FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 6, 2022:
One of my favorite movies is the film, Amistad. Amistad tells the true story of a group of slaves who were able to win their freedom with the help of John Quincy Adams in the Supreme Court long before slavery was abolished in this country. There is a poignant scene when the main character is given a copy of the Bible by an Abolitionist. However, he speaks no English and had never heard of Jesus Christ and so he doesn’t know what the book is. But the illustrations in this Bible fascinated him. At one point, he explains to another person in the jail cell with him, “I think I have figured out the story.” Pointing to the pictures he says, “See, things were very bad for these people, it was a dark time, and they were oppressed. Worse even than us.” He flips a page to the scene at the manger in Bethlehem, “But, see here, this boy was born and that changed everything.” Referring to the drawing which depicts Christ with a halo he said, “You can see that he was very important, even the sun followed him where ever he went.”
That changed everything. Our Scriptures today place before us three people - Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of them have an experience of God that changes everything. Isaiah sees the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. God’s presence shakes the door of his house. His reaction, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” Paul recounts his own unworthiness at having been called to be an apostle, despite his own prior persecution of the church. Paul’s reaction? “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace has not been ineffective.” And Peter, at Jesus’ command catches a miraculous amount of fish. His reaction? “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
This changes everything. You couldn’t ask for three people more different than Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Isaiah grew up as a member of the Jewish royal family. St. Paul was Christianity’s greatest persecutor; and St. Peter was a simple, humble fisherman. Yet despite their very different lives, they each has a similarly life-changing encounter with God. In so many ways, that’s the story of the Bible itself over and over, the story of how God calls people to Himself and calls them to be more like His Son in the world. We see over and over again that that being in the presence of God changes everything; it changes the one who encounters God – it changes us.
Hopefully in all of our lives there are these singular moments that define who we are, that set our lives on their course; that change everything for us. Nothing will be the same. For some it is finding the right job, the one we’ve always dreamed about; for others it can be meeting the right person, the one you were meant to spend your life with; for still others, it can be the birth of a child and how that changes your perspective on everything. These moments can also be in the negative – losing that job, relationships broken or fractured, losing a loved one you were close to. But, how many of those life-changing moments involve God?
As we come to Mass today, and every time we come, we have the opportunity to truly encounter God in so many ways. He is truly present in one another – “where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them” – so, when you look at the person on your right and left, in front and in back, God is truly here as we gather in His name. God is truly present to us today in His Word which was proclaimed in the readings which always end with the moving proclamation, “The Word of the Lord.” We mean those words! Did you hear God speak to you today? God will be truly present in bread and wine that will become the Body and Blood of Jesus before our very eyes in the Eucharist today. And we will take that presence into our own bodies in the hopes that, as St. Augustine famously said, we will “become what we receive.” God hopes that even this encounter today at the Holy Mass will change everything for us. Each Mass has the power to change it all – if we let it.
Hopefully, we encounter Him in many other places in our lives too – in our loving relationships, in our encounters with the poor and the marginalized, the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the needy. We encounter God in the beauty of nature, and words and music and art. He is present to us in countless ways because every moment of every day, God wants to change everything for us. He waits to engage us in the hopes that we leave this encounter more loving, more kind, more compassionate, caring, merciful, forgiving and gentle. Allow God to change you today – even if just a little bit.
Our celebration of the Holy Mass today is asking us – how do I react to God’s presence? Am I blind to God, not even aware that He is here? Do I shy away from God because I know my sinfulness? Yet it is precisely because we are sinners that God comes to us; to transform us by His Grace. Just think of the powerful prayer we say just before receiving Communion – “Lord I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed” – the power of that prayer is in our trust that through God’s word we are healed and saved. Pray those words more intentionally today than you ever have before.
Let us pray to have eyes and hearts open to see our God who is present all around us, and to respond with humility. As Jesus appears on our altar, let us ask Him to enter into our hearts and transform us to become what we receive – that same presence of God, the Body of Christ, in the world.
This changes everything. “Only say the word, and we shall be healed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 30, 2022:
There is a song that I remember from my youth by Dionne Warwick that said, “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.” That song was running through my head as I reflected on our second reading today and its great statement on Love. This passage from Corinthians is one of the most well-known verses in all of Scripture. And for good reason – if you want to know what true love is, read that chapter over and over again. And while this is most often used for weddings, St. Paul isn’t speaking specifically about a married couple – he’s talking about the life of all Christians and the way we’re called to love.
We talk about love all the time. But, as Jesus, St. Paul, – and Dionne – remind us, we need more love in our world. St. Paul was challenging the people of Corinth to be more loving; and he is challenging us the same way. Here’s a good way to judge our love level. St. Paul said, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
If we put “JESUS” wherever we find “LOVE”, we would hear that “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He is not jealous, He is not pompous, He is not inflated, He is not rude, He does not seek His own interests, He is not quick-tempered, He does not brood over injury, He does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That still sounds pretty good. But, here’s the test. What if we replaced the same words placing ourselves in the reading? Say it with me in your own heart. “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” Placing ourselves into the reading, do we pass the test? Is each line still true for us? How do we score ourselves on this love scale? Because, this is the measure of loving that God gives us; this is they way He wants us to love. “What the world needs now, is love sweet love.”
There is a story about a teacher who gave his class an assignment to go and tell someone that they loved them before the next week's class. It had to be someone to whom they had never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. At the next class, one person stood up and recounted his story to the class. He said to the teacher, “I was angry with you last week when you gave us this assignment. I felt, ‘who were you to tell us to do something so personal?’ But as I was driving home, my conscience started talking to me. It was telling me that I knew exactly who I needed to say “I love you” to. Five years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument which we have never resolved. We have avoided seeing each other since and hardly speak to each other. So last week by the time I had gotten home after class, I had convinced myself to tell my father that I loved him. It’s strange, but just making the decision seemed to lift a heavy load off my chest. When I told my wife, she jumped out of bed, gave me a big hug and for the first time in our married life saw me cry. We sat up half of the night talking.
“The next day I was up bright and early. At 9AM, I called my father to tell him I wanted to come over and talk to him. He reluctantly agreed. By 5:30, I was at the house. When my father answered the door, I didn't waste any time. I took one step inside and blurted out ‘Dad, I just came over to tell you that I love you.’ Well, it was as if a transformation had come over him. Before my eyes, his face softened, the wrinkles seemed to disappear and he too began to cry. He reached out and hugged me, saying ‘I love you too, son, but I’ve never been able to say it.’ My mother walked by just then with tears in her eyes. I had not felt that wonderful, happy and peaceful in a very long time. Two days after my visit, my dad, who had heart problems, had an attack and died. So my message is this: don’t wait to do the things you know need to be done, to express the love that is in your heart.”
My friends, we know that True Love transforms us and transforms our world. The love of God transformed our sins into the glory of Heaven through the Cross. God’s love today will turn mere bread and wine into His Real Presence in our midst. God’s love can turn around any challenging relationships in our lives, any sins we struggle to move away from, any brokenness or pain we might feel. It is that powerful.
There is no greater antidote to the greed, power, selfishness, cruelty, and evil that exists in our world than the Love that God gives us and calls forth from us. And it should be obvious to all of us that our world truly needs more love. Just imagine what our world could look like if we were truly guided by the love that God has placed in our hearts. If we could say with all truth, “I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.” It would look like Heaven on earth.
And so, maybe this week each of us could take up the same challenge as our story. Go home and tell someone you love them before next Sunday. Tell someone you really love, but to whom you have never said those words before, or at least not for a very long time. Maybe you have a fractured or broken relationship that needs to be healed. Invite God’s love in because, my friends, “Love never fails.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 23, 2022:
Words have such power to shape and inspire us. I was thinking this at the beginning of the week as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Each year, on this day, I try and spend some time reading some of Dr. King’s powerful words – the very words he used to shape the civil rights movement; words that extended from his dream for our world. For example, he said, "I refuse to accept the view that humanity is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word."
His words, and the words of so many others, have the ability to move us and inspire us. Think of some of most well-known words in our American history. Like Abraham Lincoln when he said, “We are not enemies, but friends. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” Or Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 when he said in the midst of the great depression, “This great nation will endure…The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Or John F. Kennedy in 1961, when he said, “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you. As what you can do for your country.”
I bet you, too, have words that have inspired you and had an impact on your life. Maybe they are some of the famous words of famous people that we’ve all heard. Or maybe it is simpler things said by people you know – a simple “I love you” at the right time, or a heartfelt “I’m sorry” in the midst of a fight. Words have meaning and power in our lives.
I was thinking of the power of words like these because our Gospel passage from the beginning of Luke today describes similarly inspiring words. Certainly, the words of Sacred Scripture hold a privileged place of not only inspiring, but directing our lives. Luke is writing to someone named Theophilus (a name that means in Greek, “one who loves God”) telling him what Christianity was about. That’s why Luke finds the incident in the synagogue in Nazareth important. In this moment, Jesus makes a solemn declaration of his mission in the world. It is His inaugural address at the beginning of His mission as Messiah and Savior. And, it is filled with inspiring and memorable phrases – as every inaugural address is.
Jesus says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” The words of this inaugural are filled with hope – hope for the poor, for the helpless, for the captives, hope for the sick and for the oppressed.
Jesus’ words outline a vision that cannot be carried out by one person alone. They must be carried out by everyone working together. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians today, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” In other words, we must work together and share the responsibility of making the dreams of our Leader, Jesus Christ, come true. We must be the ones to carry on His agenda if it is to be made a reality in our midst.
The dream that Jesus sets forth is a dream that can be realized only if we make it our dream too. And so, if victims of poverty, hunger, and homelessness in today’s world are to hear the Good News of Jesus, then we have to be the ones to tell them about it. If those who suffer with blindness, cancer or other illnesses are to recover their hope, then we have to be the ones who bring that hope to them. If the victims of violence and oppression throughout the world are to be set free, then we have to be the ones who raise our voices for their cause. And, if the darkness of our world is to be lit up with the Light of Christ, then we have to be the ones that shine that light and make it happen.
A man was walking along the beach after a big storm one day. Fifty yards ahead of him was a young woman. She was picking up starfish that the storm had stranded on the beach, and was throwing them back into the sea. When the man caught up with her, he asked her what she was doing. She replied that the starfish would die unless they were returned to the sea. The man said, “But the beach goes on for miles, and there are thousands of stranded starfish. How can your small effort make a difference?” Picking up a starfish and holding it lovingly in her hands, she said, “It makes a big difference to this one.” And with that, she returned it to the sea.
This is the mission that Jesus today invites us all into. When we wonder how our small efforts can make a difference in a world filled with so many crying out for help, we need to remember simply that it makes a big difference to the ones we can help. If we give generously of our own loaves and fishes, Jesus will find a way to multiply them and feed the multitude. Imagine what our community, our world, could look like if we took these inspiring words of Jesus to heart and carried His mission into our homes, our school, our workplace, our world? It would look like His Kingdom.
My brothers and sisters, today we are Theophilus – we are those who love God – and Jesus is inviting us to help Him accomplish His mission. He wants us to be the ones who go from this place and “bring glad tidings to the poor… proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
This is the kind of faith that will inspire others to join us and indeed shine the Light of Christ to dispel the darkness of our world. May we make the dream of Jesus, our dream and our mission as well.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, January 16, 2022:
When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a practicing Catholic family, but my Dad did not and had not ever been baptized. If you remember the church in the 1960s, this was somewhat of a scandal. You simply didn’t marry outside of your faith. And so, my parents were not allowed to have a Mass. They had to stand outside of the communion rail. And, my aunt, who is a religious sister, was not allowed to attend. As you can imagine, this was a negative experience, so becoming a Catholic was not high on my Dad’s list at that time.
Dad, though, was always the best non-Catholic church-goer you could imagine. He attended Mass with us as a family. He volunteered for every pancake breakfast, spaghetti supper and other events in the parish. Mom, of course, constantly hoped he would become Catholic, but to no avail. When I entered seminary, I added my voice to that chorus. As a person of Irish heritage, of course, my favorite tool of persuasion was good-old guilt. I can remember saying to my Dad, “You know Dad, it would be so amazing if I were able to give you communion on the day of my first Mass as a priest.” Now, that is some grade-A guilt, but it didn’t work.
The situation seemed impossible, and it didn’t seem like it would ever change. So, I had my own secret plan that if Dad ever got ill and it didn’t look like he would make it, I was just going to baptize him and deal with the consequences later. In the meantime, I continued to pray. After receiving Communion each day, I would say, “Lord, I offer you the grace of this Eucharist and ask that you place a desire for baptism in my Dad’s heart.” Mom was also praying the rosary every day for this same attention. But I don’t think that either one of us believed it would ever happen. And then, one day, a month before my Dad’s 69th birthday, he called me and said only two words, “I’m ready.” And, I knew what that meant. And in the joy and honor of my priesthood, I baptized, confirmed, and gave first communion to my Dad.
But, in the midst of that joy, I also heard God chastising me. He was saying, “Didn’t you know that all things are possible with me. Didn’t you know that all things unfold according to My plan, in My time. Why didn’t you trust Me?” All the while, I thought it was my job to bring Dad into the Church, and I was failing. St. Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” God was reminding me of that – be faithful, be prayerful, and then trust in God – and that great things would happen.
Now, while most of us haven’t been in my exact situation, I’m willing to bet that each one of us has something in our lives that we wish would change, that we’ve been praying would change, that we’ve been trying with all our might to change, but at the same time feels impossible. Maybe we wish that our spouse, our children, our friends, would find a deeper place for God in their lives; would practice the faith. Perhaps we know someone caught in addiction and it feels like nothing can change that situation. Maybe we have some broken relationships in our lives; or words we wish we could take back, or words that others have used to wound us – and we just don’t know how to find reconciliation and forgiveness. We don’t know how to fix it. It is natural for us to feel overwhelmed sometimes by what life throws at us.
Into the midst of these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, our Scriptures give us hope. “Do whatever He tells you” the Blessed Mother utters. We know this story of Cana so well that we can lose sight of its impact. After all, we know how it turns out. But think about the horror of this moment for the family throwing this wedding. When members of a family get married, the celebration is among the most important kind of celebrations we hold. They celebrate not only the love of the two people getting married, but the feast also says something about the family throwing the party. A family’s reputation and honor are on the line. Families go all-out when holding a wedding feast; often beyond their means. It is an act of love, an act of celebration, and a public act of honor. So imagine this family and just about the worst thing possible has happened. Imagine the terror when they realized that there was no more wine. This would disappoint their children, and certainly bring public shame to the whole family for their failure. They would become the “family who ran out of wine at the wedding” and would never live that down.
But, Mary says so simply, “Do whatever Jesus tells you.” An act of trust that when we invite Jesus into our impossible situations, amazing things can happen. Jesus not only solves the problem and miraculously turns water into wine – but it is in fact the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Trusting Jesus is an invitation to allow the amazing power of God to change even the impossible situations in our lives.
And Jesus has not stopped doing the impossible. After all, just look at what He did in my Dad’s life when we stopped badgering and instead entered a space of prayerful trust. The impossible became reality. So, today, I want you to think about the impossible situations in your life. Have you been trying to fix them all by yourself? Have you given up hope that they could ever change? Have you simply learned to live with them and allow the wounds simply to remain? Take a word of advice from the Blessed Mother today, “Do whatever He tells you.”
Today, as Jesus once again miraculously appears on our altar, hand over your impossible situations to Him. Invite Jesus into the messiness of your life; invite Jesus into the messiness of your relationships or challenges. Because inviting Jesus in changes everything; and trusting Him leads to greatness. Hand over your impossible situations to Him in full faith and trust and then watch what unfolds – it might be nothing short of a miracle.
And, just imagine what our world could look like, what our lives could look like, if we lived with the same kind of trust in Jesus that Mary had. Imagine our impossible situations turned around; our relationships healed; our addictions cured; our problems resolved – all in the way that God intends. Mary didn’t beg, she didn’t hedge her bets, she didn’t try and fix things herself. She simply knew that Her Son could do this. We know this too. Whatever is impossible in our lives – Jesus has got it; He can do this. So, pray, hope, trust and don’t worry. And then, do whatever He tells you.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD, January 9, 2022:
A quiz show contestant was asked to name two of Santa's reindeer. The contestant smiled thinking he knew the answer to the question. “That’s easy,” he said, "Rudolph and Olive!" The host asked the contestant, "We'll accept Rudolph but can you explain Olive?" The man looked at the host and said, "You know, 'Olive', the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names."
A little bit of Christmas humor as we conclude our Christmas Season today with the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord. We have taken these weeks since Christmas Day to reflect on Jesus’ private life – from His birth through the finding in the Temple and last week’s visit of the Magi. Today’s celebration marks the beginning of His public ministry, a sort of passing of the torch to Jesus from John the Baptist as He seeks out baptism in the Jordan.
Even though we hear such beautiful words in today’s Gospel, the voice of God Himself from Heaven proclaiming, “You are my beloved Son,” it begs a very curious question – why is Jesus being baptized? Have you ever stopped to think about this? Baptism, as we know, 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. He was untouched by sin – “like us in all things, but sin.” You and I, born in a state of Original Sin, are born in desperate need of this sacrament of grace. We need these saving waters to wash over us and restore in us what was taken away by Adam and Eve. But, Jesus? Why would He need baptism?
I came across the best response to this question a few years ago when Pope Benedict, released his book, Jesus of Nazareth . Let me share a bit of what the Pope says about the question of Jesus baptism in this wonderfully spiritual book. First, the problem. 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. We have just heard that the confession of sins is a component of Baptism. Baptism itself was a confession of sins and the attempt to put off an old, failed life and to receive a new one. Is that something Jesus could do? How could he confess sins?”
The Pope notes that Jesus doesn’t require the newness of life that we all need because of our sin. So, if the baptism of Jesus isn’t about His own sin, since He has none, who’s sin is it about? Of course, it is about our sin. Again, the Pope writes, “The act of descending into the waters of this Baptism implies a confession of guilt and a plea for forgiveness in order to make a new beginning. This Yes to the will of God also expresses solidarity with men [and women], who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness…Looking at the events in light of the Cross and Resurrection, the Christian people realized what happened: Jesus loaded the burden of all [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.”
So, as Jesus begins His public ministry – a ministry that will take Him to the Cross, the grave and to resurrection all for us – He does so by taking on our sins. It is not on the Cross that Jesus takes on the sins of humanity – on the Cross, 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; so that in our own baptism, we can be 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 again with him.”
And so baptism is a branding of sort; it is an identification, an initiation, a welcoming. In Jesus’ baptism and in our own, we have been united, one with the other; welcomed into the Family of God as a brother or sister of Christ. When we are baptized, the priest or deacon says these words, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ.” In the Jordan, Jesus was clothed in us, taking our sins onto Himself so that He could redeem us on the Cross. In the baptismal fonts of our Churches, we are clothed in Him – in the hopes that we will live lives worthy of the call; worthy of the name we bear – sons and daughters of God.
In the Jordan, Jesus stepped into our place. Today, through the grace of our own baptism, He asks us to do the same. We must now be the ones to step into the place of Christ and be His presence in our world, so that the Father may say of us as He said of Him, “You are my beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE HOLY FAMILY OF JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH, December 26, 2021:
If you’re a fan of the comic strip, Family Circus, you may remember a Christmas comic they did a number of years ago. In the scene, young Dolly was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas. Here is how she recounted it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.” And then Dolly says to her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the real story of Christmas!”
We hear a phrase regularly this time of year – Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a phrase that invites us to remember that Christmas is not just about presents and parties and food, and time with family and friends – but that there is a faith dimension to all of this. Jesus is the reason for the season. But, today’s feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph – right on the heels of Christmas – asks us to take that a step further. If Jesus is the reason for the season, what is the reason for Jesus? And, that is a really interesting question.
We sing the carols, we marvel at the sights of the lights and the trees and the decorations – especially the Christmas mangers – but how often do we go deeper and ask what are those leading us to, what are they drawing us to? Lights aren’t meant to be mere colorful decoration, for example, they are meant to remind us of the symbolism that Jesus is THE LIGHT that has conquered the darkness of our world, the darkness of sin and death. Similarly with the Christmas tree, the EVER-greens that we bring into our houses in the midst of winter are symbols of life.
And, how about our Christmas mangers. They are so beautiful and probably the most treasured of decorations in many households. In fact, in many families, Christmas mangers are even handed down from generation to generation. My most treasured one is the one that my parents had when we were young. It is a simple plywood box and plastic figures, still with the same hay used year after year, but it speaks of family and tradition and memory.
If you know the history of the Christmas manger, you know that it was St. Francis of Assisi, who originated this custom back in 1223. St. Francis did this because he wanted to truly understand the impact of the reason that Jesus, God Himself, became one of us. He wanted to imagine what that moment was like and so on Christmas Eve of 1223 he assembled a live nativity as the Gospel of Jesus birth was proclaimed.
This feast of the Holy Family in particular reminds us that when God decided to enter into our human reality; to come to earth and take on our human flesh, that we need only to look at the manger to see how He chose to do it. God chose to enter humanity not in a grandiose way, not in flurry and splendor, not with trumpet blast and glory, but in the simple way that you and I entered humanity - within a family. And, not only that, He chose to enter humanity as someone who was homeless – they could not find a place to lay their head. He chose to enter humanity as a migrant as they were on their way to another land for the census. And, He chose to enter our world as a little baby, as someone who was helpless and had to rely upon the assistance of others if He were to survive to an age where He could complete His mission among us 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 or even fail 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 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 heads that night. And all around us in our world we can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we recognize that their image and the image of the Holy Family are the same? Do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.
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 will remain in the men and women who live there. 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; they are not the “other”; they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.
My friends, Jesus is the reason for the season; and this is the reason for Jesus. He came among us so that we might see God’s presence in our midst; that we might see God’s presence in one another; that we might see God’s presence in our families; 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 presence, 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 SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF JESUS, December 25, 2021:
Christmas is such a nostalgic time of year. Especially in the midst of pandemic, when we’re not able to do all of the normal things that we do for Christmas, if you’re like me, your mind keeps lingering on those cherished memories of the past. Just this week, with our school children at Mass, I shared the story of my favorite Christmas ever. I was around six or seven years old, and this particular year, I only wanted one gift. It was the shortest Christmas letter that I ever wrote to Santa as a child. I only wanted one thing and I wanted it more than anything else in the world. My letter said simply, “Dear Santa, I have been a very good boy this year. Please bring me a grand piano. Love, Tommy.” What could possibly go wrong? I was good for a whole year (or so I thought), I wrote a very polite letter. I didn’t confuse it with asking for too many things.
That Christmas Eve, I could barely sleep. In the morning, as soon as Mom and Dad said I could leave my room, I excitedly ran to the living room to see my brand new shiny grand piano. “I bet it takes up the whole living room,” I thought. But, when I got to the living room, the new piano wasn’t there. But, instead, my eyes were drawn to the center of the Christmas Tree. Pinned to the tree was something that I would soon realize was even better than a new piano. On the tree was a handwritten letter from Santa – written on North Pole stationary! A letter from Santa, just to me! Santa knew my name! He explained that the piano just wouldn’t fit on his sleigh along with the presents for all of the other boys and girls in the world. And, Santa was sure I would understand (I did.). But, he also promised to bring me a keyboard which would fit on the sleigh next year. I can’t tell you how quickly I forgot about that piano because Santa himself had written a letter to me! That letter, to this day, remains my favorite Christmas present ever.
When my mind is drawn to these nostalgic memories of Christmas, it always goes back to that year and that letter. And on some level, I think Santa Claus reminds us all of that childhood awe and wonder at Christmas that we constantly long for.
Christmas is – for most people – the happiest time of year. The Christmas song reminds us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” But, I think especially during these last two years, Christmas also keeps reminding us that things aren’t the way they used to be. This year – again – won’t be like other years. Masks, and vaccines, and rapid tests have replaced the arms full of presents entering a relative’s house, and being smothered in hugs and kisses by our loved ones. Things are again different this year.
But, just maybe, we can turn this difference into an opportunity this year. If you think about it, the way we celebrate Christmas in our culture is all about the past. All about trying to relive a past from a long time ago. Think about our traditions. In so many families, Christmas involves certain foods, certain rituals, at certain people’s homes. Traditions intended to give us comfort in a world that keeps changing. Or think about the music. How many new Christmas songs make it into the rotation on the radio? Not many. We’re singing along with Johnny Mathis, Bing Crosby, Mel Torme, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra – and so many other artists who have long left this world. Our treasured Christmas songs are from fifty years ago or more. Our “newest” song is probably Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas – and that came out in 1994! Or think about Santa Claus. Everyone shares a loving nostalgic memory of Santa Claus.
But, here is the blessing that we can discover this year, even in the midst of pandemic. You see, the true meaning of Christmas is not in the past. The true meaning of Christmas is in the present. It’s right now here in this Church tonight/today. The true meaning of Christmas is the promise that God made to us, a promise God is fulfilling right here, right now. It is the promise of Emmanuel – God is with us! The promise to always be with us. The promise that the people who lived in darkness would see light. God never gave us a promise that things would be the way they used to be. He gave us a promise that there would be new hope and new joy; that there would be new life with Him.
You see Christmas is not really some historic re-enactment of the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago. It’s not about that limited moment in history that happened so long ago. Our celebration is not mere theater. Christmas is about God coming to us today. Christmas is about God coming into our lives, here and now, coming into our hearts tonight/today in this church. Dwelling with us and within us in the midst of our sadness and sorrow; in the midst of our joy and celebration. Always, God is with us.
The real meaning of Christmas is that Christ is born in us and among us today. Gently healing us. Gathering us in His arm and showering His love upon us. Removing our burden. Giving us life. Forgiving us whatever separates us from Him. Gently enabling us to forgive ourselves, to let go of our anger, our pain, our sadness, our worry, our anxiety. Christ is born in us and Christ is born among us today.
There is a wonderful quote from Dorothy Day that says, “I'm so glad that Jesus was born in a stable. Because my soul is so much like a stable. It is poor and in unsatisfactory condition because of guilt, falsehoods, inadequacies and sin. Yet I believe that if Jesus can be born in a stable, maybe He can also be born in me.”
So this year, once again, will be different, but let that make all the difference. Let us not worry about Christmas past, but in Christmas present – Christmas right here and now – let us allow Jesus to be born within us again. Allow Jesus to work a miracle in you today – the miracle that opens your heart to hope, to light, to life, to the joy that only Jesus can give us. Christ is being born in you today. He is with you, and He will gently shower you with hope, and light, and life.
“The angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”
Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 19, 2021:
In his book, Varieties of Religious Experience, psychologist William James tells the story of a man who stood alone on a deserted hilltop one night. It was one of those beautiful nights when the stars fill the sky, love fills the heart, and peace fills the soul. As the man stood there, waves of joy began to sweep over him. He felt like someone appreciating a magnificent symphony for the first time. All the notes were harmonizing in a way that made his heart burst with emotion.
Suddenly, the man began to feel another overwhelming Presence with him on that hilltop; a Presence that he would later understand to be God. That Presence remarkably grew so intense that it overwhelmed him. Later he said, “My faith in God was born that night on that hilltop.”
Experiences like this one are what we often refer to as “peak moments.” These are moments when, for a brief instant, we get a glimpse of something greater than us; moments that add up to something greater than what our senses alone can detect. We connect with a spiritual realm that is infinitely bigger, more profoundly beautiful, and more intensely meaningful than the realm we live in the ordinary day-to-day.
When we look at what is happening in our Gospel today, I think we can name this as a peak moment for Elizabeth and her unborn baby John. Elizabeth is naming this peak moment when she says to Mary, “The moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” It is, of course, not unusual for a baby to stir in a mother’s womb. We know that babies “kick” while they are in the womb. But, something more than that is intended here. Luke, in his telling of this encounter, wants us to understand that the movement of John in Elizabeth’s womb is caused by something other than the normal responses of pregnancy. Luke wants us to understand that this movement is in response to the presence of Jesus in the womb of Mary, His mother. Elizabeth’s baby, even in its unborn state, senses the presence of Jesus and leaps for joy.
The leaping of John in the womb previews something that will happen over and over again in Jesus lifetime. People will be moved in profound ways by just His presence; by the various encounters they have with the Word Made Flesh in their midst. Let me give you a few examples. I have been sharing the TV show, The Chosen, with our middle schoolers at St. Stan’s this semester. The Chosen, for those who don’t know, is a TV series that chronicles the life of Jesus in the Gospels. What the writers of this show do so well though, is connect us on an emotional level to the events of our salvation. Every few weeks, I’ve been watching an episode with the middle schoolers and then talk about it. This week saw the calling of Simon and Andrew. Up to this point, Simon Peter has been struggling in his life. He is lacking direction and focus and struggling to support his family through his fishing. Andrew has told him about Jesus, but so far, he has not experienced a peak moment with Jesus.
Then, after a very unsuccessful night of fishing, as they return to the shore, Jesus stepped into their boat and told them to lower their nets one more time. Simon has virtually no confidence in this effort, but does it just the same. “Master,” he says dejected, “We have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” They lower their nets again and the catch is so great that it nearly capsizes the boat. Coming to the shore, Simon in both exhaustion and surrender, drops to his knees before Jesus. “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In that moment, Peter experienced the holiness of Jesus in a way that he had never experienced before. That peak moment would change the course of his life.
The good news for us today is that these peak moments of experiencing the Lord are not only in the past; they are not merely historical remembrances. We can still experience today what John experienced in Elizabeth’s womb, what Simon experienced on the seashore, and what the disciples experienced on that mountaintop. Now, we cannot force or create these experiences, they are a gift from God. But, we can open ourselves to them. We can ready our hearts to experience God in these ways. That is what our Advent has been all about. This is a time to prepare the way, opening our hearts for the coming of Jesus into our lives once again.
In my own life, that peak moment came when I first began feeling called into a life of faith. It started by being drawn more and more into the celebration of the Mass. My faith had been weak up until this point in my life, but it was the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that overwhelmed me. In my early 20s, I struggled with belief in the Eucharist, but in that moment – like that man on the hilltop – I felt the true presence of God there; a presence that only grew and grew and altered the course of my life.
My friends, maybe you have had that peak moment already, maybe not, but God is waiting for you. He is waiting for you here tonight in this Church, in this Eucharist. God wants to reveal Himself to you in a powerful way. God is waiting to be present to you in a way that will make your heart leap for joy. All you have to do is open yourself to welcome your Lord once again. Open our eyes Lord that we may see you. Open our hearts Lord that we may love like you love. Open our lives Lord that You may be born again in us.
“Blessed are you who believed what was spoken to you by the Lord.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 12, 2021:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.” These words from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians are what give our celebration today its theme and focus. We call this Third Sunday of Advent Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is the Latin word for rejoice and it takes its name from that first word of the antiphon, “Rejoice.”
Sometimes I think we minimize the power of celebration when we only think about rejoicing in a superficial way. For example, every year at this time, I like to go to the Holiday Pops at Symphony Hall in Boston. I really enjoy that. I also really enjoy the nice dinner we usually go out for after the concert. This is the time of year that we rejoice in and enjoy Christmas parties, and holiday sweets, and Christmas music, and so many of the other traditions that are popular and typical at this time of year. We enjoy many things at this level – we enjoy music, art, entertainment, food, casual friends and acquaintances. This list could go on and on because the things that we enjoy and rejoice in on this level are many and great.
But, somehow, I don’t think this is the point of our “rejoicing” today. Somehow, I think Jesus is calling forth something greater from us then these things which are, in the end, really trivial. “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
I was thinking of an example of what we’re really meant to get at. A few years ago, I celebrated a funeral for a parishioner of one of our parishes. This parishioner was 92 years old and a woman of deep joy and deep faith. She had a hard life. Born during the Great Depression, she lived through the Second World War. She got married and started a family with five children, then more than 40 years ago, her husband died suddenly of a heart attack at just 50 years old.
But, just before the funeral began, I learned an important detail about this woman and her family. When her husband died so suddenly all those years ago, one of her sons attended the funeral dressed in a bright white suit. He dressed that way because he knew in his bones that even though it was a tragically sad moment to lose your Dad so young, that the resurrection is real; that Jesus is real; that all that we are promised in and through our faith is real. His Dad’s passing would be a sadness of separation for him and his family – but it was also a moment of profound rejoicing for his father, who now enjoyed the very presence of God – the best thing we can ever experience. He was rejoicing in the Lord.
Jump ahead from Dad’s funeral to Mom’s and the rejoicing in the Lord that this family lived so well, was still very active. At Mom’s funeral Mass, the church was full of pink flowers and just about everyone on attendance was dressed with some pink – a pink scarf here, a pink flower on a lapel there. Shirts, jackets, and more. The church was filled with the color pink.
When I approached the ambo for the homily, I had a whole text prepared to deliver, but instead I felt like God was asking me to say something else. I said, “I don’t think I am going out on a limb today if I would suggest that pink was Mom’s favorite color?” I know the family did not intend all of that pink to be a reflection of Gaudete Sunday, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make that connection for them. What I realized in that moment is that our celebration of Gaudete, rejoicing, is not merely a reminder that Christmas is right around the corner and we might get nice things.
Our pink flowers and pink vestments and the pink candle of our wreath are not meant to give us the message that there are only 10 or so shopping days left! No, these things are all meant to speak especially into those profound moments in our lives; the moments that define our lives, define who we are; the moments that form us and shape us – like the one that family faced as they lost loved ones. “Rejoice in the Lord always” because your salvation is at hand!
This time of year we like to be reminded that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And a true sentiment that is. But, what is the reason for Jesus? The reason for Jesus isn’t a pile of material gifts and extra portions of food. The reason for Jesus is the forgiveness of our sins. The reason for Jesus is to open the gates of paradise. The reason for Jesus is to show us how to live in harmony with one another and with our God. The reason for Jesus to let us know profoundly in our hearts that our God is with us – right near us, by our sides, in our hearts, comforting and making sense of our tragedies, multiplying and magnifying our loves and our joys.
We rejoice and are excited today because something is so very close to us – the salvation that the little Babe of Bethlehem came to bring. This is Advent. This is Emmanuel – my friends, God IS with us! And He wants to speak to us not only in the joy and enthusiasm of the season – He also wants to speak to us in the sadness and loneliness and challenging moments of our lives. Especially when our hearts are heavy with grief or closed in anger or wounded by the words and actions of others – Jesus wants us to know how close He is to us in all of those moments. It is there and then that He wraps us lovingly in His strong and comforting arms.
So my friends, today above all days, we rejoice in the Lord because our salvation is at hand. We rejoice in the Lord because our God is ever near. We rejoice in the Lord because He is with us in our sadness and grief; He is with us in our sorrows and pains; He is with us in our joy and triumphs. He is always with us.
My friends, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Indeed, the Lord is near.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, December 8, 2021:
A woman was having a very busy day at home caring for her five children. On this particular day, however, she was having trouble doing even routine chores - all because of three-year-old Kenny. He was on his mother’s heels no matter where she went. Whenever she stopped to do something and turn around, she would nearly trip over him. After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, the young mother began to lose her patience. When she asked Kenny why he was acting this way, he looked up at her and said, “Well, in school my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see Him, so I’m walking in yours.”
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our commemoration of the reality that Mary was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother Saint Anne. This is a belief that dates back to the earliest days of the Church, and is not a feast about an abstract theological concept, but rather it is a concrete sign to us of God’s care for us, and of God’s triumph over the darkness of the world.
And I think that our world needs to hear this message more today than any time in my memory. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world of violence and division. We live in a world of suspicion and fear. And to that confusion and fear we hear the words spoken by the angel to Mary in our Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”
Pope Francis, echoing perfectly the message of today’s feast, said, “Around us there is the presence of evil. The devil is at work. But in a loud voice I say: God is stronger.” My friends, let that message settle deeply into your hearts today – God is stronger. Today’s feast reminds us that God was stronger than the stain of original sin in the life of Mary. God was stronger than the darkness that enveloped the world at the time of Christ’s birth. God was stronger even than death itself in the resurrection of Jesus. God is stronger than the evil that fills our world today. He is stronger than anything that might seem insurmountable in our lives today.
There are no shortage of voices in our world today that are proclaiming the opposite message, that says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” It is a message that says we should look at one another with suspicion and fear; with doubt and anger – that we should treat our brothers and sisters as something less than human, something less than women and men who have been created in God’s image. But to that message of fear, we are reminded today that God is stronger, “do not be afraid.”
Pope Francis said, “Two things are necessary to fully celebrate the day's feast. First, to fully welcome God and His merciful grace into our life; second, to become in our own times 'workers of mercy' through an evangelical journey...In imitation of Mary we are called to be 'bearers of Christ' and witnesses of His love, especially towards those who are most in need."
The Holy Father reminded us that fear takes root when we fail to welcome God’s mercy into our lives. We are reminded that our call is not to be messengers of fear, but workers of mercy, imitators of Mary, bearers of Christ, witnesses of love. Do not be afraid. God is stronger than evil. God is stronger than any darkness in our world; any darkness in our lives.
My friends, Mary reminds us today that we are called to be holy people; to draw near to God and be united with Him. Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God; a generous God - a God who provides for the future, who prepares us for life even before we are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our role in the drama of human salvation, a God who is stronger than the darkness of our world.
Let us today be inspired by our caring God and by the example of Mary; let us follow Jesus in her footsteps. Let us strive to conquer the fear of our world; the fear in our hearts; and to be the workers of mercy who bring God’s gentle, kind, loving and compassionate presence to our world so desperately in need.
And, let us ask our Blessed Mother’s intercession for all these things as we pray together, Hail Mary…
May the Lord give you peace!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT, December 5, 2021:
A number of years ago, I watched a documentary called Untattoo You. It told the remarkable story of a program on the West Coast that offered to remove unwanted tattoos from the bodies of young people – their focus was helping young people escape from gang life and remove the tattoos that were associated with that way of life; tattoos that had physically marked them as part of these destructive groups. The film is told from the perspective of these young people; about how their lives got into these difficult places and about how difficult it had been leave gang life, not to mention the challenge of removing the actual tattoos.
Although dramatic, the story behind this film gets at an important point in all of our lives – the reality that all of us have probably done something in our lives that we regret and would like to erase. Usually these things aren’t as visible as a tattoo or as dramatic as joining a gang, but we all make mistakes or poor decisions; we all say things we wish we could take back or have broken friendships or relationships that we wish we could repair. It is part of being human and sometimes we just wish we could make these mistakes disappear; that they could be erased. We’re looking for the way to undo the things that we wish we could change.
If we take a moment to slow down this Advent Season, to listen to the words of Scripture and the songs being sung, to take a few moments out of the hustle and bustle of the season, we might discover that this is in fact also the message of Advent. That it is the message of Jesus. It is what is offered to us every time we enter the Confessional; every time we gather around the altar for the Eucharist. Jesus is reminding us to welcome Him again. He is saying, “I am always right here to change your darkness into light; to change your sin into holiness; to change your sadness into joy; to transform your grief into glory. I’m here to make all things new for you.”
We hear the dramatic description of John the Baptist today: a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” Those words are being spoken to us, telling us to prepare once again; to ready our hearts once again that Jesus might find a home there; to clear the pathways so that He can enter in.
Pope Francis echoes a similar message to the church and the world crying out inviting us to prepare. He reminds us of powerful realities like the fact that “God never tires of forgiving us.” So, we should never tire of seeking out that forgiveness. And in The Joy of the Gospel he said, “Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace’.”
So, as we hear the words today, “Prepare the way of the Lord”, what are we to do? Well, these words are not merely historic, they are present and alive today, meant for each one of us just as much as they were meant for the men and women who first heard them more than 2,000 years ago. These words, here today, are an invitation to you and me to become new again in Jesus. To leave behind whatever marks, there are on our souls that we regret – let God have them, let God heal them, let God change and transform them. As St. Francis of Assisi said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who has given Himself completely to you, might receive you completely.” So, don’t let this Mass be like every other Mass, any other Mass. Today, look into your heart and leave it all here. Today, let God have all those things you want to change. Let Him have the words you wish you never said, the things you wish you never did. Lay your burdens down on this altar, so that you may be lifted up in newness. Today, prepare the way, make some room, let Jesus in the Eucharist fill you completely.
Pope Francis said, “I have this certainty: God is in every person's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else - God is in this person's life. You can - you must - try to seek God in every human life.” My friends, God is in our lives and He wants to be in them more and more. That is the message of Advent. To prepare ourselves because God is coming. Prepare ourselves because God wants to make His home with us, in us.
So, as we enter into this Eucharist today, let us open ourselves completely to Him. Hold back nothing of yourselves. Put all that you are – even and especially the parts that feel too heavy to carry or the parts you want to change – place it all on the altar along with the bread and wine and just as Jesus changes them into something miraculous, something new, let Him change you too into something miraculous – let Him make you everything He knows you can be; the very person He created you to be. Prepare the way today, once more.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, November 28, 2021:
Let me begin today with one of Leo Tolstoy’s short stories called “The Cobbler and His Guest.” In the city of Marseilles there was an old shoemaker named Martin who was loved and honored by his neighbors. One Christmas Eve, as he sat alone in his little shop reading of the visit of the Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and of the gifts they brought, he said to himself, “If tomorrow were the first Christmas, and if Jesus were to be born in Marseilles this night, I know what I would give Him!” He rose from his stool and took from a shelf overhead two tiny shoes of the softest snow- white leather, with bright silver buckles. “I would give Him these, my finest work.” Replacing the shoes, he blew out the candle and retired to rest.
Hardly had he closed his eyes, it seemed, when he heard a voice call his name...”Martin! You have wished to see Me. Tomorrow I will pass by your window. If you see Me, and bid Me enter, I will be your guest.”
Martin did not sleep that night for joy. And before dawn he rose and tidied up his shop. On the table he placed a loaf of white bread, a jar of honey, and a pitcher of milk, and over the fire he hung a pot of tea. Then he took up his vigil at the window. Soon he saw an old street-sweeper pass by, blowing on his thin, gnarled hands to warm them. “Poor fellow, he must be half frozen,” thought Martin. Opening the door he called out to him, “Come in, my friend, warm yourself, and drink a cup of hot tea.” And the man gratefully accepted the invitation.
An hour passed, and Martin saw a young, poorly clothed women carrying a baby. She paused wearily to rest in the shelter of his doorway. The heart of the old cobbler was touched. Quickly he flung open the door. “Come in and warm while you rest,” he said to her. “You do not look well.” “I am going to the hospital. I hope they will take me in, and my baby boy,” she explained. “My husband is at sea, and I am ill, without a soul.” “Poor child!” cried Martin. “You must eat something while you are getting warm. Let me give a cup of milk to the little one. What a bright fellow he is! Why have you put no shoes on him?” “I have no shoes for him,” sighed the mother. “Then he shall have this lovely pair I finished yesterday.” Martin took down from the shelf the soft little snow-white shoes he had admired the evening before. He slipped them on the child's feet...they fit perfectly. The young mother left, two shoes in her hand and tearful with gratitude.
Martin resumed his post at the window. Hour after hour went by, and although many people passed his window, and many needy souls shared his hospitality, the expected Guest did not appear. “It was only a dream,” he sighed, with a heavy heart. “He has not come.” But suddenly the room was flooded with a strange light. And to the cobbler's astonished vision there appeared before him, one by one, the poor street-sweeper, the sick mother and her child, and all the people whom he had aided during the day. And each smiled at him and said. “Have you not seen me? Did I not sit at your table?” Then they vanished. At last, out of the silence, Martin heard again the gentle voice repeating the old familiar words. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me…Whatever you did for one of the least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
My friends, as we embark once again on the Season of Advent today, we remember that this is the preeminent time to prepare for the arrival of Jesus. We remember both His arrival 2,000 years ago and we look forward to His return again in glory. But, as we look both to the past and to the future, let us not forget to look down right where we are today to become always more aware of Christ’s daily arrival in the ordinary events and the ordinary people in our lives. He wasn’t only present 2,000 years ago and at some point in the future – He is present right here in our midst today – if our eyes are open to see Him.
Our Gospel today reminds us that we should be vigilant to recognize and welcome the Lord who comes to us without warning everyday in the people, the places and the events we least expect. If we are preparing for the Lord’s coming by looking up to the sky, Luke today invites us to instead look out, to look to the person on our right and our left, to see the arrival of God that is before our eyes every day, to look into the story of our daily lives and recognize the Lord who comes to us in the ways we least expect. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy…Be vigilant at all times.”
You see, Jesus doesn’t care how much money we make, how nice our car is, how large our home is, or how important our job is. Jesus won’t even ask us how many times we went to Church, or how many times we prayed – because those things only have value if they have lead us to the main criteria for salvation – did we love – without restraint, without condition, without measure? Our spiritual lives and prayer practices are crucial, necessary, we can’t live or be saved without them. But, these prayers are only working if they lead us to action, to love, to reaching out, to “increase and abound in love for one another and for all,” as we heard St. Paul say today.
So, let us so resolve on this first day of a new Church year, this first day of our Advent season, to be people ever more aware of the presence and action of Jesus in our lives in the big ways and in the small ways – in the many ordinary people He sends into our lives every moment of every day. As we recognize Jesus on our altar today in His Sacred Body and Blood – let us extend that vision to the world and the people around us, abounding in love for one another and for all. And let us be people who witness to that presence in the lives of others – especially in those places that need God’s presence more than ever. Let us make this a holy Advent, leading to a holy Christmas, an even holier year for us all.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Open my eyes, Lord, so that I may see You!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, KING OF THE UNIVERSE, November 21, 2021:
We heard in our Gospel today that Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” As we gather today to celebrate the end of our Church year, this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe – especially as we gather in the midst of pandemic, violence, war, and prejudice in our world – these words ring with a certain poignancy. “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”
The sad reality as we look around our world is that violence and terror reign; poverty and homelessness are on the rise; prejudice and fear have taken prominence in our public discourse. And Jesus says, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” But, Jesus doesn’t say these words as a dire prediction without hope. Instead, it is, once again, an invitation to allow Jesus to transform us so that we can transform our world until it truly becomes His Kingdom.
As our Church year comes to a close, we have, once again, made our yearly pilgrimage of faith through the birth, death, resurrection, teachings and miracles of Jesus. It is a journey that intends to leave us differently than it found us. We are meant to be today simply more like Christ than we were a year ago when the Church year began. We are meant to be at this time next year more transformed into Christ’s image than we are today. But, first, we must desire to be part of His Kingdom, or as we pray every day, “Thy Kingdom come….”
Abraham Lincoln concluded his first Inaugural address with these powerful words: "The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature." One of the most important reasons that we come to Mass each week is because it is here that we remember who we are; it is here that we recommit to our best selves, to the “better angels of our nature;” here we “swell the chorus of union” as we are united through this Holy Mass. One of the most beautiful things ever said of the Eucharist was said by St. Augustine who said that when we receive the Eucharist “we become what we receive.”
As the world around us entices to give voice to the “worst angels” of our nature, let us today, here, in this Eucharist once again become what we receive. Let us consciously become the real presence of Christ in our world – one that calls loudly for peace; one that seeks frequently the dialogue of reconciliation; one that speaks joy, love, healing and compassion to the world. These are not mere pious platitudes – this is how the world in fact becomes the Kingdom that Jesus, our King, came to inaugurate in our midst. That Kingdom – of love, peace, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – cannot be left until tomorrow; it cannot forever wait until people change. It absolutely must start with each one of us individually here, today, and it must leave the walls of this Church and go out into the streets to make that Kingdom present wherever we are.
Challenging moments like the ones that our world faces are not moments to abandon our ideals and our faith – or even to put them on hold. Instead, these are precisely the times when who we truly are becomes evident. These are the moments to let the fullness and strength of our faith shine. This is how the world will change. This is how it becomes the Kingdom Jesus promised.
We know there are many voices in our world competing for our allegiance – calls to fear; calls to isolationism; calls to vengeance; calls to prejudice. There is no shortage of these calls. But, in the midst of it all, Christ is calling too. He is calling us to the challenging truth that we are meant to love radically – both our neighbors and even our enemies; that we are meant to reach out to the needy, the homeless, the addict, the refugee, to those on the margins. He is calling us to transform our broken and hate-filled world into His Kingdom of love and peace and holiness.
So, how do we do this? Perhaps, we embrace the beautiful words of prayer by St. Francis of Assisi. Let us make his words our own:
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.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master grant that I may not seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand.
To be loved, as to love.
For it's in giving that we receive.
And it's in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Jesus said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Let us transform our world by being the instruments of God’s peace, love, forgiveness, faith, hope, light and joy that our world desperately needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 14, 2021:
This is one of those times of year when what is going on in nature and what is going on in the life of the Church match up pretty well. Just think in nature – you can’t help but notice that just about all of the leaves have fallen off of the trees now, and we begin to engage in those annual rituals of digging out our warmer clothes as winter is close at hand. This season of the year, in its grayness, its starkness, its cold, reminds us of endings.
So, too, does our Church calendar remind us of endings. We heard Jesus say this in our Gospel passage, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” In other words, learn the lesson that the natural world can teach you. That is why we traditionally celebrate a month in honor of the dead during November. The natural surroundings of November lend itself to such thoughts and prayers. We also head into the final weeks of our Church year. In just two weeks, on the First Sunday of Advent, we begin again the great cycle in which we recall the history of our salvation beginning with the prophets, leading on to the birth of our Savior, eventually recalling His death, His resurrection, His words and His saving deeds. But, before we get there, we’ll spend these days reminding ourselves about endings.
The Church gives us this annual cycle not just as a reminder; but in the hopes that we will find ourselves in it. We don’t simply, once again, tell the story of Jesus. Instead, we’re meant to hear that story and realize that His story is our story too. We’re meant to live it. We don’t only recall Jesus birth, but Jesus becomes born in us again. We not only recall Jesus suffering and death on the cross, but we see ourselves on that cross with Jesus in the midst of our own suffering, helping us make meaning of it and uniting it to His sanctifying grace. We not only recall that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to the Father in Heaven, but we become resurrected people. We feel that resurrection Jesus offers us in the midst of the struggles of our own lives, we praise God for the gift of the ultimate resurrection when we too will join Him and all who have gone before us in the glory of Heaven.
Hopefully, we have had some powerful moments of connection with that great story over course of the last year. Today, our Scriptures call us to reflect on that. Just like any journey when we reach our destination, we look back at where we’ve been and evaluate what kind of journey it has been. Today and over the next two weeks we should be asking ourselves: How has this year been? Have our spiritual lives grown in ways we could have never imagined? Or, upon reflection, do we realize that just maybe we haven’t gone anywhere, still stuck in the same spot we were last year? Have we become better people, holier people, more Christ-like people? How has God’s Word, and the Body and Blood of Jesus changed and transformed us?
In our First Reading, Daniel recalls some hard times for God’s people. Daniel is writing about 500 years before Jesus. Wars and distress were all around. In the midst of this turmoil what do we hear from Daniel? Words of doubt, words of fear, words of anger? No, we hear that God will take care of His people. “The wise shall shine brightly…and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever,” he writes. In the midst of challenge and distress, Daniel calls the people to trust their faith in God and live accordingly. Though wars and disasters whirl around them, God will send them Michael, the Prince and guardian to defend them.
How much do we need to be reminded of that right now? At every turn we hear the difficult challenges of our times – from COVID, to the economy, to the divisions and rancor that surround us – what’s our reaction? Do we run around declaring the end is near? Do we magnify the negativity around us, or do we cast out the darkness by shining the light? Trusting our faith in God and living accordingly?
In our Gospel, Jesus, too, speaks about the end times. He also speaks of wars and distress. In the midst of this, the Son of God, will come with power and glory to offer salvation to God’s people. He uses that image of the fig tree pointing out that if we can pay attention to natural signs and adjust our lives accordingly; we should do the same when we see the signs of our salvation. We are called to be alert and active – to be ready – so that when the end comes, our names will be worthy of the Book of Life, and we too will make our way to Heaven.
My friends, today we are called once again to renew our trust in the Lord. As we look back on the past year, we probably have experienced some joys and triumphs, as well as some storms and distress. Our trust tells us that ultimately – whatever the tribulation or the triumph, God is always present with us, God is always leading us and guiding us, and God will always in the end save us.
Today, especially as we receive the Blessed Sacrament, let us again invite Jesus to be born in our hearts and made new. Let us unite all of our struggles, challenges, trials and tribulations with Him on the cross. Let us welcome the newness of life that He offers us through the resurrection both today and at the end of our days. My friends, “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Read the signs of our own spiritual lives. And let us pray in trust the words of our Psalm, “I set the LORD ever before me; with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 32nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, November 7, 2021:
A man died suddenly and found himself in front of St. Peter. “Welcome. I just have to take a look in the Book of Life to see if you can enter heaven.” St. Peter shook his head discouragingly. “It doesn’t look too good, my friend. It appears you’ve never done anything for anyone but yourself. You’ve been greedy, selfish, and power hungry. I’m not sure we can let you in.” The man, now worried, said, “How about the time that I came across the woman who was being harassed by a group of bikers? I grabbed a baseball bat, went right up to them and said, ‘Leave the woman alone or you’ll have to deal with me.’” St. Peter looked at the book again and said, “Well that is impressive. But, I don’t see it in my Book. When did that happen?” The man said, “About three minutes ago.”
My friends, it is never too late to give all that we have. We heard in our Gospel passage, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” Today’s Gospel sets two completely different images side-by-side for us. First we see the scribes with their long robes, the many honors they receive, and their great skill at praying, and behind them, rich people making large offerings. The second image is of this woman, a widow, who makes an offering of two small coins worth mere pennies. And because it is easy to overlook a penny lying in the street, it could be easy for the people to overlook this widow and her contribution.
But Jesus focuses our attention on her and her coins because Jesus sees something of His own life in this woman. Jesus says, “She, from her poverty, has contributed all that she had, her whole livelihood.” Or as other translations put it more plainly, “She has given her whole life.” The woman’s gift is a reflection of Jesus own life. She gave everything she had; even those meager coins; and in turn she was blessed by the Lord. Just as Jesus will Himself give His very life for us. It reminds me of a quote of St. Francis of Assisi who said, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
In Mark’s Gospel, this story comes just before the events of Holy Week; days before Jesus will give His whole life on the cross. Jesus turns our attention to the woman because in her, as in Jesus, we discover that the Kingdom of God is found not in holding on to what we have, but in letting it all go. As Jesus says repeatedly, “Those who want to save their life will lose it. And those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
This is a lesson we all need to hear. We may suffer terrible losses that rob us of those we love, like the widow. We may grieve, and we may mourn, we may face every kind of struggle, challenge and strife in life and we may ask ourselves “Why?” But there is only one way through loss – the way of love. The way through our challenges is by opening our hearts; giving ourselves; holding nothing back; surrendering everything to the Lord.
What are we holding on to that is keeping us from completely embracing the Lord in our lives? We can be held bound by past hurts and grudges; by the things we fail to forgive in others, or the forgiveness we fail to seek. We can be held captive by bad relationships, bad habits – the things we know we need to walk away from if we are to be close with Jesus. The answer for us will be simple – open our hands, open our hearts, open our lives – and then just let it all go. It is then that we create a new space in our hearts that can only be filled by the incredible love that God has for each one of us.
The widow today gives us a glimpse of our life in Christ – hands open, giving all that we have, all that we are, so we can gain the glory that only comes from God. We too are called today to find what she found, that all we have comes from God and should be returned to God. We too are called to open our hands and release whatever we are grasping; whatever we are holding; to give all that we are and all that we have to Christ. Only then can we gain the Kingdom He has promised.
“Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself, so that He who gave Himself completely to you, may receive you completely.”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 31st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 31, 2021:
Our Scriptures today brought to mind a childhood memory. If you’re like me and millions-upon-millions of other people of a certain age, you grew up each day listening to Fred Rogers sing a little song that said, “It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood, A beautiful day for a neighbor. Would you be mine?” Every day, Mr. Rogers would invite his viewers to please be his neighbor as he took us to the land of Make-Believe or taught lessons on how to be peaceful people or how to deal with difficult situations or just to meet the many different people in the neighborhood. Everyone was a neighbor in Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood.
Today, Jesus is posing the same Mr. Roger’s question to us from our Gospel. “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. In today’s passage a scribe asks Jesus one of the most fundamental questions of faith, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” The textbook answer, of course, is to love the Lord our God with all that we are. But, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on to give a more practical answer, one that doesn’t merely satisfy the question, but challenges His listeners to expand their vision of that love to understand that loving God means loving your neighbor.
Jesus makes the point that anyone who 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, with all your mind, and with all your strength. [And], you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus challenges a one-dimensional understanding of love that allows religious people 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, speaking on this same topic, 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.”
Our world needs this neighborly reminder more than ever. 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. The state of the world is really as simple as a failure to see each other as neighbors, as connected, as worthy and worthwhile, as children of God.
Jesus must be wondering what has happened to our neighborhood? To these challenges, the First Letter of John speaks to us, “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; especially those who are persecuted for any reason. Let us ask God to open our eyes to realize when we see the faces of those around us – all those around us – we really see the face of God. Jesus tells us this is the most important commandment to follow. The most important.
Fred Rogers once said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” My friends, let us all be heroes. Let us all be neighbors. When we reach out to each other, we have the chance to touch the very face of God.
“You shall love the Lord 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 30th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 24, 2021:
In Red Sox Nation today is sad today after losing this week to the Houston Astros. A week ago, we felt like a team of destiny and now we’ll be watching from the sidelines. But, as a consolation, I want to share one of my favorite Red Sox stories – and it is not anything that took place on the field, but rather the actions of one player off the field - Mookie Betts.
This story took place three years ago, when the Sox successfully made it to the World Series. After winning Game 2, Mookie went home to celebrate with friends and family. They had a huge buffet of Dominican food, and Mookie and his friends were certain they could eat the whole countertop full of chicken, steak, rice, beans, vegetables, and flan. They stuffed themselves, but finally they admitted defeat.
That’s when they had the thought, “We should go and give it away the rest.” They recalled the line of people who usually sleep wrapped in blankets, shivering on cardboard boxes, next to Boston Public Library. It was amost 2 a.m. and just 37 degrees out, and Mookie and a friend wrapped themselves in warm clothing and headed out into the night. Grabbing a shopping cart, they loaded it up with all the food. They gently woke a few people to offer them dinner, and within a few minutes close to two dozen men and women were eating. “Thank you so much,” one of them said. “We were hungry all day.”
Mookie declined to comment, and never intended anyone to find out. His friend said, “It was just the right thing to do.” None of the homeless that night recognized Betts. No one cared that he was on course to be a World Series winner. You see, he didn’t act that night as a baseball celebrity. He acted as a good human being – one who had the choice between doing the right thing and doing the easy thing. He chose the right thing.
I was reminded of this moment as I reflected on the healing story of blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel today. Of all of the healing stories in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person healed and so that must mean something. Mark gives us the name “Bartimaeus” – a name which is a hybrid of both Aramaic and Greek, and has two different meanings in each language.
In Aramaic Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." So, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular belief of the time said that blindness was a punishment for sin – so, he was defiled. But in Greek the name Bartimaeus means "son of honor." By giving us this name with a double meaning, Mark is telling us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor in God’s sight, but is instead being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him was not simply heal his physical sight but, more than that, Jesus restored his God-given human dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” Jesus heals not only Bartimaeus’ eyes, He heals his soul, his dignity, his very humanity.
And, I think, this is the challenge Jesus places in our lives too. In our fractured world, we see Bartimaeus all around us, everyday. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets. We see him in the people whose dignity has been stripped away because of their race, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their gender, their immigration status, or any of the countless ways our world decides some are unworthy of dignity. Our world today constantly views people as sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, or our compassion. But, Jesus once again calls us to open our eyes so that we can see everyone sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of holiness; worthy of our love and care.
Mookie Betts did such a simple thing that night three years ago. He took his excess and gave it to those who had nothing. But far more than food, he gave them dignity as brothers and sisters on the journey. True and lasting healing lies in lifting up hearts that are broken, in reconciling relationships that are shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.” How easy it could be for each of us to choose to be healers – we, too, have the power to heal our world.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need to be lifted up the most. Master, we want to see.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE BEGINNING OF THE SYNOD ON SYNODALITY, October 17, 2021:
“Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast we celebrated earlier this month, is one of the most popular saints in the history of the Church. One of the innovations in the leadership of the Order he founded more than 800 years ago is that the Franciscans have no religious superiors. Instead, those who are elected to roles of leadership are referred to as ministers and guardians. Why? Because St. Francis believed that the only true superior of his community was the Holy Spirit. And so, the ultimate ruling body of the Franciscans are the brothers themselves, when they come together intentionally in prayer, when they invoke the Holy Spirit and invite Him to be in their midst to lead, shape, and direct their conversations and their decisions. Those who are ministers and guardians are there to carry those decisions forward in between their gatherings of the fraternity.
I was thinking of that image from the Franciscans as we begin today this Synod on Synodality. I don’t know how many you are aware of this Synod – convened last week by Pope Francis and engaging the church throughout the world for the next few years – but the hope is that just like that image from the Franciscans, we will all come together as a community of believers, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to share our hopes and dreams about the future of the Church.
The word “synod” comes from two Greek words, syn which means “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”. So a synod is a coming together or a journeying together. Spending some time together along the way. The Synod of Bishops was first instituted by Saint Pope Paul VI in 1965 following the Second Vatican Council. The Pope did this to keep alive the spirit of the Council and to help the church engage the signs of the times in the light of faith, so that the Church might always be attentive to the needs of all, so that, sharing in their grief and pain, their joys and hope, we may continue to proclaim the Good News of salvation. These synods have taken place every few years since 1965 and tackled topics like vocations and the priesthood, evangelization, the Eucharist, the missions, and most recently, in 2018 youth and the family.
This Synod which we begin today has a more ambitious goal than any before it. It is called the Synod on Synodality because Pope Francis hopes that the whole church will not merely have a brief experience of this type of journeying together, but that we will in fact become a synodal church – a church that listens. Pope Francis said, “Synodality is an expression of the Church’s style. The word ‘synod’ says it all: it means ‘journeying together’. And the movement is the fruit of docility to the Holy Spirit, who directs this history, in which all have a part to play. Dear brothers and sisters, may this Synod be a true season of the Spirit! For we need the Spirit, the ever new breath of God, who sets us free from every form of self-absorption, revives what is moribund, loosens shackles and spreads joy.”
If you are wondering what this journeying together could look like then there’s no better examples that our gospel passages both last week and this week. In both of these passages we see synodality at work. Recall last week we had the story of the rich young man who wanted to know what it would take to gain eternal life. Jesus in this encounter didn’t merely give the man list of tasks to perform, but so importantly, Jesus listened to him, allowed the man to speak about his own circumstance. He truly heard him.
This week we have another and perhaps the best example of synodality from Jesus – this literal walking together along the road to Emmaus. Let’s remember the scene. These two disciples travelling along the road to Emmaus had once followed Jesus with hope and joy. They truly believed he was sent by God to establish God’s kingdom. Then came the stormy hours of Good Friday - all their hopes and dreams got smashed into a thousand pieces. Totally disillusioned, they left Jesus in an unmarked tomb and returned to their former ways. They are disillusioned and disappointed and believe that all is lost. And then Jesus joins them as they walk away. Notice what Jesus does and doesn’t do. He doesn’t turn them around. He doesn’t tell them they’re wrong. He doesn’t chastise them for their lack of belief. Jesus simply says, “What are you talking about?” and He walks with them and He listens to them. It is only then that He brings the power of Scripture and Sacrament and that makes all the difference. This is what synodality is. This is what a synodal church can look like.
Pope Francis said, “The experience of encounter changes us and it suggests new ways we never thought of taking. This is how God so often points out new paths. Everything changes once we are capable of genuine encounters with Him and with one another.”
There could not be a better time in our world and in our church for us to embrace this synodality from the Vatican right down to each and every parish. We live in a world that does not listen to each other. Instead, we are all held captive in our camps, in our tribes, in our politics, in our anger; and all we want to do is to tell everyone else why they are wrong. We have reached a point where we no longer see each other as sister and brother – we only see people as “other.”
Pope Francis said, “Participating in a synod means taking the same path as the Word made flesh: following in His footsteps, listening to His word and the words of others, discovering with amazement that the Holy Spirit always surprises us with fresh paths and new ways of speaking.”
A simpler way of saying it is this – Jesus wants to walk with us on our journey. Whether we are journeying towards Him or away from Him; He comes up along side and simply asks us, “What are you talking about?” And Jesus can’t wait to patiently listen to our answer.
Imagine how things could look in our world and in our church, if we simply stopped and listened – truly listened to the joys and hopes, to the grief and pain of one another – and if we walked along together with Jesus and His Holy Spirit at the heart. This is what the Synod on Synodality hopes to accomplish for us. In the weeks ahead, we will continue to hear about and learn about this process. There will be opportunities for us to come together and to listen to one another. Let us embrace this incredibly moment in the life of the church, and we too might say with the disciples, “Were not our hearts burning within us as He spoke to us along the way?”
A final quote from the Holy Father, “The Spirit asks us to listen to the questions, concerns and hopes of every Church, people and nation. And to listen to the world, to the challenges and changes that it sets before us. Let us not soundproof our hearts; let us listen to one another.”
"Where two or more are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them."
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 28th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 10, 2021:
One day, two friends were walking along the crowded streets of a big city. The street was full of the noise of people, cars, busses, construction – the hubbub of city life. Suddenly, one of the friends stopped and said, “Can you hear that cricket?” The other friend said, “You can’t possibly hear a cricket with all this noise.” The man walked over to a planter along the sidewalk, pushed aside some branches, sure enough, there was the cricket. His friend was shocked, “How did you hear that?” The man simply said, “It just depends on what you’re listening for. Let me show you what I mean.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change and dropped them on the sidewalk. Immediately, every head turned in his direction. “You see,” he said again, “it just depends on what you are listening for.”
Our Gospel today asks us the same question, “What are you listening for?” We heard today the rich young man ask Jesus a straight-forward question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him, “Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The story ends that “he went away sad, for he had many possessions.” I always feel sorry for this young man. He certainly meant well. He was a good and faithful person, following all of God’s commands from his youth. But, what Jesus asks of him is just too much to for him to bear.
Did you know this young man is the only person in the Gospels that we are specifically told refused to follow Jesus once invited? Imagine saying “no” to Jesus invitation in your life. The rich young man had the right desire – how to attain eternal life – but unfortunately for him, his possessions meant more. So, what was he listening for? This man was faced with a choice – security with Jesus, or security in the bank; rely on Jesus or rely on wealth. It is a human predicament that we’ve all felt at one time or another, and the sad situation of this passage is that the young man chose to listen to the voice of the world instead of the voice of the Lord.
This passage reaches out to us today and asks us the same question, “What voice are we listening to?” What is holding us back from following Jesus completely? What is it that’s causing us to drag our feet? It could be our money or possessions as it was for the young man; or it could be something else – like grudges we refuse to let go of; the forgiveness we fail to seek out or to offer to others; maybe it’s the indifference to the struggles of others. You see, to follow Jesus is to follow in love. “Love one another, just as I have loved you,” He told us.
I wonder sometimes what happened to the rich young man. Did he become a rich old miser? Did his money ever make him happy? Did he lose it all along the way? Jesus visited him and invited him into the wonder of a life lived for Christ – a life that makes a difference; a life that matters. He walked away. He missed the chance to do good; to reach out to people; to serve Jesus in the world as His follower. Imagine if our spiritual heroes and heroines had made the same bad choice. What if St. Paul had said no; or St. Peter or St. Andrew or St. Mary Magdalene or St. Pope John Paul II, St. Mother Teresa, or the countless other holy men and women we honor in the Communion of Saints. These are women and men whose lives made a real difference in the world because they chose to say yes when Jesus said, “Follow me.”
The famous Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why.” We are reminded today that Jesus is the answer to the second part of that statement. Jesus is the “why” that makes all the difference in our lives. Pope Benedict said, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
You know, I like to think that the rich young man eventually came to his senses. I like to imagine that after walking away with a sad heart, he realized his mistake and not only returned, but came back to Jesus running. I like to believe that he changed his mind and made a choice with all of his mind, his heart, and his being – and followed Jesus all the way to the eternity he first asked about. I like to think that he realized the most valuable possession in his life is his faith and the relationship that Jesus invited him into – and that in the end, he made a difference.
“All things are possible for God…There is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more.”
So, what are you listening for? What has the greatest hold on your heart? May we too be possessed by nothing more than our love of God, our desire to serve, our hunger for holiness, and our call to make a difference in our world.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, October 3, 2021:
A couple had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except one: The woman kept a shoe box in her closet that she forbade her husband from opening. But, when she was close to dying, she allowed him to open the box and he found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. She explained, “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue. Instead, I should keep quiet and just crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. After 60 years of marriage, there was only one doll in the box. He asked, “So what about all this money?” “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”
Today, our Scriptures speak powerfully of God’s hopes and dreams for the way we live with one another. We heard from Genesis, “It is not good for us to be alone.” Both Genesis and our passage from Mark’s Gospel invite us to reflect on the holiness that can be found in married life, and it is a holiness that we can extend to all of the relationships we experience in life.
This is a timely concern for us as we think of the ways that our world, our society are increasingly fractured. People get married later than ever today. The average age for a new couple today is 32. Fewer and fewer get married in the Church. Young people are increasingly likely to be disconnected from faith, from church, from community.
If entertainment is a reflection of culture, just take a look at some of the visions of married and family life we get from TV. There are a lot of reality TV shows that deal with marriage. There’s “Joe Millionaire” where women try and woo a man who they believe to be rich pursuing the relationship for money. There’s a show called “The Love Test” in which a couple purposely puts themselves in situations of temptation to see if their love will survive. “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” turn marriage into a competition. There’s “Cheaters” which turns a couple’s infidelity into entertainment. There are a lot of these shows. There’s “Who Wants to Marry My Dad,” “Married By America,” “Married At First Sight,” “Race to the Altar,” “Love Stories,” “Love Shack,” “Love Cruise,” and more than you can imagine. If these reflect our culture, what does that say about our view of the holiness of married life?
You see, there is something wrong with the way too many people in our world relate to one another today. We live in a world that is characterized by a profound lack of kindness, a lack of compassion for those in difficult situations, for those on the margins, a lack of care and joy. We increasingly fail to see ourselves as connected; as related; as concerned with and for one another. This all has an impact on our lives, on our families, on our church, and on our world.
To all of this God speaks some loving words to us today in Scripture. He says perhaps most profoundly, “It is not good to be alone.” He says, “The two shall become one.” What He says to us is essentially this – you are connected, you are related, you must care for one another. Care for those who are closest to you; care for those you don’t know. Care for those who are on the margins because of their poverty or homelessness or hunger or immigration status. Care even for those who are your enemies. Because God is our Father, we are all related. So, we need to see each other as brother and sister; as related and loved.
As part of the Synod on the Family a few years ago, Pope Francis said, “A Church which is family is able to show the closeness and love of a father…A Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other people are a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths. The Church is an open house hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts. This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women.”
“It is not good for us to be alone.” This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for each of us. Our good and loving God desires for us to be in a relationship first with Him – one that is built on faithfulness, holiness, goodness and care. And, He calls us to mirror those same things – life, love, fidelity, commitment and sacrifice – in all of the relationships we have in life.
Pope Francis is calling us to have a bigger picture than the small squabbles we usually engage in; and he is also calling us to have bigger hearts that can embrace and love as God loves; that can see and care as God cares; that can be part of transforming this world of darkness into the kingdom of light that Jesus came to inaugurate in our midst. We are being called to live relationships – within marriage, with the person we love, within families, within our church, with the stranger and even our enemies – that have Christ at the center; that Christ Himself be the lens through which we live our lives. Having the courage to do this will make all the difference in our lives; will make all the difference in the world. That is God’s plan for us.
“It is not good to be alone,” and thank God, we have each other, we have our families, we have our faith, we have our God, and we have our Church. What God has united, let no one divide.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 26, 2021:
Today’s Scripture calls to mind a story from the life of St. Jerome, the great Biblical scholar. St. Jerome was praying and wanted to offer something worthwhile to God. “Lord,” he prayed, “I offer you my life.” But, God responded, “It was I who gave you your life. It is not yours to give.” Jerome prayed again, “Lord, I offer you my heart, my love.” Again, the voice of God spoke, “I gave you those as well.” Jerome didn’t know what he could offer when the voice of God spoke again, “Jerome, why don’t you give me your sins? Your sins are all your own.”
Our Scriptures today invite us to reflect on something that we typically prefer to avoid – our own sins. Most of the time we are ashamed of our sins, or frustrated by our inability to overcome them. In the worst of situations, we have minimized them and maybe even don’t consider them to be sins anymore. We think there are people far worse than us in the world, and so, we are okay. But, what if these thoughts are actually keeping us from living our best lives, or holiest lives, the lives that God has intended for us?
Jesus tries very hard today to get our attention. He says – hyperbolically – it would be better to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye than the allow them to cause us to sin. Of course, He doesn’t mean these extreme responses literally, but He does want us to take the sin in our life seriously. His strong words today remind us that our sin can’t possibly be inconsequential.
In the long form of the prayer of absolution – the prayer that forgives your sins during Confession – the priest says, “God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His son, has reconciled the world to Himself, and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sin.” This is the part that we miss far too often. When we take our sins seriously, we are not embracing a negative self-image, or beating up on ourselves for the things we do – instead we are connecting with the most important reason that Jesus came to us – He came not to make us feel bad about sin; but He came to set us free from it.
I had an encounter almost 20 years ago in the Confessional that I have never forgotten. A person came to me and began by going through the usual motions of a good confession. They listed all of the regular things that many people struggle with – a white lie or two, a bit of gossip, an unkind word spoken, or some prayers missed. But, as they were speaking God was placing something on my heart very persistently that I felt I just had to say. And so I said, “Can we talk a little bit about pride?” The other person looked at me stunned. “Why did you say that?” they asked. I said, “God is just placing this on my heart in a way that I can’t ignore. God wants you to be free from pride.” At that the tears began to flow uncontrollably. They said through the tears, “Father, this is something I have struggled with for many years. My pride has gotten in the way of my relationships – harming several of them. It has kept me from advancing at work because I can never admit I’m wrong. It has gotten in the way of my relationship with God because I always think my way is better than God’s way. Pride has been the thing that has put my life on hold. And every time I come to confession I promise myself that I will confess it, but I’ve never been able to say the words.” When they were done, I simply said, “Do you want to be free?” This remains one of the most beautiful moments of my priesthood.
Pope Francis 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 forgets, 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? That is His mercy. He always has patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us. ‘Great is God's mercy.’”
God never tires of forgiving us; and when we receive God’s forgiveness, we are set free of those things that are holding us back and keeping us down. Our sins are not something dark and secret; or something we should run from or hide away; something we should ignore and never talk about. Our sins are actually one of the greatest opportunities that God presents in our lives. When we encounter our sin – actually engage it and think about it and pray about it and bring it to God – we simultaneously have an encounter with Love. When we acknowledge our sin, we encounter a God who loves us so much that He wants to lift us out of that sin, who wants to free us from that sin, and help us to in fact become saints.
Why does Jesus have such strong words about sin this week? Because He wants us to experience the liberation that He came to bring us. To say “I have sinned” is not to say, “I’m such a horrible person,” rather it is the humble act of embracing the cross, encountering Christ there and allowing Him to raise us up from that sin and into the newness that is found in forgiveness. When we fail to seek out the freedom of God’s mercy, we leave Jesus hanging on that Cross for nothing.
Pope Francis said, “Feeling mercy changes everything. It is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God's love would make them white as snow. God’s mercy is beautiful.”
God calls each of us to be holy; and so the simple message today is this: our sins matter, but God’s mercy matters more! Feeling mercy changes everything. God the Father of mercies has reconciled the world to Himself – He wants to reconcile you to Himself. Let us give God our sins; and He will in turn set us free!
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 25th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 19, 2021:
Let me start with a question today. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you were the favorite child in your family? My older brother and I have had a long-running debate about who is the favorite child, the favorite grandchild. I say the debate was definitively ended a number of years ago when my grandmother was very ill. My Mom had called me one day and said, “Tommy, come to the hospital to anoint Grammy. The doctor’s say she won’t make the night.” When I got there, the family was gathered and my grandmother was not conscious at all. She was very unsettled, but not aware of anyone around. I invited everyone to lay their hands on Grammy as we began the Sacrament of the Sick, to pray that the Holy Spirit be with her. As I laid my hand on her forehead, her body immediately calmed and she began to breathe more easily. Then, when I finished anointing her with oil, her eyes opened, she looked up and said, “Is that Tommy, my angel?” And the debate over the favorite son was definitively answered!
We heard in our Gospel today, “Taking a child, [Jesus] placed it in their midst, and…said, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’” Biblical scholars often speak of a pattern found in Bible stories that they call “the younger child motif.” They found that in stories that have to do with two brothers or sisters, almost always the younger one emerges as the hero, the good guy, the one who laughs last. Starting from the story of Cain and Abel, through those of Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, Adonijah and Solomon, Leah and Rachel, the prodigal son and his elder brother, to that of Mary and Martha, we find it is usually the younger sibling who ends up more at peace with God and people – the favored one.
The famous psychiatrist Carl Jung gives a helpful theory. Jung said the human personality is driven by two energies, one he calls senex, meaning old person or senior, and the other puer eternis, or, the eternal child. The senior is more wise, prudent and calculating, always looking before leaping and so ends up often not leaping at all. The child, on the other hand, is more adventurous and takes more chances. The senior is conscious about security and preservation, while the child is more easy-come-easy-go, more prepared to change and to let go. The senior is geared towards competition, power and success, the child is attuned to cooperation and celebration. The senior is responsible while the child is lighthearted. Jung says, to be fully human, fully alive, these two perspectives, the senior and the child, must find balance and harmony in the personality.
When we look at the disciples in today’s Gospel, we find they are acting more like the senior than the children. For the second time, Jesus tells them in plain language of the suffering, death and resurrection that await him in Jerusalem. They don’t understand, yet also don’t ask for an explanation. That is typical of the senex mentality which says, “I can figure this out on my own.” Then the disciples argue about which of them was the greatest. They are relating to one another and working with one another on the basis of competition rather than cooperation. Now you can begin to understand where the little child comes in.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” In other words, when it comes to our lives of faith, it is better for us to engage the open and free energy of a child if we truly wish to follow Jesus. Jesus is calling us to have the freedom of the child; to be less worried about how we will be perceived, less afraid, and less concerned with rules, and with power and success. Like a child, Jesus wants us to be ready to take a leap of faith, to let go of our preconceived notions. Only then does truly believing and following Jesus completely become possible.
The problem for us is that our world is biased in favor of the senex way. Like the disciples we measure success by comparing ourselves with others. We even convince ourselves that this is what God wants, that prosperity and success and wealth are part of living in God’s ways. Time magazine did a cover story a few years ago on what is often called the Prosperity Gospel. Evangelical preachers like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyers are the best known for this. Time magazine posed the question, “Does God want you to be rich?” The Prosperity Gospel says that what God wants more than anything is to shower you with material goods. Joyce Meyers put it this way, “Who would want a faith where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants to give us nice things.” Of course, we don’t have to look any further than Matthew’s Gospel to find the truth. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So, does God want us to be rich? Well, I think God doesn’t care so much about whether or not we’re rich materially, he’s much more concerned with the richness of our compassion, the wealth of our love, the extravagance of our forgiveness, the generosity of our care for the hungry, the lonely, those on the margins of our world. If we trust and follow God, He will shower His choicest blessings upon us – but not in silver and gold – they blessings of love, relationships, peace and harmony, holiness and purity – the things whose value can never be measured.
This is what happens when we make room for the child in our hearts. Jesus today challenges us to be adventurous in our life of faith, take a chance on God’s way, to make the leap of faith and celebrate the gifts that God has given you – and God will show you greater blessings than you could have ever imagined in your life. Whether we are nine years old or 99, the message of Jesus challenges us all to become young at heart – especially in our faith life. This is the only way to join the company of the sons and daughters to whom the Kingdom of God truly belongs. This is how we become God’s favorite!
“Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.’”
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 12, 2021:
One day Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson were on a camping trip. As they lay sleeping, Holmes woke Watson and said, “Look up into the sky and tell me what you see.” Watson said, “I see millions of stars which tells me, astronomically, that there are millions of galaxies and billions of planets. Theologically, it tells me that God is great and that we are small in comparison. Meteorologically, it tells me that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. And what does it tell you Holmes?” To which Holmes answered, “It tells me that someone stole our tent.”
A simple question can elicit very different answers. In our Gospel today, Jesus asks a simple question, “Who do you say that I am?” Up to this point there have been many answers. They have said, “Who is this that even wind and sea obey him?” They said, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary?” They said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead,” or “He is Elijah.” They have had many answers.
But, up until now, they haven’t quite gotten a handle on just who Jesus really is. Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” and when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” they finally get it! They see Jesus as He is. “You are the Christ.” And this question of who Jesus is reflects right back to us today because understanding who Jesus is, also tells us who we are. Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” because what He really wants to get at is – once you know who I am, who are you? What are you about? His words are not academic or theological, they are relational and loving. And, today they are meant for us to think about who Jesus is and in turn, who are we and what are we about as people who follow Him?
The point is that recognizing who Jesus is – “You are the Christ” – must have consequences to who we are and how we live and how we view the rest of the world. Everything in our lives flows from that recognition of who Jesus is for us. It calls us to spread our faith; to live a life of love and joy, compassion and caring – to a degree that the world has never seen before; to not do just “enough” but to do the extraordinary – in and with and through Christ!
Mark told us today that Jesus asked His question in Ceasarea Philippi; a city marked by devotion to false gods. It is there that Jesus asks His most important question. He asks, who do you say that I am, in the midst of a place that worships everything except the One True God. It is there that He says now is the time to make a choice. In the midst of all of these competing things; these competing gods and idols – who will you say that I am? And who will you choose to be because of Me?
This question of our identity as followers of Jesus, and as His church, could not be more important than it is right now. As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attack, just think of the ways that moment caused us to say, “Who are we as Americans?” That was a defining moment; a moment that invited us into two options – vengeance or justice; hatred or love. And we reflect on the ways that we have responded – both the good ways and the bad – Jesus asks the question again – who do you say that I am? Pope Francis said, “Life speaks louder than words. The person who witnesses to hope does not indicate what hope is, but who hope is. Christ is our hope.”
My friends, as we seek to lead lives of holiness, Jesus asks us the same old question: who do you say that I am? I pray that our response will be generous and courageous, that it will be compassionate and prophetic. Generous in showing love to everyone. Courageous in standing up for justice everywhere. That it will be compassionate in the way we deal with those who have been wounded by our world. That we will be prophetic in our proclamation of the Gospel so that the world will know clearly who we are as followers of Jesus, and what we stand for. I pray that our answer will lead us to roll up our sleeves and fight for what we believe in, fight for who we are because of our faith in Jesus, fight for the church – from the Pope to us in the pews – to be true to who we say we are, by what we say and do.
Lord Jesus, you are the Christ, the One who has come to save the world. Let us be true to Your word, true to Your Gospel, so that all who see us will see You. Renew us today in Your love. Renew us today in Your mission. Renew us today, Lord, in Your word, so that what we say and what we do reflect only You and Your love for the world. May Jesus strengthen us so that our lives will speak louder than our words. Who do you say that I am? You, Lord, are the Christ; and I Lord, am Your disciple.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 5, 2021:
We hear today one of the most truly amazing healing stories in all the Gospels. “People brought to [Jesus] a deaf man. He took him off by himself, put his finger into the man’s ears and said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ — that is, ‘Be opened!’ — And immediately the man’s ears were opened.”
Whenever I hear this miracle story, I can’t help but think about an incredible miraculous moment in my own life. From about the age of 10, I had a problem of recurrent fluid build up in my inner ear that left me nearly completely deaf in my left ear. Two surgeries couldn’t solve the problem and it was one of those things that over time you just learn to live with and so I would simply make sure people were on my right side – my good ear – and would ask them to repeat things a lot. I never thought that the situation would change, and I had simply grown comfortable with my lack of hearing.
But, then, about 13 years ago, at the parish I was then stationed at, we were honored to welcome one of the so-called visionaries from Medjugorje, Vicka, to our parish. If you’re not familiar with Medjugorje, it is located in Bosnia-Herzegovina and since the early 1980s many believe that the Blessed Mother appeared there to a number of people including Vicka. Now, please know that the Church has not ruled on the validity of these apparitions and I’m not claiming to do so today, but this is a place that I have visited a few times, and a place where I find the presence of God and His Blessed Mother to be very powerful.
So, Vicka, in addition to receiving the apparitions is also known to have a gift of healing. When she came to our parish, she also offered to pray over anyone who was sick. We assembled different people that we knew could use prayer – a young person who was very ill, the wife of our deacon who was suffering from cancer, and others, for example. When Vicka came, we thought that she would pray only over the sick, but we were all gathered in a circle and she just moved person to person, praying over everyone present. As she approached me, she placed her hand on my head and prayed silently. She didn’t say a word, but just prayed for a bit in her simple, humble, and quiet way.
Now, I had never even thought about praying for my hearing, and so I was praying silently that God would strengthen me in my priestly vocation. And, I prayed, as I always did, that my Dad would one day desire to be baptized. As she prayed over me, her hand gripped my head tightly, and I felt a pop in my ear, much like the pop you feel when coming down from a high altitude, but I didn’t think much of it. I was simply caught up in what was a beautiful, prayerful evening, and before you knew it, everyone went home, and I went off to bed.
But, the next morning I nearly jumped out of my bed when my alarm went off. And it wasn’t because I was running late. I was laying on my good ear, which meant I normally would only hear the alarm as from a distance, but instead it was full volume! Shaken, I got up and took my shower, and I’ll never forget the sensation of hearing the water as it fell from my head over my “bad” ear. It was suddenly dawning on me that something was different. I kept covering my good ear to test and could not really believe that I could hear. Once I was dressed, I ran to the kitchen where the other priest was, covered my good ear, and said, “Talk.” Of course, I could hear every word he said clearly. It had been healed, and it was among the most joyful moments I can recall in my life.
“[Jesus] said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ – that is, ‘Be opened!’ – and immediately the man’s ears were opened.” I imagine that the deaf man in our Gospel experienced something similar to my experience that morning. Like me, maybe he thought that this was something he just had to live with. Like me, medicine didn’t give him his hearing. And, for me, it wasn’t even Vicka that gave me back my hearing as she would be the first to tell you that it isn’t her power that does these things. For both of us, in fact for anyone who experiences healing, it is Jesus who does the work. It is an encounter with the living God that brings miracles into our midst. Because Jesus touched the deaf man, shared his humanity with him, the man’s ears were opened.
We heard in Isaiah today, “Be strong! Fear not! Here is your God. He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared.”
Here is your God. Here is our salvation, told in the story of two deaf men – one in our Gospel and one standing before you. The Gospel story was so amazing that the people who witnessed it couldn’t keep to themselves. That deaf man’s name has been lost to history – even though countless people know his story. But whether we realize it or not, his story is our story; my story is our story.
To all of us who feel isolated, cut off, or living in silence – Christ reaches out. To all of us who feel lonely or different, damaged or confused, to all of us who struggle to understand – Christ bends down and touches us. To all of us who have closed ourselves off from love, from change, from the possibility of miracles – Christ calls out: Ephphatha! Be opened. He wants to touch us with His healing power so that we can be healed and renew our witness to the Gospel for the world.
This miracle teaches us that an encounter with Jesus brings something we all need, something that I discovered a new on that morning after Vicka’s visit – clarity. It brings understanding. What was muffled becomes clear. Things come into focus make sense. And after letting Christ into our lives, we are finally able to express something that could never quite put into words – that we are made new.
On that morning for me Christ answered two prayers – one I didn’t know I needed like the healing of my hearing; and one that I prayed for – my father did become a Catholic just a few years after that. So, with miracles on our minds, in our hearts, let us again invite Jesus to heal any deafness that hangs over us – anything physical or spiritual that keeps us from hearing His word in our hearts, and speaking His word to our world. The world needs the clarity that comes from living and knowing and proclaiming the Gospel. Especially in these difficult times, the world needs to hear the loving, compassionate, and healing words of Jesus that only we can proclaim. Sometimes we learn to live with deafness and don’t even seek out its healing because change is hard. But Christ renews His call to each of us today, “Ephphatha! Be opened!” And let Jesus come in. Be opened to God’s presence deep in your hearts. Be opened to what God wants to do in and through and for you. Because if we do – when we do – the result will be nothing short of miracle.
May the Lord give you peace.
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, August 22, 2021:
You may recall the great movie, My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, which came out a number of years ago now. It tells the story of a large ethnic family focusing on their awkward daughter who pursues her dreams, falls in love and marries. But, there is a scene early on in the film that came to mind for me reflecting on our Scriptures today. After years of working in the family restaurant, the daughter decides she wants to go to college. She musters up the courage and asks permission of her father, who immediately says “no”. Crying on her mother’s shoulder the mother responds, “Don’t worry, I will talk to your father.” Feeling the hopelessness of the situation the daughter responds, “He won’t change his mind. He is stubborn. ‘The man is the head of the household.’” The mother strokes her daughter’s hair and smiles, and says, “Yes, the man, he is the head. But the woman? She is the neck. And I can turn that head any way I want.”
We heard from St. Paul today, “Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord.” It is always interesting to see the reactions to this particular line of Scripture. Wives be subordinate – or in some translations, submissive – to your husbands. This one single line has often been called the most dangerous sentence in the Bible; and because of the possible sexist connotations tied to it; it is more often than not completely avoided by most preachers. And, I think that is a real tragedy because what St. Paul is trying to say to us in this reading today is profound; it is important; and it also just might be exactly what our world needs to be reminded of right now. So bear with me and let’s see how we can come to understand this passage better.
You see, the problem with this phrase from Ephesians, “Wives be subordinate to your husbands,” is that we tend to isolate that passage and not look at the rest of the reading. Alone, this passage is troubling and seems to support a subjugation of women, but that is an understanding that is out of context. When we look at the bigger picture, we find that St. Paul is not encouraging a chauvinistic household, but instead one that is balanced; not one where husbands lord authority over wives, but one where everyone is subordinate; everyone is the servant of the other.
There are two keys to this reading – the first is the initial words we hear, “Be subordinate to one another.” We are all called to be servants one to the other. So, if “wives be subordinate to your husbands” is true; then it is also true to say, “husbands be subordinate to your wives,” “children be subordinate to your parents,” “parents be subordinate to your children.” This reading doesn’t want to perpetuate a power dynamic, it’s not establishing a formal hierarchy in the Christian household with the husband at the top ruling over everyone else – quite the opposite; St. Paul wants to eliminate such notions; leaving in its wake a community of servants. “Be subordinate to one another.”
What does this Christian life of service look like? Just a few lines before, St. Paul says this, “Put on, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” We cannot hear St. Paul’s words about being subordinate without hearing them in connection to these words. Subordination or service looks like compassion, and kindness, and humility, and gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
A good friend of mine just this week was telling me the story of how his grandparents met and I think it is a beautiful example of what St. Paul is speaking of when he asks husbands and wives to be servants of each other. Frederick and Bertha met in South Boston mere months before Frederick would head off to fight in World War I. Fred, although not Catholic, had a number of Catholic friends that were very involved in the Knights of Columbus and Fred would always be at their side helping with events. As their relationship developed, Bertha was taken with his kind heart and his devotion to volunteering in the church.
As Fred was off in the Navy during the war, the two would correspond regularly, eventually falling in love via this correspondence. Ironically, both Fred and Bertha were Lutherans, but neither knew that about the other. In fact, they each assumed the other was Catholic. And so as Bertha’s love for Frederick grew deeper, she decided to secretly speak with the local Catholic pastor. She told the priest, “I’m falling in love, and he’s Catholic. I would like to become a Catholic for him.” Bertha began to meet weekly with the priest and was welcomed into the Catholic faith. But, she didn’t say a word to Fred.
Once the war was over, Frederick returned and the first thing that Bertha wanted to do was go to Mass together to pray in gratitude for Fred’s safe return. They went, but he felt embarrassed because, not being Catholic, he wasn’t sure what to do. But, he saw the deep faith of the woman he loved and wanted what she had. So, off Frederick went, secretly, to the same pastor and said, “I’ve fallen in love with Bertha and she’s Catholic. I would like to become Catholic because she’s the woman I want to marry.” So he started meeting with the pastor weekly, and once he had been welcomed into the faith, he asked Bertha to marry him – both of them completely unaware of what the other had done. The night before their wedding, at the wedding rehearsal, the pastor shared the secret that they had become Catholic out of love for the other.
“Brothers and sister be subordinate to one another.” Fred and Bertha were servants to each other – they saw the good in each other; they wanted the same holiness that they saw in each other; they knew that their only happiness could be found in serving each other out of reverence for Christ.
My friends, we are not called to be powerful in relation to each other, we are called to be powerless; we are not called to be lords over one another; we are called to serve. In a world that seeks to pit us one against another day after day, let us instead be servants to each other – not just the people we like or who like us; but everyone. How do we end the cycle of anger, and hatred, and division? Be subject to each other out of reverence for Christ.
“Put on, as God's chosen ones heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” Let us be subordinate to one another.
May the Lord give you peace.
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