29 March 2020

Homily - 29 March 2020 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent


The Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, we hear Martha say to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here…” (John 11:21). Are these not the same sort of words we want to say to Jesus as well? Do we not also cry out, “Lord, if you had been here…”? But whereas we might be tempted to use such words as a rebuke of the Lord, Martha intends no such thing. We know this is the case because she adds, “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:21). Her phrase, “Lord if you had been here…” is not one of blame, but one of trust in the power of the Lord Jesus. As it was with her, so must it be with us: we must always speak to the Lord in hope born of faith.

Martha knew well the words of the Psalmist: “I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, let Israel wait for the Lord” (Psalm 130:5-6). When she and her sister Mary sent word to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, Martha’s message was simple: “Master, the one you love is ill” (John 11:3). They did not ask Jesus to come; they did not beg him to come; they did not command him to come; they simply informed him. Why?

We so often seek to tell Jesus just how to solve our problems and the hardships of life; “Lord, if you had been here,” we say, “you could have done this or that.” But this is not how the women speak to Jesus; why did they not do so? "These women said nothing like this,” said Saint Augustine, “but only, ‘Lord, behold, he whom you love is ill' - as if to say: It is enough that you know. For you are not one that loves and then abandons."[1] Because she knew that Jesus never abandons those whom he loves, Martha did not tell Jesus what to do, but instead waited for him to act; she waited in hope born of faith.

We see Jesus’ love for Lazarus in the brief but poignant words: “And Jesus wept” (John 5:35). Saint Bonaventure tells us that Jesus’ “compassion was a sign of his sorrow, and his sorrow was a sign of his love.”[2] Even those around Jesus saw his love in those sacred tears, which is why they said, “See how he loved him” (John 5:36). In these present days in which we are seemingly surrounded by sadness, we like to think that we should not cry, that we should not weep, that we need to be strong for others. Jesus, however, showed the strength of his love through his tears. Perhaps it was these very tears that led J.R.R. Tolkien to put this counsel on the lips of Gandalf the White as he boarded the white ship at the Grey Havens to leave Middle-earth: “I will not say: Do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”[3] Indeed, Saint Augustine asks, “Why did Christ weep except to teach us to weep?”[4]

How many tears have we shed in these past many days, tears for ourselves, for our families, for our friends, for strangers? How many tears have we shed as we have cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here…”? How many more tears will we shed in the coming weeks? How many tears have been shed, and will be shed, because we do not have ready access to the Sacraments? How many tears have been shed, and will be shed, by priests who cannot be as close to our flocks as we would like? How many tears? Lord, if you had been here…

In the coming days, Mother Church invites us to unite ourselves ever more closely to the Passion of the Lord Jesus so we might understand more deeply that “with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption” (Psalm 130:7). We will be invited to contemplate the tremendous compassion Christ Jesus demonstrated for us not only in his tears, but especially and above all in his willing acceptance of the Cross for our salvation. From the Cross, we will hear him call out to us, “I have promised, and I will do it. I will open your graves and have you rise from them” (Ezekiel 37:14, 13).

This past Friday, the Holy Father Pope Francis reminded us of what is most important in these days: “Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.”[5] As we, then, turn our gaze ever more attentively to the Cross of Christ, let us cry out to him, saying, “Master, the people you love are hurting.” With hope born of faith, let us wait for the Lord, trusting him to do what he will, for he is not one that loves and then abandons. Amen.


[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.5. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2007), 3.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 11:35 (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 613.
[3] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King: Being the Third Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 1007.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 49.19. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament Vol. IVb: John 11-21, 3.
[5] Pope Francis, Homily at the Extraordinary Moment of Prayer, 27 March 2020.

28 March 2020

Homily - 22 March 2020 - The Fourth Sunday of Lent


The Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Almost like a punch to the gut, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent Mother Church tells us to “rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all you were in mourning” (Isaiah 66:10-11). These words strike us so painfully because we are now in mourning, mourning over the fact that we cannot now gather at the Lord’s altar.

Saint Paul advises us today to “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10). The ancient Greek playwright and philosopher Aeschylus gave us this proverb: πάθος μάθος (pathos mathos), which means both “learning is suffering” and “suffering is learning.[1] Any student who has struggled to understand a difficult lesson knows this all too well. Mourning is always a form of suffering and so we might well ask ourselves now what the Lord might be trying to teach us. In what way might the works of God be made visible through our present situation (cf. John 9:3)?

As a student of history, I know that there are always important lessons to learn by looking to those who have gone before us, especially those who have gone before us in faith. In the midst of these strange days, some have attempted to look to the past by loosely comparing us to the ancient Christians who also had difficulty gathering for the Sunday Mass. The analogy, of course, only goes so far and, like all analogies, the similarity is less than the dissimilarity.

In the year 304, “the Emperor Diocletian forbade Christians, on pain of death, from possessing the Scriptures, from gathering on Sundays to celebrate the Eucharist and from building places in which to hold their assemblies.”[2] Today we can understand a small portion of what they endured, but whereas they still gathered under the threat of death, we have more or less voluntarily agreed to stay home for the well-being of all.

In the midst of those days of persecution, 49 Christians in the city of Abitene - in modern day Tunisia - were taken by surprise during the Sunday Mass. Because they were in violation of imperial law, they were brought before the Proconsul Anulinus in Carthage for interrogation. When asked why they disobeyed the Emperor’s command, those 49 Christians answered, Sine dominico non possumus, “that is, we cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist. We would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb.”[3]

While they were tortured and killed for their faith in Christ, we now struggle to find a way to live without the Sunday Mass so that we, too, might face our daily problems and not succumb to the temptations of the Evil One. In a manner of speaking, we are learning what the earliest believers knew and held dear:

The Sunday precept is not … an externally imposed duty, a burden on our shoulders. On the contrary, taking part in the Celebration, being nourished by the Eucharistic Bread and experiencing the communion of their brothers and sisters in Christ is a need for Christians, it is a joy; Christians can thus replenish the energy they need to continue on the journey we must make every week.[4]

Those ancient martyrs may well be teaching us what the Lord wants us to learn at this moment in history by showing us what is pleasing to the Lord: the members of the Body of Christ gathering together for the Sunday Mass and for the fellowship of their brothers and sisters.

Many of us have already begun to realize that we sometimes take the Mass for granted. We too often let other things, such as sports or vacations, take precedence over the Mass. At the same time, many of us have also begun to realize that we sometimes take our parish family for granted. We too often let other things, such as meals, dinners, or parties, determine where and when we go to Mass, rather than making it a priority to gather with our parish.

As these two realizations take greater hold in our hearts, our mourning increases; we mourn doubly. We not only mourn because we cannot now gather together, we mourn also because we have taken for granted so much of what is essential for our true life. Yet still Mother Church tells us to rejoice. With Saint Paul, she says to us, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light” (Ephesians 5:14). In these days of our suffering, let us learn well these lessons from the ancient martyrs and so awaken from our spiritual slumber.

This brings me to one of my favorite lines in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings: “The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.”[5] In the midst of our grief, our love for the Eucharist and for the community of the Body of Christ can indeed grow the greater. Then, when at last the trouble of these days has past, we will gather again at the altar of the Lord and say to one another, “Be joyful, all you who were in mourning.” Amen.


[1] Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 177.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 29 May 2005.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 339.

24 March 2020

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - March 2020

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15 March 2020
4 March 2020

Islamic State Ongoing Updates - February 2020

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21 February 2020

18 February 2020