Monthly Archives: February 2018

Homily for February 11, 2018


Until just the last couple centuries, people didn’t understand how leprosy was contracted.  They just dreaded the thought of catching it, because it left its victims in a hideous, pitiful state until their miserable death.  Worst of all, lepers were quarantined and exiled to leper colonies, never to see family members and friends again.  This continued until relatively recent times.  Think, for example, of the leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, where St. Damien worked as a missionary until his death in 1889.  He contracted the disease, and died of leprosy.  On the other hand, St. Marianne Cope and the Franciscan Sisters who served on Moloka’i with her did NOT contract the disease.  Why?  They had concluded that they had to keep the living conditions of the lepers CLEAN and sterile.  And so, in spite of repeated physical contact with those suffering from the illness, the Sisters dodged the bullet, as it were.  I learned from a priest in Hawaii (who was the first priest ever ordained on Moloka’i) that his personal sanctity of life did not protect St. Damien from the disease because he made no attempt at precautions or cleanliness.

I have thought often of what that young priest told me as I visited him in his rectory on Lana’i, a nearby island.  I think of it especially when I read of the leper crying out to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me CLEAN”!  And Jesus reaches out and TOUCHES him (the crowd must have GASPED!) and says, “I DO will it.  Be made CLEAN.”

I think of the spiritual leprosy of my sins, and of the frequent clumsiness of my physical and emotional and spiritual and mental responses to situations.  How do I TOUCH people?  Are they made clean, or at least a little clean-ER, by contact with me?  Or is the last state of that person worse than the first?  Does some of my human baggage swing around and knock them off their feet, even though I didn’t really intend it?  “It was an accident,” I so often assure myself after breaking a dish, a bottle, a promise, a heart.  But accident or not, the damage is done, and I have to try to figure out how to repair it.  Sometimes it’s beyond my power, because like a frightened animal, the victim of my unintended bull-in-a-china-shop manner will not come close again.

Doctors are told in their medical ethics classes, “First, do no harm.”  St. Paul treats us all to a similar instruction in the second reading today, when he tells the Corinthians and us:  “Do everything for the glory of God. . .  Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.”  What a lesson for each of us to ponder, thoroughly and often.  Don’t even offend your enemies!

I thought of it last week when I heard of some of the Eagles fans in the City of Brotherly Love celebrating their team’s victory by causing over $5 million in damage by their distinctly un-brotherly behavior.  It’s just the latest example of boorish, destructive actions that have sadly become an anticipated part of any major event, no matter how tragic or joyful.  It’s like a leprosy.

I think of it whenever I see the leprosy of graffiti disfiguring the urban landscape.  I think of it when I drive down the highway out in the country and see in the median a load of household trash and filthy mattresses and broken furniture and appliances that someone didn’t want to pay to have hauled away.  I think of it when I accompany officers on a police call and find people physically and emotionally destroying ONE ANOTHER in domestic violence.  It’s like a leprosy.  I think of it when a landlord tells me about how his tax-supported tenants have trashed his property beyond repair, leaving him with outrageous utility bills and disappearing without a trace.  It’s like a leprosy.

But I never have to think too far from home.  I’ve done harm and given offense and sought my own glory rather than God’s all too often to blame the world’s problems only on others.  It leads me to pray more and more often, “Lord, at the very least, let me do no harm.  At the very least, let me not make a mess that someone else will have to clean up.  At the very least, let me not do or say anything that will make trouble for anyone else.  At the very least, let me observe the common standards of decency and fairness and virtue and politeness, and be a beacon of your love in a world where the very thought of you often seems to be shrouded in obscurity or indifference.  At the very least, let the world be a better place by my allowing you to TOUCH it through me.  I know you will it, Lord.  Make my will like yours.  Make me clean.  Touch the world THROUGH me and heal its leprosies.  Make it clean.  Make it clean.”

Homily for February 4, 2018


We all know about Job, the righteous man who suddenly suffers untold loss and misery through absolutely no fault of his own.  The evil one wants to tempt him and turn him against God, and God says, “Go ahead and try, but he won’t weaken.”  Well, here in Chapter 7, Job comes close:  “My life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”  Kind of sounds like a wealthy congressman telling the rest of the country how miserable we are and shall remain (unless, of course, we vote for HIM).  Let’s face it, we’ve all had those days — and sometimes months and years.  But we’re also familiar with stories of heroes, like the wounded coming back from war with hideous injuries.  The energy some of these young men and women put into their own recovery, the things they learn to do with artificial EVERYTHING, remind all of us that we should NEVER lose hope.

The Gospel, too, reminds us that we should never lose hope.  As Jesus begins his public ministry, the whole town gathers at the door of Simon Peter’s house, having heard how Jesus healed the illness of Peter’s mother-in-law just by taking her by the hand and helping her up.  The next morning, Jesus is out trying to get a little quiet time with the Father when Peter and the others come to get him.  “Everyone is looking for you!” they exclaim.  And how true that statement remains!  Not everyone knows Jesus by name, but everyone is looking for salvation of SOME kind.  “If only I can get that job. . .  If only I could fall in love. . .  If only I can get accepted at Enormous State University. . .  If I could just hit the lottery. . .  If I could just take a sick day. . .  If I could just get well. . .”  And on and on.  All too often, we seek our salvation in the wrong places, when Jesus is the only one who can satisfy all our hopes and desires most deeply.

Why?  Because he KNOWS us most deeply.  He knows that the gluttony we battle is at its root a misdirected hunger and thirst for the good things of the Kingdom, which can never be completely ours except in eternity.  He knows that our lusts objectify the very people we imagine could satisfy our longing for companionship, and that selfish lust destroys life-giving love.  He has not come simply to condemn the world, but to bring it salvation.  Jesus is the one to whom we introduce our two little children who are being baptized this morning.  Whether they will continue following Jesus throughout their lives is something they will have to decide.  OUR faith directs us to share it with them by beginning with baptism the sacraments of initiation.  Their parents, godparents, relatives, and the whole Church fervently pray that what God promises and GIVES them here this morning will bloom and grow into a rich, mature faith that constantly thirsts for growth in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

It would be wrong to see the world as only a battlefield between the forces of evil and the supreme power of God.  It would also be wrong to ignore the constant assaults on our faith for which we must always be better and better prepared.  We can never know and learn too much about our faith.  THAT will not make us religious fanatics.  In fact, fanatics are without exception people who know too LITTLE about their faith because they know too little about JESUS.  “Everyone is looking for you!” the Apostles told Jesus.  Well, as a matter of fact, some were just looking for good luck.  Some were anxious to get well so they could just continue in the same old patterns of life.  The Gospels make it clear that many turned away from Jesus when his teaching got too challenging, too difficult.  They weren’t ready to CHANGE.

This morning, God gives our children who are being baptized a priceless gift.  They haven’t earned it, they don’t have to pay for it.  It comes to them through their parents like spiritual DNA, but this is DNA is a gift that they can lose if they don’t cultivate it.  That’s where the rest of us come in.  The Church’s task is to constantly tell and remind the world of God’s goodness and care and gracious will to save.  And that means that we should never lose hope.  We crawl off the battlefield with hideous sins and spiritual wounds at times; but like recovering soldiers, we put ourselves at the Lord’s service.  He will always give us what we need to accomplish amazing things, but we have to realize that baptism makes JESUS, not us, the Star of our life story.  So forget the selfies.  And don’t just badger people with STORIES about Jesus.  Get busy SHOWING them who Jesus is by speaking and behaving as HE does.  You will find the meaning of your life by directing people to him.  After all, EVERYONE is looking for him!  Many of them just haven’t figured out the way, let alone the destination.