19 March 2023

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Lent - 19 March 2023

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

There is much that might be said about the Gospel passage Mother Church presents to us today; indeed, it could take hours to mine the depths of its riches. However, let us content ourselves this morning with focusing on the action of Christ Jesus in relation to that man born blind.

Saint John tells us the Lord “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes” (John 9:6). This seems a bizarre gesture to us, perhaps even one that is more than a little rude, even an invasion of personal space. Something more is happening here, though, as both the Evangelist and the Lord draw us back by it to the Book of Genesis, which “recounts using the symbol of dust from the ground, fashioned and enlivened by God’s breath,” to create man (cf. Genesis 2:7). In fact, ‘Adam’ means ‘ground’ and the human body was in effect formed of particles in the soil. By healing the blind man Jesus worked a new creation.”[1]

Duccio (d. 1311), Healing of the Man Born Blind

Here we see that “in his preaching the Lord Jesus often makes use of the signs of creation to make known the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.”[2] He does so because, as creatures made of both body and soul, we need physical reminders of the presence of God; intellectual understanding alone is not enough for us. This is why small children seemingly have to touch everything as they learn about the world around them; it is the same with us as we seek to learn about the Kingdom of God

At any rate, although in a dissimilar way, Jesus wishes to work a new creation in us, as well; he wishes to remove our spiritual blindness brought about by sin – both the original sin and our own personal sin – so we might look upon the beautiful radiance of his Face.


He began this work of his in us in Baptism, when he washed each of us in the waters of rebirth and enlightened the eyes of our minds and hearts. This is why, when we emerged from those waters, we were given the baptismal candle, “a sign that helps us to understand what happens in the Sacrament. When our lives are enlightened by the mystery of Christ, we experience the joy of being liberated from all that threatens the full realization” of dwelling forever in the house of the Lord (cf. Psalm 23:6).[3]


When Saint Augustine reflected on the healing of the blind man in so visceral a way, he saw clear allusions to the Sacrament of Baptism.[4] Here is something we cannot forget: “in the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us.”[5] He does so through the physical things of this world and through the power of his words because he knows what it is to be human.


In that encounter with the blind man, we see that “Jesus’ use of materials – spit, mud, water – underscores the materiality of this healing sign and subtly connects it with the incarnation. Just as Jesus’ flesh embodies and reveals his divinity, so also his perceptible signs disclose his divine identity and work.”[6] So it is also with the Sacraments.


When receiving the Sacraments, some are surprised or frustrated that they are not instantly made perfect in holiness, that they do not immediately “produce every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). We ought not grow impatient with Jesus or with ourselves.


Just as Jesus healed the man of his blindness in several steps – spitting, touching, and washing – so also do the Sacraments work gradually in us. Sometimes it seems they even work imperceptibly in us until, looking back after many years, we can notice a closer conformity to the heart of Christ Jesus. Most people awake gradually from the darkness of night and need some time before they become fully awake; in a similar way, we often wake only gradually from the darkness of sin and only open our eyes slowly to the light of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:14).


As we journey with the Lord toward his Passion in these remaining days of Lent, let us not be afraid to allow him touch us, to take us by the hand, and lead us to “restful waters” where he can make us a new creation and enlighten us to look with wondrous love upon his luminous Face. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 March 2008.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1151.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 3 April 2011.

[4] Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44.2.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1504.

[6] Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015), 173.

12 March 2023

Homily - The Third Sunday of Lent - 12 March 2023

The Third Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The more I consider the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well the more I wonder how such an encounter with Jesus might take place in the context of our present culture. It seems as if many Americans – if not most – are actively searching for something by which to be offended presuming the worst of intentions in each other and reading more into the words and actions of others than may be warranted.

As but one simple illustration of what I mean, consider what would happen today if the Lord Jesus correctly said to an American woman, “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). Would she recognize the truth of his words and answer, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” or would she instead yell back demanding he not judge her (John 4:19)? And lest I be accused of sexism, the situation would be much the same if Jesus said to an American man, “you have had five wives, and the one you have now is not your wife.” In either case, would there be an acceptance of the truth of his words, or would there instead be shouts of protest and a string of excuses and justifications for violations of the moral law?

Why did Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman unfold so differently than would likely be the case in our today? The difference lies in the woman’s honesty; it can be found in her confession of her sinful situation. Whereas most Americans today feign contentment by saying such things as “I’m okay, you’re okay” and “God loves me the way I am,” the Samaritan woman recognized the restlessness in her heart and knew something must change if she was to find the happiness she desired.[1] What does this mean?

She knew the Lord called her to something greater, to something that would satisfy the deepest desires of her heart. She knew she could not satisfy these desires on her own; she had tried, and failed, five times over. She did not push away this necessary conversion, nor did she grumble against it (cf. Exodus 17:3); rather, she recognized the love of God that had been poured into her heart at that moment and she accepted his love (cf. Romans 5:5). This is why she could say of Jesus, “He told me everything I have done,” and could say so without taking offense at him (John 4:39; cf. Matthew 13:57). Can we say the same? Would we take offense at Jesus if he spoke so honestly about the sinful situations in our lives?

Building on an insight of Saint Augustine, Saint Bonaventure saw in the woman’s five husbands “the five heavy cravings of the senses,” “the five carnal senses, who ruled over her like a husband.”[2] The first husband, he said, represented taste or gluttony; the second, touch or lust; the third, smell, by which he meant a life of ease and comfort which leads to sloth; the fourth, sight or greed because of envy; and the fifth, lying and gossiping.

But what of that sixth man, the man with whom she lived who was not her husband? In this man Saint Bonaventure saw “error, which seduces and leads the soul astray.”[3] We might not all live in adulterous relationships, but we surely have all been seduced by error and our senses by giving way to the sins of gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, lying, and gossiping.

When the Lord Jesus approaches us in the silence of our hearts, in the Sacred Scriptures, or even in the words of another to reveal the secret of our sin, what is our response to him? Do we reject him? Do close our ears and our hearts to him? Do we honestly confess our sinfulness and reject the error of our ways so that his love might well up within our hearts through his forgiveness?

When the Samaritan woman heard the voice of Jesus, she did not harden her heart, but allowed it to be softened by his words of truth, painful though they surely were (cf. Psalm 95:8). She was not so proud as to presume he spoke to offend her; she was not so proud as to take offense at him. Instead, she perceived in his words a summons to happiness and healing.

In the example of this woman, we see that “preaching does not bring about faith without the consent of the will and the will does not give its consent unless God kindles a spark in it.”[4] As it was with the woman at the well, so it is with us: in the waters of baptism, each of us has received, as it were, that spark of God’s love; his love and the gift of faith were kindled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Now it remains for us to fan it into flame as we call upon his gifts.

Jesus first “enkindles a spark in [the Samaritan woman] by asking her to serve him by giving him a drink of water. This is something that the woman could minister to him since she had come to draw water.”[5] What is it that the Lord Jesus asks of us that we are capable of doing? In his last moments upon the Cross, Jesus said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). He made this cry to each one of us, but he does not ask us for physical water; rather, he asks for the water of our faith, for the water of our love, so that we might quench his thirst.

Jesus then “continues to kindle a spark in the woman by promising or offering her a gift:” “living water” which will become in those who drink of it “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14). [6] The water he desired to give to her – the water he desires to give to each of us – is the water of his love which poured forth from his pierced heart into the Sacraments (cf. John 19:34). Since he so opened his heart to us, let us not be afraid to open our hearts to him in the Sacraments so that his love might be poured into our hearts. We cannot forget that what was visible in the life of the Savior has passed over into his Sacraments; the Sacraments are for us a true encounter with Christ.[7]

Then, having drunk deeply from his love and having sought to quench his thirst with our faith and love, we, like that woman, can share our life’s story, the story of an encounter with the Lord. Indeed, we must share with others the story of our encounter with Jesus because, as Saint Augustine says, “Christ is made known … by Christian friends.”[8] Amen.

[1] Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, I.1.

[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 4.33. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 237.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 4.14.

[5] Ibid., 4.15.

[6] Ibid., 4.17.

[7] Cf. Pope Saint Leo the Great, Sermon, 74.2.

[8] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 15.33.

05 March 2023

Homily - On Following Peter, James, and John Up the Mountain with Jesus

The Second Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In his Message for Lent this year, Pope Francis reminds us “Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way to the cross.”[1] In essence, we resist following Jesus all the way to the cross – both to his own and to our own – because we do not yet trust him fully. The Lord Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” and, “I will bless you,” (Genesis 12:2). We say to him in response, “Not that way, Lord, but this way.”

Throughout the course of our lives, we need to learn again and again how to get behind the Lord and not in front of him; we need to learn how to follow him and not to lead him. This requires that entrust ourselves not to our judgments, but to his. We must remember that “all his works are trustworthy,” even if at times they seem questionable (Psalm 33:4). After all, “he saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design” (II Timothy 1:9).

This was the experience of the Apostles Peter, James, and John when the Lord led them up Mount Tabor. It must have been a very unexpected experience for those three, because just before they went up the mountain Jesus had told them of his coming Passion and Death; he speaks of his coming suffering, and then shows them his glory. When he allowed them to see his majesty, the Lord Jesus revealed to them “the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself ‘light from light.”[2]

In light of what Jesus had told them and of what he had shown them, the Apostles had to struggle to realize that it is through his Passion and Death that his glory will be fully realized in his Resurrection and Ascension to the right hand of the Father. Instead of following him to the cross and, hence, to his glory, they would rather have stayed on the mountain. Is it not the same with us? Would we not rather stay where it is comfortable? And yet the Lord calls us to follow him to the cross, as well, there to wrestle with our sin – with our own failures to love God and neighbor – and to overcome them.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain so that, through them, he might teach us how to overcome our lack of faith and drop our resistance in following Jesus. An the ancient Roman adage says nomen est omen (the name is a sign); consequently we learn this overcoming and conflict in the names of those three Apostles.

First, though, we learn something in the name of that mountain. Jesus took them up Mount Tabor, a solitary mountain rising almost 2,000 feet above the plain surrounding it. Curiously, the name “Tabor” means “the coming light,” and so we can speculate that Jesus wished to reveal something of the light of his Face to them.[3] After all, Saint Matthew tells us when Jesus was transfigured before those three that “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).

The name “Peter” means “understanding,” and he who truly understands himself knows himself to be a sinner. He also knows that God is thrice holy. For this reason, Saint Anthony of Padua tells us,


Jesus took Peter, and [we] too must take Peter, [we] who believe in Jesus and hope for salvation from Jesus. Peter is the acknowledgment of [our] sins, which consist in these three things: pride in the heart, lust in the flesh, and avarice in the world.[4]

We see this among the first words Peter said to Jesus when he was called on the Sea of Galilee: “Depart for me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Here, Peter demonstrated a profound understanding of himself. Do we have the same understanding of ourselves? Do we recognize our sinfulness?

Even so, while recognizing and acknowledging his sinfulness, Peter’s pride kept him from always following Jesus’ lead, even though he knew him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). It was Peter’s pride that led him to say to the divine Master when he predicted his Passion, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Later yet, as Jesus was being taken away to be crucified, Peter’s eyes met the Lord’s and Peter “went out and wept bitterly” because of his sinful pride (cf. Luke 22:61, 62). When was the last time we wept because of our sinful pride? If Peter repeatedly acknowledged his sins to the Lord Jesus, you and I must do the same. Jesus took Peter up the mountain to teach us the importance of acknowledging and confessing our sins.

The name “James” means “wrestler” or “supplanter.” We must take him with us, as well, because James “is the supplanting of these vices” of pride, of lust, and of greed “so that [we] may tread the pride of [our] spirit under the foot of reason; so that [we] may mortify the lust of [our] flesh, and repress the vanity of the deceitful world.”[5] It is only after acknowledging and confessing our sins that we can wrestle with these vices and seek to uproot them from our hearts. Jesus took James up the mountain to teach us the importance of wrestling with our weaknesses and of seeking to overcome them, instead of being complacent about them.

The name “John” means “the grace of God.” We should take John with us so that the grace of God “may enlighten [us] to recognize the evil things [we] have done, and help [us] in the good things [we] have begun to do.”[6] Without the grace of God, we cannot truly comprehend our sinfulness or God’s holiness; we cannot experience the profundity of his love; and we cannot strive to supplant our sins. This is why Jesus took John with him up the mountain, to teach us to ask that the grace of God go always before us and follow always after us.

It takes effort to climb the mountain. It can be difficult and painful to reach new heights of holiness and so we content ourselves with mediocrity. Jesus, though, does not want us to be mediocre; he wants us to be saints. In these days of Lent, it remains for us to ascend the heights of greatness with Jesus through an honest understanding of ourselves, by wrestling with our weaknesses, and yielding to the grace of God. If we follow the examples of Peter, James, and John in this life, we will be able to look upon the brilliant beauty of the Face of God without blush or shame in the life to come. Amen.

[1] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2023.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 310.

[3] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.