Archive for the ‘Homilies’ Category

I am slowly deciphering some of the written materials left by the late Msgr. William J. Awalt. For review and comments, they are being posted at my BLOGGER PRIEST site.


Msgr. Awalt was the pastor of St. Ann’s Church in NW Washington , DC for just over 30 years, retiring in the year 2000. I was honored to preach at the Mass celebrating his 60th anniversary as a priest in 2007. His pastorate was marked by a deep devotion to the Eucharist and a never-ending preoccupation with preaching the Gospel and teaching the Catholic faith.

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Why Does the Fire Go Out?

People have their reasons, but there is no good reason for leaving the Church.  The majority in the area where I reside are probably Baptist and/or Evangelical.  Some of these communities target Catholics and many Catholics marry non-Catholics.  Not understanding their own tradition, many Catholics are inordinately moved by the music and preaching in Protestant churches.  Catholic reformed rituals might not be regarded as very entertaining.  Much of the music we sing is criticized as trite and unmoving.  When we borrow Protestant hymns or sing Gospel, it is usually a pale imitation of what our separated brethren have to offer.  Music enshrines preaching.  Particularly in the African-American community, services can go hours.  The importance of the minister is measured by his musicality and his effectiveness as a preacher.  Our gravity is upon the formulae of liturgy, not upon preaching. 


Preachers and Priests, No Comparison?

Many priests were trained to keep homilies or sermons to ten minutes or less.  That is about the length of two or three MTV videos.  Time-wise, it cannot compare to the formation of the media or to the teaching sermons of our separated-brethren.  I knew one old man who went to Mass on Saturday night and to his wife’s Baptist church on Sunday.  He told me that he went to Mass for Holy Communion and to the Protestant church for good preaching.  This is a rather sad state of affairs.  Are we fully feeding our people?  Preaching outside the Catholic Church may be dynamic and meaningful; however, it is also fraught with religious error.

Sermons or Homilies?

I recall from preaching seminars that the priest should offer a homily based upon the Scriptures of the day.  This focus was understandable but I found the focus too narrow and absolutist.  The priest or deacon can preach upon the readings, the liturgical prayers themselves, upon the feast or memorial, or upon what his people (at that time and place) need to hear.  I had a vigorous dispute with a liturgist when I suggested catechetical sermons. It was and remains a contention of mine that many people stray to other faith communities because they really do not understand Catholicism and the full significance of the Eucharist.

Can Father Talk Too Long?

How long should the priest or deacon preach?  This depends upon many factors:

1.   What is the type of liturgy?

2.   What has to be said to make the message worthwhile?

3.   What is the capacity in patience and in comprehension of the listeners?

Given that Catholic sermons are usually shorter than Protestant counterparts, the priest might be able to amplify his instruction by linking his sermons from week to week.  He can also use the parish bulletin, special adult education and bible study, and invite people to use the cycle of readings themselves with missals they can take home.  If people look at the readings before Mass, their experience will not be cold when the priest or deacon speaks about them.  Instead of merely thinking about what Protestants have that we don’t, let us utilize our own strengths, the missal and the cycle of predetermined readings. 

Catholics might also do well to getting used to longer liturgies.  Of course, this runs counter to the Roman Rite tradition, known for being curter and more to the point than Eastern Rite liturgies and certain Evangelical Protestant services.  There is a basic dilemma with longer sermons, and that is the balance and rhythm of the Mass.  A long homily and a short Eucharistic prayer seems to switch the gravity away from the sacrament to the Word which is intended to dispose us for the sacrifice and Holy Communion.

I am concerning myself essentially with the Sunday homily.  Given work concerns and strained time issues, weekday Masses would probably have to remain little more than basic exhortations.  Such exhortations are similar to aspirations:  Jesus, Mary, Joseph save souls!  Do good and avoid evil!  Keep faith and hope alive!  Lord, have mercy on us!  God will not abandon you!

Messages Should Comfort and Challenge

Homilies more strictly revolve the Readings; however, sermons can touch upon all sorts of relevant topics.  Sermons might be moral exhortations, catechetical moments, inspiration rhetoric and stories, etc.  However, they should always connect the lesson, whatever the source, to the lives of the people listening.  The congregation should not be passive to the preaching but actively engaged.  A topic is explored, the message is ordered for coherence, examples or illustrations are made, and there is the immediate appliance.

The words used in preaching vary upon the setting.  When the clergyman marries a couple, he speaks about the joy and hopes of the couple.  He might also challenge them to keep the marital act free from the corruption of lust and artificial contraception.  However, many Catholic ministers are afraid to rock the boat.  When a priest or deacon officiates at a funeral, his words emphasize the consolations of faith to those who mourn, the promises of Jesus our gentle shepherd in regard to eternal life, and the need to go on with our lives.  Again, many Catholic ministers are afraid of the conflict that comes with challenging the congregation to see the death as a warning about their own mortality and the need to reform before it is too late.  Even evil men are temporarily canonized and little is said about Purgatory.  A number in the pews no longer even believe in Hell.  Sunday homilies are often pampering and grossly approving because many clergy are afraid of alienating the numbers in the pews and depleting the money gathered into collection baskets. 

Need for Courage and Trusting Providence

I knew a priest in the South who tried to integrate the two churches he pastured, one white and the other black.  White parishioners complained to the bishop and the man found himself stripped of his parish, reprimanded for making trouble, and reassigned to a teaching position in a college far away.  Decades later he was still not allowed to return to parish ministry.  But God writes straight with our crooked lines.  This priest ended up teaching seminarians.  He inspired another generation of men in ministry to struggle for social justice. 

How often have we heard certain priests speak about artificial contraception, abortion, divorce and remarriage, or even about fornication and cohabitation?  Some men in ministry are afraid.  But what chance do God’s people have when their shepherds are passive and fearful?  The late Pope John Paul II echoed our Lord’s words of wisdom, “Be not afraid.”

It may be that the priest shortage and the clergy scandals have drained the energy resources and joy of our priests.  This needs to be remedied.  The core message of the Gospel is not exhausted or angry.  Priests who show enthusiasm or excitement about the Catholic faith and Gospel are the most effective.  It is also a mentality which breeds vocations.  Young men do not want to join a confraternity of tired old men who only go on because of cold duty and obligation.  We have to be on fire with the faith if we want those in the pews to ignite!  It is very hard for a priest to give what he does not have.  God’s servants should be so in love with God that this love spills over in their service of others.  Preaching should reflect a life of prayer and a drive to save souls!

The preaching should move God’s people to greater faith and acts of service to our Lord and neighbor.  It assists everyone to better understand the Eucharist and disposes us to receive the Blessed Sacrament.  We take what we have been given in Word and sacrament as we go out in mission to the world around us.

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June 28, 2009 – Sunday, Week 13

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 / Psalm 30 / Mark 5:21-43


Death is a consequence of sin or rebellion. It is on the human side of the equation. We are told that “God formed man to be imperishable.” But God would not abandon his people to sin and death. He would break the devil’s hold upon us. He, who was rich, made himself poor for our sakes. Jesus became one of us to save us. Just as we see in the Gospel, our Lord wants to bring healing and life. We beseech his help in prayer, “Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me: O LORD, be my helper. You changed my mourning into dancing….”

The case of the synagogue official Jairus is evidence that some of the Jewish religious leaders placed faith in Jesus, albeit his daughter’s illness and death gave the incident a particular urgency. The insertion of the secondary story about the hemorrhaging woman is also significant, particularly in terms of our Lord’s overtures to women and the alienated. The Gospel selection is important as a collaboration of several Catholic teachings.

While the characters make direct overtures to Christ, the two incidents speak about Christian prayer and petition:

1. We can pray both for ourselves and for others. Some contest the Catholic view that we can pray for others and insist upon a radical personal relationship with Christ. The woman seeks healing for herself, but the synagogue leader sought healing for another, his daughter.

2. We can pray or intercede for both the living and the dead. Jesus was willing to go to Jairus’ house even after the news came to them that the little girl was dead. It is also interesting that Jairus still seems to believe that Jesus can make a difference.

The two stories are quite interesting. Both require a little defining. There are cultural elements we might miss.

The poor sick woman believed that if she just touched the tip of Christ’s clothes, she could be healed. She has suffered for years and none of the doctors could help her. No doubt she had spent a small fortune and only got worse. She touches Christ’s cloak and she is immediately healed. Jesus turns around and asks who has touched him? She comes forward “in fear and trembling”. According to Jewish law, her issue of blood made her perpetually unclean. This was detrimental to all social congress and even marriage. She saw herself as cursed. Touching Jesus would make him unclean and was a criminal act. But Jesus does not condemn her. Rather, he commends her faith and says that it has saved her. Now she can finally take her rightful place in the community. He tells her to go in peace.

The story of the father and his dead daughter is particularly poignant. People are making a commotion at the house, weeping and wailing. These were not necessarily people who loved and cared about the child. These were probably professional mourners. The Jews believed that no one should die unlamented. Some made a business of mourning tragedy and death. They knew the little girl was dead. But Jesus insisted that she was only sleeping. They mocked him, not only because they thought they knew better but because they hope to get paid. If she was not dead, they would get no reimbursement. The closest thing I have seen to this practice in our culture is in regard to certain funerals in the African-American community. Doing many funerals, I noticed that some used a woman dressed as a nurse. Another lady would sit up front, wail loudly and then collapse. Poor woman I thought, but then I saw the same routine in several funerals— often the same pair, sometimes others. I doubt any money traded hands; I suspect that people were moved by such expressions and made sure to invite the one and maybe employ the nurse. Unlike the Gospel story, all the dead for whom I have offered funerals did not get up. Our Lord tells the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Not only does the child get up, she walks around. She is alive and perfectly well. Jesus says to give her something to eat. This is another sign of life, just as with our risen Lord eating a fish along the shore with his apostles. The dead do not eat, only the living.

Jesus makes possible our life beyond the grave. This past week a number of celebrities have passed away. Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed MacMahon died. He was a decorated Veteran and successful announcer. Okay, he went through several marriages and had his money troubles, but he was also a Catholic. I remember seeing him years ago with his friend the late Father Hartke at Catholic University. When it came to charity work he was often very generous with his time and talent. I am reminded of Cardinal McCarrick’s words, “Charity covers a multitude of sins.” Rest in Peace. Farrah Fawcett also died. A lot of us who were teenage boys in the 1970’s had her poster on the wall. She was a pretty girl. The media easily exploits pretty girls. Sometimes they let themselves get used. Ryan O’Neal had been with her for decades. He said if she would wake up, he would marry her. She did not awaken, at least not in this world. There is sadness about this. Despite his own addictions and troubles O’Neal stayed by her and suffered in her hospital room. The last few years she proved in several films that she really could act. She made a real contribution to our appreciation of abuse in our society. She showed certain courage in fighting her cancer. The image that will remain with me will not be her poster, but that of her praying her rosary beads. Sickness and death can strip away all that does not matter. A priest came to her bedside and gave her the last rites. Rest in Peace. Then there was the tragic loss of Michael Jackson. We were the same age. No, I could not begin to do the Moonwalk. Maybe it was all too much for him and he should have slowed down? He was an incredibly gifted but also wounded man. I do not know what religion he claimed. He started out Baptist, became a Jehovah Witness and purportedly ended up as a Moslem. But his life was so bizarre at times, who can know for sure? He was half a billion dollars in debt and had devastated his handsome face. Sometimes he forgot modesty when he danced. But there was also a peculiar childlike innocence about him. Were the people with whom he associated really his friends? Like Elvis Presley before him, could the right friends have saved him? It is too late now. All we can do is commend him to the Lord. Rest in Peace.

None of these people would classify as saints worthy of canonization, but they were sinners like us who need the mercy and healing of God. It is not our place to judge them. We leave that to God. What is left to us is prayer.

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June 26, 2009 – Friday, Week 12

Genesis 17:1, 9-10, 15-22 / Psalm 128 / Matthew 8:1-4


God tells Abram to walk blamelessly in his presence. Like a well designed shoe, the Psalm fits the elderly patriarch perfectly: “Blessed are you who fear the LORD, who walk in his ways! … Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home.” Some years have passed and now Abram is 99 years old and his wife is 90. Throughout misfortune and struggle, he has kept faith with God. Now, God makes his covenant with Abram and gives him a new name, Abraham. Despite his wife’s age, now renamed Sarah, God promises a son through whom nations will arise. It is a pretty tall order. Abraham is naturally a bit incredulous, but while he questions, he does not argue. God promises not to forget Ishmael but insists that his covenant will be through Isaac. (Curiously, the name changes really bring no change in meaning, “exalted father” and “princess”.)

God comes across as quite outrageous. Abram has been given the promise that his progeny will endure, become countless and a great nation. But he is old. His wife is old. If the rendering for his age is accurate, he should be preparing for death, not fatherhood. But the gift of children is the chief way that God rewards his people. Further, any claim to a divine calling has yet to be ratified by a child of promise. Unless there is an heir, Abram’s decision to separate his tribe from the others and his claims of God speaking to him become suspect.

Notice that there is a two-fold movement. God comes down from his heaven, but Abraham is also called out to walk with the Almighty. There is never once the illusion that they are equals. But there is a sense that the two walk together. It parallels the scene in the primordial garden when God summons Adam: “Where are you?” We read that God moved about the garden like the blowing wind. However, in that case Adam hid himself because along with Eve, he had eaten from the Forbidden Tree. Adam had sinned grievously and knew he was not worthy to be seen by God. Of course, nothing was hidden from God. Both as blessing and punishment, Eve would become the mother of all the living, knowing the pain of childbirth. Abraham, like all men since, was born in sin; but God calls him nonetheless to “walk in [his] presence and be blameless.” The time for hiding is over. The God who created man from the dust of the earth can certainly make a barren woman fruitful. God restores his covenant which will one day culminate in the new covenant of Christ. In Jesus, men and women can truly know the forgiveness of sins and walk in holiness before the Lord.

Jesus did a great deal of walking, as did those who regularly followed him and those who sought him out. Of course, in Jesus God was not simply a voice or the blowing wind, but the incarnate deity. He called sinners to himself and made possible the forgiveness of sins. Today, we know his presence, not by sight but by faith. We are all called to know and to love him. Like the men on the road to Emmaus, we are to walk with the Lord.

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June 25, 2009 – Thursday, Week 12

Genesis 16: 1-12; 15-16 / Psalm 106 / Matthew 7:21-29


Given our sensibilities about right and wrong, there is probably a lot about the first reading that we find blatantly offensive. We have to approach the story by appreciating that this is a most primitive period in the history of salvation. God has called a people to himself; but, for the most part, they are much like the pagan tribes around them. They believe that there are no gods to compare with theirs, but even a strict monotheism is still in the making. Morals are pretty much what the ruling patriarch decides. Divine favor and rewards revolve around this life; there is little talk about an afterlife. Now, add to this that we can only perceive the divine will (at that time) through the prism of their eyes. They were children just making the first steps to real faith.

Sarai feels ashamed about being barren and has apparently despaired of having a son. She does something that we as Christians find hard to stomach. She gives Abram her Egyptian maidservant, literally a slave, for the sole purpose of impregnating her and claiming her child. After Hagar gets pregnant, Sarai interprets the poor woman’s joy as incrimination against her. She abuses the pregnant woman so badly that she tries to run away. God stops her along the way and tells her to go back and to take the abuse, but to take solace from the fact that she is going to have one badass of a son. Sarai berates her husband for the situation she orchestrated. The whole business is not unlike a seamy soap opera. One could almost envision the whole cast of characters on one of those daytime tell-all television programs. Add to this what comes next, Sarai getting pregnant and having her own son and one might imagine Montel offering a DNA test to be shared on the next show. No doubt there would be a cat-fight between the ladies, too.

All this hardly sounds respectable or how providence should proceed. It is messy and scandalous. But why should the beginning of the story be any different from the ending. The world Jesus entered was also filled with obscenity and oppression. Such is the reality of the human lot. The real miracle is that God should lower himself so much to care about us at all. The eventual pregnancy of Sarai was highly improbable. In the Gospels, the pregnancy of Elizabeth was also unlikely. But, as we see especially in the Virgin Mary, God can make the impossible possible. As the Psalm relates, “Who can tell the mighty deeds of the LORD, or proclaim his praises?”

Abram, later renamed Abraham, is the ancient father of faith. Jesus tells us that genuine faith must be more than either mouth service or deeds to be seen by others. He says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Notice that he gives voice to the lost souls. They call him Lord and even admit to performing prophesy, exorcism and other “mighty deeds”. It may be that God did manifest his power through them. The Church tells us that even a priest in mortal sin can absolve the sins of others and offer the sacrifice of the Mass, even if he is personally guilty of sacrilege in doing so. God takes care of his people, even with the most unworthy of instruments. Truly obeying God means to surrender ourselves to him. Our words and actions should emerge from a living faith or internal disposition of obedience and humility. God knows who we really are, past the fancy rhetoric, sensational works and possible self-deception. Our Lord knows who we are under the skin. If we belong to him, we will weather all the storms of life and find ourselves safely with him when our pilgrimage is over.

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Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8c-9 / Psalm 12 / Ephesians 3:8-12, 14-19 / John 19:31-37


Although Paul humbly called himself the least of the saints or the children of God, he felt privileged to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. All that was hidden and yet prophesied was realized in Christ. Revelation was given, not to one nation only or to a disconnected few, but was “made known through the church”. The Church remains the guardian of the deposit of faith. Open to all people with faith, she is both the interpreter and dispenser of this truth or wisdom. Because of Jesus, we can truly approach and know God as “Our Father” and be strengthened by his Spirit. Jesus lives in us and in our discipleship. Our Lord showers grace upon his people of faith. He fills us with the divine presence. As the revelation of the Father, Jesus enables us to better know and to love God. It is staggering what Jesus has done for us.

Israel or the People of God were looked upon as God’s child. (Verse two is missing where reference is made to Israel’s infidelity and flirting with false worship.) God would not disown his own, no matter how terribly they forgot him. Ephraim was the strongest of the tribes of Israel. God sought to draw him to himself, not like a slave or an animal, but with bands of love. God had every reason to send down fire as he did upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but he would not. No matter how confused and disobedient, the Father showed compassion and gentleness to his infant child, his people. He would forgive them and send them one who would show them the way by his example and by taking upon himself the price of their rebellion.

Men would not judge us as mercifully as does the Almighty. God could have left us in our sins, but in the course of time, he sent his Son to save us. Our elder brother Christ has suffered all things for our sakes. The Psalm exhorts the great truth that was realized in Jesus: “God indeed is my savior; I am confident and unafraid. My strength and my courage is the LORD, and he has been my savior.”

The Gospel gives us the scene where Jesus is found dead on the cross. A soldier pierces his side with a lance. Blood and water immediately flowed out. This scene is connected with the sacraments, poured out so that we might have a share in Christ’s life. Jesus is the water of eternal life. His is the saving blood of the new Lamb. Jesus dies once-and-for-all. He can never suffer or die again. But the sacraments draw us into the paschal mystery. The mystery of the Sacred Heart is intricately connected to the sacraments, particularly the Mass which makes both Jesus and his saving activity, i.e. his sacrifice, present.

As the Council of Trent taught, and Vatican II reaffirmed, Jesus suffered and died at our hands. The accumulative sins of men from all times and places targeted the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His was and is the love which would not stop loving the very ones who betrayed and murdered him.

The only way that we can make reparation for our forgetfulness and wrongs is to offer ourselves with him. We may not be perfect, but we offer all that we are and will be. Jesus is the sin offering. He is the one who makes true satisfaction for sin. He turns our act of rebellion into his saving oblation. Will we ever really understand the incredible mercy of God?

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June 18, 2009 – Thursday, Week 11

2 Corinthians 11:1-11 / Psalm 111 / Matthew 6:7-15


Paul pokes a little fun at the way that the Corinthians tolerate others by asking them to put up with him. If belief in the Lord, his resurrection and his desire for our unity with him can be reckoned as foolishness, then Paul views himself as the chief fool for Christ. Paul was a Jew and a Pharisee, he knew well the commandments and the first among them was our obedience and worship of the one true God. It was such from the very beginning: “You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God… (Exodus 20:3-5). Here he translates this relationship to that of the Christian believer and Jesus. The economy of images (pictures and statues) changes because of the incarnation; there is no conflict with monotheism because while Christ is the divine Second Person of the Trinity, God is still ONE (nature). Paul loves and cares for them from the perspective of God. God will not share them. Paul sowed the Word among them and he feels a continuing responsibility for them. He draws upon the marriage analogy with Christ as the groom and the Church as his bride. They need to remain faithful to the covenant that God has made with them. He would have them face the Lord unblemished by idolatry or scandal. Indeed, Paul regards such things as spiritual adultery. Citing Eve and the serpent, he is concerned that the devil has corrupted some of the Corinthians and their notions of faith. Today, we must still be alert to false prophets, counterfeit gospels and fake depictions of Christ. He contends that he gave his preaching without cost. His needs were answered by another community who sent him to be among them. This is also a modern concern, where some ministers become rich by their ministry and avoid saying things which might empty out the collection plate. Like Paul, our boast should only be in the truth of Christ. Paul says he may not be the greatest speaker, but he is in full possession of the truth. He preaches not for gain but because, as he says, he loves them. As a priest who has sometimes seen members of the flock drawn away by mega-churches and evangelical churches, I can well relate to Paul. We might not always have the best music, or much in the way of entertainment and dancers, and even our preaching can become either boring or upsetting to listeners; but the Catholic Church, apart from all the accidentals, has the true and complete Gospel and the Eucharist. The substance alone should suffice to keep believers within the house that Jesus directly established and for which Paul preached so long ago. There really is nowhere else to go. As the Psalmist relates, so too we can sing, “I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart in the company and assembly of the just.”

Turning to today’s Gospel, Jesus would have us be mindful of our words at prayer. He does two things in the reading: he gives us his own formal prayer as our own and he gives us a model for prayer. Indeed, the Our Father has within itself all the various types of prayer: adoration or praise, contrition or sorrow, thanksgiving, and supplication or petition.

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June 17, 2009 – Wednesday, Week 11

2 Corinthians 9:6-11 / Psalm 112 / Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Much of the Christian life revolves around two themes: imitation and transformation. Here Paul urges that believers should be as generous in their outlook and behavior as God. The true Christian can neither be a miser nor a cynic. God has showered us with his gifts, most especially with the self-donation of his only-Son, so that we might know forgiveness and everlasting life. Our Lord held nothing back. We must also devote ourselves entirely to our vocation as believers. Our disposition for grace and our capacity for holiness depend upon our self-abandonment to God’s will and the life of charity. It is in this sense that the Gospel works in a seemingly backward fashion. Those who would be rich in material things, try to make only safe investments with suitable profit. The miser hides away his money and puts it to no good use. He thinks of himself but is negligent of his neighbor. Indeed, he may illustrate disdain for the poor. In contrast, we are taught that it is in giving that we receive. I attended a Christian political conference a number of years ago, and a speaker who really did represent the radical right wing, told us: “The poor are poor because this is what they want to be!” He opposed all forms of welfare or social services. As far as he was concerned, the politics of social justice had spawned a class of dependent “never-do-wells” who were parasites to our nation. I attended the conference because of shared pro-life sympathies with many of the organizers and attendants. But I did not share such a negative view toward the poor. Indeed, there were a number of lesser disconnects: anti-alcohol and anti-gambling polemics, in particular. I don’t drink or gamble, but those are not my issues and I would be hesitant to take BINGO away from senior citizens.

Returning to the reading, the believer has the solace of knowing that the victory is ours in Christ. We do not have to allow the problems of the day to overwhelm us. Fear and anxiety are tools of the evil one. Paul would have us trust in God. As absurd as it sounds, we are to take confidence that God will give us what we need. Of course, what we need and what we “think” we need may not always be the same. We have faith in the Lord and he will give value to our works. If we give generously of ourselves, we will also be more thankful for what God has given us and how he works through us.

The so-called nonsense of Christ, exemplified in yesterday’s Gospel, is seen in our Lord’s hyperbole and hard sayings. Here too there is generosity. If someone would steal from you, give them more besides. If someone should strike you, give him the other cheek as well. It is not enough to tolerate an enemy but we must love him, too. The message of the Gospel is more than a moral code. The Gospel today does not dismiss works or “righteous deeds”. Rather, it insists upon them. However, they are to be done so that our heavenly Father may recognize his Son in us. What we say and do becomes a manifestation of God’s goodness. We want to be rich in his sight, not in the eyes of men.

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June 16, 2009 – Tuesday, Week 11

2 Corinthians 8:1-9 / Psalm 146 / Matthew 5:43-48


The collection taken to assist the struggling church of Jerusalem was viewed by Paul as a testament to the unity of the whole Church and the charity that must exist among brothers and sisters in faith. Jew or Gentile was not significant; the need and their common faith in Christ took precedence. The generosity of Macedonia was held up as an example to the Corinthians. God’s favor or grace could be mediated between the members and communities within the Church. Despite the troubles they were facing, they could still remember the struggle of others.

The measure of such generosity is understood within the terms of sacrifice. I recall the story of an African woman whose people were facing starvation. She was given a small ration of bread but there was no milk for her small baby. She would take the bread and carefully chew it in her mouth. Then she would literally take the food from her own mouth and nourish her infant. One day they found her dead with the baby crying in her arms. She starved to death so that her child might have a chance to live. Similarly, our Lord laid down his life so that we might live. He was safe in his heaven and could have abandoned us. But such was his love that he would endure suffering and death on our behalf. It is this generosity of God which we are to live out in our concern for others. The Macedonians supposedly gave, not because they were required to do so, but because the generous spirit of God was part of their own identity. It was second nature to them. Such willingness to give often takes us by surprise, especially given how grasping and self-preoccupied men might become. Endorsing the work of Titus and others, the Corinthians were also beseeched to freely practice their faith with charity and generosity. What the psalmist says aptly applies to the Lord and those who would imitate him: “Who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets captives free.”

In a few weeks my parish will have a Holy Land vendor sell his goods after weekend Masses. The money supports the Christian families in Bethlehem. Their numbers have dwindled. They face terrible hardships and prejudice. Tourism and the numbers making pilgrimage are way down. Because many of us cannot go there, they are trying to come to us. Our generosity makes possible the continued presence of Christians in the land where it all began.

Generosity is one thing, but what the Gospel asks of us might sound like madness. Loving your enemies and praying for those who hurt us is not the way the world works. It would be far easier to curse and damn those we hate. There is no way to explain away the admonitions of Christ. Imagine the person you love more than anyone else in the world. Now, how would you feel if someone hurts him or her— or worse! How do you forgive? Given what we did to Jesus, how could he forgive us? Maybe we are not where we should be yet, but I suspect that God is not finished with those who try to love and forgive as he does. Spiritual perfection may not come in a moment, but maybe right now it is enough to dispose ourselves to God’s transformative grace. Help us Lord, to be more and more like your Son.

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June 12, 2009 – Friday, Week 10

2 Corinthians 4:7-15 / Psalm 116 / Matthew 5:27-32


When we think of the incarnation, our thoughts turn immediately to the miracle of God becoming a man in Jesus Christ. God entered human history. But we should always take store of why God did this and all the repercussions of this mystery. God became a human being that men and women might share in something of the divinity. As the first reading tells us, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, and the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.” We have become temples of the Holy Spirit, new Christs, a people imbued with the grace of God. This truth and reality changes everything. Our response to the troubles of the world and the evil of men is neither despair nor vengeance. We find solidarity with the passion of Christ. We have not been abandoned. Jesus knew what it meant to be mortal. He experienced first-hand what suffering and dying was about. However, he would not stay dead and promised us a full share in his risen life. We offer ourselves with the Lord. We manifest something of his life and work “in our mortal flesh”.

Christianity is a religion which squarely deals with the question of suffering. It cannot be white-washed away. We are consoled by knowing that life has a purpose and that death is not all there is. Jesus was betrayed. Like the psalmist, we too know might think that “No man is dependable.” Jesus suffered. Again, we might cry out, “I am greatly afflicted!” Nevertheless, we continue to keep faith alive. We believe. Jesus died. The Father did not directly desire the torture and murder of his Son; however, he did desire fidelity. Jesus is faithful to the Father even when it demanded the cross. God wants us to be faithful, too. The Psalm states: “Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.”

Jesus took upon himself our humanity and this gives a deeper meaning to the human body. We have souls, but we are bodies. The Gospel addresses sexual conduct, marriage, adultery and divorce. These are matters of the body because neither angels nor the saints of heaven celebrate any marriage other than that of the Lamb. We must treat ourselves (our bodies) with respect in accordance with natural and divine positive law. Jesus dismisses the Mosaic writ of divorce and insists that marriage must be until the death of a spouse. The exception “unlawful” here is sometimes mistranslated as “adultery”. More than likely, the exception is INCEST, meaning that no true marriage existed at all. Marriage must be embraced, “for better or worse” just as Jesus embraced his calling in the world.

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Acts 11:21b-26; 13:1-3 / Psalm 98 / Matthew 5:20-26


Stories spread quickly about the resurrected Jesus. Initially focused upon Jews, the power of the Good News could not be contained. Reaching the ears of the Gentiles, the Gospel quickly penetrated their hearts and minds. Ironically, it was the stoning of Stephen (for which Saul of Tarsus shared culpability) that drove many Jewish believers into the more distant Gentile territories. Many encountered by these witnesses were moved by their testimony and wanted to be part of the Christian community. Jewish converts, themselves, were not sure what to make of this surprising turn of events. Barnabas was sent to Antioch for an appraisal of the situation and to give needed guidance. He confirmed their faith and rejoiced that divine grace could so transform and give hope to Jew and Gentile alike. A good man, he saw in them the same Spirit of God which filled him. Not bigoted against the extension of Christ’s dispensation to an alien people, Barnabas wanted both to take advantage of this fertile field and to be edified by their faith. Truly as our Psalm celebrates, “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

He sought out Paul (Saul of Tarsus), bringing him to Antioch. They spent a year teaching and praying with the infant church there. Given Paul’s conversion, it was no doubt also a time for him to grow in the faith, although he was a learned Jew and Pharisee. I suspect many Jews in Jerusalem were also somewhat relieved to see him go, given his past history as one who persecuted them. Antioch provided a fresh environment. Growing at a surprising rate, believers were first called CHRISTIANS in Antioch. Acknowledging Jewish roots, the new term signified something radical; Christianity was no deviant sect of Judaism. It was something significant and unique to itself.

A list of names of the prophets and teachers are given, not unlike the naming of the apostles by Jesus. The Church would take great store in such lists of names. Indeed, what we see here would be a nucleus for what we call APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION. Men were called to ministry and they in turn ordained others. A pattern “similar” to ordination is in this text: “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, completing their fasting and prayer, they laid hands on them and sent them off.” They are sent to continue their missionary work.

Jesus speaks in the Gospel about the importance of forgiveness and mercy. If we forgive as Christ forgives, then the Father will see something of his Son in us and give us a share in his Son’s reward. Our Lord tells his disciples that their righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees if they want a share of his kingdom. We see where this is leading in the first reading where Saul of Tarsus, a privileged and learned Pharisee, must set aside his strict customs and pride, to associate with a people he once regarded as dogs and blasphemers. Christians have forgiven him; now he must become a minister of reconciliation, too. It may be that Jesus hoped many of his number would follow suit.

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June 10, 2009 – Wednesday, Week 10

2 Corinthians 3:4-11 / Psalm 99 / Matthew 5:17-19


What Paul says about the ministries will always find realization in the Church. God uses weak human instruments to manifest his power and will. We may have various talents, but these are gifts from God. The good we do is really the work of God. This is true of any disciple, but takes on a special significance for those in ordained ministries. The minister of the new covenant should not worry about titles or the esteem of men. I knew a wonderful old priest who was honored by the bishop in being named a Monsignor. The poor fellow graciously accepted the tribute but seemed embarrassed by the attention he was receiving. He insisted afterwards on being called “Father” and refused to use his ranking. He told us that the word FATHER meant more to him because he saw himself as a spiritual father for his sons and daughters among the People of God. He preferred to serve others over being served. He found satisfaction in the intimacy of his spiritual relationship which reflected something of God’s fatherhood to his people. Through the vocation of holy orders, no matter if called “Father” or “Reverend” or “Pastor” or “Monsignor”, it is not the letter or label that matters, but the spirit. These men are given a special character upon their souls, configuring them in a unique way to Christ. They are empowered to forgive sins; to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass; to consecrate the Eucharist; and to anoint for healing with the oil of the sick. They are special servants of the Spirit. This Spirit gives life to a new people who are granted rebirth and grace. Salvation comes through the Jews. It is a glorious story. But, how that history culminates in Christ and the Church is even more wonderful.

The Gospel admits to no breech between the old law and prophets with the new dispensation of Christ. Rather, Christ and his saving work is the fulfillment of all that was promised. The Church is that holy mountain, that new Zion or Jerusalem, the “breaking in” of the kingdom of God into our world. His ministers or priests obediently extend the ministry of Christ around the world and through the centuries.

Ministers of the new covenant offer worship in “spirit and truth”. Jesus makes possible our approach to the Father. As the Psalm says, “Extol the LORD, our God, and worship at his footstool; holy is he!” If God could answer his Jewish priests who offered the fruits of the earth, think how much more he will respond to those who offer the oblation of his Son. “Extol the Lord, our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for holy is the LORD, our God.”

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