August 31, 2012 - Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 1:17-25
Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11
Matthew 25:1-13


The foolishness of God is wiser than humans. Jesus Christ came down to earth and did not pursue power or wealth or anything else that people work very hard for. The weakness of God is stronger than humans. Jesus Christ, though he could have fought anyone and won easily, let himself be tortured and killed. Then he rose from the dead. We worship a God who was killed, not because someone was more powerful but because he was strong enough to survive death. We worship a God who was poor, not because he lacked initiative, but because he already owned everything.

The world says this it is wise because it knows how to get what it wants. In reality the world is foolish because it does not know what it wants. The world says that it is strong because it is able to defend itself from every threat. In reality the world is weak if it can really be so easily threatened. We Christians reject the foolishness and weakness of the world. We know what we want, and we are going to live forever and there is nothing that anybody can do about it.

However, because we are human, we are susceptible to foolishness. We are susceptible to the goals of the world even though we already have greater promises. We are also susceptible the foolishness that keeps us from reaching our goal. In other words, there are two ways to lose a race: by being too slow and by running in the wrong direction. In other words, if we were trying to build an airplane, neither the people who never get around to building an airplane nor the people who apply great intelligence and effort to building a boat are very helpful. The first kind have the right intentions, and the second kind are admirable workers, but neither one accomplishes the goal.

So let us be foolish in the eyes of the world because we do not pursue its goals, and let us be weak in the eyes of the world because we do not defend ourselves from its threats, but we need to learn from the world about pursuing our goal with every bit of effort. Just as the world tries to be rich and powerful, using every last bit of intelligence, energy, and strength, that is how we ought to be working to love others and to love God.

Update

This is just an update on the various things going on. You can see some additions to the right side of dailyhomilies.org. In addition to the lectionary project at readings.dailyhomilies.org, we also have the bible study at c2ci1y.dailyhomilies.org where people are reading the Bible cover to cover in one year, just 15 minutes a day. Last there is my blog, Sententiae Minores, where I post my comments on the news or politics or just whatever is crossing my mind that day. Somewhat like my writing here but less formal.

In other news, I have written the September homilies for Homiletic & Pastoral Review. A whole month ahead, but only the Sunday homilies. The same homilies will be posted here as each Sunday comes up. It was an interesting experience to have someone else edit my writing. There is something inside an author that becomes protective of every comma. They were not changed drastically, but when I post them here there will be little differences.

Also, please use the comment system. It is not even necessary to register in order to leave a comment. I am going to make the comment link larger so that it is more obvious where to do it. It is always helpful to hear what someone thinks of the homily, how they heard it, how it could be clearer, etc.

This summer I had whooping cough, and was generally inconsistent on posting homilies. Thanks to everyone who stuck with it. Back in May I said that I would start posting homilies 1 week ahead. I have started this with the daily readings at readings.dailyhomilies.org. So now that I am recovered, I will do the same here. I am somewhat torn because doing so means that those who get homilies delivered by email end up getting them in batches rather than each morning, but it will mean that the day's homily will always be up before the day starts and even available ahead of time for those who use them to prepare their own homilies. I am thinking about other ways to do this, but for now posting several at a time seems like the best option.

Thank you to everyone who has expressed their encouragement about this website. I began dailyhomilies.org 2 years ago just to have a place to put my homilies, and it has grown into a major site. I am glad that the homilies are helpful to so many people.

August 30, 2012 - Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Psalm 145:2-7
Matthew 24:42-51


“Stay awake!”, Jesus tells us. There are two kinds of tired: exhausted and frustrated; these are our enemies. Exhaustion and frustration are the enemies of man going all the way back to the beginning. When Adam sinned, God told Adam that he would now get his bread by the sweat of his brow and that thorns and thistles would grow instead of fruit. When Jesus says “Stay awake”, he is being metaphorical (we are allowed to go to bed each night), so what does it mean to stay awake in a world as exhausting and frustrating as this one?

The master of the house would have stayed awake if he knew the day and hour when his house would be robbed. We do not know when Jesus is coming, so we ought to be, in every moment, the way that we want to be when Jesus comes. Someday Jesus will show up out of the clouds and this whole earth will end. When that hour comes, I would like to be in church, having just gone to confession, either that or helping a poor person get something to eat. How do you want to be on that day? Well, what if today is that day?

This idea is made clearer in the second parable. The servant is frustrated. He has been on his best behavior, but his master has not come home to see it, so he “begins to beat his fellow servants and eat and drink with drunkards.” Clearly, this is what he wanted to do all along. He kept up the fa├žade of being a good servant as long as he could, but it was a lot of work and he was not getting anything out of it.

Now the metaphor is clear: falling asleep means giving up. Have you ever been tempted to give up being good? Being good in this life is exhausting and frustrating; it is tiring. All this work seems to be getting us nowhere. If heaven is real, it will all be worth it, I am sure, but who can be certain that heaven is real? How are we supposed to stay awake when life is this tiring? So many people would not think of starting work each day without a cup or two of coffee or a mug of Mountain Dew, yet how many will start the more difficult work of becoming perfect each day without prayer! If being good is making you tired, and you are thinking of giving up, ask God for the energy you need to keep going, to stay awake.

August 29, 2012 - The Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

Jeremiah 1:17-19
Psalm 71:1-6, 15, 17
Mark 6:17-29


Today we remember the death of St. John the Baptist. He was killed because he spoke the truth. He was a prophet and that is the job of a prophet: to tell the truth. He was a prophet when said a truth that only he knew, when he pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he was also a prophet when he was the only one willing to say a truth that everyone knew, that King Herod was living with the divorced wife of his brother. Everyone knew this was wrong but only St. John the Baptist said so.

The gift of prophecy is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It is the gift to speak a truth that other people do not know or are unwilling to say, but there is the gift of prophecy on one hand and just plain rudeness on the other. St. John the Baptist denounced a man for marrying the divorced wife of his brother, even though other people were afraid to speak because that man was the king, but I too would be afraid to speak. When I meet someone who is civilly married to a divorced person, I do not denounce them either. It is wrong to commit adultery, but it rude to point out adultery.

I can take some courage in my cautious attitude from a very simple fact: Jesus Christ stood before Herod and did not condemn his relationship with Herodias. Does this mean he supported it? No, not at all. All of us, even Jesus, have to choose which truths to speak. We all are prophets; God gives us prophecies, truths to speak which are going unsaid, not only about the future but about the past and the present too.

So how can we know when we have the gift of prophecy versus when we just have a temptation to stick our nose in someone else’s business? Jeremiah instructs us in the matter. Like all the prophets, he knew the suffering that comes with speaking the truth. “I say to myself, I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more. But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it.” We must first be in touch with God through prayer. Then we should test the prophecy and see if it becomes like a fire in our heart, whether we must speak it. Last, we learn the lesson of the prophet Jonah: having spoken the prophecy, we leave the rest to God. We have done our part, whatever he wants to do for the other person is his will.

Prophets are destined to seem rude and foolish and outdated. Rarely are people glad to hear the truth. We are prophets, so we must be ready to suffer.

August 28, 2012 - Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 14-17
Psalm 96:10-13
Matthew 23:23-26


I do not know whether the first reading was cut just to make it short, or if there was some concern about people misunderstanding its contents, but the whole middle of the reading is missing, and we cannot understand the rest without the middle. St. Paul is talking about the Antichrist. He says that the Thessalonians should not be disturbed by rumors about the coming of Christ because the Antichrist has not shown up yet, and he has to come first. St. Paul says that the Antichrist will come, and then Jesus Christ will come and defeat him. There is no question about who will win in the end, but it has to look first like the Antichrist is winning.

Why? Because, St. Paul says, the Antichrist will come and lie to the world and all the people who do not love the truth will believe the lies. These people do not love the truth because the truth says that what they do with their lives is wrong, and they would rather keep approving of what is wrong that admit to what is true. So they choose lies that permit them to do what they want rather than be limited to the truth. We know what that is all about. People would rather approve of homosexuality than admit the obvious truth that a man and a woman are meant for each other in a way that a man and a man are not. People would rather approve of greed than admit the obvious truth that poor people are not just another thing to use in the pursuit of money.

But the Thessalonians have believed the truth so they will be made holy by the Holy Spirit so that they can be saved. To this end, God has called them through the preaching of the Gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. What about you then? Has God called you through the preaching of the Gospel to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ? If so, then you have to drop the lies, believe the truth, change your life, and be saved. This is the reasonable response. On the one hand, we have the glory of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we have whatever sin it is that is holding us down. We have to pick. If we pick the truth, the Holy Spirit will give us the power to live it.

August 27, 2012 - Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12
Psalm 96:1-5
Matthew 23:13-22


The religion of the scribes and Pharisees is so very small. They make distinctions between whether vowing by the temple is like crossing your fingers, but vowing by the gold in the temple is the real deal. How sad! Their religion is no longer about glorifying God or becoming like gods. They remember that Elijah could call down fire and rain from heaven, but they do not have any aspirations of doing the same thing themselves. They have become old, even the young. The excitement is completely gone. All that is left is making fine distinctions which never really mattered anyway.

Meanwhile, we see the youth and excitement of St. Paul, one of those Pharisees. He became a Christian and was inspired to go forth and preach the word of God. His hopes for the Thessalonians know no limit. He only asks that God powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose. He sees the faith flourishing and the love growing. Jesus has changed everything.

It is possible for our religion to become about nothing more than disagreeing about some teaching. It is possible to reduce the Gospel to apologetics, so that the point of Christianity is proving that we do not worship Mary. Or it is possible to reduce the Gospel to some social issue, as if the Resurrection were unimportant. There are all important in their own way, but far more important than anything else is that we become Saints. Whichever work is our portion to accomplish in this world, apologetics or social or political or anything else, has to take a backseat to the real point of it all. The reason to be a Christian is to glorify God and to be worthy of his calling. There must be no smallness about us. We are in a relationship with the Creator of the universe. He loves us and has plans for us to live forever glorifying his name and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are constantly in danger of falling back into old habits. If our religion is getting smaller all the time, reduced to the unimportant, let us try to remember what is important, the joy we had when we first began to follow God. The reign of God is waiting for us with infinite potential. What is so important to us that we let it get in the way of entering into the Kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world?

August 26, 2012 - Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Joshua 24:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 34:2-3, 16-21
Ephesians 5:21-32
John 6:60-69


“This saying is difficult; who can accept it?” That is a sentiment that every human recognizes. Many teachings of the Church are perfectly logical and fit in our worldview with no problem. Then we confront some teaching that makes no sense. That second reading is a difficult teaching for some people. The doctrine of the Eucharist is what the disciples found too difficult to believe. There are different teachings that cause difficulties for different people, but everyone runs into this at some point. If I disagree with a teaching of the Church, should I believe what I think or presume that the Church is right?

Let us start with what we know: God is never wrong. He is perfect. Some people imagine God as being rather like us: not completely in control. This is false. If God were merely powerful, why would we worship him? He would not be God. God is perfect. Nothing he says or does is wrong. This is what it means to be God.

So if I disagree with God, there are two possibilities: Either I am wrong, or I do not understand what God is saying. It is not possible that he is wrong. He is God, and God is never wrong. Perhaps I have misunderstood him. Perhaps if I simply think more about what he has taught, I will come to see that I do not disagree at all. But there comes a point where I have clarified and understood what he is saying as well as I possibly can. If I still disagree with him, I must be wrong. No matter how much it feels like I am right, I must be wrong. No matter how many arguments I can come up with about why I am right, I am still wrong. God is smarter than me. God sees more clearly than I do. God is better than I am. How could I possibly come about that I am right and he is wrong?

This is what Simon Peter responds when Jesus asks whether the Twelve will also leave him. Peter does not understand this teaching about eating the Body and drinking the Blood. To the extent that he does understand it, he is pretty sure that eating a human body and drinking blood is wrong, but he responds with a question, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He realizes that Jesus Christ is the truth, that, unlike every other teacher no matter how wise, he is never wrong.

How did he reach this conclusion? He says that “We have come to believe and are convinced.” First comes faith. First he believed something. Faith is a gift from God. As Jesus says, “No one can come to me unless this is given to him by my Father.” Faith is not some effort we make or something we earn. We can work against faith by our actions, but the only way to get faith is by asking God for it. Once we have faith, once we believe that God is God, our own opinions are not the most important anymore.

Some people spend their lives straddling the fence. They say that they believe in God, but they have many suggestions on what he could do better, improvements for creating the universe. Joshua is telling the Israelites not to take this meaningless stance. He tells them to pick which god they will serve. He says, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” This is the response of faith. If I believe in God, it is not as if I believe in an equal who could use my advice. If God exists, my response must be to serve his will, because his will for me must be right, even if I cannot see it.

So God is never wrong, but how can we know him or anything about him? How can we know for sure what God says. Many religions tell me about God, but they cannot all be right. Our religion is different. We believe that God became a man and lived among us and taught. Peter saw in Jesus someone who perfectly expressed the will of God. What about us today? Jesus no longer is speaking as he did to Peter. In his place, he has left the Church.

The Catholic Church claims to be the authentic teacher about God, the one true Church of Jesus Christ, infallible in every teaching on faith and morals. Jesus Christ gave us the Church to pass down the Bible and teach us how to interpret it, and he protects the Church from ever being in error when teaching about faith or morals. Some people expect that the Church will change its teachings, but if it does, I am leaving. If tomorrow the pope declares that women can be priests, I will pack up and forget about all of it; not because I am so opposed to women priests, but because today the Church says that women cannot be priests, and I have no interest in a Church that says one thing today and another thing tomorrow. Then it would just a bunch of people making stuff up.

The practices and the rules change. Meat on Fridays or married priests or things like that, but not a dogma or a definition of a sacrament or a moral teaching about human nature. If the Church changes one of those, it would be like a math teacher that says 2+2=4 one day and the next day that 2+2=5. I know that they were either wrong yesterday or today, or both. Regardless, they are fired as my math teacher.

It is significant that in 2000 years the Church has never changed a teaching. Clarified, yes. Changed practices, yes. Adapted teachings to new circumstances, yes. But it has never changed a teaching. This ought to encourage us to have faith in the Church as the genuine guide to the truth about God. If the Church is teaching something that I do not understand or do not like or have trouble accepting, my first response will not be to presume that I must be right. I will believe the Church. I will try to understand until it makes sense to me, but even if it never really does, I will believe the Church. What Peter said to Jesus is what we say to the Church: If we were to leave, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that God loves his Church and will never abandon her to error.

August 25, 2012 - Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 43:1-7
Psalm 85:9-14
Matthew 23:1-12


Who is the servant in a family? The parents are servants. They provide everything for their children, and do everything for their children. Why? Because they can. Their children are weak and they are strong, so the stronger does the work that the weaker is in need of. Parents do this because they love their children. When you love someone, you want to do any good for them that you can.

In the rest of the world, things are different. The greater person is served by the lesser. This is because the greater person has the capacity to force the lesser to serve them, whether by actual force or by withholding money until the work is done. People do this because they do not love each other. When you do not love someone, you look at them and wonder how you can use them.

Jesus is telling us that the world should be more like a family. The greatest person is the servant in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In return, we can do nothing for him, because he needs nothing from us. Instead, he tells us to look to the weak of this world and serve them. Find someone whom you can help, who is unable to do something for themselves, and take care of them. In other words, pay it forward. That is what Jesus means when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Of course this is all just more logical. Why would the weak serve the strong? That is foolishness, but it is the way of the world. If the world is a pyramid, the strongest ought to be on the bottom holding up the weak. At the very top should be the weakest person in the whole world, the person who cannot do anything for themselves or for anyone else. The world says that we should kill that person. Jesus says that we should serve them.

This is why the angels serve us; they are stronger than us. Who is considered greater: the President of the United States or Blessed Theresa of Calcutta? We forget presidents. Who remembers Chester Arthur? We remember saints. The scribes and the Pharisees sought human approval by trying to put themselves above others, which only makes others mad and/or jealous. We have put ourselves below others, as their servants, if we really want approval.

August 24, 2012 - Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Revelation 21:9-14
Psalm 145:10-13, 17-18
John 1:45-51


Jesus and Nathaniel bar-Tholomew have a sort of inside joke that we are not in on. Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree” and Nathaniel responds, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” I like to imagine that one day Nathaniel was standing under a fig tree out in the wilderness and said to himself, “There is no one around. No one can see me now except the Lord himself.” And maybe this was a password between him and God. Perhaps he said in prayer one day, “God, when you send the Messiah, let him say these words to me so that I know who he is: ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’”

Whatever it was that was so special about that fig tree, Nathaniel proves Jesus right. He hears the words and he does not pause but answers immediately, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Here truly is a man without duplicity, a real Israelite. He asked for a sign; he got it; and he believed. There was no backtracking or wondering whether the sign was authentic or a coincidence. Jesus promises Nathaniel greater signs, but Nathaniel is satisfied with this little sign. He was a simple man, not in the sense of being stupid but in the sense that when he got exactly what he asked for, that was good enough.

How often did the scribes and Pharisees test Jesus! Yet they were so twisted that they convinced themselves that Jesus was working miracles and preaching repentance from sins by the power of the devil. How many miracles did the crowds see! Yet they could not see past the signs to the reality of who Jesus is. Nathaniel came to Jesus with his prejudices about people from Nazareth ("Can anything good come from Nazareth?"); he even seems a little angry when Jesus gives him a compliment: “How do you know me?”, he says, but as soon as he receives the sign he does not mince any words: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Let us pray to St. Nathaniel bar-Tholomew for the grace of simple faith. He was an Apostle and a martyr. He spent the rest of his life preaching the Gospel and died a witness to the faith, all because he believed when Jesus told him, “I saw you under the fig tree.”

August 23, 2012 - Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 36:23-28
Psalm 51:12-15, 18-19
Matthew 22:1-14


In this first reading we have such a beautiful description of the new covenant. Baptism is here: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities.” And it says, “from all your idols I will cleanse you” and we now no longer really have idols, not literal statues anyway. And it says, “I will put my spirit within you”, the Holy Spirit whom we have received.

This is the new covenant which we live under, but what about the Old Testament? This very reading comes after the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile, and these beautiful words are not fulfilled for another 500 years. The Old Testament is full of God’s wrath. God kills two of Aaron’s sons because they used the wrong incense. He destroys Sodom and Gomorrah. He kills Uzzah just for touching the Ark of the Covenant.

Jesus’ parable reflects the difference in the covenants. The king kills all the people he first invited. It was just; they had murdered the servants who came to invite them. But it is not how we think of God. God now invites and invites and invites over and over again. I am glad that God does not smite people anymore. I am pretty sure that I would have been smited by now. When the king invites the new people, it is really an invitation. There are no armies to kill anyone who refuses to come. Just servants in the streets inviting everyone, bad and good alike.

But how should we think about God’s actions under the old covenant? He is the same perfect God, then and now. It is so difficult to understand the difference that some Christians try to forget about the Old Testament, or even say that that was a different God. Other Christians say that were just lucky to live under the new covenant, and all those other people cannot get forgiveness because they were born too early. I think that we do not know. It is difficult enough to discern the workings of God under the covenant we know; his plans for other people are beyond us.

So thank God we are under this new covenant, where the pattern is invite, invite, invite, forgive, forgive, forgive, but, lest we think that this means that our actions no longer matter, the king does punish the man who is not wearing a wedding garment. There is still punishment in the new covenant.

August 22, 2012 - Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ezekiel 34:1-11
Psalm 23.1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 Resp. 1
Matthew 20.1-16


What the landowner does would illegal today. He would not be free to pay his employees in such an unjust fashion. The landowner says that he is being generous, which means that he considers the pay a gift, but pay is pay and a gift is a gift. So no one really earned their daily wage. It was a free gift just for showing up, like the grace of God. We cannot earn grace, not in the sense that we could turn to God and say, “You owe me.” The landowner does not pay the daily wage to those who did not work at all, but anyone who worked even a little receives the same generous gift.

The landowner assures the workers, “My friend, I am not cheating you.” It is he who is in danger of being cheated. Once people find out that he pays a day’s wage for one hour’s work, who will come early the next morning? But he is willing to be cheated by those who only work a very little. If we are trying to get by each day with the least amount of effort that is required of a Christian, God will accept that and pay us our daily wage. If we are trying to work ever so hard, impress God, and earn more grace than the next guy, God will accept that and pay us our daily wage. And he will give it to us last, just to show us that our efforts did not earn one more cent than the others.

If we only do a very little for God, he will give us a full measure of grace, so some people ask, why should we do more? Why should we love our neighbor more than we have to? Why should we pray more than we have to? Because we can. Because working in the vineyard of the Lord is the point, not the daily wage. What if we learned to love work, to love prayer, to love serving God, to love loving our neighbor? Eventually we stop being a day laborer and become a son or daughter who does not need to be recruited every morning and paid every evening. When God comes with a reward for us, it will not be like wages at the end of a day, but like a gift from a loving father to his child, completely unearned.

August 21, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Pius X, Pope

Ezekiel 28:1-10
Deuteronomy 32:26-28, 30, 35-36
Matthew 19:23-30


Why is it difficult for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God? Because the rich believe that they are God. Of course, here we are speaking of the rich in spirit. A person may have many possessions but see them as a stewardship for the good of all. The rich in spirit believe that they are gods, as it says in the first reading today: the prince of Tyre believed that he was a god. What does this mean? God provides for us. For a person to believe that they are a god, they must believe that they provide for themselves. The attitude being condemned today, the attitude which makes it so difficult for the rich to enter into the Kingdom of God, is the quintessential American attitude of self-reliance. If I rely on myself, why would I need to rely on God? If I built up what I possess today, why would I need to thank God for it? To enter the Kingdom of God is to allow God to be the king of my life.

It is said that Satan did not believe that he could surpass God, for he was very knowledgeable and intelligent. What he hoped to do was to take for himself rather than receive from God. He wanted to be independent of God, and this was his great sin. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve reached out and took for themselves what God had not yet offered them. Who knows? It is likely that they were supposed to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil one day, but not until God served it to them.

The attitude that is necessary in order to enter the Kingdom of God is a willingness to receive a gift rather than try to grasp at it. The willingness to be dependent. The rich do not know how to do this; they have always provided for themselves. This attitude requires trust: trust that God will in fact provide what we need when we need it. In this matter, we must fight our inclination to depend on ourselves. God is the only one who can provide what we really need. What we provide for ourselves is just an illusion, but until we learn to stop trying to provide for ourselves and trust God, we will never be able to let go of the illusion and accept the real gift.

August 20, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Ezekiel 24:15-23
Deuteronomy 32:18-21
Matthew 19:16-22


God takes away Ezekiel’s wife and requires him to mourn in silence. Ezekiel is informed in the morning that his wife will die that evening, and he is commanded not to mourn. If a human did this, we would condemn them as most cruel. The loss of one’s wife is painful enough, but when God requires Ezekiel to continue prophesying, not merely in spite of his loss but using this loss as an example for the people, it seems too much.

The rich young man in the Gospel today is sad. He obeys all the commandments, but he wants more. Jesus tells him that that to be perfect he needs to sell everything he has. In comparison with Ezekiel, the sadness of the rich young man seems petty, but how would we feel if every possession were taken from us? If you went home today and discovered that you no longer had a home and would be homeless from now on, it would be tragic. But Jesus does not immediately require the young man to sell everything. When he merely asks for eternal life, Jesus points him to the commandments. It is only when he asks for more, that Jesus reveals how to be perfect. Tradition holds that he went home and sold everything, but he went home sad.

It would be easier if we believed in a good God and a bad God, and we could thank the good God for all the good and blame the bad God for all the bad, but this is not the truth. There is one God, and we must bring all the thanks and all the blame and lay it all at his feet. We can be angry with God and question God and even hate God, but none of that will change reality. In a disagreement between me and God, I not only know that God will win because he is stronger, but that God is right. How could I be right and God be wrong?

Ezekiel confronts his loss in the only way we can: acceptance of God’s will. It is a mystery why God did it, but if we believe in an all-knowing and all-loving God, we know for certain that it was all for their good. God loves Ezekiel and he loves Ezekiel’s wife. He does not do cruel things. We know this, even when it is difficult to believe.

August 19, 2012 - Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Proverbs 9:1-6
Psalm 34:2-7
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58


All throughout the Old Testament, the theme of redemption through eating is present. We repeated in our psalm today, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Did the psalmist even what they meant when they wrote that? But eating leads to seeing the goodness of the Lord. In the first reading today, Wisdom has prepared a meal for us to eat: “Come, eat some of my bread. Drink some of the wine which I have mixed!” And these things were written almost a thousand years before Jesus Christ came and fulfilled them.

Have you ever noticed that the original sin was eating, and that the greatest sacrament is eating? It was by eating that we were kicked out of the garden. It is by eating that we are restored to heaven. The first words which it is recorded that God spoke to man were “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat; for in the day that you eat of it you will surely die.” Now Jesus says, “"Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” This new meal will restore what that other meal took away.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit they got kicked out of Eden. Why? God tells us why. There was another tree there, the tree of life. God said, “‘Now, lest he put forth his hand, and also take of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever...’ Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.” So God sent us out of Eden in order to save us from the curse of living forever. It would be a curse to live forever in this current state of sinfulness. We are so cruel to each other. Torture, war, and all the other evils we inflict on each other be so much worse without death to put an end to it.

Now, however, Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.” This eternal life is not simply living forever; it is a participation in the life of God. It restores us to the blessed life before sin and even beyond that, for if 99 sheep stay in fold and 1 runs away and the shepherd goes and carries that 1 back on his shoulders, that 1 will be more in love with the shepherd than the 99 who never strayed.

The sin of Eden was so bad. We had everything we needed provided for us by the same one who gave us life itself, but we insisted on reaching out and taking more. Enough was not enough. We had everything we could ever want, but we insisted on wanting what we did not have. How ungrateful! So Jesus Christ, in order to restore us to grace, gave us the greatest gift that we could possibly have. What more could we want, now that we have God himself? But people doubt the gift. They say that the bread is nothing but bread and the wine is nothing but wine. We say that the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine is the Blood of Christ. We believe in the simplicity of taking Jesus at his word: “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Trying to take that metaphorically requires a too complicated, convoluted way of thinking.

It is difficult to understand how what looks like bread is actually the Body of Christ. We have to choose to be humble and say that there are more things in this world than we know. I cannot say how it is that a piece of bread, while retaining the physical aspects of bread, is no longer bread but the Body of Christ, but Jesus Christ, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, blessed it and said, “Take this all of you and eat it. This is my Body”, and who am I to doubt Jesus Christ?

I also want to also speak a little about the second reading today. The translation we have here is very unfortunate: trying to make things clearer, they made it more difficult to understand. What St. Paul actually says here is “watch carefully that you walk not as the foolish but as the wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” This line speaks to us today. Evil means empty, lacking in some good that should be there. When Jesus Christ redeemed us, we were lacking in something and he gave it to us. We were lacking life, and he gave us the life that he has with the Father and the Holy Spirit. So the days are evil, and St. Paul tells us that it is our responsibility to redeem them. These days are lacking something, and it is our responsibility to fill them.

It is possible in our culture to get obsessed with our rights and our freedom. People say, “I am free to do whatever I want. I have the right to do whatever I want.” But what about responsibility? Who cares what I have a right to do; what do I have a responsibility to do? What should I do with my time? We do not have a right to kill time. We have a responsibility to redeem it.

Please understand that this does not mean that we cannot rest. Real rest, a good night’s sleep, reading a good book, watching well written television is a necessary part of life. Real rest is one of the things lacking in our world. Real rest redeems the time. But, I tell you, Angry Birds?! I do not think that the time has ever been redeemed by Angry Birds. Facebook can redeem the time if it is building human relationships, but Farmville? If you do not know what any of these things are, congratulations. They are pointless games that waste hours upon hours, but we all have our own Angry Birds: certain books of no redeeming value, soap operas, game shows, endless hours of sports. It would be good to stop ourselves constantly and ask, “How is the thing I am doing right now redeeming the time?” If the answer is that it isn’t, stop doing it. It is not enough that we have a right to do whatever we want each day. Life only has a meaning if we redeem the time.

August 18, 2012 - Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 18:1-10, 13, 30-32
Psalm 51:12-15, 18-19
Matthew 19:13-15


When a child was considered property of their parents, it made sense that their parents would be punished with the death of the child. God is saying that each child is a person with their own dignity, their own responsibility. In the Gospel, the Apostles try to prevent the people from bring their children to Jesus. They consider Jesus too important to waste his time blessing children. He has sermons to give and people to heal. Jesus goes further than the prophecy of Ezekiel: He declares that children not only have an equal dignity to adults, but they are greater inasmuch as they are models for us. This sets the way of the world completely on its head. Jesus does that all the time: “Blessed are the poor.” “Love your enemy.” And now, “learn from children.”

What can we learn from a child who comes into this world knowing nothing? We can teach children math, reading, history, and every other human science. What could they possibly teach us except what we have taught them? But the Kingdom of heaven belongs to children, and we want it for ourselves too so we must learn a kind of wisdom from children.

A child is a person who literally has nothing. They have no possessions, no strength, no education. They depend on adults for everything. When we look at a child we should see someone loved so much by God, someone full of potential, someone whom we want to help in any way that we can. So we can learn from children about human dignity that is not dependent on any accomplishment or usefulness. Then, when we look at other people, we should see them the same way, without being blinded by whatever their years on earth have done; we should see the beloved child, the human dignity that is ours, unearned but unlosable.

To see that human dignity in ourself and in every person is to begin to love everyone. When we look at someone and do not think about how we can use them or even whether they impress us, we are acknowledging that there is something precious in them and in every human being. What is most precious in us is what we share in common with the version of ourself from however many years ago when we were a little child, or even from before we were born.

August 17, 2012 - Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63 or Ezekiel 16:59-63
Isaiah 12:2-6
Matthew 19:3-12


The question that the Pharisees and Jesus are discussing in the Gospel today is very interesting. Nowhere in the Law does God say that a man can divorce his wife, but several times the Law mentions divorce and sets down certain rules that were not to be broken. The Pharisees read the Law and decided that God would not set down rules about divorce unless it was okay to get divorced.

Yet something was still bothering them: getting married means making a promise to be with a person and take care of them. Normally, it is unacceptable to break promises, especially a promise as solemn and public as the marriage vows. So the Pharisees wondered what reasons justified breaking the promise. Indeed, the Scripture says that they were testing Jesus. Perhaps they had their own list of reasons and wanted to see if Jesus could come up with as good a list.

Instead, Jesus explains that their initial logic was faulty. Divorce is mentioned in the Old Law, but it was one of the imperfections of the Old Law. The Old Law was true as far as it goes, but it was coping with the how resistant the human heart is to the Truth. God does not allow divorce, but a commandment forbidding divorce would have been too much for the Israelites to put up with. So God set down certain rules, saying, if you are going to get divorced, here are some absolute minimum standards of conduct: a man who divorces his wife should not keep her as a slave, and, if a man is free to remarry, so is his wife.

What changed in the 1500 years since Moses? Human nature did not change. True, 1500 years of living the Old Law had prepared the world to receive the New Law, but the New Law is not just the Old Law with more difficult rules. The New Law is the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, we do not have to settle for the best we can handle, our standard now is perfection. The Holy Spirit, God himself, lives in our hearts; he is a law written on our hearts. If we let him, he can make us perfect. A life-long marriage between two sinful human beings (and we are all sinful) is impossible without the Holy Spirit, but with God all things are possible.

August 16, 2012 - Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 12:1-2
Psalm 78:56-59, 61-62
Matthew 18:21-19:1


There is some disagreement about whether Jesus says here “seventy-seven times” or “seventy times seven”. Either way it is a big number that means more. Whether it is 77 or 490, it means “lots of times”. Or, to apply Jesus’ other teaching about doing unto others as we would have them do to us, how many times would you like to be forgiven? If there were a limit on the number of times that we could be forgiven, this world would be worse than it is. Yet many people think that there is such a limit. They think that they have done wrong so many times that God could no longer forgive them. Balderdash! God is never going to stop loving us. He is never going to stop forgiving us, so long as we never stop repenting.

I wonder what would have happened if the servant in the Gospel today had asked for forgiveness at the end. After having been forgiven once, then treating the other servant cruelly, then standing before his master again, what if he had once again begged forgiveness? I think he would have been forgiven.

There is another interpretation to this story though. Perhaps the servant stands in place of a soul who has died. He goes to heaven and sees the full weight of his sins, and God forgives every one of them. Then he gets into heaven and treats the other servant badly. This could be a cautionary tale telling us why universal salvation is impossible. Some people have hopes that God will just forgive everyone their sins and let everyone into heaven, but if he did that, we would have people like the servant today going around and choking other people. In other words, some people would ruin heaven if they got in.

No, this life is our chance for forgiveness. There is no limit on the number, but there is an end to the time. It is an all-you-can-eat buffet, but when the restaurant closes dinner is over. God will forgive us all of our sins, no matter what, but only if we repent. And we do not know when our closing-time is, so “later” might be too late. The time for repentance is right now, this moment. Let nothing prevent you from repenting. Even if we cannot get to Confession right away, we should repent as soon as we recognize our sin. We must not delay in the slightest.

August 15, 2012 - Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Mass During the Day

Revelation 11:19; 12:1-6, 10
Psalm 45:10-12, 16
1 Corinthians 15:20-27
Luke 1:39-56


For now, there is only one human person who has experienced the Resurrection and is with the Lord, body and soul. Who is it? Is it Alexander the Great who conquered the largest empire in the history of the world? No? Is it Julius Caesar, the conquering general who refounded Rome as an empire? No? Perhaps it is Plato or Aristotle or Plotinus or some other great philosopher? No? Is it George Washington or Thomas Jefferson? No? Perhaps it is someone very wealthy, like John D. Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie? No? Is it some movie star, like Elvis maybe? None of these? Is it a poor Jewish woman from Nazareth, the wife of a carpenter, who, but for one fact, would be completely forgotten by history books? Yes. Her.

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly.” Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. He has lifted up the lowly. Who is lowlier than the Virgin Mother of God, except her son Jesus Christ? He has lifted up the lowly. Today there are monuments to this woman, basilicas and cathedrals, universities and hospitals, all this dedicated to this woman. There are cities named after her, and she is the patroness of countless countries in the world.

“From this day all generations will call me blessed”, she said, and we do call her blessed. She is blessed among women as the mother of Jesus Christ. She is blessed among all people as the first disciple of Jesus Christ, the first to be obedient to the Gospel, which was preached to her by St. Gabriel. She is blessed in the Gospel today by her cousin Elizabeth who, by the prophecy of her unborn son, recognized the mother of her Savior.

She is represented in Revelation as a woman, clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with 12 stars. Who else could this woman be, the mother of a male child destined to rule all nations? Satan wants to destroy her child, but he is not allowed to. Nor is he allowed to hurt the woman herself. We are told that there is a place prepared for her by God. In this place she awaits the fullness of time when the world will end and all other people will rise in the body as she already has.

Our second reading, from 1 Corinthians, we are promised that “just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life.” We see the fulfillment of that promise in Mary. Jesus rose from the dead, and that is why we can rise from the dead, but people wonder whether perhaps things are different for Jesus than for us; he is God after all. In the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we see the first example of a human person participating in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We receive a further benefit from the Assumption, beyond this example which ought to confirm our hope: now we have a mother in heaven. Jesus gave his mother to us to be our mother, the mother of all people. The other saints in heaven are waiting to rise in their bodies, so they are, for now, pure souls, but Mary is more like us, as we are now, as we will be after the Resurrection of the body. With such a sympathetic figure drawing us in, what will prevent us from reaching heaven? We have in Jesus a Savior who is the way to heaven, the only mediator between God and man, and we have in Mary a mother to help us approach Jesus.

August 15, 2012 - Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Vigil Mass

1 Chronicles 15.3-4, 15-16; 16.1-2
Psalm 132.6-7, 9-10, 13-14 Resp. 8
1 Corinthians 15.54b-57
Luke 11.27-28


The Ark of the Covenant was the central symbol of the Jewish religion, not because of what it was, but because of what it contained. Within the Ark of the Covenant were the tablets of the Law and a jar of manna and the staff of Aaron the priest. None of these items were actually God, but they represented the relationship between God and Israel. Over the centuries, the contents of the Ark were lost, but the Ark itself was still revered because of what it had once held.

The Ark of the New Covenant is Mary, the Mother of God. As the Jews revered the Ark of the Covenant without ever confusing the Ark with God himself, so we Christians revere Mary without ever confusing her with God. Within her body was Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus took his human nature, his DNA, his cells, from Mary. She nourished him for 9 months as a mother nourishes her unborn child. Even after she had given birth, she could rightly be revered for what her body once held.

But that would be the wrong reason to honor Mary! At least, that is what Jesus tells us. If we honored Mary merely because she carried Jesus in her womb, we would be missing more than half the point. The Ark of the Covenant was made of wood. What did the trees do to deserve being made into the Ark? Nothing; they are trees. No one asked their permission, they merely looked all over for the very best wood. Similarly, Mary was chosen because she was the very best human being, but Mary is a human being, so God would not have used her without her permission.

This is why, when a woman shouts out today from the crowd, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”, Jesus corrects her: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” He is saying that Mary is blessed to be the Mother of God, but not merely because part of her body became the body of God, nor even because of the intimate relationship between Jesus and Mary, who fed him at her breast. Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God, through the angel Gabriel: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God; behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus”, and she responded, ““Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Who, more than Mary, heard the word of God and did it? No one. She is the Mother of Jesus, but she is also his first disciple.

How fitting it is then that, as the first disciple of Jesus Christ, she was the first human person to experience the Resurrection in her own body. Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Mary was raised before us as a symbol of the whole Church. Jesus, by rising from the dead, destroyed the power of death, so that we too can rise in our earthly bodies, and Mary is the first fruits of that Resurrection. Where she has gone before us, we hope to follow.

Mary found the way to heaven, and it began with obedience. If we are hoping to follow her, we must begin in the same way. However, it will be easier for us because we have an advantage that she lacked: we have a mother in heaven whose only desire is to lead us to her first-born son: Jesus Christ, who is the only way to the Father.

August 13, 2012 - Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 1:2-5, 24-28
Psalm 148:1-2, 11-14
Matthew 17:22-27


Ezekiel is so careful. He is a theologically trained prophet. He sees something with the form of a human sitting on a throne, white gold from the waist up, like fire from the waist down, the throne supported by four living creatures that looked like human beings but had wings. A less careful theologian might have said “I saw the Lord on a throne held up by four angels”, but Ezekiel is too careful for that. All of his theological training comes together in this last line where he finally sums up what he saw: “Such was the vision of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”

It cannot have been the Lord, because God is not visible. He has no body, so he cannot be seen. This must have been a likeness of the glory, a sort of self-portrait that God put together for Ezekiel’s benefit. Still, Ezekiel is not willing to be nailed down even there. What he described was merely his vision of that likeness, lest anyone suppose that Ezekiel meant this to be a definitive description. This realization of the transcendence of God was the result of 1500 years of formation from Abraham down to Ezekiel. The Lord is an eternal God who cannot be represented by any idol. He is “I am who am”, the God who simply exists before any universe or time or any other creation. Ezekiel may have seen white gold and fire, but he would laugh at you if you thought that this meant that God was made out of white gold and fire. Laugh or be very angry.

So God prepared this culture to be the very last that would think of God as merely a powerful human being. Then a man appears who knows all about a fish that swallowed a coin and will conveniently be near shore soon, and he says that he will be killed but that death will be unable to hold him down, and he claims to be God. If Jesus had appeared in any other culture, they would have readily believed in him, but they would have missed the point. The Greeks would have had no trouble with a god walking among them, but they would not have understood. It was because the Jews could not imagine that the transcendent God would become human that, when they believed that he had, they understood the incredible earth-changing significance of this fact.

August 12, 2012 - Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:2-9
Ephesians 4:30-5:2
John 6:41-51


Nothing is impossible if God wants us to do it. God will provide what we need so that we can do what he wants us to do. He wanted the Israelites to wander in the desert for 40 years, so he provided bread that fell from the sky. He wanted Elijah to walk to Mount Horeb so he provided cake in the desert. The Israelites complained that the manna lacked variety after 40 years, but it was enough. The angel of God made sure that Elijah ate and drank enough for his journey. God has provided what we needed to do what he wants us to do.

Sometimes I think that I do not have enough time, but enough time for what? God has given us all the time in the world, 60 minutes every hour. It is enough time to do what God wants you to do. Perhaps I cannot impress in that amount of time, perhaps I cannot succeed at some self-appointed task in that amount of time, but it is plenty of time. What does God tell us to do? Love him and love our neighbor. How much time do we need to do that? None at all. We do that in the moment. We work at a task, maybe we finish, maybe not, but if we work with all our strength in the moment that is all we are responsible for.

Jesus tells us in another place that we ought to look to the flowers of the field that live in the moment and are provided for by God. They do not have bank accounts. They are not racing against time. They grow and then they die. In every moment they have enough to do what God wants them to do. We always have enough to do what God wants us to do. We might not see tomorrow’s sufficiency today, and we might not have enough to do what we want to do, and we certainly do not have enough to do what the world tells us we ought to do, but we do have enough right now to do what God wants us to do.

St. Paul tries to spell that out in the letter to the Ephesians today. Get rid of bitterness. Get rid of fury. Get rid of anger. Get rid of shouting. Get rid of mocking. Get rid of all evil desires. If we do that, we will be amazed at how much energy and time were consumed by them. Be kind to each other. Be compassionate. Forgive one another. Be imitators of God. So we have to ask ourselves whether, right now, in this moment, we have everything we need to do all that, and the answer is yes. Life is not easy. In fact, God promised Adam when he ate the fruit that it was going to be hard from now on and end in death. That is our lot. Heaven is our future. Right now we have enough to love other people.

So when God gives us something above and beyond our daily bread, our daily enough, we ought to respond by asking a simple question: “What is this for?” Is it just a little present to be enjoyed in the moment, to make us happy. Is it a gift for someone else that we are responsible for, given to us so that we can give it to another? Is it part of someone else’s daily bread?

And so what about the gift that Jesus gives today in the Gospel, or rather promises to give and then does give later? “The bread that I will give”, he says “is my flesh for the life of the world.” So he tells us what he is going to give, and then he tells us the purpose. He is going to give his flesh. And he gave his flesh, his Body and Blood. All of us are gathered here today to receive this gift. We could stay home and read the Bible, and we could listen to somebody preach on TV, and we could gather together at a park, and there are coffee and donuts at any number of fine restaurants in this city. The reason we are gathered here right now is to receive a gift: the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

And the purpose of this gift, according to Jesus, is the life of the world. What sort of life? Eternal life. When we eat this living Bread and drink this living Wine, the life is in us and we become alive. Normal bread and wine simply keeps us alive, staves off death another day, but this living Bread and living Wine imparts life to us that we previously lacked. It is the final piece of enough. Before we had enough to do what we could do, but, with this gift, we now have enough to do something more, to be imitators of God, to become like Christ.

An old proverb says: “when you sit down to eat a meal with a king, before you reach out your hand and take the food, observe carefully all the different dishes, the quality and the quantity, knowing that you will have to provide the same kind of meal.” We come to a meal provided by a king, our Lord Jesus Christ. Every day we approach the altar and partake of this meal. So, let us take a moment to consider the kind of meal before us, knowing that we will have to provide the same.

It seems to be just bread and wine, but in reality it is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Our king provides himself for the meal. He gave his Body and Blood on the Cross. Before we receive it, we ought to know that receiving obliges us to provide the same. He has given us his Body and Blood, so we must give him our body and blood, our very selves. Some Christians do this in martyrdom. Their blood is spilled and their bodies are beaten and they give themselves to Christ. There are some martyrs dying right now. Every day 500 Christians are martyred. Every day 500 Christians fulfill in their own bodies the suffering of Jesus Christ. Who knows if we will be called to be martyrs someday! In the meantime, we give ourselves completely according to the witness of the martyrs. We receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and every day we return the gift by using our strength, our time, our possessions, and everything we have been given to love God and serve him, to love other people and serve them.

August 11, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Clare, virgin

Habakkuk 1.12-2:4
Psalm 9.8-9, 10-11, 12-13 Resp. 11b
Matthew 17.14-20


In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker needs to lift his spaceship out of the swamp. Yoda comes and tells him that he can do it. Luke says, “Okay, I’ll give it a try” and then Yoda says “NO. Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” The point is that if a person is trying to do something, they are already admitting the possibility of failure. In order to be successful with the Force, Luke has to believe that he can do what he is going to do.

So, to bring it back to reality. What Jesus is saying is “do or do not, there is no try”. I suppose, the disciples were amazed at the authority they possessed. Every time they were successful, they were a little surprised. They are sort of always expecting failure. Faith is believing the promises of God and believing that God is trustworthy. Jesus promised them the authority to cast out demons. So when they meet a demon today who is, for whatever reason, able to resist a little, they finally get what they always expected, and they are incapable of acting on the promise because they believe that it is somehow limited, but all that is limited is their faith.

What does all this have to do with you and me? The Force is not real, and it is not our vocation to cast out demons. Do Jesus’ words only apply to exorcisms? No. He applies them to mountains. What do you want to accomplish in your life? If you are thinking of piles of money or success at work, I have nothing for you. Jesus never made any promises about that. But if you want to succeed overcome sin then these words do apply. If you are simply trying to succeed, you will fail. You will come up against resistance and then decide that you do not have the power to conquer the temptation. But Jesus promised us that we can overcome. Yes, we can. If we believe that promise, we will stop trying and start doing. In the spiritual life, this saying is reliable: “Do or do not. There is no try.” Do you want to become a saint? I hope you do. Here is how: stop trying to be a saint and start being one. Decide to do what is right, and then, whenever you fail, go to Confession and start doing again.

August 10, 2012 - Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalm 112:1-2, 5-9
John 12:24-26


Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence of Rome, a deacon of the 3rd century. St. Lawrence is known primarily for two features, which are reflected in our readings today: his care for the poor and his martyrdom. Consistent throughout is the sense of humor that made him the patron saint of comedians.

One day, the Roman government demanded that Lawrence turn over the riches of the Church. People are always talking about the riches of the Church, by which they usually mean all the gold and jewels. The Church does not really have riches in that sense. Yes, we do have beautiful works of art and chalices made from precious metals, but there is a vast difference between riches and objects intended for the glory of God. We always try to offer God the best we can, and the world sees that we have beautiful things and becomes envious because the world does not inspire anyone to produce beautiful things.

Lawrence knew that there was no purpose to hiding the Church’s treasures since we are not interested in possessing treasures but in using beautiful things. So he asked for three days to gather everything together. During those days he sold every chalice and artwork and other item that is valuable as the world sees things. He gave the proceeds to the poor of Rome. On the third day he went to the prefect and presented the true riches of the Church: the blind, the lame, the leprous, and many other people whom Jesus Christ died to save. He is reported to have said, “As you can see, we are richer than the emperor.” So they killed him. They grilled him to death. I suppose they had a giant barbeque, lit a fire, and threw him on it. As he was dying, he said to the guards, “You can flip me over now; I am done on this side.”

What can we learn from the comedy routines of St. Lawrence? In the face of the world, so deadly serious about its sins and its greed and its cruelty, we ought to laugh, recognizing how ridiculous the world is. People live and die for money, power, and lust. We live and die for Jesus Christ. The contrast is so enormous, we do not know whether to laugh or cry. St. Lawrence is very happy in heaven right now; where that prefect or those guards are depends on whether or not they eventually learned to laugh at this world too. Humility and humor come from the same root.

August 9, 2012 - Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 51:12-15, 18-19
Matthew 16:13-23


The meaning of life is to have a relationship with God, but the problem is how we limited, insignificant creatures can have a relationship with the allpowerful, infinite God without losing our free will. With the Israelites, God solves this problem by giving the law. The Jews used to follow the law in order to have a relationship with God. They could not see their God or touch him, but they could follow the law that he gave. The law was the connection between the spiritual world and the physical world because it is given in the spiritual world but lived out in the physical world. The words came from God to Moses, and the Israelites lived out the words in their lives. God’s will was lived out in the world, not as if he were controlling the people, but because the people longed for the will of God and loved the law. Humans were free to obey it.

The law says, “Do not kill.” It is important that we not kill because that would be to hurt another, but that is not the only reason. Some people think that morality is all about not hurting other people, as if the meaning of life is to get through without hurting anybody. The meaning of life is to have a relationship with God. The best reason to not kill is because by following the commandment of God, we are in relationship with him. So also for every law. They rested one day a week because when they did, they were in a particular relationship with the command of God to rest.

So the law preserved their freedom while allowing them to be in relationship with God, but there is still a problem because following the law is difficult, even impossible. Even if we want to follow the law, we end up breaking it. So God says in the reading today that he will create a new covenant, a foundation of a new relationship. This new covenant will not be a law which we have to follow; it will not depend on our own strength. The law of the new covenant is the Holy Spirit.

When we have the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we find that we believe without knowing why, that we love with a love that is not our own, we hope for what we have never seen. This is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. Still, free will must be retained. The Holy Spirit will only work within us if we invite him in. We invite him in the sacraments. We invite him by spending time in prayer. You all have invited him today by taking the time to come to Mass. When we have invited him in, and have not rejected him with sin, we will discover that he is working great miracles in our hearts.

August 8, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Dominic, priest

Jeremiah 31.1-7
Jeremiah 31.10, 11-12ab, 13 Resp. 10d
Matthew 15.21-28


The first reading was written before the exile had really begun, but Jeremiah is already prophesying about the glorious return, not of the whole nation, but of the remnant. This remnant of Israel was a people who had been purified by suffering and whose faith was deeply informed by Scripture and obedience to God. This does not mean that they were perfect. Jesus often complains about the Pharisees, but the Jews, when they went wrong, did so in the direction of hypocritical obedience.

So it should not surprise us when Jesus says that he has been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He is saying that he was sent only to those who were ready. The Jews might kill him for claiming to be God, but the other cultures would have just been confused. They would have called him a magician. They would have thought that he was one of their many gods walking on earth. Other cities might have bowed down in worship, indeed Jesus says they would have, but they would not have understood what they were doing. No other culture had been prepared in the way that the Jews had been.

So the woman asks for her daughter to be freed from the demon, and Jesus ignores her. He did not come to earth to do magic tricks. His miracles are always signs of his identity. Why would you make a sign for someone who cannot read it? The miracles of Jesus only convince some of the Jews, but even a simple Jew like Simon the fisherman had enough cultural heritage to recognize the Savior of the World just from a big catch of fish. The woman has not had the same preparation, so she cannot be expected to understand the signs.

Then she says, “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps.” It is usually assumed that she means that one little miracle could be considered a scrap, and perhaps she did, but she may also have meant that she has lived near the Jews long enough to pick up a few scraps of their faith. Certainly, at least, enough to know who Jesus is. She is not just a desperate mother who is reaching out to every possible solution for her daughter’s affliction; she is a mother who knows that this man is her only hope, and she is unwilling to accepts no for an answer when she believes that he can do it.

August 7, 2012 - Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22
Psalm 102:16-21, 29, 22-23
Matthew 14:22-36


We see such a contrast between the beginning of the first reading and the end. It begins with “no healing for you” and ends with “I will restore the tents of Jacob.” This means that there is no healing now, but there will be healing in the future. God has begun to punish Jerusalem, and he will not hold back his punishment. For 70 years, the people of Jerusalem will have to suffer the punishment that he sends, but the day will come when the punishment is ended.

If God immediately removed the punishment as soon as the people asked him to, it would be a sort of game. As soon as the enemy was at the gates, the people could repent of their sins, and God would have to send the enemy away. Actually, this would be fine. God would send the enemy away if the people would repent of their sins, but repentance does not come easily to a people who are unused to it. As soon as the enemy had left, they would begin to sin again. The repentance would only be a matter of words. True repentance is not so easily accomplished.

True repentance is all any parent wants to see. No matter what crime their child has committed, the punishment will be removed if there is true repentance. But no parent is willing to be played like a fool. To cancel every punishment at an insincere apology will teach the child all the wrong lessons. It would be wonderful, of course, if every offense were just a mere misunderstanding and a conversation could take the place of punishment, but this kind of parenting exists only in the imagination of non-parents. Sometimes children are disobedient liars. Why? Because we humans, ever since that fruit, have been disobedient liars. The threat of a punishment that is never carried out is useless. We will always be seeking second-chances, and soon we will plan our actions know that second-chances are cheap.

So God does punish Jerusalem for their sins, but he points beyond the punishment to hope. He has not stopped loving his people. He still intends that “You shall be my people, and I will be your God.” The punishment is to make them better. And it works. The Jews came back from exile with a far deeper understanding of religion than they had before.

August 6, 2012 - Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 9
2 Peter 1:16-19
Mark 9:2-10


Today we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. There are two central lessons for us to learn from the Transfiguration. The first is perhaps the more obvious: Jesus is God. He looked just like a normal man walking up the mountain, but, when they reach the top, his clothes become brilliant white and he shines as if the light in him is greater than the sun. He speaks to Moses and Elijah, who have not been around earth for a thousand years. A voice speaks from a cloud, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” This is the first lesson of the Transfiguration.

But just as Jesus has two natures, so there is another lesson. Nothing happened to Jesus that day that we do not hope for ourselves someday. Someday, we will speak with Moses and Elijah and all the Saints. Someday, we will be wearing spotless garments and a light from within us will shine brighter than the sun. Someday, we hope, God will say to us, “You are my beloved son (You are my beloved daughter) in whom I am well pleased.”

Just look around. Those are some very ordinary people. Look in a mirror, and you will see a very ordinary person. Someday all of us will be so beautiful that if we were to see now what we will be then we might fall down in worship. Either that or we will be so hideous that we would run away in fear. None of us, no person on earth, is going to remain ordinary. God has plans for us to be extraordinary, and we will fulfill those plans or fail miserably. No one will remain in this current middling state. Someday, we hope we will be just like Jesus standing on top of that mountain, as far as his human nature is concerned.

This is the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus became like us so that we could someday become like him. Everyone you meet today, the checkout girl at the grocery store, the man who cuts you off in traffic, the homeless woman you walk by on the street, every one of them has the potential to be transfigured. When you speak to your mother or father or husband or wife, you are speaking to someone who will someday, we hope, be like one of the gods of the old myths. You could not help but love them, and you cannot help but love them now if you could just see the potential that God sees when he looks at us.

August 5, 2012 - Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Exodus 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
Ephesians 4:17, 20-24
John 6:24-35


How many of you want to go to heaven? Do you want to go right now? This is an old joke; you have probably heard it before, but it contains an insight into how a lot of people think about heaven. There is this element of doubt in our minds. Even if we have a strong faith, the question remains: “What if all this is just make-believe? What if there is nothing waiting for me?” While we are unsettled in this way, it is difficult to really be anxious to find out.

Those of you who have heard me preach know that it is very rare to hear me tell a joke in a homily, but today I have another one: A man dies at the age of 100 and goes to heaven. He enjoys all the food and the games and wine. A month later his wife dies and he meets her at the gates. She asks if heaven really is so wonderful. He says, “It is. And if it were not for all of your oat bran and low cholesterol I could have been here 40 years ago!”

Is this what you think heaven is? A sort of party with free food and free drinks and lots of fun? This is how we describe heaven to children, but there comes a time when we have to grow up. If the joys of heaven were just more of the joys of earth, it would be terrible. Would you like to go to a party that just never ended? Imagine the most fun you have ever had in your life. Then imagine doing that for a year straight. Would that really be a good year? It would be a boring year. And heaven is not for a year; heaven is forever. What could possibly be interesting enough to keep us happy for 10,000 years? And when we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we have just as many days as when we had first begun. What will we do for a million years or a billion years or 10 trillion years? Anything we can imagine would be boring. I do not believe that hell needs any other punishment than crushing boredom. If you tell people to do whatever they want, forever is going to be a very, very long time.

And if heaven were just a continuation of the joys of this life, then God is rather unfair. It is very impressive, our first reading today. God provides food for 2 million people by making it fall out of the sky. This sign first makes us amazed at what God can do, but the question quickly follows: why does he not do that all the time? If he can work a miracle to make human life better, why would he ever stop working it? He can turn water into wine. Why do the rivers not run with wine then? He can heal the sick with a touch or a word of command. We often see Jesus doing this in the Gospel, but his ministry was only for 2 years. Why does he not heal every sick person ever?

There is so much suffering in the world that could be instantly cured if God decided to. The suffering of this world is mostly caused by human selfishness and the rest is caused by the dangers that are inherent to the world. They are not God’s fault. But why does he not use his power to fix everything as he demonstrates he can? Either he is not rich enough and would run out of food if he made it fall from the sky every day and everywhere, which we know is ridiculous, or he chooses not to. He chooses not to because we humans were made for something more than food or healing.

The world would be very strange if for the years of this life God did not provide what we need and then provided it as soon as we reached heaven. What is the point in refusing a gift now that he will give to us then? There is no point. What would be the point in lacking something now, just so that it could be provided abundantly later? There is no point. So the common conception of heaven is boring and pointless. It must be wrong. There must be something more.

“Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Jesus is trying to get the people to look beyond the food to something more. He does not want us to be satisfied with a full belly. The something more, which will truly satisfy us, is love: the love of God and the love we have for each other.

It has been well said that God does not send anyone to hell, but people choose to go there. They get to the gates of heaven, and he says, “Welcome, this place is all about love.” And the person says, “Love? That’s not really my thing.” and walks away. Do not get to the threshold of heaven expecting your every selfish desire to be fulfilled. God will provide all we need, but the saints in heaven are not turned inward on themselves. Their last concern is what they need.

So we can start participating in the joys of heaven right here and now. In fact, if we ever hope to go to heaven we have to start now. St. Paul says: “Be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” He means that we should become like people enjoying heaven. We cannot experience the lesser joys of heaven here, but we can begin to experience the central joy of heaven: love. By loving God and loving each other, we will begin to experience heaven.

Let us begin right now: 8:30 am on this Sunday morning. Let us renew the spirit of our minds, letting go of our grip on the things of this earth, the material stuff that we think will make us happy. If we do this, we will be ready. When death comes, we will greet it like a friend; we will be anxious to continue what we have started here.

August 4, 2012 - Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 26:11-16, 24
Psalm 69:15-16, 30-31, 33-34
Matthew 14:1-12


The Gospel today contains a great example for us: Herod. He is a clear example of how not to live. We can learn a lesson from Herod if we are as little like him as possible.

Herod’s first problem was that he imprisoned a man who told him the truth. It was wrong of him to be living with the divorced wife of his brother. St. John the Baptist had the courage to say it, so Herod put him in prison. When some prophet of God warns us of our sins, our reaction should not be anger but thanks.

Herod’s second problem was the situation he got himself into. He was drinking at a party when his niece, who was his now stepdaughter, began dancing. I think we all know that she was not doing the foxtrot. Herod shows here a depth of debauchery. If he were praying instead of lusting after his stepdaughter, none of this would have happened.

Herod’s third problem was the oath he swore. He made a promise: “whatever you want, I will give you.” The principle here is simple: if you have ever promised to do something wrong, do not do it. We are never obligated to sin. We can never be justified in killing someone because we promised to.

Herod’s fourth problem was the guests who were present. He would not have killed John the Baptist if this were a small family party, but he does not want to lose face in front of his friends. Clearly he has the wrong kind of friends. Good friends help us do good. Bad friends do not. No one can be called a good friend if they are a cause of sin for us.

Most of us will never be in the exact position that Herod had got himself into, but we do know that bad decisions lead to more bad decisions until we stand before a crowd of people and have to decide whether to lose face in the sight of the world or make a terrible decision. Even at that last moment, Herod could have said “No.” All of his poor choices up to that point did not make him kill John the Baptist. Best of all is not to get to that point, but if we are at that point, let us be willing to lose the respect of the whole world rather than do evil.

August 3, 2012 - Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah 26:1-9
Psalm 69:5, 8-10, 14
Matthew 13:54-58


We have had particular reason lately to sympathize with Jeremiah and the other prophets who were condemned for their unpopular messages. In every age the prophetic word is despised. We love but we are accused of hate. We condemn no one, yet we are condemned as judgmental. We courageously say the obvious but unpopular truth, but are called phobic and fearful.

But we understand that it is no different than in the time of Jeremiah. He warned the people to follow the Lord lest their city be destroyed. They are angry that he would speak of their city being destroyed, as if his very point were not to prevent that from happening. He tries to save Jerusalem and is called the destroyer of the city. So too Jesus returns home. He teaches the people with wisdom and mighty signs of power, proving that he is not just the son of a carpenter, but the people take offense at him because the son of a carpenter should not be working miracles all over the country.

Evil tends to be all mixed up. Sometimes the devil accuses us of that very thing which we know we are guilty of and has power over us because he knows our sins, but often, it seems, the accusation is such mixed up nonsense that it would seem to have no power except that all the people agree that the nonsense is reason.

So a certain wicked man accused Blessed Theresa of Calcutta of not caring for the poor because she did not run for political office, he accused her of not caring for the dying because she did not provide medical care in the slums of Calcutta, he accused her of not respecting the people because she often baptized them. She did nothing he wanted her to do. She merely carried the dying poor from the gutters and streets to a home where she bathed their wounds and talked to them and brought them into fellowship with the Church, making them her brothers and sisters, from untouchable to children of God.

So too the Church is accused of hating women because she is opposed to drugs and surgeries that by their nature reveal a hatred of the female body. And she is accused of hating sex because we believe that sex is so important that it must begin with a solemn public ceremony binding the pair until death. The nonsense is repeated again and again, and people believe it.

August 2, 2012 - Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time (II)

Jeremiah 18.1-6
Psalm 146.1b-2, 3-4, 5-6ab Resp. 5a
Matthew 13.47-53


What does a potter do when a vase falls while they are making it? They take the clay and punch it and hit it and press it back into the humble ball that it began as, then they start over. There is a point when the vase starts to fall that the potter can just use a little pressure with their hands to correct the fault, but once the vase has fallen there is no point in simply trying to fix a little here or there.

But why did the vase fall in the first place? Was it the fault of a potter who did not know what they were doing? But the potter we are talking about is an expert. He is perfect. It was not the potter’s fault. Was it the fault of the clay, an imperfection in the material? But our potter made the clay. If the clay were faulty, what good would starting over be? If the clay were faulty, the only thing would be to throw it away.

But what if the clay had free will? Instead of responding instantly to the master’s touch, the clay resisted, insisted on going in some other direction. That would make the vase fall. The potter could be ever so gentle, but if the vase simply refuses to be guided by his hand, it will not become the work of art he has planned. It will collapse in on itself because it cannot stand without the potter’s support. Sure the potter could just give up trying to make a vase. If the potter would just settle for an ashtray like we used to make in elementary school, any lump of clay could get along in its disorder. But who is the lump to question the potter?

Is this true? Is God to us like a potter to a lump of clay? He says so. He says that he will not hold back destroying his work and beginning again if necessary. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand.” Except for one thing. Our potter loves us lumps of clay. He loves each of us. He will start over but he will not give up, at least not so long as there is hope. If my clay kept fighting me, I would throw it away, but even when we would give up on ourselves, God looks at us lumps and sees the magnificent vases that are possible.

August 1, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, bishop and doctor of the Church

Jeremiah 15:10, 16-21
Psalm 59:2-4, 10-11, 17-18
Matthew 13:44-46


The first parable we have today is about a dishonest person whom we can sympathize with. He finds a treasure, buries it again, and buys the field at a bargain price. He pays for the field, but is buying a treasure. So it is with us. We hope to receive happiness forever with the God who made us. How much is that worth? It is literally a priceless treasure. It is so valuable that no one would sell it because no possession compares. We can have this treasure at a bargain price. Eternal salvation is available, but we only have to pay for the field: a small part of the world. If we have to give up anything in this life, its value is nothing compared to the relationship with God we will gain.

The second parable is different. The sale is honest. There is no bargain. The merchant pays full price for the pearl of great price. He has to sell everything he has in order to buy it, but he does so gladly. Note that Jesus does not say that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl. He says that the Kingdom is like a merchant. Jesus is the merchant. We are the pearl. He is the one who sold everything to buy the pearl of great price. He is the one who can look at our soul and see the intrinsic value that made us worth dying for.

Jeremiah rejoiced when he devoured the words of the Lord. He had joy and happiness of heart. Why? “Because I bore your name, O Lord God of hosts.” But his joy is turned to sorrow again and despair because God is like a treacherous brook that has water one day and no water the next. You go back to the field that you just bought and start digging, but where is the treasure? It seems like we cannot count on God, but actually he is teaching us to count on him. When we first realize that God is our treasure, he seems within reach. If not, we would never rejoice. But when we reach out to grasp him, we realize that he is farther away than he seemed. He is leading us into deeper and deeper understanding of the value of the treasure. We cannot count on God to be where we want him to be, but we can count on him to be where we need him.