FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF EASTER, DIVINE MERCY, April 11, 2021:
In 2016, on Palm Sunday, the world was shocked as the Coptic Catholic churches in Egypt were attacked. It was another of those moments of violence and terror that have become a too-regular part of our lives over the last few decades. But in the midst of that tragedy, there was also a great witness of faith.
Following the attacks, a reporter interviewed the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was a security guard at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria. On that Palm Sunday morning, he encountered a man behaving suspiciously. Naseem stopped him outside the church to question him and seconds later, that man detonated a bomb, blowing himself up and killing Naseem. Naseem, a man of faith, saved dozens of lives just by doing his job, and he was hailed as a hero and a martyr.
Days later, his widow was asked in a TV interview for her thoughts about what had happened to her husband. She answered in a way no one expected. She said, “I’m not angry at the one who did this.” Addressing her husband’s killer she said, “Believe me, we forgive you. You put my husband in a place I couldn’t have dreamed of. May God forgive you, and we also forgive you.”
The camera then turned to a stunned anchorman, one of the most popular TV personalities in Egypt, and, a Muslim. Deeply moved, he struggled to find the words. Finally, he said, “The Christians of Egypt are made of steel. How great is this forgiveness! This is their faith!”
This is their faith. And my friends, this is our faith. It has been one week since we celebrated the great feast of Easter – this great feast that teaches us something almost too amazing to be believed – that death has no power over us. Jesus rises, and through our own baptisms, we will also rise with Him. John’s Gospel today tells us of this powerful moment when the disciples are still locked in the upper room. They are confused and filled with fear. All their hopes have been dashed, and the world no longer makes sense. And, what is the first thing that the Risen Jesus says to them? He says, “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” His first words to the disciples are words of forgiveness and mercy. This is our faith.
Today, we celebrate the Second Sunday of Easter, a Sunday that St. John Paul II also named Divine Mercy Sunday for the universal church. The message of this day is the message of Easter – the great fruit of the resurrection of Jesus is the gift of mercy. With His death and resurrection, Jesus reopens the gates of Heaven, gates that were closed by our sin beginning with Adam and Eve. In fact, one of the most powerful Easter icons depicts the Risen Jesus grasping the hands of Adam and Eve and lifting them from the grave. Adam and Eve are then the first to experience the mercy that was won for us in Christ.
Just look at how this message of mercy has been affirmed each day during this Octave of Easter. Each day has been a day of mercy and forgiveness as Jesus encounters His own disciples who betrayed Him, denied Him, and abandoned Him. The first thing that the Risen Jesus does is to seek them out, show them His mercy, forgive their sins, and reconcile them. Mercy is the great fruit of the resurrection.
St. John Paul made this a special day for the universal church because of his own devotion to God’s divine mercy. In 2001, he said, “Jesus said to St. Faustina: ‘Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to God’s Divine Mercy’. Divine Mercy is the Easter gift that the Church receives from the risen Christ and offers to humanity.”
And, we have no greater promoter of mercy than our current Pope, Francis. His whole life has been formed, shaped, and directed by God’s mercy. For example, Pope Francis repeatedly tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. As the story goes, when he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and his plan that day was to propose marriage to his girlfriend at the picnic. But, as he passed by the local church, he decided to pop in to say a prayer. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession to him. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced unmistakably and powerfully what he described as the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment that the only meaning his life could have would be to show everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, he felt called and he discovered his special vocation of mercy. That day, he never caught that train. He didn’t go to the picnic; and he never proposed to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that single, extraordinary moment of mercy. And, he tells us that because of that experience more than 60 years ago he adopted the motto that he has used as bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and pope “miserando atque eligendo” which translates as, “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
Mercy is the fruit of the resurrection. In an Angelus message devoted to the topic of mercy, Pope Francis said, “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
And just as in the Eucharist there is an exchange – we become what we receive; so too with mercy. We receive this mercy that we do not deserve and could never earn; and then are called to extend that same mercy to all those we encounter. The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God's mercy, because it is deep beyond our comprehension. But we must! We might say, ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ Jesus' attitude is striking: we do not hear the words of scorn, we do not hear words of condemnation, but only words of love, of mercy, which are an invitation to conversation. ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.’ Brothers and Sisters, God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about God's patience, the patience He has with each one of us? God understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
Today, my friends, let us receive the gift of God’s mercy. A gift that He showers on us. It is limitless, powerful, overwhelming. And then, let us bear the fruit of that mercy by bringing it into all the broken places in our lives – the broken relationships, the persistent sins, the words spoken that we wish we could take back. All that mercy to bear fruit in your life and the lives of others. Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. This mercy is beautiful. “God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Offering mercy changes everything. Let us bring life to the dry bones around us by being agents of God’s mercy. “I have given you an example. As I have done, so too, you must do.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021:
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a favorite book of mine called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, even though I read that book a number of years ago, this particular passage is one that I have thought of often during this year of pandemic. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
My friends, on this beautiful Easter morning, we are invited to reflect upon the most amazing event in all of history – something almost too amazing to be believed – that truth that Jesus has risen; that He has conquered even death itself. Today, especially as our whole world is wrapped up in this pandemic; as we are focused on the nearly 3 million dead from COVID around the world, more than 550,000 of them here in our own country – we today once again claim resurrection – for them, for all those who have died, for ourselves, for our world. We remember that God is faithful and wants nothing more than for us to come home to Him.
The story of the first Easter is one that can speak to us so profoundly once again because the message of the Resurrection is a message of triumph and hope; it is a message of presence and love; it is a message of life that conquers death – always, everywhere. While we have gone through a year of quarantine, lockdown, facemasks and social distancing – many places in the world still in the midst of lockdown, it is not all that different from what the disciples experienced on that first Easter. On the first Easter morning, the disciples were not gathered at the synagogue, they were not celebrating with family and friends. Where were they? St. John describes it this way, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Those first disciples, Jesus’ closest companions, on the first Easter were locked in a room in fear. They were in self-imposed quarantine in that upper room as the most amazing event in the history of the world unfolded. In a sense, we can connect with that first Easter, because for the first time in our lifetimes, we know what it feels like to be afraid even to go out. But, let’s not get lost in the comparison. The main difference between the first disciples and us today is that they did not know what we know. They were locked in the upper room because they were afraid of the crowds; they were disheartened because their Savior had died. They did not know – as we know – that the story was not over yet; that the stone has been rolled away; that Jesus had conquered even death itself and had been risen.
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” The disciples locked in their upper room were most certainly weary, bitter, and bewildered. But notice that even their fear could not keep Jesus away. God is faithful and wants us to come home. For the disciples, even their locked doors could not keep Jesus out. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
And He does the same for you and for me today. We may feel locked up because of our appropriate fear and caution about COVID – we can’t do the things we used to do; we can’t do them the way we used to – at least not yet. But, even with our fears and anxieties, Jesus still comes to us. He stands in our midst and says the words we have all been waiting to hear, “Peace be with you. Be filled with the gift of my peace. Let me take your fear, your worry, your anxiety; your weariness or bewilderment – give it to me and replace it with my peace.”
Pope Francis, reflecting on the women who had the courage to leave that locked room and go to the tomb, said, “Today we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, of rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone’, the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on Him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, He comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.”
My friends, today we celebrate the singular event that changed the course of human history, and changed the course of our own lives. We embrace it with the newness that reminds us that God is still faithful; God is still calling. But, today, especially in the midst of this difficult year, we need to embrace not just Christ’s resurrection, but our own as well. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” As we celebrate this holy day, we may find ourselves feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, anxious and fearful, even far from God or far from the Church. But, today our faithful God welcomes us home again; our faithful God enters our homes and our hearts again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
Pope Francis said, “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or am I looking for the Living One? Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek Jesus in all things and above all things. With Him, we will rise again.”
As we reflect on the ways that we feel weary or bitter or broken down by all that life has been dealing us, remember that even these struggles cannot keep Jesus out. He breaks own any walls in our lives, moves aside any stones blocking the way, and stands before each of us and says, “Peace be with you. Peace is my gift to you.” Open your hearts the His presence and allow yourselves to be filled with that peace that comes only from the Risen One.
My friends God is faithful. He has risen, as He promised, and is present to us every moment of our lives. “I am with you always,” He told us. Allow the grace of His resurrection make you a new creation, lift any pain or anxiety, take away any weariness or bewilderment. Allow Him to fill you with His peace.
“Do not be afraid. Behold, He has been raised from the dead.” My you be raised up as well today.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY, March 28, 2021:
Jesus Christ “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In the liturgy, before the Second Vatican Council, on Palm Sunday after the reading of the Passion, there was no homily. Even the concluding acclamation: “The Gospel of the Lord” was omitted. It was a proclamation so profound that was greeted by an equally profound silence. Our liturgy today still calls for a respect for that silence. In fact, the directives after the Passion Gospel are this, “A brief homily should take place, if appropriate.” In the face of the Cross of Jesus, in recognition of his Passion and Death for us, the most eloquent response to this saving Word of God we have proclaimed, is silence. The best, most profound homily that could ever be preached is not in words, but it is in image, it is in action – it is the Cross.
We find Jesus on the Cross today – not for any sin of His own, but for the sins of all of us throughout all of time. He is on that Cross because that’s how great His love is for us. Those two crossed pieces of wood are the most profound symbol of love that there is. Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is as simple as that; it is as profound as that.
Listen to those words: “He died for us.” He died for you, for me, for everyone. Many of us have heard these words so many times that they no longer carry the shock of someone dying on account of what we have done. The challenge for each of us is to hear this message again today as though it were the first time, the story of a man who literally died for the sins of His sisters and brothers. He died for us!
And there is no more appropriate moment to be reminded of this profound reality of God’s love. We can feel overwhelmed by all that has happened over this last year. We can feel anxious, alone, and afraid. But, the Son of God hanging on that Cross reminds us of the most powerful reality – that God has conquered death. There is nothing that we are facing – even in the midst of this pandemic – t that is bigger or more powerful than God. He died for us; and so we are saved. He died for us; and so we will be okay because we are wrapped in God’s loving and compassionate arms. Those arms that once spanned that beam from left to right are now wrapped around you and around me; and nothing in our world is more powerful than that. Feel the embrace of Jesus around you right now because He opened those arms on the Cross and then wrapped them around you and me.
As we proclaim the Passion and let it sink into our hearts, we are meant to be awestruck, humbled, silenced. If Christ’s love was shown through this profound action, our gratitude will likewise require the action of the way we live our lives in response. We are called to live lives that worthy of this kind of love.
My friends, let us allow ourselves to be drawn into the profound silence this day demands – He died for you. Let those words linger all week. He died for you. Embrace those words and allow Christ’s Passion to form you, change you. Take some time this week and read this story again slowly and reflectively. He died for you. Let the reality of Christ’s Passion make this a truly holy week for us all.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 7, 2021:
I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. Historically, our Church is very important. St. Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest church in the Fall River diocese – so from Attleboro to Nantucket, this is the oldest church. It was built in 1852 replacing a small wooden church – St. John the Baptist – which also once stood on this site. That church was built in the late 1830s. This one was built because of the growing number of immigrant millworkers coming to Fall River. The community needed a church that could hold 1,200 people. Currently we hold 800, but the balcony at the back used to extend all the way around to the front. Later, in 1904, when our diocese broke away from the Diocese of Providence to become the Diocese of Fall River, this church took on another notable role becoming the Cathedral Church of the then-new diocese.
So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer the spiritual reason – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.
A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.
And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We bless ourselves with holy water, and make the sign of the Cross. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him. We act differently here than any other of the many places we go to.
And this brings us to our Gospel today. Today’s passage is the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.
But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living, breathing temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.
Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us. And if we treat this building – these stones and windows – different than we treat other buildings; then the same should be true of the Temple of our bodies. Do we treat our own bodies – by what we say, what we do, the things we engage in – do we treat this temple, our personal temple, with the reverence that it deserves?
”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.
My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, February 28, 2021:
Imagine the scene we just heard unfold in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Take a moment and take in that sight. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment of Transfiguration was a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet really revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the very voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, everything was different. From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light.
It was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter himself tells us in his second letter, “With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Now we may not have had quite the experience that Peter, James and John did; but hopefully, we have had some experience of transfiguration in our own lives. Hopefully, we have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is our preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this simple table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
The challenge for us is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off to the heavenly, to the miraculous because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
For me, it called to mind our twice weekly Grab & Go meals at our Pope Francis Outreach Center. For almost a year now, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been offering two hot meals a week – every Wednesday and Friday – to anyone in our community experiencing food insecurity. We have been providing roughly 350 meals every time we do this. We will have provided over 40,000 meals when we reach that one year mark next month. Each week, this simple gesture of providing a meal gives us countless examples of experiencing the presence of Christ in our everyday lives. These have become moments of true transfiguration.
Let me share on particular encounter one of our volunteers had. She shared, “A gentleman I met expressed to me how grateful he was receiving the meals that we offer but especially the whole turkey we offered at Thanksgiving time. He wanted to make soup with it, but didn’t have anything to put into it. Then, he remembered we also offered fresh produce boxes and they had everything he needed. He made the soup, but then instead of keeping it just for himself, he gave it away to as many others people as it would feed, knowing they could use it too. He said that his mother told him to always have faith and God would take care of you.” You see, he saw God’s care for him in our food distribution, and he used that moment to be God’s care for those around him. “What you did for the least of my sisters and brothers, you did for me.”
This volunteer said, “In the beginning when we gave the food we would always say ‘God bless you’ to the people receiving it. For many months now, most of them say it to me before I do. People are not only in need of the food, but just as much, they are looking forward to interacting with us; to having a little bit of kindness and holiness in their day.”
My friends, this is Transfiguration if our eyes – like those of Peter, James, and John – are opened. Jesus continually takes us up the mountain of transfiguration and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; and how it changes the lives of our volunteers feeding the hungry. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Transfiguration is meant not to be limited and infrequent – it is meant to be multiplied. We see Jesus before us; and then multiply that presence in and through our lives.
My friends, let us open our hearts today to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. As we see Jesus revealed to us in the Holy Eucharist once again today, let us also turn our gaze to one another; to the world around us; to those on the margins – and recognize that Jesus is there too. Let us multiply this Transfiguration over and over and over again. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again His luminous presence in our world.
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF LENT, February 21, 2021:
The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “When on Ash Wednesday we hear 'you are dust,’ we are told everything that we are: nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life forever."
My thoughts today are still stuck reflecting on our beautiful Ash Wednesday celebrations this week. We had a wonderful turnout for our COVID times, and particularly moving for me where our drive-thru ashes offered outside of the Cathedral in the afternoon. More than 50 cars pulled up filled with people who otherwise do not yet feel confident coming to in-persons services during the pandemic. It was wonderful for me, as your pastor, to see so many parishioners who I haven’t seen since all of this began nearly a year ago.
Ash Wednesday is so moving because it is one of the most authentic movements of faith that we see each year. None of us are obliged to attend on Ash Wednesday. It is not a holy day of obligation. It is an optional celebration. And yet, ask even the most marginal Catholic and they will tell you, “I have to get my ashes.”
I experienced Wednesday as a profound sign that says that even though there may be many people who do not attend Mass each week, there is still an incredible hunger for the divine, a yearning for something greater than ourselves, a desire for something more meaningful than the superficial pleasures the world has to offer, and even a deep recognition that we are sinners in need of God’s abundant mercy. This is true any normal year; I think all of these things are multiplied in these challenging times. We still desire that closeness to God in the depths of our hearts. And, I think, there is something profoundly humbling about placing ashes on our heads – something that roots us once again in God, reminding us of who He is and who we are in His sight.
Just think of the symbolism. On a very natural level, the ashes we receive are a reminder that all things end. They remind us that our time on earth is limited, that we will one day return to the dust from which we came. As we pray at a funeral Mass, “O God, who have set a limit to this present life, so as to open up an entry into eternity...” Our time on earth does not last forever, it has a limit. But, even that limit is a sign of new life – it opens up an entry into eternity.
Our ashes represent this cycle so beautifully. The ashes we scattered on our head as a reminder that we are dust, just a year ago were the vibrant and green palms that welcomed Christ and His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We have now replaced those “hosannas” of last year with the cry, “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.” This paschal cycle of life, death, and new life is renewed once again as we enter into this sacred season.
Pope Francis, in his homily on Ash Wednesday last year, gave an incredibly evocative reflection on the phrase, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” and those ashes that we receive. He said, “Ashes are a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.” He said, “Lent is a time for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.” Not to remain ashes, but to be transformed from ashes to newness of life.
You know, scientists tell us that the matter that makes up every human body originally began as the matter of the stars. Every atom in our body started out as the carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen of a star. That means that we are all literally composed of star dust – each one of us. And, I think God did that on purpose so that we will know from the moment of our creation is that our origin is luminous and our destiny is to shine just as brightly. From the origins of the universe until our individual births, we were created to be luminous beings. Our Lenten journey begins with that same dust on our heads as a reminder that these 40 days of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving are all meant to renew us so that we can again shine the light and love and mercy and compassion of Christ more brightly than before. To become luminous once again.
The Holy Father said, “We are precious dust that is destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory. We are dust that is loved by God.”
My friends, “You are dust and to dust you will return.” But embrace that identity and all the luminosity it promises. Yes, we are dust – but we are dust that is loved by God. God loves every luminous part of your being and wants nothing more than for you to shine with the brightness of a thousand stars. And so, my friends, let us allow ourselves to be loved by God. Let us invite God to shower us with His forgiveness and mercy, especially during these 40 days. Let us remind ourselves of our preciousness in God’s sight – so precious that He created us out of the stars themselves.
As Rahner said, “We are nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; and dust that is God’s life forever.” May we all have a holy and luminous Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR ASH WEDNESDAY, February 17, 2021:
There is a sweet quality to our gathering here today as we once again enter into the season of Lent and begin our 40 day journey of prayer, fasting, and charitable giving that will lead us all the way to Easter Sunday. I say a sweet quality because last year, we gathered to begin our 40 days as we do each year; and then just two weeks later, it was taken away from us as we entered into a lockdown and quarantine that would last all the way to the summer.
As we went into lockdown last year and public celebrations of the Holy Mass and other sacraments were suspended, I made the comment that we were about to enter into the most serious and difficult Lent of our lifetimes. Rather than fasting from candy, or too much television, or video games, or soft drinks, we were called to fast from the Holy Mass, fast from receiving the Eucharist, fast from gathering in our communities or in our prayer groups, or in-person faith formation. It was the hardest fast of our lives. But, my hope, is that it was also a fruitful fast. St. “Padre” Pio said, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” We know the meaning of these words more profoundly than we ever have before because of the year we have endured.
My hope as we gather today – once again in person; once again with all of the hopes and expectations of what this Lent will offer – is that if last year was the most difficult Lent of our lifetimes, let us make this year the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. Because we desperately need that holiness. We know the proverb that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” If we have been attentive to the hunger in our hearts during this year of pandemic, we should be profoundly hungry for the things of God; profoundly hungry for the Eucharist that nourishes us; profoundly hungry for the grace of forgiveness that we find in Confession; profoundly in need of the connections we find here in the midst of the assembly; profoundly desperate for the holiness that can only be found through faith, through the sacraments, through the church. Sometimes you have to lose something to know what we you had.
So my encouragement to each one of us today is to make this a holy Lent; in fact the holiest Lent of your life. Do not let today be just like every other Ash Wednesday you’ve experienced. We heard the Prophet Joel’s plea, “Even now, says the Lord return to me with your whole heart.” God doesn’t want just part of us. He doesn’t want lip service. He doesn’t want superficial sacrifices during these 40 days. God doesn’t want us to engage in a Lent that is barely noticeable. He wants our whole heart. He wants everything. And He wants that because when we give everything to God, in return we receive everything; we receive nothing short of holiness.
Pope Francis said today, “Lent is a journey of return to God and an opportunity to deepen our love for our brothers and sisters. God is appealing to our hearts and our entire being, inviting us to Him. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends.”
This is what our Lent can be about – returning home to God on whom everything depends; allowing God to overwhelm us with His love, satisfy us with the Eucharist, and restore us with His mercy. God doesn’t hold back. God doesn’t try and keep His presence from us. In fact, He wants nothing more than for us to be completely immersed in the healing waters of His mercy, completely satisfied with the Bread that comes from Heaven, completely filled with holiness by embracing these days of Lent.
Saint Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself; so that He who has given Himself completely to you, can receive you completely.” This is the divine exchange that we are invited into today and all through Lent. God wants to give Himself to you and to me completely. And He asks that we do the same.
As we begin our Lenten journey today, know in the depths of your hearts that God waits for you to shower you with His love and His mercy. Let us plan these 40 days well so that everything we do has one goal – to till the soil of our hearts so that God can plant the gift of His love, His mercy, His presence there; so that we might be transformed into those same gifts for the world to see. Our God waits for us so that this Lent might not be just another Lent – but that in fact it might become the holiest Lent of our lifetimes. And that will make all the difference.
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 14, 2021:
In 1981, violinist Peter Cropper, was invited to Finland to play a special concert. The Royal Academy of Music in London had loaned him their priceless 285-year-old Stradivarius violin for use in the concert. The violin takes its name from its maker, Antonio Stradivari, who made it from over 80 pieces of special wood and covered with 30 coats of special varnish. The special sound of a Stradivarius has never been duplicated.
Peter arrived in Finland with the rare and beautiful instrument for his concert, however, as he was walking on stage for the performance, he tripped and fell, landing on top of the priceless treasure, breaking it into several pieces. He flew back to London in a state of shock. However, his good fortune was a master craftsman named Charles Beare who worked for well over a month to attempt to repair the violin. Once he had it back together, came the dreaded moment of truth – what would the violin sound like?
Beare handed the violin to Cropper, who’s heart was pounding inside his chest as he picked up his bow to play. Those present could hardly believe their ears. Not only was the violin’s sound excellent, it even sounded better than before. In the months ahead Cropper took the violin on a worldwide tour, beginning in New York at Carnegie Hall and the precious violin that everyone thought ruined drew standing ovations everywhere it went.
The story of this violin is a helpful in understanding what is going on in our Scriptures today. Both our First Reading and Gospel passage talk about something that is not really a part of our daily lives anymore – the scourge of leprosy. It was something more commonly seen in ancient times and even just a century ago – we recall saints like Saint Marianne Cope and Saint Damian of Molokai who cared for lepers in Hawaii about 100 years ago – but in our own world today, encountering people with this difficult disease is not a part of our regular life. But, in ancient times, people were terribly afraid of encountering a leper; afraid that they themselves might catch the disease from them. The leper’s life was difficult to say the least. People turned away at their sight and even Psalm 31 tells us from the leper’s perspective, “Those who know me are afraid of me; when they see me in the street, they run away. I am like something thrown away.”
To this tragic figure, Jesus responds lovingly and with compassion, not turning or running away, but moving close, touching the man and healing him. The story of the leper, like the story of the violin, both serve as a metaphor for our contemporary experience. The remind us of something that happens over and over in life. Too frequently tragedy strikes our lives – perhaps a loved one dies, or a friend betrays us, or an accident leaves someone disabled, or we or someone we know loses their job, or we know people suffering from the challenge of addiction. The list can go on.
When struggle, challenge and even tragedy strike our lives, we can be overwhelmed and crushed, just like the leper must have been when he realized the disease he had contracted. We can be plunged into shock, like Peter Cropper when he broke the precious violin. But, both of these stories remind us that, with Jesus, there is nothing that we can’t survive; there is nothing that we can’t recover from; that there is no moment from which we can’t pick up the pieces and begin again.
Like the craftsman who fixed the violin – Jesus is always waiting to repair whatever is broken in our lives. That and more. Jesus can take our brokenness and transform it into something better and more beautiful than it was before. St. Paul sums it up this way in Second Corinthians, “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…Therefore, we are not discouraged.”
This, my friends, is the Good News of our Scriptures today – that even bad news can be transformed through faith. That Jesus can transform our challenge and suffering into something beautiful and more precious if we surrender it to Him and invite Jesus into the middle of it. Our story, our faith, always ends with resurrection and renewal. It never ends at the Cross.
Let me conclude with an old prayer that you may have heard before:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among all people, most richly blessed.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 7, 2021:
Our Scriptures today invite us to contend with the most difficult question in all of religion: Why do we suffer? It is a question that each one of us has thought about at one point or another on our spiritual journey. And it is a particularly relevant question in the midst of this year of pandemic. There is a lot of suffering in our world, and it is natural for us to want to know why.
Our first reading today is the most iconic story of suffering in Scripture – the story of Job. We heard his desperation, “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.” Job had lost everything – his land, his possessions and even his family; add to that a plague and other horrors. Listen to the anguish in his words, “My days come to an end without hope…I shall not see happiness again.”
Job sees no purpose in his suffering. He can’t make meaning of what he’s enduring and so he complains to God. Job feels helpless and hopeless. I imagine that when we hear these words of Job, we can identify with him in one way or another – either in trying to make sense of our own suffering or in trying to understand why others suffer; or trying to understand this virus that has taken 2.3 million lives around the world in less than a year; nearly half a million of them here. We’ve all felt like Job wondering why things have to be the way they are. Why bad things happen; especially to good people.
Job reminds me of the mother of a good friend of mine. Her name was Adele and she passed away a number of years ago. She was a wonderful, joyful, beautiful woman, but she also had many Job-like moments in her life. She lost her father when she was very young, her brother died at 16, she had 7 miscarriages before finally carrying a baby to term in her 40s, she suffered through cancer, heart attacks, lost her kidneys and had to undergo dialysis for years, and she suffered from diabetes that in the end required the partial amputation of a leg. She had sufferings that could give Job a run for his money and she could have very easily said like him, “I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.” But, Adele never spoke the words of Job. Instead, she said regularly, “Don’t waste your suffering. Offer it up and unite it to the suffering of Christ.” Even when faced with amputation, she didn’t ask how she could avoid it or ask why this was happening to her. Instead she asked, “What does God want me to do with this suffering?” And before she was taken into surgery, she prayed thanking God for the use of her legs all those years, for carrying her around, and allowing her to be a good mother. She was an incredible witness of faith in the transformative power of suffering.
The dramatist Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away our suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” You see, for we who believe in Christ, suffering is never without meaning. With the eyes of faith, in our suffering is an opportunity to participate in the great act of our redemption. What our world forgets in our no-pain-day-and-age is that suffering is an invitation to be united with Christ on His cross; to be united in the salvation of the world. Souls can be redeemed and saved and prayers answered when we direct our suffering, offer it up, to this spiritual end. And, importantly, in our suffering, we are not alone. Jesus is right there by our side carrying the cross with us, filling our suffering with His loving presence; giving it meaning; making it holy.
So, we can continue to ask why there is suffering in the world, but the evidence would suggest that we are not going to get an answer to that question. Suffering and pain seem to be part of the human condition. We do know this – they are not caused by God. We do not have a spiteful God content with afflicting people. Job, for example, was righteous and did nothing wrong to warrant his suffering. And when we stop asking why is there suffering, we can move on to the more meaningful question, “What can I do with this? How can I invite God to be with me in this moment?” These are the questions worth asking and the ones that invite us into the amazing opportunity to allow God to transform our suffering. Let God fill it with His presence; fill it with His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, healing, and the very salvation of souls. Remember that it is Job, even in the midst of his suffering, who proclaims one of the most famous statements in Scripture: “I know that my redeemer lives.”
So, my friends, tonight, let us bring whatever pain and suffering we experience; as well as all of the suffering that we see around us and in our world; especially the suffering from this pandemic – let us bring it all to the Lord and ask Him to fill our suffering – as well as every part of our lives – with His presence and transform it into nothing short of glory.
May the Lord fill you with His presence tonight – especially through this Eucharist, and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 31, 2021:
Let me ask you a question. Do you think you know who is going to win the Super Bowl next week? I’m a bit torn this year. Of course, what Tom Brady has done is so impressive making it to his 10th Super Bowl, but I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven him yet for leaving us. Regardless of how we all feel, though, today we don’t know how the game will go next week. Just like we don’t know who will win the World Series next Fall or any other event. You see, not knowing is a part of our human condition. It is our lot to live, sometimes uneasily, with uncertainty. There are many occasions in life where it would be great to have a chance to “ask the audience” or “phone a friend,” but instead we’re stuck with not knowing; we must live in the moment and experience things as they unfold.
Our Scriptures today, though, paint a very different picture. In place of our normal state of uncertainty and unknowing, we are given images of authority and clarity, wisdom and knowledge. In our first reading, Moses foretells the authority we’ll see in Jesus, “A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kin; to him you shall listen.” And Jesus shows that authority in our Gospel. As we heard, “The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.”
Our passage shows Jesus as an invited speaker at the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum. Those gathered were wondering what He was going to say, and how He was going to say it. It was the typical practice of rabbis to build on the teachings of their predecessors. They would often refer to explanations given by more famous rabbis in the past to give greater credibility to their own. They spoke on someone else’s authority. The people in our Gospel passage today are astounded at Jesus words because He doesn’t speak on the authority of great rabbis of the past. He speaks with His own authority, which comes from Him alone as the Son of God. And His Word, His authority is effective. Notice His dealing with the unclean spirit. Jesus merely speaks and the unclean spirit comes out of the man, just like that.
This reminds us of God’s own voice that we hear of in the Book of Genesis. When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light. When He said, “Let there be dry land,” there was dry land, and so on. God’s word is active and creative and does not rely on any other power or authority. It is a power all its own.
Jesus, the very same Word of God in human form, shares in this same power and authority. He speaks differently than everyone else. If He were simply a rabbi or a scribe, He’d have explained the Law of Moses to them. No more, no less. If He were only another prophet, He would simply have handed on the Word of God to them. He would have said, “Thus says the Lord…” But, Jesus speaks for Himself. He is God’s voice, God’s authority. Small wonder then, that they were so amazed at His words. After all it was like no other teaching before.
My friends, when Jesus says, “Those whose sins you forgive are forgiven,” it isn’t a suggestion. It happens; they are gone as though they never existed. When He says, “This is my Body; this is my Blood” His word is so powerful that it not only created the Eucharist that night of the Last Supper, it created every Eucharist that would ever exist throughout all of time – that’s what we connect with sacramentally here today and at every Mass. Jesus Body and Blood are as truly present on this altar as they were in the Upper Room on the night of the Last Supper. Psalm 33 tells us that “He spoke and it came to be. He commanded and it sprang into being.” His words created the universe. His words forgive sins. His words change bread into Body. His words change our lives.
And, what’s even more incredible, is that Jesus continues to speak with this authority today to each and every one of us. He says with authority to you and me the same powerful words: “Your sins are forgiven”, “This is my Body”, “Behold I make all things new.” And so imagine what Jesus can do in our lives. Imagine the impossible situations that we believe we’re in sometimes; the type of situations that we think can never change, can never be made better, that we must simply accept. The moments of loneliness, or broken relationships, or grief and sorrow. Jesus wants to speak His word into those moments of our lives. Jesus word isn’t only about bread and wine becoming Body and Blood – His word is about changing this broken world into the Kingdom He promised us – one that reaches out to the margins, to the dark places, and even into our very own lives and hearts.
So think today about where you need to hear Jesus word spoken with authority in your life. What can Jesus transform and heal and make whole in our hearts? The relationships He can restore, the sins He can overcome, the hearts He can mend, the compassion He can extend, the love He can show, the world He can change – if only we ask Him to speak His Word – a Word of power and authority unlike any other to have ever been spoken – to speak that Word to our hearts. He will speak and we will be made new.
“The people were astonished at [Jesus] teaching, for He taught them as one having authority.” Let the word of Jesus spoken again here today change you, heal you and make you new – and let us take that word to the world around us.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 24, 2021:
“When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn't always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours.”
These are the words of a young woman, Amanda Gorman, from perhaps the most stunning moment this week as our nation went through it’s every-four-year moment of civic liturgy with the peaceful transition of power. I think one of the things I always find moving about inauguration is that it brings all of our nation together – it doesn’t matter who you voted for, or what side of the various arguments you find yourself on – this is a day to celebrate America, to celebrate democracy, to be united – even if that union is brief.
As always, I am in awe once again as our Scriptures today speak so powerfully to the moment in time we find ourselves in. Amanda mentioned braving the belly of the beast, a reference to the story of Jonah in our first reading today. I think Jonah is a good prophet for our times, for this moment, even though, when you look at the story, Jonah was not a good prophet. He was an angry one, who did not want to bring God’s message of mercy to his enemy.
As a child, I had one of those illustrated children’s Bible’s that I’m sure many of you had. In particular, I can still vividly remember the engaging and dramatic illustrations that helped the stories come to life. I think of the image of Noah’s Arc being tossed by the storm. Or the dramatic scene from Mark’s gospel of the man being lowered through the roof of the house by his friends so that Jesus could heal him. And, of course, I remember Jonah with the dramatic picture of him being coughed onto the beach from the belly of the whale, the belly of the beast, which brought him to Nineveh.
Our passage today picks begins right after that moment. It’s an understatement to say that Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh. In fact, that is the whole point of the whale. God came into Jonah’s life and gave him this great mission – to be His prophet and to proclaim a message of healing, unity, and mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah did not want to do this. For Jonah, the Ninevites were his greatest enemy. This was the capital of the empire that had conquered Israel. The city itself was a den of iniquity – full of godlessness, immorality, and corruption. He would have gladly brought them a message of doom – “The end is near; soon you will be punished.” But mercy? Never. In fact, Jonah ran the other way trying to get as far away from this task as he could. But God would not relent – He sent a storm to topple the ship Jonah was fleeing on, and then a great fish to swallow him up and bring him back to Nineveh.
Jonah eventually complies with God’s request – but barely. The great surprise to Jonah is that as soon as these “godforsaken” people heard his message of repentance, they received it with eagerness, they repented with sincerity – from the King to the most lowly – and they regained God’s mercy and forgiveness. They found God in their lives again. Happy ending, right? Not for Jonah. After his enemy repents, Jonah is angrier than he was in the beginning. We’re told, “This greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry…[He said], ‘O Lord, please take my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.’ Jonah left the city, built himself a hut, and waited under the shade, to see what would happen.” Jonah’s heart was full of hatred for his enemy; and it blinded him to what God wanted to do.
And this is why I think Jonah is a helpful prophet for our times. His story shows us, as Scripture often does, that nothing is impossible for God. God can change the hearts of even the most godless people, and if we preach His message, we can be part of that change, we can be a partner with God in bringing forth goodness, healing, mercy, and forgiveness. But, how often are we more like Jonah? We don’t want what’s best for our enemies, or those we disagree with, we want their destruction. Our victory can only come through their defeat.
But God is calling us to something better; something bigger; something holier. When we look at those with whom we struggle – can we wish what’s best for them? Can we hope for their goodness? Can we pray for their holiness and conversion of heart? Can we help them to change? Or do we only wish their defeat.
My friends, the message for us today is that what God asked of Jonah, He asks of us. God wants each one of us to be His witnesses, His servants, His messengers. He wants us to deliver His message that no one is beyond His love, no one is beyond His forgiveness; no one is beyond the ability to be changed from darkness into light, from sorrow to joy, from even sin into glory – all by the loving mercy of our God. And this should be our deepest wish for our enemies; not their destruction, but their reception of all that God promises.
My brothers and sisters, God is still sending each of us on mission to Nineveh. He wants us to bring His Word to all of the places where it is missing; even to the places that seem the farthest away from Him; even to those we might consider an enemy, or unworthy of that call. God invites us to be the Good News spoken to unimaginable places and impossible situations. The good news for us is that these hopeless cases are not hopeless after all. For if even Nineveh could turn back to God so can any situation we encounter in life. Nothing – no difficulty, no hurt or pain, no illness, no broken relationship, no sin, no division or disagreement – nothing, is beyond the power of God to heal, to change, to turn into glory.
Let us pledge to be missionaries of God’s loving and merciful message; and in doing so be the instruments of peace and unity that our world so desperately needs right now. Let me end as I began, with some of the words of Amanda Gorman:
“When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we're brave enough to see it
If only we're brave enough to be it
And yet, the dawn is ours.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 17, 2021:
Jesus asks what is perhaps the most fundamental question of faith in our Gospel today. He says, “What are you looking for?” Of all the things that Jesus says throughout the Gospels, this is the foundational question that every follower of Jesus has got to ask at some point in their journey with the Lord. What are you looking for? It’s a profound question and I think John’s Gospel wants us to hear it that way. John wants that question to hang in the air a bit to let it do its work on us.
And, I think it is given even greater weight in the midst of our world today. In the midst of a global pandemic, in the midst of the anger, violence, and division in our nation, in the midst the challenges facing our economy, and food insecurity, and renewed racism and prejudice – Jesus wants to know, “What are you looking for?” or more directly, why are you here?
There is an interesting, and even humorous, pattern in John’s Gospel. In John, Jesus often makes such deep and profound statements, and those He speaks to just as often miss the point. For example, Jesus tells Nicodemus that to see the kingdom, “you must be born again, from above.” Nicodemus misses the point as he tries to figure out the logistics of being physically reborn, “How can a person once grown old be born again?” he asks. Or when Jesus says to the woman at the well that He can give her living water springing up to eternal life, she responds, “Where are you going to get that water? You don’t even have a bucket!”
Similarly in today’s passage, when Jesus asks the disciples, “What are you looking for?” he’s asking them the deep, profound question of faith. Their response, “Where are you staying?” It reminds me of the early days of St. Francis of Assisi’s conversion. In a spectacular and miraculous moment, Jesus spoke to Francis from the cross in the chapel of San Damiano. Jesus said, “Francis, rebuild my church which you can see has fallen into ruins.” St. Francis physically and literally rebuilt four churches before he realized that Jesus was calling him to lead a renewal of the universal church, a renewal of faith in the people – not become the church’s new contractor.
And as we look at these challenging situations all over our world, and especially here in our nation – mostly by people who call themselves Christians – it can seem like perhaps we too need to refocus ourselves on what it means to be a believer; on what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. What are you looking for?
The reality is that it is too easy to miss the incredible experience of the living God that is presented to us over and over. Just think of the Eucharist. This is the most incredible encounter with God possible on Earth. God miraculously transforms mere bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of His Son, and more incredibly invites us into the same transformation by our reception of the Blessed Sacrament. And yet, how often do we come to Mass with eyes that are not fully open to this miracle before us? We come from the busyness of our lives; we come consumed with our cares and concerns; we come with a sort of boredom because even this miracle can become ordinary. And yet, God will come down upon this altar once again today; and He wants to enter our lives once again today. What are you looking for?
Today, Jesus is asking us that critical question once again, “What are you looking for?” Why are you here? Let us not be so dulled to the question; let us not be so engrossed in worldly things that we miss the invitation right in front of us. When Jesus asked the first disciples, “What are you looking for?” it was His way of seeing what they think is important, what matters? Because if they are going to follow Him, they will have to discover what is important to Him. Their response, simply because they don’t seem to grasp His deeper meaning, is to ask, “Where are you staying?” Although they don’t understand the question, it isn’t really a bad answer. It says that they are willing to learn. They are willing to spend time with Jesus. Jesus responds, “Come and see,” and they go stay with him. There they begin learn from Jesus what really matters. They learn what it means to be invited into His kingdom of love, compassion, joy, and forgiveness.
To the question, what are you looking for, there is really only one answer: I’m looking for holiness; I’m looking for peace; I’m looking for unity; I want to be like Jesus – these are all the fruits of the believer. The other things that are so prominent in our world today – anger, violence, and division – these are fruits too, but they are not the fruits of faith; they are the fruits of the Great Deceiver, the Evil One.
As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday on Monday, it is fitting that we reflect on what his life of faith taught us about what matters. He showed us that what matters is the unity of humanity; what matters is peace, dignity, justice, and love. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Dr. King said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude. Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” These are the kinds of words that our nation needs to hear now, perhaps more than anytime in our past. Unity, peace, dignity, justice, and love. Perhaps this is what we should be looking for. And these words don’t need to come only from the likes of Dr. King – they should be the words on the lips of every believer – these should be the words that come from you and me because of the One we follow.
So Jesus places the question one more time before us: what are you looking for? If you are looking for a life of meaning; if you want to be part of what heals our nation; if you want to be a beacon of hope, a source of compassion, an instrument of peace – then you can find it and in fact have found right here as God once again reveals Himself to us all. Let God transform you once again by His presence, let God transform you into His presence and then go from this place to live that truth out as a disciple of the Lord.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 10, 2021:
I’m going to be very honest with everyone today – I’m struggling with finding the right words to say. We celebrate today the Baptism of the Lord, the end of our Christmas season; normally a moment to beautifully bring to an end our reflection on the birth of Jesus and His early years; to sing once again our Christmas carols before we put them away for another year. But, instead, it is the swirling tides of indignation, anger, resentment, division, violence, and fear in our land that weigh so heavily on my – and I’m sure your – heart today. How did we get here?
We have reached a moment that was previously unthinkable; a moment that is terrible; a global embarrassment; a moment that is the antipathy of the values we hold dear as the great democracy we aspire to be. Or perhaps the events that unfolded this week were predictable if we look at the ever increasing polarization, division, and combativeness of our society over the last several years; maybe this explosion of terror and violence was the unavoidable result of the path we have been on. What we have seen unfold in the span of the last two months in particular has been a nation that has disregarded common decency, rejected mature and civil discourse; thrown aside respect for the dignity proper to every human being no matter their race, creed, or political persuasion. And the result was the violent assault on the heart of our democratic government; an assault that has taken the lives of five fellow citizens.
What are we to do? What can we possibly say in the midst of this? Well, I think that the feast we celebrate today can help us remember who we are and what we are called to be. As always, I believe it is our faith that can help direct us through these dark and murky waters – if we will follow where the Lord leads.
As I mentioned, we celebrate the baptism of Jesus today. Have you ever stopped to ask why Jesus was baptized? Baptism, after all, is for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism places us in relationship with God. Jesus – of all people to ever exist – doesn’t need baptism. We know this. So why would He choose to be baptized?
The best response I have heard to this question comes from Pope Emeritus Benedict, in his book, Jesus of Nazareth . Let me share a bit of what he said. He writes, “The real novelty is the fact that Jesus wants to be baptized, that he blends into the gray mass of sinners waiting on the banks of the Jordan. Baptism was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could even do?”
Jesus doesn’t need the newness of life that we need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His sin, whose sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “Looking at [this baptism] in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of [humanity’s] guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners. His inaugural gesture is an anticipation of the Cross…The Baptism is an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity.”
In other words, as Jesus begins His public ministry, He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – it is there that He frees us from them. It is in the waters of the Jordan that Jesus steps into the place of sinners, into our place. In the Jordan, Jesus united Himself with us; and in our own baptism, we are united with Him – so that we can be forgiven, we can be healed, we can be saved. Again, the Pope writes, “To accept the invitation to be baptized now means to go to the place of Jesus' Baptism. It is to go where he identifies himself with us and to receive there our identification with him. The point where he anticipates death has now become the point where we anticipate rising with him. That is the way to become a Christian.”
This is the image that I think can give us some help today. We are meant today, not to reflect only on Jesus’ baptism; we’re called to be reminded of our own and of the divine exchange that took place there – Jesus took on our sins; and we took on His holiness. Jesus made Himself like us; so that we will make ourselves like Him. If this week has shown us anything, it has shown us that we are not living up to our end of that baptismal bargain. What we see in our nation right now – whether in the extreme as insurrectionists tried to overthrow our democratic government; or closer to home as we engage in angry arguments with others in person or online – what we see is a failure to identify our lives with the One who saved us; to identify with the One who stepped into the waters of the Jordan to lift the burden of our sins off of our shoulders and take them onto His own. We’re meant to be like Him because of our baptism.
This week, as these tragedies have unfolded, I keep thinking of the profound words of Abraham Lincoln, our great president who forged unity out of our greatest moment of division. In his first inaugural he reminded us, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
My friends, in the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place, so that we might be free. We have let Him down and have put on public display how stuck we remain in sin. Today, let us ask Jesus to renew in our hearts; to renew in every heart, the grace of baptism. Jesus has already stepped into our place. We must again be the ones to step into His place and be the ones to bring His peace, His healing, His reconciliation, His compassion into our deeply wounded world. Let us again be touched by the better angels of our nature, let us remember that we are not enemies, and let us pray, in the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
May the Lord heal our nation; and may He give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY, AND JOSEPH, December 27, 2020:
In my homily for Christmas, I mentioned that the birth of Jesus invites us to remember a simple, but essential, truth – that the God we worship is real. That He became one of us; and when He came, He didn’t just appear magically out of thin air. No, when God decided to come to earth as one of us, He appeared in the world the same way we do – as part of a family – a family that begins with Abraham and Sarah, a family that includes King David and King Solomon, one includes Joseph and Mary – and one that includes us. A real family with real people just like you and me.
Today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – so close to the Feast of Christmas – asks us to take a moment to reflect a bit more deeply on that same reality. Christmas, as we know, is not done in a day. Maybe it is in our secular world, which is already turning its attention to New Year’s, and soon after Valentine’s Day and then whatever other opportunity to sell more things comes along. But, here in the Church, this reality of Christmas, the truth that the Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us; this reality takes time for us to properly pray with. In fact, we will continue to celebrate Christmas for a few more weeks as we consider the Holy Family, then the Epiphany, and finally the Baptism of Jesus.
All of our songs, our symbols and our prayers are inviting us to draw more deeply into the experience of the incarnation of the Lord. One of those profound ways we enter into this moment more deeply is through our beautiful Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in most households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. We have large beautiful ones here in our church, and we have them in many forms large and small in our homes. One of my most treasured ones is in my room in the rectory. It is very simple. A few pieces of wood hammered together, a ziplock full of hay that has been with the manger at least as long as I’ve been alive, and some very inexpensive figurines. But, it is special because it has been in my family for a long time and is the manger that I remember most profoundly from my own youth. It reminds me not only of the scene it represents – the birth of Jesus, but it also call to mind countless meaningful Christmases as a child; and since my Mom’s passing a few years ago, it reminds me deeply of her.
If you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was St. Francis of Assisi who originated this custom in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to literally enter the scene of Jesus birth to understand the impact of that momnt. He wanted to imagine what it was like. This was obviously a popular gesture as we know it is now shared all over the world.
Today’s feast in particular invites us to reflect on the fact that when God chose to come to us; He chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not with trumpet blast and glory, but very simply He entered the world within a family. And, reflecting on our Christmas Nativity, it also tells us that He chose to enter humanity in some unexpected ways – as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head; as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. He chose to enter our world as a refugee, as they had to flee to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. And, He chose to enter our world completely and utterly defenseless - as a little baby, someone helpless and relying upon the assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission of spreading the good news and bringing His promised salvation.
God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often struggle to see God. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we realize that they are icons of the very same image of God as He was on that first Christmas morning?
Our Christmas mangers are an image of a homeless, migrant family who had no place to lay their head. And every day there are thousands of people around us right here in our own community who are also homeless, or hungry, or unable to meet their most basic needs. As we encounter these people, do we see the similarity between their image and the image of the Holy Family? “When did we see you Lord? What you did for the least of these, you did for me.” God is as present in these people and these places today as He was in that manger 2,000 years ago.
In a few days or weeks, our Christmas mangers will be carefully packed and put away for another year, but these urban mangers that surround us on our streets remain in the men and women in need all around us. I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us, God Himself came to us, in a family, and one that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other”; instead, they are our brother, our sister, our holy family – and He wants us to reach out to them in their need.
My friends, Jesus came among us to bring God’s presence into our midst, into our lives so that we might see that same presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in the most unlikely of places. If we want to become a Holy Family, this is how we do it. We say yes to that Godly presence, yes to that invitation before our eyes, just as Joseph and Mary did so long ago. And it will make all the difference in our lives, in our world and in our families. May we become one, united and holy family under our loving and compassionate God this Christmas and always.
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 20, 2020:
Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.” Names are interesting things, and especially for traditional Biblical names, even just a name can tell a story.
In our weekly Bible Study on Tuesday, I was addressing just this point with the names that are presented to us in our Gospel passage today. We are given five names – Gabriel, Joseph, David, Mary, and Jesus. If we had only those names from this passage, it still tells a powerful story. Gabriel means, “God is my strength;” Joseph means, “God will increase;” both David and Mary mean “beloved;” and the name Jesus means, “God will save.” That alone is a powerful proclamation.
What’s in a name? Names usually have something to tell us about who we are. How often we are named after family members or close friends. Our names say something about our people, our family, who and where we come from. You probably have great stories about your own name or some of the names in your family. So much of our Advent reflection is also about two names in particular. All through Advent, we hear the name Emmanuel. We’ve sung, “O come, Emmanuel.” And, of course, the second name is Jesus, the child whose birth we eagerly await.
When we look a little deeper, we realize that these two names have great meaning for us. The name Emmanuel tells us something very important about the birth of this child. This is no ordinary child. When He is born, His birth will mean, as His name means, that “God is with us.” His birth signifies something different in the whole of human history. We do not have a God who loves us from afar; a God who communicates to us always through someone or something else. Our God comes to us directly – to be in our midst as one of us; to know our joys and hopes intimately – as we know them; to know our struggles and challenges. To proclaim His love to us directly. God is with us!
And then we have the name Jesus – the name that the angels tells Joseph that he is to give to this child. This name also tells us something more about what this presence of God among us means. The name Jesus means, “God is salvation.” The name tells us that Jesus is not here only to be among us, but that His presence in our midst will also do something so amazing – Jesus presence in our midst will open the gates of salvation for us. When we look at these names together we learn what we’re really meant to hear: that the birth of this child will mean that our God is with us and He is our salvation!
As we enter these final days of our Advent journey, let us be mindful of what we celebrate – the fact that our God loves us so much that He became one of us; that He enters our world, our lives, our struggles and our joys. That our God loves us so much that He opens the gates of salvation for us so that He can be with us and we can be with Him forever. That we are His beloved and through us, He wants to increase His presence in our lives and our world.
And let us also remember that through our baptism, we also received a name – the name Christian, a name that means literally “little Christ.” We remember that the effect of this visitation of our God is that He calls us to be like Him; that when people see us, they see Him; that we are a living reflection of the God who is with us and comes to save us.
God is not distant. He is right here, by our side, in our hearts, on our altar. He is sharing our struggles, walking with us in our suffering, laughing with us in our joys, sharing with us in our triumphs, always there when we need Him; and always calling us to reflect His image to the world. This is Emmanuel, this is Jesus. God is with us and will save us. So, what’s in a name? Nothing less than our salvation.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 13, 2020:
Years ago, there was a monastery that was going through a crisis. Some of the monks had left the monastery; no new candidates were joining them; and people were no longer coming for prayer and spiritual direction. The few monks that remained became old, depressed and bitter in their relationship with one another. But, the abbot heard about a holy hermit living in the woods and decided to consult him. He told the hermit how bad things had become and that only seven old monks remained. Praying about this, the hermit told the abbot that he had a secret for him: one of the monks currently living in his monastery was actually the Messiah, but He was living in such a way that no one could recognize Him.
With this revelation the abbot returned to his monastery, and recounted what the hermit told him. The monks looked at each other in disbelief, trying to discern who, among them, could be the Christ. Could it be Brother Mark who prays all the time? But he has a holier-than-thou attitude toward others. Could it be Bother Joseph who is always ready to help? But he is always eating and could never fast. The abbot reminded them that the Messiah had adopted some bad habits to disguise His true identity. This only made them more confused and they could not figure out who was Christ among them. All they knew for sure was that any of them could be the Christ.
So, from that day on they began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, knowing that the person they were speaking to could, in fact, be Christ. They began to show more love, their common life became more brotherly and their common prayer more fervent. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the monastery and began coming back for retreats and worship. Word began to spread and, before you know it, candidates began to show up and the monastery began to grow again as the monks grew in holiness. All this because of their awareness of a simple truth: Christ was living in their midst.
My sisters and brothers, Advent is for us a time to prepare for the coming of the Lord: we recall His birth 2,000 years ago; we look forward to His return at the end of time. But, now, suppose that we were told, like the monks in our story, that the Christ for whom we are waiting is already here in our midst – what difference would that make? Would we treat each other with more reverence, with more kindness and compassion?
We live in a world that feels more devoid of kindness, compassion, love, concern, goodness and holiness than ever before. Bu, today, John the Baptist is our hermit, our holy man, with a life-changing message. John tells us, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me.”
Now, the reason the people of Jesus’ time could not recognize Him as the Messiah is that they had their own ideas about how the Messiah was going to come. He would suddenly descend from heaven in His divine power and majesty and establish His reign by destroying the enemies of Israel. No one would know where He came from because He came from God. So when Jesus finally arrived, born of a woman just like everyone else, they did not recognize Him. He was too ordinary, too much like them, and so, far too many people didn’t see the very presence of God in their midst.
We face the same challenge today. We too have our own expectations of what God in our midst should look like. We too have created expectations so amazing that they can keep us from seeing God among us, seeing God in one another. God is right in front of us in Word, in Sacrament, and perhaps where we miss Him most often – God is present within us, and in every single person we meet. God is present even in those we don’t like, or those with whom we disagree, or in those our world has deemed unworthy. After all, this is why when we hear, “The Lord be with you,” we respond, “And with your spirit.” These words recognize God’s presence in those around us. The Lord is in you and is in me. I recognize God’s spirit within you.
And so, my friends, listen carefully today because I have a secret for you. One of the members of our community is actually the Messiah, but living in such a way that they aren’t quickly recognized. “There is one among you whom you do not recognize.” So, how will we recognize this presence of God in our midst? Because God is right here before us, waiting for us to invite Him in.
Let us revere each other as the very presence of God in our midst, let us care for each other, as though caring for Christ Himself. Let us greet even our enemies with the dignity of those who bear the Spirit of the Lord. Because, my friends, it will make all the difference.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 6, 2020:
Back in my seminary days we did a production of the musical Godspell. I was recently listening to the wonderful music from the show, and thinking of it today because the musical begins with the same cry that we hear from both Isaiah and John the Baptist today, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is our annual season of preparation; it is a a season of waiting, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Christmas, the great feast of God’s Incarnation as one of us; and we await His future return to us at the End of Time.
In life we are certainly used to waiting. Just think of the hours spent waiting in traffic. In a normal year, we would be thinking about the time spent waiting in line at stores doing our Christmas shopping. We’ve replaced that waiting with other kinds of waiting – waiting to take a COVID test, waiting for the results, waiting for the vaccine to become available – just waiting for all of this to be over. A lot of waiting – like in traffic or at a store - are not purposeful. They’re usually not worth the wait.
During Advent, we ask the same question – is it worth the wait – but with a very different answer. The prayerful waiting we engage during Advent is indeed worth the wait because instead of a frustrating wait with undefined benefit, our Scripture today call us to wait in a purposeful way. And Scripture gives us something to do in our waiting, we are to “Prepare the way of the Lord.” The readings put before us some examples of waiting purposefully. We have of course, Isaiah and John the Baptist who both offer us a waiting that involves reform of life, they call us to prepare for the arrival of Jesus by living a life of repentance. They call us to reflect on our own lives and ask “are we ready for Jesus return?” But, there is another Advent example that I find even more helpful in understanding how we are to wait – the example of Mary.
If we look at our Scriptures as a story, at this point in the story, Mary is pregnant awaiting the birth of the baby Jesus. We can learn a lot about purposeful waiting from pregnancy. Pregnancy is all about waiting. I remember a few years ago, I was visiting with a friend and his wife who shared the news that they were expecting their third child. I responded excitedly, “Congratulations! That’s great! You must be so excited!” But to my enthusiasm, my friend’s wife looked at me, rolled her eyes a bit, sighed and said, “Don’t get me wrong. I’m really excited about having another baby. I just wish I could do it without going through pregnancy.” We tend to romanticize pregnancy don’t we? Pregnancy is so beautiful. Women look so radiant. But, for my friend’s wife, and many women like her, pregnancies are difficult. With her two prior pregnancies, they were so difficult that she had to remain in bed during the final months. She experienced serious medical issues during her last pregnancy. For this third child, she was also very closely monitored.
The simple point is that being pregnant is not easy and can even be quite difficult, but it is worth the wait. And it is I think the most helpful image for our time of Advent waiting and preparing. We, too, all of us, are in a spiritual sense pregnant and waiting – waiting to give birth once again to Jesus in our lives. And so, God calls us all to make real change in our lives; to acknowledge His Son and “make straight our paths.”
As God calls each of us to reform our lives, depending on what we need to change, this might be for us a difficult time. But, if we can wait and prepare, it will bring forth new and wonderful life – but it takes time, it takes patience, it takes the will to be transformed into the image that God calls us to.
So we continue to wait in the midst of this Advent-tide. Is our waiting purposeful? With the days we have ahead of us, create space in your life every day to be present to God. Allow Him to prepare your soul. Pope Emeritus Benedict said a few years ago, “Do you leave space to hear God's whisper, calling you forth into goodness? Let His word shape your journey."
Prepare by embracing all that the Sacraments have to offer. Allow God to cleanse you in Reconciliation. Allow God to nourish you through the Eucharist and be transformed into the very Presence of Christ you receive.
And reach out to others. Reach out to those who don't know Christ. Reach out to those who are suffering. As we reach out to them, we too come closer to Christ.
Let us pray through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Church, for the patience and the courage to allow God to create new life in us – as individuals, as a parish community, as a Church. Let us use this time of Advent to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 22, 2020:
A mother was preparing pancakes for her young sons, David and Billy. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity to teach the boys a good moral lesson and said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here, He would say ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” And so, David turned to his younger brother and said, “Billy, you be Jesus!”
At the beginning of this month, on All Saints Day, I asked everyone if they want to go to Heaven because, of course, a saint is simply someone who lived a life worthy of Heaven. Luckily, everyone raised their hands. After all, Heaven is our goal; our destination; our final reward. Although we all want to get to Heaven, we probably don’t spend enough time thinking about what it takes to get there. What does a life worthy of Heaven look like? Does it simply mean being a baptized Catholic? Does it mean going to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days of Obligation? Does Heaven come when we’ve gone to Confession regularly or prayed our Rosary daily? Are these the things that will help us to merit the reward of Heaven?
Well, as we end our Church year and celebrate this Solemnity of Jesus Christ our King, our Gospel passage gives us the answer. In this passage from Matthew, Jesus, our King, is sitting on His Throne, judging all of creation, deciding who will be welcomed into the glory of Heaven. The King separates people into two categories – sheep and goats. And of course we want to be counted among the sheep who are welcomed into “the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world.” The goats are sent off to eternal punishment. And Jesus is not mysterious about what makes someone a sheep as opposed to a goat.
Here is Jesus criteria for Heaven: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The way we get to Heaven is through the ways we reach out to those most in need around us – those who are hungry or thirsty or strangers and alone or naked or sick or in prison.
The question for us today is this: Do we have hearts that have been converted, transformed, and changed to love as Jesus loves – to love always, to have hearts led by compassion, to see everyone as a brother or sister, to reach out even and especially to those that the rest of society has deemed unimportant or worse disposable. These are the qualities that the sheep possess.
Pope Francis said, “We live at a time in which polarization and exclusion are considered the only way to resolve conflicts. We see how quickly those among us who are a stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy. An enemy because they come from a distant country or have different customs. An enemy because of the color of their skin, their language or their social class. An enemy because they think differently or have a different faith. Little by little, our differences turn into symptoms of hostility, threats and violence. None of this makes us enemies. Jesus constantly desires to enter the crossroads of our history to proclaim the Gospel of Mercy.”
So, who wants to get to Heaven? It starts here at this and every Mass. St. Augustine famously said of the Eucharist, “We become what we receive.” And so as Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst through the gift of His Body and Blood today, He also teaches us to be like Him; to become what we receive; to become His sheep. As we are nourished by Him, He asks us to go and offer nourishment to the hungry and thirsty around us – not because we deem them worthy of our charity, but for no other reason than they are loved by God and so must be loved by us. As Jesus has offered us freedom from the sin that kept us in chains and in bondage, He invites us to visit those in prison and speak to them about the true freedom they too can find in Christ.
So, today, let Jesus lift the sins that bind you. Let God fill you and satisfy you with His Holy Word. Let Jesus transform you into Himself through the grace of His Body and Blood that we receive and then go and feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned – LOVE as Jesus loves without restriction; without limit because “whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Let us become His sheep.
And you know, little David was right, you be Jesus, and you, and you, and you – and it will bring us all the way to Heaven.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 15, 2020:
Let me ask by a show of hands, how many of us would like to be rich? Especially heading into the holiday season, or during these challenging times of pandemic, we often think we could use just a little more help, and the lure of things like $100 million Powerball lotteries can set our imagination aflame. Being rich is something that our culture glorifies in song, TV, and movies, and something that most of us have probably thought of more than once. So much of the so-called American Dream is a dream of rising from nothing to have it all.
In our Gospel today, we hear about a few people who, it seems, got rich. The parable of the talents is about three men who had the opportunity to gain tremendous wealth. The master gave our one talent to one person, two to another, and five to a third. Now, this was a lot of money even to begin with. A talent was a monetary figure equal to 6,000 days’ wages. To put it in contemporary standards, given the current average annual salary in America, one talent today would be about $130,000 – a significant amount by any stretch of the imagination. So, they were given the equivalent of $130,000, $260,000, and $650,000 – all off to a great start.
But, of course, this parable is not meant to be a version of the Prosperity Gospel. Jesus isn’t given us investment strategies for our 401K. Jesus is instead asking us to think about the gifts and talents that we have received from God and where are we investing those? As we hear earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” Jesus isn’t concerned with our investments on Wall Street; but He is deeply concerned about our investments in ‘the Kingdom of God.’ In other words, our talents and the way we use them are meant to help us become the holy people God has created us to be. This is the greatest measure of our success.
So, to the question we began with, Who wants to be rich? Jesus responds, “You already are.” The reality is that in this life, we all start off rich – no matter what our bank accounts say about it. For example, Psalm 103 reminds us that God is slow to anger, rich in compassion; and in his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul speaks about God being rich in mercy. And, just like the master giving talents to his servants, God has invested these gifts in us from the moment of our baptism. We’ve all received such profound gifts from God – the gift of His merciful love, the gift of His Son Jesus, the very gift of life itself. And we receive these gifts over and over again in all the sacraments – so profoundly in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. We are rich indeed.
But, just like the servants in today’s parable, God expects us to do something with these gifts. He wants us to invest them and multiply them and get a great return on our investment. God is asking us today to consider how we have invested His love in the world. Have we multiplied God’s forgiveness to the people around us? Have we gotten a good return on His compassion? How have we multiplied His joy in our hearts, in our homes, in our community? Have we invested in those who are hungry, or homeless, or refugees, or in need?
In today’s Gospel, the man who received the one talent was paralyzed with fear – a fear that kept him from appreciating what he had received, so much so that he didn’t share it, he didn’t multiply it, instead he dug a big hole and hid it away. And sometimes, we can act in the same way. Especially in our world today where it seems every conversation is fraught with confrontation and anger, we can be afraid to speak a word of love, a word of care, a word of healing. In our relationships, our pride can keep us from being the first one to break the ice and offer forgiveness. St. Theresa of Avila said that we’re often tempted to live in the past or in the future; but, in the end, the only place we can actually love God and others is in the present. It is here in the present moment that God invites us to invest.
In the end, all God is asking of us is that we try. Notice the one who made five talents and the one who made two both received the same reward. The reward was not based on the return; it was based on the attempt. The one given the single talent didn’t even try. So, let us try to invest in the kingdom of God all around us. How much love, joy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness can we share and multiply in our world? This is what God calls us to invest; and as long as we try, He will reward us for our efforts.
Jesus invites us to recognize that we are all rich in the gifts and talents that we’ve received from God – gifts of love, mercy, joy and compassion – and we are called to invest those gifts and talents in the world around us. And, when we have lived a life of helping God to multiply that love and mercy in our world, we too will hear Him say to us, “Come, share your master’s joy!”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 8, 2020:
“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters…so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.” This passage from St. Paul is one of my favorite passages of Scripture, and my absolute favorite when it comes to understanding grief through the lens of faith. In this one sentence, Saint Paul reminds us that we are not “like the rest, who have no hope.” When it comes to death, when it comes to grief, the defining characteristic of the believer is that we don’t look at those difficult moments with despair or confusion – we see them with a profound hope that reminds us that not even death can separate us from Christ; can separate us from one another. In Jesus, even death is transformed into eternal life. Hope is what defines the Christian approach to living. And, it is profoundly different than the way the rest of the world looks at things. You are not like the rest.
I was thinking of this passage while watching all the election coverage this week. Yesterday was an historic moment for our nation as it saw only the second Catholic ever to be elected president of the United States, and the first women of color to reach the vice-presidency. But, for half of our nation, yesterday was a long-awaited and hard-fought victory; while simultaneously a devastating loss that still requires further judication before a trustworthy conclusion can be reached for the other half.
As our readings invite us to reflect not on the kingdoms of this world, but of the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns in perfect glory for all time, they reminds us to embrace St. Paul’s words, “you are not like the rest.” You and me, we are not meant to be just like the world. And yet, when we look at the election results this week, Catholics were exactly like the rest. We are as equally divided as the rest of the nation. The Catholic vote was split 50-50 between both candidates.
But, today, I don’t want to talk about all the things that brought us to this moment, instead, where do we go from here? What can the follower of Christ do to help us break out of this cycle of vitriol, division, even hatred. And, I think the most important thing we can do is to remember St. Paul’s charge that we are not like the rest of the world. That we can stop subjecting ourselves to the world – simply picking a side and accepting what they offer – and instead become the transforming presence that we are called to be.
Just look at the images that Jesus gives us to explain and shape our presence in the world. He tells us we are called to be leaven, that makes the world rise. He tells us we are salt, flavoring the world around us with the Gospel. He tells that we are light; shining brightly in the darkness that envelops us. And if this task seems too big for us to handle, He tells us that if our faith is even the size of a mustard seed we could say to the mountain “Move from here to there” and it would move.
You see, we are not like the rest, who have no hope. So, what is this hope? We normally conceptualize hope in ordinary ways. We think of hope as a kind of optimism (“I hope things will go well”); or a form of positive thinking (“I’m very hopeful about the future”). Or even a kind of wish or blind faith (“I hope I’ll get through this”). These are good things, but this isn’t what St. Paul is talking about. Our Christian hope is something far more powerful. Our hope expresses something so profoundly deep that it is life changing. Something so amazing that this kind of hope leaves us different than the way it found us. Because our hope is not a wish or a dream, it is a person. Jesus is our hope. And this hope is yesterday, today, and forever.
Jesus is the hope that came into a weary world. When Jesus came, the world was weary of Roman occupation that crushed the Jewish people under the weight of empire. The world was weary of religious oppression that made it difficult and even illegal for people to worship God. It was weary of waiting for the promises that God had been speaking for centuries to be fulfilled. The world was weary of many things.
And, we can relate to this. We live in a weary world. We are weary of this election, weary of the divisions, negativity, and hatred around us; weary of war and terror and violence; weary of racism and prejudice; and so very weary of this virus that has changed our lives and changed our world, and taken far too many from us. We are weary indeed.
And into our weariness, Jesus is our hope. And His hope transforms us and changes us. Just think of what He does in the Eucharist – He transforms the bread and wine so that they go from being just like the rest into the miraculous presence of God in our midst. And if He can do that to bread and wine, imagine what He wants to do to you and me. He wants to change us so that we are not like the rest, who do not possess this hope. The Eucharist changes everything – each time we receive we become more like Jesus; we become more loving, joyful, compassionate and forgiving. In short, we are no longer like the rest. The presence of Jesus in our lives signifies an end to our weariness. We don’t have to keep doing things the same way. We don’t have to keep asking the same questions. We don’t have to keep fighting the same fights. Jesus is here. Hope is here. Our hope can transform the world.
Our hope is expansive enough to embrace all sides. We are capable of embracing the dignity of the unborn child in the womb; and the dignity of the prisoner on death row. We have the ability to care for the hungry and the homeless; and want immigrants and refugees to be treated with compassion. Our hope can change our divisions into unity. Our hope can make enemies, friends.
My friends, as we come to this moment of change in our nation; let us become leaven, the salt, and the light that Jesus has called us to be. Let us help the world rise in its respect for the dignity of one another; let us flavor our communities with the kindness and compassion of the Gospel; let us shine the light of Jesus to cast out the darkness of hatred, racism, and prejudice.
You are not like the rest, who have no hope. Let us transform the world around us through our hope in Jesus Christ.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2020:
French novelists Leon Bloy famously said, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is to not become a saint.”
We heard a question from the Book of Revelation today that echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great answer to this question is that they – those in white robes – are us. Today we celebrate our annual solemnity of All Saints Day. This day calls to mind for us many saints – those represented in stained glass or statuary; those we have deep and special devotion to; but also the great and vast communion of saints – the many, many, many more women and men who have reached the glory of Heaven, but whose names we may never know.
Properly understood, this feast is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who attained holy perfection in life. It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints. Too often, though, we functionally think of sainthood as an honor bestowed on a select few, instead of the very hope and expectation that God has for each and every one of us. Pope Francis said, “To be a saint is not a privilege for the few, but a vocation for everyone.”
I’m sure if I were to ask who here would like to go to Heaven, every hand in this church would be raised. By saying that we want to go to Heaven, we are, in fact, proclaiming our desire to be saints. After all, that is all that a saint is – someone who lived a life worthy of heaven. Becoming saints is the goal of everyone who has been baptized.
The problem when we think that sainthood is out of our reach is because we usually focus on how much the saints are like God. But today’s feast invites us to remember the other side of that equation and remember how much the saints are also like us. Saints did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become holy women and men. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins they struggled with and spiritual victories they rejoiced in. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.
How do we become saints? Jesus just told us how in the Gospel – live the Beatitudes. Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness. These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training.
Pope Francis in a homily for All Saints gave a list of modern Beatitudes. He said, “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others. Surely they will receive from him their merited reward.”
We also become saints when we embrace the life of the sacraments; the life of the church that Jesus came to give us. Jesus didn’t institute the church and its sacraments to create an organization. He gave them to us to create saints! Baptism welcomed us into this saintly family. Confirmation strengthened us to be guided by the Holy Spirit towards holiness. The Eucharist transforms us just as it transforms the bread and wine so that we may become what we receive; that we may become more like Christ every time we participate. And he gave us Reconciliation so that His grace can be renewed and restored in us whenever we fall off the path of holiness because of our sin. We have everything we need to become a saint right here in the Church.
Pope Francis said, “Saints are not superheroes who are born perfect. But rather, they are ordinary people who follow God will all their heart.”
Today, as we remember all the saints – named and unnamed – let us live the Beatitudes; let us live lives worthy of our own holiness; our own saintliness. It is what we have been called to. Let us have the courage to desire to be the saints that God has called each of us to be.
The only real sadness in life, is to not become saint.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 25, 2020:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a favorite childhood memory. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine? Could you be mine?” My apologies, that song will now be stuck in your head all day. If you’re like me, you’ll remember that Fred Rogers welcomed so many of us to his neighborhood every day with that song. As a child, I watched Mr. Rogers Neighborhood nearly every day and still have such fond memories. Over the years not much changed with the show; it was the same house, the same trolley to take you to the world of make believe, and the same puppets like King Friday. And, in every single episode Mr. Rogers always asked the same, simple question: “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Our Gospel today is also asking us to reflect on who is our neighbor. Today’s passage follows last week’s in which the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus with their question about paying taxes to Ceasar. This week, its’ the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus, this time with a question about the greatest commandment. The textbook answer, of course, is the love of God. But, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy their question, but challenges His listeners. Just like last week, Jesus gives the other side of the coin, which, in this case is the love of neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who truly loves God must also love their neighbor; and that these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love God unless that love is made visible in our love of our neighbor. Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is challenging the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love that somehow allowed them to express devotion to God, while ignoring the problems of the real people around them every day. For Jesus, true love has three essential components: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of God. That you see your dignity and beauty as a unique part of what God has created – as unique and beautiful as the oceans, the stars and the sky, the mountains or any other part of the created universe.
Pope Francis touched on this topic reflecting on today’s Gospel. He said, “In the middle of the thicket of rules and regulations, Jesus opens a gap that allows you to see two faces: the face of the Father and the face of our brothers and sisters. He doesn't deliver us two formulas or two precepts, but two faces, indeed one face, the face of God reflected in many faces of others, because in the face of each brother and sister, especially in the smallest, the most fragile and the most helpless, the same image of God is present.”
This concern resonates with what we see in our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the unjust treatment of immigrants and refugees, the ongoing scourge of racism, prejudice, violence, and war that are so much a part of our world. These things cause us to wonder where is the love of our neighbor? As we hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”
My friends, let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our any of our brothers and sisters; any of our neighbors – especially those who are different from us; especially those whom the world rejects; especially those who are most in need. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the face of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God.
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Won’t you be my neighbor?
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 29th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 18, 2020:
It seems like every four years, our system of election for the highest office in the land gets more-and-more polarized, more-and-more tense and anxious, more-and-more negative. If you’re like me, it is hard to even watch the news, read a newspaper, or tune in to social media. The vitriol seems to only increase and just when it seems like it can’t get worse, it shows us that in fact it can. So, what are we to do? How are we to vote? How does a person of faith navigate these stormy seas with intelligence, with grace, and civility?
Well, Jesus actually enters into the fray today, but perhaps in a way we would not have expected. You see, too many people keep looking to the church, the clergy, the bishops with the hope that someone will tell them who you can vote for, who you cannot vote for, who the “Catholic” candidate is. These are not the right questions to ask. Jesus today reminds us instead to ask about the things that are eternal.
In our passage today, the Pharisees are trying to drag Jesus into the politics of His time. Why wouldn’t they? After all, things were fairly terrible. This once great nation, God’s chosen people, has found itself occupied by a foreign invader. The Roman Empire had conquered them, taken away their control and their freedoms, even limited much of their religious liberty. Surely Jesus would stand up and say who the right candidate was, or how everyone should act or what they are to do politically; surely He would speak out against this behemoth who had Israel under its thumb? But instead, He says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
What do you think that Jesus means? Is this about church-state relations? Does Jesus mean to divide things between Ceasar and God as a child divides candy – one for you and one for me; one for Ceasar and one for God? He can hardly mean that there are some things that belong to Ceasar and other things that belong to God because that would suggest that reality is divisible into the secular and the sacred, as if the things we do for the world have nothing to do with God. And that is surely not right. So what does Jesus mean?
First, we have to recognize that the question itself is a trap: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax or not?” If Jesus responds “yes” He is allying himself with the Roman occupiers and that would put Him in trouble with His fellow Jewish patriots. If He says “no” then He is in trouble with the Roman authorities and is liable to be arrested as encouraging rebellion. Does Jesus fall into the trap? No, instead He asks them for the Roman coin used to pay the tax. Once they produce the coin, He is saying to them, “I don’t have one – you do.” You have Ceasar’s coin. By using his currency, you are the ones allying yourself to his system, accepting his rule, recognizing his empire, his authority. So, if you have taken his money, give him back his money. “Repay to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar.” Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer because it is not a straight question. It is a trap which He skillfully avoids.
But, as always Jesus surprises the crowd with the challenge He adds, “Repay to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is saying that our obligation to worldly things is judged by a higher obligation – our obligation to God. If you think you feel an obligation to the state, it can’t compare to the obligation you should feel to God. Jesus uses this opportunity to remind the people of the first and greatest commandment, “I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me.” Forget about smart questions intended to trap Jesus, instead, worship God – not with mere externals as the Pharisees do, but from deep within your soul. When things are right in your relationship with God, the way you should act and speak in the world will be clear.
Jesus uses this chance to remind us that membership in the Church is membership in a worshipping family. The Church reaches her fullness when she falls on her knees in prayer. She stands straight and walks tall when she bows her head in adoration to the One True God. The care of the sick, the struggle for justice, the needs of the poor, the education of the young – all of these are essential to the mission of the Church, but they flow from the highest function of the Church – the prayerful worship of our Almighty God. The Church is most powerfully herself when she gathers to celebrate the Holy Mass. The Mass is the very summit of her activity, the Everest of her life. The spirit of the Church finds noble expression in the many works of service that we engage in, but it is the worship of God that takes place here that we must look to discover her soul, and hence, our souls.
And this is what we have upside down in our world, especially as the election draws near. We begin in the wrong place. We worry about which party is correct, which tribe to belong to and which tribe to hate, which candidate fits our bill, how to influence and convince, how to make change. But that should be not where we start, but where we end. This is where we start – right here for the Holy Mass. This is more than a mere custom we fulfill; it is where we worship our God and dsicover ourselves; allowing God to enter our lives and change us to be more like His Son. The way we act in the world must flow from the grace, the love, the joy, mercy, and compassion that are born in us here every time we celebrate the Holy Mass. Begin with repaying to God what belongs to God and all the rest will follow.
So if you are struggling with what to do in the ballot box this year, start by placing yourself before God here. Place your lives, your cares, your worries, our nation and our world, on this altar and allow God to send His Holy Spirit upon them just like He will send it upon the bread and wine. Once we are transformed fully into members of His Kingdom through our worship; only then can we transform our world to become the Kingdom He promised us.
As St. Teresa of Jesus, whose feast we celebrated this week, said, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass. God does not change. Patience achieves all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”
My friends, let us “repay to God what belongs to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 4, 2020:
There is an interesting story about one of Napoleon’s Generals, Massena, who, with his army of 18,000 soldiers besieged a defenseless Austrian town. Knowing they had no chance, the town leaders met to discuss surrender. As they talked, a wise old man stood up and reminded everyone that it was Easter Sunday. He suggested they hold their usual Easter services and put the problem in God's hands. Everyone agreed and went to church where the bells rang to assemble the town for prayer. But, when Massena heard the ringing of the bells he concluded that reinforcements had arrived to rescue the town. They immediately ran off in retreat, and the town was saved.
We heard St. Paul say to the Philippians today, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” St. Paul reminds us of something the people of that Austrian town knew; something that we all need to be reminded of in these challenging times today – our faith in Christ affects how we face the problems of life. People who have no faith respond to life's problems with worry, and fear, and anxiety. But people of faith respond to life's problems with prayer, with trust, and with hope.
We all know that worry sometimes gets the better of us. We worry about our jobs, the bills, our children, our world and our safety. In our times we worry about our health in the midst of a virus that no one is safe from – not even the President and his wife. Worry and anxiety can take up a lot of space in our lives. But as we heard in our story, worry only encourages us to raise our hands in surrender to the challenges facing us. In prayer, on the other hand, we raise our hands in petition to our all-loving Father, who can draw us out of our anxiety and into a new world of possibilities with Him. Have you ever noticed how similar the gesture of surrender is to that of prayer? In prayer, we are also surrendering, not to people and their ways, but to God and His ways. And that makes all the difference in the world.
St. Paul today gives us the antidote to the worry that can rule our lives, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” First, he reminds us that prayer is not simply reading a shopping list of our needs before God. It also includes thanking God for the blessing of life and faith that we enjoy already and lifting up before God through petition all other people and their needs. Our prayer involves asking for and offering forgiveness wherever it is needed. And, it involves praying in such a way that our prayer isn’t only about ourselves and our own needs, but it is also about others and their needs – especially those most marginalized in our world.
St. Paul tells us that when we pray in this way “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This is what happens when we learn to take all our problems to the Lord in prayer. We trade our stress and worry for peace of mind.
So if you find yourself today full of anxiety and worry – worried about COVID or other health issues, worried about your children, anxious about your home or how to pay the bills, then today is the day to stop, take a deep breath, and throw your hands in the air and surrender – surrender to God all of your cares, and instead of needless worry and anxiety, place them before God in trusting prayer. Let God calm your heart, your mind, your life, and fill you instead with His love, compassion, joy, and mercy.
The key to finding peace in a world of stress and anxiety is not worry but to pray. And not to pray only sometimes, but to pray always in how we think, in what we say and in how we act in the world around us. We start each and every week right here in church with the most profound prayer of the Holy Mass. At this Mass we will receive once again the Christ’s gift of peace which is meant to calm the worry of our souls. What we experience here today, it is our job to bring into the rest of our lives this week so that we can become that prayerful influence among our families, friends, co-workers, and even strangers.
My friends, let us be people of prayer so that “the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” “Have no anxiety at all…make your heart known to God.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 27, 2020:
As I look out at the congregation today, of course, what I see is an ocean of beautiful, but masked, faces. Wearing a mask is something that we have all become used to in a relatively short amount of time. It is required of us, it is necessary, and it is good – it is an effective measure to protect us from this terrible virus on our world. This past week, I made some class visits at our school. And one of my favorite classes was fourth grade. One wall in the fourth grade depicts all of the students as masked superheroes. And I was included on the wall driving a very cool car, not all that different from the bat mobile. Before COVID, we viewed masks differently. We think in the movies, very often people who wear masks are often the bad guys – they are robbers, and thieves, and the like. But, we know there are also others who wear masks too – we think of heroes like the Lone Ranger or Zorro, and superheroes like Batman, Spiderman, or the Flash. But why do these people wear a mask? Well, whether good or bad, the mask hides your true identity from the world around you.
I was thinking of masks when reflecting on our Gospel today. One of the most frequent sins that Jesus contends with is hypocrisy. The original meaning of the word “hypocrite” comes from a Greek word meaning: an actor; one who wears a mask. In the ancient world, actors portrayed different characters by literally holding a mask in front of their face. And this is the straight-forward theme that Jesus is addressing today – saying we are one thing and doing another. Or put another way, Jesus invites us to make a choice between living the life of a hypocrite or living a life of Christian sincerity.
Jesus tells a parable of two sons who say one thing and do another. Asked by the father to go and work in the vineyard the first son said no but later reconsidered his decision and did the work. The second son, on the other hand, courteously said yes to the father but failed to do the work. Who actually did what his father wanted? Clearly it is the first son, the same one who had initially said no.
Jesus had a very low tolerance for hypocrisy. Perhaps because it is one of the easiest sins to fall into. It's too easy to change our outward behavior to fit in with everyone around us. And, it isn’t easy to honestly witness to the truths of our faith in a world that constantly calls us into sin. But falling into this type of hypocrisy is a losing strategy, because sooner or later every actor has to take off their mask.
An example of this hypocrisy comes from the Marquis de Condorset, a nobleman who lived during the French Revolution. The Revolution was tough on the nobility. For years they had exploited the common people, forcing them to suffer and starve while the nobles lived in luxury. With the revolution came payback and so many nobles tried to escape by disguising themselves and slip out of the country undetected. And so, the Marquis donned the ragged clothes of a peasant and attempted to make his way to the border. It worked until he stopped at an inn full of actual peasants. The disguised nobleman walked into the inn, sat down at a table, and ordered an omelet made with a dozen eggs; a bad move in front of a group of people who could never afford such an extravagant meal. They immediately saw through his mask; and he was sent off to prison.
Hypocrisy is like that: we put on different masks in order to be someone or something we are not. But, Jesus reminds us that when we lose sight of who we really are, we also lose sight of everyone else, including God.
And this is where sincerity comes in; the antidote to hypocrisy. If hypocrisy makes us blind to God's presence in our lives; sincerity opens the eyes of our hearts to find Him everywhere, helping us to be more clearly and honestly the people He has called us to be. And so, we are called to reject any hypocrisy in our lives and embrace sincerity in three key areas of our lives.
First, we’re called to be sincere in our relationship with God. We must never try to impress God or put on a show for Him; or change Him into the God of our own making. We must simply open our hearts to Him like little children, so that he can touch our hearts with His transforming grace; so that He can fill our hearts with His message and direction for our lives. After all, He knows our hearts and thoughts and minds thoroughly already. And He knows the truth of what we are called to be.
Second, we must be sincere in our relationship with ourselves. We must never lie to ourselves about the reasons we do things, making false excuses or immaturely passing the buck. We must take responsibility for our actions, good and bad, confident that God can fix whatever we may break. The truth will always set us free.
Third, we are called to be sincere in our words. It’s easy to distort the truth when we talk. We like to flatter people, or try and make them admire us, and so we say things that aren't really true; we say things that are an exaggeration. Now, we don't have to tell everything to everyone, but we always have to be truthful in what we say; especially when witnessing our faith. Our world needs sincere followers of Christ who are not afraid to share their faith in beauty, in joy, with the world. Do people know we are followers of Christ by the sincerity of what we say and do?
In just a few moments Jesus will feed us once again with Holy Communion – His Sacred Body. The Eucharist is the God-given source that can strengthen our resolve to be sincere Christians, with hearts open to God's grace, and not hypocrites who merely say one thing but do another.
The pure, white, unleavened bread that will be transformed into Christ's Body is an image of sincerity. Its beauty is in its simplicity - no show, nothing fancy, just flour and water, just a humble host of Eternal Truth miraculously transfigured into Christ’s Real Presence in our midst.
Let us all pledge to become what we receive. We receive that simple, humble, honest Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in the hopes that we will become the same in our world. Let us make the prayer we pray before receiving communion our deepest pledge today, “Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Let Jesus heal any places of hypocrisy in our lives so that we may be sincere and true followers of your Son.
May the Lord give you peace.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.