23 April 2017

Homily - 23 April 2017 - Why did John not write more?

The Second Sunday of Easter (A)
Divine Mercy Sunday

Dear brothers and sisters,

If, as Saint John says, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book,” why does he not include some of them in his Gospel (John 20:30)? He writes but one more chapter in which he records the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus’ command for Saint Peter to “feed my sheep,” and the Lord’s prediction of Peter’s death (John 21:17; cf. John 21:19). The final line of his Gospel is this: “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Why, then, does he not mention even one more?

It cannot be an issue of space, for in modern print his Gospel takes up but twenty-two pages. There must, then, be a different reason, one that is not merely a practical consideration. It is, I think, because Saint Thomas “holds that the signs that confirm Jesus’ identity are now above all his wounds, in which he reveals to us how much he loved us.”[1] When the Apostles looked upon the sacred wounds of the Savior, they saw that God “does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction.”[2] After the sight of these wounds, after the definitive proof of the Lord’s love and of his Resurrection, what more could John say? What more did he need to write? Seeing the marks of the nails and of the lance was enough for to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” because they knew that “his love is everlasting” (Psalm 118:1).

When the Lord extended his hands toward Thomas and said, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side,” he showed the greatness of his mercy by answering Thomas’ doubts (John 20:27). Not only did Thomas doubt the word of his fellow Apostles, he also doubted his own eyes, which is why he said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). We might say that Thomas wanted to see with his hands; he wanted to do what so many parents warn their children against. It was as if Jesus said to him, “Through all this I have done everything to satisfy what you wanted.”[3]

We often disparage Saint Thomas by calling him “Doubting Thomas.” We can only call him this if we ignore what Saint Matthew tells us at the end of his Gospel, namely, that when the Apostles saw Jesus in Galilee after his Resurrection, “they worshipped him; but they doubted;” it was not only Thomas who doubted (Matthew 28:17).

Have we not all doubted at one time or another? Have we not each doubted the words of another person and desired to ask the Lord that we might touch him? Saint Thomas is called Didymus, a name that means twin (cf. John 11:16). Who is his twin, if not each of us?

Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, or sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and he has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being.[4]

Through the questioning of Saint Thomas, we see that we do not need to be afraid of our own doubts or our struggles to believe. The Lord does not rebuke Thomas today and neither will he belittle us. Thomas stated clearly what he needed to experience in order to believe; he needed to experience what the other Apostles experienced. He did not fear to make his need known and neither should we fear to do so because the example of Thomas shows us that “every doubt can lead to an outcome brighter than any uncertainty.” [5] Let us not be afraid to allow the Lord to satisfy what we want in order to believe.

In these days of Easter, as we ponder the beautiful and glorious wounds of the Crucified and Risen Lord, let us not be afraid to delve into their mysteries. In the midst of our prayer, let us follow the spiritual direction of Saint Bonaventure, who says to us:

“…with blessed Thomas the apostle not only gaze at the wounds in [Jesus’] hands made by the nails, not only put your finger into the holes made by the nails, not only put your hand into the wound in his side, but totally through the opening in his side enter the very heart of Jesus…”[6]

Saint Marianne Cope put it perhaps more simply: “Creep down into the heart of Jesus,” there to rest in the shelter of his love, safe from the storms of life that stir up so many doubts and fears, there to hear him say to us, “I have risen, and I am with you still” (cf. Psalm 139[138]:18).

Why does the Risen and glorified Lord still bear the scars of his sufferings? It is “not because he was incapable of healing them, but that he might bear for eternity the triumph of his victory” and so that he might show us by what great mercy he has redeemed us.[7] He has kept them to show us how much we are loved.

If you find your faith faltering, do not fear, but approach the Lord with Saint Thomas. Explore his wounds and know that he suffered them for you, that he keeps them for you, and that through them he wishes to give you his peace. But first you must approach and cry out to him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). After pondering the glorious love displayed in his wounds, what more is there to do than “rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (I Peter 1:3:9)?



[1] Pope Benedict XVI, General Wednesday Audience, 27 September 2006.
[2] Pope Francis, Misericordiae vultus, 9.
[3] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 20.57. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 979.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Easter Message Urbi et Orbi 2007.
[5] Ibid., General Wednesday Audience, 27 September 2006.
[6] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, 6.2.
[7] Ibid., Commentary on the Gospel of John, 20.64.

16 April 2017

Homily - 16 April 2017 - Easter Sunday: On the oldest and deepest desire

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
At the Mass During the Day

Dear brothers and sisters,

Upon our lips today is that “song of sweetness,” that “voice of joy that cannot die,” that glorious word of Alleluia.[1] Having repressed this gladsome strain within our hearts these past many weeks, Holy Mother Church now urges each of us to open our lips and let this “anthem ever raised by choirs on high” and resound throughout the land.[2] Why? Because “this is the day the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). This is the day on which the Lord Jesus, the conqueror of sin and death, rose victorious over the grave. This is the day in which we should “rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24). Alleluia!


On Friday, the Lord Jesus ascended the throne of his Cross and poured out his love for us; in doing so, he broke the chains of sin. Yesterday,

…after his triumph over the devil, he descended to the heart of the world, so that he might preach to the dead, that all who desire him might be set free… He had descended to trample death underfoot with his own power, then only to rise with the captives.[3]

Today we rejoice and cry out, “Alleluia!”, with the confidence that as we were “buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Permit me, if you will, to change course for just a moment in a direction that might at first seem a bit odd. In one of his many letters, the great J. R. R. Tolkien, the celebrated author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings (and, more importantly, a devoted Catholic) answered a query about the meaning of the  of his legendarium, saying:

I should say, if asked, the tale is not really about Power and Dominion: that only sets the wheels going; it is about Death and the desire for deathlessness. Which is hardly more than to say it is a tale written by a Man![4]

Elsewhere he called this “the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death.”[5]

It was the professor’s firm conviction that at the heart of every man, woman, and child is a desire for deathlessness, for life without end. Is this not why we smooth out our wrinkles and dye our hair in a vain attempt to deny the reality of aging? Is this not at the heart of the recent and distressing news that a man hopes to have his head transplanted onto the body of another?[6] Whether we have yet acknowledged it or not, each of us indeed has a desire for deathlessness.

This desire is rooted in the fact that death was not part of God’s original plan for us; rather, death entered into Creation as a consequence of the Original Sin, as a consequence of our rebellion against the will of God (cf. Genesis 3:19).

God did not decree death from the beginning; he prescribed it as a remedy. Human life was condemned because of sin to unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow and so began to experience the burden of wretchedness. There had to be a limit to its evils; death had to restore what life had forfeited. Without the assistance of grace, immortality is more of a burden than a blessing.[7]

Is this not something of what Tolkien tried to show by the unnatural long life the ring granted to its bearers, a length of life that wore away at their existence, an “endless serial living”?[8]

It was this realization that led Saint Ambrose of Milan to see death as “no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind’s salvation.”[9]

It was by the death of one man that the world was redeemed. Christ did not need to die if he did not want to, but he did not look on death as something to be despised, something to be avoided, and he could have found no better means to save us than by dying. Thus his death is life for all. We are sealed with the sign of his death; when we pray we preach his death; when we offer sacrifice we proclaim his death. His death is victory; his death is a sacred sign…[10]

His death is victory because he is, in fact, not dead, but “seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1). His death is victory because it is not the end for him because “he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:41). This is why we sing, “Alleluia!”

In his Resurrection from the dead, in the fact that he still lives after his death, that he can move about, that he can eat and drink, that he can converse with his friends, we see that Jesus “is the death of death, death hidden in the word of God and therefore related to life, which takes death’s power away when, by the destruction of the body, men are destroyed by it in the earth.”[11] In this, though it may seem strange to say, “the tomb is not the central point of the message of the Resurrection. It is instead the Lord in his new life.”[12]

It is often said today that we Christians are fools and simpletons because we believe in the reality of the Lord’s Resurrection. Truth be told, we are

not affirming an absurd miracle but affirming the power of God, who respects his creation, without being tied to the law of its death. Indubitably death is the typical form of things in this world as it actually exists. But the overcoming of death, its real, not simply its conceptual elimination, is still today, as it was then, the object and desire of the human quest.[13]

The desire for deathlessness remains the greatest desire of the human heart, though it cannot be achieved by any technical means. Rather, it “comes about through the creative power of the word and of love. Only these powers are sufficiently strong to modify so fundamentally the structure of matter, to make it possible to overcome the barrier of death.”[14] For this reason, the Resurrection of Jesus gives us the promise of true and lasting Joy, of “Joy beyond the walls of grief, poignant as grief.”[15]


The great cry of Alleluia sounds today from our lips because, in the Resurrection of Jesus the Christ, we have the confidence that “this victory is in effect possible, that death does not belong principally and irrevocably to the structure of the creature, to matter.” The message of the Resurrection is not principally about a faith in an empty tomb but about “the real power of God, and the importance of human responsibility,” a responsibility grounded in love of God, both of his love for us and of our love for him.[16] From the Incarnation to the Resurrection, “this story,” as Tolkien said, “begins and ends in joy.”

There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.[17]

Today, then, just as the Lord opened wide the tomb which tried to swallow him up, let each of us open our hearts and our ears to Jesus, the Risen Lord. Let us not be stubborn and closed off to his grace, but let us speak to him as friends and ask for the gift of his life, that we might truly, with him, escape from death. Let us hear him say to us, “I have risen, and I am with you still, alleluia.”[18]



[1]Alleluia dulce Carmen,” J. M. Neale, trans. In Eleanor Parker,  “‘Ceasing from the voice of joy and gladness’: Aelfric’s Homily for Septuagesima,” A Clerk of Oxford, 16 February 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Ephesians, 4.9. In Ancient Christian Doctrine, Vol. 3: We Believe in the Crucified and Risen Lord (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), 135.
[4] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Herbert Schiro, 17 November 1967. In Humphrey Carpenter, ed., The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 262.
[5] Ibid., On Fairy Stories. In Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006), 153.
[6] Cf. Tina Chai, “Surgeon plans to perform first human head transplant,” The Cavalier Daily 30 March 2017. Accessed 15 April 2017.
[7] Saint Ambrose of Milan, From a book on the death of his brother Satyrus.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Saint Ambrose of Milan, ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Benedict XVI, Journey to Easter: Spiritual Reflections for the Lenten Season, (New York, New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company), 131.
[12] Ibid., 130.
[13] Ibid., 131-32, emphasis original.
[14] Ibid., 132.
[15] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, 153.
[16] Benedict XVI, Journey to Easter, 132.
[17] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, 156.
[18] Entrance Antiphon for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord, Roman Missal, 71.

14 April 2017

Homily - 14 April 2017 - Good Friday of the Lord's Passion



Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion



Dear brothers and sisters, 

As we gather today to contemplate the mystery of the Lord’s Cross and the immensity of his love displayed upon it, several questions might rightly arise within our hearts, namely:

How do I wear the cross? As a souvenir? When I make the sign of the cross am I aware of what I’m doing? Or is the Cross only as a symbol of belonging to a religious group? An ornament, like a jewel with gold and many precious stones...? Have I learned to carry it on my shoulders, where it hurts?”[1]

Similar questions should have sounded within us as we learned of the deaths of the Coptic Christians in Egypt this past Palm Sunday.

The Islamic State targeted and killed these Christian men, women, and children – forty-four in total – because they were, as they called them, “followers of the Cross.” It was not the first time the Islamic State attacked Christians in Egypt and it will not likely be the last. The Christians in Egypt have always consciously lived beneath the shadow of the Cross because they have remained ever close to it. If our persecuted brethren saw us today, would they say that we, too, live beneath the shadow of the Cross, not because of a persecution, but because of an interior disposition of our hearts, because of an intimate friendship with Jesus?

These martyrs, who did not carry their palms to their earthly homes but carried them instead to the Father’s house, knew an attack might occur, yet still they went to honor their friend and King. They knew Jesus gave his life for them and so the risk of being required to give their lives for him was not too great for them. Is it too great for us? They were proud to be known as followers of the Cross; do we glory in this title?

Even as they lay dead and dying within their blown up churches, many in these United States of America, even here in Springfield, repeatedly checked their watches because the reading of the Passion of Our Lord was too long for them. Some did the same even today. Where is our priority? Is it in the feeding of our stomachs, or is it in loving the Lord Jesus and in being united with him in all things?
The Baqofah Cross
Photo: Father Benedict Kiely
The soldiers of the Islamic State hate the Cross because they see it as a sign of weakness, because they have closed themselves to the love of Christ Jesus. They destroy the Cross wherever they find it, but sometimes one escapes their hatred, such as the Baqofah Cross.[2] It was found intact in the rubble of the destruction of the Iraqi town of Baqofah, with neither the wood of the crossbeams nor the body of the image of Jesus broken. An intact cross or crucifix is a rare sight in the cities occupied by those who, in the hardness of their hearts, fail to see that love “is so powerful that it alone closes the gates of hell, it alone opens the heavens, it alone gives hope for salvation, it alone makes one a friend of God.”[3] 

The Baqofah Cross will long stand as a sign of hope to the Christians in Iraq because it arose for them in the midst of darkness, despair, and death, as the Cross of Christ always does. Lifted high, the Cross always shines as a beacon of hope and a reminder of the strength of God’s love. From the Baqofah Cross, our persecuted brothers and sisters will hear God call out to them, saying, “Turn, O soul, Christ on the Cross with head bowed waits to kiss you, his arms are extended to embrace you, his hands open with gifts for you, his body extended to cover you, his feet affixed to stay with you, his side open to let you enter.”[4] This is why they stay beneath the shadow of the Cross and are proud to be known as followers of the Cross.

What do we see when we look upon the Cross? Do we see something ugly and uncouth, an instrument of death in need of decoration and, if you will, prettying up as a fashion statement, or do we see the sign of our salvation, something beautiful in itself? Today, let us bend our knees before the Cross and kiss it with loving devotion. Let us lift our hearts in prayer and say to the Crucified Lord: “I seek you, in you I hope; I desire you, in you I rise up; I embrace you, I exult in you, and finally I cling to you.”[5] Let us stay beneath the shadow of the Cross and glory only in being called its followers. Amen.





[1] Pope Francis, Homily, 4 April 2017. In Domenico Agasso, Jr., “‘The Cross is not a badge; it must be carried on the shoulders, where it hurts,’Vatican Insider, 4 April 2017.

[2] Cf. Benedict Kiely, “The Cross ISIS couldn’t destroy,” Catholic Herald, 13 April 2017.

[3] Saint Bonaventure, On the Perfection of Life, 7.1. In F. Edward Coughlin, ed., Works of Saint Bonaventure, Volume X: Writings on the Spiritual Life (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2006), 186.

[4] Ibid., Soliloquium, I.39. In ibid., 261.


[5] Ibid., The Threefold Way: On Enkindling Love, 3.8. In Ibid., 126.