Monthly Archives: September 2016

Homily for September 25 2016



Oh, the prophet Amos takes on the fat cats in the first reading, doesn’t he?  No good reviews at the country club after THAT sermon!  You know, he’s not blaming people just for being rich.  He’s blaming them for living only for themselves, the ones who have not a thought for anyone else.  And Jesus points out that same kind of blind heartlessness to others in need, in his parable of the rich man and the poor man.

Look at the details.  The poor man sits at the rich man’s door.  He sees how the rich man lives and he longs to go dumpster diving, just to get a taste of the garbage.  A man could live off the rich man’s GARBAGE!  Let’s be honest about it:  no matter how poor you might be, you must know that by the standards of the rest of the world, you and all of us are so rich that the rest of the world could live on our garbage.  Just the food thrown out by our restaurants every night could easily feed anyone in our own country who hasn’t had a square meal, and care for a good portion of the rest of the world besides.  And I’m not talking about the waste of individual diners.  I’m talking about the institutional waste, the food restaurants have to throw away because of mistaken orders or oversupply, the food that hasn’t been touched, but that absurd health regulations won’t let employees or anyone else take home or give away.

Because we live in a society which most of the world considers rich, there’s not much we can do to change their opinion of us.  But opinions don’t count; ACTIONS do.  There ARE people in our country who are scandalously and obscenely wealthy, who live only for themselves, who spend so much and consume so much that it almost defies description.  Don’t be like them, and don’t compare yourselves to them.  So many people waste their time saying, “Well, rich people do bad and outrageous things, so that gives ME the right to do bad and outrageous things.”  No, no.  Look at all the people who decide to riot and loot and destroy the businesses of hard-working people, to “get back” at – at WHOM?  At WHAT?   I remember talking to a poor lady on my mail route 50 years ago, around the corner from the smoking ruins of a grocery store that had been firebombed and looted in the riot the night before.  She said, “NOW what am I going to do?  I don’t drive, and that was the only grocery store I could walk to?”  Gee, that riot really accomplished a lot.  The rioters and looters really “got back.”  But who lost out?

Jesus talks a longer, more eternal view.  He doesn’t suggest that the poor man in the story should pick up rocks and throw them through the rich man’s window.  The Gospel rather clearly indicates that GOD’S brand of justice has that longer, eternal view:  the poor man got HIS, and now you, the rich man, are gonna get YOURS.  Jesus doesn’t indicate that God enjoys this.  Even Abraham speaks from his eternal glory and calls the suffering rich man, “My son.”  We discover that the rich man even knows the poor man’s name, and probably has, all along.  But Lazarus doesn’t get all huffy and cry out, “Oh, sure, you literally walked over me to get into your house all your life, never gave me a thing to help me, didn’t even act like you SAW me, and NOW you know my name!!”  But Lazarus doesn’t say a word.

Oh, we love to see others get their come-uppance.  The thought of seeing all those sinners (which never includes US, of course!) frying in hell somehow does our hearts good.  But stop.  Remember that so many people around the world who are hearing this Gospel, this weekend, our fellow believers, THEY are thinking of US.  Some of them might be secretly gloating, thinking of the fate of rich, selfish Americans.  And if WE are serious about OUR faith, we can’t be fazed by that.  Just because others resent or even hate us is never a reason to turn the tables on them.  We ought to respond to legitimate criticism (and even ponder UNJUST criticism) in such a way that we are always open to and ready to improve and grow in virtue and charity.  Few of us individually have the opportunity to address global problems of poverty on a global scale.  But unlike the rich man in the Gospel, we CAN start with the poor man at our door.  Often we do that best by joining others in the community in supporting our own local services that help poor people in concrete ways:  our food pantry and clothing center, God’s Kitchen, St. Vincent de Paul, Home Repair Services, Habitat for Humanity, the missions that provide a place for people to stay, and so on.

Being rich is not necessarily a blessing, being poor is not necessarily a curse.  Each state of life has its own challenges, because the greatest challenge of all is to put yourself and use everything you have in the service of God and your neighbor.  You don’t have to stop enjoying good Festival food or stop going on vacation.  But you CAN be alert every day to the poor man at the door, and then make a good decision about the best way to walk home WITH HIM to the kingdom of heaven to meet the Lord together.

Homily for September 18 2016



A couple years ago, I marched over to a local bank where I had had a savings account for years.  I told the teller, “I would like to close out my savings account.”

“May I ask what the reason is for your discontinuing with us?” the teller asked.  She was no doubt prompted by the bank’s “Rules for Tellers” instructing them to find out why customers might be jumping ship.

“Well, I’m not completely discontinuing,” I replied.  “I’ll still have a checking account here for the convenience.  And I’ll keep whatever amount I have to in it to avoid paying fees.  But the savings account is coming out.  With what I’m earning in interest, it costs me more than that to get in the car and drive to the bank.  I’ll make more money keeping it under my mattress.”  (Hint to potential thieves:  I lied.  Don’t bother looking there!)

Withdrawing my little savings account didn’t break the bank, and that wasn’t my intention.  But it bugs me that they – the Federal Reserve, the big bankers, the economic gurus — tell us they’re only able to give us such a pittance of interest that we are actually PAYING THEM to hold on to our money for us!  Is the Prophet Amos talking to THEM in today’s first reading, when he calls out, “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land”?  I don’t consider myself either needy or poor, at least materially speaking, but there are enough folks who have lost their jobs, had their homes foreclosed, and their businesses ruined to deny that Amos is talking about a real and contemporary problem.  We aren’t just reading ancient history.

Amos mentions other injustices we can recognize:  price gouging, secret deals, valuing profits more than human good, selling garbage and defective products — all these things can be shrugged off as “good for business” by those who have lost their moral compass.  This is not to say that all business owners are crooked and not to be trusted.  But it IS an invitation, a COMMAND to all of us to be fair and honest in our dealings with one another – buying and selling, e-Bay, Craig’s list, and all the other activities of commerce and trade.  It is just plain wrong to think that we are somehow incapable of sin in this area.  Not only should we try to avoid IN-justice, we should actively seek to be so fair and just that it will stun people and take them off guard.  When we are pleasantly surprised in this way, we learn the value of being able to trust those with whom we have dealings in the public forum.

In the Gospel, Jesus says that if we are not trustworthy with DISHONEST wealth, who will trust us with TRUE wealth?  What on earth does he mean?  Is he implying that, as we hear from certain quarters now and then, if a person is rich, that money must have been made dishonestly?  That the only way people can afford to be comfortable is on the backs of the poor?  How about a different perspective?

Jesus is encouraging us to BE trustworthy with what he calls “dishonest wealth.”  He doesn’t say “dishonestly OBTAINED wealth,” he calls it “DISHONEST wealth.”  Think about this:  Does the amount of money you have tell us anything about your character?  I have known wonderful, virtuous people who were dirt poor.  I have known generous, compassionate people who were very well off.  I have known people who climbed the ladder of economic success, using their fellow workers as mere rungs in the ladder.  I have known people who made their living faking a disability and getting paid by the government with money that I helped give them through taxes.  So it should be clear that money can’t tell us anything about the character of the one who has it, or of the one who doesn’t.  Wealth is dishonest, because in the way of the world, it CLAIMS to bestow virtue and CLAIMS to help us identify moral worth, when in fact it can do neither.  Jesus tells us to use wealth wisely, but to be aware of the lies it tells.  It’s how a person USES the money he has, be it abundant or scarce, which can be a better indicator of the person’s moral stature; but it’s still not guaranteed to be accurate.

The main thing in life is not how much money or how many toys you can acquire, but what you do with them in the service of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s because you’re his disciple.  Some disciples are materially rich, many are poor.  We all have the same basic task:  putting all we have, all our energy, all our talents, all our stuff, at the disposal of the Lord Jesus.  Do that sincerely, and any temptations to dishonesty will fade away.  In fact, you will positively DELIGHT in being as forthright and honest as you can be, simply because those virtues assist us in not only PREACHING the gospel, but BEING the gospel.  Being the light of the Lord in the lives of those around you is so exhilarating that you won’t be anxious for anything else.  And you’ll never have to be sneaky, or get involved in a cover-up!  What freedom!

Homily for September 11 2016


We’re all very familiar with the stories, the parables which Jesus tells in Luke chapter 15.  There are three of them, each one about something or someone who is lost:  the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the most famous of all, the lost son.  We’ve come to call the younger son the “prodigal,” because he wasted or squandered his inheritance on foolish living.  Too soon old and too late smart!  But because he has a prodigal FATHER, a father who wastes or squanders his mercy on not one, but TWO sons, it’s never too late.  The younger son can always return, and the father sees him coming from a long way off, giving us the impression that every day, he’s been scanning the horizon with the hope, “Maybe TODAY he’ll come back.”  The father doesn’t chase off in pursuit.  We might have to look for lost sheep and for lost coins.  But human beings who know where home is?  Well, most of the time we just have to wait.  Maybe TODAY they’ll come back.

Now why did I say the prodigal father wasted or squandered his mercy on the elder son as well?  The elder son is also too soon old and too late smart.  He’s been with the father the whole time, yet he’s never caught the most precious of his father’s attributes.  He resents the prodigality of both his brother AND his father:  the brother has wasted a perfectly good half of the inheritance; and the father has wasted time, energy, and a fatted calf to welcome the bum home.  The elder son won’t go in, he won’t rejoice, he won’t sing and dance with everyone else.  Perhaps the reason he complains that he never got so much as a young goat to feast on with his friends is because with an attitude like his, he probably didn’t HAVE any!  But no matter:  the father lays out the rationale for the party:  “We HAD to!  Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.”  The father pleads with the elder son, but he does not force.  The choice, as it was with the younger son, has to be his own.  And that’s where Jesus leaves us hanging.

Did the elder son finally go in, or not?  It’s up to US to write the ending, because the story is ultimately ABOUT us, each of us and all of us.  Will you go in, or not?  Will I?  We write our own life’s story every day.  We don’t know the day of our death, but the true ending of our life story is really up to us.  In the second reading, the Apostle gives Timothy — and us — something to chew on:  “This saying,” he says, “is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”  That’s it.  That’s the reason for the Incarnation, the so-called “hidden years,” the public ministry, the miracles, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection:  to save sinners.  “You shall name him JESUS, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Sin leads us to lose our way home.  In some ways, sin makes us stupid, like sheep; or practically inanimate, like a coin.  The difference between us and sheep is that we’re not only lost, we forget how to get back.  The Lord has to pursue us.  The difference is that we have a free will.  Jesus would gladly throw us over his shoulders and carry us home, but the choice has to be ours.  Are you going to go in and rejoice that you’re home, or are you going to stay outside and sulk?  The answer to that question is, ultimately, up to you.  Jesus, the image of the Father, provides us with a picture of God that assures us we have nothing to lose, nothing to fear in deciding to go home.  When we’ve hit rock bottom, or even when we’re just stumbling along on pebbles, we can rely on the fact that the Father wants us home far more than we even want to get there.  And Jesus has come into our midst to tell us about that, and to let us see what the Father’s will looks like in the flesh.

Homily for September 4 2016



How long has it been since you engaged someone in conversation about your faith?  Not nagged them, not badgered them, not shamed them, but ENGAGED them.  Usually we think of ENGAGEMENT as something pleasant, like ENGAGED to be married, or ENGAGED in the game on TV, or ENGAGED in her work.  It doesn’t have the feeling of drudgery about it, but rather of preference and delight – even if it IS work.

Christ often invites us to be ENGAGED in bringing the gospel to others.  But even if we’ve been baptized, how often do we take his invitation seriously?  We have been entrusted with the one message that can bring people to LIFE, not just life here, but life FOREVER.  No salesperson can claim that privilege, whether they’re selling patent medicine, used cars, or life insurance.  We don’t have to claim responsibility for this message, as though we had invented it, because we didn’t!  It’s been REVEALED to us, and the message is God’s.  We’re just the messengers.

When I was a mail carrier a half a century ago, I took great pride in delivering those messages.  There were magazines, there were bills, there were letters of appointment and letters of DIS-appointment.  I was a very important cog in the wheels of communication for the people on my route, both businesses and homes.  I wasn’t the SOURCE of the mail, and I didn’t have to do anything about it once it was delivered.  GETTING IT THERE – THAT was my job.  But there wasn’t a check or a letter from an attorney or a birthday card or a big envelope saying “You may have already won!!!” that could compare with the message which it is my privilege to deliver to you and to everyone who crosses my path.

I’m not going to read the Gospel to all of them.  I’m not going to preach my homily to all of them.  Like the Lord encourages us in today’s Gospel, we have to calculate just how and when and where to do what with whom.  You might be building a tower or a brewery somewhere downtown in our growing city.  You might have faced an opponent, on an actual field of battle or on the 50-yard line.  You might already be thinking about Thanksgiving dinner and what to serve THIS year.  No matter what the situation, if you’re going to be successful at it, you have to CALCULATE.  The same tactics won’t work in every situation.

And it’s like that with exposing people to the Good News, the Gospel we are pledged and promised to bring to them.  I’ve had plenty of people either sigh and roll their eyes or quickly turn away when I go to the doctor’s office and sit down near them in the waiting room.  After I check to make sure I haven’t spilled my lunch all over my black clothes, I relax, kind of knowing that their reaction is an instinctive, “Oh no, here’s comes a sermon!” or “Oh no, now I have to behave!”  It’s a reaction similar to what a police officer gets when the cruiser is in traffic behind another car:  “Oh no, he’s watching me!”  You get used to it.  But I also know that minding my own business, or perhaps helping in some small way if someone’s having trouble getting out of a chair or figuring out how to work the coffee maker – these might be the most effective way at the moment of fulfilling my baptismal promise of witnessing to the Lord Jesus.

Jesus does not expect us to be bulls in the china shop, nor politicians on the stump.  The first thing we should always do is be on our best behavior, thinking of others and their needs and ready to be at their service if the occasion presents.  The second thing we have to do is to get and stay PREPARED TO ENGAGE others in a conversation about faith and Christ and the Church and the sacraments, IF they express an interest.  We do that by becoming as fluent about our Catholic faith as we are in speaking English–perhaps even more so.  Our list of life’s accomplishments might be long or short, impressive or minimal.  The only really important question we should picture the Lord asking us at our judgment is not, “What did you build, why did you do that, how many times did you commit those sins,” etc., but rather, “Who’d you bring with you?”  And we’re not going to be very good fishers of men if we haven’t calculated to use the right bait.