02 May 2021

Homily - 1 May 2021 - The Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

The Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

Dear brothers and sisters,

As I took my daily walk a few days ago through a neighborhood, I saw something that caught my attention: two houses on the same side of a block had their garage doors open. It was not, however, the open garage doors that intrigued, but rather what was inside the two garages. Both garages were filled with stuff – junk, I surmised – to such an extent that no cars could be parked inside the garage. This curious sight got me thinking.

By definition, a garage is “a shelter or repair shop for automotive vehicles.”[1] By etymology, this word is new to the English language, having been borrowed from French in 1902 from the verb garer, meaning “to shelter” (I did not know this during my walk). What got me thinking was the irony of these two garages. Two rooms, if you will, built for the purpose of sheltering cars were filled with so many unused – and likely unneeded – possessions that the cars had to be left out in the elements, as if the homeowners did not know the fundamental purpose of a garage.

Just as it is possible for us not to know the purpose of a garage, it is also possible for us not to know the purpose of human life and labor. Just as it is possible for not to use a garage for its purpose, it is also possible for us not to human life and labor for its intended purpose. Can you imagine working so hard to earn so much money that you simply buy so many things that you cannot even use or take with you beyond the grave? There are a great many people today who think the purpose of work is to acquire more possessions. In the end, they do not possess these things; rather, the things end up possessing them. Saint Joseph provides us with a remedy for such errors and shows us the purpose of human life and labor, which is why our remembrance of Joseph the Worker is so important. Saint Joseph can show us these remedies because he, too, was called “to be a disciple of Jesus, dedicating his life to the service of the Son of God and of the Virgin Mother, in obedience to the Heavenly Father,” just as we are called to be and to do.[2]

We often think of Saint Joseph’s work as that of a carpenter (cf. Matthew 13:), which, in our understanding, often makes us think of one who builds houses or some such other constructions. But the Greek work that we translate as carpenter, tekton, means something more. It is a word that more closely relates to our word artisan or craftsman. Saint Justin Martyr – who was from Samaria and was beheaded for his faith in Christ about the year A.D. 165 - tells us that Jesus

was considered to be the son of Joseph the carpenter; and He appeared without comeliness, as the Scriptures declared; and He was deemed a carpenter for He was in the habit of working as a carpenter when among men, making plows and yokes; by which He taught the symbols of righteousness and an active life.[3]

Jesus would have learned this trade from Joseph and so it is safe to say that Joseph, too, was in the habit or making plows and yokes and such objects used in domestic life. From this we can see that Joseph “earned an honest living to provide for his family” and that “from him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labor.”[4]

Saint Joseph teaches us that, instead of being a drudgery, human work is intended to be “a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion.[5] This is something our society has forgotten and needs to learn again. Human labor is not about acquiring more things, but about “cooperating with God himself, and in some way [becoming] creators of the world around us.”[6]

But there is yet a more important lesson to be learned from Saint Joseph the Worker. In his role as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the father of Jesus, Saint Joseph “turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.”[7] Saint Joseph devoted himself entirely to Jesus and those dear to him. Indeed, we might say that “more than carpentry, love is St. Joseph’s labor.”[8] Love should be our labor, as well, love of God and love of neighbor.

Just as love is the purpose of human labor, so is love the purpose of human life. We might, then, rightly say that the purpose of Saint Joseph was to be a place of shelter for the Son of God and his Blessed Mother, in a similar way that a garage is meant to be a shelter for a motor vehicle. In the same way, you and I are meant to be shelters for one another, refuges of love who receive love from God. This is the wisdom and the mighty deed that Jesus taught Saint Joseph and that Saint Joseph, if we learn from his school, will likewise teach us (cf. Matthew 13:54). 

Let us, then, never fail to sit at the feet of Saint Joseph, so that he might teach us the propose of human life and labor. Referring to the Saints of God, Saint Augustine once asked, “What they could do, can you not also do?”[9] Yes, we can learn from Saint Joseph that “entrusting oneself to God means emptying oneself of oneself, renouncing oneself, for only those who accept to lose themselves for God can be called ‘just,’ … that is, can conform their will to God’s will and so fulfill themselves.”[10] May Saint Joseph “guide us in the path of life, obtain for us grace, mercy, and courage, and defend us from every evil. Amen.”[11]

[1] Merriam-Webster.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address, 5 July 2010.

[3] Saint Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 88.

[4] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Blessed Pope Paul VI, Homily, 19 March 1966.

[8] Michael Heinlein, “A Labor of Love,” Simply Catholic, 1 May 2021. Accessed 1 May 2021. Available at https://simplycatholic.com/a-labor-of-love/.

[9] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, VIII.11.27.

[10] Pope Benedict XVI, Address, 5 July 2010.

[11] Pope Francis, Patris Corde, 7.

02 April 2021

Homily - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion - 2 April 2021

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Many centuries ago, in one of his homilies for Christmas, Pope Saint Gregory the Great admonished his hearers, saying, “Christian recognize your dignity…”[1] How many Christians do not now know their dignity?

It is no secret that there are a great many people today – men, women, and children - who live without hope, who do not sense their own worth, who think they are not valued by anyone and so they have little love for themselves. They have been deeply wounded by abandonment by betrayal, by use and abuse, by greed and poverty, by hunger and thirst, and by sickness and isolation. Having forgotten what it is to be truly loved, they live without hope and often find themselves in a state of despair; they have forgotten their own dignity.

On this Friday which we call Good, we have a wondrous and inexhaustible reminder of our dignity as Christians. Today we remember that “it was in Christ that the unthinkable became a reality. In Christ, God showed that man was worth suffering for.”[2] Why does one willingly suffer for another if not because of love? Do not parents willingly suffer for their children and friends willingly suffer for each other? Do we not know that we are loved, at least in part, by how much someone is willing to suffer for us?

We do not like to think much about this central aspect of love; we prefer the more romantic notion. But, at its core, authentic and sincere love “seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice.”[3]

Soon, brothers and sisters, we will gaze upon the wood of the Cross; we will see the unmistakable sign of Christ Jesus’ love for each one of us. We will see the proof of the pain he bore for us and of sufferings that he endured for us (cf. Isaiah 53:4). Standing, sitting, or kneeling before his Cross, how can we not see how much he loves us? How can we not recognize our dignity?

Ms. 64 (97.MG.21), fol. 86

To be loved by God who suffered and died for us while we were still sinners is to have a dignity so great that it cannot be taken away from us (cf. Romans 5:8 and 8:38). As we adore the Cross of our Savior, let us not leave it here; let us, rather, take it with us everywhere we go. Let us hold the Cross aloft so that all who see it will know what Christ suffered. Let us hold the Cross aloft so that all who see it will know that they have been redeemed. Let us hold the Cross aloft so that all who see it will recognize their dignity. Let us hold the Cross aloft so that all who see it will entrust themselves to the hands of his mercy. Let us hold the Cross aloft so that all who see it will know they are not forgotten but immensely and personally loved. Amen.

[1] Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Sermon 22 in Nativitatem Domini, 3.

[2] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Seeking God’s Face: Meditations for the Church Year. David Smith and Robert Cunningham, trans. (Providence, Rhode Island: Cluny, 2020), 27.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, 6.

01 April 2021

Homily - Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper - 1 April 2021

Holy Thursday of the Lord’s Supper (B) 

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this holy evening we commemorate the final meal of the Lord Jesus with the closest and most intimate of his friends. He had often eaten with them, and fed them, both with physical food and – more importantly – the food of his holy words. But tonight he does so seemingly for the last time as he prepares to give his life for them and for us.

Although our celebration this evening began in joy, it will end in sorrow as we experience Our Lord’s departure to the Garden of Gethsemane and his imprisonment in the cistern prior to his trial before Pontius Pilate. Tonight, therefore, we remember that “the love that drove Him to die for us was the same love that made Him give us Himself as nourishment. It was not enough to be giving us gifts, words, instructions; He gave us Himself as well.”[1] His Crucifixion is profoundly conjoined to the Last Supper.


We have gathered again, then, at the altar of the Lord to remember that the Lord Jesus “loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Who are his own in the world if not those joined to him in the waters of Baptism? Yes, dear brothers and sisters, you and I are his own; he loved us to the end and gave himself up for us. What is more, his love is not simply something in the past tense, but also in the present tense; it is not just that he loved us, but that he loves us still (cf. Revelation 1:5).

It is his continual and ongoing love for us that we celebrate in every celebration of the Holy Mass, but on this night in a special way. He shows us the depths of his love for us in his washing of the feet of his disciples, in his giving of himself as our nourishment, and in his wondrous commitment to give his life for us, as he himself said (cf. John 13:14).

Those two little words, “for us,” carry such profound importance.

We can have no understanding of these words “for you” until we cleanse ourselves of every trace of sentimentality. We must clarify in our minds the degree of isolation Our Lord stood in, abandoned by all that might have helped, without the stimulating atmosphere pervading great affairs, no enthusiasm of any kind about Him, without the support of elan or natural drives or creative compulsion. He knows that men are lost. He knows they can only breathe in the freedom of salvation when satisfaction has been made for their sins. Life may only come to them through a death which He alone can die. He takes this for granted, starts from this premise. That is what is meant by the “for us.”[2]

Just as he asks those first disciples, so he asks each one of us: “Do you realize what I have done for you” (John 13:12)? We cannot fully realize what he has done for us unless we realize what it means that he has loved us to the end.

On first hearing, we might think that this phrase means he loved us to his death. This is not altogether incorrect; indeed, it is true. At the same time, however, it is not altogether complete. Saint Augustine tells us that this phrase, “to the end,” means “the end that consummates, not that consumes; the end whereto we attain, not wherein we perish,” which is to say the end as in the goal.[3] The goal of the Christian life, of course, is Christ Jesus; “he is our end; into Him do we pass.”[4]

We can pass into Christ as the goal of our lives because he continually nourishes us with the gift of himself. Whereas normal food is changed into us, with the Holy Eucharist – the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus – he changes us into himself by the strength and power of his love. Let us then this night renew our love for him in this night so that we might understand what he has done for us. Let us strive to draw so close to him as to be his close and intimate friends that we may truly be his own. Amen.

[1] Romano Guardini, Jesus Christ: A Classic Meditation on Christ by the Author of The Lord (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2012), 97.

[2] Ibid., 95-96.

[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 55.2.

[4] Ibid.

17 February 2021

Homily - Ash Wednesday - 17 February 2021

Ash Wednesday

Dear brothers and sisters,

Each year on this day as we enter into the penitential season of Lent, we hear Jesus say to us, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting…” (Matthew 6:16). Then, just a few moments later, we usually receive ashes directly on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. This custom has always struck me as directly contradictory to the command of the Savior that we “not appear to others to be fasting” (Matthew 6:18).

We have all heard homilies attempting to reconcile our practice with Jesus’ words, but all of these attempts have failed. The main reason given for our practice is so that we might be a sign of contradiction to the world by bearing the ashes on our foreheads, and this is true as far as it goes, but it still stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ words.

The use of ashes on Ash Wednesday began in Germany “in the tenth century; it spread to Italy and finally to Rome in the twelfth century. It was only in the thirteenth century that the papal liturgy used ashes with the pope himself submitting to the rite.”[1] The use of ashes as a sign of repentance from sin goes back, of course, much further than 1,100 years ago. It is a common practice we find throughout the Old Testament. For example, in the First Book of Maccabees we read, “That day they fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their garments” (I Maccabees 3:47). This year we have the opportunity to imitate those who went before us so very long ago.

We are accustomed to the priest blessing the ashes and they saying to each individual one of two admonitions – either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel,” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” - before tracing the ashes upon our foreheads in the sign of the Cross. This year, however, will be different. The Holy See, in response to the conditions of the coronavirus pandemic, has directed that the priest is to say one of the admonitions to everyone at the same time and then to impose ashes not on the forehead, but on top of the head without saying anything.[2]

As you come forward to receive ashes, I would ask that you bow your head as a sign of repentance. This will also help me be reach the top of the heads of some of you who are taller than me.

This will look and feel differently for you and for me, but we can use this change to our usual practice to better focus on what Lent is all about: an interior change of heart through an acknowledgement of our sins and repentance from them so that the Lord may give us back the joy of salvation (cf. Psalm 51:14). Amen.

[1] Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, Vol. 2: Lent (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993), 13.

[2] Cf. Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, “Note on Ash Wednesday Distribution of Ashes in Time of Pandemic,” 12 January 2021.

14 February 2021

Homily - 14 February 2021 - The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Beginning this Ash Wednesday, there will be a slight correction to the English translation of the Holy Mass, one that you may or may not really notice. I call it a slight correction because it consists in the deletion of one word, but a word that occurs again and again in our current translation. This alteration to our translation comes at the direction of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, under the authority of the Holy Father Pope Francis.

The adjustment will be made to the final line of the Collect, the prayer at the beginning of the Mass which collects all of our individual prayers together and presents them as one to the Father. The change will be made because our current English translation of the Latin text of the Mass is – frankly – incorrect. In fact, our current English translation adds a word that simply is not found in the Latin. That word is the word “one.”

Presently, we conclude the Collect with the doxology: “Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.” Starting this Wednesday, the doxology will end, “…God for ever and ever. Amen.” This change will be made to prayers not only within the Mass, but wherever else these words are found.

Now, some of you might be wondering why this change was not made a few years ago when the translation of the Holy Mass was revised. It was suggested at the time, but for one reason or another the Holy See advised against it.

Others of you might be wondering what the fuss is about. There is an ancient maxim in the Church which says, lex orandi, lex credenda, that is, “the law of praying is the law of believing.”

These words are not merely convenient modes of advancing the liturgical action, placed by the Church in the liturgy to give form to our immediate intentions of worship. They do of course achieve that purpose, but their meaning extends far beyond their immediate use. These words are taken from and express the faith of the Church; when they are prayed, they become formative, instructive, and foundational for our life of faith. The words we hear and speak when we pray in the liturgy also have the effect of forming our belief, enabling us to understand better the faith that Christ gives us through the Church. Recited again and again, these words obtain both place and meaning in the mind and the heart of the believer.[1]

This is an important reminder that “the Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it.”[2] The words we use in our prayer are important – especially in our public prayer – because “the Church believes as she prays.”[3]

With the insertion of the word “one,” the impression may have been given that the words “God for ever and ever” referred generally to the Holy Trinity. However, the phrase actually refers back to Jesus Christ who is “God for ever and ever.” This change in our translation brings into focus “the importance of affirming this Christological truth amid the religious pluralism of today’s world,” that more than being a good teacher Jesus is God (cf. Luke 7:16).[4] It is this same Jesus, this same God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, to whom we turn in time of trouble and who fills us with the joy of salvation (cf. Psalm 32:7).

Some might question why the Church is worrying about this now when there are so many other issues which need to be addressed. While this is true as far as it goes, “praying correctly – professing accurately our belief about Christ and the Trinity – in no way distracts from these important tasks. Rather, as our relationship with God becomes stronger, we are better able to address the world.”[5]

Turning to the Gospel chosen for today’s Mass, we see this truth about Jesus wondrously displayed. The leper approached Jesus in great humility, symbolized by his kneeling down before him, and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:41). The leper does not tell Jesus what to do; he does not even really make a request of Jesus. Rather, he simply declares what Jesus can do; he acknowledges that Jesus has the power to make him clean not because he is a moral authority, but because he knows Jesus is God (cf. Mark 1:40-41). So great is his faith that he simply trusts in Jesus’ compassion and goodness!

Without a doubt, Jesus could have healed the leper with just a word of command, but he did something more: he reached out and touched him (cf. Mark 1:41).

That gesture and those words of Christ contain the whole history of salvation, they embody God’s will to heal us, to purify us from the illness that disfigures us and ruins our relationships. In that contact between Jesus’ hand and the leper, every barrier between God and human impurity, between the Sacred and its opposite, was pulled down. This was not of course in order to deny evil and its negative power, but to demonstrate that God’s love is stronger than all illness, even in its most contagious and horrible form. Jesus took upon himself our infirmities, he made himself “a leper” so that we might be cleansed.[6]

Will we imitate that leper and in the infirmity of our sin say to Jesus, “If you wish, you can make me clean?” To do so we must humbly acknowledge our sinfulness to him, to him who is not just a prophet but God. May we never lose sight that while Christ Jesus is fully human, he is also fully God. Amen.

[1] Gregory J. Polan, O.S.B., “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: The Communion of Faith in the Life of the Church,” 1-2.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1124.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Note on a change to the translation of Collect prayers, 4 February 2021.

[5] Christopher Carstens, in Joseph O’Brien, “Here’s the Key Reason Why the Mass is Being Changed This Ash Wednesday,” National Catholic Register, 13 February 2021.

[6] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 12 February 2012.