Monthly Archives: September 2017

Homily for September 24, 2017


No matter how much we have, no matter how good we’ve got it, our fallen human nature has us bristle when we hear of someone else getting the same thing — or MORE — without, in our minds, earning it or working for it.  “Why should THEY get the same amount as those of us who have worked all these hours in the heat of the day?”  But if life were based only on comparisons, we would be constantly miserable.  As a matter of fact, many people ARE constantly miserable precisely BECAUSE they are always comparing their lot to others, and reckoning that they come up short.  Life isn’t fair, they moan.  And because God is the author of life, GOD isn’t fair!

It might seem rather childish when put in THOSE terms, but let’s face it:  this is how labor union leaders make their money!  Tap into the innate unfairness in working conditions, in wages and hours, in who-does-less-for-more, and you’ve got the basic problem all of us see with today’s Gospel.  That’s why the Church prefaced that Gospel with the passage from Isaiah in the first reading.  Are we really intent on being on the same page with God in drawing others to him and to his Kingdom?  After all, the fullness of life in the Kingdom is going to be the fullness of life for all who are saved!

Infant baptism, and a long life of daily sacrifice as a Carmelite nun?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

A teenage convert who marries her Catholic sweetheart, has a wonderful marriage and a dozen kids, and is stricken with early onset Alzheimer’s and a painful death in her late 40’s?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

A scoundrel who has swindled hundreds out of their life savings, but has a deathbed conversion and dies with the blessing of all the sacraments?  Jesus promises eternal life in his Kingdom.

Now, if you’re the least bit upset about all that, are you really on board with Christ, who wants the Gospel proclaimed to ALL people without exception?  Have you forgotten that his words on the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,” were also prayed FOR YOU?  Are you as anxious as the Good Shepherd for the lost and straying sheep, or are you just content to mind your own business — until the straying sheep seem to get more attention than YOU?  Yes, friends, the Gospel is full of examples like this.  We do have to ask ourselves whether we are as eager about others’ salvation as we are about saving our OWN eternal hides.  If salvation becomes simply a matter of “every man for himself,” we are ALL in danger of losing it.  After all, the Church is intended to be a COMMUNITY.of believers who are constantly and joyfully welcoming new members into the fold — for THEIR good, not ours.

I’m reminded of the factory worker years ago who showed up at the first union meeting he had ever attended.  Being recognized by the chair, he stood up and announced, “Now, look here!  I got shorted in my check $50 the last two weeks!”

“We’ve been having problems with payroll accuracy and complaining about it for months,” the union president said.  “Where have YOU been when all THAT was going on?”

“Well, sure,” the worker said, “I heard the other guys complaining about it, but hey, this is MY paycheck!”

The real test of our commitment to JUSTICE is like the sincerity of our concern about SALVATION:  are we concerned only when it concerns US, or are we truly forgetful of self so that we can rejoice at others’ good fortune and share in it?  The lives of the saints make it clear that true holiness consists in part of a complete forgetfulness of self.  If we’re constantly pre-occupied with how holy we’re becoming, the focus is too much on ourselves and not enough on Jesus and others.  We should rejoice that God is so anxious for our salvation that he’ll leave the light on for us till the very last.  Who knows, we might need it ourselves, to find our way home!  Lord, have mercy on US!

Homily for September 17, 2017



Last week we heard about our compulsory prophetic vocation as the Church, as God’s People, to witness Christ to everyone.  This weekend we are given an important and very challenging detail about the CONTENT of that witness.  Already in the Old Testament, in that reading from the Book of Sirach, we have it laid right out for us about how very much God values forgiveness.  He values it because he is mercy itself, and he knows how much we need to be a forgiving people, to forgive one another, in order to thrive.

How contrary to our fallen human nature is the command to forgive!  Sure, we can point to those cultures that WE think of as “primitive” or “different,” and see how the Arabs, for instance, seem to live and breathe their centuries-old feuds.  We can point to the “mafia” culture in Sicily, “The Godfather” image, the so-called honor killings there and in Pakistan, and get all prideful and say, “Thank God WE’RE not like THAT!”  But it’s never far from us.  Clint Eastwood made a lot of money playing the rogue cop “Dirty Harry,” carrying out personal revenge by eliminating thugs.  And of course, we all cheered, because there’s always a certain feeling of satisfaction when bad guys get their just desserts.  Just 25 years ago, Clint starred in and directed a western titled “Unforgiven,” which won four Academy awards, including Best Picture.  So that really says a lot about US and OUR culture.  How many young people have been murdered on the streets of our cities just because it was “payback time,” and they were “unforgiven”?  Or, on the more ordinary level, how many families have been split and shattered forever over something like “who inherited Grandma’s doily when I should have had it”!

Into the midst of all this mayhem, God sends his own Son, who of course pays the ultimate price of his OWN life for preaching and living and breathing — forgiveness!  So be prepared, and don’t be surprised.  The message is not well received.  But it is a life-giving message, and it must be preached, and lived, and modeled by those whom God calls to be his people.  Where else are we going to find it?  We’re the guys with the confessionals!

Your experiences with forgiveness might well leave you wondering if it’s worth it.  I guarantee you, you WILL get negative vibes even from some of those to whom you extend forgiveness.  You’ll hear things like, “Who are YOU to forgive ME, you self-righteous hypocrite?”  Or, “I don’t need your forgiveness, YOU’RE the one with the problem!”  I’ve had, and I’m sure you have had, people who have decided that “we are no longer speaking.”  How many times I’ve grieved with people in confession or in private conversation who really don’t know why a former friend or a beloved relative has suddenly turned on them or given them a permanent cold shoulder!  And yes, there are times when our only recourse is to prayer for someone who is obviously at odds with us.  What is beyond our power is never beyond GOD’S power — but given our stubbornness as human beings, it might still take years.

The pain is worth it.  When I’ve been estranged from a friend or relative, I’ve found that my prayer for them helps me to be more aware of how I might be coming across to others.  When I remember someone in prayer in this way, it helps me to forget my own hurt feelings and recognize them as a fellow believer, or POTENTIAL believer, for whom Christ shed his Precious Blood.  Their eternal salvation becomes far more important to me than merely trying to settle scores, or even make peace, here on earth.  Imagine having someone with whom you were at odds, coming up to you in heaven with a big smile and saying, “If it weren’t for your prayers, I wouldn’t be here!!  Thank you!!!”  THAT would be worth far more than a momentary reconciliation in this passing world.  But that doesn’t mean we give up working for peace among us here on earth as well:  “Thy will be done, ON EARTH as it is in heaven!”  And it surely is God’s will that his children live at peace with one another.

It starts with God, and he relies on you and me to pass it on.  God’s forgiveness, says Jesus, won’t do you one bit of good if you keep it to yourself.  It’s given to you so that you can pass it on.  You’ve heard of MONEY burning a hole in your pocket?  You just can’t wait to spend it?  Well, FORGIVENESS has to be like that.  You didn’t have to pay for it, Christ paid for it FOR you.  All you have to do to benefit from that great gift is to pass it on.  Don’t worry how it’s received.  Human history shows us how strange and unfamiliar a gift it can appear to be.  Like our charity, we can’t wait around to measure the effect of sharing God’s forgiveness with others.  We’ve received without cost.  Without cost, we are to give.


Homily for September 10, 2017



Ezekiel the Prophet has a tall order from God in the first reading.  God says, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel.”  Now, if we’re thinking, “This has nothing to do with ME,” we’d better think again.  From the moment of our baptism, when we were anointed with the sacred chrism right after the water was poured, the priest prayed, “As Christ was anointed priest, PROPHET, and king, so may you live always as a member of his Body, sharing everlasting life.”  Christ was anointed; YOU are anointed to live as a member of his Body; therefore, living as a member of his Body, YOU are anointed as a prophet.  Oh, don’t worry:  you’re not the only one!  Look around you.  We are a priestly people, we are a prophetic people, we are a kingly people, because we live as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  It’s an honor and a privilege, but we don’t have time to sit around waiting for the applause.  There won’t BE much applause, anyway.  We’ve got work to do, and instead of moaning about the condition of the world around us, our job is to get out there and witness to Christ, to transform that world from the inside out.

“I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel.”  That’s not just the Jews, the original Israel.  That’s not just the Church, the new and expanded Israel.  It means everybody on earth.  Christ’s mission is a UNIVERSAL mission.  No one is excluded from the right to hear about the Gospel and to see it being lived.  Your duty is to let the Gospel leap off the pages of your life, because many people you encounter will never pick up the Book.  Your reward?  Many people will hate you for it, even though YOU know and I know that the Gospel is for their own good.  There will be many, many people whom you will never convince.  Don’t worry about that.  Don’t worry about the RESULTS.  God will take care of the results.  YOUR job is to provide the witness.

Sometimes, like a good watchman in an emergency, you’re going to have to sound the alarm that something is wrong.  The Church has been doing that loud and clear now for well over 40 years when it comes to abortion; and surveys, at least, tell us that the culture is beginning to listen.  Even there, there’s a long way to go, and the work will never be completely finished.  There are many other things that we might have to issue warnings about, but being a watchman is not just about warning.  Much of our witness, as we’ve said, has to do with our own behavior, not just telling other people what to do or not do.  People watch us.  They’re looking to see if we’re believable.  You might not be the prophet whom this or that person will believe.  But maybe a grandchild, or a godchild, or someone you taught in religious education, will provide a witness that will catch someone’s eye and heart and lead them to Christ.  You may never know it in this life, but you have a role in passing the Word on — from Jesus, to the Apostles, to their followers, to the saints, to one particular couple, to their children, and on and on.  For 2,000 years, it’s been passed on, in the Scriptures, in our Tradition, by word of mouth, and by the example of men and women, boys and girls, just like you and me.  We don’t have time to keep looking back to see if we can see results.  We just keep looking forward, at the work yet to be done.  And judging from the headlines on any given day, we can be assured of enough work to last us for the rest of our lives.

What about the second reading and the Gospel today?  Sounds like Jesus gives us permission to read the riot act to that reprehensible relative, and even to bring others along for the intervention.  Wrong.  Take care to read over them again.  St. Paul tells the Romans, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.”  And Jesus gives us careful rules on fraternal correction so that we may not only exercise our duty as watchmen for the house of Israel, but do it in an orderly and considerate fashion without just “clearing the air” or “getting something off our chest.”  As I’ve often said, anytime you hear someone say, “I’m going to be brutally honest,” the one thing you can count on is that it’s gonna be brutal.  Honest, maybe not so much.  The main thing is that when we undertake correction of others, we do it for THEIR improvement, not for our own satisfaction.  If it doesn’t seem that it will be well received coming from US, perhaps because of some unpleasant history, perhaps it’s up to ANOTHER watchman at another time.

Being a watchman is an art, like being a physician, or a police officer, or a parent, or a pastor.  Sure, there’s some science and technology and law and nurturing wrapped up in all of it, but you learn to know how much of what to apply at the right time.  We have a lifetime to practice, the Holy Spirit to guide us, and this most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist to nourish us for the task.  God doesn’t leave his staff members to fend for themselves!

Homily for September 3, 2017



Wow, from chief of staff to goat, in just a few verses!  Poor Peter.  One moment, he shines with the sparkle of dogmatic brilliance:  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Then, in practically the next breath, as Jesus begins to explain his upcoming passion and death, his newly-appointed first mate does — well, what first mates are supposed to do, right?  “Don’t talk like that, Captain,” he insists, dismissing these dire predictions of suffering and death.  “Nothing like that is going to happen to YOU!”  And you can hear Peter thinking, “Especially with US around!” as he looks at his fellow Apostles and sees them eagerly looking forward to a victorious entry into Jerusalem.  This is, after all, the Messiah.  This is the one we’ve all been waiting for.  All the signs are there.  We’ve seen them.  The crowds are going wild.  What can go wrong?

Of course, the answer is, as it usually is in human affairs, plenty!  The same crowds acclaiming Jesus with Hosannas on Palm Sunday will be cheering for the release of Barabbas just six days hence.  Their fickle enthusiasm mirrors our own repetitious sinfulness.  We easily forget that our own sinful choices add OUR voices to the chorus of “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  And if we look around for the Apostles to encourage us otherwise, whoops, they’ve by and large taken confused and gutless refuge in the upper room.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story.  Christ, and his Apostles, now filled with the Holy Spirit, will not let sin be the last word for us unless we choose to make it so.  In the second reading, from Romans, we heard St. Paul encourage us:  “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  Christ is eager to have his disciples join in his redemptive sacrifice of love to the Father.  We are invited to do so at every Mass:  “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father.”  Everything that we do, except sin of course, can be part of that offering and sacrifice.  Think of that often during the day and during the week.  When you come to Mass, you’re bringing all that with you to offer with Jesus.  If you’re into that as you should be, there’s not a chance that you’ll ever again whine, “Booooooring” when someone mentions going to Mass.  You’ll be so ready you can’t wait.

The Apostle also warns us, “Do not be conformed to this age,” and “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Note that that’s part of God’s revelation.  Paul wrote the words at a certain time in history.  But God made sure those words were included in the Scriptures for every day and age.  No matter when we happen to live, the evil one will always be anxious to use the world with all its allurements and temptations to entrap us, hook, line, and stinker.  And, brother and sister, do we ever fall for it!

I just read an article by a leading Jesuit priest, arguing that the Church should soften its stance for people who disagree in theory and / or practice with Church teachings on sexuality.  He wrote that we should all spend a lot of time thinking about WHY so many people disagree with the Church’s teachings.  My carefully measured and highly controlled reaction was, “WELL DUH!!!  BECAUSE THEY’RE HARD, THAT’S WHY!!!”  I mean, I can figure THAT out, and I’m not even a Jesuit!!!  Listen to St. Paul:  “Do.  Not.  Be.  Conformed.  To.  The.  Spirit.  Of.  This.  Age.”  Can he be any clearer?  And wasn’t he talking about lots of the same things that are just as sinfully common today as they were back then?  Keep reminding yourself:  the greatest thing the WORLD has to offer you is a huge mission field to make the Kingdom of God known.  Everything else can easily just be an illusion to lead you astray.  If you’re constantly asking yourself how this plan, this relationship, this job, this trip, this vacation, this action will help you to make the gospel a reality in your own life and the lives of others, you are far less apt to trade your soul for a bubble that is bound to burst, sooner or later.