Wednesday, December 31, 2014


December 28, 2014

1. Our Liturgy today brings center-stage two basic issues – marriage and the family: much discussed in contemporary culture; most essential for the well-being of society; most essential for the well-being of the Church.

2. What is a family? Who invented the family? Who has the authority to define the family? Pope Benedict XVI has noted – The family is the privileged setting where every person learns to give and receive love. The family is an intermediate institution between individuals and society, and nothing can completely take its place. The family is an indispensable foundation for society, a life-long treasure for married couples, a great good for children, and a school which enables all involved to grow to the full measure of their humanity.

3. What is marriage? Who invented marriage? Who has the authority to define the nature of marriage? With strangling brevity, I would like to share with you a few thoughts on Catholic sacramental marriage.

4. Every Christian, it strikes me, every follower of Christ receives a calling, a vocation, in and through the mystery of the Church. At the most basic level, followers of Christ pursue such a calling by participation in and by being authentic witnesses to the universal call of holiness of life. Do we not read in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians – “Praise be to God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens. God chose us in Christ, before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”? Did we not learn from our earliest days with the Catechism that the reason God made us was to know him, love him and serve him by following the Lord Jesus and by finding our ultimate and perfect happiness with God and his saints. More specifically, according to God’s eternal designs, some persons within the Church have been chosen for a particular state in life, married life, religious life, priestly life, and in and through these states of life they contribute to the building up of God’s kingdom in love. This divine choice for married couples becomes definitive and is made manifest to the world in the Church’s sacramental event of matrimony. The Lord Jesus said to his chosen twelve – “You have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” And so the Lord speaks to couples today. It is precisely through this married love that husband and wife bring each other to holiness. “The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families. A sacramental marriage is indeed a noble, high, and sacred calling.” (John Paul II)

5. Some writers think of the event of Holy Matrimony as a theo-drama, as God’s drama, in which human participants are moved by hidden forces and unseen energies which Catholic theology reflects on under the rubrics of divine grace and divine Providence. As one writer, Ladislas Orsy, reminds us – There are visible participants and invisible participants involved. St. Augustine calls a sacrament “an outward, visible sign of inward invisible reality, of invisible grace.” We can see what is visible and so we can know. We cannot see what is invisible, and so we can believe. The invisible actors which initiate and carry out this drama are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The visible actors – best supporting actor and actress, as Hollywood might suggest – are the man and woman in whom God’s plan is about to unfold. Many questions come to mind: We know what folks are saying these days about marriage, but what are God’s thoughts? What is God, who is “Three in One”, saying to couples at this sacramental moment when God is calling them to become “two in one” until death?

6. What does God have to say about marriage? God has much to say about marriage? God has much to say from the Book of Genesis to the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. But fear not – I will only make a brief reference to Genesis and a brief reference to one statement of St. Paul. The reading from Genesis underscores two truths. First, that men and women are created equal as persons. “Together, in their maleness and femaleness, they convey the full image of God.” A second significant truth stresses that God’s divine plan involves maleness and femaleness so that they can live for each other in the totality of their lives and truly be gifts to each other. St. Paul speaks to us in his Letter to the Colossians as he tells married couples to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God. Obvious to the reader of St. Paul, as he mentions various aspects of married love – kindness, humility, gentleness, patience – the priority goes to the virtue of love. In recent times no one has spoken so compellingly of love as has Pope Benedict XVI. He writes – “God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives and it raises important questions about who God is, and who we are, and what marriage is all about. Whenever we talk about love we are hampered by a problem of language – a vast semantic range makes love the most frequently used and most frequently misused of words.” Amidst this multiplicity of meanings, one meaning in particular stands out – the love of a man and a woman joined in marriage, where body and soul are inseparately joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. To love, then, means to give; to love means to will the good of the beloved; the highest form of human love is friendship and the highest form of human friendship is the married love of husband and wife.

7. In our present cultural context, it is good to remind ourselves that God himself has established marriage as an intimate partnership of life and love. This partnership is rooted in a covenant entered into freely by a man and woman, a covenant of irrevocable personal consent. The God-given benefits and purposes of this covenant have a decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the spouses and on the dignity, peace and prosperity of the family itself and, therefore, on human society as a whole. Accordingly, couples join their minds and hearts and affection as they say “I do” to three significant marital realities – unity, fruitfulness, faithfulness. Their “I do” to unity tells the world that their union seeks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between a man and a woman and that is nourished by their personal willingness to share their entire life project – what they have and who they are. Their “I do” to fruitfulness means that the service of life is entrusted to them. A married couple share in God’s creative love and become God’s co-workers in the world. Their “I do” to faithfulness echo the words of Jesus – “Let no one separate what God has joined”. This means that in a selfish, individualistic, secular, warring, terrorist world, their “I do” to fruitfulness is a sign of hope that calls out to all the world that self-giving love really works, that sexuality and love and marriage and the family really belong together, and that their marriage is the beginning of a new community, a partnership under the Holy Spirit which can tell all who witness their love and fidelity that the deep divisions that currently prevail in our world and sadly will always prevail because of sin, can in principle and by God’s grace be healed.

8. The Lord Jesus gives to all who intend to follow him in marriage this command – “Love one another as I have loved you”. Spouses, married in Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit must take this command to its heights. It is not just a question of living with or for each other; it truly involves a willingness to die for each other. Does not the Master tell us – “There is no greater love than this – to lay down one’s life for one’s friend”. The prevailing philosophy down through history tells us that every living being, every human being, strives for its own fulfillment, its own preservation. But this is not what the Gospel teaches us. The Gospel overturns this common teaching and teaches us that the way to happiness, the way to wholeness, is by way of self-abandonment and not by way of self-preservation. The Lord Jesus says to us in John’s Gospel – “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it’ll produce much fruit.” Jesus himself is the first instance of this truth. Spouses must follow his lead. Two roads lie open to you to couples married in Christ. One leads to self-preservation; the other to self-abandonment. Another name for self-abandonment is sacrifice. Does not the Gospel tell us that the wise folks build on solid rock? That rock for married couples is sacrificial love. Sacrifice is always irksome and difficult; only love can make it possible; perfect love can make it a joy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

33rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (A) November 16, 2014

1. Three basic questions figure prominently in the lives of thinking persons. First, there is the knowledge question. In this vast and complex world of ours, with competing philosophies and world views, what can I come to know as truth? Then there is the ethics question. In this vast and complex world of ours, which offers me all sorts of exciting goals and seemingly attractive ways to follow, what is the good that I have been made for? What is the good I ought to seek? Finally, there is what we might call the hope question. In this vast and complex world of ours, where hard things happen in the mischances of life, wherein many wonder if human existence has any ultimate meaning, what can I hope for – in whom can I place my trust? In a certain sense the hope question takes priority. If there is no hope, if life merely runs aimlessly from womb to tomb, why should I seek the truth in knowledge, why should I choose what is truly good and thus live an ethical existence?

2. I would like to focus our attention on our second reading this evening – St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians. Paul is most solicitous in prayer for his friends in Thessalonica, and he prays that “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ may enlighten the eyes of their hearts that they may know what is the hope that belongs to their call, their vocation in Christ”.

3. The Thessalonians had some questions to ask Paul concerning death and life after death. Paul had taught them that Christ had died, that Christ is risen and that Christ will come again. Perhaps the Thessalonians were of the mind that Christ’s Second Coming was imminent. They were worried therefore about some of their loved ones who had died, and the Lord had not yet returned. “What’s going to happen to our loved ones,” they asked? Paul in his Letter patiently repeats the message of the Gospel which he first proclaimed to them when he lived among them. That’s why he can say to the Thessalonians and to us here in light of the Gospel – “You, my brothers and sisters, are not in darkness for that day of the Lord to overtake you like a thief in the night. For all of you are children of the light and children of the day. We are not of the night or of darkness.” As one commentator has said – Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians could very well be summarized in a few brief words: “holiness and hope in the pagan world of the ancient Roman Empire”.

4. Obviously, the problems that the Thessalonians had are not our problems today. Our problems today center around the teachings of the faith which many seem to ignore in our secular, commercial, warring and terrorist world. If Paul were writing to us today in the world of our time, his message to us would be the same: “holiness and hope in the world of this time”.

5. November is an excellent time to reflect on the question of death. It’s that time of the year when our thoughts focus very much on our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. As we all know, for men and women everywhere, the fact of death is a profound puzzle in the face of which the riddle of human existence grows most acute. We all, of course, experience pain and the advancing deterioration of the mind and body and all the endeavors of technology cannot calm the anxieties to which death gives rise within the human spirit. Some in our society reject the thought of life after death. Some in our society are seeking the medicine of immortality and are convinced that medical science will discover such a remedy. Where will we find the truth of things? The exciting good news of our Catholic faith tells us – there is a cure for death, that the medicine of immortality has been found. The Eucharist we celebrate this very afternoon, the very presence of the risen Christ in our midst, is God’s pledge of eternal life. For us who follow the risen Christ, death’s enigma is resolved in Christ. Death means dying with Christ to whom we often say – “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life; Lord Jesus, come in glory”. And this Lord who is with us this very evening in word and in sacrament, and who indeed will come again is the very Lord who said to his first disciples – “I am the resurrection and the light, whoever believes in my, even if he dies, shall live and whoever lives and believes in me will never die”. When the Lord first spoke these words at the death of his friend, Lazarus, he said to Martha – Do you believe this? He asks us this very same question. Do we believe what the Lord has said to us? Do we have firm hope in what he has promised us?

6. We who follow Christ are men and women of hope by definition, that is, by the Gospel fact that God has graced us in Baptism with the virtue of hope. This does not mean that hoping is unique to Christians. What is unique is the way we hope and why we hope. Hoping is not wishing; hoping is not the equivalent of an optimistic outlook. The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration of happiness which God our Creator has placed in every human heart. Hope keeps us from discouragement when we think of our ultimate goal in the light of our present weakness. Hope sustains us when we seem to be abandoned. Hope is the gift and power that comes from God when we set our hearts on the Kingdom of Heaven and on the goal of everlasting life. Do you recall the Act of Hope, which perhaps some of us memorized when we first encountered the Catechism – “O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, the help of your grace and the gift of everlasting life through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.” This is why the great Italian poet Dante placed over the gates of hell – “Abandon hope all you who enter here”. Hope rests on the promises God made to us in Christ and in our hoping we rely not on personal strength but on the power of the Holy Spirit. That is why we too must pray – “May the Father of our Lord Jesus enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we may know what is the hope that belongs to our call to holiness of life.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Homily on Dedication of St. John Lateran

November 9, 2014

1. It is my guess that today’s feast day, supplanting the 32nd Sunday this year, needs some sort of explanation. November 9 marks the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral church of Rome by Pope Sylvester in the year 324. This ancient, seemingly ageless, structure is honored as the cathedral church of our Holy Father under his title as “Bishop of Rome”. “It is the mother and head of all the churches” throughout the Catholic world. Today’s feast is understood as a sign of devotion to and of unity with the Chair of Peter – which, as St. Ignatius of Antioch writes, “presides over the whole assembly of charity”.

2. Surely, a first visit to Rome would involve the four major basilicas, all of which date from the 4th Century. The most familiar is the Basilica of St. Peter, built into the side of the Vatican Hill, over the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles. Then there is the Basilica of St. Paul, built outside the City of Rome on the Ostian Way near Tre Fontane, where St. Paul suffered martyrdom. On the Esquiline Hill is the Church of St. Mary, called St. Mary Major because it is the first in honor of all the St. Mary churches throughout the world. Then, of course, there is the most significant of the four, the Church of the Most Holy Savior, which we recall today. When it was rededicated after it had been severely damaged, it was placed under the heavenly protection of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. Its original site was on some property of the Laterani family, hence its popular title – St. John Lateran.

3. Three actual church buildings should be of great significance for all of us who worship here Sunday after Sunday. As we gather at our St. John the Evangelist Church here in Wellesley Hills, we say to God our Father in prayer – “We thank you now for this house of prayer in which you bless your family as we come to you on pilgrimage. Here you reveal your presence by sacramental signs and make us one with you through the unseen bond of grace.” But St. John the Evangelist Church is not some isolated reality. We are united with our bishop and with all who make up our diocese. Hence we venerate and esteem our bishop’s cathedral – the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. But the church in Boston is in communion with the Bishop of Rome who presides over the Church Catholic throughout the world. Hence our reverence for the Pope’s Cathedral – St. John Lateran.

4. Today’s feast reminds us that God’s Church, though we think of buildings, is much more than buildings. You and I as Christ’s members make up the true and living Church of God. We, too, constitute a House of God. Just think of what was done when St. John the Evangelist Parish was built over 140 years ago. It is not unlike what was done when you and I, as followers of the Lord Jesus, first encountered Christ the Lord. When we first came to believe, as St. Augustine reminds us, we were like timber and stone taken from woods and mountains. Through Baptism, catechetical instruction and the sacraments, we were shaped, leveled and smoothed as by the hands of carpenters and craftsmen. But, as Augustine reminds us, Christians do not make a house of God until they are one in charity. The timber and stone must fit together in an orderly plan; they must be joined in perfect harmony; they must give each other the support of love – or no one would enter the building. When one sees the stones and beams of a building holding together in a secure way, one enters the building with an easy mind; one is not afraid of it falling down in ruin.
5. In our first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel envisions the waters flowing from the temple, God’s dwelling place, and bringing forth life and growth and salvation. In our Gospel reading, Jesus speaks about the temple of his own body, although his hearers thought he was speaking about the Jewish temple. Jesus is the living sanctuary of which the temple in Jerusalem was the sign and the figure. In our second reading, St. Paul speaks to the Corinthian disciples and to us too – “We are God’s temple, the Spirit of God dwelling within us. The temple of God is holy and we are that temple.”

6. I was reading the other day about a new cathedral in the diocese of Oakland, California. It is entitled – the Cathedral of Christ the Light. This cathedral, and every parish church no matter how humble, is meant to be a place of encounter between God and his people. This happens in Jesus Christ and particularly in the great sacraments in which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ – Baptism and Eucharist. There are four ways that we encounter Christ when we enter into any church building: Christ is present in the gathered assembly of his people; Christ is present in the Holy Scriptures; Christ is present in the person of the minister; and, most especially, Christ is present in the Eucharistic species that are consecrated during the Eucharistic celebration. The altar, of course, is at the heart of our worship. It is a table of joy where friends of Christ may hasten to cast upon our living Lord their burdens and cares, so as to take up their journey restored. It is a place of communion and peace, so that those who share the Body and Blood of Christ may be filled with his Spirit and grow together in love. It is a source of unity and friendship where God’s people may gather as one to share God’s great gift of mutual love. Joined together with Christ in Baptism and Eucharist we are now called by God to bring the light of Christ into all the communities in which we dwell – the family, the workplace, the neighborhood, the town or the city. Our townsfolk and we ourselves are always going in and out of various building – the drugstore, the hardware store, the supermarket, the public library. Not many of our townsfolk join us going in and out of St. John’s Church, yet this is where we find the source of our great happiness – the very presence of the Lord Jesus who is our way, our truth and our life. How can we share this happiness with others?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Homily for All Souls Day

November 2, 2014

1. Yesterday, we kept festival in honor of All Saints. We joined with the angels in joyful praise to the Son of God. Our Preface Prayer gave us an excellent summation of our celebration. It told us in words addressed to God the Father – "Around your throne, the saints, our brothers and sisters, sing your praise forever. Their glory fills us with joy, and their communion with us in your Church gives us inspiration and strength, as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet them." The Feast of All Saints underscores two fundamental truths:
(a) Our basic vocation, our very reason for existence, is holiness of life; and
(b) We are a pilgrim people. We have here in Wellesley Hills no lasting home. Our
destiny in history is God and his gift of eternal life.

2. Today, we will celebrate the Feast of All Souls. We remember our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We say in prayer to God – "You are the glory of believers and the life of the just. Your Son redeemed us by his dying and rising. Since our sisters and brothers believed in Christ’s resurrection, let them now share in the joys and blessings of the life to come." The Feast of All Souls underscores two fundamental truths:
(a) Each one of us must say – "At some particular moment I shall die; at any
particular moment I could die"; and
(b) Though we cannot choose the circumstances of our death, we can and
will choose the sort of death we will die.

3. Theologians ask the question – “How do we think of a human life in relationship to the eternal God? Although our life is but a moment or a sigh in God’s perspective, our life of 50 or 100 years becomes complete and whole only in our death. It is at the time of death that we can face God knowing at last who we are. But this is a topic about which many of us do not even wish to think. We may even try to deny it when we encounter death in others or when it is approaching for ourselves.” (Commonweal, September 12, 2008).

4. For men and women everywhere, the fact of death is a profound puzzle; in the face of the riddle of human history, it grows most acute. Sometimes death comes after a prolonged illness and we ask – Why death is so slow in coming? At other times, death comes so suddenly and we ask – Why death for this person at this time under these circumstances? We all, of course, experience pain and the advancing deterioration of the body, and all the endeavors of technology cannot calm the anxiety to which death gives rise to the human spirit. Even the prolongation of biological life would be unable to satisfy the desire for higher life, for that life that lasts which we instinctively recognize as part and parcel of the human condition. For the Christian, death’s enigma is resolved in Christ. Death means dying with Christ to whom we often say at the Eucharist – “Dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life; Lord Jesus come in glory!” And this Lord of ours, who is with us now in word and in sacrament and who indeed will come again, is the very Lord who assured his first followers – “I am the resurrection and the life, the one who believes in me, even if he or she dies, shall live; and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die”.

5. I have already said that we cannot choose the circumstances of our death, but we will choose the sort of death we will die. What does this mean? From one point-of-view, common to men and women everywhere, death lies outside our freedom. An elderly person dies after years of a debilitating illness; a young person at the dawn of adulthood is cut down by a tragic accident; a thirty-three year old man is nailed to a cross and dies by crucifixion between two thieves. In all of these instances we speak of death as necessity, death as natural phenomenon. However, this is only a fraction of the story. Death is also and most importantly a mystery of Christ and therefore an act of our freedom and so we begin to understand death as freedom, death as liberty. When we focus on the death of the Lord Jesus, we notice first what the Lord Jesus said about his own death. Even though evil men were going to nail him to the cross, he told his disciples – “The Father loves me for this that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me. I lay it down freely. I have the power to lay it down and I have the power to take it up again.” The Lord Jesus, conqueror of death, is telling us who follow him that death does lie within our human freedom. Did Jesus die the death he chose to die in terms of his being nailed to a cross? The answer is “No”. In terms of his lifelong obedience to the Father, even unto death, the answer is “Yes”. And so it is with ourselves. We will not choose the events of our last days on earth, but in the course of our lives as Christians, we make significant choices to live in and for the Lord. At Baptism we were plunged into the mystery of the Lord’s death. Every Eucharist we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again. In our struggle to live for God and to die to sin, in our grace-inspired efforts to do the truth in love, we choose both life and death in the Lord. Because we see our calling as the grace to live and die in the Lord, the event we call our biological death is raised to the level of a divine mystery. The Christian’s task is to understand this mystery and to perform it well in the light of everyday life. To die well means to live well. To live well means to love well, to follow the Lord’s command of love, to follow the Lord’s command of forgiveness, to put the Gospel to work in our personal lives, in our family lives, in our social lives, in our economic lives, in our political lives. In the end, our choices, our behaviors, and the actions of others towards us can make all the difference – whoever we are or whatever we do. It might help us to note that every human being all over the globe at this particular time in human history is in one of two spiritual situations. As St. Paul reminds us in his Letter to the Romans: A person is either “in the Spirit” or in the flesh. These two expressions have definitive meanings. “In the Spirit” means we are friends with God under the grace of the Holy Spirit; or we are alienated from God under the regime of sin. Think of the two realities called grace and glory: grace this side of the grave, and glory beyond the grave. What then is grace: Grace is glory in exile. What is glory? Glory is grace gone home.

6. What then on this feast day of All Souls are we to say about death? Perhaps we could recite to ourselves the opening lines of one of the poems of John Donne, the English writer from several centuries ago. John Donne composed his poem in medieval English. He entitled it “Death Be Not Proud”. And so we read:

• Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
• Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
• For those whom thou think’st thou doest overthrow,
• Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)


1. We can call the 22nd Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel the chapter of the three questions. The Pharisees were plotting how they might trap Jesus in his speech. So they asked him – Teacher, give us your opinion. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not? Last Sunday we reflected on this question and on the Lord’s response. The second question came from the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They offered Jesus a hypothetical case about a wife and her seven husbands – and they asked – though not believing in the resurrection – Whose wife will she be at the resurrection? The Pharisees tried again in the question asked in our Gospel reading today – Which commandment in the law is the greatest? Although the Lord was asked about one commandment, he replied by giving two. These two commandments were not original with Jesus. Rather, Jesus quotes from Chapter 6 of the Book of Deuteronomy – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength; and from Chapter 19 of the Book of Leviticus – You shall love your neighbor as yourself. What was original with Jesus was his putting these two commandments together as the two sides of one coin. It is interesting to note how St. Paul expresses the commandment of love in his Letter to the Romans. He writes: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments – You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, and whatever other commandment there may be – are summed up in this saying: You shall love your neighbor as yourself; love does no evil to the neighbor; hence love is the fulfillment of the law.”

2. No one in recent times has spoken so compellingly of love as our present Holy Father Emeritus in his first encyclical letter, entitled “God is Love”. This title is taken from the I Letter of John: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God abides in him”. These words express with remarkable clarity the heart of Christian faith: The Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. As I John expresses it – “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us”.

3. What is the meaning of this little word "love"? We Americans tend to assume that love is found only in our feelings – a love relationship, for example, is good when it feels right, so we say. What happens to a feel-right love when the needs of two individuals come into conflict? Given the way the Lord God has created us, we have both the passion of love and the virtue of love. Our passions are our friends although they can lead us astray. If we did not have passions, we would all be as attractive as telephone poles. The passion of love is good when it promotes the virtue of love. It is the virtue of love that enables us to love God and our neighbor even when our feelings and emotions are moving in the opposite direction. God has made us body and soul so it is not the spirit alone nor the body alone, but it is the person, the human being, the unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united does the exercise of love attain its full stature.

4. When we first begin to love, we go out to get. Our Holy Father calls this “possessive” love, ascending love. C. S. Lewis calls it “need” love. More importantly there is gift love which centers not on the lover but on the beloved. The challenge for one who loves is make progress by the grace of the Spirit from need love to gift love. St. Ignatius of Loyola incorporates this notion into his Spiritual Exercises. In the course of the second week of the Exercises, the retreatant comes to understand how good God is for him or for her. This is a form of self-seeking love, but it is a good self-seeking love. Other kinds of self-seeking love can lead us astray. It is only in the third and fourth weeks of the Exercises that the retreatant comes to realize that God is good – period, that God is all good in himself and deserving of all my love.

5. St. Bernard has a wonderful description of love. He writes – “Love is sufficient of itself; love gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. Love is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Love’s profit lies in its practice. I love because I love. I love that I may love.”

6. The Gospel question, of course, in all of this love talk is this – And who is my neighbor? Pope Benedict suggests quite simply in response – “Anyone who needs me and whom I can help is my neighbor”. And this question and answer should lead us to the 25th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and to the great parable of the Last Judgment in which love becomes the criteria for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth or lack thereof. Jesus identifies himself with those in need, those who are hungry or thirsty, those who are strangers and those in prison. As you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me. In this way, love of God and love of neighbor become one. In the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself and in Jesus we find God.

7. The command to love God and neighbor find concrete expression in the Sacrament of Marriage – described by Pope John Paul II as “a noble, high and sacred calling”. God has intended that the Sacrament of Marriage be a living sign of Christ’s love for his Church, for all his members, and for the entire world. It is precisely in their married love that husband and wife bring each other to holiness of life. A sacramental marriage isn’t an accident; it is not something “by chance”. God chose this particular man and this particular woman to be a sacrament sign – showing forth to all who can see the living presence of God for the wider world.

8. Sometimes, I conclude my wedding homilies by suggesting a meditation on the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the symbol of God’s great love for the world, a symbol of Christ’s love for his heavenly Father and for each one of his members as he gave himself in sacrifice for the world’s salvation. Prevailing philosophies down through history often tell us that every living being strives for its own preservation and fulfillment, but this is not what the Gospel teaches. The Gospel teaches, through the imagery of the Sacred Heart, that the way to happiness and holiness is not so much by self-preservation but by self-abandonment. Christ’s heart saves us indeed, but it saves us by giving itself away in love. This is what makes love truly sacrificial. This is what the saints have discovered to their great joy. This is what marriage is supposed to proclaim. Sacrifice, as we know, is always difficult and irksome; only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


October 19, 2014

1. In the Gospels we often find Jesus in conflict with both religious and secular authorities. However, never does he challenge legitimate authority but only the ways individuals may exercise that authority. In fact, the Lord Jesus instructs his followers to fulfill lawful civic duties. Caesar is not always the enemy. Our first and third readings today provide the springboard for our reflections. They concern difficult political realities in scriptural times and they speak a similar message to us as well.

2. Notice what the Prophet Isaiah has written: "Thus says the Lord to his anointed, Cyrus… I have called you by your name, giving you a title though you know me not." Who is this Cyrus and why does he receive the title – the anointed one – an expression the Old Testament used with reference to Israel’s kings. But Cyrus was not a king of Israel. Like Alexander the Great and Caesar Augustus in later times, Cyrus in the fifth century before Christ was the most powerful ruler in the then known world. He was king of the Persians, who had conquered the Babylonians, who were the ones who had conquered Israel, destroyed Jerusalem and led the Jews into the dark days of the Babylonian captivity. Cyrus was an enlightened despot. He liberated the Jews, permitted them to return to their land and helped them to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. This was a new political experience for the Israelites. They found themselves under a pagan ruler who was chosen and in fact praised by God, whom God made – though Cyrus did not know the Lord – God’s own agent for the advancement of God’s own purposes and the rebuilding of God’s people, Israel. (Parenthetically, it is interesting to note that Persia is really Iran in our warring, terrorist world today.)

3. Our Gospel presents another sort of political issue. Out of malice, the Pharisees sought to trap Jesus in his speech, hoping he might say something hostile about the hated Romans who ruled Palestine at that time. The story of the coins with the inscription of Caesar is familiar to us all. The Lord instructs his hearers that both God and Caesar are to be respected. The same sort of question is asked of us today. As Catholics in the United States take on an evermore-prominent role in the economic, educational and political mainstreams of our country, we who are Catholic find ourselves discussing the relationship of our Church to the American society in which we live. The Lord gives us a sacred principle. With his help we must work out the specifics.

4. We should note that over two millennia the Church has lived under every conceivable political structure – the Roman Empire of the Caesars, the Barbarian rulers of the unchristianized West, the Holy Roman Empire, benevolent and hostile kings and queens, the developing democracies of the 18th and 19th Centuries, the Fascism, Nazism and Communism of the last century. What about our own country and its democratic government which is becoming evermore secular and consumerist? If the Lord Jesus were to look at our coins or paper money today, He would see not Caesar but the images of various presidents and He would read the Latin inscription "E pluribus unum" – one country from many different states – at first thirteen, and now fifty. Our culture is a pluralistic culture made up of many nationalities, languages, philosophies and religions of all kinds and – probably for the majority – no religion whatsoever. In such pluralism, we find a civic posture which leaves matters of religious beliefs and philosophical convictions outside the pale of official public concerns. Originally – unlike the wooden-headed axiom about the so-called wall of separation between church and state – this does not mean that religious beliefs and philosophical convictions were of no importance and should have no influence on corporate or individual behavior. Rather, it meant that government is limited and religion and philosophy and political theory and editorial opinion all lie outside government jurisdiction. This traditional understanding is threatened in our day by the reduction of natural law values, by political correctness and by the popular embracing of many aspects of what has been termed "a culture of death".

5. The question remains – What is the relationship between faith and culture, better perhaps we should say – church and state, that is, how are we to do justice to God and to Caesar? The Catholic Church is not a sect. Catholics by very definition cannot refrain from societal participation. This mission belongs primarily to laymen and women. By their very calling they are to seek God’s kingdom by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering temporal affairs in accord with God’s teaching. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life from which the very web of their existence is woven. Forty years ago this very month, the Second Vatican Council said to lay persons in the Church – "This Council exhorts Christians, as citizens of two cities, to strive to discharge their earthly duties conscientiously and in response to the Gospel spirit. They are mistaken who, knowing that we have here no abiding city but seek one which is to come, think that they may therefore shirk their earthly responsibilities. For they are forgetting that by the faith itself they are more obliged than ever to measure up to these duties, each according to his proper vocation. Nor, on the contrary, are they any less wide of the mark who think that religion consists in acts of worship alone and in the discharge of certain moral obligations, and who imagine they can plunge themselves into earthly affairs in such a way as to imply that these are altogether divorced from the religious life. This split between the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be counted among the more serious errors of our age."

6. What does this challenge involve? We cannot be true believers if we are unwilling to translate our beliefs into social practice. We cannot be good citizens of our two cities if we are unwilling to have our voices heard in the public square. We must be ready to answer with courage both the challenge of the Church and the demands of Caesar. In a word, we must do justice to God and to Caesar.

Friday, April 11, 2014


1. The Gospels, which nourish our faith at every Eucharist, were written by believers for believers, that is, for those already baptized or for those who by God’s providence might be seeking baptism. This is why John the Evangelist can say to his readers – Jesus performed many other signs as well, signs not recorded in my Gospel, but these signs, I have recorded, have as their purpose to help you, the readers, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised One, so that through this faith you may have life in his name. The four Gospels whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts faithfully hands on to us all that the Lord Jesus, while living among us, did and taught until the day he was taken up into heaven. Does this mean that today’s account of the raising of Lazarus is like the work of a newspaper reporter, submitting copy for the Jerusalem Times? The answer, of course, is “No”. John is writing many decades after the Lord’s resurrection, many decades after the raising of Lazarus. John wants to tell his readers about Jesus and about the impact Jesus had on people like Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. Nevertheless, transparent in John’s narrative is the historical situation of the particular Church community to which John belonged and for whose benefit he wrote his Gospel. In a word, he wants to describe the impact the risen Christ continues to have on many other persons, many Marys, Marthas and Lazaruses in the course of Church history. In this way, he wants to confront the ever-present issue of belief and unbelief – the issue St. Paul discusses in our second reading – an issue never very far from our lives here at Saint John the Evangelist Parish.

2. The story of Lazarus is the story of one man’s encounter with Christ, the story of God’s power at work in Christ to restore life to someone who had died. Wherever the work of evangelization takes place, the story of Lazarus is an important element in the conversion journey of those who anticipate the reception of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Candidates for these sacraments are instructed to see themselves in the person of Lazarus and to find Christ the Lord summoning them to life through the mediation of Christ’s body, which is the Church. Just as Christ gave physical life to the dead Lazarus, so through the sacraments God gives the divine life of grace to those who turn away from sin and profess faithfulness to the Gospel. Lazarus was really, truly, physically restored to natural life. You and I are really, truly, sacramentally restored to the faith, hope and charity which unite us to God.

3. Our Gospel reading is familiar in part to many of us who have heard it so often proclaimed at funeral liturgies. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha is most instructive. Martha had said to Jesus – “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. “Your brother will rise again”, Jesus replied. Then he said, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” Then the Lord asked Martha, who was the first to hear these words, and the Lords asks us who now hear them at this very Liturgy – “Do you believe this?” St. John records Martha’s response. Only God knows the response of each one here.

4. Whoever believes in me, even if she dies, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. What does this mean? There is physical life and physical death; there is spiritual or eternal life and eternal death. In our narrative, Jesus makes two claims. First he says, “I am the resurrection”. This means that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus, even though she may go down to the grave in physical death, would enjoy eternal life in heaven. This is the life the Holy Spirit first gives us at holy Baptism. Then Jesus says – “I am the life” – meaning whoever receives Christ’s life in Baptism and perseveres in God’s love will never experience eternal death. This is why we say at every funeral Liturgy – “When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.”

5. The Gospel of John is a call to faith, faith in God, faith in Jeus his divine Son made flesh, faith in the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. Two weeks ago, we met the woman at the well in Samaria, and we joined with her town-folks who said to the woman – “We no longer believe because of your word, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that Jesus is truly Savior of the world”. Last week, we met the man born blind whom Jesus cured and to whom Jesus revealed himself. We joined the blind man in his response – “I do believe, Lord” – and he worshiped him. Today we hear what the Lord Jesus said to Martha. He then asked her – “Do you believe me and what I have said? Do you believe me?” Hopefully, we say with Martha – “Yes, Lord, I do believe”.