24 July 2023

Homily - Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - 23 July 2023

Dear brothers and sisters, 

The Lord Jesus speaks a parable to us today upon which we do not spend enough time reflecting. Why do I say this? When we hear of or encounter the weeds – that is, wicked men and women – within the field, we often wonder why the Lord does not simply remove them. Why does he tolerate their presence in his Church if the Church is to be holy? Why does he not rip them out and toss them aside as we do with weeds in our gardens? When we begin to think this way, we demonstrate that we do not yet think with the mind of Christ, that our hearts are not yet perfectly conformed to his own.

Trin. MS B.11.31, f 8r

Jesus speaks this parable to us to help us understand something about the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 13:24). In the first place, “‘Heaven’ should not be understood only in the sense that it towers above us, because this infinite space also takes the form of human interiority.”[i] Wherever Christ Jesus is present, there is the Kingdom of Heaven. In the waters of Baptism, you and I have been joined to the Mystical Body of Christ and we received a share in the divine life. He is, in a mysterious way, present within us, not only when we receive his Body and Blood, but always, which is why he says, “the Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).


In the second place, “Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a field of wheat to enable us to understand that something small and hidden has been sown within us which, nevertheless, has an irrepressible vital force.”[ii] Jesus once said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:2).

Saint Paul reminds that in the waters of Baptism, we were “baptized into [Jesus’] 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 6:3-4). Jesus has, we might say, been placed within us, which is why the Apostle goes on to say, “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Romans 6:5).


You and I know that this growth into union with Jesus – for most of us, at least – does not happen all at once. Just as wheat grows in the field, this union progresses in stages, sometimes a bit backwards but, we pray, almost entirely progressing. This is why Saint Augustine of Hippo said, “many are at first weeds but then become good grain”, and, “if these, when they are wicked, are not endured with patience they would not attain their praiseworthy transformation.”[iii] It is as if the weeds received the grain that is Christ, which grew within them to transform them into wheat. This is why Saint Paul was able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).


This brings us to the third reason Jesus teaches us through this parable. “In spite of all obstacles, the seed will develop and the fruit will ripen. This fruit will only be good if the terrain of life is cultivated in accordance with the divine will.[iv] This is why he is merciful to the weeds, because he knows that if those who live sinful lives turn towards him and let let the light of his Face shine upon them they will change from weeds into wheat (cf. Numbers 6:25). This is why he is merciful to you and to me; he knows that with time, with watering and furrowing, and the removing of many clods, we may yet bear great fruit.


Father Damien knew this well when he arrived at Kalawao. Through his tremendous efforts and the help of divine grace, he was able to turn that self-absorbed and loveless hell into a place filled with the joy of the love of God and neighbor, even in the midst of so much pain. Mother Marianne knew this, too, as she sought to bring greater order into a place that had once been filled with chaos. Because of their patience many lives were brought to conversion. They allowed Jesus to first prepare the soil of their own hearts and then labored to help prepare the hearts of others. Through their intercession and example, may we, too, strive to follow after the Lord Jesus, who is “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all” (Psalm 86:5). Amen.

[i] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 17 July 2021.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Quaest. septend. in Ev. sec. Matthew, 12, 4.

[iv] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 17 July 2021.

13 July 2023

Did Adam and Eve Eat an Apple?

It sometimes happens that author makes sweeping claims that simply are not true. One often finds such a claim in history text books: namely, the claim that the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in A.D. 313. This is simply false. Constantine made Christianity legal in A.D. 313 with the Edict of Milan, but it was the Emperor Theodosius I who made Christianity the official religion in A.D. 380. Another claim that turns out to be untrue is frequently made in theological texts: namely, that the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve was historically associated with an apple.

I have been taught this by numerous professors in different classes for a number of years and - up until recently - I accepted it as true because the argument seemed to make sense. The usual claim is that ancient authors - and especially medieval authors - either mistranslated one Latin word for another or enjoyed playing with a Latin pun: malum means "apple" and malus means "bad." The bad fruit, then, turned out to be an apple. But it turns out this is not true.

In his recently published book, Temptation Transferred: The Story of How the Forbidden Fruit Became an Apple [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2022, 181 pages, $27.42], Azzan Yadin-Israel convincingly argues that the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden was not associated with an apple until the twelfth century, beginning in - of all places - France, and not because of Latin but because of French: pom originally meant "fruit" generally, but came to mean "apple" specifically.

Yadin-Israel demonstrates his argument by examining early Jewish, Christian, and Islamic commentaries on the account found in Genesis which usually describe the fruit as a generic fruit or specifically as a fig, but also grapes, a pomegranate, wheat, and even a banana. The text is supported by numerous color and back and white images of sculptural and manuscript depictions of the temptation of Adam and Eve. Additionally, he supports his argument with 361 end notes and a 18 page Inventory of Fall of Man Scenes the reader may consult to verify his thorough research.

While not for everyone, this book will be an enjoyable and intriguing read for those with a somewhat nerdy theological interest, as well as those interested in linguistics, philology, and etymology.

I first learned of this book through episode 217 of the Gone Medieval podcast, "Origins of the Forbidden Fruit Myth."

10 July 2023

On the 126th Anniversary of the Death of Father Tolton

Today being the 126th anniversary of the death of the Venerable Servant of God Augustine Tolton we held our annual procession from his statue outside St. Peter School in Quincy to his grave in St. Peter Cemetery, about one mile away. It was the seventh year we have had such a procession on or near the anniversary of his death.

Given that Father Tolton died of heat stroke in 1897 at the age of 43, the weather this afternoon could not have better (for the second year in a row): a high of 82  and beautiful blue skies with white clouds and a gentle breeze. The beauty of the weather only added to the beauty of the day.

More than two hundred people turned out this year for the procession. Our numbers seem to grow each year. It is always a great joy to see the number of young families in attendance with small children.

Photo: Karen Weiman

As we processed along the streets of the Gem City, we sang the Litany of Saints, requesting their intercession for us as we implored the Lord to "strengthen us in your service" and to "bring all peoples together in trust and peace."

Photo: Gretchen Mason

When we arrived at the grave, I kissed the stone marking the place of his burial and gave Father Gus a kukui nut lei as a token of my affection for him.

Photo: Wayne Wienke

Once everyone else arrived at the grave and grabbed a bottle of cold water, we prayed Evening Prayer together.

Photo: Wayne Wienke
Each year I invite a different Priest or Deacon to preach at Father Gus' grave. This year I asked Father Tom Meyer, a native of Quincy and Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy to preach.

Photo: Reg Ankrom
He spoke of Father Tolton's efforts to build up St. Monica's parish in Chicago and noted that "the true cost to build up the Body of Christ that is St. Monica’s would be the life of its Shepherd, Fr. Tolton." Connecting this with our own efforts to build up our parishes, Father Meyer spoke of the same difficulties we encounter today that Father Tolton encountered in his own day: "Counting the cost, we recognize the re-evangelization of our parishes and culture will never be anywhere near completion in our lifetimes.  For some, like Fr. Tolton, this “construction” may even cost us our lives."

Within the liturgy we often speak of the saints of those who "spent themselves" in the service of God. Father Tolton's example shows us how to do the same in humility and love.

At the end of our gathering I had the pleasure of announcing that the Eucharistic Procession crossing the country from California as part of the Eucharistic Revival will join us for our procession to Father Gus' grave next year. The word of his life continues spread, even if more slowly than I would like. Make plans to join us next year on July 9th!

The text of Father Meyer's homily follows (the formatting is as he provided it to me):

I.            Luke 14:28-30 (RSV):

“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.”

 II.     Today is the 126th Anniversary of the Death of Fr. Augustus Tolton.  This quote from St. Luke refers to the “cost of discipleship” that every follower will be required of them if they wish to follow Jesus. Yet it ironically describes the condition of Fr. Augustus Tolton’s very own St. Monica’s Church in Chicago. 

 III.   On December 19, 1889, Fr. Tolton left Quincy for the Archdiocese of Chicago to be the pastor of St. Augustine’s Church with full jurisdiction over all African-American Catholics in Chicago.  For just over a year his parish inhabited the basement of St. Mary’s Parish.  In 1891 he was able to move his congregation to a temporary store-front church called St. Monica’s Chapel in the heart of the African American district.  Yet Fr. Tolton wanted his parish members to have a magnificent church of their own. Late that same year (1891), Chicago Archbishop Feehan granted permission to begin the actual construction of a new St. Monica’s Church.     

 IV.         Archbishop Feehan laid the cornerstone for the church and dedicated it to Saint Monica. “It was a big day for the parish and for the whole neighborhood.  Archbishop Feehan and many priests were present.”

 V.           Two years later, in 1893, when St. Monica’s Church was only about half completed, construction was halted for lack of funds. A temporary roof was put on, and services were begun. 

 “The structure was planned with the idea of expansion… and therefore, because they did not have money, services were held when the church had only plain frosted windows, no baptistry, no confessionals (confessions were held in the sacristy), and a flat roof instead of the contemplated gables and spires.”

 VI.         Fr. Tolton’s concern, however, was not exclusively about the building and financing of the church. He was far more anxious about the spiritual welfare of his people, many of whom were still leading irregular and dissolute lives. Father Tolton organized adult instruction classes, and he himself taught Christian doctrine after both Masses on Sunday and before the afternoon Vespers. 

Yet Fr. Tolton saw the futility of trying to give spiritual help to people who were desperately in need of material assistance.  Funds collected for the completion of St. Monica’s Church had to be used for food, medicine, clothes, and adequate shelter.  The great dream of the completion of St. Monica’s Church never came to fruition.  And Fr. Tolton died four (4) years after services began at St. Monica’s.

VII.      “This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” The words of Christ are fulfilled in the person of Fr. Augustus Tolton. Many, including Chicago Archbishop Feehan and Fr. Tolton, underestimated the financial cost to minister to the hundreds in need of spiritual and material support throughout this neighborhood of Chicago. The cost to build up a magnificent “St. Monica’s Church” and the “Mystical Body of Christ of St. Monica’s Parish” could not together be sustained.  The true cost to build up the Body of Christ that is St. Monica’s would be the life of its Shepherd, Fr. Tolton.  Before his death to heat stroke, Tolton’s parish members had been noticing signs of his declining health due to overwork. 

 VIII.    One hundred twenty-six (126) years later, the Catholic Church in the United States has many magnificent church buildings but dwindling and spiritually disconnected memberships. As it was in the time of Fr. Tolton, we continue to underestimate the cost to minister to the hundreds in need of spiritual support. Yet, there is an urgent need to get started!  We need to get the building of our own “St. Monica’s” off the ground. Counting the cost, we recognize the re-evangelization of our parishes and culture will never be anywhere near completion in our lifetimes.  For some, like Fr. Tolton, this “construction” may even cost us our lives.  Yet, as we see exemplified in the holiness of Fr. August Tolton, a half-built new “St. Monica’s Church” is infinitely more beautiful than any dead construction of grandeur.  

08 July 2023

Homily - 9 July 2023 - The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

Four weeks ago, we heard of Jesus’ great concern for the crowds, how “his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned” (Matthew 9:36). Today we hear of Jesus’s compassionate care for us – who are surely part of the crowd - in his famous and moving invitation, “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

With these words, Jesus “seems to want to tell us that this experience of debilitation and fatigue is part of daily life, of every man’s experience.”[1] Much of our society works diligently in the attempt to persuade us otherwise, to convince us that all of life is meant to be exhilarating and ecstatic. Many people get caught in these webs of lies and experience a greater sense of being troubled and abandoned, of being burdened, of being debilitated and fatigued. Jesus comes to relieve us of this, to give us true and eternal rest. Those who do not accept their burdens cannot accept Jesus’ invitation and cannot enter into his rest.

The rest Jesus wishes to give us comes his from heart, from the depths of his love for us.

The light burden, which Jesus offers us, is that of a free and humble integrity, which knows how to stand before the Father as a child who knows his mercy. Standing before the Father without fear, with trust, without hiding anything from him, simply letting him love us, this is the way to know the Father, to find rest.[2]

The rest of God comes from his love and our loving response to his love. If we wish to rest, we must love.

Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, f. 328r

Indeed, we can rightly say “the true remedy for humanity's wounds, both material — such as hunger and injustice in all its forms — and psychological and moral, caused by a false well-being, is a rule of life based on fraternal love, whose source is in the love of God.”[3]

Saint Paul reminds us today, “Who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). You and I have received the Spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit – in the waters of Baptism and in the anointing of Confirmation. Consequently, we must live in the Spirit of Christ, we must live in the Spirit of love. As “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness,” so must we be (Psalm 145:8). What does this look like?

One day last week I stopped at a Casey’s General Store to refill my car. As I stood at my car, a woman approached me. She told me she was pregnant, homeless, and needed something to eat. She asked if I had any money I could spare so she could get a slice of pizza.

Ordinarily, when someone asks me for money for food I take them inside the store or restaurant, allow them to choose what they want, and I pay for it at the counter. This particular day, however, I simply gave the woman some cash out of my wallet. I then watched her walk toward the store, go past it, get into a car as the passenger, and drive away. Suffice it to say I did not feel gracious or merciful.

A few days later I received a call from a woman who said she was fleeing a situation of domestic abuse and needed help with the cost of a motel room. After asking her a few questions, I prepared a check for the motel and took it to the manager. I admit it was something of a challenge to keep the experience with that first woman at bay.

In such situations when others lay a claim on our love, what is our response? Do we allow our hearts to be hardened and jaded, or do we seek to imitate the love of Christ Jesus who never lets his heart become hardened or jaded toward us, despite our numerous failures to return his love?

If we wish to be relieved from the sense of being troubled and abandoned, of being burdened, of being debilitated and fatigued, we must seek to rest in the love of Jesus Christ. But we cannot rest in his love if we do not open ourselves to this love and seek to share it with others. We must remember this:

If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God… Only my readiness to encounter my neighbor and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbor can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me. The saints — consider the example of [Saint] Teresa of Calcutta [or the Venerable Augustus Tolton] — constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbor from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbor are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first.[4]

It is certainly not easy to live and to love in this way, but it is to this that we are called. We, too, must become “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Saint Augustine once asked, “What does love look like? It has hands to help others,” he said. “It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of all people. This is what love looks like.” Loving in this way can be exhausting, but only those who are exhausted can truly know the joy of rest.

Let us, then, approach the Lord with full trust, abandoning ourselves to him so that he might place his yoke of love upon us. Then, having taken up the light burden of authentic love, may we be brought into the joy of his rest. Amen.

[1] Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 9 July 2023.

[2] Ibid.

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

[4] Ibid., Deus caritas est, 18.