30 September 2020

Homily - 27 September 2020 - The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

 Dear brothers and sisters,

Saint Paul addresses us today, saying, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy…” (Philippians 2:1). He does not use these phrases in a hypothetical or theoretical manner because he knows that there is encouragement in Christ; the knows there is solace in love; he knows there is participation in the Spirit; he knows the compassion and mercy of the Lord Jesus. On the road to Damascus and in the many persecutions he endured for Christ, he has experienced all of this because he had in himself “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus” who became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5, 8). Have we experienced what he did? Do we know what he knew?

Regrettably, a great many people – both in our nation and throughout the world – have not experienced encouragement in Christ or solace in love, nor have they participated in the Spirit and found compassion and mercy. Because they think they “see the end beyond all doubt,” they fall into despair.[1] This is why there is an ever-greater push for so-called euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. Too many people have lost hope and turn inward on themselves. Instead of giving in to despair when life becomes difficult, we must remember that “pain and death do not constitute the ultimate measures of the human dignity that is proper to every person by the very fact that they are ‘human beings.’”[2]

To be sure, “it is hard to recognize the profound value of human life when we see it in its weakness and fragility.”[3] Even so, the value of human life is perhaps evident to us when we are at our weakest and most fragile because it is precisely in these moments when most seriously ponder the meaning and purpose of it all. In these moments, we see that

Each person’s vulnerability is encoded in our nature as a unity of body and soul: we are materially and temporally finite, and yet we have a longing for the infinite and a destiny that is eternal. As creatures who are by nature finite, yet nonetheless destined for eternity, we depend on material goods and on the mutual support of other person, and also on our original, deep connection with God. Our vulnerability forms the basis for an ethics of care, especially in the medical field, which is expressed in concern, dedication, shared participation and responsibility towards the women and men entrusted to us for material and spiritual assistance in their hour of need.[4]

 We might say that at weak in our moments of vulnerability is

a contemplative gaze that beholds in one’s own existence and that of others a unique and unrepeatable wonder, received and welcomed as a gift. This is the gaze of the one who does not pretend to take possession of the reality of life but welcomes it as it is, with its difficulties and sufferings, and, guided by faith, finds in illness the readiness to abandon oneself to the Lord of life who is manifest therein.[5]

“The Church affirms that the positive meaning of human life is something already knowable by right reason, and in the light of faith is confirmed and understood in its inalienable dignity.”[6] Living as we do in a society that only seems to look for the bad and the negative, too many have lost sight of the goodness of life itself. “Life is the first good because it is the basis for the enjoyment of every other good including the transcendent vocation to share the trinitarian love of the living God to which every human being is called.”[7] If we are help those who suffer find encouragement in Christ, solace in love, and to participate in the Spirit so as to receive compassion and mercy, then we must look with them to the Cross of Christ.

Too often those who are ill “often seem as a burden to society; their questions are not answered; [and] they often undergo forms of affective desertion and the loss of connection with others,” which is especially heightened during these days of COVID.[8] “Add to this is the suffering caused when society equates their value as persons to their quality of life and makes them feel like a burden to others.”[9] We must help them to recognize that they are each a unique and unrepeated wonder and never a burden, but how can we do this? By helping them understand that “Christ’s experience resonates with the sick.”[10]

Whenever we feel abandoned or as a burden to others, whenever life becomes painful and difficult, it is important and necessary

to turn one’s gaze to Christ … to him who experienced in his flesh the pain of the lashes and nails, the derision of those who scourged him, and the abandonment and betrayal of those closest to him. In the face of the challenge of illness and the emotional and spiritual difficulties associated with pain, one must necessarily know how to speak a word of comfort drawn from the compassion of Jesus on the Cross…


In the Cross of Christ are concentrated and recapitulated all the sickness and suffering of the world: all the physical suffering, of which the Cross, that instrument of an infamous and shameful death, is the symbol; all the psychological suffering, expressed in the death of Jesus in the darkest of solitude, abandonment, and betrayal; all the moral suffering, manifested in the condemnation to death of one who is innocent; all the spiritual suffering, displayed in a desolation that seems like the very silence of God.[11] 

It is precisely in his Cross that we find encouragement in Christ and solace in love; it is precisely in the Cross that we can participate in the Spirit and receive compassion and mercy.

What is more, it is in the Cross that we see that “the end of life is a time of relationships, a time when loneliness and abandonment must be defeated in the obedient offering of one’s life to God.”[12] “In a time when autonomy and individualism are acclaimed, it must be remembered that, while it is true that everyone lives their own suffering, their own pain and their own death, these experiences always transpire in the presence of others and under their gaze.”[13] Just as the Blessed Mother and Saint John both remained at the foot of the Cross, near to Jesus during his deepest suffering, we, too, must remain near those who are sick and who are in pain because the “Love of God always makes itself known in the history of men and women, thanks to the love of the one who never deserts us, who ‘remains,’ despite everything, at our side.”[14] 

In this manner, although marked by a painful passing, death can become the occasion of a greater hope that, thanks to faith, makes us participants in the redeeming work of Christ. Pain is existentially bearable only where there is hope. The hope that Christ communicates to the sick and the suffering is that of his presence, of his true nearness. Hope is not only the expectation of a greater good, but is a gaze on the present full of significance. In the Christian faith, the event of the Resurrection not only reveals eternal life, but it makes manifest that in history the last word never belongs to death, pain, betrayal, and suffering. Christ rises in history, and in the mystery of the Resurrection the abiding love of the Father is confirmed.


To contemplate the living experience of Christ’s suffering is to proclaim to men and women of today a hope that imparts meaning to the time of sickness and death. From this hope springs the love that overcomes the temptation to despair.[15] 

We must help to instill within those who suffer so greatly this hope borne from love, to find encouragement in Christ, solace in love, participation in the Spirit, and compassion and mercy. 

All of this forms the backdrop behind the Church’s continued denunciation of the horrors of abortion and euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, each of which the Holy See said this past week “poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator.”[16] If you heard anything about this recent statement in the document Samaritanus Bonus, what you likely heard was that Church again said no to euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. This is true – and no surprise – but when the Church says no to the purposeful killing of an innocent human life, she does so because she says yes to every human life; she reaffirms time and again that every human person is a unique and unrepeatable wonder made by and for Love. May each of us remain with those who suffer; may we help them the understand the beauty of God’s love shown for us on the Cross; may we help them realize they are not a burden, but a unique and unrepeatable wonder. Amen.

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of the Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994), 262.

[2] Samaritanus Bonus, Introduction.

[3] Ibid., I.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., III.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., II.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., III.

20 September 2020

Homily - The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 20 August 2020

 The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

 Dear brothers and sisters,

“…conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). This is the admonition Saint Paul leaves with us today, but what does it mean to conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ? As with so many things in life, it may be easier to say what it does not mean than to say what it does mean.

When the Apostle tells us to conduct ourselves he is actually speaking about something we pretend not to like discussing. The Greek word he uses – politeumai – has at its root the word from which we derive our word politics. Now, before you tune me out altogether, let me assure you this is not a “political” homily but rather one focused on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ. How can I say this? Because Saint Paul’s use of this word “suggests the civic or social dimension of life” and that he “wants his readers” – as well as his hearers – “to be alert to the dimensions of their citizenship.”[1] In this same letter, he will later remind us that “our citizenship” – our politeumai – “is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).

When he wrote these words to the Christians in Philippi, he wrote in a time when it mattered greatly if one was a citizens of the Roman Empire or not; we live in a time and place in which something very similar may well be happening. 

Just as many residents of Philippi identify themselves as citizens of Rome even though they live in Philippi, so also the members of the local church, whether Roman citizens or not, find the root of their identity as citizens of heaven. That their conduct here on earth as citizens of the heavenly commonwealth should be worthy of the gospel of Christ is to say that their community life should reflect the good news of Christ their risen Lord and Savior…[2]

Looking around our present society, there are a great many Christians, a great many citizens of heaven, who are not conducting themselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ because they live, act, and speak in a way that does not reflect the good news of Christ risen from the dead.

Our politics are no longer actually concerned with the common good, with “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.”[3] Instead, our politics – and our political conversations - are too often governed, moved, and directed by ideological bents. Rather than truly seeking what is best for society, we blindly hold fast to this political party or that political party, all the while never actually considering what that particular party truly wants to attain. One party accuses the other of incivility, while utterly ignoring its own incivility. (It can easily be found on both sides of aisle.) How does any of this petty bickering and childish manipulation reflect the love of Jesus Christ? How is any of this worthy of the Gospel? How does any of this change the present situation to become more like our heavenly homeland?

This has all been swirling about in my thoughts these last couple of decades, but especially during these last few days following the death of Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg Friday evening. While I disagreed strongly with many of her judgments on the Supreme Court because they were not in keeping with the true common good, I admired her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom I often agreed strongly and with whom she often disagreed strongly. To the eyes of most Americans, theirs was an unlikely friendship, even an impossible one, because we have forgotten how to view each other not as rivals and enemies, but the “brother [or sister] “for whom Christ died” (I Corinthians 8:11). While Justice Ginsburg was not herself a Christian, her friend Antonin was a devoted Catholic who knew something about conducting himself in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

I once had the pleasure of hearing Justice Ginsburg speak of her friendship with Justice Scalia shortly after his death. She reflected on how frequently she was asked how she could be so close a friend with him when she often vehemently disagreed with his way of thinking and of seeing the world. Her answer was simple: Justice Scalia always attacked ideas, but he never attacked people. She admired this quality in him and built a friendship with him around it. “Yes, they disagreed. A lot. But somehow they managed to see each other as human beings, not units of animosity, and it was a beautiful, humane, and civilized thing.[4] It was a true political thing.

The friendship between these two was not as simple as agreeing to disagree, as we like to pretend we do with one another, but really we only agree not to talk about our disagreements; on the contrary, the two Justices sparred intellectually with each other because they did not want to simply dismiss one another. 

Without a grounding in Christ, the truths by which we live our lives can gradually recede, the practice of the virtues can become formalistic, and dialogue can be reduced to a form of negotiation or an agreement to disagree. An agreement to disagree… so as not to make waves… This sort of superficiality does us great harm.[5] 

This was something Justice Scalia knew; he knew agreeing to disagree does not engage the truth and wherever truth is lacking, love is also lacking. And whenever love is lacking, we are not living in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. Perhaps the reason we are so often lacking in love is because we do not see the world as God sees it. His ways, after all, are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts (cf. Isaiah 55:8).

As one example, we are tempted to think the landowner in Jesus’ parable today acted unjustly or unfairly because we do not see the world correctly; our minds have been darkened by sin. When Jesus asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?”, he uses a figure of speech (Matthew 20:15). Literally, he asks, “Is you eye evil because I am generous?” “The key expression here is ‘evil eye,’ which is a Semitic idiom that describes someone who is envious, grudging, or culpably lacking in generosity.” Generosity, of course, need not only concern money; one can also lack generosity of heart.[6] Where generosity is lacking, so also is love lacking, and when love is lacking we cannot live in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

When we look upon the world, do we see two camps, “us” and “them,” the “good guys” and the “bad guys”? If so, our eyes are darkened by sin and we do not see rightly. This is not to see that we should need recognize the wicked deeds of others; we must recognize such evil and work to root it out. But there is a difference between seeing wicked deeds and wicked people. Let us beg the Lord to purify the eyes of our hearts so we might always look upon the world as he does, with eyes of love and mercy. If we do, we will keep the two great commandments of love of God and of neighbor and so live in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ. May we become true citizens of heaven. Amen.

[1] Dennis Hamm, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2013), 89-90.

[2] Ibid., 90.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1906.

[4] Elizabeth Scalia, “Ginsburg; RIP, Scalia; RIP; Happy Warriors, RIP,” The Anchoress, 18 September 2020. Accessed 18 September 2020. Available at https://theanchoress.com/ginsburg-rip-scalia-rip-happy-warriors-rip/?fbclid=IwAR2YS8h2CRkx8S4eFMp6Luf4crW7RVq1bkQi82HN8laeaHXdHBKuKC8bngk

[5] Pope Francis, Address to the Bishops of Asia, 17 August 2014.

[6] Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2010), 255.

01 September 2020

Homily - 30 August 2020 - The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time (A) 

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today we heard the Prophet Jeremiah cry out in great anguish, “You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed” (Jeremiah 20:7). These are words each one of us might well have used at one time or another. Jeremiah effectively argued with the Lord, as we all do so frequently. Sometimes we fight with him, we scold him, and we resist him in small matters and sometimes in large ones. 

Jeremiah knew what the Lord wished of him and he did as the Lord asked; the Lord called him to speak on his behalf, to preach a message of doom and destruction upon the house of Israel, a message that was ill-received and brought him great suffering and distress. Nobody wants to hear that they are doomed, and yet this is precisely what Jeremiah was called to proclaim. 

Yet it was to this same prophet that the Lord said these beautiful and comforting words: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you… Have no fear before them, because I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:5-8). Jeremiah was singled out for this special mission and yet his mission was not at all successful because the people, wanting him dead, did not heed his warnings.

So now Jeremiah vents his anger against the Lord. How could the Lord appoint him to a life of misery and failure? How could he be called to preach a message that would be ignored? What was the point? It would bring no good. So Jeremiah says to himself, “I will not mention him, I will speak in his name no more” (Jeremiah 20:9). 

He chose now to ignore his God, to ignore the one who continually tugged at his heart, who placed his very words in his mouth. God knew what he was doing when he appointed Jeremiah to this most difficult of tasks, though Jeremiah could not understand it. However, the more Jeremiah tried to ignore the Lord, the more difficult it became for him because we can never truly ignore God; never can we truly or fully block him from our sights. We cannot dismiss the whispers of our hearts for long, and the more we try to do so the louder these whispers become and finally they overpower us, just as they did Jeremiah. Try as he might, he could not say, “No,” to the Lord; he had to fulfill the task given him. “But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,” Jeremiah said, “imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9). 

Is it not the same with us? Do we not all feel the call of the Lord burning in our hearts? Can we not all say with Saint Augustine, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you?”[1] Indeed, the longer we do not listen to God, the more persistent His voice grows, the gentler and the more enticing it becomes. It consumes our thoughts and is always present to us; we cannot ignore the Lord for long, and we will never be at peace when we ignore the will of God, for we will in fact grow weary holding it in.

If we are honest with ourselves – and honest with God - what the Lord wants for us so often seems at first appearance to be the very opposite of what we want for ourselves. Whereas we focus on ourselves, the Lord calls us to focus on others; we focus on pleasure, and he calls us to suffer with him; we focus on wealth, and he calls us to be poor; we focus on freedom, and he calls us to his service. But as he did with Jeremiah, the Lord knows what he is doing with us; he knows the desires of our hearts better than we do for it is he who has formed us and knit us together (cf. Psalm 139:13). It is he who gives us breath and he who desires only our good, namely, that we be with him forever.

Peter thought he knew better than Jesus when Jesus told him that the Son of Man “must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly … and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter, only moments before, recognized Jesus for who he truly is and said to him, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Peter knew that the mission of the Messiah was to save his people, not to die. With this knowledge, Peter cried out, “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). How could the Messiah die? But what Peter did not know, Jesus did know.

Jesus knew that, as the Messiah, he was to save his people through his death and resurrection; there was no other way to redeem us and save us, which is why Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me” (Matthew16:23)! Peter has heard these words from Jesus before but in a much different context. Spoken in Greek, these words are the very same words used by Jesus when he first called Peter, saying, “Follow me” (cf. Matthew 4:19). In English, it does not work so well. We could not say to somebody on the sidewalk, “Get behind me,” and expect that they would follow us, but in Greek the words are the same: Hopiso mou.

When Peter tried to steer Jesus away from the cross, Jesus commanded him, “Follow me!” But how does one follow Jesus? The requirement for authentic discipleship is simple: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There is no other way but the cross.

Last week, we heard Jesus say to Simon Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah… And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18). Today – just five verses later – we heard Jesus say to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me” (Matthew 16:23). The Greek word Jesus used - which we have translated as obstacle – is skandalon, a scandal, a rock upon which people trip and stumble. Not only could Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to take up the Cross for us be a stumbling block for Jesus, but it could also be a rock upon which others trip in seeking to follow Jesus. The same is true for us when we refuse to take up the cross and follow Jesus; we become a rock on which others stumble, a scandal that can keep others from following Jesus. This, obviously, should always be avoided.

When we feel our crosses are too heavy for us to bear, when we see what the Lord calls us to, we may feel, with Jeremiah, that the Lord has tricked us, that he has fooled us. But then, in the end, for one who seeks to follow Jesus authentically, “it becomes like fire burning in [our] heart[s], imprisoned in [our] bones; [we] grow weary holding it in, [we] cannot endure it” (Jeremiah 20:9). So we, then, following after our Lord, must pick up our cross and walk in the footsteps of the one who died for us, who rose for us, who lives for us, and who calls us to be with him; we must follow him, even as Saint Peter, did by accepting crucifixion. There is no other way to salvation. In bearing the cross with the Lord, we will be able to offer our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God;” having done so, we will be found “good and pleasing and perfect,” if only we do as he says: “Follow me!” (Romans 12:1-2). Amen.

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