Monthly Archives: January 2017

Homily for January 15 2017


Through the prophet Isaiah in the first reading, God addresses fond words to his people Israel:  “You,” he says, “are my servant, through whom I show my glory!”  And Israel responds gratefully, in the first person singular, as though the whole nation were one person:  “The Lord formed me as his servant from the womb. . .  I am made glorious in the sight of the Lord!”  And the complimentary dialogue goes on, as God ups the ante:  “It is too little for you to be my servant. . .  I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth!”

What an ecstatic moment!  The Lord and his people, striving and singing to outdo one another in honor and praise.  If that’s the contest, God of course wins.  His love for us is infinite, and we owe him praise and adoration, not only for all he’s done for us but simply for who he is in himself.  God DESERVES our worship.  We don’t DESERVE anything from God.  Life itself is his undeserved gift, let alone all the graces we are given to glorify God by building on the gifts he has provided.

The really important and forward-looking thing about this prophecy is that the Lord is calling his people to be more than just self-concerned or preoccupied with their status.  They are to be a light to ALL the nations, so that God’s desire that all people be called to salvation can be fulfilled.  For that task, God chose a people whose land kept getting overrun by everyone, a people who kept chasing off after other gods and idols, a people who kept imitating the pagans to whom they were supposed to be a light, a people who so often were perfectly happy being self-concerned and preoccupied with their status as the chosen people.  Sound familiar?  That’s not just Israel, that’s not just the Old Testament, that’s the New Testament, that’s the CHURCH, that’s you, and that’s me.

It might or might not have been the poet Ogden Nash who wrote the brief lines often attributed to him:  “How odd of God to choose the Jews.”  That little verse is not anti-Semitic.  It concisely states something we find right in the Old Testament itself.  As with the Jewish people, so with the Church:  God does not necessarily choose the best and the brightest to be a light to the nations.  The Twelve Apostles were eleven fishermen and a tax collector–not exactly a cabinet of Rhodes scholars or Nobel Prize winners.  And the pattern continues, as I observe each morning as I stare at myself in the mirror once again and offer God the words of my morning prayer:  “Well, I can’t figure it out, but You must know what You’re doing!”  As Simon Peter said, falling on his knees before Jesus, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  And to paraphrase Jesus’ response, he said, “You ain’t seen NOTHIN’ yet!”

And that’s where we are left with Jesus:  along the Jordan River with John the Baptist pointing to the Lord and saying, “Behold, the LAMB OF GOD!  There’s the One who takes away the sin of the world.”  Just as “world” includes ALL people, ALL nations, so the word “sin” here includes ALL sins, theirs, yours, mine, and ours.  All actions, words, thoughts, and attitudes that threaten to divide and destroy the human race whom God created and creates in love and for love. that’s what Christ comes to repair and restore.

We are likewise left with Jesus in company with St. Paul and his Corinthians as he writes to them:  “You have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy.”  The words of John the Baptist have echoed in the ears and hearts of the Christian faithful for two millennia now, every time we prepare to approach the Lord to be nourished with his Body and Blood, the fruit of his Sacrifice, in the Holy Eucharist:  “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  We are confronted with the Infinite Mystery every time the priest or minister of Communion holds up the Host and proclaims, “The Body of Christ!” to receive our acclamation and affirmation:  “AMEN!”  When we think of all that “AMEN!” means, our acceptance of Jesus, his acceptance of us, our commitment to share in his sufferings, his sharing in ours, we can have the utmost confidence in him as our Lord and Savior.  Confidence, yes; but we’ll also know that we ought not approach the Sacrament nor utter that “AMEN” casually, ever again.  “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Homily for January 8 2017


It’s been a bone of contention for quite a while now, that progressive politicians like to change a word in the usual enumeration of rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The First Amendment reads in part, and I quote:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  Most of us learned and understand that we have a right to freely practice our religion without having to be concerned about the government somehow circumscribing our right to do so.  However, there are people who would change the word “religion” to the word “worship.”  And the reason they do that is because they think, like many of us think about Las Vegas, that what happens in church should STAY in church.

That, after all, they think, would solve all the problems that come about in a pluralistic society like ours where there are many religions, many points of view, many opinions.  If they can keep drumming into the American mind that “freedom of worship,” the activity that takes place within the walls of a church or synagogue or mosque is what is guaranteed by the Constitution, THEN we can make progress toward public policies that are truly civic, truly American, and have no roots in any religion.

Now, it’s possible — and I stress, only POSSIBLE — that we MIGHT be experiencing a bit of a reprieve from this way of thinking, although we always have to be on guard to preserve our liberties.  But why are we talking about this on the Solemnity of the Epiphany?  Because Epiphany means “manifestation,” and the fact is that we were definitely NOT called by God to the waters of baptism in order to hide our vocation within the walls of a church.  From Matthew, we’ve heard today this glorious story of the Magi bringing their gifts to the Infant Jesus.  They represent the nations of the world, ALL peoples, streaming to the Anointed One, the Messiah, and bringing their hopes and dreams to him for fulfillment.  Later on in the same Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 10, verse 27, Jesus tells his disciples, “What you hear whispered in private, PREACH FROM THE HOUSETOPS!”  His final commission in Matthew turns the disciples loose on the whole world:  “Go, therefore, and make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  Jesus makes no apologies for going public.  He has come to save the world from sin; to save all people from the wiles of the ancient enemy, the evil one; to save all people from our fallen human nature’s inclination to rush headlong into self-destruction.  If all people don’t believe that, it’s our job to warn them.

So religion is definitely not just what goes on in church.  It’s definitely not just a private affair.  If you ever hear someone saying that their religion is just between them and God, you can be sure that that is NOT a Catholic idea and NOT anything to do with the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, since there are indeed a lot of people who don’t believe this, they of course want to have what some call “freedom FROM religion.”  You know how it goes:  “I don’t want anyone cramming their religion down my throat.”  Or, “YOUR religion might tell you that such-and-so is wrong, but you have no right to impose YOUR beliefs on ME.”  Ah, but you see, our vocation is to LEAD — not to PUSH — other people to the truth, while not losing sight of that truth ourselves.  You can be sure that Jesus would have died a lot earlier if he had gone up to every Roman soldier he saw and berated and condemned them for occupying his homeland and mistreating his fellow Jews.  The Lord himself set an example for us as to HOW and WHEN to present and make manifest the Good News.  People have to be ready to hear it, and WE have to be able to read THEM and the signs of the times to know the best way to get this precious message of eternal life across.

Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t fret that it’s taking so long.  It’s taken 2,000 years, but today there is scarcely a moment in time when the Mass, Christ’s Sacrifice, is not being celebrated SOMEwhere, in SOME language, for SOME group of people around the globe.  That’s truly amazing, considering how we got started!  But there are still so many, in our places of work, in our schools and universities, in our families, among our friends, in our halls of government, who have not yet heard the Word effectively.  They might THINK they know who Jesus was and what he taught, and reject him because of some false notion.  We’re not going to change that by forcing it on anyone, by scolding them, by rejecting them.  Only by placing Christ at the center of OUR lives and letting HIM set the agenda, will we accomplish the part of the task that he invites us to take up.  Take heart:  you have over a billion co-workers, fellow laborers in the Lord’s vineyard.  And yet no one can do exactly what YOU can, in the WAY you can, among WHOM you can, to make Jesus manifest.  Don’t worry about trying to be a star.  Just follow his.

Homily for January 1 2017


Happy New Year!  Well, you made it to 2017!  One of my gym buddies told me, “Don’t be surprised if you can’t find a machine to use in here for the next couple weeks or so.”

“Oh,” I laughed, “it’s busy until people work off their holiday pounds?”

“No,” he replied, “it’s busy until they get tired of their resolutions.”

“Gee,” I mused, “I didn’t know they were all Catholic.  That’s why WE have confessionals!”

The fact is, we are called to begin each new DAY, not just each new year, with a fresh resolve.  If you make your examination of conscience each night as the Church bids us do, you grow used to surveying the day to see where you messed up.  Oh, you can savor the things you did right, too, and thank God you cooperated with his grace.  But don’t get too loud in your self-cheerleading when you just did what you were supposed to do.  Remember the story about the young college fellow at Notre Dame.  It was football season, and he invited his girl friend to come down to South Bend and come with him to a big game.  Thirty seconds to go in the fourth quarter, Irish down by three, a third down pass to a wide receiver who leaps into the air out of a surrounding sea of defenders, snatches the ball out of the stratosphere, then leaps over the collided bodies of the visitors and runs into the end zone!  The crowd, including our frat boy of course, goes nuts, jumping up and down and screaming deliriously.  He pulls his puzzled, nerdy girl friend to her feet from her seat and gives her a big hug and a kiss.

“Wh- wh- what’s the matter?  Wh- what happened?” she asks cluelessly.

“He caught the ball!!  He caught the ball!” the young man screams excitedly.

“Uh,” she asks calmly, “wasn’t he supposed to?”

Sure, it takes the wind out of your sails for a moment; but if you lower the sails and don’t raise them again, you won’t be sailing anywhere, ever.  And you KNOW she’s right, she’s just not into the moment.  So use that nightly examination of conscience to fine tune what you do with the new day when you get up in the morning.  Right this minute, here at Mass, you’re doing the very best thing you could do to start a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year.  You’ve used some time to let God lay out his game plan for you.  You’ve approached God your Father and let him bless you, as we heard in the reading from the Book of Numbers.  In the Letter to the Galatians, God tells us that he sent his Son to share our human life SO THAT we could share his divine life.  Not only eternally someday in heaven, but RIGHT NOW, in 2017, in THIS city, as part of THIS parish, with THESE neighbors, with THESE family members.  Then in the Gospel, we learn that the only way for us to continue to savor the miracle of the Incarnation is to remain humble and reflective, like the shepherds and like Mary.  We must always remain in awe at the great mystery of the Incarnation, God-with-Us.  Once we start failing to be amazed, once we stop realizing how blessed we are, we cannot continue to be a blessing to the very people to whom God sends us.  And, we won’t be prepared for the eternity of amazement that awaits us in heaven.

A good way to tell if your heart has grown dull is if you think life here on earth is interesting, but life in heaven must be boring.  Clouds, harps, and long white robes?  Who needs it?  And believe me, if it was like that, I’d agree with you.  But we have God’s Word for it:  He’s given us the world to ENJOY, and to prepare us for heaven.  The crosses and setbacks we have to bear here are like brief interludes to help us remember that we’re not in heaven yet.  Drink in the sights, the sounds, the Discovery Channel, Travel, Animal Planet, History, you name it.  And when you’ve done it all, seen it all, tasted it all, and can’t even begin to recall it all, remember that the REAL wonders have not yet even begun!  Happy New Year!