Monthly Archives: August 2017

Homily for August 27, 2017



We’ve gotten pretty familiar with the news, reporting that this or that Cabinet member or other administration official is out and someone else is in.  This is not unusual in big business or big politics.  AND, it’s not unusual in the big Bible!  Shebna was the chief of staff of Hezekiah, the king of Judah about 300 years after King David, so about 700 B.C.  But Shebna was a wicked, proud, and deceitful man who took advantage of his position for his own betterment and pleasure.  Now, it’s bad enough if you get fired by your boss.  Shebna got fired by God!  God sends Isaiah the prophet to tell him off, to detail his sins and injustices, and to give him the results:  “Hand over the keys, I’m giving them to somebody else!”  Those are tough words, coming from God himself.  Why would God get involved in the internal politics of this little mid-Eastern kingdom?  Because THEY ARE GOD’S PEOPLE!  And God’s not going to let them be so poorly served by someone who’s only in it for himself.

Turn to the Gospel, and we have Jesus handing over the keys to the Kingdom –not to the kingdom of Judah, not to the kingdom of Galilee, not to the Roman Empire, but to the Kingdom of GOD!  Here is the Son of God, not TAKING AWAY the keys from a mere mortal, but GIVING THEM to a mere mortal.  Sure, we call that mere mortal SAINT Peter today, but it wasn’t pretty getting him there.  Peter was like the blowhard in a West Side bar, a big, burly Alpha male, quick to speak up, one extreme to the other, both feet in his mouth, and therefore no one really surprised when he fell flat on his face.  Hard to walk OR talk when ya got both feet in there!  But Jesus was able to see through all that bluster and recognize LEADERSHIP, combined with THE HEART OF A SHEPHERD.  Simon, son of John, speaks up for the rest when Jesus asks, “Who do YOU say that I am?” and Simon says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  It’s not the only time, by any means, when this Apostle will blurt out something that he does not entirely comprehend — but with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he gets it right!

When Jesus gives him a whole new name, Simon, son of John, becomes (in Aramaic and Hebrew) Kepha (pron. KAY-fuh) or in Greek Petros (pron. peh-TRAWSS), Peter.  It will take a lot longer than that until he can be recognized as SAINT Peter!  There are lots of sins and weaknesses yet to be purged and purified before the gates of the Kingdom of God can be opened for Peter himself.  But he has the keys, given to him by God, for himself and for the rest of us.  His commission is similar to the commission God gives to Eliakim (pron. eh-LEE-ah-kim) through Isaiah the prophet:  “When he opens, no one shall shut.  When he shuts, no one shall open.”  With Peter, it’s, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  In both cases, it’s GOD, intervening in earthly affairs, handing over the power, all of it, to a chief of staff to carry on the work of the Kingdom.  And why does God do it?  Because in both cases, THEY ARE GOD’S PEOPLE.  God has a divine design in mind, and proceeds at his own pace — always much too slow for US — to keep unfolding the events of salvation history.

Think of that.  BECAUSE we are God’s people, God intervenes in our history, not necessarily at our beck and call, but to help us accomplish our purposes.  And he does it THROUGH US.  Through a conclave, through an ordination, through an appointment, through a transfer, through the loving and courageous witness of martyrs and husbands and wives and children.  St. Paul tells us in the second reading, “How inscrutable are God’s judgments, how unsearchable his ways!”  We might be prone to echo that sentiment when the Church, with its teaching, sanctifying, and governing authority, makes decisions we don’t particularly agree with or provides teachings we find difficult.  Yet when a person already baptized in another Christian church makes a profession of faith in the Catholic Church, he or she adds this statement to the Nicene Creed:  “I believe and profess ALL that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

I recently heard a conversation between a lifelong Catholic lady and a man who converted to Catholicism as an adult.  She was finding fault with some pretty basic and fundamental teachings and practices of the Church, and asked him what he thought.  Without a moment’s hesitation he told her, “When I made my decision to come into full communion with the Catholic Church, she accepted me as a sinner in need.  And I accepted her with all her human warts and foibles, because I trust Jesus and his Holy Spirit to guide the Church and keep her faithful to the truth and the path to life.  When it’s challenging, I accept it because I know I need the challenge, not out of any blind faith.”

In a human way, we might disagree with the emphasis the Pope and the bishops give to this or that.  We might suffer some consternation or doubt when they disagree among themselves, forgetting that with the news coverage we have today, it seems that no conversation can stay out of public notice for long.  An important lesson I have treasured from my many years of study of Church history is one I found I share with my old friend Cardinal Dolan of New York.  He says, “If anything, the grittiness, the awkwardness, the clumsiness, the dirt of the Church has only deepened my faith in the divine.”  The English Catholic author Hilaire Belloc wrote, many decades ago, “After years of study I’ve come to reluctantly accept that the Roman Catholic Church must be divine, because no merely human institution governed by such imbecility could have survived a fortnight!”  That’s not a doctrine of the Church, mind you, but it’s a good reason to take courage, as the Apostles did, in good times and in bad.  As Peter said to Jesus on another occasion, when others were leaving because they literally couldn’t SWALLOW the teaching on the Eucharist, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life!”  And the Church provides the context in which we learn to understand those words.  And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Homily for August 20, 2017



A dog!  A DAWWWG!!  Jesus called this poor woman a DAWWWG!!  If he’d call somebody mean names in person, don’t give him a Twitter account!!  Now, I’ve heard all kinds of fussing and sputtering about today’s Gospel passage from Matthew:  “Why did Jesus talk that way to her?”  “How could his human nature be so flawed as to buy into the racism of his age?”  But I think most of these comments and questions discount the fishing expedition that Jesus goes on whenever he wants to reel in the big one.  Better than anyone else, he knows how to slowly draaaw faith out of the people he talks with — even his Apostles!  He’s got more than a rude insult up his divine sleeve.

See what an opportune moment we have in the midst of current events, Charlottesville and so on, to hear God speak to us about how we are to think about “others”!  Not just other people in general, not just your co-workers or the neighbors down the street, not just the family members with whom you live, but “THE others.”  People who are very unlike you, people who don’t share your values, your religion, or your ethnic heritage.  People who have no work ethic, people of vastly different races or cultures, people who loudly shout things that you find abhorrent and detestable.  People whose language you can’t begin to understand.  THOSE people, whoever they might be.  Unless we’ve achieved sainthood, we likely all have someone who fits one or more of those categories.

What does God reveal to us about THEM?  First reading, from Isaiah:  “The FOREIGNERS I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; my house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.”  Oh, to be sure, God doesn’t issue a blank check.  There are conditions for those others, as there are for us.  They have to be trying hard to be good, just as we do.  Their concepts of God and of the purpose and meaning of life might be kind of hazy, compared to what we should know and believe from the Catechism.  But let’s remember that our own thoughts and actions sometimes identify US as hypocrites:  believing one thing and doing another.  It’s called SIN, and we’re all guilty, to one degree or another.  THAT we have in common with everybody else on earth, from Hitler and his associates to the slobs who dump their household trash in the freeway medians in the middle of the night.  What we also have in common with everybody else on earth is the mercy which God freely extends to us.  Some are so hardened in their sinful ways that they cannot even recognize good when it’s in front of them.  For them, we have to pray.  We are, after all, God’s priestly people.  If no one else prays for the Hitlers and the slobs, WE have to.  That’s our job, that’s our vocation.  It ain’t pretty, and it might only earn us ridicule, but SOMEbody’s gotta do it.

Second reading, from Romans.  Paul is writing, of course, about the Jews who seem to be rejecting Christ, and his anxiety for them because they are his people.  After all, he’s a Jew, himself!  “Just as YOU once disobeyed God but have now received mercy, so THEY have now disobeyed in order that they too may now receive mercy.”  The best thing we can do to convince others of God’s love and of the truth of our faith is to LIVE IT as best we can.  We’ll never know who’s watching.  A few years ago, I concelebrated the funeral of a retired fire fighter who had no idea how instrumental he had been in bringing about my dad’s conversion.  Dad had plenty of wonderful Catholic examples in my mom’s family and among his friends.  But this one man made a difference, not with brilliant arguments in defense of the faith, nor by heroic acts of self-denial or charity.  Those things have their place, for sure.  But he did something so simple that any of us could do it.  Every night before he got into bed at the engine house, he knelt down next to his bunk in the dorm and took a few minutes to quietly say his prayers.  Never talked about it, never made a show of it.  But Dad noticed, and it was a tipping point:  “Wow, people REALLY BELIEVE this!!”  Now, can you do something like that, in an appropriate way, of course — in your dorm room, at the hospital cafeteria, at the Burger King?  You never know who’s watching.  Same thing with any good action that you perform, for no other reason than just because it should be done.

And now, finally, the Gospel reading, from Matthew.  Think of the Gospel conversations Jesus had with women.  Each of them shows Jesus slowly, carefully, one could even say coyly, teasing a profession of faith out of one who has a need.  The Samaritan woman at the well needs water, along with some respect that she has not earned.  The woman with the history of hemorrhage needs a physical cure.  Martha of Bethany has suffered the death of her brother, Lazarus.  The woman caught in adultery needs forgiveness more than judgment.  And this Canaanite woman, a member of what we might call the aboriginal people of the land that became Israel, needs a demon driven out of her daughter.  In a way, each of them is a symbol of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

“Send her away,” the disciples say, heartlessly.  Why should they show her any compassion?  She’s only a pagan.  She has no RIGHT to the Lord and his saving message.  And at first, Jesus seems to agree.  “It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  The self-satisfied looks on the disciples’ faces show no shock at this apparent insult.  After all:  SHE’S ONLY A PAGAN.  And the pagan takes the insult in stride, and is not put off by it.  “All right, so I’m a dog.  Even dogs get what drops off the table!”  And wow!  You can see the smile of recognition dawn on Jesus’ face as she takes the bait of faith and runs with it.  “O Woman” — remember that this was a title of the highest respect — “great is your faith!”

Our task as Jesus’ disciples is NEVER to treat people according to their worst behavior.  In God’s eyes, we have all been, at one time or another, unbearable, uncouth, undocumented, unfair, ungrateful, unreliable, untruthful, unwashed.  We don’t have to remind others of their sorry condition unless it’s our job in society to parent, to teach, to report, to oversee, to apprehend, to enforce, to judge, or to sentence — and even then, those disciplinary actions can be performed with kindness.  And even then, God invites us to see his image and likeness in others IN SPITE OF how they might have tarnished that image and likeness by sin.  And even then, treat them according to the dignity that HE has given them, not according to the judgment they may have earned by their bad behavior or even their willful ignorance.  Now, this doesn’t mean lying down and becoming a doormat for evildoers.  It means positioning ourselves to become part of the pathway to salvation for anyone who might want to come along with us.

Not all will accept the invitation, which comes from God, not just from us.  No, we live in a world where many are ready to call us names and spit in our face BECAUSE we are disciples of Jesus, so we might as well expect it.  For us, it should be consoling to hear his words as we, like the pagan woman before us, brush the insults aside:  “O man, O woman, great is your faith!”  Even those who spit in our face  — MIGHT be watching, and find THEIR way to the Lord because of how we handle it.

Homily for August 13, 2017



Last week we heard the Gospel story of the Transfiguration.  We should know by now that if you ask any faithful Jew, “Who represent the Law and the Prophets?” you will get the answer, “Moses and Elijah.”  It was Moses and Elijah who appeared on Mount Tabor, speaking with Jesus.  You might say that it proved he had the backing of the Law and the Prophets — AND the approving voice of his Father — as he was about to undergo his saving passion and death.

There are two passages in the Old Testament in which God comes as close as he can to revealing himself in person to a human being.  In today’s first reading, we hear the story of God saying to Elijah, “The Lord will be passing by.”  Now, Elijah knew that no mortal could look on the face of God and live.  As he stands there on the mountain, the forces of nature go wild — wind, earthquake, fire — but none of those contain the Lord.  They are his creations, they are not gods in themselves.  Then comes a tiny whispering sound.  THAT coaxes Elijah to the door of the cave, where he hides his face in his cloak.  He has recognized the whisper of God passing by.  A good lesson for us:  make too much noise about your situation, and you might not hear God when he passes without fanfare.

But earlier, in Exodus Chapter 33, there is a similar passage about a similar encounter — one between God and Moses.  “Then the Lord said, ‘There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.’”  And we know that from then on, Moses had to wear a veil over his face.  Even the “divine sunburn” from the radiance of God’s BACK was so brilliant that it blinded anyone who looked at Moses.

Do we get the picture?  God’s presence is so overwhelming, his appearance so radiant with divine vitality, that no one can behold him and live.  So how does he come among us?  As one of US!  The Apostles think it’s a ghost when they see him walking on the water.  Peter makes bold to say, “IF it’s you, let me do that, too!”  But the really big IF is Peter himself, as it always is with us when we say in our prayers, “Lord, IF you love me, IF you want what’s good for me, IF you have the power to do this and that,” and then, like Peter, fall flat on our faces or sink beneath the waves for lack of faith.


Note that in the Old Testament passages about Moses and Elijah, God promises to PASS BY.  In the New Testament, God makes his PEOPLE his Temple, his dwelling place.  So dear are his people to him that the Apostle Paul can say, in the second reading from Romans 9:  “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.  They are Israelites.”  They are God’s people.  Paul would gladly give up his own salvation if it would assure theirs.  But WE, the people of the New Testament, the Bride of Christ, are in an even more privileged position.  Christ, who has given up his LIFE for us, will never more pass us by.  He dwells in our midst.  Sad but true, it is WE who so often pass HIM by.

I recognize this whenever I cut my prayers to the minimum to do my own thing.  “It is I,” Jesus says as he comes walking on the troubled waters in the winds and storms of our lives.  “Do not be afraid!”  But what am I afraid of?  That I might have to change?  That I’ll lose time for my “own” work?  That I might not get something else done?  But what will it really be worth without prayer?

When you just turn off, without a second thought, an invitation to spend some time in adoration;  an opportunity to stop by church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament;  the chance to go to weekday Mass, at least during Advent and Lent;  the impulse to come to church to thank God on your birthday or anniversary;  the wish that you had “someone” to talk to about some pressing problem or difficulty;  my friends, when you turn off all those openings to the Lord, it’s no longer God who is passing YOU by.  He is anxious to show you himself here, in the form of the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.  Ask yourself:  Do you know which day of the week we have adoration here at church from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.?  Do you know that our church is open EVERY day from 7 a.m. till 6 p.m., and that the Lord is just waiting for your visit?  He makes himself so very available to you.  Isn’t there a chance that things might be different for you, O you of little faith, if you stopped being afraid of losing time, of missing out on something, of going out of your way, of “interrupting” your day with prayer?  If you, and all of us, stopped just PASSING HIM BY?  Ask yourself:  what are you afraid of, what’s holding you back, from spending a little more time with the One who should be the very Center of your life?  He died so you could be with him forever.  Start enjoying that now.

Homily for August 6, 2017



Besides my mom’s caring, nurturing hands, some of my earliest memories are of the rugged hands of the men in our family.  My dad’s hands had been seasoned by digging trenches in the Canal Zone and firing cannons in the infantry in the Bulge.  Before I was born, those hands were already busy dressing hydrants, laying lines, climbing ladders, and driving heavy equipment in the Fire Department.  My mom’s dad had big Lithuanian hands with a powerful grip.  He, too, had been a fire fighter, and later spent over 30 years at Haskelite over on Ann Street.  Dad’s dad had a farmer’s hands, and he had also been a lineman for Consumers.  Dad’s step-dad and brother-in-law were both railroad men.  You get the picture.  Strong, rough, weathered hands.

That’s how the Apostles knew Jesus — a man with carpenter’s hands, with all the slivers, scars, and scrapes that that involves.  They were used to hard work with their own hands, to be sure.  Except for Matthew the tax collector, they all had fishermen’s hands, handling boats, oars, nets, ropes, anchors, and, of course, bait and fish.  So they knew Jesus as one like them — different occupation, but no stranger to hard work.  One mysterious thing.  Even though he was commonly known as “the son of the carpenter” of Nazareth, he consistently referred to Almighty God as his “Abba,” his “Daddy.”  It was so unusual that no one really dared ask him about it.  They knew that the religious leaders sure didn’t like it, that familiarity with the Divine.  But then he also kept referring to himself as “Son of Man,” just like they knew the Prophet Daniel had testified that God’s own infinite power would shine through “one like a Son of Man,” coming on the clouds of heaven.  What could all this mean?  Who WAS Jesus, really?

Jesus selects his closest three to go with him up the mountain.  They have to be prepared for what is soon enough going to happen on ANOTHER mountain, the one just outside Jerusalem, the one that resembles a Skull.  But now, on THIS mountain, a whole new and more complete reality shines through the human nature of Jesus.  Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, are there as having been summoned into the presence of the Almighty, and they are conversing with Jesus.  The Apostles are overcome, Peter begins babbling something about putting up three Holy Tents, and suddenly the voice of the One whom Jesus calls “Abba” can be distinctly heard identifying himself as such:  “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”  Whatever Peter, James, and John woke up thinking might happen that day, THIS WASN’T IT!!  Jesus refers to God as “Daddy,” the Voice refers to HIM as “my Son.”  Hmmm.  And at the same time, here he is, one like US in all things except sin.  Hmmm.

And then it’s over.  Down the mountain we go, back to — reality?  But THAT was reality, an infinitely more complete reality than anything here on earth seems to be.  “Now don’t tell anyone about this until the Son of Man rises from the dead.”  Not a word from the Apostles.  But what on earth — or in heaven — could he mean?  “Rise from the dead”?

Until the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, they couldn’t comprehend the height and depth and breadth of this revelation, and its implications for US.  If God could be among us in human form, then it’s clear that he has come to share his life with us.  That means WE are called to be similarly transparent, to let God’s life shine through us and light up the world.  Who, me?  Who, you?  You don’t have to THINK you’re unworthy.  You ARE unworthy, and God knows it, and God loves you and calls you ANYWAY!  As Father John Foley paraphrased St. Paul’s words in a hymn, “We hold a treasure, not made of gold, in earthen vessels, wealth untold.  One treasure only:  the Lord, the Christ, in earthen vessels.”  Christ’s divine nature shines through HIS human nature so that OUR human nature need no longer be just FALLEN human nature.  Like the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, the Transfiguration is a sign of our Redemption!  Unworthy earthen vessels containing eternal, infinite mysteries.

Look at your hands.  Rugged or soft, gnarled or smooth, the Lord asks you to place those hands, and your whole self, at his service.  He committed himself to you in baptism.  He won’t leave you to use those hands alone.  Whether those hands are cleaning fish, typing on a keyboard, changing diapers, sawing timber, or signing checks, they have the tremendous capacity to make the All Holy present to his creation.  Bread and wine will shortly be brought here to the altar to be changed into the Body and Blood of the One who was transfigured on Mount Tabor.  They are not intended to be left here simply to be worshiped, as Peter was ready to do in putting up tents to capture the moment.  No, those gifts become Christ precisely TO FEED US, so that we can go out and continue the transformation of the world itself, in Jesus’ Name.  We hold a treasure, in earthen vessels.