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.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 14th SUNDAY IN ORDINAY TIME, July 5, 2020:
If you’re like me, over the course of the last few years, I find myself watching less and less news, and trying to spend less and less time on social media. News media on every side today seems to be engaged in simply planting the seeds of division, giving a voice to polarization, and reinforcing a system that tries to convince us that there is more that divides us than unites us. That dynamic then moves on to social media which just becomes an echo chamber that amplifies the same division and polarization that leaves us angry, anxious, tense, and fearful.
In our world today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. The word “gentleman” testifies to this. Today, however, our culture values divisiveness more than gentleness. It means to maintain a constant state of anxiety and fear. Thankfully, though, our Scriptures today offer us another option. Zechariah told us, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek… he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” And we heard Jesus say today, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”
We are being reminded that our call is not to mortal combat, but the call of the believer is to meekness, humbleness, peacefulness, and gentleness. Jesus is the perfect model of this gentleness. Just think of the way He handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with her, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He didn’t condemn and decry. He simply wrote in the sand gently with His finger. His gentle and loving compassion towards the woman stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night in comparison to the violent accusations of the crowd who sought not healing, change, and reconciliation – but only hot-blooded vengeance.
Jesus repeatedly gives us gentle examples to imitate. He held up for us the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep who didn’t react angrily to the sheep that ran away, but instead placed the sheep gently and lovingly on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son who didn’t shout at or reject his wayward son. Instead, he hugged him, he loved him and welcomed him home.
Gentleness heals. Gentleness reconciles. Gentleness opens up the possibility for something new; something transformative; something holy. A favorite book of mine is by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly congregational pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, what is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faith, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior.”
My friends, we have been freed by Christ to act differently than the rest of the world; differently than our circumstances might ordinarily dictate. We have been called to be the artists of our behavior and to paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges of our world in ways that don’t merely magnify division, but instead transform them into something new and holy. This is the invitation of today’s Gospel, “Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
And so, let us respond to the people we encounter with gentleness and warmth. Let us engage those who have wronged us with compassion and understanding. Let us build up the people we encounter carrying heavy burdens with tenderness and sensitivity.
Pope Francis said, “The language of Christians is the language of gentleness and respect. It’s terrible to see people who say they are Christians, but who are full of bitterness. The Holy Spirit is gentle and calls us to likewise be always gentle, and to always respect others.”
“Learn from me for I am gentle and humble of heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 12th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, June 21, 2020:
Emmet Fox was an Irish spiritual leader of the last century. In particular, his ministry spoke to the challenges experienced during the Great Depression a century ago. He wrote, “There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer; there is no woundedness that enough love will not heal; there is no door that enough love will not open; no gulf that enough love will not bridge; no wall that enough love will not throw down; no sin that enough love will not redeem. It makes no difference how deeply seated the trouble may be; how hopeless the outlook; how muddled the tangle; how great the mistake. A sufficient amount of love will dissolve it all. If only you could love enough, you would be the happiest being in the world.”
More than a century later, we are all living in an unprecedented time of challenge. For months, we have lived under the cloud of the coronavirus pandemic, and there is currently no end in sight. More recently, we see racism and hatred once again rear its ugly face across our nation, inspiring righteous calls for justice from coast to coast. Heading into a presidential election, the partisanship and tribalism that tears at the unity of our nation is on the increase. In the midst of this whirlwind of negativity that surrounds us, it is not always easy to proclaim our faith boldly in word and deed; it isn’t always easy to be the ones that love the world into healing and holiness; it isn’t always easy to see our way through.
As always, God has a word for us today – one that is meant to speak to our hearts, speak to our lives, speak even to these challenges that we face. We heard Jesus in our Gospel say today, “Fear no one.” In the midst of all of our trials – personal and global - today Jesus gives us these calming, affirming words, “Fear no one.”
When we look at our first reading from the prophet Jeremiah, we know that he had an incredibly difficult task – God called upon him to proclaim impending doom to a people who would not listen. Jeremiah’s fidelity to God’s call was rewarded with gossip, back-biting and suspicion. This man, trying to fulfill the vocation God had laid out before him, found himself the subject of hatred and plots. We hear his anguished words, “I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine.” It may have seemed to Jeremiah as though God had abandoned him.
But, the prophet never turned his gaze away from God. Even though God felt far off, Jeremiah was certain that God would remain on his side. At the moment when he felt the most alone, most abandoned, Jeremiah’s faith was the strongest. Jeremiah came to realize that when all else is gone, all of the false things that we rely on, the one true reality is God and God alone.
I think today, in the midst our situation, we can identify with Jeremiah. As our world seems to be so wrapped in pain and suffering, so consumed with fear and doubt, so troubled by hatred and anguish, we may wonder where God is. We may wonder how we will get through this. We may wonder what we are called to do. The world is not the way God intended it to be. Try as we might, we can give in to anger when love is called for, frustrated by our times. But, Jesus reminds us, “Fear no one.” When we give in to fear, there is no room for God. When we give in to fear, there is no room for compassion and forgiveness. When we give in to fear, there is no room for love and healing. Fear only gives birth to more fear, to more anxiety, to more hatred and suspicion. “Fear no one.”
We are called, like Jeremiah, remain faithful to God. We are called to participate in the process of re-creating the world day-by-day through the overflowing gift of God’s love within us – a gift that comes to us from God in an infinite and never-ending supply. The simplest act of love can become the most profound act of healing. Where can we love more in our lives and in our world? Where can we make a difference? Where can we be different than the negative noise that surrounds us all the time. Our acts of loving kindness can cut through that noise and bring forth something new, something holy.
We can never lose sight of the fact that God’s grace abounds, that God’s love is more abundant than evil. We know this in Jesus. In Jesus, grace and love overflows. It is this grace and love that allows us to make the right choices, and gives us the strength to proclaim our faith boldly; to proclaim God’s love with compassion to a world that just seems to be shouting louder and louder.
Remember, despite whatever negativity we see all around us today – everything from plagues, to hatred and division – always remember this: our God has an extraordinary love for us – for each of us, individually. "Not a single sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent." Allow your heart to be filled with that love. “Fear no one.” Jesus takes away our fear by reminding us of God's extraordinary care – a love so powerful, that even every hair of your head is counted.
The choice to love always is the only one that really matters. Speak in the light; proclaim the truth from the housetops! This is what we do when we witness to God’s great love. My friends, “Fear no one.” That is the message today. As simple as that; as powerful as that. Look to Jeremiah; look to Jesus and stand up for the faith that we share with the overwhelming love of God. We must be the signs of radical, never ending love in a world that needs us desperately.
“There is no difficulty that enough love will not conquer…If only you could love enough you would be the happiest being in the world.”
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI), June 14, 2020:
St. “Padre” Pio famously said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Three months ago during Lent, as we prepared to enter into quarantine and public celebrations of the Holy Mass were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or faith formation. This was perhaps the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, especially today as we celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, The Body and Blood of Christ, is that it was the most fruitful fast we have ever experienced. If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts, these months have made us profoundly hungry for God.
This feast of Corpus Christi, renewed in its importance today because of our long fast, came to us from the 13th century. First, from an Augustinian nun, Sr. Juliana of Liège who had a vision in which a glistening full moon appeared to her. The moon was perfect except for a dark spot which a voice told her represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Eucharist. Juliana had tremendous devotion to the Eucharist and so she worked tirelessly for the Church to establish a feast.
And then there was another experience in the Italian town of Orvieto in 1263. A priest there was struggling in his own faith and belief in the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He agonized over this, but in the midst of his struggle, one day while praying the Holy Mass at the nearby tomb of St. Christina, the host began to bleed as soon as he began to speak the words of consecration. The blood fell upon his hands and onto the corporal on the altar. He was awestruck at what had occurred. He immediately went to the Holy Father, Pope Urban and explained what had occurred. The Pope ordered that the corporal be brought to the cathedral in Orvieto with great pomp and ceremony. And one year later this great feast was instituted for the universal church. You can still go to the cathedral in Orvieto and see that blood-stained corporal today.
Just before we entered quarantine, I was called to the hospital for someone who was near death. The person had been away from the Church, away from the Mass, away from the Eucharist for more than 50 years. They wanted nothing more than to be reconciled. We celebrated the sacraments of Anointing of the Sick, and Reconciliation, then I said, “Would you like to receive Holy Communion?” Their eyes widened, “Is that possible?” “Absolutely,” I said. “Your sins have been forgiven and God wants to be close to you.” We prayed again and I gave communion to someone with tears running down their face. As I left, all I could hear repeating over and over was, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
I was thinking of the tears of that person because I saw them again two weekends ago as we resumed our public celebrations of the Mass and person after person came forward to receive Jesus for the first time in months with tears in their eyes. “The earth could exist more easily without the sun, than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Our time in quarantine has renewed in us powerfully that hunger for our Eucharistic Lord. And, I hope it gives us a new appreciation for this precious gift that is never farther away from us than the next Mass. Have you thought about the fact that for months, the number of people receiving Jesus in the Eucharist slowed to a trickle? From the millions who usually receive to probably just thousands throughout the whole world. Let us never take the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist for granted again. Let us never allow that hunger to grow too great in us again. We know that before the coronavirus, that hunger was growing, not because of a pandemic, but because of our own distance, our own apathy, our own turning away from the Lord and His Church. These months have taught us once again how much we need Jesus, how much we need the Sacraments, how much we need the Church.
In John’s Gospel today, Jesus says, “If you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” What soil does for a plant, what milk does for a baby, Holy Communion does for our soul. By receiving regularly and with fervor, we thrive spiritually on the Body and Blood of Christ.
In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with Himself. Again Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” It isn’t a question of living with another person, but of living in one another, sharing the same life. In Holy Communion we share the life of Jesus. This union began in our Baptism, was strengthened in Confirmation, but reaches its peak in Holy Communion. We return to that peak of intimacy and union every time we receive Jesus’ Body and Blood.
In Holy Communion, Jesus makes us one with each other. This sacrament is not only an intimacy between ourselves and Jesus. It is also a love affair that embraces the whole community. As St. Paul said, “As there is one bread, so we, although there are many of us, are one single body, for we all share in the one bread.” This is a social sacrament, a circle that includes Christ, yourself and all of your brothers and sisters – the one on your left and right, the one in front and behind – and includes the brother and sister on the margins of society, homeless on the streets, detained as a refugee, or marching in the streets of our cities for equality.
And so we pray today that through the gift of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus, that we may all be nourished, that we may be united with our Lord, united with one another and assured of our eternal home in Heaven.
“The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” May we never have to experience this hunger again. And may we leave this place repeating in the depths of our hearts, “Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, June 7, 2020:
“God in three persons, Blessed Trinity!” We know those words from the great Trinitarian hymn Holy, Holy, Holy and they name the mystery of today’s feast. We celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – this great reality of faith that both draws us into the wonder of God’s nature and confuses us a bit when we try and understand or explain it with the mind. I was never very good at math, but it’s only in the Church that with the Trinity 1 + 1 + 1 still equals 1. Three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet still one God.
Our trouble with the Trinity comes when we try to dissect exactly what it means; when we try and come up with precise explanations of how something can be both three and one at the same time. And yet, we still try, don’t we? Most famously, St. Patrick gave the explanation of the Trinity using the image of the shamrock – three leafs, but still just one shamrock. We can spend a long time with furrowed brows trying to wrap our minds around this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this, “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself.” Now this statement, I think, helps us begin to get some place helpful. The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself. Or in more simpler terms, understanding the Trinity tells us something about the very nature of God.
Our Scriptures today give us some helpful insight. In our first reading from Exodus, Moses encounters God who is described as “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” St. Paul gives us one of the Trinitarian prayers that begins each Mass when he says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” In just those two brief passages we encounter a God who is merciful, gracious, kind, faithful, loving and who desires fellowship with us.
St. John gives us the ultimate insight into who this God in Three Persons is. In one of the most famous passages of Scripture, St. John writes, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” You know, you won’t find the word “trinity” anywhere in the Bible, but the nature of God in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – is everywhere. Over and over, we are given examples of this God who so loved the world – who so loved you, and me, and every living being – that He gave His only Son so that we might live forever. Love is the nature of God. Love is the nature of the Trinity. And love is what our God in Three Persons invites each one of us to share.
Sacred Scripture reminds us that we are all made in the image and likeness of our God. So, the more we understand God the more we understand ourselves. And this message could not be more important than it is right now. As our world continues to try and lift itself from under the weight of the coronavirus, for example, we have seen countless and moving heroic acts of love in the words and actions of the many, many women and men on the front lines of this pandemic, caring for and comforting those effected by virus. God who so loved the world works in them and through them to share that same love to those suffering through this crisis. When we embrace that love that comes from the very nature of God, our God in Three Persons becomes God in Many Persons – God in you and me and in anyone who responds to the challenges of our world with love.
As people march in the streets of virtually every city and town coast to coast for the cause of equality; as women and men of every race, color, and creed stand up for the unjust treatment of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, and so many others named and unnamed who have innocently suffered at the hands of others for no reason other than the color of their skin; as people stand up and speak out for an end to racism and violence and prejudice; we need to remember the image and likeness that we are meant to reflect to the world. I have been so moved by the thousands of people across our country who, in their chants of “black lives matter,” and “I can’t breathe,” are giving witness to God’s love. They give witness to the reality that in God sight, in God’s love, there is no place for racism, no place for prejudice, no place for the hatred and violence that have too long been a part of our nation’s story.
Understanding the Trinity tells us that God is not only in Three Persons, but God is in many persons because He is in you and in me and everyone who is part of the beautiful world that He created. God is not a loner who exists in solitary individualism, distant and detached from us. God exists in a community of love and sharing – in His very nature He is a Father, loving a Son, loving the Holy Spirit with a love so great that it can’t be contained and spills out into the world – to you and to me. In God’s most inner reality, He is a relationship of love. And our world needs to be overwhelmed with that love today more than ever. Only God’s love can route out what ails us in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.
Racism, violence, and prejudice are a corruption of that divine image. We are called to reflect that community of love to everyone – especially those on the margins of our society; especially those the rest of the world doesn’t see; especially those who are treated as less than worthy of the same love. The believer who reflects God’s love doesn’t divert our attention from the violence we see; doesn’t make excuses for the systemic racism that is our heritage; but instead with every fiber of their being tries to love the world to health, equality, justice, healing, and holiness. God in Many Persons.
God so loved the world that we too might love the world in return. My friends, let us call upon our God in Three Persons and ask Him to once again be God in Many Persons – in you and in me and in everyone – this day and ask Him to overwhelm any hatred, or racism, or prejudice in our hearts with His love. The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The Trinity is the mystery of God in Himself; and God in us. Let us be encompassed by that mystery of love and light so that we might reflect God’s love, healing, justice, and peace to the whole world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, May 31, 2020:
A priest that I follow on Twitter made an interesting observation about our Gospel today as we return to our first public Masses since going into quarantine. He wrote, “We open our church this weekend with the Gospel basically criticizing the disciples for staying home in fear, and then Jesus breathes on them.” Could there be a message more in violation of our CDC protocols?! Stay home, stay safe, save lives!
We heard from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans today, “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves…For in hope we were saved…The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness…the Spirit intercedes with inexpressible groanings.”
As we gather for this celebration of the Holy Mass – the first time we have done so in person in nearly three months – these words of St. Paul have a strong resonance in our hearts. We are groaning in pain even until now. We groan in the pain of a world that continues to be rocked by a virus that has taken the lives more than 360,000 people and effected nearly 6 million people around our world. And we groan in pain as another sickness – this one not of the body, but of the heart and mind and soul – the sickness of racism once again rears its ugly head in grotesque fashion as we see in the horrible murders of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minnesota. How many victims have racism and prejudice and hatred taken over the centuries? How many more will they take if we watch quietly, helplessly?
Our groaning over COVID19 will pass. Eventually there will be a vaccine. Eventually the scourge of this virus will leave us and this will become a historical note that we have survived. But there will be no vaccine for racism. There is no pill that we can take to rid our hearts of hatred. This is work that we must do ourselves.
Thankfully, as we gather on this beautiful day, we also gather to celebrate the cure. We celebrate Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the promised Advocate. St. Paul tells us that the Spirit also groans at the pains that surround us. But, the Holy Spirit of God wants to do far more than groan. God’s Spirit wants to inhabit us; God’s Spirit wants to dwell within us; God’s Holy Spirit wants to lead us and guide us to rid this ugly sickness of racism and prejudice from our hearts. St. Paul also tells us in his Letter to the Galatians, “Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus…You have clothed yourself with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
My friends, through the grace of our baptism, through the gift and the guidance of the Holy Spirit we know there is not black or white, or Asian or Hispanic, there is not gay or straight, immigrant or refugee – there is only son and daughter; there is only brother and sister.
Jesus breathed and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” My friends on this day, at this Holy Mass, let us take a deep breath. Let us breathe in the very Spirit of the living God who wants to mold us, change us, and make us His own. And let us breathe out all hatred and fear, all anxiety and doubt, all racism and prejudice that still holds space in our hearts – because they space they occupy in our hearts leaves increasingly less and less room for God’s Holy Spirit to dwell there. And let us not only breathe it out of our hearts, but let us stand with one another, for one another – each of our brothers and sisters, no matter who they may be. Let us choose respect, equality, acceptance, dignity, diversity, kindness, forgiveness, and love. Let us choose one another and say to everyone, “You are my sister. You are my brother.”
The story of Pentecost began in fear in the upper room, but with the gift of the Spirit, the disciples were given courage to leave that fearful place and proclaim the Kingdom of love and reconciliation with boldness. We can sometimes be afraid to stand up boldly. We can be afraid to speak up when we see injustice, prejudice, and racism around us. But, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” not only to His disciples then, but you and to me today. And if we trust Him, He will equip us with the strength, the courage, and the words to rid our world of this darkness.
We have to wait for doctors and scientists – people more intelligent in these things than you or me – before we will rid the world of COVID19. But, we do not have to wait another second to rid our hearts and our communities of this sickness of hatred in our hearts. It begins with each one of us and then extends to all those around us. Breathe in God’s Holy Spirit today.
The Holy Spirit reminds us today especially that we have a mission to tell everybody the Good News that God is their Father, that God is the Father of us all –that in spite of all the differences of language and culture and status, we are one family and we can live as brothers and sisters. Our mission is to break down any barrier that divides us and to bring all people to speak the one universal language of love. This is possible only through the working of the Holy Spirit. And so, Jesus says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
So, on this day of Pentecost, let this be our prayer, “Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of your faithful – fill my heart and your heart – and enkindle in us the fire of your love.” This is what the Holy Spirit does. When fear freezes our faith into silent submission, the Holy Spirit warms us up – enkindles the fire - and empowers us to go out and make a difference.
“Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of us, your faithful people, and enkindle in us the fire of your love so that we can spread the Good News of your Kingdom to all the world and at last put this sickness to rest.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 24, 2020:
Going through my desk recently, I came across a prayer card that had belonged to my Aunt Pat. Aunt Pat was my Dad’s sister and she passed away a number of years ago. The night before her funeral, her daughters, gave me this prayer card, which they had found in her well-worn Bible. The card contained a well-known poem often read at funeral’s called “Safely Home.” But, in the margins my Aunt had handwritten two notes. “Please read this at my funeral,” and on the other side, “My last prayer is that you all get right with God, so I’ll see you all again.” Aunt Pat, especially as she was nearing her own death, had a mind and a heart that was fixed firmly on Heaven – and she wanted the same for everyone she loved.
Now, while I would bet that we all want to get to Heaven, I’d bet most of us don’t think about it every day. Normally, our attention is focused on the things in front of us – the concerns of work, or family; the challenges or joys that we experience in relationships; the crisis happening in the world that we can’t seem to escape right now. There are so many things that keep our eyes focused right here where we are, instead of what lies above.
But, Jesus came to earth for one amazing reason – to show us the way to Heaven, or as we’ll pray in our Eucharistic Prayer today, “He ascended, that we might be confident in following where He has gone.” Easter and the Ascension are all about reminding us of this eternal reality; this focus and purpose for our lives. Heaven is our goal; Heaven is the destination of our lives. So, how important it is for us to pick our heads up from daily cares and be focused on our heavenly home; perhaps especially now when our daily cares can seem so dire; when the end to this crisis seems elusive; and the answers to our questions seem so hard to find.
We heard Jesus in today’s Gospel say, “Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” Eternity is an invitation into nothing less than knowing God personally, intimately, eternally. The great joys in life come from the loving relationships we enjoy. What would all of the most beautiful things in the world be without others to share them with – the wonders of nature, the joy of children and family, beautiful works of art? Loving relationships make life enjoyable and meaningful. Jesus is telling us that Heaven is the ultimate, perfect relationship of love and union with God – to know God and to know Jesus. And it will last for all time because God and His love are infinite.
You are probably familiar with C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia series. Lewis was a strong Christian, and in Narnia has a beautiful way of explaining the reality of our Heavenly relationship with God. Narnia tells the story of English school children who find their way into another world where they have many adventures and go on special quests to defeat the forces of evil. All the children love Narnia, and their adventures there; and are always sorry to have to go back home at the end of each adventure.
At the end of the last book, however, it turns out that they don’t have to go back. They are permitted to stay in “Aslan’s Country” forever. Lewis describes what their lives were like from that moment on. He writes, “For the children, the end was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the title and the cover page. Now at last, they were beginning Chapter One of the great story, which no one on earth has read, which goes on forever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Lewis explains that compared to life in Heaven, absolutely everything that had come before, all the amazing adventures and thrilling experiences, both in this world and in Narnia, were nothing more than a hint; barely a faint idea of how wonderful the rest of the chapters were. And life in Aslan’s Country was always getting better and better, like a book with an endless amount of chapters, each one better than the last. What a hopeful reminder for us in the midst of this moment of crisis. This too will pass, and what God has in store for each of us is so much more amazing that we can even imagine.
My friends, Jesus promises us an everlasting adventure that only gets better. One of the worse things we can do is to not think about Heaven enough. After all, the less focused we are on our destination, the more likely we’ll be to make a wrong turn along the way. A Christian who never thinks about Heaven is absurd.
Let us keep our eyes on the prize because where Jesus has gone, we hope to follow. Where Mary has gone, where countless saints have gone, where my Aunt Pat has gone – we all hope to follow. As St. Bernadette Soubirous put it: “Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.”
My friends, let us get ourselves right with God so that in the glory and complete and perfect joy that is Heaven, we will see each other again. Let us work for Heaven: all the rest is nothing.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 17, 2020:
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Hindsight is 2020.” It means that sometimes we don’t understand things so clearly as they are happening, but when we have the chance to reflect back on moments and see how they played out, we see things we didn’t see before, make connections we weren’t aware of before; things come into a focus that only comes by being on the other side of an experience. I have great hopes that our hindsight once we are beyond this coronavirus crisis will also be 2020. Right now we are knee-deep in the challenges all around us – when will we go back to work? How will we pay the rent, the bills? Do I still have a job? When will things get back to normal? But, I also have great hopes that when we do return to normal living, our hindsight will make clear some of the things we’ve experienced in these months – how good it is to slow down and be attentive to one another, our families; how over-programmed our lives have become; and so crucially – how precious is the gift of faith, the gift of Church, community, the gift of the sacraments – especially reconciliation and the Eucharist. These things that in our craziness we have taken for granted, or even left behind, perhaps now will receive a renewed zeal, enthusiasm, and deep desire. Let’s pray for that holy clarity on the other side of this.
In our Gospel passages this week and last, we’ve also been engaged in a little bit of hindsight clarity as St. John has been returning us to the Last Supper, giving us a chance to dig deeper into its meaning. We can understand why. After all, at the Last Supper, Jesus and the Twelve are in the Upper Room, gathered for the Passover. Jesus begins to tell them about his coming suffering. He tells them that he will be leaving them to go back to the Father. We can picture the Apostles confusion, and growing sadness. They have staked their lives on Jesus! They have given up everything to follow Him. And now He says that He must go away from them. Their hopes seemed dashed, and so perhaps they weren’t fully hearing what He was saying.
But, Jesus knows their hearts. He knows their fears. Twice during the meal He tells them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” He repeats it because He knows that their hearts are truly troubled. And then He makes them a promise we heard today, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” He promises never to abandon His chosen followers. The crucifixion will come, the darkness, the suffering, the persecution, the apparent failure and defeat. But through it all, the Apostles can cling with firm faith to this promise: I will not leave you orphans; I will never abandon you.
What comforting words for us to hear today in the midst of our global crisis. Jesus knows that our hearts too are troubled. He knows that we are filled with fear and confusion, with regret and sorrow in the midst of our own Good Fridays. And He makes the same promise to us: I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. I will be with you. His Resurrection is the first and definitive step in his fulfillment of this promise. Jesus is faithful. We can count on it.
He proves His faithfulness over and over again. The miracles he performed during his earthly ministry were all signs of this faithfulness. The greatest sign of all was the Resurrection - His definitive victory over sin and suffering, the bedrock of our hope. And, these signs have continued throughout the history of the Church. In the First Reading we heard about the deacon Philip healing crippled people and casting out demons. His miracles brought joy to the whole city, because they showed that the Good News of the Gospel, which Philip was preaching, was more than just wishful thinking. And the miracles have never stopped flowing. Skeptics always try to explain them away, and they aren't the main pillar of our faith, but they still keep happening.
Just think, every year the Pope beatifies and canonizes new saints, events that can only happen when miracles through their intercession confirm the holiness of the saints. Most of us have probably experienced miracles ourselves; sometimes great miracles, more often smaller ones. But, miracles do happen; and continue to serve as reminders of God’s presence and action in our world and in our lives.
In today's Mass, Jesus renews His promise to never abandon us, and we should thank Him for that. Jesus is always with us. He is with us in our hearts, through the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is with us in the Eucharist. He is with us in private prayer. He is with us in Scripture, the revealed Word of God that will always nourish our souls if we read it with faith. He is with us in the Church– He is with us whenever we need him. Jesus has not left us orphans.
But there is a chance that we have made ourselves into orphans. Maybe we look like Christians on the outside, but still haven't really become Christians on the inside. And maybe that's why we feel gnawing frustration or loneliness, anxiety or frustration deep in our souls.
Today, Jesus is giving us another chance. Today, we are given the gift of hindsight, to look back on all that has happened with a new clarity. Today, Jesus issues a new invitation to each of us to let Him take up residence on the throne of our hearts, or, as St Peter said today, to “sanctify Christ as the Lord of our hearts.” There can only be one King in our hearts. Either ourselves, with our weakness and limitations, or Christ, with his infinite wisdom, power, goodness and holiness.
Today, let us once again make Jesus the Lord of our hearts. Let us hear His words today and allow them to speak into our anxiety, frustration, and pain. He says to you and to me, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” Let us put our trust in His promises, even when it hurts; let us follow His teaching, even when it is inconvenient and unpopular; let us take up our crosses with Christ, remembering with the gift of hindsight, that our story doesn’t end with the Crucifixion; it leads us all the way to the new life of the Resurrection.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 10, 2020:
Have you ever thought about the reality that you have been called by God? Each one of us isn’t a Catholic by accident. We are Catholics today for one singular reason – because God has called us to be. Now, typically when we talk about being called, we are usually talking only about those whose vocation it is to be a priest, a deacon, or a consecrated religious brother or sister, but being called by God, God having a plan for our lives, this is something that belongs to each and every one of us. God calls each of us just personally, He calls each of us tenderly. He calls all of us with a plan in mind.
We heard one of the most beautiful articulations of this call in our second reading from the First Letter of St. Peter. He said, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house…You are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises’ of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” In the next verse beyond our reading, St. Peter says, “Once you were ‘no people’ but now you are God’s people.” These words of St. Peter are directed to all of us, not a select few. Peter reminds us that we are chosen, we are God’s own. He has called US out of darkness. We were no people and now we are God’s people. Each and every one of us.
When we embrace God’s call, we gain a clarity about our identity, a clarity about who God wants us to be. I read a wonderful book a few years ago by Marilyn Robinson called Gilead. It is the fictional autobiography of an elderly Protestant pastor writing letters to his young son for posterity. In one passage he writes, “When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you - What is the Lord asking of me in this moment? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, well, then you are free to act differently than the circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own light. You are freed of the impulse to hate or resent the person. Calvin says somewhere that each of us is an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our behavior. How well do we understand our role? With how much assurance do we perform it?”
I love the thought that God calls us to be present in the world as artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the love of God, consciously responding to the challenges that our world presents in ways that transform them into something new and holy. And it is all about our identity in Christ, and identity given to us through our call. An identity that means to give us and bring out from us incredible joy.
If we are artists, the color we are called to paint the world with is the color of Christian joy. Pope Francis speaks about joy constantly. It is his major theme. In one of his earliest Masses, he said, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy.”
This simple message of joy is critical because we know we live in a world that lacks joy – especially in this moment of crisis. So much of our world in quarantine is filled, absolutely overflowing, with negativity. It’s hard to watch the news or tune in to social media without feeling overwhelmed by the negativity there. The world needs us to share our call, our joy, as God’s followers. In the midst of our isolation, we can feel frustrated asking “What can I do?” The answer is to respond to this moment as artists and actively paint the world with joy; joy that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said, “Joy…always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved” by God.
My friends, this is, what it means for us to be called. You are God’s chosen. Now you are God’s people. And He is calling you to radiate joy. We should be joyful as Jesus was joyful, as joyful as Pope Francis is; radiating the joy that is a gift of God.
The Pope said, “I invite all Christians everywhere to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her. Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.”
My friends, as we continue our Easter journey, as we encounter Jesus who is waiting for us in this Mass today, I want to renew that invitation of Pope Francis in each of our hearts today. Renew your encounter with Jesus who has called you. Renew your encounter with the God who loves you and who has called you to be a people uniquely His own. Let God’s love be planted in you again so that you may beam with joy.
We have been called to show the world how to love. We are here to be the joyful face of God that conquers the darkness of our hearts, the darkness of our times, the darkness of this crisis. Let us be artists of our behavior, artists of our faith, artists who paint the world with the joy that is a gift from God. You were no people, now you are God’s people.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 26, 2020:
Most of you know that my dear, sweet Mom passed away almost two years ago. My Mom and I used to talk on the phone just about every day, and one of the real gifts that I received after her passing was the realization that the many voicemails that she had left me were still saved on my iPhone. I immediately saved them to my computer and so I still have about 40 recordings of my own mother’s voice. I have everything from a casual, “Called to chat. Call me back,” to my Mom singing Happy Birthday to me. These are a real treasure. But, the most important ones, when I’m especially missing Mom the most, are ones where she simply says my name. Mom, and the rest of my family, always call me Tommy. And to hear my mother say “Tommy” cuts right through any sadness and makes me feel close to her.
There is something special about the way that a simple word can break through all of the things that cloud our hearts. Just think of how we see this in the stories of the Resurrection of Jesus that we have been spending time with during our Easter season. We have heard from John’s Gospel, when Mary of Magdala goes to the tomb on that first Easter morning; she is distraught. She sits outside of the tomb weeping. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him,” she says. Jesus appears to her, but in her anguish and sorrow, she doesn’t recognize him. But Jesus simply says her name, “Mary!” and she immediately recognizes Him. A simple word from Jesus pulls Mary Magdalene out of her sorrow, out of her grief, out of her desolation and into incomparable joy. So much joy that she runs from that place to share the good news, “I have seen the Lord!”
Last Sunday it was St. Thomas’ turn. He was not present when Jesus appeared in the upper room. In his own sorrow and distress, He refused to believe the fantastical story the rest were telling Him. So obstinate that he said he would only believe if he could put his fingers in the nail marks in Jesus hands. When Jesus appears again, He merely speaks a few words to Thomas, “Peace be with you” and in an instant all of his doubts dissolve and he makes one of the greatest proclamations of faith in all of Scripture, “My Lord and my God!”
We should not be surprised, then, as we come to today’s Gospel. Once again we have two disciples, this time not Apostles or Jesus most important disciples, instead we have someone named Cleopas and another whose name we are not given. They are travelling along the road to Emmaus. They had followed Jesus with hope and joy. They had truly believed he was sent by God to establish the promised Kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and quite literally walked away.
It was on this journey away from it all that they met a stranger on the road. They listened to him. They watched him break bread. And something moved them deeply. The stranger was not a stranger at all. It was Jesus. He was alive and risen. But note a few things in this passage. The idea of the resurrection was not unknown to them. They tell Jesus, “Some women from our group have astounded us,” and they recount how Mary came and told them of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus was proclaimed to them – they simply didn’t believe it. Their doubts, their dashed hopes, their disillusionment kept them from believing; kept them from seeing the Lord. They let their anger and their confusion get in the way.
And, once again, Jesus breaks through with a word. For Mary it was her name. For Thomas it was the gift of peace. For the disciples this week it was the breaking open of Scripture and sharing the bread. The Risen Lord let Mary weep and waited for her to recognize Him. The Risen Lord let Thomas doubt and waited for him to see. The Risen Lord allowed the disciples on the road to express their dashed hopes and dreams, and waited for their eyes to open. Resurrection waits for grief; it waits for doubt, it waits for dashed hopes and disappointments. Even in the midst of those things, the Risen Christ was there; He was present. Risen, yes. But waiting and weeping; offering peace, and breaking open Word and Sacrament. Because that’s what living, loving people do. They wait, and then with a word of knowing, with a word of peace, with a word of comfort; they break through and new life begins.
We spend so much time reflecting on these stories because we, too, often find ourselves in these same situations. We are often like Mary, inconsolable in our grief. We are often like Thomas, focused on our doubts or our inability to see beyond what we believe to be possible. We are like Cleopas and the other disciple, feeling lost and dejected and uncertain about tomorrow. I think there’s an important reason why we aren’t given the name of the second disciple – it is so we might place our own name there, because we are just like them.
And so these Easter gospels contain an important message for all of us – if we have felt like them in their grief, doubt, and disappointment; maybe we can also feel like them today with their hopes and dreams renewed; their faith restored. My friends, Jesus wants to speak the same words to us today. He speaks our names, He offers us peace, He breaks open Word and Sacrament. He does this so that our hearts might be opened once again to His amazing, miraculous, resurrected presence in our lives. We hear from the prophet Isaiah, “Thus says the LORD, who created you, and formed you: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.”
Notice that each of the disciples felt sad, confused, and dejected the first time they lost Jesus on the Cross – they denied Him, they abandoned Him, and they rejected Him. Notice how different their reaction was when He left them again. “Were not our hearts burning within us?” they said. “They set out at once” and proclaimed “The Lord has truly been raised!"
My friends, listen carefully as Jesus speak your name today, welcome His offer of peace deeply into your heart, open your eyes as he breaks Word and Sacrament, so that you might see Him and let Him set your heart on fire. Resurrection makes us new so that we can again proclaim Christ risen to the world.
May the Lord give you peace.
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FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 5, 2020:
Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation so profound that was greeted by an equally profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In fact, the directives after the Passion Gospel are this, “A brief homily should take place, if appropriate.” In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed, is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is not in words, but it is in image, it is in action – it is the Cross.
We find Jesus on the Cross today – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all of time. He is on that Cross for one reason – because that’s how great His love is for us. Those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is as simple as that; it is as profound as that.
Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, for me. Many of us have heard these words so many times that they no longer carry the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. If you’ve seen the movie The Passion of the Christ, you have at least a sense of the immensity of that love. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His sisters and brothers. He died for us!
This is a story of the profound love that God has for each one of us; the profound hope that God places in each of us; and the profound confidence that God has that we truly can be His people, we can truly achieve the Kingdom, we can truly overcome our own sinfulness, our own weakness – with His grace and with His help. He died for us. How will you respond to what God has done for you?
And there is no more profound moment in my lifetime, and perhaps yours, to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed right now by all that is going on around us. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the very Son of God Himself hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – God has conquered even death. There is nothing that we are facing even in the midst of this crisis that is bigger or more powerful than our God. He died for us; and so we are saved. He died for us; and so we will be okay because we are wrapped in God’s loving and compassionate arms. Those arms that once spanned that beam from left to right are now wrapped around you and around me; and nothing in our world is more powerful than that reality. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and around me.
Of all of the words that Jesus ever spoke, ever preached, ever taught – the most profound message He ever gave us was on that Cross. Jesus could not have explained how much He loves us with all the words in the world. They would never fully contain a love so powerful. And we could never express our gratitude with all the words in the world. “Thanks Jesus” just somehow wouldn’t quite cut it. Instead, as we proclaim this Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If His love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the very action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that strive to be worthy of this kind of love. We are called to give witness to a people who are not afraid, but instead who are comforted by God’s loving embrace. Let us make our prayer, the prayer of St. Faustina, and say with confidence especially in the midst of this moment, “Jesus, I trust in You!”
My friends, today’s celebration marks our entry way into Holy Week. We will spend this next week entering deeply into the story; deeply into the imagery and symbolism and ritual of our salvation – from the Last Supper, through that death and crucifixion, right through to newness of life in the Resurrection of our Lord. We will walk with Him as He conquers His own death; and ours. Today reminds us that our story is one that is full of triumph, the triumph of our King, but it is also one that is full of suffering. Our story is one of grace in the Eucharist, in our own Baptism, it is one that calls us into the service of our brothers and sisters.
My friends, today’s celebration hopes to drive you inward into a profound silence, reflecting on that powerful reality – He died for me. Embrace it and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again; perhaps watch The Passion of the Christ, think about what it means to say that Jesus died for you! Jesus, I trust in You.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.