Monthly Archives: November 2016

Homily for November 27, 2016


The prophet Isaiah lived some 700 years before Christ.  His book of prophecy (which is actually three books in one) gives both encouragement and warning to God’s people in Jerusalem.  If they live according to the plan of God which has been revealed to them, they shall prosper.  If they try to make things more politically prosperous for themselves without regard to God, their kingdom will fall and they will be carried off into exile.  It didn’t take a prophet to see what was going on; but it took a prophet to SAY IT, loud and clear, to the king, to his court, to the religious leaders, and to the people in general.

Now, Isaiah tried to disqualify himself when God called:  “Nooooo, Lord, I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!”  The people are wicked, he says, and he’s no better.  But God won’t take “No” for an answer.  He will cleanse Isaiah’s deficiencies.  He sends an angel to bring a burning coal right from the altar of offering in the temple, and the angel touches it to Isaiah’s lips.  The long form of the little prayer the priest says just before he reads the Gospel at Mass recalls that cleansing, and the priest asks God to do the same thing here and now to his own heart and lips so that in THIS time and place, he, like Isaiah, may worthily and fittingly proclaim the Good News.

It is the Church, after all, the New Jerusalem, in which the prophecy of Isaiah finds its fulfillment.  The nations of the world did not exactly come streaming to the old Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob, to hear God’s instructions and come to life.  Most often, they came to gain some advantage over the Jews, and even to loot and plunder.  Gentile converts were few and far between.  But on and after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit both sent the Apostles OUT and drew more and more people IN, people of every race and language and way of life.  The very word “Catholic” means “universal,” and it is an apt description of what happens when the Church gathers for worship:  “Here comes EVERYBODY!”  Even our old ethnic parishes witness to this marvelous transformation.  They were established to serve people of a certain ethnic group; and now after a century or so, they often serve a great hodge-podge or melting pot of peoples, both among the parishioners and in their neighborhoods.  The government needs a so-called “commitment to diversity” to accomplish by REG-ulation what the Spirit of God accomplishes by IN-spiration, and far more effectively!

But today’s Scriptures are not addressed only to God’s people in the Old Testament.  They are addressed to US, in the Church.  We are called to “walk in the light of the Lord,” so that others may behold God’s work in us and come streaming to the Church, the mountain of the Lord, seeking instruction and finding God’s love at work.  “This is how all will know you for my disciples,” says the Lord, “by the love you have for one another.”  Where else can people go in this cruel and vindictive world to find genuine forgiveness?  The United Nations?  A political party?  The media?  Hollywood?  Mecca?  And where is the Church?  In the Vatican?  In a house of worship?  Well, God makes it clear that HIS PEOPLE is his dwelling place in this New Covenant.  What a responsibility we have to live as though God is living within us – BECAUSE HE IS!!  And many people will either be drawn to him or drawn AWAY from him by the way WE act and speak.   And you can’t say, “But I’m not ordained!  I’m not involved in the parish!  I’m too young!  I’m too old!”  Nope, no excuses.  If you need a burning coal to purge whatever keeps you from being the agent of God you were baptized to be, God will take care of it, and it might not be pretty.  It’s better to be willing and cooperative.

If Jesus teaches in the beatitudes, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” it was Isaiah 700 years earlier who announced that God’s people should lead the world in the ways of peace, converting weapons of war into farming implements.  This isn’t a message only for politicians and the military.  What are YOUR weapons of war?  How about a sour attitude or a wet blanket?  How about Facebook or Twitter?  How do we use social media to wage our own wars, firing off rounds and then hiding in the shadows of anonymity?  That’s why St. Paul gives such warning to his Christians at Rome in the second reading.  The day of the Lord is at hand!  We’ve got too much to do to get bogged down in orgies and drunkenness, in promiscuity and lust, in rivalry and jealousy.

Most of us have just a little tendency to get very uneasy when we hear Jesus say in the Gospel, “At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”  Is he talking about our death?  Is he talking about the end of the world?  Maybe, just maybe, he’s talking about the call of God that comes to each of us so, so often in life:  “I need you.  There, over there.  I need you over here.  Can you give me a hand with her?  Will you give him a smile and a good word to get him going?”  Advent is a time to prepare for the Kingdom of God, sure.  But we’re prepared for the Kingdom of God only if we’re ready for the very next time he needs us, at whatever hour the call comes.  One thing you can be sure of:  it won’t be long!

Homily for November 20, 2016


My dear friends, in King David, a thousand years before Christ, God’s people had a leader they could admire.  He surely had his weaknesses and sins, and willingly confessed them and did penance before God and man.  But he exercised restraint, and was renowned for not giving orders to attack those who attacked him.  He reasoned that perhaps they were serving as instruments of God to call him to greater humility.  Then in Psalm 110, David sings, “The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’. . .  The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent:  ‘You are a priest forever, in the line of Melchisedech (mel-KIH-zeh-deck).’”  A thousand years before Christ, David uttered these prophetic words about “his lord,” the Anointed One, the Messiah who was to come.  In situating the Messiah in the line of Melchisedech, he refers to that mysterious figure who had greeted and honored Abraham, our father in faith.  Melchisedech was both the king and the priest of the city of Salem (sah-LEMM), which became Jerusalem; and he brought out a most unusual sacrifice of bread and wine to give praise to God.  If any of that sounds like it’s pointing to Christ, David drives the point home:  king, priest, prophet, sacrifice, bread and wine – and look what we’re doing here at Mass!

If in David we have a PROPHETIC king, in Jesus Christ we have a CONQUERING King.  The difference between our King and all the other kings in human history is that the others were busy about either defending their kingdoms or extending their realms by force.  Our King will not allow us to be snatched away by force, but neither does he guarantee that we will survive in this earthly life.  Our King doesn’t assure us that everything will go well for us and that we will not be harmed.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He comes to take part in the very worst of human suffering – the torture and murder of the innocent – to show that he is WITH US in OUR sufferings.  And he guarantees only that we, his subjects, might well endure plenty of sufferings in this life, whether we are innocent or not.  But because his Kingdom is not a kingdom of this world, we have nothing to fear in the long run.  He has already won the war.  What we are involved in on a daily basis are just skirmishes with an enemy, the evil one, who cannot accept its own defeat.  This doesn’t sound like the world’s idea of a conquering king.  But let’s press on.

Not only is his Kingdom different; the conquering is different, too.  This is a conquest that is expressed in service and self-sacrifice, even to death on a cross.  Anyone, man, woman, or child, who looks upon our King on the throne of his cross can say, “That’s for ME!  He did it for ME!”  If that makes him even more mysterious, if we wonder what we must be worth for our King to go to such lengths for us, we have a lifetime, and then all of eternity, to ponder it, marvel at it, and be in awe of it.  You would never forget the heroism of someone who bought you a few more years of life on earth at the price of their own life, taking a bullet for you, so to speak.  Our King suffers his passion and death for all of us and each of us, whether we appreciate it or not.  If we don’t appreciate it, the benefit of his sacrifice remains for us to take advantage of it at any time.  But it will take an act of faith on our part, as it did for the so-called “good thief” on the cross next to Jesus.

The other thief, the poor wretch, just won’t let go of his anger and rebellion, even as the good thief points out to him that he’s under the same sentence.  He’s a dying man, and he’s still shouting angry insults and challenges.  Jesus does not upbraid him.  The decision will have to be HIS, like the open-ended story of the elder son in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal.  The good thief provides the pattern of faith which anyone can easily follow.  Simply recognizing Jesus’ innocence, he calls out to him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  And the answer?  The Kingdom is already here!  “This day, you shall be with me in paradise.”  What a wonderful path to citizenship in this Kingdom!  Just let go of your sins, let loose with your faith, throw yourself at his mercy, and you’re a shoo-in.  Total amnesty!  And any time the other thief wants it, it’s there for him, too.  No one, NO ONE, is ever written off by Christ, even those who seem to denounce him most forcefully.  Our King has accomplished our redemption.  It’s all THERE for us.  Accepting it is up to US.  And that’s where we have to drop our defenses, quit being so complicated and so entangled in the affairs of this world, and simply surrender to the conquering love of this most divinely exceptional King.


Homily for November 13, 2016



St. Paul had a problem with his converts in Thessalónica in Greece.  They had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They were dutifully awaiting his return at the end of time.  The only problem was, the urban legends of the day were teasing them with rumors that the end of time was just around the corner.  So quite a number of them were quite content to quit their jobs, live off everyone else, and just wait for Jesus to come back.  That was not what Christ intended, and certainly not the gospel message that St. Paul had brought and preached to them.  They had had his own example, as he supported himself and his preaching with his occupation as a tentmaker.  What a scolding he gives them in our second reading, from the second letter he had to write to them!

“I didn’t receive free food from anyone. . .  I worked day and night in toil and drudgery, so as not to be a burden to any of you. . .  Anyone who doesn’t work, should not eat!”  Who wrote this, Donald Trump??  Ah, no, it’s the Apostle himself.  He scores these folks for their phony piety, because in their self-styled waiting for Jesus they were basically freeloading and leeching off everybody else.  And they weren’t the last ones to have the wrong idea about how to prepare for the return of the Lord in glory!

There are so many people who love to go around wringing their hands and fretting, “I think we’re in the end times!”  I like to respond by saying, “Good!  Then we won’t have to listen to people fussing about the end times anymore!”  But actually the better answer is, “Of course we are!  We’ve been in the end times ever since Jesus.  Now get back to work!”  How many gallons of ink have been spilled into books warning about the gloom and doom to come!  And yet the whole message of the Gospel this morning is that gloom and doom are rather constant companions of the human race.  Wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues have been part and parcel of human and natural history from time immemorial.  Awesome signs in the sky have been appearing since before the dinosaurs.  And they shall all continue.

Don’t bother looking for a convergence of planets.  Don’t worry about tomorrow night’s super moon or the fact that Niagara Falls has frozen over four times just in the last seven years.  All those authors who try to figure out which world leader is which beast in the Book of Revelation are clearly barking up the wrong tree.  What does Jesus say about it all?  “Don’t pay attention to the prophets of doom. . .  Don’t be deceived. . .  Don’t be terrified.”  And in Matthew he even tells us, “Don’t try to figure it out..”  In short, the best preparation is to keep on doing what you should be doing anyway:  living a decent life, doing your job well, being a good family member, a welcoming neighbor, a constructive fellow employee.  THAT’S how you prepare for whatever comes along.  The prophet Malachi said it well in our Old Testament reading:  “The proud and all evildoers will be stubble, burned to a crisp. . .  But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”  Like the heat and light of the sun, what destroys those who are UN-prepared will calm and comfort those who ARE prepared.

So if you’re worshiping God, taking care of your family, doing your job, minding your own business, and looking for every opportunity to be of service to Christ in others, you have nothing to fear.  Keep on keeping on.  And don’t be drawn off course by those who derive some fascination from the blockbuster-movie scripts of the end of the world.  Remember that wonderful passage in the First Book of Kings, chapter 19, when God tells the prophet Elijah to stand up on the mountain, and he’ll let Elijah see him pass by?  There’s a powerful, raging wind; there’s a destructive earthquake; there’s a roaring, consuming fire.  God was in none of those.  They were only his heralds, announcing his arrival.  Finally, there was a tiny, whispering sound, and Elijah realized that THAT was the presence of God.  Here in the Eucharist, God, as it were, WHISPERS to us in these tiny forms of bread and wine.  And amidst all the clamor and noise of the world, the victory marches and the protests, here we recognize the presence of God himself.  Here, the Lamb of God, Christ Jesus, is already in our midst, already giving us a taste of the infinity and eternity which both comes AFTER the end of time, and already surrounds us.