Daughters and sons of encouragement
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF EASTER, May 15, 2022:
Consider this statement, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” This is a quote by Dorothy Day, the holy woman who was the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who lived a life dedicated to reaching out to those whom society had cast off. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Or as Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Let those words ruminate as we unpack today’s readings.
As much as Easter is about Jesus and His resurrection, this season also focuses our attention on another central figure, St. Paul and the life-changing effect of his encounter with the Resurrected Christ. We hear a lot about Paul in the Acts of the Apostles which have such a prominent place in our Easter readings, and of course, we always hear a lot from him, as his letters to the various churches he established are read most Sundays throughout the year.
I think that the church gives us Paul during the Easter season as a point of connection between the great events we recall from so long ago and our own life here today. In other words, we are Paul. We relate to him in his struggles, in his doubt, even in his disbelief. And, if we can relate to him in those moments, then we can perhaps also relate to him in his conversion; we can relate to him in his zeal to grow in faith, and to share that faith with anyone he encountered. Our life of faith, after all, is not about a life of perfect adherence from womb to tomb. God knows that we often struggle with our faith; struggle with our practice; struggle to maintain God’s place in our life. We are in need of constant resurrection, newness, constant change, constant return. And Paul reminds us that this is okay. That no matter how far away we sometimes feel from God, we can always return. There is no place that is too far from God for us.
When we encounter St. Paul in Acts, he was still a fresh convert to the faith and new at being a Christian. Previously, he was the chief persecutor of these new Christians. Elsewhere Acts tells us that Paul had been “breathing murderous threats” against the followers of Jesus. The early Christian community knew who this guy was and what he did. Nobody trusted him. They even feared him. That brings us back to Dorothy Day, “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
This very mean Paul is not who usually comes to mind when we think of the great saint. So, what happened? Well, of course, he had a direct encounter with the Risen Jesus, so stunning that we’re told that the encounter knocked Paul to the ground. But, it wasn’t just that moment that changed everything. There was also one person in the community of believers who saw something more in him. That person was Barnabas. Barnabas believed in Paul and his conversion. Today’s reading shows them together proclaiming the good news. Without Barnabas, there would not be a St. Paul. After Paul’s conversion, Barnabas became a mentor and guide, a friend and confidant; but also a figure who must have had great courage, and patience, and perseverance. Barnabas embraced this man everyone else feared because he knew with God all things would be possible. Barnabas personified Christian love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Years later, when Paul wrote his famous passage to the Corinthians about love – how it bears all things, hopes all things, and never fails – I think he was really talking about this kind of love. Not something romantic or flowery. But something that is a gift of self, that demands sacrifice and faith. That is unafraid and steadfast. That is willing to risk. Willing, even, to see beyond someone’s past; even a horrible and violent past like Paul’s. In other words: a love willing to “believe all things” – even to believe that a lowly tentmaker from Tarsus, a man who was a sinner, a persecutor, even a Christian-hunter, might have the potential to be a saint. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.”
Let me share one more detail with you about our good Barnabas. Barnabas is not the name he was born with. His given name was Joseph. But just as Simon became Peter, and Saul became Paul, he, too, was given a new name to symbolize his new life in Christ. He was given the name Barnabas, a name which translated means, “Son of Encouragement.” Encouragement is what he gave to the growing community of Christians – and it surely describes what he offered to Saul who through this encouragement grew into the Saint Paul we revere.
To offer encouragement means to support and uplift. It is taking time to give of self – to give a hand to hold, a shoulder for support, an ear to listen, a voice to calm all doubts and erase all fears. It is to love like Christ loves. To see beyond sin into holiness. This is the effect of resurrection. It will raise us not only on the last day, but it can raise us on this day too, it can raise us every day – right out of whatever weighs us down.
“You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Barnabas, the Son of Encouragement, loved a man that “they were all afraid of”, a man who “breathed murderous threats against them” and he loved and encouraged him into holiness and a saintly life. “As I have loved you, so you should also love one another.”
My friends, let us pray today that we too might be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement – for each other, for those we struggle with, for those who seem to need that love and encouragement more than anyone else, for those who are far off, for those who no one else seems to love. “You only love God as much as the person you love least.” Let the person we love least be the person we love most and then we will be loving the way that God loves, and we will be encouraging as Barnabas encouraged, we too will be Daughters and Sons of Encouragement making our way to Heaven and bringing everyone else along with us.
May the Lord give you peace.
The faith of Thomas
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER, April 24, 2022:
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Our Gospel today calls us to reflect in the midst of our Easter joy on what it means for us to be a people of faith; a people who believe in the saving power of Jesus. It reminds us that our faith is not always nice and fluffy, but that it has real world consequences in the most serious of moments.
Our Gospel presents us with the story of the most well-known doubter in the Bible – the apostle Thomas. For obvious reasons, I have always had a great affinity for Thomas and have also always found that he gets a bad rap known as the Doubting Thomas. But, as we just heard in the proclamation, doubting is not where Thomas ends up – believing is! He makes perhaps the greatest profession of faith in Scripture, “My Lord and my God.” So, as you can guess, I don’t think that “doubting” is a fair assessment of Thomas’ faith.
The usual take on today’s Gospel goes something like this – Jesus appeared to the disciples, except Thomas who wasn’t there. Jesus gives them the gift of peace; He breathes the Holy Spirit on them and gives them a mission to go forth and forgive sins. Everyone believed, except poor Thomas who, of course, gets labeled the doubter. The message from too many preachers will be: Don’t be like poor, poor Thomas, instead have some faith like the rest of the apostles.
However, Bible commentator Russell Saltzman gives the story a new spin. He wrote, Notice that “[the other apostles] didn’t go anywhere, did they? They stayed put. They didn’t venture an inch. They didn’t undo a single sin anywhere. They remained together and they were still there when Thomas finally shows.”
Saltzman goes on to say that if Thomas did indeed doubt, perhaps he didn’t doubt Jesus, but he doubted his fellow apostles. After all, if Jesus appeared as they said, if He gave them peace as they said, if He breathed the Holy Spirit as they said, and if He gave them a mission as they said, then why were they still locked up afraid in that upper room? “If you’ve been sent, what are you still doing here?” is Thomas’ dilemma. From Thomas’ perspective, an encounter with the Risen Jesus should have produced some fruit on the part of his fellow apostles, instead, he finds them right where he left them – afraid in the Upper Room.
Fast forward a week later, when Thomas is present, he receives the same gifts from Jesus and Tradition tells us that Thomas was the first apostle to leave Jerusalem. From his encounter with the Risen Lord, Thomas made a huge leap of faith to the full divinity of Christ that the others didn’t and was able to proclaim: “My Lord and my God.” And with that he traveled, further and faster than all the rest, all the way to the tip of India. This is not the behavior of a doubter.
This is all a simple way of saying – especially on this Second Sunday of Easter – that Easter, the Resurrection, our faith should also make a difference in our lives; a difference that shows. It made a difference in the life of Naseem Faheem and his family. It made a difference in the life of Thomas. And so, our encounter with the Risen Jesus should move us too and not leave us right where He found us. My friends, our God appears to us here again today. He speaks His word, He offers His Son, He gives us a mission. We, just like the apostles, are being sent – will we go anywhere? Will it make a difference in the way we are living our lives?
Pope Francis spoke about this encounter between Jesus and Thomas not long after his election, and how this encounter is meant to send us our in mission. The Pope said, “The path to our encounter with Jesus are his wounds. There is no other. Jesus tells us [as He told Thomas] that the path to encountering Him is to find His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy; by giving to the body of your wounded brother or sister because they are hungry, because they are thirsty, because they are naked, humiliated, or a slave; because they are in jail, or in a hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. And Jesus asks us to take a leap of faith, towards Him, but through these His wounds. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to kiss and bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. And we must do this literally. Just think of what happened to St. Francis, when he embraced the leper? The same thing that happened to Thomas: his life changed."
My friends, today it is we who are in the Upper Room. It is we to whom Jesus offers peace and the gifts of His Spirit. It is we who are once again sent. Let us act in faith without question. Let us proclaim with Thomas, My Lord and my God, and then bring Jesus to our world.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
We rise with the Son
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, April 17, 2022:
A young woman was flying home from college at Eastertime. As she stared out of the window down at the countryside below, her heart was heavy and tears were in her eyes. Her first year of college was nearly over and it had been a disaster. She felt lost and was uncertain of what direction her life should take; if it even had any meaning. Her only ray of happiness lay in the fact that she’d soon see the ocean again, which she missed and loved so dearly. The plane touched down and her grandmother met her at the gate. The two of them drove home in complete silence. As they pulled into the driveway her only thought was to get into her car and drive to the ocean. It was well after midnight when she arrived at the beach. What happened next is best described in her own words. She writes, “I just sat there in the moonlight watching the waves roll up on the beach. Slowly my disastrous first year passed before my eyes day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month. But, then all of a sudden the whole experience fell into place. I realized something profound: It was over and past and if I chose, I could forget about it forever and let it simply be in the past. And there was a great freedom and relief in that realization. And, then, the next thing I knew, the sun was coming up in the east. As it rose gloriously breaking the darkness of the horizon, I sensed my feelings starting to peak, just as a wave peaks before it breaks. It was as though my mind, heart, and body were drawing strength from the rising sun and from the ocean. All my old goals and enthusiasm came rushing back stronger than ever. In that moment, I rose with the sun. Renewed, I got into my car, and headed for home.”
After her Easter vacation the young woman returned to school, picked up the broken pieces of her year, and fitted them back together again. In the short span of an Easter vacation, she lived and died and rose again. And for the first time in her life she understood the meaning of Easter; she understood the meaning of Resurrection.
My friends, on this holy day we celebrate the most amazing event in the history of the world – not only that God became one of us; but that after being put to death – the violent death of crucifixion – Jesus did something that defies the senses; that defies nature – He rose from the dead. Death has no power over Him. “Death where is your victory? Where is your sting?” We are so used to this mystery of our faith that it can lose its punch for us; but we are challenged tonight to remember just how extraordinary this is – Jesus, who was dead, returned to life and life in the full. And, through the grace of our Baptism, He invites us into the same life with Him. We know about the Resurrection, but tonight we need to ask, does this central reality of our faith have a real meaning, a practical meaning in our own lives?
Now, we know we will be raised on the Last Day, but what about experiencing Resurrection today? Think about the disciples. Before the tragedy of Good Friday, Jesus was the person who gave meaning to their lives. They had pledged their lives to Him. They had put their dreams in Him. They had pinned all their hopes on Him. But, then came Good Friday. All those pledges, all those dreams, all those hopes were smashed into a million little pieces. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, all those pledges, dreams, and hopes died on the cross with Jesus. With one terrible thrust of a soldier’s spear, their very lives died on the cross with Jesus. When the sun went down on Good Friday, they, too, were buried in the tomb with Him. To them, surely, it seemed as though it was all over.
But, then it happened! As the sun rose on Easter Sunday morning, Jesus rose with it and appeared to His disciples. He was more radiant and more fully alive than they had ever seen Him before. And at that moment, the power of Easter, the power of Resurrection, began to work in the lives of the disciples. Suddenly they were transformed from a band of despairing men, into a brigade of daring missionaries. At the command of Jesus, they set out to carry the news of Resurrection to the farthest corners of the earth. And everywhere they preached this good news, the power of Resurrection began to work in people’s lives, just as it had in their own lives. Beautiful things began to happen. Despair gave way to hope; darkness gave way to light; hatred gave way to love; sorrow gave way to joy.
In short, everywhere they preached, the power of Resurrection – of new life - began to work miracles in people’s lives. And, my friends, those miracles haven’t stopped yet. They continue to happen in our time. Easter is a broken-hearted college girl wiping away her tears and beginning again renewed. Easter is a band of defeated disciples transformed into an army of daring missionaries. Easter is a world in darkness throwing off its chains of despair and walking in the light of a new hope. And that brings us to this gathering, in this church, on this Holy Night. So, what is the power of this Resurrection for us today, in our lives now? How can we experience the Resurrection that Christ invites us into? Where do we see it in our lives?
The answer is simple. Every time we love again after having our love rejected, we share in the power of Resurrection. Every time we trust again after having our trust betrayed, is a moment of being Raised. Each time we fail at something and still pick ourselves up and try again, Easter is born in us. When we hope again after having our hopes and dreams smashed into pieces, new life is restored in us. Each time we wipe away the tears running down our cheeks, face the sun, and start again, we share in the power of the Risen Lord. When we dare see something good in others, especially those we struggle with, we are in the Light of New Life. Every time we forgive others or receive their forgiveness; every time we go out of our way and help those who are poor and in need, we embrace the liberating power of the Crucified and Risen Lord.
The message of Easter is simply and powerfully this: nothing can destroy us anymore - not pain, not sorrow, not sin, not rejection, not even death itself. The revelation coming from Easter is that Christ has conquered all, and that we too can conquer all, if we unite ourselves with Him. It is the Good News that every Good Friday in our lives now has an Easter Sunday. It is Good News that we don't have to wait until death to share in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus; we can experience new life in this life!
And we can begin to do it right now, in this life, at this moment, in this Holy Mass. All we have to do is open our hearts to the grace that Jesus won for us on that first Easter Sunday more than 2,000 years ago.
This is what Easter is all about. This is what we celebrate as we now prepare to break bread together on this great day of our Christian faith. My friends, Jesus has risen and as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God again He invites us to rise with Him. Will we rise again with Him?
Happy Easter and may the Risen Lord give you peace.
The week that changed the world
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD'S PASSION, April 10, 2022:
Today our celebration of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion begins Holy Week – the most sacred week of our Church year. Today, in this one liturgy, we move in dramatic form between great highs and great lows, we move from the cheers of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jerusalem to the bitter cries “Crucify Him!” that lead Him to the cross. These two themes of “Hosanna” and “Crucify Him” serve as a prologue to the rest of Holy Week that lies ahead. Today is sort of like a movie preview that we see before the feature presentation. We get glimpses of the glory – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem – and a look at what is to come – His death on the cross. But, like every good movie preview, it doesn’t give away the ending. We have to stick around to see how this all turns out.
But today, let’s focus on the “Hosanna” of our story – the glorious entrance – and in particular, let’s look at a character in the story that perhaps we don’t usually think about. It’s easy to focus on Jesus as King, or the disciples and their part in the story, or the crowds and how they hailed Jesus. I want to talk about two characters no one ever seems to mention – the donkey and its’ owner. Think about it. How different would this story be if the owner of the donkey had refused to give it up? Without them, we might not have a story of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
The point is that no matter how unknown or seemingly inconsequential a person is, no matter how small a role someone plays, every part is important in the unfolding of God’s plan. The Lord needs each one of us just as He needed even a donkey and its owner in His entry to Jerusalem, if He is to complete His mission.
Now, a donkey was a very big thing in the time of Jesus. The donkey was the equivalent of a car, a truck and a tractor all in one. People used it to move around and do their shopping, to carry a heavy load, and in cultivating the land. Add to this the fact that this donkey had never been ridden, that means it was brand new and had a very high value. So, giving up the donkey just because the Lord needed it was actually a big sacrifice. It was a generous and heroic act of faith on the part of its owner; even though it seems very simple.
It begs the question of us – do we respond as quickly and as generously when God calls for our gifts, our talents and our treasure? We are reminded today that each one of us has got a donkey that the Lord needs; each of us has something. Will we give it to Him freely?
The spiritual writer Max Lucado offered a reflection on this Gospel moment. He wrote, “Sometimes I get the impression that God wants me to give him something and sometimes I don’t give it because I don’t know for sure, and then I feel bad because I’ve missed my chance. Other times I know he wants something but I don’t give it because I’m too selfish. And other times, too few times, I hear him and I obey him and feel honored that a gift of mine would be used to carry Jesus to another place. And still other times I wonder if my little deeds today will make a difference. All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and His story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to God. Your gifts are His and the donkey was His.”
My friends, as we enter into yet another great and glorious Holy Week, let us ask for the grace to hold back nothing of ourselves from the Lord. Let us freely give of our time, our talent and our treasure – our donkey – to bring forth the very presence of God in our world; to help transport Jesus from this place to the many places where people do not yet know Him.
So, what is your gift, your talent, your treasure? Your Master has need of it.
Have a blessed Holy Week and may the Lord give you peace.
Let's shake things up!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 5th SUNDAY OF LENT, April 3, 2022:
Jesus is sitting in the Temple area teaching when a women caught in adultery is brought to Him to be stoned for her sins. Looking at the crowd Jesus says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” There is silence. Suddenly from the back of the crowd a rock comes hurling through and hits the woman on the head. Jesus looks up and says, “Mom, do you mind? I’m trying to make a point here.”
You’ve probably heard that one before. I like that joke because it shakes up a familiar story and invites us to think about things differently. And, shaking things up is exactly what Jesus intended in this encounter. It is one of those Biblical paradoxes where the holy response very different from the typical human response. As we hear in Scripture, the “wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” Jesus in this moment and in His teaching is shaking things up and inviting us to stop thinking only about the punishment others deserve, and instead to think about the power that His mercy can have to change lives and convert the world. In this encounter, His mercy opens up a whole new way of being for this woman. Surely her life was never the same again.
Pope Francis, of course, speaks frequently about the power of this mercy. In one of his Angelus messages, also reflecting on the woman caught in adultery, he said “I think we are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think that this is the Lord's most powerful message: mercy.”
So it begs the question for all of us today, when we think of mercy, when we think of forgiveness, what is our image? Is our image the Divine Court Room where we plead our case and throw ourselves on the court hoping for a light sentence? Or is our image that loving and merciful one that Jesus gave us last week in the story of the Prodigal Son? I think if we are honest, too many of us view it as that courtroom and this keeps us away from the grace and mercy that God offers us when we encounter Him in Confession.
You see, what the Father did for the Prodigal Son, what Jesus did for the woman caught in adultery and countless other people He encountered was simply this – He set them free. So the only real question we need to ask in our hearts is this one – do you want to be free? So what is the burden you are carrying? Well, do you want to be free from it? Because God wants to take it from you. What is weighing you down? No matter what it is, God wants to lift it off of you. Maybe you made some mistakes in your past, something you really regret. Maybe you’re really angry and lose your temper. Maybe you knock people down with your words, giving in to gossip and hurting other people’s feelings deeply. Maybe you’ve given in to the temptations around you and you feel trapped. Maybe you consumed with jealousy or envy or resentment? No matter what it is, why are you still holding it? Do you want to be free? Because that freedom is no farther away from you than confession.
The Pope said, “It is not easy to entrust ourselves 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 kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ We do not hear 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.’ God's face is the face of a merciful father who is always patient. Have you thought about the patience God 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.’”
Pope Francis concluded that Angelus by saying, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. This mercy is beautiful.” My friends, feeling mercy changes everything. Feeling mercy sets us free.
I want to invite you to take a moment right now and look at the Cross, look at Jesus hanging on it. Look at that cross like you’ve never looked at it before. Look at it not as a decoration in the church – but as a real sign of love – the greatest sign of love. Jesus was nailed to that cross for one reason – so that He could take away YOUR sins and mine. He was nailed to that cross so that we could be free! Jesus won’t take our sins away, unless we give them to him. He’s on that cross waiting to take them, to lighten our load, to help us carry it, to make us free. He’s on that Cross for us to take our sins away. Give Him your sins so that He can take them away and you can be free. Will you let Jesus set you free?
“The wisdom of God is foolishness to humans.” My friends, let us all be fools for Christ. Because that godly foolishness can lead us to break the cycle of sin in our lives and in our relationships; it can free us in ways that we never imagined and offer us a joy greater than any we’ve ever experienced. My friends, I promise you that if you seek true freedom through Confession and then go and offer the same forgiveness and healing to the angry places, situations and relationships in your life – change will happen because feeling mercy changes everything. I challenge us all to do that. Let us all be fools for Christ and a sign to the world of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Let us seek out forgiveness so that we can all be free.
“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.”
May the Lord give you peace.
I implore you, be reconciled!
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 4th SUNDAY OF LENT, March 27, 2022:
Charles Dickens was known to say that the story of the Prodigal Son is the best short story ever written. It is such an important story in our culture that some of the phrases from it have become common and even proverbial in our language – phrases like the Prodigal Son, or the “fattened calf” or “he was lost and has been found.” We hear these words regularly in our daily life and they take on a whole new level of meaning.
This is a story that has enriched the vocabulary of the world. It has also changed the way the world looks at things. No story tells us more about God or makes us feel better about ourselves in God’s sight. It is a brief tale with tremendous scope, so wide that it embraces all of our sinfulness at one end and God’s tremendous and endless mercy at the other. And it does so in such a way to bring them both together. It is no wonder that we hear St. Paul beg us today, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!” Seeking God’s mercy and offering God’s mercy are the most important things that we can do.
Jesus shares this story in response to his regular adversaries in the Gospels – the Pharisees and Scribes. They are upset with the people He keeps company with. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is their accusation. And Jesus gives them this story in the hopes that they will understand – once and for all – His nature and the welcoming and merciful nature of God. The word Pharisee means literally “separated ones” and this is often exactly what the Pharisees are trying to do – trying to use God’s law to create a world where some people are “in” and others are “out”. The consequence of their view of the world is to exclude many people from God’s love. Today, Jesus gives this wake-up call. He reminds them and us that God’s love is for everyone; God’s forgiveness has no limits. Jesus has come so that all people might know – whether the greatest saint or the worst sinner – that all people might know that they are welcomed, loved and forgiven in the Kingdom He came to inaugurate.
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is the accusation that Jesus turns into a motto; into a way of life; and it should describe us as well. And, I think, this message of the Prodigal Son is one that we need to hear over and over and over again because we know that this tendency to separate people and exclude them is something that persists in our world. We are called to reject that notion.
God, of course, never asked us to be in the business of judgment or exclusion. Pope Francis said it more succinctly when he famously said, “Who am I to judge?” It was a powerful statement and reminder from the Holy Father, but it is one that should come from each one of us too. Who are we to judge? There is only one judge; and it is not us – it is God, the true and only judge we will face. And, our story today reminds us that the one true judge is abundantly forgiving and merciful.
But, who are we to love? Who are we to show compassion? Who are we to forgive and show mercy? Who are we to reach out to the needy, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the refugee, the immigrant? These are our common call; this is our mission statement. Jesus is very explicit about these things. This is what He asks us to do – to love, to be His loving, kind, compassionate, merciful and forgiving presence in our world. So, how are we doing with that?
Let us remember that no sin of ours is ever too great to be forgiven. God never tires of forgiving us. And let it be said of us that we too “welcome sinners and eat with them.”
Today, let us “come to our senses,” as the Prodigal Son did. Today let us reject the voices in our world that want to exclude people; let us reject the voices that seek to judge others; and let us return once again to our loving and forgiving Father. Let us heed St. Paul’s command, “I implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” Let us run into the embrace of His welcoming arms and receive the mercy He has prepared for us. And then let us go forth sharing that same love, that same mercy with the world.
“Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”
May the Lord give you peace.
Feeling mercy changes everything
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 20, 2022:
Pope Francis tells a story which he says was the source of his vocation and spirituality. When he was a young man of 17, he was heading to the train in Buenos Aires one day for his school’s annual picnic and he planned on proposing to his girlfriend that day. Bu, as he passed by a local church, he decided to go in and pray. There he met a young, friendly priest and decided to go to confession. Something happened in that confession which Pope Francis describes as an encounter with God who had been waiting for him. In that encounter he experienced powerfully the mercy of God for him and for all people. He knew from that moment his life had to be devoted to sharing with everyone the mercy of God. In that moment, He discovered a special vocation of mercy. He did not go to the train or the picnic that day. He did not propose to his girlfriend. His life and its course was completely changed in that moment. And, because of that experience he adopted as his motto “miserando atque eligendo” which translates “having been shown mercy and chosen to show mercy.”
This story came to mind as I was reflecting on our first reading today from Exodus. We heard, “God called out to Moses from the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’” With this moment, Moses’ life would also be changed forever. He would go from being a member of the Egyptian royal family to become a prophet and leader of a slave people on their way to freedom – all because of this encounter with our living and loving God.
We probably know this story in the life of Moses well, and I think many people hear stories like this with a sense of wonder and awe, but also with a sense that perhaps these things don’t happen anymore. Such miraculous encounters are a thing of the past and not something that will occur in our lifetime.
But, as the simple story from the young life of Pope Francis reminds us, God still desires to reach out and touch our lives and change them forever. Pope Francis, in his mission of mercy, said a few years ago, “Feeling mercy changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.” The Pope knows this to be a true statement in his own life and we are reminded today that it can and should be true in ours. So, as we gather again today as God’s people, where do we need to have a real experience of God in our lives? What pains or troubles do we need to ask God to help us carry? Are we in need of a clearer idea of the direction He has set for us? Or do we simply have a deep desire to feel God’s presence, to know in the depths of our being that God is real and right here by our side?
In the Exodus encounter, we see that God was very present to Moses and was ready to rescue His people with infinite mercy, love and patience. This is what Moses learned on that day; and it this is what God wants us to remember today. Like Moses, God has a desire to reach out and encounter us in our lives. And this encounter can change everything if we are open to it.
In just a few moments, God will reveal Himself to us just as powerfully as He did to Moses; this time not in a burning bush, but in the Blessed Sacrament – His real and abiding presence among us. But we have to take the first step and believe. We have to open our eyes to see beyond the bread and wine on the altar and to see that it is our God who is present there – bread become Body; wine become Blood. Then, we have to receive that mercy that God wants to show us; we have to open our hearts to this encounter in order to be changed by it.
My friends, once again, God is waiting for you. God is calling out to you like He did to Moses, like He did to Pope Francis. He wants to have a real encounter with you so that you will know that He is real, and that this encounter might make all the difference in our life.
Feeling mercy changes everything. Let God today encounter your joy, your sorrow; your triumphs and your failures; your victories and your losses – let God shower you with His mercy and go forth renewed by the this encounter.
May the Lord give you peace.
Break the chains that bind us
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 13, 2022:
I always say that I am a well-named Thomas – a doubter. Especially in my teens and early 20s, I really struggled with faith. I wanted to believe more than anything in the world, but that gift had just not been given to me. And then, around 21 years old, I began feeling drawn to the Mass, drawn specifically to the Eucharist. And, I will never forget one particular Sunday. There was nothing different about this Mass, it was the same as every other week. But, when the priest said, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it…This is My Body. Take this and drink…This is the chalice of My Blood.” – it was though it was the first time I had ever heard them. In that moment, these were words that I knew were true in my heart. I knew that that Jesus was real; that He was present before me; that He was transfigured in my sight – bread into Body; wine into Blood. After I received Holy Communion that day, I could feel the presence of Jesus in me in a real way. My life has not been the same since.
Today, a similarly amazing story unfolds in our Gospel. Jesus “was transfigured before them; his clothes became dazzling white.” Imagine that scene for a moment. Imagine what must it have been like for the disciples to see something so incredible – Jesus is transfigured, glorified, wrapped in the mantle of God’s wonder – all in the sight of three simple fishermen, Peter, James and John. For them, this moment would be a defining moment in their lives. Up until now, they had seen Jesus in normal, everyday ways. He had not yet revealed His divinity. But, in this moment they saw Jesus in a new and spectacular way; they experienced this miraculous presence of Moses and Elijah. They heard the voice of God echoing from Heaven, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” From this moment, they began to see Jesus in a new light. From this moment, everything in their lives changed.
And, it was an experience they would never forget. We know this because St. Peter tells us in his second letter, “We were there,” he says, “when he was given honor and glory by the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!’ We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain.” St. Peter wrote those words 35 years after the resurrection; shortly before he would also be crucified. He remembered that moment for the rest of his life.
Today, as we recall the transfiguration of Jesus, it is not a moment of mere historical memory. It is instead a moment of invitation. We have been singing our meditation during Lent, “Transfigure us O, Lord. Break the chains that bind us. Speak your healing word.” Jesus invites us to experience transfiguration in our own lives; to have had moments when, even for a split second, we seem to glimpse a reality beyond this one. Those moments when for an instant we see beyond the ordinary to something extraordinary - God’s true presence in our midst. A presence that has the power to heal us, free us, mold and shape us. If you are open, perhaps today is your moment of Transfiguration. Perhaps nothing will be the same for you after today.
The Eucharist we gather for every week is the preeminent experience of transfiguration. We gather around this table and present mere bread and wine. And just as amazingly as on that mountain, it is transformed in our midst; transfigured into the living presence of God. We begin with elements that are common, ordinary, mundane. We end up with something heavenly, extraordinary and miraculous. It is as if the voice of God says to us, “This bread and this wine are my beloved Son. Listen to Him. Let Him speak to your weary hearts words of love and compassion.”
The challenge, of course, is to live with an openness that believes that God can be transfigured in our midst today, just as He was then. It is an invitation to not close our selves off from the heavenly, from the miraculous, from the holy, because the reality is that Jesus is constantly revealing Himself to us. When our eyes our opened we can see that we live in a near constant state of Transfiguration – that Jesus reveals Himself to us in countless ways every day. He invites us to climb that mountain of transfiguration with Him and experience something of His divine glory.
And if the altar is a place of transfiguration for us; so too is the Confessional. If we have the courage to step into that confessional and lay our sins before God, we too will become dazzling white as our sins are lifted. In that moment Jesus wants to lift off our burdens, take away our struggles, instill in us the beauty of His grace. Jesus wants to restore us to holiness. Imagine that. Imagine letting this thought settle in your heart and take root – I am holy. I am holy. I am without sin. I am free. In the confessional, we hear the voice of God who speaks the most incredible words to us. He says, “Your sins are forgiven.” In the confessional, we are transformed, transfigured by that Grace. In that moment, we are once again renewed as God’s beloved daughters, beloved sons, with whom God is well pleased.
My friends, Jesus takes us up that mountain of transfiguration with Him once again today and invites us to recognize His presence in our midst. But, it isn’t just Jesus who becomes transformed and transfigured. We see how transfiguration changed St. Peter’s life forever; how it changed my life forever. God is inviting us to become transfigured too and change our lives forever. Will this be the moment?
My friends, let us open our hearts to experience transfiguration together. Jesus is calling us all leave the ordinary behind and ascend the holy mountain. He wants to take us up to be with Him as he did with Peter, James and John. And here, in this moment, Jesus reveals Himself to us if we only open our eyes. He wants to forgive our sins and set us free. Let us see Jesus made new before us and become once again the luminous beings that these encounters makes us.
“Transfigure us O, Lord. Break the chains that bind us. Speak your healing word.”
May the Lord give you peace.
From the store of our goodness...
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 8th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 27, 2022:
By a show of hands, how many of us wish that we were luckier in life? And I mean that in just about every way – not just the lottery, but luckier in work, in love, in friendships, and more. I think we all wish we were luckier in life. Interestingly, I came across a study recently out of the University of Hartfordshire in England that explored this question of luck. And, just when you begin to think that some people have all the luck in the world, this study shows that there are in fact some common qualities to lucky people.
Lucky people for example smile twice as often as unlucky people, and engage in more direct eye contact. Lucky people tend to be optimistic and have positive expectations for the outcomes in life. Unlucky people, on the other hand, have a much more negative view of the world, of people, of their lives, and of circumstances in general. They tend to see the very same situations and instead of seeing the lucky possibilities, they see only the negatives.
It reminds me of someone I lived with years ago in community. He was the type who always seemed to see the cloud around every silver lining. For example, faced with an unexpected warm, Spring-like day in the midst winter – like we had on Wednesday; as everyone else rejoices in this gift, his would sayd, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll just gonna snow on Friday.” Or after being being praised for a job well done, as anyone else would be happy with the kind words, he’d say, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. They praise you today, they tear you down tomorrow.” We all know someone like this, and if we’re honest, sometimes we are that person.
The British study found that luckiness and happiness go hand-in-hand. The people more inclined towards good luck, also tended to be happier. The study offered a few suggestions to increase both luck and happiness in our lives. First, keep an open mind that is always looking for opportunities, not one that sees only problems. Second, have an optimistic view of the positive things in life. Focusing on the negative crushes our spirits and lowers our expectations. Finally, try something new. Routines can quickly become ruts, but an openness to change can bring about new possibilities that we could never have imagined.
And I think Jesus is getting at something like this in our Gospel today as He speaks about splinters and beams in people’s eyes, and what kind of fruit a tree will bear. Jesus is asking us a very basic question today – what is your view of the world? Do you see the world as an inherently negative place where life is a drudgery and everyone is out to get us; a conspiracy around every corner? Do you have a view that only sees the things that are wrong with everyone? Or do you see the world through the eyes of God – a God who created everything and so sees the inherent goodness in everything; a God who desires goodness, and holiness, healing and joy for all of His creation? A God who only wants what is best for His people?
As Jesus said today, “A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” Jesus reminds us that we can look only at splinters and be part of the negativity around us; or we can share in His light and shine that light to the world. We can produce goodness from the store of goodness He gave us.
This has been constantly echoed by Pope Francis during these years of his pontificate. For example, in his encyclical The Joy of the Gospel he speaks about the contrast between joyful proclaimers of the Gospel and what he calls “sourpusses.” He said, for example, “A Christian is a man or a woman of joy. Jesus teaches us this, the Church teaches us this. Joy is a gift from God. It fills us from within. It is like an anointing of the Spirit. And this joy is the certainty that Jesus is with us and with the Father. The Christian sings with joy, and walks with joy, and carries this joy everywhere they go.” It makes me think of a quote I heard many years ago from a speaker who said, “Why is it that some Christians go around looking as though they were baptized in pickle juice?”
Pope Francis is continually inviting us to live lives that are characterized not by negativity, not by conflict, not by conspiracy – but by the joy that is a gift from God. The Pope said, “Joy always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” And, there is the heart of the matter – we are joyful because we know that we are infinitely loved by God. And we know this because we hear it in the First Letter of John, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us...We love because he first loved us.” God loved us first and best – and the certainty of that love is what gives birth to our joy. My friends, as we gather in this church today, do you know how much God loves you? Have you let that certainty sink into the depths of your heart? You are loved by God; you are His beloved. Nothing can change that or take it away – and that is the source of our joy!
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” My friends, we are being called once again to reject the negativity that is swirling all around us. We are being called to be the people who proclaim peace in the midst of war and violence in our world; to be those who invite unity in the face of the political and cultural divisions all around us; to be brothers and sisters who live community and equality in a society filled with prejudice and racism, homelessness, drug addiction and poverty. Our world today lacks the joy that is a gift from God. And Jesus is inviting us once again to be His face, His hands, His voice to the world – He invites us to be the people who bring that joy wherever we go.
“A good person out of the store of goodness in their heart produces good.” With Christ, let us be the change, the peace, the joy, the healing, and the reconciliation that our world so desperately needs.
May the Lord give you peace.
This is who we are
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 20, 2022:
None of us will ever forget the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. We were all stunned to witness the violent attacks that day on our country. I was still a new priest at the time of the attacks, ordained a little less than a year, and I remember in the aftermath of the attack, what a profound moment of faith it was for our nation, and especially for the parish where I was stationed. We immediately began holding special Masses and prayer services and just kept the doors of the church open. People came in droves to draw near to God in those days. But, perhaps the most poignant memory of that moment for me was the day after, September 12th, 2001. I was preparing for Mass for that day and begging God in prayer for the right words for His hurting people. And, as I opened up Scripture to look at the readings for Mass that day, my jaw dropped. What words had God given to comfort our wounded hearts the day after the worst attack on American soil? “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I don’t know if there was ever a more difficult day to hear those words from Jesus. But I also know it was the most important day I ever heard them or preached on them. Precisely at the moment when our minds were angry and our hearts wanted to turn to vengeance, God’s Holy Word instead said, “I know that this is horrible. I know that this moment is difficult. But, do not allow it to change who I created you to be. Remember who you are.” It is quite simply, a moment that I will never forget – one of the most formative moments in my life, in fact.
Today, 21 years later, these words of Jesus are being spoken to our hearts once again. Thankfully we have not seen another day as bad as that one and pray that we won’t, but Jesus message to love our enemies is one that we need to be reminded of. It offers us a message that is the antidote to what we hear every day. Our world is full of voices that encourage us to vilify others, seek revenge, and be the aggressor. We are more divided and polarized than any time I can remember. Are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, refuse to judge people, pray for our persecutors? Of course we are – it is the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ. It is who we are.
With this bold command to love our enemies, Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. It is here that He gives us the Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, or engaging in the political divisions of our time. How many of us are angry with someone because of who they voted for, or the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, how about years ago? This is not what we are called to. We aren’t called to anger, judgment and resentment.
We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because He loves you. This is who we are.
And now, Jesus wants us to do in the world what He did for us - to outdo violence toward us with generosity, to conquer the hatred around us with kindness, to overwhelm the division around us with unity, mercy and compassion. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as expressed in the world by you and by me; expressed not just when nothing is happening, when all is calm – but expressed when everything is on the line. To love especially when it is hard to. This is who we are.
I often like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really mean; or really deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This Christian heroism does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it.
A priest was preaching on the theme of “Love your enemies.” In the midst of the homily, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. Everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, you are not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “That is very unusual. Can I ask how old you are?” “One hundred and two,” she responded. The priest said, “Please tell me how you have lived for 102 years and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet lady, smiled, and said, “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, by now, I’ve outlived them all!”
Today, Jesus challenges us once again to be radically different than the world. To love even the most difficult in our midst; to love even our enemies. Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and together we will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you are willing to love your enemies?
May the Lord give you peace.
Blessed are YOU
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 6th SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME, February 13, 2022:
Let me start today with a simple survey. Raise your hand if you would love to be any of these things: poor, starving, weeping and hated by everybody. Anyone? Okay, now raise your hand if you would love to be rich, well fed, laughing and well-spoken of in the community. A few more of you. One final question, raise your hand if you would like to be among those considered “blessed” by God?
Listen to what we just heard Jesus say in our Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are now hungry. Blessed are you who are now weeping. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.” Maybe I should ask the questions again?
We hear today a very familiar and beloved passage of Scripture: the Beatitudes. But, if we’ve never really thought about its message, perhaps today we realize it can be challenging, or even misunderstood. And yet, Pope St. John Paul II called the Beatitudes “the Magna Carta of Christianity.” This passage always calls to mind for me an experience I had with that great Pope. It was World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto, Canada. St. John Paul focused on this same passage at that gathering. He said, for example, “A crowd of people is gathered around Jesus, all of them anxiously awaiting a word, a gesture that will give them comfort and hope. We too are gathered here to listen attentively to the Lord. He looks at you with affection, feels the deep longing that beats within your hearts: you want to be happy! Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides and speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, with success, with power. Dear friends, the aged Pope, full of years but still young at heart, answers your desire for happiness with words that are not his own. They are words that rang out two thousand years ago. Words that we have heard again tonight: ‘Blessed are they.’ The key word in Jesus’ teaching is a proclamation of joy: ‘Blessed are they’ People are made for happiness. Rightly, then, you thirst for happiness. Christ has the answer to this desire of yours. But he asks you to trust him. True joy is a victory, something which cannot be obtained without a long and difficult struggle. Christ holds the secret of this victory.”
Now to be clear, Jesus is not saying that poverty is great, that hunger, weeping, hatred, sorrow are all wonderful. Rather, He is reminding us of our priorities – that following God, no matter the cost; even at the cost of these things – is the best thing in the world. Jesus wants us to be people who seek blessing above all other things. We should seek that blessing even if the world offers us money, power, prestige and position. The key to the passage are the words, “on account of the Son of Man.” Luke reminds us that if we do everything and anything “on account of [Jesus],” it will be turned into blessing. And so even poverty on account of Jesus is better than riches on account of ourselves and the selfishness our world encourages.
When Luke wrote this gospel being named a Christian would result in being disowned by family, rejected by friends, excluded from the synagogue, losing your inheritance, and any commerce in the community. Following Christ would mean being quickly reduced to a state of poverty. And so Jesus says, “Blessed are you.” We may not face the same extremes today as followers, but Jesus still wants us to seek blessing in our lives above all else. Jesus wants us to take the risk and to be people of His Beatitudes and not people of the world. Jesus wants us to see that all of the riches and power in the world will never bring even one soul to Heaven. “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose their soul?”
Let me end with a few more words St. John Paul from that World Youth Day, “Dear friends, the Church today looks to you with confidence and expects you to be the people of the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if, like Jesus, you are poor in spirit, good and merciful; if you really seek what it just and right; if you are pure of heart, peacemakers, lovers of the poor and their servants. Blessed are you! Today Jesus calls you to choose goodness, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace. His call has always demanded a choice between good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death. He makes the same invitation today to you. Answer the Lord with strong and generous hearts! He is counting on you. Never forget: Christ needs you to carry out his plan of salvation! Christ needs [you] to make his proclamation of joy resound in the new millennium. Answer his call by placing your lives at his service in your brothers and sisters! Trust Christ, because He trusts you.”
Let us all live lives so focused on Christ above all else that we too may one day be counted among those who are blessed by God.
May the Lord give you Blessing and Peace.
This changes everything
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.
Love never fails
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.
I have a dream...
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.
Do whatever He tells you
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.
Put on Christ
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.
Maybe Jesus can also be born in me
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.
Reaching the mountaintop with Jesus
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.
Rejoice in the Lord!
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.
God is stronger than the darkness
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!
Hold back nothing of yourself
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.
Abounding in love for all
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.
Let Your kingdom come!
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.
"Learn a lesson from the fig tree"
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.