerity of what we say and do?
In just a few moments Jesus will feed us once again with Holy Communion – His Sacred Body. The Eucharist is the God-given source that can strengthen our resolve to be sincere Christians, with hearts open to God's grace, and not hypocrites who merely say one thing but do another.
The pure, white, unleavened bread that will be transformed into Christ's Body is an image of sincerity. Its beauty is in its simplicity - no show, nothing fancy, just flour and water, just a humble host of Eternal Truth miraculously transfigured into Christ’s Real Presence in our midst.
Let us all pledge to become what we receive. We receive that simple, humble, honest Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will become the same in our world. Let us make the prayer we pray before receiving communion our deepest pledge today, “Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Let Jesus heal any places of hypocrisy in our lives so that we may be sincere and true followers of your Son.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 20, 2020
Almost 15 years ago, I had the incredible honor to baptize, confirm, and give first Holy Communion to my own Dad. It will always remain one of the greatest experiences of my priesthood. But, today’s readings got me thinking about a particular moment in that process. As my Dad was getting ready to receive the Sacraments, I would go regularly and meet with him to discuss our Catholic faith. My Mom was always part of these conversations as she served as his sponsor for the sacraments. One day we were talking about mercy, forgiveness, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. At which point my Mom got rather self-righteous and said, “You hear that Scott. You need to go and make a good confession before you are baptized.” To which I responded, “You know Mom, actually, he doesn’t. The Sacrament of Baptism forgives all your sins, which is why people in the early church often waited to be baptized.” My mother took a good moment to think about this, then she turned to me and said, “You mean to tell me, he gets away with it?!”
I love to tell that story, and it immediately came to mind when reflecting upon our Scriptures today. Jesus gives us this parable of the workers in the field. Some come at the beginning of the day, and others at various intervals throughout, including those for just the last hour. When all was said and done, they all received the same daily wage. And the ones who got there early didn’t like it one bit.
It is like when we are young. Children are often preoccupied with things being fair. We don’t want our siblings or friends or classmates to get more than we get. We will stomp our feet and complain if something in our young world is not fair. But, Jesus offers us a very interesting message today. If you were hoping that in the end God would be fair, you are mistaken. Jesus tells us that our God is not a fair God; instead He is something far better – our God is a generous God. He does not merely give us what is due, what is just; instead He gives us far more than we could ever imagine, far more than we could ever earn, for more than we could ever hope for. God gives us everything.
The prophet Isaiah told us as much in our first reading. He said, “Our God is generous in forgiving.” And Jesus reiterated this point in our parable, “Are you envious because I am generous?” And yet, as St. Ignatius of Loyola famously said, “God will not be outdone in generosity.” But, God does expect us to try. Imagine our world if we all earnestly strove to be as generous to others as God is to us.
What is our reaction to God’s generosity? Are we like those in the parable who grumble at the master’s generous heart? Or do we respond by in turn being generous to those around us? Imagine, for example, if you worked in a situation where someone was getting more money for the same job you were doing. What if you complained to the manager, only to discover that the other person is perhaps supporting several children on their own, or has some serious and expensive medical condition and needs the extra just to survive. In such cases, your perspective might change because you begin to see the things not through the eyes of competition, but through the eyes of community, the eyes of family, the eyes of church – in o ther words, with eyes of compassion. In Christ, we are all united into one community, one family, one church. And the norms of behavior, of contribution, and reward in a family different from those in the world. When someone in our family is in need, do we demand work from them or do we give from the heart and do whatever we can to help out our loved one regardless of the cost?
You see, family is the key to understanding today’s parable. For the early-birds who showed up first, it was all a business affair. Their work was preceded by a contract regarding their wages: a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. And this is why they were so disappointed. The latecomers, though, were less legalistic. They took the job trusting in the master’s word. “Whatever is right I will give you.’” And, the ones employed later and later in the day were told nothing at all about payment. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’“ For them, everything was based on trust. These workers approached the work with a family spirit.
My friends, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a family drawn together by the love of their Father, lead and guided through the example of Jesus, their Brother, motivated out of their love for each other, driven by their desire to help one another, called to be holy, working towards eternal life, transfigured and united as one.
So, do you mean to tell me we get away with it? Yes, our God will not be outdone in generosity, and, my friends, we’re called to share that same generosity with the world. Imagine our world if we all earnestly strove to be as generous to others as God is to us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 13, 2020:
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass and the Word of God is truly living and active – it has a way of speaking to our times and our experiences in a way that is always inviting us into deeper holiness, deeper relationship with our God. Just look at this past week, for examplen. On Friday, we commemorated the hard-to-believe 19th anniversary of the September 11th attack – an event that changed our world. This will always be a moment that showed me profoundly how God speaks to us through our Holy Mass and His Word.
My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? His message was fast and clear. The Gospel at Mass the very next day was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since you have been called to that peace.”
Then came the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross followed by Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us; in our most challenging moments, God reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight.
So, what did God remind us of in the aftermath of that horrible day? He said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”
And, my friends, God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard that striking opening in our first reading from Sirach, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tightly.” In our Gospel, Jesus called us to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere – just like He does.
These are timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of this horrible virus, afraid of those whose skin is a different color, afraid of those whose politics differs from our own, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee – afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, of healing and forgiveness, in the hopes that these things will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people; that these things will be what guides the way we live in the world; the way we interact – especially with those with whom we may not agree.
Too often we can be like the ungrateful servant in the parable, focusing on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. It is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly. He asks us not to hug tightly to our wounds, our hurts, our grudges, our sins.
Through the terrible events in our country 19 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend.
We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him into eternity. The Risen Christ is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 19 years ago; and how real they are to us today.
So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.
My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”
May the Lord give us His peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 6, 2020:
If you turn on the news at just about any moment lately, what surrounds us are stories of negativity and fear. We are in the midst of an incredibly divisive political season. The effects of racism and its response have lead to months-long protests – sometimes with violent elements. And hovering over it all is the coronavirus which continues to threaten the health and safety of the world. These are not only challenging time, but they can also be confusing times. After all, what are we do to? How are we to respond? What difference can we make? What does our faith have to say to this moment in our lives?
We could not have a more relevant answer from the Word of God than we do in our readings today. We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way, I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome, love, and care.
Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, a mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?
What would your response be in any of these scenarios? Our readings today give us the answer as they focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “Your light must shine brightly before others.”
Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.
And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”
Three simple cases, but in each one they took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. We live in a time that profoundly calls us to not remain silent. In the midst of the strife, illness, division, and anxiety of our times, our world needs to hear voices of faith, or reason, of compassion, of love more than ever. Jesus calls us to do more than merely magnify the negativity around us; He wants us to cut through it with His words and His ways.
Let us remind the world of the truth of the Gospel; the only real cure to what ails our world. As racism and prejudice rear their ugly heads; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is strained; as violence and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that these are all issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.
Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love, forgiveness, and healing when evil is present in our midst.
Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for those being threatened must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak God’s love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.
As St. Paul said, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 22nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 30, 2020:
Eugene Orowitz was a skinny, 100-pound sophomore at Collingswood High School in New Jersey in the 1950s. One day in gym class, the coach was teaching everyone how to throw a javelin. One by one, the students threw the six-foot-long spear. The longest throw was 30 yards. Finally, the coach looked over to Eugene and said, “You want to try?” Eugene nodded, and the other kids laughed. But as he stood there, a strange feeling came over him. Holding the javelin, he imagined himself as a young warrior about to enter into a battle. He raised the javelin, took six quick steps and let it fly. It soared eventually crashing into the empty bleachers – twice as far as anyone else. When Eugene retrieved the javelin, the tip was broken. The coach said, “It’s no good to us now. You might as well take it home.” That summer Eugene began throwing the javelin in a vacant lot. Some days, for as long as six hours. By his senior year, Eugene threw the javelin 211 feet – farther than any other high schooler in the nation. He was given a scholarship to college and dreamed of the Olympics. Then one day, while throwing, he tore the ligaments in his shoulder putting an end to his throwing, his scholarship, and his dreams. It was as if God had slapped him in the face just as he was realizing his dreams. Eugene dropped out of college and took a job at a warehouse.
This story raises a question echoed in our Scriptures today: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Why does He let suffering touch the lives of good people who don’t deserve it? We heard this from Jeremiah. Why did God let a good man like Jeremiah be ridiculed? We heard his frustration, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped. All the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.” And, why did God let tragedy take the prize from the hands of Eugene Orowitz after he had worked so hard to win it?
Jesus gives us the answer in today’s Gospel when He says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” What Jesus is saying is hard to believe, even a bit crazy, to someone who doesn’t have faith. “Whoever accepts suffering and misfortune for my sake will find a whole new life.” And it will not be only in the world to come. It will be right here in this world, as well. And Jesus tells us that the life we find with Him will be a far richer than the one we leave behind.
My friends, God doesn’t cause tragedy; He doesn’t harm us; or cause harm in the world; He doesn’t give people cancer or cause drunk driving accidents; He doesn’t cause or condone the wars we engage in. He didn’t send the coronavirus because He was angry with us or we had displeased Him. These horrible things aren’t God’s will; in fact they are the opposite of God’s will. But, even in the midst of tragedy, God can use those situations to guide us to newer and better lives.
Let’s go back to the story of Eugene Orowitz. We left him working in a warehouse with his dreams crushed. But, one day, Eugene met a struggling actor who asked him for some help with his lines. Eugene got interested in acting himself and enrolled in a class. His big break came when he was cast as Little Joe in the popular TV western “Bonanza.” Later, he got the leading role in other TV shows like “Little House on the Prairie,” and “Highway to Heaven.” You might know Eugene Orowitz better by his stage name, Michael Landon. And in his success, he came to realize that the most important thing that happened in his life was the day he tore those ligaments in his shoulder, even if it seemed like his dreams had ended that day. What seemed like the worst tragedy of his life was in fact one that led to incredible blessings and fortune; a life that far surpassed the dreams he once held.
Dramatist Paul Claudel said that, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus said it this way to us today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” So, if we are a young person who dreamed of making the team, but got cut, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He promises He will lead us to a better life. If we are someone who dreamed of being a success in business, or having the world’s greatest family, or greatest marriage, but ended up with none of these, pick up your cross and follow Jesus. He will mend your broken dreams and lead you to a renewed appreciation of life that you never dreamed possible. He will fill your suffering with His presence.
“Whoever wishes to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” My friends, let us have the courage to lose ourselves in the life that Jesus has planned for us. May Jesus fill all of the moments of our lives – the joys and triumphs, the pains and sorrows – with His loving presence. Let us live for God alone.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 23, 2020:
There is a wonderful children’s book by Susan Balika and Craig Boldman about a little boy named Bobby. In the book, Bobby tells us about his four best friends. First, there’s Jimmy. Jimmy and Bobby go on imaginary trips to the moon. But sometimes Jimmy visits his grandmother and leaves Bobby all alone and this makes him sad. Second, there’s Jamie. She and Bobby used to color pictures and tape them to the refrigerator door for everyone to see. But Jamie recently moved and now Bobby misses her very much. Third, there’s David. David and Bobby spend hours together buildings houses with wooden blocks. But sometimes they fight over the blocks and David goes home leaving Bobby all alone.
But, finally, there is Bobby’s best friend. This friend never leaves him. He never moves to a different city. Never gets mad and goes home. He always stays at Bobby’s side. In the summer, they lie on the grass together and talk about what they see in the clouds. In the winter they slide down hills together in the snow. You see Bobby’s best friend is – Jesus. The book ends with Bobby asking the reader, “Do you know my special friend Jesus?”
I like this story because it leaves us with the same question that our Gospel proposes today, “Who do you say that I am?” Bobby answers this question this way, “You are my special friend. You never leave me. You never move to another city. You never get mad at me and go home, even when I do something wrong. You stay at my side no matter what happens. You are always there to help me.” If we have trouble answering either of these questions – Bobby’s “Do you know my special friend Jesus?” or the Gospel’s, “Who do you say that I am?” – then maybe Jesus is speaking to us in a special way today.
Maybe Jesus is inviting us to get to know Him better. Maybe He is inviting us to get better acquainted with Him. Maybe He’s inviting us to enter into a deep and special relationship with Him. Most of us struggle with our faith at times, sometimes faith is stronger, sometimes it is weaker. And we often wonder why. But, the answer all comes back to Bobby’s question, “Do you know my friend Jesus?” Is Jesus your friend to?
When we want to get to know someone better, there is really only one way to do it. We find ways to spend time with them regularly. The more we do this, the more the relationship grows, develops, and deepens. The same is true if we want to know Jesus better. If we want to know Him with the same intimacy as friends, if we want to deepen our faith, deepen our friendship with Jesus, then we have to find the time to be with Him, and we have to do this every day. Daily prayer is simply the time we take each day out of our schedule to be with Jesus, to get to know Him better. This is the only way we can ever take our faith to a new and deeper level.
In his book Hunger for God, Ralph Martin writes, “A real estate man I know gets up early every morning to pray. An aerospace engineer reads Scripture every day during his lunch break; a manager at a computer firm prays every night after his children have gone to bed.” Martin notes that life has gotten so hectic for most of us that if we don’t make the effort to purposefully schedule prayer every day, it probably won’t happen. It’ll just remain among the good intentions that we have but don’t follow through on. When something is important to us, we don’t leave it to chance. We make sure it is a part of our regular activity. For many, this time of pandemic has given us a little bit more time on our hands; a break from the normal hectic pace – so what are we doing with it? Filling it with meaningless fluff or spending some time getting to know our friend Jesus better?
Today is a good day to make the commitment to spend more time with Jesus every day. If our answer to Bobby’s question today is, “No, I don’t know your friend Jesus as well as I would like,” then our readings today are meant for you. Jesus is inviting you to get to know Him better by spending some time with Him each and every day. He is inviting you to spend a few moments each night with Him reviewing your day and asking Him for help. He’s inviting you to spend some time every day with Him to talk about your hopes, your dreams, about your doubts and your problems. He’s inviting you to discover what Bobby discovered, that Jesus can be your friend, in fact, He should be your best friend.
When we have a friend in Jesus, our faith will deepen in ways we could never have imagined. This is a friendship that has the power to change our lives. What a friend we have in Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 20th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 16, 2020:
We heard in our Gospel, “Jesus said to [the woman], ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.” Our Gospel passage today is the flip side of the coin that we heard in last week’s Gospel – and both of them are a reflection on the nature of faith. Last week, of course, we heard the dramatic story of Jesus walking on water and inviting Peter to do the same. Peter, as we recall, was initially strong in his faith and walked on water with Jesus –but soon found doubt creeping back in and he began to sink. Last week gave us the story of a disciple – one of Jesus’ privileged inner circle – invited to share in a miracle; but who let doubt and fear diminish the power of his faith.
This week, we hear a story of someone who was quite the opposite of a disciple. The woman was a Canaanite, a group hated by the people of Jesus time. The definition of an outsider. But, like Peter, she met her encounter with Jesus with determination and perseverance; and she did not lose the miracle before her precisely because of the courage of her conviction. Her daughter was healed.
Peter last week showed us what doubt can do to our faith; this week the Canaanite woman shows us the transformative power of strong and courageous faith.
But, our Gospel today also makes another profound point in this simple exchange. It begs a question of us – who does God love? Is God’s love available to all? Or is it the property of a select few people or groups or sects or faiths?
Mahatma Gandhi in his autobiography tells how, during his student days, he read the Gospels and saw in the teachings of Jesus the answer to the major problem facing the people of India, their caste system. He had seriously considered becoming a Christian because of the equality he found in Jesus. He attended church one Sunday morning hoping to talk to the minister about converting. But, on entering the church the usher refused to give him a seat and told him to go and worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. He said, 1“If Christians have their own caste system, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
Have you ever felt excluded? I think that feeling excluded or left out is a common thing for most people to experience at some point in their lives. Some of us have felt it more than others and many have felt it more strongly than others. Were you ever the last one picked for the baseball team and it seemed no-one wanted you? Did you feel snubbed by some group because they felt you weren’t good enough? Were you not invited to a party or other occasion because you didn’t seem to fit in? Were you excluded by others because of your economic status; or the color of your skin; or where you are from; or your liberal or conservative politics? I think that many of us have experienced this feeling at some point in our lives for any number of reasons.
We know that this happens in a faith context as well. On a basic level, as pastor, I hear it all the time when people will say of someone, “They don’t belong to this parish.” On a grander scale, the belief that God's blessings are limited only to certain people has been around for a very long time. Every people and culture has a handful of such prejudices – we can find in the Old Testament the notion that the Jews as the only beloved people of God or we can hear the phrase that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. Our world experiences the prejudice of the caste system in India and the sin of racial superiority in Nazi Germany or the white supremacy and racial turmoil that has reared its ugly head once again here in America these last few years. There is the myth of the superiority of men over women and the notion of the superiority of Western culture over all others. Exactly these kinds of beliefs were alive in the society in which Jesus grew up too.
But, through this simple encounter with an outsider, the Canaanite woman, Jesus makes a profound statement – that God’s love and mercy are available to everyone. He shows us through miracle that perseverance and faith can activate God’s power in everyone’s lives – in anyone’s life. It calls to mind the hymn, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy.”
We can be tempted to think that we have cornered the market on God; that we are the only ones to be included in the Kingdom of Heaven. That God loves us and only us. But, God poses to everyone the same invitation He poses to us, “Come and draw near to Me and I will draw near to you.” All He asks of us is faith in Him, and that faith can move mountains. And He invites us to stop embracing the culture of exclusion that surrounds us, and instead be His ambassadors of love, mercy, joy, compassion, and forgiveness – sharing those things with everyone, with anyone, we meet.
As we gather today for this Eucharist, let us all have hearts that hunger for the miracle that is Christ in our lives. Let us thank Him for the gift of our faith and let us be persistent in asking God for what we need. And our persistence, our courage and our faith will pay off in the end as the Lord says to each of us, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy; there is grace enough for thousands; there is plentiful redemption…let us share it with the world.
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 9, 2020:
In the 1950s, Roger Bannister and John Landy were the first runners to break the four-minute mile – and they did it within days of each other. Not long after, a race was held between the two to see who was, in fact, the fastest. As the race began Landy led Bannister all the way into the final leg. Then he did something he shouldn’t have. He looked over his shoulder to see how far behind Bannister was. That was all he needed to shoot past Landy and win the race. Landy had taken his eyes off the prize.
In today’s Gospel, we are given a remarkable sight. Jesus is walking on the water, and He invites Peter to join him and do the same. It’s amazing, of course, because what Jesus is doing is asking Peter to do something impossible, perhaps even dangerous. People don’t ordinarily walk on water. But, because Peter believed in Jesus, he does the courageous thing and stepped out of the boat onto the water, and he quickly found himself doing the impossible. If Jesus believed Peter could walk on water, then Peter believed it too. But, just like John Landy, Peter took his eyes off the prize for a moment. He took his eyes off of Jesus and looked down at the turbulent water below and began to sink.
Someone in our Bible Study this week asked why Peter, it seems, frequently making these kind of mistakes. He is with Jesus. He sees what Jesus has done; heard what He had to say. Why would His faith be weak? My answer was that I’m really glad that Peter doesn’t always get it right because that gives us all a little bit of hope for the times when our faith is weak too. After all, we’re all a bit like Peter. Jesus has called each one of us to be His followers. But trying to follow Jesus today can sometimes feel as difficult as trying to walk on water. It can feel nearly impossible. But Jesus believes in us just as much as he believed in Peter.
Hopefully, most of us have had times in our lives when we have powerfully experienced the presence of Jesus. We treasure these encounters. We live for these moments. But, like Peter, at other times we have taken our eyes off of Jesus and turned away to other things. We’ve become occupied with the normal daily activities of our lives, our families, our children, our jobs. We become preoccupied by all of the crazy things happening in our world right now. We take our eyes off of Jesus because of the pains and challenges in life; the struggles and the difficulties that we face. And just like Peter, we sometimes lose our balance and begin to sink.
My friends, if we have found ourselves being swallowed by the stormy seas of life, today is a good time to ask if our focus is on Jesus, or if we have looked away. Today’s Gospel calls us to return our gaze into the loving eyes of our Savior; to focus on Jesus who knows that we can accomplish even what might seem impossible right now. We only have to do what Peter did and cry, “Lord, save us." If we reach out to Jesus in our need, He will reach out His hand and lift us from our troubles.
The message of this spectacular Gospel story today is simple. If we are to follow Jesus across the stormy sea of our lives and our world, we have to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Him. But, there’s also another powerful message for us in this encounter. This Gospel isn’t only about what Peter did wrong. He also did something very right, and because of it, he walked on water! Remember, that the boat was full of disciples. Peter wasn’t there alone. But, only Peter had the courage to join Jesus in this spectacular moment. Peter alone, was willing to take the risk. Peter alone was willing to get out of the boat and embrace the impossible; embrace a miracle. The rest of the disciples didn’t experience this wonder. They huddled in fear. They sought asked Jesus to calm the storm. But Peter got out of the boat. And that decision made all of the difference.
My friends, Jesus is extending His hand to each one of us today. He wants us to get out of the boat with Him. He wants us to leave the comfortable, to face our fears, and to have the courage to join Him wherever He wants to take us. He wants us to have the courage to face the impossible – the distance we may feel from God, the broken relationships that we have, the words we wish we could take back – if we face these impossible situations with our eyes fixed on Jesus, miracles can happen. If we have the courage of Peter, we will never be the same. Jesus will take us to new places, with new experiences, encounters with new people – all of which will allow us to experience God in powerful ways, and can become opportunities for healing, reconciliation, and newness in our lives with others and our life with God. We might even experience the miraculous.
So, if you want to walk on water, first, you have to get out of the boat. And if you keep your eyes fixed firmly on Jesus, you can’t imagine what God will have in store. Let’s get out of the boat and walk with Jesus.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 18th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 2, 2020:
Newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, once wrote a story about his friend Oscar in New York City. One day Art and Oscar were getting out of a taxi. As they did, Oscar said to the driver, “You did a superb job of driving.” The cabbie looked at him and said, “What are you? Some kind of a wise guy?” “Not at all,” said Oscar. “I really mean it. I admire the way you move about in the traffic.” The cabbie paused, then smiled, and drove off. “What was that about?” asked Art. “I’m trying to bring love back to New York City,” Oscar replied. “How can you do that?” said Art. “It’s simple. Take that cabbie,” Oscar explained. “I just made his day. Let’s suppose he has 20 fares today. He’s going to be nice to those 20 people. They, in turn, will be kinder to other people. Eventually, the kindness could spread to a thousand people.” Art said, “But even if he is better for it, you’re still only one man, and one person can’t change New York City.” “Yes, he can,” said Oscar. “The big thing is not to get discouraged. Bringing back love to New York is not easy. But if I can get other people to join me in my campaign, it will work.”
We heard in our Gospel today, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” We are given a scenario that at first glance seems impossible to conquer. We’re told that there were 5,000 men, “not counting women and children.” I think we should count the women and children, and when you do scholars put the number at closer to 20,000 people fed that day. It would seem a pretty impossible situation.
This same story in John’s Gospel gives us another interesting detail. We’re told this food belongs to a little boy. The boy trusted Jesus and gave him the little food he had and we all know what happened next. This feeding of the multitudes tells us that one person can make a big difference. Or rather, two people can – one person along with Jesus. This boy gave what meager food he had to Jesus, and Jesus shared the boy’s gift with tens of thousands.
We also notice that this feeding also prefigures so much more. When we hear, “He said the blessings, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples,” this language immediately reminds us of the Eucharist and the Last Supper. So those who ate bread on that day – as many as they were – were only the beginning. They were just a foretaste of the billions or trillions – including you and me today – who would be fed by the bread of the Eucharist.
The feeding of this multitude is not the highpoint of Jesus nourishing His holy people; instead, it is just a beginning. On that beautiful day, on that beautiful hillside, Jesus was just getting started. The key difference is that on that glorious day 2,000 years ago, Jesus said the blessing prayer and gave to the people ordinary bread to eat; which sustained them for a day. Today, Jesus again says the blessing prayer, but will give to us the Eucharistic bread from Heaven. And, my brothers and sisters, this bread will not sustain us merely for a day; this bread – the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Himself – will keep us going for a lifetime and beyond into eternity. This miraculous feeding continues as long as we are on earth.
The message of today’s Gospel is this: One person – even you or me – can be the instrument of a miracle when we cooperate with God’s plan. One person, with the help of Jesus, can be the miracle for many. And when we cooperate with God’s plan, His abundance is more incredible than anything we could accomplish on our own; anything we could ever imagine.
British TV celebrity Malcolm Muggeridge converted to Catholicism because of the simple acts of kindness he witnessed in the life of Saint Mother Teresa. He said, “Words cannot express how much I owe her. She showed me Christianity in action. She showed me the power of love. She showed me how one loving person can start a tidal wave of love that can spread to the entire world.”
This is our Good News today: we are all important in God’s plan. If we share what meager gifts we have with Jesus, He can make them bear fruit beyond our wildest dreams. If we offer our talents and treasures to the Lord, He can perform miracles with them. And His abundance will last forever.
Let me close with a poem by the Mexican poet Amado Nervo:
I am only a spark,
Make me a fire.
I’m only a string,
Make me a lyre.
I’m only an ant-hill
Make me a mountain.
I’m only a drop,
Make me a fountain.
I’m only a feather,
Make me a wing.
I’m only a beggar,
Make me a king.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 17th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, July 26, 2020:
Our Gospel today doesn’t pull any punches. It gets right to the heart of what our faith is all about and asks perhaps the most important question any believer could ever ask – What is the Kingdom of Heaven like? There are so many beautiful aspects to our faith – the community that uplifts and supports us, the beautiful devotions that direct and sustain us, the good deeds that allow us to make the world a better place – but all of the many things we do, all ultimately have the same goal – we are all working for Heaven. Eternal life is what Jesus came to inaugurate among us, and a worthiness for Heaven is why we do all of the many things that we do.
Most of us, at one point or another, have wondered, is there a Heaven and what is it like? Jesus explores this today; and gives us a positive answer about Heaven (yes, there is a Heaven!) and some insight about what it’s like.
Today’s passages always reminds me of the first time I had the chance to be at a Papal Audience in Rome. It was almost 20 years ago with Saint Pope John Paul II. At that audience, the Pope reflected on the same passage. He said the Kingdom of Heaven is an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced – at least partially – here on earth. He said, Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.” I’ve never forgotten that quote. Heaven is not abstract; it isn’t a concept or an idea – it is a reality that we can be certain of; it is a reality we can have some experience of even here now on earth.
Heaven is one of Jesus’ favorite topics, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. In His first sermon in Matthew, Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” And, in the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. And so, it should be a favorite phrase of ours too.
When we typically thing about Heaven we think in extraordinary and supernatural ways – streets lined with gold, great and glorious mansions, angels, harps, and all the rest! But, notice that Jesus simply compares the Kingdom to very ordinary things. In the last few weeks, Jesus has presented us with a farmer sowing seeds, wheat in a field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake. Now that’s not meant to burst our bubble or lower our expectations, but to remind us that the Kingdom is both heavenly and earthly – Heaven is not foreign, but it is familiar. We pray this every time we say, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as it in heaven.”
So, what is this taste of Heaven that we can experience here on earth? The answer is right here in our Church. We experience a taste of heaven on earth in the community of the Church and in the Sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our union with God in heaven and with humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven to all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the budding forth of that Kingdom” of Heaven. And in the Sacraments, we have a True and Real experience of God right before us – His Body and Blood on our altar, the grace of His forgiveness in Confession. In fact, the Sacraments could be defined as a taste of Heaven right here on earth.
Now we are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy their treasure. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift purchased for you and me through the blood of Christ on the cross. Jesus is the one who has given up everything so that you and I might receive that reward for free.
Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes down and sanctifies our gifts; we proclaim with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.” Heaven and earth are united in these moments. Our treasure, our precious pearl of the Church is something all the money in the world could never buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s intense love and true presence leading us to eternal life.
St. Therese of Lisieux said, "Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to Him – the heaven of our souls." My friends, allow Jesus to find the Heaven of your soul today; experience this taste of Heaven today; and always “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 16th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, July 19, 2020:
Growing up Sunday nights always had a ritual about them. As kids we would quickly take a bath so that we could be ready and in front of the TV in time for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Wild Kingdom was always exciting because inevitably Marlin Perkins would come face-to-face with something ferocious – a lion, a tiger, a bear (oh my?). And it would always be exciting. It reminds me of an encounter I had with something ferocious a few years ago. One night I was grilling some chicken behind the rectory, when I suddenly found myself dodging a very angry pigeon that was dive-bombing in my direction. I quickly discovered this was a mother pigeon protecting two eggs nearby. So, I gave Mama her space. About a week later I checked to see if any new pigeon chicks had arrived yet. What I saw was the Mom protecting one cute little chick, but the second egg was cast outside of the nest. It was a sad sight – Mom was fiercely protecting the one that survived, but the other one didn’t make it. I reminded myself that in the wild kingdom some make it, and some don’t.
We heard in our Gospel today the disciples ask, “‘Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?’ And Jesus replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.” We know that Jesus loves to use understandable images from nature when explaining the deeper things to us; today He gives us this image of wheat and weeds. Obviously, we know which we want to be – the wheat is gathered into the Kingdom; the weeds are gathered and burned. And, yet, even though it is obvious that it isn’t good to be among the weeds, Jesus still says let them stay. To put this into context, I think Jesus is addressing our own human nature that often wants to be the arbiters of who’s in and who’s out. We create categories like us and them; good and bad; sinner and saint. These categories are designed to exclude and make us into the judge who is better and who is worse.
This can even be a challenge for people of faith. Jesus recognized that even in our holiness we can be tempted to judge others. We look at people and we become a self-appointed judge and jury. The problem, of course, is that God never asked us to be the judge. Pope Francis said it much more directly when he said those five simple words that traveled around the globe, “Who am I to judge?” These were five powerful words coming from the Pope, but the same words should come from each of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the only true judge we will ever face.
But change that statement ever so slightly and ask instead, who are we to love? Who are we to forgive? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to welcome? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are exactly the things we are called to do, and that’s the real problem of judgement – judging keeps us from welcoming, from reaching out, from loving, forgiving, and showing compassion to others. Jesus explicitly asks us to be the ones who love as He loved; to be His kind, welcoming, compassionate and forgiving presence in our world today.
Jesus tells us to “Let [the weeds and wheat] grow together.” Why? Because Jesus knows that when we stop judging and start loving, something amazing can happen. Weeds can become wheat. If Jesus, through His grace and mercy, can transform mere bread and wine into His Body and Blood – as He will do again in front of our very eyes on this altar today; if Jesus can turn even our sins into holiness every time we go to Confession – then surely He can also turn weeds into wheat. Perhaps some of us here – maybe many of us here, maybe all of us here – were once weeds ourselves, but through God’s amazing grace, we have been transformed into wheat. “Let them grow together,” Jesus says because He gives us all the time we need to do the same. He wants all the weeds to become the beautiful wheat of His harvest.
It might be nature’s way to cast off the ones who don’t look like they are going to make it; it might be easier to judge and wish that things just weren’t so. But, that is not God’s way and it most certainly should not be our way. Pope Francis said, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." Let us make his words our words too so that when others see us, they see mercy and hope; that when they come to us, they too, are welcomed, loved, and forgiven. Love the weeds around you until they are transformed into wheat.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, July 12, 2020:
There are three things St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates to be admitted into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? What was Sunday’s Second Reading? And what was Sunday’s Gospel Reading? Could we all answer that today?
Our readings today invite us to reflect on the place of God’s Holy Word in our lives? In our first reading we heard, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” And Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower meant to encourage our love of God’s Word. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”
As Catholics, we are infamous for our lack of knowledge of Scripture in comparison to our Protestant brothers and sisters who seriously learn Scripture and even memorize it. I have been so thrilled with our Tuesday Night Bible Study class. We’ve had a consistent 40-45 people every week learning more about Scripture and allowing God’s sacred and holy Word to find a place in our hearts.
Pope Francis said, “Maybe we've made the Word of God a little difficult with explanations that no one understands, but the Christian life is as simple and easy as this: listen to the word of God and put it into practice.”
I think part of the problem is sometimes we treat Scripture like homework – something someone is requiring us to know, and to learn. Nobody likes homework. Instead, we’re meant to see that Sacred Scripture helps us know who we are; it helps us to know how we are to live, where we are to go, how we are to act in the world. God’s Word can comfort us, heal us, make us whole. We are meant to need Sacred Scripture as much as the air we breath or the water we drink.
I think of a powerful experience in my own life when I was actively discerning my vocation to the priesthood. God had been calling me through the Eucharist, drawing me into the mystery and grace of the Holy Mass. At one particular Mass in my early 20s, I had the most powerful experience of the Eucharist up to that point in my young life. At that Mass, for the first time in my life, I truly and completely felt the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I knew He was really there. And, as I was kneeling back in my pew, overwhelmed with this experience of God’s presence, wondering what God wanted me to do with my life, the choir began to sing a hymn based on Psalm 139, “Lord, you search me and you know me…You formed my inmost being; You knit me in my mother’s womb…Your eyes saw me before I was formed, my days were shaped before one came to be.” God spoke to me in those moments through Word and Sacrament in a way that has directed every day since.
Jesus is calling us once again today to become people love the Word of God because it has the power to shape our lives. Just listen to some of the other things God says to us. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall have eternal life.” Or “God is love and all who love dwell in God and God in them.” Or, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Or, “Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.” Or, “All of the hairs of your head are counted. So, do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
In fact, that theme alone, “Do not be afraid,” is one of the most common and powerful messages spread all throughout the Bible. If there were ever a moment when we need those comforting words from God it is now. In the midst of all the challenge and chaos that surrounds us right now, hear God speak those words into your hearts every day, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid.” This is why God gives us this gift of His Words to us – so that it might take root, it might grow, it might mold us, shape us, nourish us, comfort us, heal us, and make us whole.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “The Word of God is living and active.” When we read God’s Word, we’re not engaged in a history lesson. These aren’t mere words from a long time ago like Shakespeare or Cicero. It is present and alive right now today. Our task is to surrender to God’s Word; to believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word; to pledge to be people who live as St. James says as “doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Pope Francis said, “Listen to the word of God with your ears and hear it with your heart. God speaks to each of us. The Gospel was written for each of us.”
My friends, spend some time, even 5 minutes, every day with God’s Word. Let it linger, let it touch you, let it speak to your heart. The Word of God is alive and active. It has the power to set us free, comfort our sorrows, heal our wounds, and feed our souls. “Your Word, O God, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” Let us love God’s Word!
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.